The state of the refugee situation in Syria is “beyond inhumane,” the U.N. says. AP’s Bassem Mroue: “Palestinian fighters clashed with Islamic State militants in a heavily contested Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital Monday as a United Nations official described the situation in the embattled camp as ‘beyond inhumane.’
“The fighting in Yarmouk began Wednesday after the Islamic State group muscled into the camp, marking the extremists’ deepest foray yet into Damascus. The heavy clashes that have raged since then have added yet another layer of misery for up to 18,000 Yarmouk residents who have already endured desperate conditions marked by a lack of basic food, medicine and water.
“The deteriorating situation prompted the U.N. Security Council to call an emergency meeting Monday to discuss Yarmouk and receive a closed-door videoconference briefing by the head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Pierre Krahenbuhl, who called the humanitarian situation in the camp “completely catastrophic.” More here.
15 Syrian Air Force jets and a drone downed in mid-March are among the more than 5,000 ISIS targets struck by coalition aircraft in an air campaign that’s cost nearly $2 billion so far, according to new data from Central Command that Defense One’s Kedar Pavgi compiled in three charts. More, here.
And Iraqi forensic teams began exhuming the bodies of Iraqi soldiers thought to be buried in mass graves. Reuters this morning: “Iraq forensic teams began on Monday excavating 12 suspected mass grave sites thought to hold the corpses of as many as 1,700 soldiers massacred last summer by Islamic State militants as they swept across northern Iraq.” More here.
It’s not easy training Iraqi troops for the conditions they’ll face when they battle ISIS, but The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp reports on one 1st Division sergeant major’s high confidence in the critical task ahead of an offensive to retake the city of Mosul. That, here.
But there is also a big humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The WSJ’s Maria Abi-Habib: “Yemeni civilians trapped by battles between Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed fighters in the southern port city of Aden are quickly running out of clean water and food supplies, residents warned on Monday. With bottled water no longer available, thousands of people were lining up at water pumps, said inhabitants of Yemen’s second-largest city. For most, fleeing the fighting was out of the question because of a fuel shortage.” More here.
The Saudis, meanwhile, have asked Pakistan to join the fight in Yemen in a possible expansion of Saudi’s role in the increasingly unstable country. The NYT’s Salman Masood and Kareen Fahim: “…The Saudi government, backed by other Persian Gulf countries and the United States, started its campaign against the Houthis in late March, relying primarily on air power. Yet nearly two weeks of airstrikes have failed to stop the Houthi advance, including into Aden, Yemen’s second-largest city. The Saudis and their allies have repeatedly raised the possibility of a ground invasion, which analysts say would most likely rely heavily on foreign troops, including those from close Saudi allies like Pakistan or Egypt.” More here.
And the U.S. may help the Saudis with refueling – if they ask for it. Defense News’ Aaron Mehta: “US Air Force refueling assets stand ready to support Saudi Arabian operations in Yemen, but the Saudi government has yet to request their use, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday. Col. Steve Warren said there is nothing holding up that refueling, but it just has not yet been needed. ‘It’s authorized, it’s approved. The assets are in place. Thus far the Saudis, or any other participating nation, simply haven’t requested it,’ Warren told reporters.” More here.
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief, by Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson.
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Brad Carson takes over as Pentagon personnel chief and he has his job cut out for him. Used to be, the Pentagon personnel chief – perhaps the biggest Pentagon job you rarely hear about - had a large presence in the building. We remember the days of David Chu, a regular presence in DoD who would brief reporters on personnel and other matters pertaining to the force and whose depth of knowledge and background carried much weight.
But since Chu left in the early days of the Obama administration, there has been a slew of folks who have had that job or acted in it – we count seven individuals, including Jessica Wright, who just left the job. The office has been plagued by a variety of leadership problems, investigations and mis-matched skillsets. Many find that troubling at a time of defense spending cutting when the force and its care is so critical after so many years of war. It also comes as Congress and the Pentagon leadership consider fundamental reforms to the benefits and compensation of all troops.
