New math for US troops in Afghanistan; Coast Guard rescues 6,000 in Texas; Trump vs. Mattis on NK diplomacy; CENTCOM slams Lebanon’s free ride for ISIS; and just a bit more…

There are more U.S. troops in Afghanistan than the public knew before Wednesday — a total of roughly 11,000. But there aren’t actually more troops there; the Pentagon’s just changed how it counts — and talks publicly about — deployed troops, officials said Wednesday.

Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber explains: Under Obama, and for the first seven months of the Trump administration, the U.S. military tied itself in knots to conform to caps on the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan — for example, not counting troops in-country for a short while, or even leaving some troops home and filling their jobs with contractors abroad. That’s stopping, said Dana White, the Pentagon’s new top spokeswoman.

From now on, said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, “We will characterize all forces necessary for the steady-state missions of train, advise, assist and counterterrorism as total forces.”

Against the map-makers: “One of the things we want to do here is avoid the ability to draw sand charts and graphs on this to give direct information to the enemy and sort of preclude telegraphing things that we want to do,” McKenzie explained near the end of the briefing. Check out a few informative maps and charts on the ongoing Afghan war, here. Or read on, here.

Trump’s Afghan troop surge will “likely include thousands of paratroopers, Marines and heavy bombers,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday. The primary two units likely to get the call: the “82nd Airborne Division and an airborne brigade from the 25th Infantry Division, according to U.S. officials.”

As well, expect “more F-16 fighters, A-10 ground attack aircraft and additional B-52 bomber support, or a combination of all three,” in addition to “Marine artillery detachments, composed of about 100 or so troops per unit… to fill in gaps in air support.” More here.

Deployment orders for three Army brigades are in, Army Times reports. “The 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade and 3rd Sustainment Brigade are headed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, while 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division will make its way to Kuwait to support Operation Spartan Shield… Meanwhile, soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division will take over for  soldiers in 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. They will join their headquarters element, which has been deployed to Iraq since July, in the Persian Gulf region.”


From Defense One

How Many US Troops in Afghanistan? Pentagon Changes How It Counts Them // Marcus Weisgerber: A new accounting method ups the official total in Afghanistan from 8,400 to “approximately” 11,000.

Trump Directly Counters Mattis, Military, In Tweet on North Korea // Kevin Baron: ‘Talking is not the answer!’ says president, after threatening ‘all options’ following North Korean missile-launch over Japan.

Our Navy is Broken, and That is a Bad Thing // Jerry Hendrix: The fleet’s problems stem from decades of flat acquisition budgets and declining ship numbers.

Trump Doesn’t Have the Authority to Attack North Korea Without Congress // Garrett Epps: The decision to engage in armed conflict rests with the legislative branch, a requirement that is neither a formality nor outdated.

Congress Should Do Its Job, and Get Us Out of Yemen’s Civil War // Willis L. Krumholz: American support for the Saudi-led coalition is getting us nowhere good.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1862: The Navy abolishes the daily rum ration. 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. Coast Guard has helped save the lives of more than 4,300 people from flood-ravaged Houston, Texas, according to Reuters.
Update: Make that more than 6,000 — according to the USCG, as of 9 a.m. EDT today. And add another 1,000 pets, the service says.
How are they helping coordinate recovery efforts? Here’s a video illustrating it.
For emergency assistance, pass along the numbers the Coast Guard sends from this list.

F-35 joins tensions on the Korean peninsula. Four of the fifth-generation aircraft linked up with “two U.S. B-1B supersonic bombers…and four South Korean F-15 fighters in live-fire exercises at a military field in eastern South Korea that simulated precision strikes against the North’s ‘core facilities,’” a South Korean defense official told the Associated Press this morning. “The B-1Bs were flown in from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam while the F-35s came from a U.S. base in Iwakuni, Japan, the official said.”
Also in that story: “South Korea’s Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk told lawmakers on Thursday that the North might have fired the missile at about half its maximum range.”
The Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman, Gen. Paul Selva, says there are three key hurdles remaining before North Korea can obtain an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, Bloomberg reports. Those three things: “a guidance and stability control system,” a “reentry vehicle housing the warhead that can survive the heat and stresses of an intercontinental ballistic launch,” and a nuke “small enough and stable enough to survive the trip.” Read on, here.
Adm. Harry Harris for the next U.S. ambassador to Australia? The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin says that’s in the cards, though a decision to fill the seven-months-vacant post hasn’t yet been made, according to three admin officials.
And for what it’s worth, “The odds-on favorite to replace Harris atop PACOM, according to officials, is Adm. Scott Swift, the current head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Swift is also known to support strong responses to Chinese aggression.” More here.

