Trump preps for UN speech; Syrian troops advance on ISIS stronghold; Iran pumps up media ops; DARPA seeks specialized chips for AI; and just a bit more…

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

September 18, 2017

This week: President Trump heads to the United Nations. President Donald Trump makes his first appearance before the international assembly in a speaking role on Tuesday in New York.

Clouding that appearance: North Korea’s Friday missile launch over Japan.  

On the Sunday talkshows, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley said, “None of us want war. But we also have to look at the fact that you are dealing with someone [in Kim] who is being reckless, irresponsible and is continuing to give threats not only to the United States, but to all of its allies. So something is going to have to be done."

Added National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster: "We really have to move with a great deal of urgency, on sanctions, on diplomacy and on preparing, if necessary, a military option."

President Trump on North Korea (coming to us via Twitter on Sunday): “I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!” That last bit about “long gas lines” struck some as perhaps a bit suspect. The Guardian has more on that angle, here.

Later today: Trump is expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron. The focus of those talks: Iran, said McMaster. More from CBS News, here.


From Defense One

No, We Cannot Shoot Down North Korea's Missiles // Joe Cirincione: It's time national leaders speak realistically about missile defense.

Can the US Military Re-Invent the Microchip for the AI Era? // Patrick Tucker: As conventional microchip design reaches its limits, DARPA is pouring money into the specialty chips that might power tomorrow's autonomous machines.

US Military Leaders Worry About Iran's Media Operations // Patrick Tucker: Forget Russian fake news. Iranian media and messaging are thwarting U.S. efforts across the Middle East.

How Black-Market Tobacco Funds the World's Bad Actors // David M. Luna: It's time to focus the world's attention on a smuggling enterprise that helps underwrite North Korea's nukes and Taliban terror.

The Problem of Securing London's Tube // Yasmeen Serhan: Friday's explosion was not fatal, but it shows how transit networks are especially vulnerable to terrorism.

In Mexico, Mattis Plays Down Political Rhetoric, Seeks to Build Trust // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Secretary Mattis touts "a growing relationship built on trust and respect" between the U.S. and Mexican militaries.

'Is There Something Going On?': Onscene at STRATCOM As North Korea Launches Missile // Marcus Weisgerber: The head of U.S. Strategic Command is whisked to his operations center as a missile flies over Japan.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Happy 70th birthday, U.S. Air Force. 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.)


Rising tensions in Deir ez-Zor. Syrian government troops have made a key advance on the ISIS stronghold of Deir ez-Zor on Sunday — two days after either Syrian or Russian airstrikes wounded a half-dozen U.S.-backed militiamen nearby. The pro-Syrian troops on Sunday “crossed to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River in Deir el-Zour for the first time since they broke a siege on parts of the eastern city earlier this month,” AP reports this morning.
The pro-Assad forces managed to capture a district known as al-Jafra on the western bank of the Euphrates, Reuters adds.
For what it’s worth: The U.S.-backed SDF says it’s “taken 14 villages and farms, two towns, and some factories on the eastern bank of the Euphrates since launching its assault last week,” according to Reuters.
The wider picture: “Moscow and Washington are backing separate offensives in the oil-rich province of Deir al-Zor bordering Iraq. Both have advanced from opposite sides of the Euphrates which bisects the province, Islamic State’s last major foothold in Syria,” writes Reuters.
About that strike on the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces: “Our forces east of the Euphrates were hit with an attack from the Russian aircraft and Syrian regime forces, targeting our units in the industrial zone,” the SDF said in a statement Friday.
Said Gen. Joseph Dunford: "We have been engaged at every level to re-establish deconfliction at the Euphrates river. It couldn't be more complex and crowded in that area, and so deconfliction is more difficult right now than it was a few months ago," the Joint Chiefs Chairman told reporters on Sunday at Oslo, Norway. "We haven't resolved all the issues right now. We'll get through that."
By the way: Wanna take a ride through Raqqa, Syria — after more than 100 days of the U.S.-backed offensive on the ISIS-held city? Watch the footage shot there this weekend by Dutch journalist Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, here.

From the international IO beat: Facebook is acting increasingly like a “cyber country trying to keep up its relationships with real countries,” a New York Times portrait of the company’s diplomacy abroad reveals.
One interesting pull-out: “One in five minutes spent online are spent on Facebook. Much of that happens overseas in languages that Facebook management doesn't speak.”
The short story: “Facebook sending envoys across the world to talk to governments and try to prevent any regulatory crackdowns,” writes one of the reporters, Paul Mozur, on Twitter. “In some ways Facebook feels like a cyber country trying to keep up its relationships with real countries… Meanwhile it has been inconsistent and secretive in its approach to negotiations with countries. It quietly made a censorship tool FOR China. It also released an app in China through a shell company without putting its name to it. In India+Brazil when democratically elected governments made decisions that went against it, it distributed petitions/called for protests… It's the sort of realpolitik you get out of nation states.” Full NYT story, here.

More firings after Navy collisions. A 1-star admiral and a captain have been canned in connection with the recent spate incidents involving U.S. Navy warships in the Pacific theater. USNI News:U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Philip Sawyer removed Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander of Combined Task Force 70, and Capt. Jeffery Bennett, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 15, from their positions on Monday (Tuesday local time) due to a loss of confidence in their ability to command.”
As well, the three-star head of Navy surface warfare has requested early retirement: “Sources told USNI News that [Vice Adm. Tom] Rowden told Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson he wanted to step aside to allow for new leadership to guide the surface forces.” Read on, here.
Rowden is perhaps best known for pressing for “distributed lethality — essentially, creating ways for Navy leaders to fire weapons distributed across a fleet’s ships and aircraft.

Your Monday snapshot features “A ship, carrying a warship,” flagged by the Bosphorus Naval News. What you’ll see: a Netherlands “heavy load carrier M/V Rolldock Star with a Gepard 3.9 class frigate for Vietnamese Navy.” Hat tip to veteran naval analyst Chris Cavas.

Let us now praise famous men, like Stanislav Petrov: “the Soviet officer who averted nuclear war” in 1983. He reportedly passed away in May at the age 77, according to Russian state media, RT.

Lastly today: Have seven minutes for some secretive Cold War history? We suggest listening to this Weekend All Things Considered piece from NPR entitled, “'The Taking Of K-129': How The CIA Stole A Sunken Soviet Sub Off The Ocean Floor.”
Involved: a sunken Russian nuclear sub, eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, and “probably the greatest feat of naval engineering.” Listen, here.


By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston // Ben Watson is news editor for Defense One. He previously worked for NPR's “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now” in Washington, D.C. Watson served for five years in the U.S. Army, where he was an award-winning combat cameraman and media advisor for southern Afghanistan's special operations command during the 2010-11 surge. // Bradley Peniston is deputy editor of Defense One. A national-security journalist for two decades, he helped launch Military.com, served as managing editor of Defense News, and was editor of Armed Forces Journal. His books include No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf, now part of the Chief of Naval Operations' Professional Reading Program.

September 18, 2017

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