Defense and diplomacy across the pond. SecDef Mattis is in London today to meet with his British counterpart, Michael Fallon. Reuters writes about three topics Mattis addressed at the UK’s Ministry of Defence:
Afghanistan: “We have seen Russian activity vis-à-vis the Taliban. I’m not going to say at this point if that has manifested into weapons and that sort of thing, but certainly what they’re up to there in light of their other activities gives us concern.”
On Iran: He said the country was the top state sponsor of terrorism in 2012, “and it continues that kind of behavior today.”
And North Korea: “This is a threat of both rhetoric and growing capability, and we will be working with the international community to address this, we are doing so right now. Right now it appears to be going in a very reckless manner in what its conduct is portraying for the future and that’s got to be stopped.” (More on North Korea’s submarine development program at bottom of today’s D Brief.)
Added DefMin Fallon: “Secretary Mattis and I have agreed that others must now raise their game, and those failing to meet the 2 percent commitment so far should at least agree to year on year real terms increases.”
The 2% target was also in the air some 220 miles across the English Channel in Brussels, where SecState Tillerson is at his first NATO meeting today—and he’s already been met by resistance from at least one alliance member. America’s top diplomat said that its NATO allies need “to either meet or have a plan in place to fulfill [the two-percent GDP] funding commitments to NATO by a May summit of NATO leaders,” which President Trump will attend, Reuters reports.
“Tillerson did not say what would happen if European allies and Canada fail to respect their pledges,” the Associated Press writes from Brussels.
The demand met swift pushback from Germany, whose Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said, “Two percent would mean military expenses of some 70 billion euros. I don’t know any German politician who would claim that is reachable nor desirable.” AP writes that the two-percent mark for Germany would mean “spending from 35 billion euros ($37 billion) a year to over 70 billion euros, which would see Berlin allocate more to defense than Russia currently.”
Back home, the Washington Post offers an unsettling picture of Tillerson’s start at State: “Eight weeks into his tenure as President Trump’s top diplomat, the former ExxonMobil chief executive is isolated, walled off from the State Department’s corps of bureaucrats in Washington and around the world. His distant management style has created growing bewilderment among foreign officials who are struggling to understand where the United States stands on key issues…And it threatens to undermine the power and reach of the State Department, which has been targeted for a 30 percent funding cut in Trump’s budget.” Read on, here.
From Defense One
Why You Can’t Shoot Terrorists With Lasers, Yet // Patrick Tucker: Military leaders are eager to have the precision of a directed-energy weapon — yet plenty of legal and practical obstacles remain.
Boeing Launches Info War on the Navy’s F-35 // Marcus Weisgerber: The aerospace firm is quietly urging policymakers to cut planned purchases of carrier-based Joint Strike Fighters and buy Advanced Super Hornets instead.
The Global Business Brief: March 30 // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense stocks slide; A few surprises in Heritage’s budget recommendations; Boeing bomb production soars; and more.
Border-Guard Dogs to Get Health-Monitoring Collars // Mohana Ravindranath: K-9 units will test out high-tech sensors that keep tabs on dogs’ vital signs in hot working conditions.
DHS Looks to Reboot Relationship with Election Officials // Joseph Marks: Local and state officials decried January’s designation of election systems as critical infrastructure. Now DHS is trying to get everyone on the same page.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1945: A Luftwaffe pilot defects, bringing the Allies their first intact Me 262 jet fighter. Got a tip? Let us know by clicking this link to email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Flynn asks for immunity from prosecution. On what potential charges? He’s not saying; his lawyer says only that Trump’s former national security adviser, ejected after misleading the White House about his conversations with Russian officials, “has a story to tell.” Wall Street Journal, here.
Reaction from a former international prosecutor, writing at Just Security: “The ploy feels desperate, indicating that Flynn may not have much to offer. And the very fact that Flynn’s lawyer is making a play for immunity at this stage suggests that he has some fear that his client faces real criminal exposure.” Read on, here.
More on Russia’s info wars: Georgetown University cyber fellow Clint Watts delivered some riveting testimony Thursday after senators asked him, essentially, “The Russians have been trying to influence American society for decades. Why are they succeeding now?” 8 minutes worth watching, via C-Span, here.
Further reading: 1) Watts’ co-authored piece from November: “Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy.” 2) UW prof Kate Starbird and her students’ March 14 description of how fake news starts, spreads, and undermines truth. “Over time, we noted that a similar kind of rumor kept showing up, over and over again, after each of the man-made crisis events — a conspiracy theory or ‘alternative narrative’ of the event that claimed it either didn’t happen or that it was perpetrated by someone other than the current suspects.” Long, thorough, and worth it, here.
A bombing in northwest Pakistan kills nearly two dozen people and wounds more than 70 others “in a mainly Shiite area of Pakistan’s tribal belt,” AFP reports this morning. A car bomb detonated “near a minority Shiite Muslim place of worship in the northwest town of Parachinar,” AP adds.
About the area: “Parachinar is a key town in the Kurram tribal region bordering Afghanistan and has been wracked by sectarian violence in the past. The region was also once a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban and Sunni militant groups. Although the army says it has cleared the Kurram region of militants, violence has continued there. Mansoor and Lashker-e-Jhangvi, another banned Sunni sectarian militant group, have claimed responsibility for previous such attacks in the region, where Shiite Muslims are in the majority.”
