Big air exercise over South Korea; Yemen takes turns for the worse; Expect new US natsec strategy within weeks; Beijing confirms basing warplanes in the South China Sea; and just a bit more…

“Massive combined air exercise” planned over South Korea. America’s top two stealth fighter jets — the F-35 and F-22 — are among the 230 or so aircraft flying in the five-day Vigilant Ace exercise, the Associated Press reports this morning from Seoul. B-1s might also be involved, but that’s not confirmed, South Korea’s Yonhap News agency reported Saturday.

But cool your jets; this isn’t some new call for war, AP writes. “The training, held each year in late fall, is not in response to any incident or provocation, the [U.S.] Seventh Air Force said in a statement.”

That didn’t stop North Korea from saying the exercises push the peninsula “to the brink of nuclear war.”

Watch about a minute of that drill, also via AP, here.

No big deal, but the Pentagon should move U.S. dependents out of South Korea because there is a possibility that war might break out, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Reuters has a short review of that, here.

Graham’s quote, in full: “We’re getting close to a military conflict because North Korea’s marching toward marrying up the technology of an ICBM with a nuclear weapon on top that can not only get to America but deliver the weapon. We’re running out of time. McMaster said that yesterday. I’m going to urge the Pentagon not to send any more dependents to South Korea. South Korea should be an unaccompanied tour. It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea. So I want them to stop sending dependents. And I think it’s now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea.”

The senator also thinks it’s time to talk about preemptive war in a “big, open discussion” among members of Congress. Catch the full exchange, here.

In August, Graham painted this picture of a preemptive war on the Korean Peninsula: “If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here.”

ICYMI: China launched what’s believed to be a new high-resolution military satellite on Saturday — the country’s 15th orbital launch this year, according to Harvard astronomer, Jonathan McDowell.  

For the first time, China has “confirmed the deployment of [J-11B] fighter jets to Woody Island in the disputed South China Sea,” Japan Times reported this weekend. “While fighter jets had been spotted on the island in 2016 and in April this year, the footage was the first time Beijing had confirmed the deployments. It was aired by China Central Television (CCTV) on Wednesday as part of a report on the air force’s expanding capabilities.” They’ve apparently also built hardened facilities to house the jets from the elements. More here.


From Defense One

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North Korea’s Military Capabilities, In Review // Council on Foreign Relations’ Eleanor Albert: North Korea has embarked on an accelerated buildup of weapons of mass destruction and modernization of its already large conventional force.

FBI, DHS Warn of Hacker Mercenaries Funded by Nation-States // Joseph Marks: Lawmakers also are considering giving Homeland Security more authority to test anti-drone tech.

As AI and Cyber Race Ahead, the State Department Is Falling Behind // Josh Kirshner, formerly of the State Department and the House intelligence committee: Technology is reshaping the global order. America’s diplomats need to start thinking ahead.

Welcome to this Monday 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. OTD1945: U.S. Senate votes to allow the U.S. to join the United Nations.


With Yemen spiraling into further chaos, SecDef Mattis is racking up frequent-flier miles in and around the region. On Saturday, he was in Egypt; Sunday in Jordan and Kuwait; and today he’s in Pakistan — a day after the Afghan Taliban’s so-called special forces leader was declared killed in a raid last week in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.   
The stated purpose of Mattis’s swing: to “re-affirm the enduring U.S. commitment to partnership in the Middle East, West Africa and South Asia.”
Also new: a Jordanian-led “multilateral contact group to deal with terrorism in west Africa,” The Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman noted from the secretary’s itinerary.

But other matters in the region began taking center stage this weekend, in particular, the war in Yemen. It somehow seems to have gotten much worse. We’ll break down developments there briefly in reverse chronological order, beginning with:

  • The apparent death of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh this morning in the capital of Sana’a. Reuters relays a report from Saudi media alleging Saleh has died of sniper fire. “Earlier on Monday, Houthi forces blew up Saleh’s house in Sanaa and came under aerial attack by Saudi-led coalition warplanes for a second day.”
  • On Saturday, Houthis fired a cruise missile — video here, looking very much like an Iranian model — at what they said they believed was a nuclear reactor in the UAE. The Emiratis denied this was the missile’s destination, and they denied there being any nuclear facilities to merit the targeting coordinates.
  • Saleh on Saturday said he was ready to turn over a “new page” in his relations with the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen since March 2015 — but only if they’d stop bombing Yemen. The Houthis accused Saleh of betraying the Houthi cause.  
  • The airstrikes today punctuated nearly a week of heavy urban fighting in Sana’a between “Iranian-allied Shiite rebels and forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh” after they began fighting on Wednesday. The Saleh-Houthi feud triggered a sudden, “major realignment that leaves the rebels increasingly isolated after three years of war,” AP reported in summary.

Also from the region: Israel warned Iran against setting up military bases in Syria, The Wall Street Journal reports following a Saturday evening airstrike at a military base near Damascus. More on that attack from CNN, here.
And CIA Director Pompeo says he warned Iran against “threatening behavior” in Iraq. Reuters has that one, here.
Pompeo also says President Trump’s tweets help U.S. national security. “Our adversaries responded to those tweets in ways that were helpful to us to understand command and control issues, who’s listening to what messages, how those messages are resonating around the world,” he told the crowd at the Reagan defense forum. More from CNN, here.

America has a new national security strategy, but we won’t see it for another few weeks as admin officials slow-roll it out, The Wall Street Journal reports after sitting down with National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster — who laid out the broad strokes this weekend at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California.
What the strategy is said to tackle: “the threat of North Korea’s nuclear arms, global terrorism and Iranian meddling, as well as China’s growing influence in Asia and Russian aggression and propaganda efforts in the West.”
It also has four pillars, the Journal writes. “Protecting the American people and homeland; advancing American prosperity through growth, trade and expanding the American industrial base; ‘preserving peace through strength’ to counter China, Russia, North Korea and Iran; and terrorism in the Middle East.” A little bit more (paywall alert), here.  

America first; needs of global migrants somewhere down lower. Foreign Policy: “President Donald Trump has decided to boycott a global conference on migration scheduled to begin Monday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, sending a blunt signal that the United States is no longer interested in forging a concerted response to the world’s burgeoning migration crises.” Read that, here.

Lastly today: An animated look at how a teenager survived life under ISIS in Mosul, Iraq. Here’s the story of 13-year-old Ferah. She kept a journal, and now AP has helped turn it into something much more accessible than mere photos of her journal could convey. Worth the click, here.

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