Mattis, Dunford issue warnings on the Hill; Fighting escalates in Ukraine; Baltics brace for giant Russian exercise; Carriers picked for drone tankers; and just a bit more…

In a late-night hearing, Mattis and Dunford talk everything from the defense budget to the current state of world affairs. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford hit the House Armed Service Committee last evening ostensibly to bullhorn the threat of sequestration.

“No enemy in the field has done more to harm the combat readiness of our military than sequestration,” Mattis told lawmakers.

However, since it was his first appearance as SecDef, Mattis wound up taking questions on everything from Qatar to North Korea. From Defense One’s Patrick Tucker:

On the DPRK: “The most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security is North Korea,” Mattis said. Current U.S. efforts are “sufficient to buy us time,” but “I assume that every time they fire one of these [ballistic missiles] they’re learning something more.”

On the impact of war with North Korea, should deterrence fail: “It would be a war like nothing we’ve seen since 1953.” Added Dunford: “I don’t have any doubt … we will succeed in accomplishing our objectives.” But, “We would see casualties unlike anything we haven’t seen in 70 years,” primarily in South Korea within the first seven days. “We will not be able to mitigate [that] initially,” he said.

One area to watch: The U.S. is doing an environmental impact study to perhaps put ground-based interceptors on the East Coast, Mattis said.

Mattis on Qatar: It’s “a complex situation.” The current Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, “inherited a difficult situation” and is “trying to turn the country in a right decision.” Meantime, the Trump administration has an issue with so-called “grey funding” of extremist groups—presumably of the kind the Saudis and Emiratis accuse Qatar of backing. Mattis said lawmakers will see “a continued focus on that.”

Dunford on cyber war: “We’re simultaneously conducting cyber operations now against multiple adversaries.”

How many unfilled positions in DOD? “I’ll take that for the record,” Mattis said. (According to the WaPo’s tracker: of DoD’s 53 Senate-confirmed jobs, five are filled, 11 more nominated, and the rest empty.)

On the alleged Russian deployment of IMF-violating missiles: The U.S. is “consulting with NATO allies,” Mattis said. “We’re engaged on the effort… We will brief you soon.”

Dunford on Al Qaeda in Syria: “We do have a dedicated campaign” against them. But AQ is in the western portion of the country—which happens to be closer to where the majority of Assad and Putin’s forces are concentrated. The U.S. military focus on the east, Dunford said, which is where ISIS is. Added Mattis, “The location of where [AQ fighters] are in Syria makes them difficult to reach.” The U.S. would have to de-conflict even more with Russia.

And on Russia, generally: “I do not see any indication that Mr. Putin would want a positive relationship with us. That is not to say we can’t get there as we look for common ground,” Mattis said. “But at this point, he has chosen to be competitive, a strategic competitor with us and we will have to deal with that as we see it.” More on that last topic from Reuters, here.


From Defense One

A Giant Russian Exercise Will Soon Put 100,000 Troops on NATO’s Border. Then What? // Caroline Houck: As Russia and Belarus prep for their quadrennial fight-the-West wargame, NATO’s Baltic states are watching more than a bit nervously.

Dunford: Without Better Funding, US Will ‘Lose Competitive Advantage’ In Just a Few Years // Patrick Tucker: Gen. Dunford, and then Defense Secretary Mattis, deliver a dire warning to House lawmakers.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1944: Germany launched the first V-1 attack on London. Got tips? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


An alleged U.S. strike in Pakistan last night may have killed a key insurgent from the Haqqani network, Afghanistan’s Khaama news reports this morning. “A security official quoted by the Mashal Radio of Radio Liberty has said said on June 13 that the commander, identified as Abubakar, died in an overnight strike in the Speen Tal area of the Hangu district…located in northwestern parts of Pakistan.”

Three others were reportedly injured, including a boy; but only the alleged commander was reportedly killed in the strike. A local resident of a nearby village told Khaama that “Abubakar was from Afghanistan’s Khost Province and that his original name was Omar.” More here.

The three American soldiers killed in an apparent insider attack over the weekend have been named: Sgt. Eric M. Houck, 25, of Baltimore, Maryland; Sgt. William M. Bays, 29, of Barstow, California; and Cpl. Dillon C. Baldridge, 22, of Youngsville, North Carolina.

