New this morning: The besieged Ukrainian town of Debaltseve has fallen and government forces are leaving. Reuters this hour: “Government forces started pulling out of a town in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday after a fierce assault by Russian-backed separatists which Europe said violated a crumbling ceasefire.
President Petro Poroshenko said before flying to the town of Debaltseve that more than 80 percent of his troops in the rail hub had already left following a heavy bombardment and street-by-street fighting despite the truce that took effect on Sunday.”
“…Rebels say the ceasefire, negotiated by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France at a summit in Belarus last week, does not apply to Debaltseve, which links the two rebel-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk.” More here.
Meantime, U.S. drone sales are about to take off. The State Department is expanding the sales of armed drones to America’s allies, though each request will be met with a “strong presumption of denial”—or put differently, the bar will be rather high before approving a sale. Defense One’s tech editor Patrick Tucker: “The new policy affects drones that are capable of flying a distance of 300 kilometers and carrying a payload of 500 kilograms… U.S. allies have been thirsty for U.S. drones, particularly the Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk. Earlier this month, the State Department approved a $340 million sale of four Reapers to the Netherlands… This loosening of export rules benefits General Atomics, maker of the Predator and Reaper drones, said Roman Schweizer, an aerospace and defense policy analyst with Guggenheim Securities, in a note to investors… An uptick in armed drone sales could also benefit Lockheed Martin, which makes the Hellfire missile, the primary weapon on the Reaper.” Read the rest, here.
More on the high bar for sales from WaPo’s Missy Ryan on Page One: “Under the new rules, which remain classified, foreign governments’ requests for drones will be examined on a case-by-case basis, officials said. The drones are not to be used ‘to conduct unlawful surveillance or [for] unlawful force against their domestic populations,’ an unclassified summary of the new policy said… Foreign governments also will have to accept potential U.S. monitoring of how the drones are used.” More here.
Meantime, the U.S. will provide Toyota Hilux pickup trucks equipped with machine guns and radios to moderate Syrian rebels.
Julian Barnes and Adam Entous: “The U.S. has decided to provide pickup trucks equipped with machine guns and radios for calling in U.S. airstrikes to some moderate Syrian rebels, defense officials said. But the scope of any bombing hasn’t been worked out—a reflection of the complexities of the battlefield in Syria.
“…Officials said air support will be critical if the military-trained rebels are to have a more dramatic impact on the battlefield than the CIA program did. But a final decision on under what circumstances the U.S. will provide air support to the rebels hasn’t been made, according to Pentagon officials.” More here.
Egypt likes the idea of U.N.-backed strikes in Libya. More Middle Eastern nations are open to the idea of taking the fight against ISIS. The WaPo’s Erin Cunningham: “…The appeal came from Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in an interview with a French radio station. Sissi said there was ‘no other choice’ but to act in Libya, whose turmoil he called ‘a threat to international peace and security.’ He spoke a day after Egyptian warplanes pounded Islamic State targets in Libya to avenge the group’s grisly murder of the 21 Christians.
“Earlier this month, Jordan carried out a flurry of airstrikes in Syria… Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also participated in strikes…” More here.
Syria’s Assad attempts to cut off a key supply route for rebels, triggering clashes near Aleppo. The WSJ’s Raja Abdulrahim, here.
It’s not “going postal,” it’s “going Winchester.” American air crews recount the battle for Kobani. AFP’s Dan De Luce: “American pilots call it ‘going Winchester,’ when a warplane drops every bomb on board, and air crews for the B-1 bomber told AFP it was not uncommon in the battle for the Syrian town of Kobane, recaptured by Kurdish forces last month. The airmen, recently returned from a six-month stint flying combat missions over Syria and Iraq, recounted how American aircraft relentlessly pounded Islamic State jihadists fighting the Kurds in Kobane.” Read the rest here.
Moqtada al-Sadr recalls Shiite fighters from the fight against ISIS. The WaPo’s Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim in Baghdad, here.
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It’s Ash Wednesday today. But here’s a recap of what Ash Carter did yesterday, his first day as SecDef:
Before arriving at the Pentagon for his first day as SecDef, Ash Carter and his wife Stephanie visited Section 60 at Arlington where veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are buried. The couple then visited the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon before ascending the stairs of the Pentagon’s River Entrance.