“Not our ceasefire.” Coalition eyes in the sky are keeping close tabs on hundreds of alleged ISIS fighters and their families moving across the Syrian desert this week after negotiating a ceasefire deal struck this weekend between “the Lebanese Hezbollah [and] the Syrian regime,” CENTCOM said Wednesday. Adds the Washington Post: “The 310 fighters were traveling to the Iraq-Syria border in a convoy of buses after Hezbollah and the Syrian government permitted them to withdraw from a besieged enclave on the Lebanon-Syria border… In return, Hezbollah secured the bodies of nine captured Lebanese soldiers who had been kidnapped by the Islamic State in 2014, the bodies of three Hezbollah fighters and the body of an Iranian military adviser who had been decapitated by the Islamic State during a battle on the Iraqi-Syrian border earlier this month.”
Said CENTCOM of this deal: “Russian and pro-regime counter-ISIS words ring hollow when they cut deals with and allow terrorists to transit territory under their control.”
Here’s the word from President Trump’s special envoy for the ISIS war, Brett McGurk: “Irreconcilable ISIS terrorists should be killed on the battlefield, not bused across Syria to the Iraqi border without Iraq’s consent. Our coalition will help ensure that these terrorists can never enter Iraq or escape from what remains of their dwindling ‘caliphate,’” he wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
Added Middle East analyst Charles Lister: “Frankly speaking, the Lebanese [armed forces] and Hezbollah struggled to militarily defeat 500-750 ISIS militants. Then they gave them buses with air-conditioners and a safe exit.”
Now what? Coalition officials say they reserve the right to “take action against ISIS whenever and wherever we are able to without harming civilians.” But that last part is considerably difficult in this situation since — as an AFP photographer noticed on Monday night — “Children are aboard those buses.”
On Wednesday, the coalition announced it had “not struck the convoy.” However, “In accordance with the law of armed conflict,” it said it had “cratered the road heading east between Hamaymah and Abul Kamal to prevent the further transport of ISIS fighters to the border area of our Iraqi partners.”
But it also conducted airstrikes at least near the convoy, according to the statement — which partially threw the Associated Press for a loop — when the coalition said its aircraft had “struck individual vehicles and fighters that were clearly identified as ISIS.” How these alleged fighters were “clearly identified as ISIS” was not spelled out. More from WaPo, here.
By the way: ISIS appears to have gotten its hands on more Syrian military hardware near Raqqa — including tanks, artillery, rockets and more. That, via Charles Lister once more, here.

The battle for ISIS-held Tal Afar is officially over, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared this morning. “Tal Afar has been liberated,” Abadi said in a statement. “We say to the Islamic State fighters: wherever you are, we are coming for you and you have no choice but to surrender or die.” Reuters has a short summary of where things stand, here.

ICYMI: The U.S. Air Force acknowledged its secretive base at Al Dhafra, United Arab Emirates, Military.com’s Oriana Pawlyk reported this week. “While the 380th was established at the base on Jan. 25, 2002, the U.S. military has had a presence on the base for approximately 25 years… In addition to housing one of the largest fuel farms in the world, the wing houses such aircraft as the KC-10 tanker; the RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude drone; the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS, aircraft; the U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane; and the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet.” More here.  

Photo from the future: Check out the “first Bell V-280 Valor Next-Generation Tilt-Rotor aircraft prototype,” via The Aviationist. Image and specs, here.

Lastly today: A movie trailer that came out last week, but that we only first spotted Wednesday. The film: “Last Flag Flying,” starring Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne. The plot, via IMDB: “Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War.” The film is set for an early November release, but you can catch the quirky (and heart-breaking) trailer, released Friday, here.

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