“This will not be quick,” President Barack Obama said of America’s fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS, after being briefed by military officials at the Pentagon. And it will not be done by American ground troops. Obama made his first trip to the Pentagon in nearly 10 months and his first appearance in the Pentagon briefing room in almost three years, on Monday. In the days ahead, the president said the primary task of forcing ISIS from cities must be done not by additional U.S. troops in Iraq—“There are no current plans” for that, he said—but by local, American-trained ground troops, our own Marcus Weisgerber reports.
Progress indicators: Obama said ISIS has lost more than one quarter of their previously held territory in Iraq: near Mosul Dam and around Sinjar, in Kirkuk province and Tikrit—in addition to the recent gains Syrian Kurds have made in the cities of Kobane and Tal Abyad.
But in Syria, the absence of reliable local forces to press the fight deeper into the Islamic State’s home turf has revealed the weakness of the U.S. strategy,” The Washington Post’s Liz Sly reported in this look into how the Kurds are complicating the ambitions and posturing of Washington’s regional allies like Turkey.
Republican reax, some of whom actually waited until after POTUS spoke: Obama’s advocating patience in the battle is tantamount to “self-delusion,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said. “A speech isn’t a strategy,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman said. “[H]is rhetoric doesn’t match reality,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said.
War vs. Spin: The Pentagon press corps has earned its reputation for straight shooting, many Washington officials agree. Yet, only a select group of reporters handpicked by Pentagon staff were permitted into the briefing room to do their jobs. Pentagon staff told reporters the commander in chief would only read a statement and take no questions after his meeting with war commanders—an extremely rare declaration for the Pentagon briefing room. So, kudos to Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio for getting Obama to take a question, anyway. What’d he ask? Would Obama follow through on White House threats to veto the 2016 defense authorization and appropriations bills? That’s an important question impacting about a half-trillion dollars of taxpayer money, and major policy decisions. Obama, to his credit, answered a Republican talking point trying to push back on his veto threat. “Our men and women are going to get paid,” as Military Times’ explains. A bit more on ISIS below.
Breaking this morning—Iran nuclear talks just got another extension, this one for three days (July 10), AP’s Matt Lee reports. “We’re frankly more concerned about the quality of the deal than we are about the clock,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Vienna.
The price list for cyber war has just been leaked. Want to hack into someone’s Windows device to steal Gmail data, turn on the microphone, and take snapshots with the camera? That’ll run you (or a nation-state) about $44,000, according to revelations following an embarrassing breach at the controversial Italian cyber arms dealer Hacking Team. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker has the remarkable price lists, here.
FBI pushes “backdoored” encryption. Laying groundwork for his Capitol Hill hearings on Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey penned a short op-ed for Lawfare yesterday, warning that universal strong encryption would create a world where “bad people can communicate with impunity.” National Journal’s Dustin Volz has the story, which notes that many cybersecurity experts say there’s no such thing as a backdoor that can’t be used by America’s enemies. The site Techdirt chimed in with this: “It’s all FUD and it’s all dangerous, because carving small holes in encryption CARVES HOLES IN ENCRYPTION.” The site also notes that Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports strong, un-backdoored crypto.
And here’s a great backgrounder into the “cryptowars” between DHS and Silicon Valley in this longform take by Sara Sorcher of the Christian Science Monitor’s Passcode blog.
Speaking of cyber war, Lawfare blog just announced a new journal dedicated strictly to cybersecurity.
You probably wouldn’t have guessed this: Home Depot has better cyber protections than 25 U.S. defense contractors, according to industry-developed cyber rankings NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein rolls up here.
From Defense One
A brigadier general is now running to join the Senate that just last year confirmed him. Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican from Nevada and a one-star physician in the Army reserves, kicked off his campaign on Monday to replace Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid when he retires in 2016. But it wasn’t “soldier” that he emphasized. “I’m a healer,” he said, illustrating with his deployment to Iraq treating battlefield trauma cases. More from Politics Editor Molly O’Toole, here. Or check out O’Toole’s profile of Heck back in May, over here.
So how does the anti-ISIS air campaign stack up against six other air wars going back to 1991 in Iraq? The Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko does the math in this chart showing that only Libya had fewer bombs dropped per day.
Reminder: On Thursday, July 16, get up to speed on the little-known DOD Insider Threat Program as Technology Editor Patrick Tucker sits down with Patricia Larsen, co-director of the National Insider Threat Task Force, and Mark Nehmer, deputy chief of implementation at the DOD Insider Threat Management and Analysis Center with the Defense Security Service. The event kicks off at 8 a.m. EDT, at the CEB Waterview Conference Center in Arlington, Va. Register for your spot here.
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Defense One. Want to share The D Brief with a friend? Find our subscribe link here. (And if you want to view today’s edition in your browser, you can do that here.) And please tell us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at email@example.com.
