The U.S. military is restructuring the way it fights terrorism to get around geographic “stovepipes” created by militant groups who cross combatant command borders. The move is “an acknowledgment that the world is a very different place than it was even 10 years ago,” as a defense official told The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold. “For example, Turkey is inside the area overseen by the U.S. European Command; Syria, on its border, sits inside Central Command. The boundary could pose difficulties for military planners working to counter the flow of foreign fighters,” Lubold reported Wednesday. “Similarly, Libya, where the number of Islamic State extremists is increasing, falls under another region—U.S. Africa Command.”
The restructuring, known as the Campaign Plan for Countering Trans-Regional Terrorist Organizations, “has been in development for several months and is awaiting an expected approval by Defense Secretary Ash Carter,” Lubold writes.
Special Operations Command and SOCOM commander Gen. Raymond Thomas will be stepping up to the plate in a big way, though neither he nor his organization will get more power with the restructuring—just “additional work,” as one defense official said. Thomas’s new role would put him in the position of primary coordinator for counterterrorism operations, submitting “recommendations on operations and resources up the chain of command based on what he is told by the geographic commanders and others.”
Why? “Officials cited the use of unmanned aircraft, which are in constant demand by U.S. commanders around the world, to track terrorists, assess battlefields and collect other intelligence. For years, combatant commands have competed for drone flights. Under the new plan, Socom would assess the regional needs and forward recommendations up the chain of command.”
The extra work part would require SOCOM to submit “assessments of the ‘battlefield’ every 12 weeks. A defense official said complete at least two rounds of those assessments by the summer before the plan gets fully implemented.”
Now to the action. We begin in northern Syria where the French military just confirmed their special operators are helping with the Manbij offensive near the border with Turkey. Until now, France had only acknowledged the presence of around 150 of its SOF, and those were reportedly deployed in Iraqi Kurdistan, AFP reports this morning. “The French special forces will not intervene militarily themselves and are not supposed to engage in combat with IS militants,” a nameless French defence official said. More here.
To the west, three more hospitals were hit likely by Russian/Syrian airstrikes in the rebel-held side of Aleppo, The New York Times reported. “The Middle East regional office of Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, said in a statement that the attacks happened within a space of three hours on al-Bayan and al-Hakeem hospitals and the Abdulhadi Fares clinic. Unicef provided no details on casualties, damage or who was responsible, but it said the attack was the second on al-Hakeem hospital, which it helps operate. Others said that at least 10 civilians were killed in the bombings, including children, and that many others were wounded.”
Line of the day (perhaps even for the year): “This devastating pattern of warfare in Syria seems to have no checks and balances. Surely this should shake the moral compass of the world. How long will we allow the children of Syria to suffer like this?” the Unicef regional director, Dr. Peter Salama, said in a statement posted on Twitter.
The CIA and the Pentagon seem to be on different pages when it comes to Syrian rebels near Aleppo, The Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef reports. As well, on Wednesday the Pentagon’s spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, Army Col. Chris Garver, highlighted four “key points of interest” in the U.S. military’s work against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Conspicuously absent: any mention of the rebels who recently received an airdrop of arms north of Aleppo.
With a healthy dose of outrage, Youssef traces the tangled efforts between the military and the intelligence agency—a mess of alliance-building that has endured in various confusing and changing states for months already—in greater detail here.
In Iraq, the Islamic State says it was behind two suicide attacks in the capital that killed more than two dozen people this morning. “A police officer said a suicide car bomb had targeted a commercial street of Baghdad al-Jadeeda (New Baghdad), in the east of the capital, killing 17 people and wounding over 50,” Reuters reports. And “a man wearing an explosive belt blew himself up at checkpoint near the barracks of Taji, just north of Baghdad, killing seven soldiers and wounding more than 20.”
And in north Africa, “Libyan forces loyal to a U.N.-brokered government have advanced deep inside the coastal city of Sirte, the main stronghold of the Islamic State group’s local affiliate,” AP reports. “Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Ghasri told The Associated Press that forces have seized a key bridge inside the city where the extremists used to hang the bodies of their enemies, and are only five kilometers (three miles) from the city center and Zafrana square, where IS killed prisoners convicted by its self-styled Islamic courts… Another official said the forces, mainly militiamen from the nearby city of Misrata, had encountered little resistance in recent days aside from roadside bombs. Warplanes have supported the advance, bombing IS positions and destroying a car bomb the extremists had prepared to use against the advancing forces. The official said the Libyan forces are now closing in on the IS group’s headquarters in the Ouagadougou convention center, one of the city’s main landmarks. They are also making their way toward the port.” More here.
In response to an attack by two Palestinians from the occupied West Bank that hit shoppers and diners in Tel Aviv, killing four and injuring 16 on Wednesday, two battalions of Israeli troops are now headed to the West Bank this morning, AP reports. “In addition, the military said it had frozen Israeli work permits for 204 of the attackers’ relatives, and was preventing Palestinians from leaving and entering the West Bank village of Yatta, the attackers’ home village. COGAT said entering or leaving will only be permitted for humanitarian and medical cases. The military was also making preparations to demolish the family home of one of the attackers. Israel often responds to attacks by demolishing the homes of the assailants or their relatives — a tactic that is criticized by the Palestinians and human rights groups as collective punishment.” Read the rest, here.
From Defense One
Tomorrow: Join us at the Newseum or online for Defense One’s first-ever Tech Summit on Friday, June 10. Keynoted by SecDef Ash Carter, the agenda includes speakers from Silicon Valley to Crystal City, including DOD, NSA, DARPA, USAF, and more. Get the full schedule, registration page, livestream link, here.