Whodunnit? “Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of Pakistani Taliban militants, claimed responsibility for attack. Spokesman Asad Mansoor did not give details, saying the group would issue a statement later.”
For some context, “The attack comes after a wave of militant violence killed 130 people across Pakistan in February, unnerving citizens who had been emboldened by improving security and prompting a military crackdown,” AFP writes.
As well, AP reports, “Friday’s blast came hours after state-run media said Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain had signed a bill removing the last hurdle for the revival of military courts to try terrorism suspects. The development came days after Pakistan’s Senate and National Assembly separately passed a constitutional amendment to extend the practice, which has been in place for two years. A previous 2015 amendment established the military courts for a two-year mandate that expired in January.”
And while the attention shifted to Pakistan, its Army said this morning “it killed a ‘high-value’ Pakistani Taliban leader, Mehmood-ul-Hassan, along with an associate in a raid in the South Waziristan tribal region. In a statement, it said troops also seized a cache of weapons from the hideouts of slain militants, who for years operated from the region to orchestrate attacks in the country,” the Associated Press writes.
Don’t look now, but India “may be rethinking nuclear first strikes,” the New York Times’ Max Fisher writes. “New assessments suggest that India is considering allowing for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Pakistan’s arsenal in the event of a war. This would not formally change India’s nuclear doctrine, which bars it from launching a first strike, but would loosen its interpretation to deem pre-emptive strikes as defensive. It would also change India’s likely targets, in the event of a war, to make a nuclear exchange more winnable and, therefore, more thinkable.”
The goal, writes Fisher, could be “to stir up just enough ambiguity to deter its adversaries.”
How so? “Should India sustain a nuclear attack, its doctrine calls for a major retaliation, most likely by targeting its adversary’s cities. When this policy was announced in 2003, it fit the threat posed by Pakistan’s arsenal of long-range, city-destroying weapons. Since then, Pakistan has developed smaller warheads designed for battlefield use. These were meant to address Pakistan’s India problem: The Indian military is much larger, virtually ensuring its victory in an all-out war. Such weapons could be used against invading Indian troops, halting a war before it could be lost. This would exploit a gap in India’s doctrine: It is hard to imagine that India would escalate to total nuclear war, as its doctrine commands, over a small battlefield strike on Pakistani soil.” Read on, here.
The Trump White House doesn’t want you knowing how many troops it sends to fight ISIS. “In order to maintain tactical surprise, ensure operational security and force protection, the coalition will not routinely announce or confirm information about the capabilities, force numbers, locations, or movement of forces in or out of Iraq and Syria,” said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman. More from the LA Times’ Bill Hennigan, here.
ICYMI: Escalation in Somalia. President Trump on Wednesday “relaxed some of the rules for preventing civilian casualties when the American military carries out counterterrorism strikes in Somalia, laying the groundwork for an escalating campaign against Islamist militants in the Horn of Africa,” the New York Times reported Thursday. The so-called “war-zone targeting rules” are intended to run for at least 180 days.
What’s relaxing the rules mean? “Under the new guidelines, Africa Command may treat Somalia under less-restrictive battlefield rules: Without interagency vetting, commanders may strike people thought to be Shabab fighters based only on that status, without any reason to think that the individual target poses a particular and specific threat to Americans. In addition, some civilian bystander deaths would be permitted if deemed necessary and proportionate. Mr. Trump’s decision to exempt much of Somalia from the 2013 rules follows a similar decision he made for parts of Yemen shortly after taking office.” Story here.
The U.S. military killed another ISIS senior leader and four others traveling with him on Saturday in northern Iraq, CBS reported. “Ibrahim al Ansari incited vehicle, knife and arson attacks against American and Turkish citizens, Col. Joseph Scrocca, the U.S. spokesman in Baghdad for the American-led coalition fighting ISIS, said Thursday. Al Ansari was killed with four others in [an airstrike] Saturday in al Qaim, Iraq, on the border with Syria.” More here.
The Russian navy reportedly launched cruise missiles Thursday “targeting Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s positions in the northern part” of Latakia, “near the Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham stronghold of Jisr Al-Shughour,” regional Al Masdar News reported. “According to a local source in Latakia, the cruise missile strikes could be heard from as far away as the provincial capital and southern city of Jableh, where the Russian Air Force is stationed. This powerful attack by the Russian Navy was in response to the rocket assault on the Hmaymim Military Airbase that was conducted by the jihadist rebels earlier this week.” More here.
Lastly this week: Wanna take a look at North Korea’s “most important” submarine base? The Diplomat’s Damen Cook has just your thing, and a lot more, in these four highly-detailed photos of a region where “the DPRK is building the new Gorae-class submarine (or Sinpo-class) and testing Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs).”
Writes Cook: “Remarkably, most of this activity and materiel are headquartered within a few kilometers of each other in the city of Sinpo and the nearby Mayang-Do Naval Base. Shipyards for the new Gorae-class, SLBM research and development facilities, many or most of the DPRK’s east coast submarines, and the only known ground-based launch platforms for SLBM tests — all are located along the same 35 square kilometer stretch of the North Korean coast.”
What that could very well mean: “A well-coordinated first strike on this facility would hamstring the North’s submarine fleet, its submarine building capacity, and its hopes of a credible naval nuclear deterrent all in one go.” Read on, here.