Trump’s 3rd FONOP; McCain pushes his Afghanistan strategy; North Korea doubles down on Guam threat; Russian jet overflies DC, New Jersey; and just a bit more…

President Trump’s third freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) happened this morning in the South China Sea. The “USS John S. McCain traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals,” a U.S. official told Reuters this morning. Here are photos of Mischief Reef’s development, via CSIS’s Asia Maritime Tracker.

Worth noting: “This FONOP comes just 39 days since the last FONOP, living up to PACOM commander’s [Adm. Harry Harris] commitment to two a quarter,” wrote Zack Cooper of the Center for Strategic and International Studies this morning on Twitter. “Also worth mentioning that the decision to go forward occurred despite DPRK tensions. Admin trying to show that it can walk and chew gum.”

Sen. McCain’s new strategy for Afghanistan. The Maverick just put out a statement this morning dinging former President Obama’s “don’t lose” strategy in Afghanistan before McCain aimed his guns for the current president: “Now, nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened. The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.”

It’s all part of a PR push for a new amendment McCain added to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (PDF) that his office says “offers a new strategy for success for the ongoing war in Afghanistan.”

The pitch and the intent: “to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a sanctuary for terrorists to plot and conduct attacks against America, our allies, or our interests… we need an integrated civil-military approach to bolster U.S. counterterrorism efforts, strengthen the capability and capacity of the Afghan government and security forces, and intensify diplomatic efforts to facilitate a negotiated peace process in Afghanistan in cooperation with regional partners.” Read his 8-point plan, here.

The Taliban released “235 villagers held since the insurgents seized control of an area in northern Sari Pul province five days ago” in an alleged joint raid with the local ISIS affiliate, the Associated Press reported. “Since the insurgents took control of the area, 52 civilians, including women and children, have been killed in the village of Mirzawalang in Sayad districts. The victims were mostly Shiites and minority Hazaras.”

Elsewhere outside of Bagram, a “gunmen opened fire on a group of four female employees… killing one and wounding a second woman, said Gen. Zaman Mamozai, the provincial police chief.” More here.


From Defense One

After the Marines United Scandal, ‘All Options’ Are on the Table // Caroline Houck: The Corps is considering integrating female recruits into West Coast training camps to help address subconscious biases, the assistant commandant said.

America Is Not Ready for a War in North Korea // Eliot A. Cohen: If loose words about fire and fury are a mere negotiating tactic, they will not deliver what the United States desires.

Are Mercenaries Really a Cheaper Way of War? // David A. Graham: The founder of Blackwater says privatizing the 16-year war could save taxpayer money. History, both recent and farther back, suggests a different outcome.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1988: Reparations are granted to Japanese Americans interned by their government during World War II. 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.)


President Trump may have improvised that “fire and fury” line to North Korea on Wednesday, White House officials told reporters after the warning dominated news coverage. However, “press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president discussed the ‘tone and strength’ of the message beforehand with advisers including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

North Korea, meanwhile, doubled down on its threat to strike Guam. “Pyongyang said the missiles would land about 20 miles offshore and could be launched as soon as mid-August,” the Journal reports.
Adds the NYTs: “The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that, according to the plan, four of the country’s Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles would fly over the three southern Japanese prefectures of Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi before hitting the ocean about 19 to 25 miles from the coast of Guam. In addition to serving as a warning to the United States, the proposed missile firings would also be a challenge to Japan.”
And why telecast the launch? Gen. Kim Rak-gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army, was quoted in state media saying “he was disclosing the details of the plan to ‘give stronger confidence in certain victory and courage to the Korean people and help them witness the wretched plight of the U.S. imperialists.’” More from the Times, here.

Amid the ongoing war of words between the White House and North Korea, Defense Secretary James Mattis issued a warning of his own Wednesday: “Kim Jong Un should take heed of the United Nations Security Council’s unified voice, and statements from governments the world over, who agree the DPRK poses a threat to global security and stability. The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people… The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.”
Just how many ICBMs does America have? Following President Trump’s tweet Wednesday — that the country’s “nuclear arsenal… is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before” — Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies shared a chart illustrating the ICBM force over time. It’s part of an upcoming report from CSIS.
South Korea’s president just called for a “complete and thorough overhaul” of the military in the face of North Korea’s growing threats, Yonhap News Agency reported Wednesday.  

That unarmed Russian air force jet that flew over the Pentagon, Capitol, and the CIA on Wednesday? It was a long-planned Open Skies flight. The actual scandal is that Russia’s cameras are better than ours.

ISIS is putting up fierce resistance in Raqqa, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces tell Agence France-Presse. “SDF forces had seized nine districts in the city’s west and east, while IS was putting up a fierce defence of the seven remaining neighbourhoods.” The big threats — same as Mosul: tunnels, snipers, IEDs (“in every centimetre” of the city, one fighter says), drones and “commando-style attacks” on turf retaken by the SDF. More here.

Finally: “China’s answer to Rambo is about punishing those who offend China—and it’s killing it in theaters,” Quartz reported Wednesday. “Set in a war-torn African country, Wolf Warrior 2 tells the story of a former special-forces soldier saving his compatriots and locals from the hands of American-led mercenaries.” Hollywood Reporter: “American audiences, at least, may also be put off by the relentless Chinese jingoism on display, although, to be fair, it seems a fair price to pay for such American movie characters as Rambo.” Watch the trailer, here.

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