US pulls support for Syrian rebels; Trump heads to Pentagon; A deep dive into dark-web 3D-printed guns; Silicon Valley joins anti-ISIS air war; and just a bit more…

U.S. pulls support for anti-Assad forces, to Russian applause. “President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials.” Washington Post, here.
The reaction from Putin’s RT?Trump to end lavish CIA support for ‘moderate’ anti-Assad forces in Syria – reports.”
Adds Reuters: “The decision was made with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo after they consulted with lower ranking officials and before Trump’s July 7 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany.” Citing two U.S. officials, Reuters says the decision “was not part of U.S.-Russian negotiations on a ceasefire in southwestern Syria,” but was “part of an effort by the administration to improve relations with Russia, which along with Iranian-supported groups has largely succeeded in preserving Assad’s government in the six-year-civil war.” Read on, here.

But Moscow’s actual aim is preserving the war itself — and building Russian influence abroad, argues the Council on Foreign Relations’ Alexander Decina. Read that, via Defense One, here.

1,803 days since he disappeared, or was kidnapped, in southern Syria, the parents of U.S. journalist and former Marine Austin Tice say they’re ready to work with “any government or group” to secure the release of their son, the Washington Post reports. Tice’s parents “said Thursday that they would not speculate on the identity of their son’s captors. U.S. officials have said they believed Tice was being held by the Syrian government — but little progress has been made in finding out the details of his captivity.” More, here.

Back in Washington, Trump will make his second visit to the Pentagon later this morning for a briefing. This follows what the Washington Post called a “rare meeting” on Wednesday of his full national security team to discuss ways ahead in Afghanistan. “The meeting that Trump led in the White House did not focus on the size of the American force in Afghanistan but looked at America’s broader approach to the region and its strategy regarding Pakistan, which has provided a haven for the Taliban.”
Notes the Post, “One challenge for Trump is that there are not a lot of new options available to him that do not come with a big price tag.” More on all that, here.


From Defense One

3D-Printed Gun Designs Are Selling for $12 on the Dark Web // Patrick Tucker: A new report shows just how easy it is becoming to download designs for difficult-to-trace arms.

DIUx Wins Support — and More Cash — from Trump’s Pentagon // Caroline Houck: The vice chair of the Joint Chiefs touted an effort to track North Korean missile launcher, while the military’s new weapons buyer called it a good model for developing and acquiring capabilities.

Is Russia Really with Assad in Syria? // Alexander Decina: Moscow appears to be preventing a total Assad victory in a bid to boost its international standing.

Is That You Typing? New Pentagon Tech Will Know // Mohana Ravindranath: In its quest to drop authentication cards, the Defense Department is trying out a system based on the nuances of users’ typing.

South Korea’s President May Be Just the Man to Solve the North Korea Crisis // S. Nathan Park: Just as only the conservative Richard Nixon could thaw U.S.-China relations, the supposedly dovish Moon Jae In could defuse tensions with the Kim regime.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1960: A U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarine launches the first two Polaris missiles from shipboard. Have something you want to share? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


POTUS submits a new Army secretary nominee, Mark Esper, the Washington Examiner reported Wednesday. Esper is “West Point graduate, [a] former aide to Sens. Chuck Hagel and Bill Frist, and a Raytheon executive” whose portfolio covers government relations. More here.  

France needs a new army chief, after the previous one — 60-year-old Gen. Pierre de Villiers — just stepped down following a spat over the military’s budget with President Emmanuel Macron, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The context: “France’s government last week revealed major cuts to bring its budget deficit below the level of an EU cap,” the BBC reported. “President Macron wants to get the overall French budget deficit below a European Union cap of 3% of national income for 2017. As part of that effort, the government has earmarked €850m in savings in military spending for the year. New equipment orders will be delayed or cancelled and the defence ministry is also being asked to take on the €1.3bn cost of foreign operations.” More here.

