What happened: “A tractor-trailer truck jumped a sidewalk around 8 p.m. and plowed into the market near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a symbolic Berlin site whose spire, jagged from bomb damage, was intentionally left unrepaired after World War II. The driver fled after the attack,” The New York Times reports.
AFP rolls up harrowing witness accounts from the scene, here.
Chancellor Angela Merkel this morning said “We must assume at the current time that it was a terrorist attack. I know that it would be particularly difficult for all of us to bear if it is confirmed that this deed was carried out by a person who sought protection and asylum in Germany,” The Wall Street Journal writes.
The interior minister of the German state of Saarland, Klaus Bouillon, went further: “We must say that we are in a state of war, although some people, who always only want to see good, do not want to see this,” he told German broadcaster SR.
Moscow’s CSI team has arrived in Ankara to investigate the assassination on live TV of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Turkish Hürriyet Daily News reports.
Turkish and Russian officials say the murder Monday will not derail their relationship, AP reports.
Also on Monday: A man wielding a shotgun tried to enter the U.S. embassy in Ankara, but was detained by authorities. For what it’s worth, the State Department issued a travel warning for Turkey back on November 22.
More than 380 people have died from attacks in Turkey since 2015, the NYT reports.
And for a look at 45 years of terror attacks in Europe, don’t miss this epic Washington Post piece (with maps and charts).
The “Moscow declaration” for Syria. Russia has drawn up a “roadmap for ending the Syrian crisis,” and just needs Turkey and Iran to sign off, Reuters reports this morning.
What they’ve agreed on so far: “the ‘importance’ of widening” a ceasefire, AFP reports.
As in many recent cases with Russia’s involvement in the Syrian war, its officials couldn’t make a statement without squeezing in a dig at the U.S.—this one from Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who declared, “All previous attempts by the United States and its partners to agree on coordinated actions were doomed to failure. None of them wielded real influence over the situation on the ground.”
Syria’s UN ambassador told the Security Council on Monday that an American named David Scott Winner is among the “foreign military intelligence officers” still hiding in Aleppo.
Also allegedly holed up in Aleppo: 11 others from the countries of Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel. Russia’s RT news posted video of the ambassador’s remarks, and you can find that here.
Elsewhere in the ISIS fight, the group claimed responsibility for an attack on Sunday in Jordan at the picturesque Crusader-era Kerak Castle. “Jordanian police said late on Sunday that they had killed four ‘terrorist outlaws’ after flushing them out of the castle where they were holed up after an exchange of fire that lasted several hours,” Reuters reports. “At least 30 people were taken to hospital. Interior Minister Salamah Hamad said on Monday at least five suicide belts were found, together with an ammunition cache, automatic weapons and explosives in a hideout in a house in the desert town of Qatranah, 30 km (20 miles) northeast of Karak.”
Like the incident in Berlin, the gunmen in Sunday’s attack also fled the scene, Hamad said. Adds Reuters: “Based on the quantities of explosives and weapons, ‘I don’t think the target was just Karak castle, it’s more,’ he added. He would not elaborate, saying disclosing details at this stage could imperil national security.” More here.
From Defense One
General Fires Back at Trump: F-35 ‘Not Out of Control’ (Just Needs Another Half Billion) // Marcus Weisgerber: The Pentagon’s F-35 boss says costs are falling and he anticipates briefing Trump’s transition team soon, but he needs another $532 million to finish flight testing.
Trump Inherits ‘The Good War’ // Emran Feroz, via The Atlantic: Many Afghanis desire a fresh U.S. approach. All must wait to see what policy emerges from the New York businessman’s scattered thoughts.
The American Leader in the Islamic State // The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood: How a military brat from Texas became a devoted jihadist.
What U.S. Cyber Defenders Should Learn from Israel’s Silicon Valley // The Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Knake: The world’s hottest cybersecurity market is powered by a unique collaboration of government, industry, finance and academia.
Welcome to the Dec. 20 edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Kevin Baron, and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1941, the Flying Tigers, the American volunteer group of the Chinese Air Force, first saw combat. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
Trump picks OCO-opponent for OMB. That’s Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who “over the last two years led an alliance of Republican deficit hawks and liberal Democrats in the House pushing back on what they saw as abuses of the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account. Budgeteers have used the account as a relief valve for non-emergency funds, fueling criticism that it has become a slush fund.” Read on at Defense News, here.
Mulvaney, by the way, argued in 2011 that allowing the U.S. to default on its debt would be a good thing in the circumstances; two years later, he helped lead the shutdown of the U.S. government in 2013. MSNBC, here.
Michele Flournoy — once expected to become Hillary Clinton’s SecDef, and more recently whispered as a potential deputy to James Mattis — will remain CEO of the think tank she co-founded, the Center for a New American Security, or CNAS. Kurt Campbell, the group’s board chair and co-founder, said in a statement emailed to Defense One on Monday that Flournoy had talks with Mattis. But that’s where it ended.
