AQIM denies Pentagon claim, but offers no proof that outcast Mokhtar Belmokhtar—aka “Belaouer the One-Eyed”—is in fact still alive. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb released a statement on Twitter Thursday complicating the Pentagon’s claim it had targeted Belmokhtar but post-strike assessments could not yet confirm he was killed by bombs dropped from F-15E fighter jets last weekend. Belmokhtar is believed to be responsible for the deadly 2013 siege of a gas plant in Algeria, and as the New York Times pointed out last night, several previous reports of his death have proven to be exaggerated. “This is at least the eighth time he has come back from the dead,” one former counterterrorism official said.
And AQAP’s new leader, Qasim al Raymi, has a brother in Gitmo. Long War Journal reported yesterday that Raymi’s younger brother, Ali Yahya Mahdi al Raymi, has been held since 2002. “The US government’s files indicate that al Raymi wasn’t considered one of the higher-risk detainees, but he wasn’t deemed a risk-free transfer either.” U.S. officials found several inconsistencies and intelligence gaps in his story, which you can read at length here.
Speaking of Guantanamo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., reminded reporters yesterday that he’s still waiting on a promised closure plan from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the White House—a move which McCain’s Senate colleagues complicated yesterday with the early approval of their draft annual defense authorization bill.
About that defense policy bill—it totals $613 billion, includes a 1.3 percent pay raise for troops, and would implement a “dramatic overhaul of the military retirement system,” Military Times’ Leo Shane III reports.
It also includes some $35 billion in the murky Overseas Contingency Operations war fund, a move the White House has said for months is an unnecessary gimmick that skirts budget caps and will draw a veto from the president. Thus Democrats labeled the bill yesterday “a first step toward a government shutdown this fall.” That’s nothing. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Tex., accused Democrats of holding defense “hostage” to win more money for “the IRS and EPA” (you know, for taxes and environmentalist.) “Our troops and the country deserve better,” Thornberry said. Yep.
Empty threat? “Obama has threatened to veto each of the previous six annual authorization bills of his presidency, over issues like closing the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention facilities and disputed program continuations,” Shane adds.
About the other bill—the defense spending one: Every Democrat except Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana voted to block it during yesterday’s procedural vote, Politico’s Burgess Everett reports. “The 50-45 vote on Thursday afternoon is part of a larger tactical blueprint from Democratic leaders: Reject every spending bill until the GOP agrees to start negotiating a broad bipartisan budget deal — and weather GOP accusations that Democrats are turning their back on military service members and national defense.
“Republicans see a political silver lining if they can paint Democrats as obstructing military pay and national security,” Everett writes. “And in the Senate, they plan to force Democrats to block veterans and military construction spending bills later this summer to maximize their messaging. Democrats are unmoved.” Which is to say Washington may be headed for its second shutdown baby boom in three years.
A Pentagon effort to defend the U.S. mainland against smaller, shorter-range cruise missiles from Russia has gone largely unnoticed—until now, writes Defense One Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber. No really, the NORTHCOM/NORAD commander has put in an “urgent” request on this. What’s involved? Radars that tie National Guard F-16 fighter jets with (1) sensor-laden aerostat balloons hovering over U.S. cities and (2) with coastal warships equipped with sensors and interceptor missiles of their own. Think such a system would be expensive? You’re right. Think it would have to be incredibly fast to be effective? Right again, as Weisgerber explains here.
And speaking of defensive surveillance and monitoring tech, a new Russian spyplane—the Tu-214R—was tracked as it skirted Ukraine’s border with Russia yesterday, The Aviationist reported yesterday: “The aircraft features the same types of external bulges of other very well known intelligence gathering planes, as the U.S. RC-135 or the Israeli B-707 with the Phalcon system, along with minor differences with the first operative Tu-214R…What the spyplane was doing along the border is difficult to say, even though it’s quite likely that it was testing some of its onboard sensor packages against real targets….those located in eastern Ukraine.”
From Defense One
The men and women of America’s drone program aren’t traumatized, but they aren’t happy either. That’s what happens when you never get a vacation from war. “People do well when there’s light on the end of the tunnel,” Doc, one of America’s few psychologists with top-secret clearance, told Defense One about his patients, America’s drone pilots stationed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. Because they are indispensable, and few, many have been engaged in combat for years. And that’s not good, writes Tech Editor Patrick Tucker, who was among a handful of reporters invited onto the base.