It hurts not having ambassadors,” said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who commands U.S. Army forces in Europe, speaking to reporters Wednesday in Bulgaria. Politico: “Hodges, who leads roughly 30,000 U.S. troops stationed across Europe, said the absence of an ambassador was particularly notable in Germany, where U.S. Army Europe headquarters is located on a base in Wiesbaden.”
Clarifying somewhat, Hodges added, “That’s not unique to this change of administration. There were countries under the previous administration that didn’t have ambassadors for an extended period of time. So I don’t want to make too much of it, except to say how important it is to have ambassadors and people in place. There’s a reason you have them.”
Also from Hodges’ AO: The U.S. military will bring “a Patriot missile battery, helicopters and a National Guard tank company to neutral Sweden in September to join one of the largest drills in that country in decades,” Stars and Stripes reports. “They (Sweden) haven’t done something like this in 25, 30 years,” Hodges told Stripes. More, here.

Nuclear activism in Europe crosses a line: “[F]ive peace activists entered the Büchel Air Base in Büchel, Germany, after nightfall on Monday, 17 July 2017, and for the first time in a 21-year campaign of protest against the deployment of US B61 thermonuclear bombs there, climbed on top of one large bunker containing the nuclear weapons,” according to activists of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance.
What’s more, “After cutting through two exterior fences and two more fences surrounding the large earth-covered bunkers, the five spent more than one hour unnoticed sitting on the bunker. No notice of the group was taken until after two of them climbed down to write ‘DISARM’ on the bunker’s metal front door, setting off an alarm.” Read on, here.  

Silicon Valley is going to war against ISIS, “developing several new computer programs for the U.S. military’s air operations center running the bombing campaign,” WaPo reported Wednesday. “The effort has included Air Force coders deploying to Qatar and a Silicon Valley company working daily with the military to improve the software… The $2.7 million contract involved in the program is between the Air Force and a Silicon Valley company, Pivotal Inc., that has often worked with large corporations such as Ford and Home Depot. The effort is expected to reach beyond the operations center in Qatar to eventually assist in similar U.S. military facilities across the world.” Read on, here.

How to more affordably fight ISIS: with “cheaper long-distance drones” and “a tablet-based targeting and communication system that gives ground forces the power to ensure more precision air strikes.” More on new and already-fielded gear, via CNBC, here.

What Yemen needs — among other things — is journalists, the UN says. The impetus: the “Saudi Arabia-led coalition blocked three foreign journalists from traveling on a U.N. aid flight to the Houthi rebel-controlled capital Sanaa,” Reuters reports. “The lack of coverage is hindering humanitarian workers efforts to draw the attention of the international community and donors to the man-made catastrophe that the country is experiencing,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York on Wednesday.
And some numbers on Yemen’s conflict: “Since the end of April, the World Health Organization said there have been more than 320,000 suspected cases of cholera — a disease that causes uncontrollable diarrhea — and 1,742 deaths across more than 90 percent of the Arabian Peninsula country.” More here.
One more thing about the country: The far southwestern province of Taiz “is being hit by Saudi coalition air raids at more than double the rate of any other governorate in Yemen,” according to the folks at the Yemen Data Project. Find their map of the fighting, here.

Coming soon: Another North Korean ICBM launch, U.S. officials told CNN on Wednesday. “US satellites have detected new imagery and satellite-based radar emissions indicating North Korea may be testing components and missile control facilities for another ICBM or intermediate launch.”
Their estimate for the next launch: “about two weeks.”
In case you’re curious, “we have an 86.5% chance of another missile test by the end of July,” said Shea Cotton of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Cotton is a legit number-cruncher on all things North Korea. Find his running database of DPRK missile launches, here.


Lastly today: Coming in for a landing…on a New York freeway! A civilian Cessna pilot is being praised today for an emergency landing on a Long Island highway that included navigating under an overpass, WABC news about of Long Island reports. “The Cessna, registered to a Northport man, touched down on Sunrise Highway in Yaphank near exit 57S around 1 p.m..” Footage of the landing — and an eyebrow-raising drive underneath an overpass — was captured by a motorist. Watch and read more from the scene, here.

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