Counsel named in Trump-Russia investigation; 50,000 US troops to Afghanistan?; AFRICOM floats counterterror force for Libya; Robotic F-16s try dogfighting; and just a bit more…

Special counsel appointed to oversee the Justice Department’s Trump-Russia investigation. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named by deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, and follows “a cascade of damaging developments for Mr. Trump in recent days, including his abrupt dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the subsequent disclosure that Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to drop the investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn,” The New York Times reports.

POTUS said in a statement Wednesday the probe will find “no collusion” between his officials and Russia, and he looks forward to its conclusion.

This morning on Twitter, he took a bit different tone: “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel [sic] appointed!” And two minutes later: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

On Wednesday, Trump delivered the commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut. He used the occasion to declare, “Especially by the media, no politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly.” (Twitter was quick to note the four U.S. presidents assassinated in office, jailed-for-27-years Nelson Mandela, and more obscure examples.)

Some history about Mueller: “Robert Mueller has resigned his position at the law firm Wilmer Hale in order to accept the post as Special Counsel to investigate the Russia-US Election fracas,” said NPR’s Jonathan Baer. “I’m amused that an earlier iteration of Wilmer Hale is Hale and Dorr. That esteemed law firm provided counsel to the Army during the infamous Army-McCarthy hearings.  The lawyer was Joseph Welch, he of the ‘Have you no sense of decency…’ fame.”

Quote of the week: “You can use that on the press,” Homeland Security Secretary and former Marine four-star John Kelly told President Trump after he was presented with a ceremonial saber at Wednesday’s Coast Guard Academy commencement. Video, via ABC News, here.

(ICYMI: here’s D1 editor Kevin Baron on Trump’s “dangerous message” to U.S. troops about the media.)

Speaking of DHS, the controversial sheriff of Milwaukee County, David Clarke, is moving into a role in the Department of Homeland Security, he announced in a local radio interview Wednesday. More on that from The Atlantic, here.


From Defense One

What the Special Counsel Appointment Means // Matt Ford: The selection of former FBI Director Robert Mueller is a major escalation of the Russia investigation.

North Korea: The Military Options // Uri Friedman: What would a strike actually entail?

What Happens When Intelligence Agencies Lose Faith in the President? // David Frum: If bureaucrats restrict the information they share with political leaders, the damage could prove deep and lasting.

White House Vows to Audit the Pentagon, Which Would Be a First // Russell Berman: The goal is audacious enough, but promises of a record spending increase makes it even more complicated.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1863, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant surrounded Vicksburg—the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River—and began a six-week siege to break the city, firing on the city constantly and compelling residents to flee their homes to nearby caves for safety. The rebs at Vicksburg surrendered on July 4th. 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 must decide whether to greenlight an optional 50,000 troops for Afghanistan, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported Wednesday, citing knowledge of a classified U.S. intelligence brief. “One reason the new war strategy would require more troops is that it envisions using U.S. forces in a support role that until now has relied on outside contractors. Using contractors for functions like vehicle maintenance and other logistical aid have meant that U.S. forces deployed to Syria and Iraq have largely focused on war fighting and training locals. This has kept the total number of U.S. troops artificially low, while increasing the overall cost of the U.S. presence.”

The big caveat at this stage: “U.S. officials familiar with the internal deliberations tell me Trump has signaled he is in no mood to escalate America’s longest war. Indeed, he has complained to close aides in the last month about how great powers throughout history—from Alexander’s Macedonians to the British Empire—have failed to pacify the country.” Read the rest, here.

Sidebar: “What is the strategic purpose behind this move, and how does it advance U.S. national interests? What is the United States going to do about the Taliban’s cross-border sanctuaries? What is your definition of victory, and what’s the anticipated timeline?” Harvard’s Stephen Walt offers those and a few more salient questions for President Trump’s national security team, writing in Foreign Policy, here.

And another thought: There’s an “incoherence of advising efforts” across Afghanistan, warns Army Reserve intelligence officer Adam Maisel, writing at the Modern War Institute at West Point. The status quo, he writes, has not yielded “an inspiring way to advise, and the Afghans can sense it.”

His prescription: “If ‘train, advise, and assist’ is the driving mission, the personnel deployed should reflect this—by increasing the number of actual advisers and instructors, from the battalion level to the Ministry of Defense. With this influx of advisers, risk aversion surrounding their missions must be loosened.” He also advises more civilians and “establishing more permanent presences at corps- and brigade-level headquarters.” Read on, here.

