Fightin’ words in Syria. The White House thinks Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military may be preparing for another chemical weapons attack—and warned Assad would “pay a heavy price” if that happened again.
From the White House’s statement late Monday: “The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children. The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack. As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”
The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, went further via Twitter Monday evening, writing, “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.”
Adds The New York Times: “Monday’s message appeared designed to set the stage for another possible military strike.”
Where is Assad this morning? Visiting Russia’s airbase in Latakia, Syria.
The Pentagon was seemingly blindsided by the statement from the White House, according to Buzzfeed News. “Five US defense officials said they did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from and were unaware the White House was planning a statement.” That, here.
Also: SecState Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov discussed a ceasefire in Syria on Monday, Reuters reported. Not a ton of additional detail out of that one.
For what it’s worth: the last confrontation between the U.S. and Syria (that air-to-air shootdown on June 18) came down to a pilot’s call—as did the previous two Shahed-129 drone shootdowns over Syria, Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, told Military.com. What’s more, “In all three cases, ‘defenseless aircraft’ such as tankers and airlift planes left the airspace because of the uncertainty of what the Syrians or Russians would do next, he said.” Read the full interview with Corcoran, here.
For what it’s worth #2: There was an interesting story in Russian daily Fontanka on Monday. A Russian firm called Euro-Polis signed a deal to receive 25 percent of Syrian oil and gas production during Syrian oil minister Ali Ghanem’s Moscow visit in December, analyst Neil Hauer for the intelligence consultants of The SecDev Group noticed on Twitter yesterday. “According to the deal, published by Syrian energy ministry, the Russian firm is to ‘defend, produce, and transport’ Syrian gas in Homs and Raqqa.”
Euro-Polis, Hauer writes, “is headed by a top Russian special operations commander (former SOBR officer) who is closely linked to Wagner leader Dmitry Utkin… According to the Euro-Polis deal, Russia started production at Syrian oil fields on June 3, effectively running a [private military contractor]-guarded oil firm in Homs.”
Hauer’s bottom line: “These events further show that Russia is ever-deepening involvement in Syria, despite decreasing conflict, as it seeks influence.”
Back stateside, President Trump has a phone call scheduled with French President Emmanuel Macron first thing this morning, even before his intelligence brief, Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen noted.
Worth adding: Macron said in late March while standing beside Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris: “Any use of chemical weapons would results in reprisals and an immediate riposte, at least where France is concerned.”
After the chat with Macron, Trump will meet with National Security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
And on Monday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, arrived to Kabul while the Trump administration mulls how many new troops it wants to send to the conflict, now 16 years old and showing no signs of stopping.
From Defense One
America’s Military: Overcommitted and Underfunded // Kori Schake: The administration wants to expand the armed forces’ commitments, even while contracting spending.
Educating Afghanistan’s Youth Is the Only True Solution to Terrorism // Rahmatullah Arman: Widespread illiteracy undercuts not only security, but also development projects that could help lift the country out of 16 years of war.
The American Military Declares War on Sprawl // Amanda Kolson Hurley: For the Pentagon, walkable, bikeable military installations are key to improving the health of troops.
The Danger of Yemen’s Secret Prisons // Cori Crider: Black sites in the war-ravaged country help ensure that it will remain fertile ground for terrorists for years to come.
Is ISIS More Violent During Ramadan? // Yasmeen Serhan: The group has called for increased attacks during the Islamic holy month.
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. Have something you want to share? Email us at email@example.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
Senior Ukrainian intel officer killed in Kiev car bombing. It happened this morning at an intersection in the country’s capital. From AP: “The Defense Ministry later identified the victim as Col. Maxim Shapoval of the Chief Directorate of Ukrainian military intelligence. Ukrainian media reported that Shapoval was chief of military intelligence’s special forces.” Shapoval was killed instantly, AP reports. The incident is being investigated as a terrorist attack. More here.
Staying in Ukraine, hundreds have gone missing in the separatist-controlled eastern part of the country, The Washington Post reports. “Although front-line hostilities have reached a simmering deadlock, a dirty war persists in the wider, lawless region. Civilians attempt to survive on contested ground, pinned between marauding forces accused of pillage, violent intimidation, sexual abuse, torture and even summary execution.” More here.
Additional Reading: Wired has a lengthy feature about how Russia is using Ukraine as its “testlab” for cyber warfare. Read it here.