CNN: “They were shot during an attack on Saturday when an Afghan army commando opened fire, in what’s known as a “green-on-blue” incident, according to US officials. This is when members of the Afghan security forces turn their weapons on US and other NATO soldiers who are training them and fighting along their side. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack saying that an ‘infiltrator’ had joined the Afghan army and attacked the American soldiers, according to its spokesman.” More here.

U.S. troops allegedly killed three Afghan civilians after coming under attack in the same eastern province, Nangarhar, that Saturday’s deadly blue-on-green attack occurred, The Wall Street Journal reports from Kabul. “The civilians were shot dead in Ghani Khel district on Sunday, according to the provincial governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyany. The U.S. military confirmed its forces had returned fire after coming under attack but said it hadn’t officially heard of civilian casualties.” Story, here.

The future of Afghanistan? Mattis also told lawmakers last night that he will pitch a “regional approach” on the way ahead in Afghanistan to President Trump “very soon.” More from Reuters, here.

The UN says fighting is escalating in Ukraine, where the death toll is now at least 10,090, with an additional 23,966 injured since the conflict erupted in April 2014.

On the escalation: “The report covers the period from 16 February to 15 May 2017, during which the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) recorded 36 conflict-related civilian deaths and 157 injuries – a 48 per cent increase on the previous reporting period from 16 November 2016 to 15 February 2017.”

About that death toll: “This is a conservative estimate, actual figures likely to be higher,” the report says.

Pull-out: Here’s a map of civilian casualties from just mid-February to mid-May. Read the full assessment, here (PDF).

Nigeria says it has killed one of Boko Haram’s field commanders. “Soldiers on their way to an Islamic extremist camp in Jarawa village in Borno State, ran into an ambush by Boko Haram fighters,” the Associated Press reports from Maiduguri. “The soldiers then killed a large number of Boko Haram insurgents, including one of its commanders Abu Nazir, who was on the military’s wanted list… Soldiers also rescued nine abducted children, who are now being given preliminary humanitarian assistance.” More here.

Cyberweapons that worked on Iran and North Korea aren’t doing so well again ISIS. It’s been more than a year since U.S. Cyber Command was given a new mission: “Disrupt the ability of the Islamic State to spread its message, attract new adherents, pay fighters and circulate orders from commanders,” the New York Times writes. “The effectiveness of the nation’s arsenal of cyberweapons hit its limits, they have discovered, against an enemy that exploits the internet largely to recruit, spread propaganda and use encrypted communications, all of which can be quickly reconstituted after American ‘mission team’ freeze their computers or manipulate their data.” Read on, here.

Speaking of North Korea, erstwhile NBA star Dennis Rodman is back in the Hermit Kingdom today. Why? Could he be…a backchannel emissary from Rodman’s old “Celebrity Apprentice” boss, now the U.S. president, on a mission to talk about Americans held in North Korea? Asked by news crews at Pyongyang airport, The Worm replied, “I’m just here to see some friends and have a good time.”

In other DPRK news, a North Korea drone crashed on South Korean soil after taking — and possibly transmitting — 10 photos of the U.S. Army’s newly deployed THAAD missile-defense battery. Washington Post, here.

Ongoing oxygen issues mean Arizona’s F-35 fleet is still grounded. That makes now five days the aircraft have been idle. Stars and Stripes, here.

The Navy’s MQ-25A Stingray UAV refueling tankers are getting a carrier home—two, in fact: The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77), USNI News reported Monday. “The aircraft is in high-demand because it would help alleviate the burden on the carrier air wing’s current refueling aircraft: the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Anywhere from 25 to 30 percent of Super Hornet sorties are used for refueling missions.” More here.

In China, a new alleged first in fixed-wing drone swarm operations. CETG, an electronics supplier for the People’s Liberation Army, “said it has flown 119 fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles simultaneously,” the South China Morning Post reported this weekend. “Project scientist Zhao Yanjie was quoted as saying that large drone squadrons could become a disruptive force to “change the game” in air battles…It allows the drones to coordinate flight paths to avoid collisions and to divide their labour to accomplish set missions, such as searching for a suspect vehicle in the largest possible area within the shortest time, Zhao said.” Story, here.

Lastly today: A must-see picture from West Mosul, Iraq, where fighting has become so intense in recent weeks that somehow a car managed to find its damaged self parked vertically (and apparently with great force) against a building. Unless we’re mistaken, there might still be a window intact. Investigate for yourself, here.

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