Spotlight on Puerto Rico. Thursday began with a one-star U.S. Army general headed to Puerto Rico…and finished with a three-star as “Lawmakers and local officials alike called on President Trump to place the military in charge and to send more troops, aircraft and ships,” The New York Times reports.
The new guy: Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commander of U.S. Army North (5th Army). His focus: “trying to improve distribution networks of relief supplies,” CNN reports.
Also on Thursday, “the White House authorized a 10-day waiver of the Jones Act, a federal law that limits shipping to US ports by foreign vessels,” CNN adds. (For more on the implications of waiving that act, U.S. Naval Institute News has this.) CNN: “Puerto Rico’s governor and other US officials had argued that a waiver would expedite supplies to the island. But shipping companies already have aid and supplies either waiting at the port to be delivered — or held up at ports on the US mainland.”
Said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: “Only the DOD, in my view, has the capacity to take charge of that,” he told CNN. “We need someone in charge of that with the know-how of logistics, with the capability to restore logistics and with the authority to make decisions quickly without having to check with 18 agencies.”
What’s it like on the island? “Officials still struggled to get supplies out of port to be distributed across an island of 3.4 million people where there is no electricity and scant phone service. Hospitals ran low on diesel for generators,” the Times reported. “Shelters ran out of supplies and residents lined up all night to purchase ice and fuel, only to walk away with a bag of cold water or just a few gallons of gas. Others complained of an absence of basics like tarps for roofs and the continuing lack of running water.”
What’s more, “Hospitals ran low on diesel for generators. The island has become a landscape of long lines and growing impatience with the pace of the response to what Puerto Rico’s governor called the ‘greatest catastrophe’ in its modern history.”
Advice from a Katrina veteran: Send 50,000 troops now. According to the Times, “Russel L. Honoré, the retired lieutenant general appointed by a beleaguered President George W. Bush to take over the botched federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said the government needs to quickly move 50,000 troops to Puerto Rico.”
Honoré: “They need to scale up. I had 20,000 federal troops. Not federal workers, federal troops. And Puerto Rico is bigger than Katrina.” Read on, here.
From Defense One
If North Korea Fires an ICBM, the US Might Have to Shoot It Down Over Russia // Patrick Tucker: Missile-defense physics may require interceptors to fly into ‘the teeth of the Russian early warning net.’
How Would Reagan’s Defense Secretary View the New Afghanistan Strategy? // J. David Patterson: Caspar Weinberger’s six principles for using military force are a useful lens on Trump’s newish path in Southwest Asia.
The Global Business Brief: September 28 // Marcus Weisgerber: Marines take 3D-printed drones to battle; Inside STRATCOM’s new HQ; Selling US guns overseas; and a lot more.
All That Could Go Wrong When Jihadists Return Home — to China // Colin P. Clarke and Paul Rexton Kan: Once separatists, now jihadists, some Uighurs returning from the ISIS battlefield could threaten — and test — Beijing.
How to Tell If North Korea and America Are Actually Headed to War // Uri Friedman: Watch what Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un do, not just what they say.
Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1789: Congress legalizes the U.S. Army. Have something you want to share? Email us. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
Where would the US intercept a North Korean ICBM? Over Russia, maybe. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker: “If Pyongyang fires a missile at the United States, its most-likely trajectory would take it over the North Pole. A U.S. attempt to shoot down that missile would probably occur within Russian radar space — and possibly over Russia itself. ‘It’s something we’re aware of,’ Gen. Lori Robinson, who leads both U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said Wednesday. ‘It’s something we work our way through.’” Read on, here.
Stavridis: 10% chance of nuclear war with North Korea. Retired Adm. Jim Stavridis — the former head of NATO forces-turned-foreign-affairs dean — reads widely, thinks hard, and measures his words carefully. So when he says that recent tensions have dramatically raised the possibility of armed conflict, we might listen. Stavridis was speaking at the University of Pennsylvania on a panel moderated by Yochi Dreazen, who writes at Vox: “Stavridis believes there’s at least a 10 percent chance of a nuclear war between the US and North Korea, and a 20 to 30 percent chance of a conventional, but still bloody, conflict.” Read on, here.
ISIS says its leader is still alive. The proof? A 46-minute audio recording of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s voice — which, of course, could have been made at any time — but, The New York Times reports, it was “the first time since last November that supporters of the jihadist group have heard the voice of their self-proclaimed caliph.”
Some highlights: “Baghdadi praised his foot soldiers for waging a tenacious battle in Mosul… [he] accused the American-backed troops they faced of using scorched-earth tactics,” and he “emphasized the threat the West still faces from the Islamic State, making indirect references to recent attacks on the Underground in London, in the heart of Barcelona and in Russia.”