Here’s how Boeing aims to fix its broken tanker. New hardware on the balky refueling boom will be tested next month. Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber reports, here.
Time for the U.S. to declare independence from Russian rockets, says the Center for a New American Security’s Jerry Hendrix: “Attention, Congress: there are a range of alternatives to the RD-180, none of which run through Moscow.” Read on, here.
U.S. Homeland Security could get its own cyber defense agency. A panel of House lawmakers want to turn the existing National Protection and Programs Directorate into the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Agency. NextGov reports, here.
Revamp the U.S. international officer training program before inviting nations such as Myanmar. For 40 years, the U.S. program has helped strengthen ties with partner nations and their rising military stars. More can be done, says the Council on Foreign Relations’ Joshua Kurlantzick, here.
Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. This day in 1959 saw the launch of the USS George Washington, the first purpose-built nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.
A drone strike in Afghanistan killed a key member of the Haqqani terrorist network, Afghan Khaama Press reports this morning. The strike happened Tuesday in the Sarwaza district of southeastern Paktika province. “The key Haqqani network member killed in the raid has been identified as Sirajuddin Khademi who was reportedly providing logistics support to the fighters of the terror network. The airstrike also destroyed some weapons belonging to the terror network but local civilians [sic] casualties were reported in the raid.” (emphasis added) Read the rest, here.
Speaking of civilian casualties: There’s a new report out this week that traces how the U.S. military learned to stop killing so many civilians, starting in 2009. It comes from the Open Society Foundation and it’s titled “The Strategic Costs of Civilian Harm: Applying Lessons from Afghanistan to Current and Future Conflicts.”
A brief summary: “Starting in 2009, the U.S. military recognized its mistakes and started to understand the high strategic cost of civilian harm. The military’s changes led to a significant reduction in civilian deaths during the next few years.”
A brief prescription: “The United States should develop a Uniform Policy on Civilian Protection. The new standards would apply to all U.S. military operations in current and future conflicts and, hopefully, better protect civilians.” Read the full report (PDF), here.
Chinese warship encroaches on the contested Senkakus—a day after Russian naval ships entered the same area. “Tokyo denounced Beijing on Thursday after a Chinese frigate entered a contiguous zone just outside Japanese territorial waters earlier in the day near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea,” Japan Times reports this morning.
How it went down: “According to the Defense Ministry, the Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Setogiri confirmed that a Jiangkai I class frigate entered contiguous waters northeast of Kubajima, one of the Senkaku chain’s five primary islets, at around 12:50 a.m. Thursday. The ship then left the zone from an area near Taishojima, the smallest of the main islets, at around 3:10 a.m. and headed north, the ministry said, adding that it did not enter territorial waters.”
Adds Reuters: “Japanese and Chinese coastguard vessels frequently face off around the islands as both sides press their claims. Until now neither has dispatched warships to nearby waters, because doing so would inflame tensions and remove a buffer against potential armed conflict.”
The reax on both sides: “Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki summoned Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua to the ministry to lodge a protest right after the Chinese ship was spotted. Kyodo News reported that the Chinese Defense Ministry defied Tokyo’s protest and said it is legal for its military to operate in waters under its jurisdiction, emphasizing that the Senkaku Islands are part of Chinese territory.”
Curiously enough, “Japan did not lodge a protest with Russia when Russian naval ships entered the same area the previous night. According to the ministry, the MSDF destroyer Hatakaze spotted three Russian vessels at around 9:50 p.m. Wednesday. The vessels left the zone at around 3:05 a.m. Thursday. Suga said Tokyo saw no problem with Russia’s action and that it protested to Beijing only because it has been continually issuing warnings over the issue. In addition, Russia does not claim sovereignty over the Senkakus.” Read the rest, here.
Don’t look now, but Beijing is building a “massive sea lab” 10,000 feet under the waters of the South China Sea, Bloomberg reports. This “oceanic ‘space station’” is said to be intended to help Beijing “hunt for minerals in the South China Sea,” but Bloomberg writes it “may also serve a military purpose in the disputed waters.” One thing we do know: they’re not building a playhouse for the children.
Also, from Peter W. Singer via Popular Science: “Unlike their satellite link-equipped American counterparts, Chinese-made armed drones could not truly conduct what is known as a ‘remote split operation.’ In these operations, the ground controllers are located at great distances from the drone, linked by satellite.” That’s not true anymore, at least according to Chinese state media, which reported that the military has now demonstrated just such a capability. Read, here.
Denmark to buy F-35 over Super Hornet. Breaking this morning via Reuters: “The Danish government on Thursday reached agreement with coalition parties to proceed with the purchase of 27 F-35A stealth fighters from U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin Corp, the defense ministry said.” The deal is worth just over $3 billion. Boeing has been feverishly pitching its F/A-18 Super Hornet to Denmark as it looks to secure orders to extend production of the fighter jet. Copenhagen has been considering the Eurofighter Typhoon as well. More, here.
Ahead of tomorrow’s Defense One Tech Summit, it’s very tempting to wonder what in the world Elon Musk discussed when he sat down with Defense Secretary Ash Carter Wednesday at the Pentagon. CNN is certainly curious, not that they were able to glean any satisfactory clarity on the question: “The focus of the closed-door get together was ‘innovation,’ according to a Defense Department spokesman, although Musk is also looking to win more government business for SpaceX, which launches satellites into orbit.”
Musk’s 4 million Twitter followers were abuzz about the visit this morning, too—thanks in no small part to the billionaire CEO’s sense of humor about all the mystery.