Today’s the release of the White House’s 2019 budget proposal. Thanks to the big two-year deal last week, we already know its broad outlines, including around $716 billion for the Defense Department in base and OCO funding. (Still, the budget documents headed to Congress today are not quite as “largely irrelevant” as the New York Times declared.)
Reporters are standing by at the Pentagon for embargoed briefings. Check back with Defense One later today.
A preview, of sorts. If you assume that historical trends will largely prevail, you can do the arithmetic on the Pentagon topline for a preview of various components’ funding levels. Or you can just head over to CNAS, where Susanna Blume and Lauren Fish have already done it, here.
Don’t cut diplomacy and international development. More than 150 retired three- and four-star flag and general officers put their names to a Feb. 11 letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, doing their best to convince the holders of the national purse strings “that elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense is critical to keeping America safe.” (Among the names are Petraeus, Stavridis, McChrystal, Hayden, Odierno, and Zinni.) The spur, of course, is the Trump administration’s slashing of the State Department’s budget (the 2018 budget proposal sought a one-third cut) and personnel. Some 12 percent of State’s foreign affairs specialists were gone just eight months after President Trump took office last year, new figures from the Office of Personnel Management show. Overall, the department lost 6 percent of its workforce overall last year. Reporting from GovExec’s Jack Corrigan, here.
From Defense One
Chinese Police Are Wearing Sunglasses That Can Recognize Faces // Zheping Huang: The devices have already helped nab seven fugitives related to major criminal cases, and 26 others who were traveling with fake identities.
Here’s How U.S.-North Korea Crises Typically End // Uri Friedman: Donald Trump says he won’t repeat the mistakes of the past. But the past offers clues to what he might do.
State Department Lost 12% of its Foreign Affairs Specialists in Trump’s First 8 Months // GovExec’s Jack Corrigan: The department also lost 6 percent of its overall workforce in the first year of the new administration.
‘Russia Is Our Adversary’ // Will Hurd: Russia is eroding democracy by exploiting the nation’s divisions. To save it, Americans must begin working together.
The US Must Stop Turkey Now // Meghan Bodette: Americans are wrong to placate Erdogan and permit his attacks on northern Syria. Here’s how Washington can get it right.
Welcome to this Monday 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.
Israel’s good news / bad news weekend could be bad news for the wider war in Syria. Israel shot down an alleged Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace on Saturday.
A very short summary of what happened next: “Israel responded that day with airstrikes on Syrian military positions, and Syria shot down one of the Israeli warplanes, which crashed in Israeli territory,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “Israel then carried out more-extensive airstrikes on Saturday deep inside Syria targeting what its military said were Syrian and Iranian military positions.”
By the end of the episode, Israel’s military claimed they disabled half of Syria’s air defenses in those Saturday afternoon strikes.
But the fact that Israel lost a jet in the exchange — its first since 1982 — “illustrates how the competing aims of Iran and Israel could lead to a war between the two Mideast powers—as Tehran increases its military presence in Syria, a move Israel has warned it won’t allow,” the Journal writes.
Fightin’ words. For its part, “Hezbollah said the confrontation would mark the beginning of a new strategic phase against Israel, although it didn’t take any specific military action.” The episode should give Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plenty to think about this week as he heads to Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Where to go from here? The International Crisis Group has some ideas. Their advice: “Russia should broker understandings that bolster the de-escalation agreement distancing Iran-backed forces from Syria’s armistice line with Israel; halt Iran’s construction of precision missile facilities and its military infrastructure in Syria; and convince Israel to acquiesce in foreign forces remaining in the rest of Syria pending a deal on the country’s future.” That’s part of a lengthy report you can read in much greater detail, here.
POTUS selects a new crop of officers for promotions and new gigs. Topping the list: PACOM commander, Adm. Harry Harris, got the president’s vote to take the Ambassador job for Australia, U.S. Naval Institute News reported this weekend.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet will also get a new commander. If the White House gets its wish in Congress, Adm. Scott Swift will depart the job, and U.S. 5th Fleet commander, Vice Adm. John Aquilino, will slide into the slot. Aquilino took charge of CENTCOM’s naval fleet just last September, USNI writes.
Unclear right now: Who will replace Harris and Aquilino. U.S. Fleet Forces commander, Adm. Phil Davidson, is widely seen as the man who will replace Harris — but nothing is official yet. Read the rest on those gentlemen, here.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster traveled to Istanbul this weekend. During his visit, Turkey’s ambassador to the European Union, Faruk Kaymakci, said Ankara is turning more to Russia and Iran because NATO allies are cooperating with Turkey less and less, the WSJ reports from Brussels.
Why Brussels? “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will meet his Turkish counterpart at a NATO meeting that begins [there] on Wednesday.” And at the end of the week, SecState Tillerson is due to drop by Ankara for a chat with officials. Nothing else terribly solid out of McMaster’s visit; but you can read more, here. Or read a non-paywalled report from Reuters, here.
Two new reports on Turkey from the Center for American Progress want to update us on Turkey’s “new nationalism,” and what it means for “the overall direction of the country and its political leadership.”
