Head rolls over Navy detainees; Hezbollah commander dead; A Chinese olive branch?; America’s last fighter-jet makers; and a bit more.

A head has rolled over the Iranian detention incident in the Persian Gulf, and it belongs to Cmdr. Eric Rasch, who commanded the 10 sailors briefly detained by Iran in January after their riverine patrol boats led them—or they took an unauthorized shortcut—into Iranian waters.

Rasch, the then-executive officer “of the Coastal Riverine Squadron 3, was removed from his job by Capt. Gary Leigh, head of Coastal Riverine Group 1, for what a Navy Expeditionary Combat Command release said was ‘a loss of confidence’ in his ability to remain in command,” Navy Times reported. In addition, Rasch’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Gregory Meyer, “has been put on ‘administrative hold,’ meaning the Navy will not transfer him out of the unit, while a high-level review of the Navy’s investigation into the incident continues, said two officials familiar with internal deliberations.”

The two moves are the first of what are expected to be more disciplinary measures; an investigation into the matter is still being completed, with a release expected by the end of this month.

Huge loss for Iran’s proxies in Syria. Hezbollah’s top military commander in Syria (since 2011) has been killed in Damascus—though exactly when is anyone’s guess at the moment. Mustafa Amine Badreddine, 55, also led the group’s “Jihad Council,” which handled Hezbollah’s terrorist activities abroad.  

“Hezbollah, which confirmed the death on Al Manar, its television network, said that Mr. Badreddine had died in a ‘huge blast’ near the Damascus airport, in which several of the group’s fighters were wounded,” The New York Times reports. “‘The investigation will find out the nature of the blast as well as its reasons, and whether it was a result of an airstrike or rocket attack,’” Hezbollah said in their statement confirming his death Thursday.

As far as filling in any more gaps in what happened where, the Associated Press notes that, “On Tuesday night, Hezbollah denied reports that Israel’s air force targeted a Hezbollah convoy on the Lebanon-Syria border. The Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV, which is close to the Lebanese Shiite group, earlier said Badreddine was killed in an Israeli airstrike but later removed the report.”

Al-Jazeera, however, went that distance and attributed his death to an Israeli airstrike, according to Ali Rizk, a political analyst and Hezbollah expert.

The Israeli reax: “We decline to comment.”

For what it’s worth: “Around 1,200 Hezbollah fighters are estimated to have been killed in the Syrian conflict,” Reuters reports. “These include prominent fighters Samir Qantar and Jihad Moughniyah, the son of Imad Moughniyah, who were killed in separate Israeli attacks last year.”

Badreddine has a long and well-documented history with the group—perhaps most famously known as the man believed to have planned the suicide bomb assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (and nearly two-dozen others) in Beirut 11 years ago. He’s also “suspected of involvement in the deadly 1983 bombings of the American and French Embassies in Kuwait. He was detained and sentenced to death in Kuwait, and he was imprisoned for years until he fled prison in 1990, when Iraq, under President Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait,” the Times writes.

Trace the origins of Hezbollah in this fairly robust look from 2013 by Hezbollah scholar Matthew Levitt, writing in The Atlantic.

And speaking of Iran and the disparate partners it brings to fight in Syria, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met this morning with families of Afghans killed fighting in Syria.  

Back stateside, the U.S. Navy SEALs are inviting the public to honor their fallen comrade, Charles Keating IV, in the California military town of Coronado today, where “[h]is remains will be transported across the Coronado Bridge to San Diego to be buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery,” AP reports.

And three SEALs-in-training have died in fairly quick succession, raising “questions about the safety of trainees and whether the Navy is providing adequate supervision for the approximately 80 percent of trainees who drop out, leaving many of them despondent after years of hope and preparation and months of intense training,” the Washington Post reported Thursday. “The Navy defended the safety of its program but said there was room to improve handling those who wash out, particularly sleep-deprived sailors during Hell Week.” More here.

China, U.S. militaries to forge mechanism for South China Sea talks. “Chinese Chief of the General Staff Fang Fenghui told Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford in a video conference Thursday that China values freedom of navigation ‘more than any other country in the world,’” AP reports off a Chinese defense ministry web posting. “While denying that Beijing was responsible for current tensions, Fang said China wanted to expand communication and cooperation with the U.S. to prevent the issue impacting on the overall relationship.”

A note of conciliation? “The common ground and prospects for cooperation between China and the U.S. far exceed our disagreements and contradictions,” Fang was quoted as saying, with AP adding that “China wants to take the big picture of China-U.S. relations as the basis for approaching the South China Sea issue.” More (sort of) here.

Chinese state-run media Xinhua “quoted Dunford as calling for restraint in the South China Sea, and saying the United States was willing to work with China to establish ‘an effective mechanism on risk control so as to maintain stability in the South China Sea by peaceful means,’” Reuters adds.

ICYMI: Beware of China’s “Guam-killer” missile. “While China has long had the ability to strike Guam with long-range nuclear missiles, the Chinese military is expending an increasing amount of resources to hit the key U.S. island with more conventional weapons in the event of a conflict,” WaPo wrote Wednesday off a new report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

“While the report assesses an attack on Guam as low,” the Post writes, “the continued introduction and deployment of new weapons that can threaten U.S. interests in the region is part of a broader Chinese strategy designed to resist U.S. responses to its territorial claims.” Read the rest here.


