DOD wants more bases; Carter-McCain slapfight; Russia could block Baltic access; McChrystal slams drone strikes; and a bit more…

More U.S. bases in more places. Pentagon leaders have asked the White House to approve a new set of intelligence-gathering hubs across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to hone the U.S. strike campaign against the Islamic State and wannabe extremist groups across the globe.

“The plan would all but ensure what Pentagon officials call an ‘enduring’ American military presence in some of the world’s most volatile regions,” the New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt report.

A little background: “Administration officials said that the proposal for the new basing system, presented to the White House this fall by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey during his final days as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was not intended to be a specific Pentagon proposal to combat the affiliates of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL,” Mazzetti and Schmitt write. “The officials said that it was meant primarily as a re-examination of how the military positions itself for future counterterrorism missions, but that the growing concern about a metastasizing Islamic State threat has lent new urgency to the discussions.”

Early reservations: “The plan has met with some resistance from State Department officials concerned about a more permanent military presence across Africa and the Middle East” as “career diplomats have long warned about the creeping militarization of American foreign policy as the Pentagon has forged new relationships with foreign governments eager for military aid.”

The costs are not seen as expensive “by military standards,” the NYTs reports. “One official estimated it could be in the ‘low millions of dollars,’ mainly to pay for military personnel, equipment and some base improvements.”

Four of these “hubs” would simply mean “expanding existing bases in Djibouti and Afghanistan — and smaller ‘spokes,’ or more basic installations, in countries that could include Niger and Cameroon,” and possible the Iraqi Kurdish enclave of Irbil.

The sites “would range in size from about 500 American troops to 5,000 personnel, and the likely cost would be ‘several million dollars’ a year, mostly in personnel expenses, Pentagon officials said. They would also require the approval of the host nation.”

The plan is “still very much in its early stages,” one Pentagon official said, flagging other administration officials’ concerns about the appearance of any sort of large U.S. military footprint in Africa. Read the rest, here.

Congress is simultaneously slamming and stymieing the fight against the Islamic State, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday at a hearing before Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense One’s Politics Reporter Molly O’Toole writes.

The tally: SASC has held 58 full hearings this year, but only three to help fill key Pentagon jobs, and that Congress is holding up money for the Syria train-and-equip program, she writes.

The response from Sheriff McCain: “You know very well it’s a result of this absolute failure of the expenditure of what was judged then to be $43 million and four or five people were trained. If you want that kind of funding to train and equip, we want to know what the plan is.”

Then McCain said Carter was to blame for failing to deliver a plan to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the defense secretary personally promised McCain the plan in his Hill office some six months ago. O’Toole has the rest from another contentious day on the Hill for the U.S. military, here.

But the Pentagon is ready to throw down on Ramadi, Carter told lawmakers. And he’s ready to do so with Apache “attack helicopters and accompanying advisers, if circumstances dictate and if requested by Prime Minister Abadi,” he said.

Those advisors “would be prepared to provide advice to Iraqi security forces on how to move through the center of Ramadi over the next several weeks,” a defense official told Reuters.

The U.S. is also looking to secure the help of Arab allies’ special forces for the future fight against ISIS, CNN reports from the hearing. That, here.

How does the fight for Ramadi look? The folks at the Institute for the Study of War whipped up this control map.

Meantime, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to directly arm the Kurds. The Hill has more from the panel of lawmakers, here.

Russia could block access to the Baltic Sea. That’s the Pentagon’s fear after Russia moved ballistic missiles to and conducted nuclear strike drills from its Kaliningrad exclave, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, said Wednesday.

There is a “significant amount of capability” in Kaliningrad, including anti-ship weapons, air defenses, and electronic warfare equipment, Hodges said. “They could make it very difficult for any of us to get up into the Baltic Sea if we needed to in a contingency.”

For an idea of just how difficult that could be, writes Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber, Moscow has deployed the mobile, short-range Iskander ballistic missile for its Kaliningrad exercises, which feature a nuclear strike, Hodges said. “They don’t [say] gray land, and silver land, or red land, or stuff like that. They say ‘NATO is the adversary’ when they do their exercises. I mean, they’re pretty blunt about that.” More here.

And Russia is keeping its own eyes trained on NATO’s eastern flank, Stars and Stripes reports. “What we’re seeing from the Russians, they’ve got tiered, multi-leveled [drones] of all types, so they’re able to see us, just the way we’ve enjoyed that advantage of being able to see others. And of course they will have different kind of capabilities for intercept, jamming,” Hodges said. “The same thing is happening in Syria,” Stripes adds, “where Russian forces are closely watching, and in some cases shadowing, U.S. drones and their F-22 Raptor fighter jets to gather intelligence on U.S. capabilities.”