As we and others reported yesterday, Carter was to meet first with the three service secretaries: The Army’s John McHugh, the Air Force’s Debbie James, and the Navy’s Ray Mabus. The meeting was significant in what it says about how Carter has said publicly: that he wants to reinforce the importance of civilian oversight of the military. By scheduling a meeting with the civilian service secretaries Carter was sending a signal that he would ensure that civilians run the military, not the uniforms.
But the meeting never happened. Although federal offices were closed, the Pentagon was still operating, especially with a new SecDef arriving. But the meeting with the secretaries had to be cancelled, we’re told due to yesterday’s 5” of snow, we’re told. Expect the meeting to be re-skedded and for Carter to make a point of meeting with this group often.
Carter did meet one-on-one with Dempsey. One of his first meetings yesterday was with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey.
Then Carter met with “The Big Four:” The new SecDef met with Dempsey, Vice-Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work. The four met in Carter’s E-Ring office. “They did get a chance to talk about the issues of the day, certainly current events, Iraq and Syria, Russia and Ukraine and the budget pressures that we’re facing,” a senior defense official said of what was described as a “substantive discussion,” adding: “I think what you’re going to see is a tendency to have the Big Four meetings on a regular basis,” said a senior defense official.
Here’s a photo of the meeting with The Big Four. If you look closely, you can see that Carter has already installed three computer monitors behind his desk – one for each of the three military networks - in what could be seen as a SecDef who is perhaps more wired than some of his immediate predecessors. Click here for the DoD photo.
Later yesterday, Carter met with Obama. But no one could say for sure if it was truly a one-on-one meeting with the president or if it was a so-called one-on-one – meaning aides and note-takers sat in the margins.
Obama, at the spray after the meeting with Carter, saying they discussed “dismantling ISIL,” and the situation in Iraq, foreign fighters and “countering the narrative of violent extremism” that he said had been “turbocharged through the Internet”: “I could not be more confident that Ash Carter is going to do an outstanding job as Secretary of Defense. And he is hitting the ground running, having already spent a lot of time in this administration and in the Pentagon.”
Late yesterday morning, Carter was actually sworn in as the 25th Secretary of Defense. At the ceremony in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, in addition to Carter and his wife Stephanie: Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, Carter Transition Team’s Michael Bayer, Arnie Punaro, Sally Donnelley, James Swartout and Matt Spence; Deputy Secretary of Energy Liz Sherwood-Randall, Will Carter, Carter Chief of Staff Eric Fanning, Carter Senior Military Assistant Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis.
“Uncle Joe” returned to the White House. At yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony for Ash Carter, Vice President Joe Biden decided to get a little close to Carter’s wife, Stephanie, standing behind her and appearing to massage her neck and whisper in her ear. The pictures went viral:
“New SecDef Can’t Even Defend His Wife from Joe Biden,” in The Daily Caller, here.
“Down, Joe,” by the New York Daily News, here.
“Joe Biden Needs a Tranquilizer Dart,” by The Daily Beast, here.
“Joe Biden Gets a Bit Too Close to New Secretary of Defense’s Wife,” NPR, here.
“Veep Creep: Biden’s Odd Move at Carter Ceremony,” on NBC here.
Please, we hope this doesn’t mean Pentagon crews will use even MORE salt at the River Entrance: As Carter and his wife Stephanie arrived at the Pentagon yesterday, she took an unfortunate digger on the ice. Pentagon crews are notorious for putting too much salt on the driveway and steps as it is – we’ve heard former top officials have complained of same in the past. The Pentagon won’t say how much salt they put down though – citing proprietary contractor information. Stephanie Carter’s slip, though, may mean a blanket of salt even when it rains. ABC’s Luis Martinez captured the unfortunate moment here.