From Defense One

LIVESTREAM the Sea-Air-Space Expo 2016 here—Join us May 16-18 as we livestream this year’s SAS conference, featuring Defense Secretary Ash Carter and more than 150 speakers from across the U.S. military and private sector — including Defense One Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston, who’ll be moderating the leadoff panel with CNO, CMC, USCG commandant, and head of the Maritime Administration. The event will be livestreamed exclusively on Defense One, in a new media partnership with the Navy League.

America’s last fighter jet makers scramble to keep production alive. The end is nearing for the F-15, F-16, and F/A-18 lines unless more orders come in soon. Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber reports from Fort Worth, Texas.

The DIUx is dead. Long live the DIUx. By taking early corrective action, Ash Carter is upending the typical Washington playbook of prolonging failure, argue CNAS’ Ben FitzGerald and Loren DeJonge Schulman, here.

To beat ISIS, we must think smaller. People become radicalized when they lack hope, jobs, and purpose. Local investments can break the cycle. Read this piece by Justin Richmond and Ryan B. Greer of the the impl. Project, here.

Here’s a way out of our rare-earths dependence on China. Beijing controls substances so valuable that the Pentagon dares not act. It’s up to the Senate now.  James Kennedy of ThREE Consulting explains how, here.

Welcome to this Friday the 13th edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1943, Germany’s Afrika Korps surrenders to allied forces in north Africa. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


John McCain wants to get rid of Frank Kendall’s job. The two haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye over the past seven years, but the Arizona Republican, in a surprise move, has drafted legislation that would split the job of defense undersecretary for acquisition into two: one undersecretary for research and engineering and the other for management and support.  McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made the recommendation in his draft of the 2017 defense authorization bill. The language would also eliminate are the seven assistant and deputy assistant secretaries in the Pentagon’s acquisition, technology and logistics directorate. That from Defense News, here:

(Perhaps McCain read “The Mistake that Decapitated Pentagon Innovation — and How to Fix It” by CSIS’ John Hamre.)

The bill also calls for “a 25 percent cut to the ranks of generals, admirals, and their civilian equivalents, the Senior Executive Service. The cut is even steeper at the highest ranks, with the number of four-star officers dropping by a third, from 41 to 27. The bill also cuts spending on civilian contractors by 25 percent.” The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program office also gets eliminated. More from Breaking Defense, here:

Here’s a summary of McCain’s full mark of the authorization bill.

Air Force shakes up public affairs shop. Brig. Gen. Kathleen Cook is out; newly promoted Brig. Gen. Edward Thomas is in. Air Force Times reports that Cook has been reassigned to the “director of services for the Air Force deputy chief of staff in the Office of Manpower, Personnel and Services at the Pentagon.” Thomas has been commander of the Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, since last summer. Before that, he was the public affairs adviser to then Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The U.S. has had special operators in two outposts in Libya since last year, reports the Washington Post. American Special Operations troops have been stationed at two outposts in eastern and western Libya since late 2015, tasked with lining up local partners in advance of a possible offensive against the Islamic State, U.S. officials said.

“Two teams totaling fewer than 25 troops are operating from around the cities of Misurata and Benghazi to identify potential ­allies among local armed factions and gather intelligence on threats,” the Post reports, citing anonymous officials. They are “tasked with lining up local partners in advance of a possible offensive against the Islamic State.” Read on, here.

ICYMI: “Here’s What A War With ISIS in Libya Would Look Like” by Tech Editor Patrick Tucker.

And from January: “Here’s How US Special Operations Command Views Libya,” also by Tucker.

Belgium’s military will begin striking ISIS in Syria on July 1, AFP reports. “Belgium launched its first attacks against IS in Iraq in late 2014 as part of the US-led coalition, but decided against strikes in Syria amid public fears over getting dragged into a wider conflict.” But since the attacks in Brussels back in March, all that changed.

In case you were wondering: Belgium will soon join the Netherlands,  Denmark and Britain in targeting ISIS over Syria. More here.

A complex attack claimed by ISIS killed more than a dozen at a cafe north of Baghdad early this morning, as violence continues to roil the capitol while allied troops keep up their push against IS’s Mosul stronghold. “According to Iraqi officials, three gunmen armed with machine guns opened fire into the crowded Balad cafe and once police arrived at the scene, two of the attackers detonated their suicide vests,” AP reports.  

Finally today: Russia is getting sloppy in the Information Operations domain—though it’s hard to say if they’re getting any more sloppy than they already were, or they just simply don’t care about the consequences of brazen lies. In this case, the deception concerned allegations Syrian rebels had received shipments of chemical weapons.   

The image the Russian embassy to the U.K. used to back up its claim on Twitter Thursday was “so obviously from a video game that Russia stamped ‘image used for illustration purposes only’ on a picture of a pixelated truck with a biohazard symbol on top of its cargo,” Popular Science’s Kelsey Atherton first reported.

About that image: “The picture comes up second in a Google image search for ‘Bomb Truck,’ and the exact image used is the ‘Bomb Truck’ unit from the game Command and Conquer: Generals, according to the Command and Conquer wikia.”

The Daily Beast’s line on the episode: “The Russian government just made a bullshit claim about chemical weapons in Syria—and used some bullshit graphics from an old video game to help make its argument.” More from CNN, here.

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