The short read: Turkish citizens’ “mix of seemingly contradictory beliefs among Turks—simultaneously suspicious and inward-looking and open and pro-democratic—combined with sharp divisions over President Erdoğan, suggest that Turkish politics will remain unsettled and increasingly agitated in the years to come.” That report, here. Find the second report — consisting of “a deeper-dive, including further political analysis and context, more data” — over here.
NATO naval update: Germany says it shouldn’t send any more ships for missions with the alliance, the EU or the UN, Germany’s Deutsche Welle news reported Sunday. Why? Not enough ships are ready, according to the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, Hans-Peter Bartels. That, here.
How do you solve a problem like captured foreign fighters? The U.S. military wants the hundreds of ISIS foreign fighters swept up from the Syrian battlefields to “face justice in their home countries,” the Associated Press reported Sunday. That, anyway, is the perspective of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who “is expected to raise the issue during a meeting in Rome this week with other members of the coalition.”
One big hiccup: “Most nations, including the U.S., would be unwilling to take back detainees unless they have the evidence to prosecute them, and that often is difficult to collect in such battlefield captures.” Read more at Stars and Stripes, here. Or at Reuters, here.
Related, from the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg: “Tortured al-Qaida snitch gets shrimp, strawberry Oreos and U.S. sitcoms at Guantánamo.” Rosenberg tells the story of Ahmed al Darbi, who was effectively promoted from “the maximum-security Camp Five prison to a cooperating witness now cloistered in Camp Echo, an annex of the prison compound across the street.” More details on his relatively nicer new digs, here.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reportedly wounded in an airstrike last May and delegated someone else in the group cover down for him until about October, CNN reports this morning citing “several US officials who spoke exclusively to CNN.”
Notable: “US officials do not know the exact date of the strike so are unsure if a Coalition aircraft was involved, or whether Baghdadi’s injury was the result of a Russian missile.” Recall that back in May Russia claimed it may have killed Baghdadi on May 28. Not much more that’s very solid to this story; but you can read on, here.
We have a bill for damages ISIS caused to Iraq: $45.7 billion, The Wall Street Journal reports off “a new assessment by experts at the World Bank and the Iraqi government.”
That figure, WSJ writes, “is expected to frame deliberations at a three-day conference this week in Kuwait on how to rebuild Iraq that will be attended that by international investors, aid experts and ranking diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.”
One more thing: Getting Iraq’s provinces “back on their feet,” the assessment says, will require more than $88 billion. “All told,” the Journal writes, “the Iraq government is seeking about $100 billion in foreign investment for its energy, agricultural and transport sectors.” More here.
An insider attack in southern Afghanistan killed 16 of Kabul’s “intelligence operatives,” Voice of America reported this weekend.
Location: Gerishk district, Helmand province. “at a facility linked to the National Directorate of Security or NDS.”
FWIW: “The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out by three ‘infiltrators’ who seized all weapons and equipment at the facility.” Story, here.
In the three months since the Sutherland Springs church massacre, the Defense Department has hurriedly added 4,000 new names “to the nation’s list of dishonorably discharged military personnel banned from owning firearms,” a move CNN reports is “a sign of what has been a massive hole in the nation’s gun buying background check system.”
The implication, according to CNN: “for an unknown period, more than 4,000 people had the opportunity to buy guns from dealers while they should have been legally barred from it.”
Background: “The gunman in the Sutherland Springs massacre had been kicked out of the military for assaulting his wife. By federal law, that should have prevented the shooter from purchasing his semiautomatic rifle, but the US Air Force later admitted it had not submitted his records to the FBI’s background check system.”
And the numbers: “Since 2015, the number of people barred from owning firearms because they were dishonorably discharged had hovered at about 11,000, according to FBI statistics published online. That number suddenly jumped to 14,825 last November, then to 15,583 in December. It now stands at 15,597.” Read on, here.
Happening this afternoon in Washington: The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a series of talks on “Oversight and Accountability in U.S. Security Sector Assistance” with a number of Pentagon officials and the House Committee on Armed Services Ranking Member, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. The event’s three sessions begin at 2 p.m. EDT. Details, here.
Finally today: Poorly disciplined millennials have caused the U.S. Army to “redesign” basic training, Military.com reported Friday.
The (timeless?) problem: Many commanders “complained that new soldiers often show up to their first units with a sloppy appearance and undisciplined attitudes.”
But that’s not all. Also problematic is the new troops’ “sense of entitlement, questioning of lawful orders, not listening to instruction, too much of a buddy mentality with NCOs and officers and a lot of tardiness being late to formation and duties.”
The fix(es): More marching (aka “drill and ceremony”), three major “field training exercises,” as well as increasing the standards on physical fitness and combatives requirements.
Another thing: Evidently very few recruits can toss a grenade between 20 and 30 meters. Lots more to complain about re: America’s youth and their ill-prepared readiness for war before they put on a uniform, here.
ICYMI (looking at you, millenials): Your Call of Duty video games are not preparing you for war. That according to researchers at West Point, whose work was summarized by Wired back in January, here.