Who’s up to What Today - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey is heading to Texas A&M tomorrow to review the 2,500 student cadets corps in the evening and then speak at the SCONA conference which will be live streamed at 0850 EST Thurs. He will speak on the use of military force on today’s security environment… and the Atlantic Council hosts a 3 p.m. chat on cyber info-sharing with remarks by Michael Daniel, the White House’s Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator; and a follow-on discussion with the White House’s Ari Schwartz, Director for Cybersecurity Privacy, Civil Liberties and Policy.
Also today: The White House’s violent extremism summit gets started today shortly after 8 a.m. with opening remarks by DHS’s Jeh Johnson. There are presentations and breakout sessions all the way through President Obama’s remarks slated for 4 p.m., with an introduction by Lisa Monaco.
The link provided to us for Transparency International UK’s report, teased in yesterday’s D Brief and released later that morning, was a bad link. Click here to read the report on corruption in Afghanistan.
The intelligence community isn’t “bigger than ever”—but it can improve its perception among lawmakers and citizens-at-large with just a bit of budgetary transparency, former CIA counterterrorism analyst, Aki Peritz, says in Defense One: “Of course, just throwing money at the intelligence agencies have probably caused massive inefficiencies and redundancies, hidden by degrees of classification… [But] The sky won’t fall and the Russians or al-Qaeda wouldn’t suddenly have a massive advantage against America if they realize the agency has a few more or fewer dollars to spend this year.” More here.
Intel gaps: “No one talks on the phone anymore.” The decision on when to draw the line on monitoring possible terrorists is posing a growing problem for not just Paris intelligence, but much of Europe now, too, NYTs Katrin Bennhold and Eric Schmitt report on Page One: “The electronic surveillance employed in France was limited largely to listening in on cellphone conversations. But Chérif Kouachi, who had previously been arrested based on intercepted phone conversations, was almost certainly aware of the likelihood that his phone was being monitored…” More here.
Chinese soldiers as softies? The impact of the one-child policy in China means the PLA has a problem with recruits. The NYT’s Jane Perlez, here.
And related, but only kinda: young Chinese attempt to resist pressure from parents to marry; in the WaPo, by William Wan, here.
Congress’ Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans bring a new and welcome dimension to the current war powers debate. The NYTs’ Ashley Parker and Jeremy Peters, here.
That’s not cricket: The U.S. Embassy in Kabul just after midnight eastern time tweeted out a warm congrats to Afghanistan’s cricket team in their World Cup match victory against Bangladesh. Problem, of course, is that the match didn’t even get started until about two hours after the tweet. (Hat tip to WSJ’s Nathan Hodge for flagging this one.)
A Blue Pill Wowza: The Pentagon actually spends $84 million on Viagra. Military Times’ Patty Kime: “A media report published online last week indicated the Pentagon spent more than $500,000 for Viagra in 2014. That’s a lot of money — but the figure wasn’t even close to the real amount spent by the Defense Department for that erectile dysfunction drug and others. According to data from the Defense Health Agency, DoD actually spent $41.6 million on Viagra — and $84.24 million total on erectile dysfunction prescriptions — last year.” More here.
CFR: In search of some badly needed bureaucratic clarity on countering violent extremism. International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Nathaniel Myers, says what’s perhaps most needed is to remove budgetary and procedural obstructions hampering the civilian response from agencies like USAID: “Consider the plight of my old employer, USAID… but the budget it alone controls is less than the cost of the next aircraft carrier, which alone will carry many more sailors and airmen than USAID has total foreign service officers…” Read the rest, here.
ICYMI: The Marjah offensive, five years on. Two great reads on the Marines’ winter 2010 clearance missions—aka Operation Moshtarek—in and around the Helmand town of Marjah went live last week. Task and Purpose’s James Clark, a former public affairs man on the scene, writes of his regrets for what “may have been the most heavily documented military engagement of that entire war.” That, here.
And from Marine Corps Times’ Hope Hodge Seck: “From the Battle of Marjah also came one of the Marine Corps’ greatest stories of heroism out of Afghanistan. Medically retired Marine Cpl. Kyle Carpenter would receive the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on a grenade to shield a friend and fellow Marine from the blast during the 2010 Marjah assault.” Seck transcribes Carpenter’s rousing speech from the National Museum of the Marine Corps last week, here.