Trump’s transgender tweets draw opposition; USAF wants robots watching Twitter; Russia cuts 49-year deal to stay in Syria; Navy testing disposable microdrones; and just a bit more…

Can President Trump make his transgender ban stick? In three tweets, the commander in chief threw the Pentagon into a tizzy — and thousands of U.S. troops, their commanders, their units, and their families into doubt.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow / Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming / victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”

Just how many transgender people are in the military? No one knows, thanks to their fuzzy status in the wake of 2011’s lifting of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell. A 2014 study by a UCLA law school center estimated that 15,500 were serving in all components, while a 2016 Rand study offered a “midrange estimate of about 2,450 transgender personnel” in the active component alone.

In June 2016, then-SecDef Ash Carter declared that gender dysphoria is no longer a disqualifying condition for military service. Last September, DoD officials confirmed that “transgender troops on active duty may qualify for sex-reassignment surgery if their physicians deem it necessary,” Military Times reported at the time.

What are the medical costs associated with this decision? Between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, according to that Rand study.

For some humor, here’s DuffelBlog’s response: “’They spend how much on transgender medical services? $8.4 million? My God, that’s like four screws and a couple of bolts on my ejection seat,’ the F-35 told reporters.”

Trump’s tweets drew immediate opposition from an unusual group of allies: lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. It’s also unclear whether such a ban would survive the inevitable challenge in the courts. Read responses from all over, here.

And why now, five months before the Joint Chiefs of Staff are due to report on the practicalities of implementing Carter’s policy? Politico reports that Trump’s declaration may have been an attempt to keep proposed legislation to fund a Mexican border wall moving along. Read, here.

One White House official also suggested it might help the GOP in 2018 elections. That, here.

Finally, Military Times asked several transgender troops what they thought. “I would like to see them try to kick me out of my military,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland. “You are not going to deny me my right to serve my country when I am fully qualified and able and willing to give my life.” Read more, here.


From Defense One

US Air Force Wants Robots Watching Twitter // Patrick Tucker: Tomorrow’s operations will be shaped by automated analysis of the world’s open-source data, says the service’s chief of staff.

Trump’s Transgender Troop Ban Sparks An Instant Opposition of Unusual Allies // Kevin Baron: The commander in chief tweet-declares a stunning change for military personnel, but it’s far from clear he can make it stick.

US Cyber Diplomacy Has Bigger Problems Than the Closure of its Coordination Office // Council on Foreign Relations’ David Fidler: The Trump administration isn’t making it a foreign policy priority.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Happy birthday, State Department (née Department of Foreign Affairs in 1789). 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.)


The U.S.-backed offensive to retake ISIS-held Raqqa, Syria, is at the halfway point, conflict monitors of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday. That’s the good news. The bad news: “a barrage of US-led air strikes across the city [on Wednesday] left at least 29 civilians dead, the British-based Observatory said… With Wednesday’s deadly raids, at least 325 civilians, including 51 children, have died in the city since the SDF penetrated Raqa less than two months ago, according to the Observatory. Another 467 IS jihadists and 219 SDF have also been killed in the fighting.” More here.

Newsflash: Russia’s military will now remain in Syria for nearly half a century. President Vladimir “Putin approved the agreement on Wednesday, after the two chambers of the Russian parliament backed it earlier this month,” Reuters reports. “The document says Russian forces will be deployed at the Hmeymim base for 49 years with the option of extending that arrangement for 25-year periods.”

“Big gains” for Hezbollah and the Syrian army. The Iranian-backed militant group “has made rapid advances since it launched an offensive with the Syrian army on Friday to drive Sunni militants from their last foothold” along the Lebanon-Syria border, Reuters reported Wednesday from Beirut. “In the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Arsal, the operation has focused on the ex-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syria branch until last year when it severed ties and rebranded. The next phase is expected to target a nearby enclave in the hands of Islamic State militants.”

Saudis to blame for the attack on a migrant boat that killed 42 and injured 34 others in March off the southwestern coast of Yemen, Reuters reports off a confidential UN investigation.

