US military rushes to Texas’ aid; Iraq quickly retakes Tal Afar; NK launches missile trio; 3 Qs on AI & the military; and just a bit more…

We begin this morning by picking up some of the big stories that hit the country or the military on Friday — chiefly, Hurricane (now Tropical Storm) Harvey. CNN’s banner this morning: “The water is still rising.”

The quick read: “Over two days, Houston got 25 inches of rain — more than half of its annual rainfall. That number could double this week,” CNN reports. “More than 300,000 customers have lost electricity across the state… [and] Around 13 million people are under flood watches and warnings stretching from Corpus Christi to New Orleans as the remnants of Hurricane Harvey menace the already drenched Texas and Louisiana.”

“At least six people have died as a result of the flooding,” Slate reported Sunday, “but everyone expects that number to keep rising considering rescue workers have not been able to reach some of the worst-hit areas. The flooding in Houston was so extensive that officials couldn’t even say that one area was the worst affected.”

The storm is currently “around Texas’ Gulf of Mexico Coast, where it is forecast to remain for several more days, drenching parts of the region with a year’s worth of rain in the span of a week,” Reuters adds.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said this morning “that it was releasing water from two nearby reservoirs into Buffalo Bayou, the primary body of water running through Houston.” The Corps “started the reservoir releases before 2 a.m. Monday — ahead of schedule — because water levels were increasing at a rate of more than six inches (15 centimeters) per hour,” AP reports, adding that “timetable was moved up to prevent more homes from being flooded.”

Said FEMA Administrator Brock Long: “This is a landmark event for Texas. Texas has never seen an event like this.”

More than 3,000 national and state guard troops had been deployed to assist with relief efforts,” the Washington Post reports. “Another 1,000 National Guard members will be sent to Houston on Monday, [Texas Gov. Greg Abbott] announced late Sunday. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said federal agencies have more than 5,000 employees working in Texas.”

The total rainfall: 11 trillion gallons so far, according to Ryan Maue with WeatherBell, a weather analytics company. “And by the time Harvey dissipates, the state will have seen 25 trillion gallons of rain,” according to CNN.

Some have called it a “500-year flood.” Others disagreed. While still others — like Houston’s Fort Ben County Judge Robert Herbert — called it an “800-year flood.”

President Trump heads to Texas on Tuesday to survey the devastation and recovery operations, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said over the weekend.

Check out the busy stream of imagery, info and recovery operations coordinated or aided by the U.S. Coast Guard’s “Heartland” team, here.


From Defense One

3 Questions: Artificial Intelligence and the Military // Ben Watson: AI has moved from the movies to the laboratory, and governments around the world want it in their arsenals. We asked how militaries define it, and how they intend to keep it under control.

Beijing’s Latest Moves in the South China Sea Spark Fears of a New Land Grab // Steve Mollman: Alarm bells sounded when Chinese ships recently gathered at Sandy Cay, a set of sandbars close to Philippines-occupied Thitu Island in the Spratly archipelago.

Trump Cybersecurity Advisers Resign In ‘Moral’ Protest // Joseph Marks: Board members also condemned the president’s response to racist violence in Charlottesville, Va.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1972: A U.S. Air Force pilot shoots down his fifth aircraft, becoming his service’s only ace of the Vietnam War. 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.)


North Korea launched three more missiles on Friday, toward the East Sea, drawing a quick reply from U.S. Pacific Command declaring the first and third missiles “failed in flight” while the second blew up “almost immediately.”
Not so fast. By the time Saturday morning rolled around, PACOM put out a new statement walking back that “failed in flight” remark. “As an update to our initial release, the first and third missiles at 11:49 a.m. and 12:19 p.m. did not ‘fail in flight,’ Cmdr. David Benham, a PACOM spokesman said in a statement Saturday. “Rather, they flew approximately 250 kilometers in a northeastern direction. We will continue to work with our Interagency partners on a more detailed assessment of this latest launch and we will provide a public update if warranted.”
The launch site — Gitdaeryong in Gangwon Province —  “is home to the North’s Scud and Nodong missile base,” South Korea’s Yonhap News agency reported. Officials from South Korea’s presidential office “said in a statement that the projectiles are believed to be rockets from a multiple-rocket launcher, as opposed to short-range ballistic missiles as was widely believed.” Read on, here.  
Elsewhere in the region, a Japanese helicopter crashed “while it was engaged in landing-and-takeoff drills with MSDF vessels over the Sea of Japan, about 90 km west-southwest of Cape Tappi” late Saturday, the Japan Times reported this weekend. One servicemember was recovered while three were still missing on Sunday.
One more thing: Japan now has its first V-22 Osprey. The Aviationist has more, here.