ISIS “is no longer a terrorist group; it has become a terrorist army,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at the Pentagon after meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. Le Drian also defended the coalition’s airstrike-heavy, limited ground troop approach to beating back the group, as Defense News reported. Later, in Q&A with Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron, Le Drian had a couple “I told you so” moments. He warned us two years ago that Libya was on the brink he said, and now it’s his top concern as a funnel for terrorism, trafficking and migrants. Le Drian also clearly backed Obama’s arms-length ISIS strategy. France, he noted, is the #2 contributor to the air war over Iraq, but he sees no solution to Syria, other than the current course (and with no Assad.)
The language of love: After welcoming Le Drian at the Pentagon Monday, Carter showed off his language skills using some French phrases. During a brief pause while Le Drain fiddled with his translation headphones, a reporter complemented Carter: “Your French is good,” she said. Carter’s response: “I had a French girlfriend once.”
ICYMI: A coalition airstrike yesterday hit a tactical unit and vehicle containing members of the Khorasan Group. The organization, consisting of al-Qaeda vets from Afghanistan who now operate in Syria, was first targeted at the beginning of the campaign last fall. Yesterday’s airstrike—near the Syrian city of Aleppo—was quietly noted at the bottom of one of the coalition’s near-daily strike releases. There have been nearly a dozen mentions of strikes against the Khorasan Group in Pentagon statements since the first strikes on the opening night of strikes in Syria last September. Not that we’re counting warheads on foreheads or anything…
Today, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the counter-ISIS campaign at 9:30 a.m. EDT. Military Times offers this brief preview of that and four other hearings to watch this week—including Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford’s confirmation hearing to replace Dempsey before SASC, Thursday morning.
Pentagon’s Silicon Valley office takes shape. The Defense Department’s plan to improve relations with Silicon Valley is getting more formalized as its new office there has earned a place in the DOD’s budget planning. Getting a line in the Pentagon’s budget is huge for the pilot project, signaling a commitment to the effort through the end of the decade. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, in a memo late last week, ordered Comptroller Mike McCord to set aside $1.75 million for the new office this year and another $5 million in 2016 through 2019. Work also ordered the creation of six billets to staff the office. Before going to Congress, the funding still needs to make it through the next seven months of internal budget reviews, but with such high-level support throughout the Pentagon, it’s hard to imagine that not happening.
If there’s another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie already knows who should be held responsible: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, his rival for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, Christie slammed Paul for his obstruction of the extension of the Patriot Act and opposition to U.S. surveillance programs in the name of civil liberties. Christie is actually touting his use of the law as New Jersey’s top prosecutor under former President George W. Bush. “We’re going to look back on this, and he should be in front of hearings in front of Congress if there’s another attack,” Christie said. “Not the director of the FBI or the CIA.”
While we’re on 2016, Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is enjoying a surge in his cultural currency among American voters. Comedian James Adomian has this left field impression of the candidate causing problems for Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. “In May, Mrs. Clinton led with 60 percent support to Mr. Sanders’s 15 percent in a Quinnipiac poll. Last week the same poll showed Mrs. Clinton at 52 percent to Mr. Sanders’s 33 percent,” The New York Times reported yesterday.
You may have missed Monday’s quiet news out of Moscow that Russia just grounded its entire fleet of Su-24 jets after a plane crashed yesterday, The Moscow Times reports. It is the fifth crash this year during training exercises, and the second Su-27 in an accident. It’s also the second time Russia has grounded its planes; in June, its fleet of Tu-95 “Bear” bombers were grounded after a jet ran off the runway at a base following an engine fire in the eastern part of the country.
And while Russia grapples with a lagging economy, Saudi Arabia is stepping up to invest some $10 billion over the next five years, CNBC reports. The funds are reportedly to be used on agriculture, healthcare retail and real estate.
Meantime, NATO just dispatched four ships to the Black Sea—including the USS Porter (DDG-78)—ahead of a big exercise in Bulgaria. U.S. Naval Institute’s Sam Lagrone has more on the maritime scene here.
In the world of new military toys, the Army and Air Force may have a new armored bomb disposal gadget-slash-vehicle on their hands soon, as Army Times reports. It’s a tricked-out MRAP with a new robotic arm and lasers for clearing mines and IEDs. It’s also reportedly navigated with a “Play Station-like” controller so maybe that’ll help bring in the millennials as the Pentagon girds for its generational battle against the Islamic State.
And lastly today, get your salty language fix with this (fake news) report from the subversive crew at the Duffel Blog that aims to make Gen. Dempsey’s new National Military Strategy approachable for the kiddos. For a more clear-eyed look at the actual strategy, head over here for our own report from Marcus Weisgerber.