ISIS injures US troops in Afghanistan; Pentagon rejects Navy’s plan to challenge China; US to join Russia-led Syria talks; All eyes on key Yemeni port; and just a bit more…

ISIS claimed a suicide attack on a NATO convoy in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed eight civilians and wounded three U.S. troops and more than two dozen civilians, Reuters reports. The Americans weren’t injured too badly and returned to base in their damaged MRAP, according to coalition spokesman U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Salvin.

About the ISIS claim: “In a statement on its Amaq news agency, Islamic State said a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged car as the convoy passed near the U.S. embassy,” Reuters writes.

ISIS’s Afghanistan affiliate has been carrying out attacks since 2015, and Wednesday’s attack marks the group’s fourth in 2017; the three previous: Feb. 7; Feb. 8; and March 8. More from Afghanistan’s Tolo News, here.

The U.S. Air Force just tested another ICBM, its second in a week. “The ICBM was equipped with a single test reentry vehicle, and traveled approximately 4,200 miles to a test range near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands,” the Air Force said in a statement accompanied by video of this morning’s launch.

Meantime in the Asia-Pacific, China is requesting all sides in the Korean standoff “stop irritating” each other. The request follows the Monday flyover by two U.S. B1-B bomber jets during an exercise with South Korea’s military. Pyongyang protested, to put it mildly, and now here’s China stepping in asking for the adults to return to the negotiating table.

The urgent task is to lower temperatures and resume talks,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said this morning. “We again urge all relevant parties to remain calm and exercise restraint, stop irritating each other, work hard to create an atmosphere for contact and dialogue between all sides, and seek a return to the correct path of dialogue and negotiation as soon as possible.” More from Reuters, here.

While we’re on China, the Pentagon reportedly rejected three U.S. Navy requests to sail “within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal, a disputed reef in the South China Sea that is claimed by the Philippines and China,” The New York Times reports in a broader look at how the Trump White House has navigated the thorny issue of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Instead of approving the move, which would have fallen in line with President Trump and his State Secretary’s tough talk on the South China Sea, “the Pacific Command request — and two others by the Navy in February — was turned down by top Pentagon officials before it even made it to President Trump’s desk,” the Times reports. Exactly who turned down the requests is unclear, but it wasn’t the White House, defense officials told the Times.

The result: “More than 100 days into the Trump presidency, no American Navy ship has gone within 12 miles of any of the disputed islands in the South China Sea, Defense Department officials said.”

The takeaway: “The decision not to challenge China’s territorial claims represents a remarkable deference toward Beijing from an administration that is increasingly turning toward President Xi Jinping for help amid the escalating crisis in the Korean Peninsula.” Adds the Times, “With each [North Korean’ missile launch, Mr. Trump’s newfound affection for the Chinese leader, Mr. Xi, has increased.” Read on, here.

Elsewhere in the region: The State Department wants to sell New Zealand four P-8A Poseidon aircraft for nearly $1.5 billion, U.S. Naval Institute News reported Tuesday. “The sale would include Electro-Optical (EO) and Infrared (IR) MX-20HD, AN/AAQ-2(V)1 Acoustic System, AN/APY-10 Radar, ALQ-240 Electronic Support Measures for the aircraft as well as support, maintenance and training equipment.” More here.


From Defense One

US Military: Sexual Assault in the Ranks Is Less Prevalent, and Better Reported // Caroline Houck: But defense officials say that with an estimated 14,900 cases last year, there’s still work to be done.

Yemen Could Be the Key to Solving the Iran Problem // Gerald Feierstein: A proposal to transfer control of a Red Sea port could have wide-ranging effects on regional tension.

Here’s a Look at New Exosuits for the Civilian World // Michael J. Coren: After years of tinkering and military adventures, the first exoskeleton suits are finally walking out of the lab and into the market.

Who Is In Charge of US National Security? // David Frum: The administration’s flip-flopping on North Korea is only the latest incident to raise this question.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1952: two USAF lieutenant colonels land a plane at the North Pole. Got tips? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


President Trump steps into the Syrian peace process; rebels appear to step out. The White House is sending a U.S. representative to today’s fourth round of Russian-brokered Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan following Tuesday’s phone call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to the White House’s readout of the chat: “President Trump and President Putin agreed that the suffering in Syria has gone on for far too long and that all parties must do all they can to end the violence…The conversation was a very good one, and included the discussion of safe, or de-escalation, zones to achieve lasting peace for humanitarian and many other reasons.”