Iraqi forces have retaken the former ISIS stronghold of Tal Afar, a joint operation involving some 40,000 troops, and which took far shorter than most expected, the Washington Post reported Sunday on location. “The battle for Tal Afar, which lasted just eight days, highlighted the diminished capabilities of the Islamic State in Iraq a month after it lost the key bastion of Mosul to a coalition of Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes. The relatively quick victory is likely to determine how future fights against the militant group will be pursued.”
For what it’s worth, “Before the operation was launched, Iraq’s intelligence services estimated that between 1,400 and 2,000 militants occupied the city. Iraq’s military said Saturday that 259 Islamic State fighters had been killed, suggesting that many had fled the battle into the vast desert north and west of the city toward Syria.”
Iraqi officials are feeling very optimistic now, the Post writes. “The enemy’s back is broken,” said Lt. Gen. Sami al-Aridhi, a top commander of the elite counterterrorism service units in Tal Afar. “Their morale is gone.”
Here’s video of a coalition airstrike on Tal Afar, shared by the folks at Operation Inherent Resolve.
What’s next? Two more strongholds in Iraq — Hawija and Qaim — which some Iraqi officials want to attack next simultaneously. Read on, here.

A shadowy raid in southern Somalia killed 10 civilians, including three children, The New York Times reported this weekend. “The farmers were killed ‘one by one’ after soldiers stormed into the village, Barire, early Friday, the deputy governor of the Lower Shabelle region, Ali Nur Mohamed, told reporters in the capital, Mogadishu.”
But there’s still a significant amount of confusion as key details are yet to be worked out — considering, as the Times reports, “Somalia’s Information Ministry at first said that the raid had killed eight Shabab fighters and that the extremists had begun shooting at Somali forces, adding that ‘no civilians were harmed or killed.’ A corrected statement said that ‘it appears that there were different security operations’ in the area.”
AFRICOM’s reax: “We can confirm that the Somali National Army was conducting an operation in the area with U.S. forces in a supporting role… We are aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Bariire, Somalia.  We take any allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and per standard, we are conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground.” Read the rest of the Times’ report, here.

Trump makes transgender ban official: The president’s after-hours news dump included his official order (the gist of which leaked early last week) to prevent transgender Americans from serving their country in uniform. Effective next year, transgender troops may not enter the military, no matter their qualifications — unless, Trump writes, “the Secretary of Defense, after consulting with the Secretary of Homeland Security, provides a recommendation to the contrary that I find convincing.” Read the whole memo, here.
And what of the thousands of transgender troops currently serving? Trump leaves that at least partially up to the SecDef. New York Times: “By putting the onus on Mr. Mattis, the president appeared to open the door to allowing at least some transgender service members to remain in the military. Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said that Mr. Mattis had received the guidance but did not indicate how he would proceed.” Read, here.
ICYMI: Congress has the power to block Trump’s ban, the Congressional Research Service wrote last month. Read that, here.

Found: the bodies of all 10 sailors missing aboard USS McCain. “The bodies were all recovered from within the destroyer, which was badly damaged during the Aug. 21 collision, complicating retrieval efforts. The ship is still docked at Changi naval base in Singapore,” reports the Washington Post, here.
The several larger investigations into that and other collisions are picking up steam. But it’s not hard to imagine that they will find that “overworked sailors, shortened training schedules, and budgets cuts” created a climate that fostered a rash of incidents over the past year. That line is one from the Wall Street Journal; another good take is from former sailor David Larter at Defense News (“The US Navy’s fleet has been on a collision course for years”), while his colleague and fellow sailor Mark Faram takes a hard look at the Navy’s decision to eliminate a key part of training for young surface naval officers, here.

A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter crashed off Yemen coast, leaving one servicemember still missing after five were recovered, CENTCOM announced Friday. The helicopter, from the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Air Regiment, “was conducting hoist training just feet above the water when it lost power and went into the sea, quickly rolling over and ejecting six aboard,” WaPo reported.

The U.S. military’s apparent increased OPTEMPO since President Trump took office is drawing scrutiny. Why? Friday’s incident near Yemen makes now four deadly American military aircraft crashes since July, Fox News Lucas Tomlinson tweeted Friday — to go with the four big Navy accidents at sea in 2017, including those three collisions this summer alone.

Characterizing Air Force readiness a little bit differently. New Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson was direct when asked Friday at the Pentagon about the state of service’s readiness. Like her predecessor and other Air Force brass, she noted the service has been fighting wars for more than a 15 years with little threat of its pilots being shot down. Therefore, she explained, pilots are less prepared for battle against advanced surface-to-air missiles.

“I worry about that. I think we should all worry about that,” Wilson told reporters during a press conference on Friday. “When we characterize our readiness levels, we prioritize being in the current fight and the nuclear mission. That means that some of the missions against integrated air defenses, we’re not as ready. That doesn’t mean we won’t go. It means fewer will come back. I think we need to understand that.”

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