Syria uses chemical weapons again, US says; Mattis in Indonesia; A new red line on N. Korean nukes?; Microsat launches get a lot cheaper; and just a bit more…

The U.S. says Syria used chemical weapons again in the capital of Damascus, and U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley says Russia is at least partly to blame, telling the UN Moscow is “complicit in the Assad regime’s atrocities,” Fox News reported Tuesday.

About the attack: It is alleged to have “happened Monday in Eastern Ghouta, an insurgent redoubt near Syria’s capital, Damascus,” The New York Times reports. However, “As of Tuesday, there was no definitive confirmation” of who was responsible.

The best account appears to be from “Bassam Khabieh, a freelance photographer working for Reuters, [who] was in the vicinity and said in an interview that it occurred between 5:30 and 6:00 on Monday morning,” the Times writes. “By the time he arrived, he said, a chlorine smell hung in the air and dead cats littered the ground. All the victims had already been taken to the hospital, he said. The Douma Medical Center in East Ghouta said 21 people, including six children, had been admitted by the Ambulance Department at the Damascus Countryside Specialty Hospital at 6 a.m.”

Here’s a glimpse at some of the alleged munitions used in Monday’s attack, found and curated by Eliot Higgins of London’s King College.

By the way: There was another alleged chemical weapons attack in a different location inside Syria this week, the Washington Post reports. “Separately, doctors from the Syrian American Medical Society, a nonprofit supporting hospitals across opposition-held parts of Syria, reported another attack on the northern province of Idlib.”

Said a doctor working in Idlib: “It is hard to describe the horrors we have seen coming through our doors this week. There was a little girl whose brain had fallen onto her pink T-shirt. And now we have the chemical victims, again. No one wants to stop this.”

SecState Rex Tillerson’s reax to the Monday attack in Damascus: “Whoever conducted the attacks, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in east Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria,” he told a crowd in Paris on Tuesday.

Going further, Tillerson said, “There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the United States as a framework guarantor. It has betrayed the Chemical Weapons Convention and U.N. Security Council Resolution 2218.” More from ABC News, here.

In case you were curious: In the nine months after President Trump’s cruise missile strikes after April’s CW attack, there have been “11 reported instances of Chlorine gas use by [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad]” and his forces, tweeted Middle East analyst Tobias Schneider. “In the 9 months preceding [the April cruise missile strikes] there were 73 (including four uses of Sarin).”

One more thing: We’d share with you President Trump’s remarks after the April 2017 attack, but the White House appears to have removed it from its website, along with the ability to search the WH site. (Here’s the old link from April.) So we dug up a cached version of his tough talk toward Assad from Mar-a-Lago right, here.

What now? Haley said her office “will pursue all available avenues for accountability,” ABC reported. And she intends to do that “through the U.N. Security Council, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons,” which is a “new international group Tillerson helped launch today.”

Tillerson chose to launch that new group because Russia vetoed a UN resolution to continue investigating CW use in Syria back in November. ABC reports “The 29-nation organization will collect, share and publicize information about chemical attack perpetrators, including details about sanctions.”

Russia’s reax: Start a different working group, and say Tillerson and Haley’s remarks are just “the latest baseless accusations against Russia,” according to Moscow’s UN Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia, speaking Tuesday at the UN. “Representatives from the U.S.A. and United Kingdom without a moment’s hesitation and before any confirmation, not to mention an investigation, rushed to declare that the Syrian ‘regime,’ as they call it, was involved,” he said. “Now, they are also trying to drag Russia into this.”

Line of the day: “When Russia doesn’t like the facts, they try and distract the conversation,” said Haley. “That’s because the facts come back over and over again to the truth Russia wants to hide — that the Assad regime continues to use chemical weapons against its own people.”

The air campaign against ISIS in Syria is anything but finished: The U.S.-led coalition said Tuesday it killed at least 145(!) ISIS militants in a series of precision strikes on Saturday. They hit fighters in the town of Ash Sha’Fah, along the Euphrates River Valley and near the border with Iraq. “The precision strikes were a culmination of extensive intelligence preparation to confirm an ISIS headquarters and command and control center in an exclusively ISIS-occupied location in the contested Middle Euphrates River Valley,” the coalition said in a statement. More from CNN, here.