Enter Brad Carson, the former Congressman who has been serving as Undersecretary of the Army. In a sign that Defense Secretary Ash Carter understands the dynamics and the importance of the role, he’s asked Carson to right the Pentagon personnel ship. Carson recently made a splash by publicly apologizing to veterans who were hurt or injured by chemical weapons in Iraq, even allowing his email to be published by the NYT’s C.J. Chivers in an effort to ensure troops with concerns could be heard. (That story in the NYT, here.)
Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman on Carson: “…Carson, 48, will serve as acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, the primary official overseeing military personnel and compensation policies. Carson served as a Democrat in the House of Representatives from 2001 to 2005. Most recently he served as the undersecretary of the Army and that service’s chief management officer.
“…Carson earned a Bronze Star during a deployment to Iraq in 2009-10 as an active-duty Navy intelligence officer attached to the Army’s 84th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion. He is also an enrolled tribal member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, according to his official biography. In 2002, Carson voted with the Republican majority in supporting the use of force against Iraq.” More here.
As special operations teams eye an expanded role for women among their ranks, the Army is mandating special sexual assault training for the elite force. Army Times’ Jim Tice, here.
John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will run for Senate again in 2016. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell with an exclusive: “John McCain is ready for a new fight… McCain is currently 78 years old but will be 80 by Election Day in 2016. He defended his vitality, saying that he is “just getting started” when it comes to his Senate career.”
McCain: “I have decided to run for re-election… I’m ready. I am more than ready. In some ways, I am eager.” Watch and learn, here.
SecDef Ash Carter spoke with McCain yesterday in Arizona before he made a big speech about China at the McCain Institute at ASU. The WSJ’s Felicia Schwartz, who is traveling with Carter: “The U.S. is deeply concerned about China’s behavior in the South China Sea and its cyber activities, [Carter] said Monday as he headed for security meetings in the region. In his first major remarks on China as defense secretary, Mr. Carter struck a tough pose.
“He said the U.S. would invest in weapons including a new long-range stealth bomber as well as other assets to secure the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. also will deploy advanced aircraft and ships to the region, part of a gradual increase in attention to Asia during President Barack Obama’s last two years in office.”
Carter: “We and many other countries are deeply concerned about some of the activities China is undertaking… Its opaque defense budget, its actions in cyberspace and its behavior in places like the South China Sea raise a number of serious questions.” Read more here.
The WaPo’s Missy Ryan, also on the trip with Carter: “…Carter said that China’s ascendancy was not a zero-sum game for U.S. and allied interests. In stops this week in South Korea and Japan, the defense secretary will reassure governments there of U.S. support in the face of China’s rising military power and economic heft.” More here.
Read the whole Carter speech as delivered, here.
Are Carter’s plans to reach millennials too ambitious to be sustainable? Former Marine Jesse Sloman of the Council on Foreign Relations assesses three of Carter’s new proposals—a sabbatical program, mid-career entry option, and college loan repayment—writing, “Carter seems determined to make headway against a military personnel system that still works much the same way it did when the United States had a draft. His acknowledgement that recruiting qualified millennials will become increasingly difficult without adopting more flexible manpower policies is an important first step.” More here.
Carter, a glimmer of hope? Carter’s recent push to capture the attention of America’s youth, as well as the Army’s recent reversal on its tattoo policy “are both glimmers of hope that the U.S. military is, at long last, starting to adopt the more flexible personnel policies that it needs to succeed in the 21st century,” CNAS’ Dave Barno and Nora Bensahel write in War on the Rocks: “Carter and Odierno are on the cusp of a big idea. The next U.S. military – and particularly its senior leadership – must open its eyes to the fundamental change represented by young people of the Millennial generation and the characteristics that define them…
“But the reality is that the U.S. military is and will likely largely remain a fundamentally hierarchical, bureaucratic, and conservative organization. There are some very good reasons for that; the U.S. military does not, and should not, become like Zappos…” Read the rest, here.