AP notes, however, that the Russian readout of the call made no mention of safe or de-escalation zones.

And who’s going to those talks on behalf of the Trump administration? “The White House would not say whom, but an American official said it would be Stuart E. Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for the region,” according to the NYT. What are America’s options in Syria? The Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister has some ideas, here.

One step forward—the Trump official headed to Kazakhstan—and now one step back: Syrian rebels just exited those very talks in Astana, Agence France-Presse reports this morning. The reason given: “because of the violent air strikes on civilians. The suspension will continue until shelling stops across all Syria,” a rebel source told AFP.

Here’s a visual reminder of where Russia has been striking terrorists inside Syria, via the folks at the Institute for the Study of War, who tracked Russian strikes from March 20 to April 25. Points to Russia for consistency: for more than 18 months now (Moscow’s intervention began in September 2015), the lion’s share of strikes have fallen on majority rebel-held areas.

And oh, by the way: Iran says it’s sending more advisers to Syria—and more would continue to deploy there “as long as there is a need,” the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Ground Force Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour told Tehran’s Fars news agency on Tuesday.

Congress has qualms about an expected Saudi-led assault on a Yemeni port. The Saudi-led coalition appears to be preparing to take the Red Sea port of Hodeida, where Houthi rebels are dug in among the city’s hundreds of thousands of residents. Given how many civilians have died in the coalition’s previous operations, the prospect of an assault on Hodeida has roused a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers to urge Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to withhold support for the operation, the Washington Post reports. And that’s on top of last month’s letter, “signed by 55 legislators, to President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions insisting that any direct U.S. involvement in Yemen be brought before Congress for authorization.”

Just how important is that port? In an oped for Defense One, former U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein says it provides most of the emergency food for the war-wracked country. But even more than that, he argues, if an agreement could be reached about the port, it might soothe tensions in the Yemeni civil war — and maybe in the entire region up to Iran. Read that, here.

Space war, space junk, and strategic obfuscation. Last month, the head of U.S. Strategic Command told Congress that the U.S. must “build an offensive capability to challenge” Russian threats to American satellites. On its face, this might have been something new: an announcement of a U.S. bid to put weapons in space. But what Gen. John Hyten meant to say, according to space experts queried soon afterward by Breaking Defense, was less provocative and more in line with existing policy: simply that the U.S. needs ways to keep other powers from disabling its satellites.

Naval War College prof Joan Johnson-Freese provides a helpful overview of ways the U.S. has used strategic ambiguity in its space policy — and when its use is unwise. Read, here.

A few years ago, asked about space war, Hyten replied, “to me, the one limiting factor is no debris. Whatever you do, don’t create debris.” Which reminds us of this eye-opening chart of space junk posted yesterday by a Harvard astronomer. It catalogs more than 42,000 bits of orbiting debris, including 14 nuclear reactor cores. See it, here.

Bringing some much-needed attention to a culture of harassment at U.S. military academies. Stars and Stripes, reporting from last night’s hearing before House lawmakers: “The three service academies — West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy — are required by law to report annually the number of sexual assault incidents occurring on their campuses. According to statistics from the most recent 2015-16 academic year, which were released in March by the Department of Defense, the number of reports had dropped to 86 in the 2015-16 academic year from 91 reports in 2014-15.”

One problem: “However, the percent of cadets experiencing unwanted sexual contact rose to 12 percent among women, up from 8 percent the previous year.” As Stripes’ Tara Copp reports, the situation is far from a satisfactory resolution. Read more, here.

Lastly today: A prominent think tank wants your opinion. “To get a sense of how the national security community uses current strategy documents, we would like to ask you a few questions,” the folks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies write. “The bottom line is that last year Congress made large changes to the strategy formulation process, and as a result DOD has a lot of latitude to implement a new design for that process. The purpose of this study is to help DOD with that design.” Get started, here

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