The U.S. needs a comprehensive strategy toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has “fooled two successive Presidents of the United States” into thinking Washington and Moscow were on friendly terms, the folks at the Heritage Foundation say, in a lengthy new report you can find here.

And for a more casual #LongRead, try this from War on the Rocks’ Ryan Evans, which digs into the lessons learned from U.S. perceptions and misperceptions of Russian power going back more than three decades. His bottom line: “Whether we act from positions of strength or weakness in international affairs, it is important that we do not act on the basis of paranoia and ill-founded projections of our own fears on to the strategies of our adversaries, which—upon historical inspection—are often found to be just as reactive and poorly informed as our own.” Find that take, here.


From Defense One

Drone strikes are sowing hatred toward America that will last for generations, says noted peacenik Stanley McChrystal. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes,” says the former head of Joint Special Operation Command, “is much greater than the average American appreciates.” Adjust your love of drones, here.

U.S. intel community taps encryption-busting tech firm for digital spying. The venture capital arm of the CIA is buying into a Canadian company that says it can access certain encrypted technologies. That, from NextGov, here.

But that’s just a stopgap until quantum computing renders math-based encryption obsolete. IBM has been working on quantum computers for decades, and now it has the support of IARPA, the U.S. intelligence community’s research agency. Quartz reports, here.

Battle for the White House, a new ebook from Defense One. If you want to know the future of U.S. national security strategy, look to the 2016 presidential election. Whoever wins the White House will inherit the wars President Obama had pledged to end, along with dozens of ongoing counterterrorism operations in overlooked countries and an increasingly complex global security environment. This ebook wraps up the essential reporting you need to understand where the race is, and where it’s going. Buckle up and download it here.

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


In a Turkish town where refugees flee the conflict in Syria, the ideas of Donald Trump couldn’t feel more remote from the reality on the ground, Defense One’s Gayle Tzemach Lemmon reports. “Here in Turkey, as in other countries housing refugees, landlords fleece their tenants, charging sky-high rents for barely habitable rooms crawling with roaches and rats which bite and crawl on the babies seeking safety within the same walls. Schools accept only one or two children from the families of new arrivals as demand far outstrips any supply of study space. The rest of the children remain confined to their four walls and the street that runs in front of them, lots of running about and absolutely no learning in sight.”

Read the full dispatch, here.

And for Muslims in the U.S. military, the United States is looking much different from the nation they swore to defend, Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports. “The rhetoric is definitely different, it’s very alarming,” said Cpl. Ibrahim Hashi, a Marine who left the service in 2011 and now attends American University in D.C.“And I’m concerned for myself and my family’s safety.” More, here.

See also this take from the father of an Islamic U.S. infantry captain, Humayun S. M. Khan, who was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq 11 years ago: “We are proud American citizens. It’s the values [of this country] that brought us here, not our religion. Trump’s position on these issues do not represent those values,” Khan’s father told Vocativ.

Israel just launched a long-range missile interceptor that knocked out a test target in space, Reuters reports. The Arrow 3 system was “meant to simulate the trajectory of the long-range weapons held by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, the Defense Ministry said.” More here.

In South America, hacker activity is starting to take on a state-sponsored look, the Associated Press reports. “A shadowy cyber-espionage group that sent malware to the prosecutor whose mysterious death transfixed Argentina early this year has been hitting targets in left-leaning nations across South America, the Internet watchdog group Citizen Lab reported Wednesday.”

Their report is the result of a “three-month probe after determining that spyware found on the smartphone of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was written to send pilfered data to the same command-and-control structure as malware sent to targets infected in Ecuador. They said the hackers had a ‘keen and systematic interest in the political opposition and the independent press’ in the three nations, all run by allied left-wing governments. That suggests it may have operated on behalf of one or more of those governments.” More here, or read the report for yourself, here.

And on Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey suggested tech companies may need to stop offering end-to-end encryption to make investigators’ job easier. Vice News’ Motherboard has that take, here.

And don’t miss these 10 questions U.S. military commanders should know the answers to regarding cybersecurity. There are some basic, fundamental questions here—but also some more delicate ones necessary before a crisis occurs, like “What is the unit’s contingency communications plan with lower and higher echelons and have we tested it in training?” That via Small Wars Journal.

Lastly today, Serial (the megahit-for-a-podcast) has launched its second season — a multipart examination of the strange case of Bowe Bergdahl. Demand briefly crashed the server this morning, but it was back up at this writing. Go download, here.

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