For millenials, the question of whether to focus on military service or parenting looms large as a factor in determining whether to stay in uniform, The Christian Science Monitor’s Anna Mulrine reports, here.
The THAAD missile defense system could be the Army’s ticket to a broader role in the western Pacific, Forbes’ Loren Thompson writes, here.
As Russian aircraft continue to handrail the boundaries of international air space on America’s western coast, here’s what happens when U.S. jets scramble a Russian bomber, from LA Times’ Bill Hennigan at a coastal radar system in Tin City, Alaska: “If commanders here decide to respond, they grab a tan telephone marked ‘scramble’ in red letters. It rings in a wardroom by the runway where F-22 pilots are always on duty. ‘When the phone rings, it stops your heart, it rings so loud,’ said one pilot, who asked not to be named for his security.
“Once airborne, the pilots are supposed to get a visual identification of the other aircraft. But the F-22 can fly nearly three times as fast as the lumbering Tu-95 bomber, so slowing down is the challenge. ‘You want to go fast,’ the pilot said. ‘The jet wants to go fast. But you just have to ease up alongside of them.’” More here.
Meantime, terror on a shoestring: how the Shabab does it. The NYT’s Jeffrey Gettleman: “They have lost their leader, their ports, their checkpoints and their territory. They have lost thousands of men and much of their money. They have no fleet of armored personnel carriers like Boko Haram’s. Or poppy fields like the Taliban’s. Or oil fields like the Islamic State’s.
“In the pecking order of the world’s leading terrorist groups, the Shabab militants, based in Somalia, operate on a shoestring budget. But as the attack on a Kenyan university last week showed, they have become proficient in something terrible: mass murder on the cheap.” More here.
And there’s this: French special forces on Monday rescued a Dutch former railroad conductor who was kidnapped while on vaction in Mali nearly four years ago. The Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis from Paris, here.
Israel warns that military action against Iran is still on the table despite the historic framework for a deal. AP: “…The comments by Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, reflected the alarm in Israel over last week’s deal, which offers Iran relief from economic sanctions in exchange for scaling back its suspect nuclear program. Israeli leaders believe the framework leaves too much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact and could still allow it to develop the means to produce a nuclear weapon.” More here.
Israel and Saudi Arabia are softening their stances on the Iran deal, temporarily taking some of the wind out of some critics’ sails. McClatchy’s Hannah Alam and Joel Greenberg: “Israel on Monday listed a set of changes it seeks in a final agreement, including ending research and development work on advanced centrifuges, closing the underground facility at Fordow, disclosing past nuclear developments that could have military dimensions, and allowing inspectors to go anywhere, anytime in Iran to verify the accord…” More here.
And NPR’s Steve Inskeep interviewed Obama about the Iran deal, sanctions, inspections and even Cuba ahead of his upcoming trip to Central America yesterday. You can watch the entire 22-minute in this video (or scan transcript for yourself), here.
Who’s doing what today? Defense Secretary Ash Carter just landed in Japan to review strategic defense guidelines with senior Japanese officials… Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is in Vietnam today meeting with government and defense officials in Hanoi, where both nations are celebrating the 20th year of normalized relations. Later on in the week, Mabus heads about 500 miles south to Da Nang for a visit to two U.S. warships conducting an engagement with the Vietnam People’s Navy. (More on that from USNI’s Sam Lagrone, here)… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno pays a visit to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md. today…
Also today, the National Defense Industrial Association’s Ground Robotics Conference kicks off today at 8 a.m. at the Crystal Gateway Marriot. Full agenda for that one, here... The Stimson Center talks the difficulty tracking arms transfers in the Iraq and Syrian battlespaces at 11 a.m. Details for that, here… and NORAD/NORTHCOM Commander Adm. Bill Gortney briefs from the Pentagon on the state of Northern Command at 2 p.m. … Defense Information Systems Agency Director Lt. Gen. Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins Jr., speaks at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View for the 14th Annual C4ISR Networks Conference at 1:30 p.m. … and the Pentagon’s Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen has the 3:15 p.m. speaking slot at the same venue.