Apropos of tech and futurism: In China, facial recognition tech is being used to to limit toilet paper theft. The Wall Street Journal has that dystopian glimpse, here.
And for some future tech a little bit more in the developmental stages, take a look at these Franken-bots of ISIS, recently unearthed by Iraqi security forces in Mosul.
Heads up: In a few days, we’ll be posting a longform look at the entire Mosul offensive since it began in October. Stay tuned…
Now to ISIS in the Philippines, where the group’s affiliate in Marawi has taken slaves as the battle for the city—now in its fifth week—intensifies.
One notable takeaway: The Philippine military trained for jungle warfare, “but here they are facing close quarters, urban warfare, fighting street-to-street, at times house-to-house,” Sky News reports from the city. “We saw armoured vehicles reinforced with planks of wood by their crews in an improvised attempt to withstand anti-tank weaponry and rocket-propelled grenades fired by the militants.”
And not terribly dissimilar from Mosul, “One commanding officer told us some of the trapped civilians are being used as slaves and orderlies by the militants, with some being forced to wear black robes and act as human shields.” Read on, here. (The entire report is really worth the click.)
CNN has an even longer report from Marawi, here.
Happening today: The Senate Armed Services Committee begins marking up its defense bill in a closed session that began at 7:30 a.m. EDT.
The House Armed Services Committee unveiled their draft NDAA on Monday, The Hill reported.
Highlights: “The bill would add 17,000 soldiers to the Army…10,000 soldiers for active duty, 4,000 for Army National Guard and 3,000 for reserve. The bill would provide a 2.4 percent pay raise,” and give “the Navy five ships more than requested by the administration: one destroyer, two Littoral Combat Ships, one amphibious dock landing ship and one Expeditionary Support Base. On aircraft, the bill would provide 17 more F-35s than requested and eight more F/A-18s. In all, the bill would provide 87 aircraft above the administration’s request for 289.”
And one last thing: “$2.5 billion more for missile defense than the $9.9 billion requested by the administration.”
Sen. Corker, R-Tenn., talks tough on Gull arms deals. His position, expressed via a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman will be “blocking U.S. arms sales to Gulf Cooperation Council member states to pressure a resolution to the escalating row over Qatar,” Defense News reported Monday.
Speaking of U.S. lawmakers: “House members want federal funds—$25,000 each—now to hire personal security,” McClatchy news reported Monday. “Representatives could use the money to pay for an off-duty police officer or private security guard at town halls, fish fries, meet-and-greets or other public events in their districts…The Federal Election Commission is considering allowing lawmakers to use campaign funds to secure their residences, as well.”
‘The Pentagon promised citizenship to immigrants who served. Now it might help deport them,’ the Washington Post’s newest veteran writer, Alex Horton, reported in his first day on the job. “The Pentagon is considering a plan to cancel enlistment contracts for 1,000 foreign-born recruits without legal immigration status, knowingly exposing them to deportation, a Defense Department memo shows… Additionally, 4,100 troops — most of whom are naturalized citizens — may face ‘enhanced screening.’”
One significant caveat: “the Pentagon voiced concern on how to navigate ‘significant legal constraints’ of ‘continuous monitoring’ of citizens without cause, according to the memo.” Story, here.
Lastly today: A chance to consider the strain on families created by a career in the U.S. military. It stems from Maj. Gen. Wayne Grigsby, who was relieved as commander of the 1st Infantry Division last year after an inappropriate relationship with a female captain on his staff. “I do not want to make any excuses, but you can see from my record that I have been deployed [eight] times for a total of [six and a half] years — practically every other year since 9/11,” Grigsby wrote in his response to the April memorandum of reprimand. Army Times did some FOIA work and has his updated story, here.
Extra reading: Doctrine Man’s take. The matter of Grigsby attributing op-tempo at least partly to his fate, it really is something “Worth discussing,” DM says. “While it’s easy to judge, there’s something to be said about how we manage our senior leaders… Several years ago, I was having coffee with a colonel selected for one-star who was mulling whether or not to pin on the star. ‘I’ve been deployed every other year since 9/11. If I pin on, I’m signing away the next ten years of my life, my family, everything that’s important to me.’ Whenever I see an episode like this one unfold, I think back on that discussion. When I look at Wayne Grigsby, I don’t see a ‘disgraced 2-star’ but someone we probably needed to help take a knee before events spun this far out of control.”