Overnight bloodbath in Kandahar, Afghanistan. NYTs: “The Taliban routed an Afghan Army outpost, killing dozens of soldiers and raising fears of a concerted insurgent offensive” in the southern province, a traditional hotbed for the insurgency. The location of the attack: Khakrez district, about 30 dusty miles north of the provincial capital of Kandahar City — and where Kabul fielded its first special forces team almost exactly six years ago. (Your D Brief-er was with that team at the time.)
But back to last night: “One senior security official said 39 Afghan Army soldiers were killed in the attack, which began at 10 p.m. on Tuesday and lasted for three hours. The official said that 17 other soldiers were wounded, and that a dozen more had not been accounted for,” the Times writes.
A member of Kandahar’s provincial council called the attack a “massacre.”
“The Taliban fooled the officials — they split into three groups, and launched simultaneous attacks,” Mohammed Yousuf Younusi said. “One group attacked Shah Wali Kot District, another attacked Nish District, and a third group attacked this Afghan Army base, which is not far from the district center. Things are really bad, and this is a shame.” More here.

In Africa, Boko Haram ambushed a Nigerian oil convoy, killing “around 10 soldiers” on Tuesday, AP reported from Maiduguri. Said one Nigerian official: the militants “came in new vehicles and fully dressed in military uniforms.”
AP reminds readers, “Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people and continues to carry out deadly attacks despite the government’s declaration late last year that the extremists had been ‘crushed.’” A little bit more, here.

Also in Africa, a German military helicopter crashed in Mali, killing two peacekeepers on board. “The Tiger helicopter crashed around midday about 70 km (45 miles) north of Gao, burning out completely with no survivors,” Reuters reports. “A German military officer in Berlin said there was no indication the helicopter had been downed by an attack…German military investigators will head to the scene on Thursday to search for the helicopter’s flight data recorder.”

PACOM’s Adm. Swift says the world may not be able to stop a nuclear-armed North Korea, the Sydney Morning Herald reports this morning.
Says the Pentagon: “We’re in a place where we can say with confidence we’re able to defend the American homeland from a potential North Korean ICBM,” spox Capt. Jeff Davis said Wednesday. More from South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, here.

President Trump ordering a nuclear strike on North Korea is an “outrageous hypothetical,” Pacific Fleet spokesman, Capt. Charlie Brown, said this morning in Melbourne. Brown said that after Adm. Swift was asked if he would carry out the nuclear attack, should Trump order it. “The answer would be yes,” Swift replied. More here.

Soon joining the crowded South China Sea: Britain, Defence Minister Michael Fallon confirmed this morning in Australia. “We hope to send a warship to region next year. We have not finalised exactly where that deployment will take place but we won’t be constrained by China from sailing through the South China Sea,” Fallon told Reuters. “We have the right of freedom of navigation and we will exercise it.” More here.

In new toys, the U.S. Navy is testing “disposable” microdrones that glide down from the sky. BoingBoing first brought the story to our attention. But you’ll find more from the original source, here, which tells us the name for these devices is the CICADA — “Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft.” The cost: about $250 each. Check out some test footage from last March, right here.

One more (kind of big) naval thing: The U.S. Navy may have to call up mothballed ships and overhaul its shipyards in order to reach President Trump’s goal ofa  355-ship fleet, Stars and Stripes reports. “The workforce at the nation’s five large and two smaller shipbuilding plants would need $4 billion in infrastructure upgrades and a 40-percent hike in the overall workforce over the next five to 10 years,” said Eric Labs, senior analyst for naval forces and weapons at the Congressional Budget Office.
In addition, Stripes writes, “Construction of carriers and submarines would pose the greatest challenge for the shipbuilding industry, Labs said. The workload of submarine-building plants is already expected to double by 2021 with the scheduled construction of the Columbia-class subs beginning then.” More on all that, here.

Romania wants to buy about $4 billion in U.S. Patriot missiles, Defense Minister Adrian Tutuianu said Wednesday. Payment could begin as soon as November. More from the Associated Press, here.

Lastly today: U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was recently duped into a fake phone interview with Russian comedians. “During the 22-minute call on July 19, Perry, whose department oversees the U.S. nuclear weapons program, discussed a range of topics in a business-like tone, including sanctions against Russia and helping Ukraine develop oil and gas. Perry said the Trump administration opposes Nord Stream 2, a Russian project to bring natural gas to Europe across the Baltic and that U.S. technology could help Ukraine develop gas,” Reuters reports — adding this note: “It is unclear how the United States would bring more coal to Ukraine but Perry hinted on the call that the Commerce Department was working on it.” Story, here.

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