And those last two points were among the best indicators of when the message may have been made. Other indicators, according to the Times, include reference to “the growing nuclear threat from North Korea, suggesting that it was recorded in recent weeks.” Recall that Russia claimed back in June to have killed Baghdadi, but has offered no proof.
Oh, and Baghdadi’s final point included a call for attacks on “disbeliever media centers.” The Pentagon told the Times it had no reason to believe the message was inauthentic. Read on, here.
ISIS drone use is down dramatically, the LA Times reported Thursday. Perhaps the best illustration of this: sightings in Iraq and Syria totaled only seven this entire month. Compare that with more than 60 earlier in the year, during the battle for Mosul.
Said the deputy commander of the War on ISIS, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Robert Sofge, in an upcoming interview with Defense One: “There’s been a pretty steep drop-off” in ISIS drone use since January. The ISF make much better use of more drones than does ISIS. And the drones that ISIS is using is of little strategic value at this point.”
What comes next in Iraq, where ISIS has lost 90 percent of the territory it once held. Sofge: “There’s really no doubt that ISIS will lose and the Iraqi security forces are gonna win, and that’s gonna happen. It’s not a question of if; it’s just a matter of when.” More from that one-star interview in Defense One later today.
Also this morning: CENTCOM said it killed three ISIS “drone experts” in Syria, near Mayadin, about two weeks ago. More on those goners, here.
That American ISIS fighter captured in Syria? The Red Cross says it will see him soon, the Associated Press reports this morning. He was captured by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces about two weeks ago, and “is being held at a detention facility in Iraq, according to senior U.S. officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss the detainee’s location publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.”
In limbo: “U.S. officials haven’t said what they’ll do with the man. The senior officials said it was not clear yet if he would be turned over to the U.S. Justice Department. Another possibility could involve handing him over to Iraqi authorities if he is believed to have committed war crimes in Iraq while working with IS in the region.” He could go to Guantanamo, but some officials say that’s unlikely — however, it’s not entirely ruled out yet, either. More here.
Egyptian air force strikes militant convoy at Libyan border. The target: “10 four-wheel-drive vehicles carrying arms, ammunition and contraband at Egypt’s western borders with Libya,” Reuters reports.
Open Skies Treaty access to be curtailed over Hawaii, Georgia, and South Dakota, The Wall Street Journal reports. “Reacting to Russia’s imposition of limits on Open Skies flights over Kaliningrad, Russia’s exclave along the Baltic Sea, U.S. officials now will limit flights over Hawaii to no more than 900 kilometers at a time. In addition, planes flying under the Open Skies pact no longer will have access to Robins Air Force Base, in Georgia, or Ellsworth Air Force Base, in South Dakota, both of which have been used by pilots and crews to rest and refuel between flights.” More — including Russian proposals to further restrict additional regions — here.
Why is Open Skies so valuable, and why is the U.S. flying older cameras than the Russians? Stimson Center’s Michael Krepon explained last year, here.
Army springs $0.5 billion IT surprise on Congress. In May, the Army requested about $500 million for its WIN-T battlefield network, the future-of-ground-war networking system that has proven balky and slow to arrive. But in recent weeks, service leaders have trekked to Capitol Hill to ask lawmakers to put those requested funds toward a handful of other IT efforts. C4ISRNet: “The Army’s strategy now is to rapidly fix the network by taking funds from the portions of the network that are not working and realigning money to address capability gaps. Also moving forward, the service will establish a new way to quickly procure new technology, breaking free of the normal acquisition process that is so slow, by the time technology makes it into warfighters’ hands in the field, it’s considered old.”
How’s that going over? “Ranking Member Rep. Niki Tsongas added she believed the Army plan was ‘half-baked’ and ‘overly optimistic’ and said she needed to see a much clearer way forward before she could support funding the proposed changes to the network strategy.” Read on, here.
And finally this week: This claim was heard inside a Red Lobster in Largo, Florida: “I work for the Taliban, and I have a bomb in this bag.” It was 3 p.m. when he made the threat before asking to be seated. Time picks up the story: “The man was taken to a booth near the window, where he and a woman sat away from other diners, according to local radio station News Talk Florida. Red Lobster staff and other customers then evacuated the restaurant. He left the restaurant at 3:20 p.m. and police officers took him into custody, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The man said there was nothing in the bag and that he had been joking.” A bit too late for jokes, Florida Man. Have a safe and responsible weekend, everyone. And we’ll catch you again on Monday.