Before we leave the region: Get smart on “Turkey’s Next Phase in Afrin, Syria,” via this explainer from the folks at the Institute for the Study of War.

From Defense One

The Cost To Put a Microsatellite Constellation Into Space Just Fell Through the Floor // Patrick Tucker: Super-cheap rocket startup hits orbit in new test, demonstrates space maneuvering to deposit satellites.

The Most Dangerous Word in the Draft Nuclear Posture Review // Stimson Center’s Michael Krepon: By insisting that future arms control agreements be “enforceable,” the Trump administration could substitute military strikes for diplomacy.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.

SecDef Mattis is cozying up to Indonesia as “part of a new drive to shore up Southeast Asian countries against intimidation by China in the South China Sea,” The Wall Street Journal reports from Jakarta. Mattis called the country the “maritime fulcrum” of the region “and said the countries will work to improve comprehensive monitoring in the Natuna Sea, a part of Indonesia that has seen an increase in Chinese maritime activity coming down from the disputed South China Sea.”
For some context, the Journal writes, “Jakarta drew Beijing’s ire last year when it named the southern fringes of the South China Sea after the Natunas island chain and stepped up a drive to build airstrips, a fishing industry and security patrols there to consolidate its hold on the territory. President Joko Widodo took the symbolic move of holding a cabinet meeting on a navy ship there.” More here.
Mattis also said the crisis in Myanmar is worse than you probably know, Reuters writes while also traveling with the secretary.
Said the SecDef: “This is a tragedy that’s worse than anything that CNN or BBC has been able to portray about what has happened to these people. And the United States has been engaged vigorously in the diplomatic realm trying to resolve this, engaged with humanitarian aid, a lot of money going into humanitarian aid.”

A new red line on North Korea nukes? The Trump administration is now focusing on preventing North Korea from being able to launch multiple ICBMs, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Tuesday. That’s via Arms Control Today’s Kingston Reif. The Washington Post has more from Pompeo’s speech, here.

Russia’s underwater nuke. An analyst for the Swedish military has become the latest to confirm Moscow’s efforts to develop a “nuclear-armed undersea autonomous torpedo,” as a leaked draft version of the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review put it. On Monday, Fredrik Westerlund, who is the deputy research director of the Swedish Defense Research Agency’s Russia project, told Swedish broadcaster SVT that the drone could carry a warhead of up to 100 megatons. “This system effectively avoids the U.S. missile defense and I think that’s the main point,” Westerlund say. Read more from Moscow Times, here.
Speaking of the nuke posture review, its classified version has now been shown to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense News reported Tuesday.

China has underwater sensors near Guam. “Near” is a relative term in the vast Pacific — the listening devices are 300 and 500 kilometers away from the U.S. submarine base there. But they sit on the most direct route to contested South China Sea, and have apparently detected sounds up to 1,000 kilometers away. The sensors have been operating successfully since 2016, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which recently revealed their existence. China says the sensors, one of which is in the world’s deepest ocean trench, are for scientific purposes, but they are also believed to be keeping an ear on U.S. naval movements and possibly even communications.
“All great powers put sensor arrays at the bottom of the ocean for anti-submarine warfare,” said James Lewis, senior vice-president at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.“China has become a great power and is acting like one.” Read more from the South China Morning Post, here.

Need that F-35 for a mission? There’s a 1 in 2 chance it’s down. The Lightning II’s availability rate has been “around 50 percent” since 2014, thanks to parts shortages and other problems, according to the Pentagon’s latest testing report, which went to Congress on Tuesday. Bloomberg‘s Tony Capaccio notes that DoD is trying to accelerate F-35 contracting and production “despite the persistence of technical and reliability issues…including difficulties with the electro-optical targeting system and flaws in launching air-to-air missiles and GPS-guided air-to-ground munitions during weapons testing.” Read more, here.

And lastly today: Six women at Fort Bragg have earned the Army’s Expert Infantryman Badge, about two years after the specialty was first opened to female soldiers. The women were among the 287 soldiers (out of about 1,000 who tried in November) to complete at least 27 of 30 tasks that show a mastery of infantry skills. Fayetteville Observer, here.

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