Afghanistan will get 159 UH-60A Black Hawks, Military Times reported Wednesday. Slated to arrive between 2019 and 2024, the package “nearly doubles the Afghan Air Force’s current fleet of 78 Mi-17s, calling into question whether Afghanistan has the capability to maintain such a large fleet of U.S.-made helicopters. And not everyone agrees that the UH-60 is a good fit for Afghanistan.”

Another ISIS-claimed attack in the east leaves at least 10 dead, The Wall Street Journal reports. The scene: Radio Television Afghanistan’s offices in central Jalalabad, Nangarhar province.

WSJ: “The attack started midmorning when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of the television building, allowing three gunmen to gain access to the offices inside, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Afghan security forces responded and fought the attackers for three hours, he said. The attackers were all killed, along with four of the station’s employees and two policemen.”

Adds the Journal: “It was the worst attack on journalists in Afghanistan since January 2016, when the Taliban, the country’s largest insurgency, bombed a bus carrying employees of one of Afghanistan’s largest TV networks and killed seven people.”

AFRICOM chief says the U.S. is open to building a counterterrorism force to fight ISIS in Libya, The Wall Street Journal reports this morning. “U.S. Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of U.S. Africa Command, said the military is open to helping train a joint counterterrorism force as long as it involved forces from both Prime Minister Faiez Serraj’s Government of National Accord and the rival faction lead by Gen. Khalifa Haftar,” the Journal’s Julian Barnes reports.

“All factions in Libya do not desire to see a ISIS presence there, so we need to leverage that,” Gen. Waldhauser said in an interview Wednesday. “There are many things that do not unite the various factions in Libya. One thing that does unite them is counterterrorism, counter-ISIS campaign.”

And the Russian factor? “Gen. Waldhauser said Russia continues to try and gain influence in Libya through its support of Gen. Haftar. But he said he was heartened by this month’s meeting between Mr. Serraj and Gen. Haftar, a political development that if built upon could lead to further cooperation, including a joint counter-terrorism force.” More here.

Three quick looks at future ops in the Asia-Pacific: China is reluctant to draw attention to North Korea as the culprit in last week’s global cyberattack, The New York Times reports.

Regional sub watch: Nearly 250 advanced submarines will be deployed in the western Pacific within eight years, Financial Times reports.

Nominated to head the U.S. Navy’s Japan-headquartered 7th Fleet: career submarine officer Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer, Stars and Stripes reported Wednesday.  

Germany has requested a classified briefing on the F-35, Reuters reported. “Germany’s interest in the F-35 – the Pentagon’s most advanced warplane and its costliest procurement program – may surprise some given that it is part of the four-nation consortium that developed the fourth-generation Eurofighter Typhoon, which continues to compete for new orders.”

And, of course, there’s this: “Berlin’s letter also comes amid growing tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, with NATO officials saying that Russian naval activity now exceeds levels seen even during the Cold War.”

And looking around the region, “Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and Italy – key NATO allies of Germany – are already buying the F-35 fighter jet to replace their current aircraft, and other European countries such as Switzerland, Belgium and Finland are also looking at purchasing the fifth-generation warplane.” Read on, here.

F-35s are heading to San Diego now earlier than planned—as soon as late 2019—“following a revised Marine plan to scrap the Corps’ aging F-18 Hornet fleet” at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Details, here.

In other weapons news: The Pentagon just handed General Atomics a roughly $400 million order for three dozen MQ-9 Reaper drones. Announcement, here.

Lastly today: The U.S. Air Force recently sent robotic F-16s into combat trials, War Is Boring reported Tuesday. The mock combat scenarios took place in April at Edwards Air Force Base in California and involved “a mixed formation of manned and unmanned F-16s.”

Some of the benefits researchers are optimistic about: the ability to “haul extra weaponry to bolster the manned plane’s firepower — or fly ahead of the manned jet to distract enemy defenses or absorb some of their fire.”

Among some of the things to be worked out in the future: “It’s not clear who would authorize the UCAV to drop bombs or fire missiles,” WIB writes. “U.S. military policy dictates that a human operator authorize a drone to deploy weaponry. Presumably, the pilot in a manned-unmanned formation would be responsible for commanding his robot wingman to open fire.” Read the rest of the story, here.

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