NATO’s responses over the last year have been reactive and temporary. And competing priorities and interests dividing Europe’s East and South raise serious questions about Europe’s ability to provide for a shared defense, says Defense One’s Derek Chollet, who used to run that policy show for the Pentagon, in this breakdown of what lies ahead for Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s trip with NATO leaders next week.
There’s an inherent tension between attributing cyber attacks and maintaining a certain international espionage status quo. That’s not to say getting China to stop its cyber espionage isn’t near the top of Washington’s diplomatic agenda. But it does mean that stopping foreign intelligence services from spying is hardly a leading U.S. priority—and for good reason, argues the Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Knake.
More than ever across the globe, peace begets peace and violence more violence. And without significant change, a new report from the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace says the inequality between downward-spiraling conflict zones and nations with prosperous, advanced economies will only worsen.
If Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain has his way, two big changes could dramatically decentralize how the Pentagon handles weapons contracts, National Journal’s Fawn Johnson reports.
Welcome to Friday’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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The African terrorist group al-Shabaab released photos which they say backs up their claim of killing dozens of Ethiopian troops in southern Somalia eight days ago, Long War Journal reports: “While the current media focus is on the Islamic State’s spectacular gains in both Iraq and Syria…Shabaab controls large portions of the countryside in southern and central Somalia, and still runs some towns and cities. An African Union offensive by forces from Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Kenya has managed to drive Shabaab from the major cities of Mogadishu and Kismayo, but four years after the start of that operation and another last year, Shabaab still controls vast portions of the country.”And in Niger, a late Wednesday attack by militants suspected to have been from Boko Haram killed more than three dozen people, including more women and children, the BBC reported yesterday. The British outlet also reported yesterday that Chadian planes carried out cross-border airstrikes in Nigeria earlier this week in retaliation for a Monday bombing in Chad’s capital of N’Djamena that killed nearly two dozen civilians.
The British military is not “disengaging” from the world scene, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said yesterday in a response to Pentagon Chief Ash Carter’s worry earlier this month when he noted “it would be a great loss to the world if it now took action that would indicate disengagement” as the U.K. continues shedding 30K troops from its 180K peak in 2010.
“Although the government has committed not to reduce regular-duty manpower any further, it has not promised to meet NATO’s 2 percent target beyond this year,” the Washington Post reports. Added Fallon, “It’s not an Olympic Games…But if you compare Britain to France or Denmark or Belgium or whatever, they are all contributing. But we have done far more.”
ICYMI—the Defense Department released its updated manual on the laws of war last week. And Popular Science’s Kelsey Atherton provides the drone angle: “There was never really any doubt that the Pentagon was going to approve the use of drones in war, but what’s remarkable is that the justification is expansive enough to include CIA-style targeted strikes that spy on and and kill people who aren’t on the battlefield.”
“The manual has two useful loopholes to navigate choppy legal waters when it comes to cyber warfare,” Vice News’ Ross Cypher-Burley writes. “The first is good old-fashioned legalese. On page 996, the manual states: ‘Specific law of war rules may be applicable to cyber operations, even though these rules were developed long before cyber operations were possible.’ The key word is ‘may.’” For the second loophole, head over here. Or read the entire report for yourself right here.
The U.S. won’t “paper over” its differences with China at next week’s annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue talks in Washington, Reuters reports in this preview piece. The issue of cyber attacks has taken on significant importance in Washington as news related to the OPM hack continues to roll in, including the revelation that China had access to U.S. security clearance data for more than a year, as WaPo reported yesterday.
Your weekend thinker read—Retired Green Beret Col. David Maxwell argues the U.S. needs to get smart about its use of special operators against the Islamic State, and do so immediately before American troops in Iraq (conventional of special operations) become an unwieldy battlefield distraction.
And for a bit of good news, here’s the story of a U.S. soldier who destroyed an enemy mortar position in Iraq back in 2003—with a jammed M-16. Spoiler alert: secret U.S. radios freqs are involved, and country music artist Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” makes a cameo appearance. Have a great weekend, everyone.