30 US strikes on Somalia this year; Top enlisted leaders say ‘what readiness crisis?’; Russian fighter buzzes Navy P-8; Hawaii resumes Cold War siren tests; and just a bit more…

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

November 28, 2017

Another U.S. airstrike on ISIS affiliates in Somalia, this time (as before, on Nov. 3) in the northeast — toward the Yemeni coast, U.S. Africa Command announced Monday. “Monday's strike brings the total number of U.S. airstrikes in Somalia this year to 30 — 28 of them having been carried out against al-Shabab,” Voice of America reported off the news.

Wanna know more about the U.S. military’s build-up in Somalia? Here’s Politico, highlighting the largest U.S. presence there since 1993 is in place right now — some 500 personnel, a number that has more than doubled in just this calendar year. As well, Navy SEALs have set up a HQs in Mogadishu (shifted from Germany) to better respond to crises. There’s also now a one-star, Army Brig. Gen. Miguel Castellanos, to command the “Mogadishu Coordination Cell.” Conventional U.S. soldiers have also been rotating in and out of the country to build up the facilities in Mogadishu.

How the Pentagon describes it: “the flow of forces in and out [of Somalia] as different organizations come in that might be sized a little differently,” according to Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff in the Pentagon.

Why, in short: “a peacekeeping mission spearheaded by the African Union is winding down. That is putting more pressure on the fledgling Somali security forces to confront al-Shabab, a terrorist army allied with Al Qaeda that plays the role of a quasi-government in significant parts of the country.”

For additional reading on the U.S. build-up in Somalia, see this New York Times report, filed on the same day (Nov. 19). One excerpt from that: “I just pray we’re bombing the right people,” said former CIA-er Michael Shurkin, now with RAND Corporation.

Happening shortly: Afghanistan war commander, Gen. John W. Nicholson, briefs the Pentagon press corps from the five-sided building at 10 a.m. EDT. Watch it live, here.  


From Defense One

Top Enlisted Leaders Push Back: There Is No Readiness 'Crisis' // Caroline Houck: Recent deadly accidents are concerning, but part of the risk of military operations around the globe, they said.

A Breakthrough in Soft Robot Muscles, Funded by the Military // Patrick Tucker: Future military robots may come in softer, more cuddly, and stranger forms.

What's Dangerous About Donald Trump's Foreign Policy? // Uri Friedman: His unorthodox approach has frightened some observers. But it's his more conventional moves that have cost the most lives.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you don’t subscribe already, consider subscribing. It’s free. OTD1943: FDR, Churchill, and Stalin meet in Tehran to set Allied strategy.


There is a global game of hot potato being played with ISIS fighters who flee Iraq and Syria, Kim Cragin, senior research fellow at the National Defense University, writes in Lawfare.
Complicating factors: Many of the fighters’ home countries — Tunisia and Turkey, e.g. — “simply do not have any more room in their prisons. They do not have the resources to implement de-radicalization programs for prisoners. And, in some instances, they do not have sufficient evidence to prosecute Islamic State fighters deported from Turkey or other countries.” Read on for her suggested reforms, involving both the UN and Interpol, here.

Ignore the Turks; the U.S. military says it’s still arming its Kurdish partners in Syria, Military Times reported Monday — following up a report from Friday after a phone chat between President Trump and his (Kurd-hating) Turkish counterpart.

ICYMI: A secret Israeli special forces raid on ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, led to the laptop ban, the British Times reported four days ago. The short review: “Two helicopters flew commandos from Israel’s elite Sayeret Matkal force, its equivalent of the SAS, and a team of Mossad technical operatives into the desert near the Syrian city of Raqqa. The commandos fanned out while the Mossad team, driving jeeps in the colours of the Assad regime army, placed a listening device in or near a room in which an Islamic State team were talking about bomb-making.” More (paywall alert), here.