To parse this out a bit, the DepSecDef job can be whatever the SecDef wants it to be. But for many years its occupant has basically served as the CEO of the building—the Pentagon workforce—and the point-man for dealing with the massive defense industry, while the SecDef handles policy, the White House, and the wars.
A Mattis-Flournoy team may have been a bit too peas-in-the-pod, if Mattis is looking for someone more like recent previous DepSecDefs, who served in roles involved with military weaponry and hardware. Ash Carter was a DepSecDef, and before that he was the Pentagon’s “chief weapons buyer,” or the under secretary of defense for acquisitions, technology, and logistics, the powerful “AT&L boss.”
Five days later, China has returned the U.S. Navy’s underwater drone snagged from the waters of the South China Sea late last week, Stars and Stripes reports. “The Yokosuka-based destroyer USS Mustin received the underwater drone in the same area, about 50 miles northwest of the Philippines’ Subic Bay, where a Chinese ship “unlawfully seized” it on Dec. 15, according to a Pentagon statement Tuesday.”
In case anyone was unclear, the Pentagon called the “incident… inconsistent with both international law and standards of professionalism for conduct between navies at sea.”
For a better sense of the legalities at play, Lawfare blog has this: “Even if one ignores the arbitral award and accepts that the UUV was inside of China’s theoretical Scarborough Shoal-based EEZ, there is still no legal basis for China to seize it. The U.S.(like most countries) believes naval ships can conduct any kind of operations in EEZs, and it is certainly true that the plain text of the UN Convention of the Law of Sea supports this view…But even if one accepted that China has the right to exclude military surveillance vessels from its EEZ, there is no justification for seizing a UUV not engaging in military surveillance. And it is highly doubtful that the UUV was conducting any kind of military surveillance since the UUV’s sole function is to gather oceanographic data for military purposes.” Much more to sink your teeth into, here.
2,900 explosions in a day. That’s the situation playing out thanks to renewed fighting in Ukraine, near the town of Svitlodarsk, the Washington Post reports. “A spokesman for the Ukrainian military, Col. Andriy Lysenko, said that five soldiers were killed and 16 wounded during the day-long battle and that Russian-backed separatist forces had attempted to break through government lines.”
Adds the Post: “It was the largest single loss of life for Ukrainian troops in five months.”
And about that 2,900 number: “An international monitoring group documented almost 3,000 explosions in the region Sunday — up from 700 on Saturday and 100 on Friday. The majority of Sunday’s detonations were recorded around Svitlodarsk. Despite multiple cease-fire attempts and efforts to remove heavy weapons from the front lines, the day-long bombardment, which included tanks, rocket artillery and howitzers, laid bare the shortcomings of international efforts to quell the conflict.” More here.
Afghanistan has more generals than the U.S., whose military is three times as large, and it’s struggling to recruit soldiers, The New York Times reports.
Venezuela has deployed 3,000 troops to quell unrest in the southeastern state of Bolivar “after people desperate over the government’s elimination of much of the country’s currency looted stores and homes over the weekend,” WSJ reports in a piece that highlights China’s growing concern over its immigrants in the country.
More than 150,000 U.S. government and military employees’ details were found in the database of Yahoo’s billion-user registry that was stolen by hackers—meaning hackers could target those users’ accounts to threaten national security, Bloomberg reported.
ICYMI: The Saudis are re-evaluating their options regarding their “multibillion-dollar U.S. financial strategy because of shifts in the American political landscape,” The Wall Street Journal reported four days ago.
“Two events—the recent passage of legislation that could allow U.S. terror victims to sue Saudi Arabia and the election of Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of the bill—prompted the reassessment by senior Saudi officials and outside advisers, people involved in the discussions said.” More here.
Against the machines. A recent agreement at an international disarmament conference in Geneva could lead to a ban on “killer robots,” Human Rights Watch said Monday. More here.
Finally today: Bye-bye, F-4 Phantoms. Hello, target practice. The Air Force is holding a “final flight” retirement ceremony tomorrow at New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force Base to “celebrate the airplane’s rich military history as the jet was a mainstay during the Vietnam War and used for decades for reconnaissance missions and anti-missile electronic jamming,” AP reported Monday.
“McDonnell Douglas — now part of Boeing Corp. — built more than 5,000 F-4s for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. It first flew in the late 1950s, and production ended in 1985. The last F-4s still flying for the U.S. military took on a different role, serving as aerial targets and test aircraft during Air Force training over the New Mexico desert. The planes are either flown by pilots or remotely as drones by controllers on the ground. They’ve been used as targets for missiles and also used to test new radars and other missions. But with the retirement this week, the planes will no longer fly and instead be used as ground targets.” Read the rest, here.