US strike means AQ gets a new No. 2; Kurds seize Syrian border town from ISIS; The US Army’s ‘dangerous game’; Air Force surge in Europe?; And a bit more.

A U.S. drone strike has killed al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, “dealing the global network its biggest blow since the killing of Osama bin Laden and eliminating a charismatic leader at a time when it is vying with the Islamic State group for the mantle of global jihad,” AP reports this morning.
Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch released a video early this morning. It confirmed al-Wuhayshi’s death, along with those of two other operatives, and announced a successor, Qassim al-Raimi, the senior military commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The video didn’t say when the strike happened, though U.S. intelligence officials are reportedly “poring over intelligence related to a June 9 strike in Hadramout by the CIA that targeted Wuhayshi and other operatives of AQAP,” as the Washington Post reports.  
While it is seen as a substantial setback for the group, “Decapitation has never defeated al-Qaeda,” as Langley veteran Bruce Riedel told the Wall Street Journal.

A defeat for ISIS in a Syrian border town? Kurdish YPG fighters, backed by Free Syrian Army allies and U.S. airstrikes, took “full control” of Tal Abyad from the Islamic State group—some of which appeared to have “simply given up,” as WaPo’s Liz Sly reported yesterday. “It appeared the Islamic State had suffered a stunning defeat, its first major reversal since it was driven out of the Iraqi city of Tikrit in April, and one that could prove far more consequential.”
The loss of Tal Abyad, roughly 40 miles east of Kobane, removes “a key supply line for [the Islamic State’s] nearby self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa. It deprives the group of a direct route for bringing in foreign militants and supplies, and links the Kurds’ two fronts, putting even more pressure on Raqqa,” AP reports.

Jeb is in, finally. Former Florida Governor and Republican 2016 hopeful Jeb Bush at last made it official yesterday in Miami. Jeb follows the path of his brother and father to the White House, not that either came up during yesterday’s speech—nor did any mention of the wars begun under their watch in the Middle East. The latter omission is likely to grow in importance as the war against ISIS stretches on, as Defense One’s Politics Reporter Molly O’Toole writes. (She noted a similar reticence on foreign policy from the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, on Saturday.)
Jeb’s speech Monday “was peppered with criticism of President Obama, Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, the progressive establishment and the lobbyist-dominated culture of Washington,” WaPo’s Dan Balz writes from the scene as he explains the tough road ahead for Bush in the GOP pack.
How is Jeb distinguishing himself from the rest? By “presenting himself as the enemy of the ‘pampered elites’ and the ‘rule makers.’” He also called for 4 percent annual economic growth and added “that would translate into 19 million new jobs. The last time yearly inflation-adjusted growth in the nation’s gross domestic product topped that percentage was in 2000, the year before his brother, President George W. Bush took office,” WSJ’s Beth Reinhard reports from Miami.

From Defense One

Light troops mounted on wheel vehicles is a recipe for disaster should the U.S. Army face a fight against first- or second-tier nation-states, says retired Army Col. David Macgregor, who argues the Army has to change its current fixation on “uncontested, permissive environments against weak peoples without armies, air forces, air defenses, or navies.”

Think the latest OPM hack was bad news? Here are five other Chinese cyber attacks that just might prove to be more damaging to U.S. interests, from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Knake.

The Air Force needs to avoid layoffs by the end of the fiscal year, so it’s offering its civilians incentives to retire early, as Government Executive’s Eric Katz reports.

What should the U.S. do about the Islamic State now? The folks at National Journal asked more than a dozen experts to weigh in with their takes, which begin right here.


Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Defense One. Why not pass it on to a friend? You’ll find our subscribe link here. (Want to read it in your browser? Click here.) And feel free to send us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


Kabul could finally get a new defense minister for its new $160 million military HQ, AP’s Lynne O’Donnell reports from the Afghan capital: “Masoom Stanekzai is better known as a peacemaker than a battlefield strategist, having led the High Peace Council negotiating body charged with ending the conflict with the Taliban, but now he is directing the war…[as] law allows him to assume the post in an acting capacity” until confirmed by parliament.
Stanekzai is taking the reins as Afghan security forces are taking it in the teeth. Troop deaths for January-May were up 53 percent over the same period last year.
And U.S. advisors are making headway in improving the Afghan Air Forces—though the “golden hour” flight evacuation target time is still a long way off for Kabul’s pilots, as Military Times reports.
Former President Hamid Karzai is “done” with Afghan politics, though he of course still has some opinions, as the NYT’s Rod Nordland writes in this “no surprises” profile from Kabul.

Moscow says it will add troops and move Iskander ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, between Poland and Lithuania, if the U.S. executes its plans (teased over the weekend) to position equipment on Russia’s doorstep, Reuters reported yesterday.
Meanwhile, two more soldiers from Ukraine’s military died Monday in fighting between separatists and Kiev. “Active fighting is going on along a broad stretch of the frontline from Granitnoye to Horlivka,” a military spokesman for Ukraine said this morning.
And the rare sight of protests could be observed yesterday in the rebel-held town of Donetsk, with citizens upset at both separatists and Kiev, NYT reported.

Russia is “the biggest threat on my mind,” U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told an audience at the Paris Air Show on Monday, in the first leg of her European tour to calm anxious allies. James also floated the possibility of increasing flight rotations through Europe and even sending stealthy F-22s to the region as a show of force, WSJ’s Robert Wall reported from Le Bourget.
Up next, James will travel to the U.S. Air Force base at RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom, “where B-52 bombers are temporarily stationed for exercises; then will travel to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, where Global Hawk unmanned aircraft are located; to Akrotiri in Cyprus, where the U-2 spy plane is based; on to Poland for bi-lateral talks and visit the USAF’s F-16 fighter at Lask; to NATO headquarters in Brussels; and finally to Germany, to meet national leaders and to visit Ramstein Air Base.”
Also from Paris, Qatar just signed a deal with Boeing to buy four C-17 cargo planes, a purchase that doubles their Globemaster III  fleet.

Democratic threats to block GOP spending bills amount to “a dangerous game of chicken” with America’s troops, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last night while the fate of the Senate’s defense authorization bill hangs in the balance of a broader fight over domestic spending. (Cf.: O’Toole’s “In Today’s Congress, Everyone’s a National Security Hostage Taker”.)
If you answer just three quick questions on how the 2016 defense budget will play out, you could win a lunch with experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Aside from informing the wider debate, that’s the draw to this nifty new interactive.
With the four congressional committees having released their FY16 plans, Military Times’ Leo Shane III compares the four on pay and benefits: raises, housing stipends, commissary funding and new health care fees.
Meantime, the Army just needs to drop another 2,000 troops in order to meet its fiscal year target of 490,000 soldiers, Army Times reported yesterday.

ICYMIFormer Defense Secretary Robert Gates says if ISIS is truly a threat to America, the White House should be willing to put Americans at risk—i.e. embed trainers at the battalion level and give special forces “greater latitude,” even though the number of U.S. troops currently in Iraq “is probably about right.” Watch Gates’ weekend conversation with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric here.
And former CIA Director retired Gen. Michael Hayden says the OPM breach “is a tremendously big deal” that he wouldn’t have thought twice about taking if Beijing had left similar information as vulnerable as the U.S. did. The WSJ has a bit more from Hayden here.

U.S. Marines special operators just received a new “floating base” on Friday, the Afloat Forward Staging Base Lewis B. Puller, as Navy Times reported yesterday. For a bit more on how the brand-new AFSB could make waves off the African coast, here’s a preview from Marine Corps Times on the ship from back in mid-March. Hint: Evacuating embassies should be much faster than it took in early 2014 when Marines took 16 hours to get from Spain to Uganda—and that’s before they even made it to their destination in South Sudan.

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