Russian military jams its own troops’ comms to prep for war. That’s one thing that Estonia’s military intelligence chief took away from watching Russia’s giant Zapad-17 exercise earlier this year. Col. Kaupo Rosin spoke with Defense News’ Aaron Mehta: “The amount of jamming of their own troops surprised me. It was at a level we haven’t seen. And they did it in the different branches, so land force, Air Force. That definitely surprised us. The threat of the Russians is that if they are jammed, they can fall back into a civilian infrastructure on their own land, which gives them an advantage in operating in the vicinity of Russia. So, they have that advantage.” Read the whole interview, here.

Baltic militias are swelling. Italian documentary photographer Tomaso Clavarino spent nearly a month earlier this year following several Baltic paramilitary groups, including the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union, the Estonian Defense League, and Latvia’s National Guard. All are decades old; all are seeing increased membership in response to Russian aggressiveness. This slideshow by The Atlantic shows members of the Youth Guard, a section of Latvia’s National Guard, after practicing a hostage rescue.

In the Black Sea, the Russian air force carried out an "unsafe" intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft on Saturday, flying to within 50 feet of the sub-hunting aircraft, CNN reported Monday. “The Russian jet's actions were deemed unsafe because the aircraft crossed in front of the US plane from right to left while engaging its afterburners, forcing the P-8 to enter its jet wash, an action that caused the US plane to experience ‘a 15-degree roll and violent turbulence,’” a Pentagon spokeswoman told CNN. More here.

New to the Black Sea: the USS James E. Williams (DDG-95), which was “spotted transiting the Bosporus Strait over the weekend, heading into the Black Sea,” U.S. Naval Institute News reports. The guided-missile destroyer can only hang out in the sea for three weeks, per the 1936 Montreux Convention that regulates traffic through the Bosphorus. A tiny bit more, here.

Russia says it lost control of a weather satellite shortly after it launched from the new Vostochny cosmodrome — only the second launch from that location, AFP reports this morning. “Apart from the weather satellite, the rocket carried 18 payloads from institutions and companies in Canada, the United States, Japan, Germany, Sweden and Norway… The glitch is a fresh embarrassment for Russia's beleaguered space programme which has suffered a series of setbacks over recent years as Moscow seeks to ease dependence on the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.” More, here.

In global unmanned tech news: “Fleets of civilian drones” (the smaller, off-the-shelf variety) will be used to deliver medical supplies and to assess traffic patterns in the U.K., The Telegraph reported Monday. And a new driverless car from Nissan has just hit the road in Japan. “The modified car was equipped with 12 sonars, 12 cameras, nine radar sensors and six laser scanners to enhance the accuracy of its solo journey.” CNN has that one, here.

Are the North Koreans about to launch another rocket? “Radio signals” picked up by the Japanese seem to suggest that’s what’s in the works, Reuters reported Monday. The signals could, however, also just be from winter military exercises, according to Japan’s Kyodo news agency. Then again, U.S. officials said, it could simply be an effort at deception. More here.

Two veteran diplos sound the alarm about cuts at State. “The Foreign Service is a jewel of the American national security establishment, with the deepest and most effective diplomatic corps in the world. All that is now at risk,” write Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary of State and ambassador to NATO; and Ryan C. Crocker, a former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, in a NYT oped, here.

Hawaii is resuming Cold War-era siren tests, Reuters reported separately Monday. For the first time in about 30 years, “Wailing air-raid sirens will be sounded for about 60 seconds from more than 400 locations across the central Pacific islands starting at 11:45 a.m. on Friday, in a test that will be repeated on the first business day of each month thereafter.”
In case you wondered, “A single 150-kiloton weapon detonated over Pearl Harbor on the main island of Oahu would be expected to kill 18,000 people outright and leave 50,000 to 120,000 others injured across a blast zone several miles wide, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spokesman Richard Rapoza said, citing projections based on assessments of North Korea’s nuclear weapons technology.” Read on, 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.

November 28, 2017

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