PEOTUS, compromised?; Mosul offensive, Day 86; Quick-printing microdrones for battle; China sails carrier past Taiwan; and just a bit more…

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

January 11, 2017

PEOTUS Trump is scheduled to hold his first news conference since the summer later today—just hours after an allegedly damning private intelligence report began surfacing on major news outlets late Tuesday.

The gist: “CNN reported that President Barack Obama and President-Elect Donald Trump had been briefed by the intelligence community on the existence of a cache of memos alleging communication between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and the possession by the Russian government of highly compromising material against Trump,” three scholars over at Lawfare blog write. “The memos were compiled by a former British intelligence officer on behalf of anti-Trump Republicans and, later, Democrats working against Trump in the general election. According to CNN, the intelligence officer’s previous work is credible, but the veracity of the specific allegations set forth in the document have not yet been confirmed.”

Lawfare’s advice: “We shouldn’t assume either that this is simply a ‘fake news’ episode directed at discrediting Trump or that the dam has now broken and the truth is coming out at last. We don’t know what the reality is here, and the better part of valor is not to get ahead ahead of the facts.” We’d excerpt more, but it’s really just best to read the rest of their cautionary take for yourself, here.  

The Atlantic has a fairly succinct roll-up of what the report does and does not say, and you can find that, here.

Said (yelled?) Trump on Twitter Tuesday evening, presumably about the report: “FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”

Getting this out of the way: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the report’s findings, calling it an “absolute fabrication.” The Wall Street Journal has that, here.

On the Hill, “bipartisan legislation spearheaded by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was introduced Tuesday” in an effort to strike back against suspected Russian meddling in the U.S. election, The Hill reported: “The legislation would include new sanctions for transactions with Russia's two main intelligence agencies and individuals tied to cyberattacks attacks, including freezing any assets within the United States and banning their visas. It also includes sanctions targeting large investments in Russia's energy sector and the development of Russian energy pipelines, and pass into law recent sanctions that President Obama issued by executive order.” More, including some typically tough talk from Sen. McCain, here.

One common thread connecting the Trump administration to Russia is the fight against “radical Islam,” The New York Times reported in a sort-of profile of Trump’s National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. “The real problem, [Flynn] said, was that Mr. Putin respects only strength, and that the United States had behaved like a weakling under President Obama. That would change under Mr. Trump, Mr. Flynn said. Mr. Trump understood that the danger posed by ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ was paramount, and that Russia could help bring Iran into line and stabilize the Middle East.” More here.

Trump and his Homeland Security chief, John Kelly, don’t entirely see eye to eye on issues like Trump’s “antipathy for Mexico, migrants, or Muslims — nor his amity toward Moscow.” Foreign Policy’s Molly O’Toole lays out the notable differences and what they suggest about the future of border security, here.  

Day 86 of the Mosul offensive saw “the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) push[ing] into the northeastern Sadeeq neighborhood” of the city, Reuters writes. One of their reporters witnessed CTS forces "engaged in clashes in Sadeeq and were firing into neighboring Hadba, where their units had been fighting the day before. Securing Hadba, Sadeeq and other nearby districts will allow the CTS to advance further toward the Tigris river that runs through the city, control of whose eastern bank will be crucial to launching attacks on western Mosul. Islamic State still holds all Mosul districts west of the river. Forces also clashed with the militants further south, a military statement said, seeking to build on gains along the river bank, which they reached last week for the first time in the nearly 3-month campaign."

Here’s an updated map of the Mosul offensive, as of Monday.

A "residual force" could be the U.S. military’s mission after Mosul, according to outgoing Defense Secretary Ash Carter: “Speaking at what's expected to be his final Pentagon press briefing, Carter said U.S. officials are discussing the matter with Iraq's government, which would have to agree to allow U.S. forces to stay — a prospect that makes many Iraqis leery,” Military Times reported Tuesday. “But, the secretary added, ISIS fighters will remain active after U.S.-backed Iraqi ground forces retake the northern city of Mosul, which has been the focus on a months-long offensive that, by most accounts, is progressing much slower than anticipated.”

NATO says it will establish a base in Iraq to train troops later this month, Kurdish Rudaw news reports.

We turn now to Libya, where Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier is just off the coast for drills coordinated with rogue Gen. Khalifa Haftar's forces, Libyan Express news reported Tuesday. “The Libyan Civil Aviation Authority told all of the pilots to stay away from the area warned of by the Russian Navy in a bid to keep the planes and passengers safe. Haftar visited Moscow twice last year and the Speaker of the HoR, Agilah Saleh, also visited Russia last year. Both requested a more integrated role for Moscow in Libya’s conflict and asked the Kremlin to help lift the UN embargo on weapons.”

Snapshot from Libya: “There are two rival governments set up in different parts of the country. There are dozens of armed groups, each one controlling its own turf. When any of them have something to say to the world, they do so on social media, mostly Facebook,” AFP’s Imed Lamloum reports from Tripoli. “All it takes is for one militia to post on Facebook that there is a problem with a refinery… and long lines form outside gas stations.” Worth the click, here.

From Defense One

Trump Will Inherit the Biggest NATO Buildup in Europe Since the Cold War // David Frum: Clarity keeps peace; weakness invites conflict. PEOTUS's soft talk invites the Russians to misconstrue what's happening.

US Army Looking to 3D-Print Minidrones in 24 Hours // Patrick Tucker: Future soldiers will make their own eyes-in-the-sky on the go.

Here's Why Trump's Intel Bashing Matters // Joseph Marks: The president-elect's denigration of the Russian hacking findings will make it harder to make a case against other U.S. adversaries, former officials say.

A clarification: In yesterday’s D Brief, we left unspecified how long politically appointed ambassadors have customarily been allowed to stay on past Inauguration Day: it is for weeks, sometimes months, not indefinitely.

Welcome to the Jan. 12 edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Fifteen years ago today, the first 20 detainees arrived at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. Arriving from Kandahar, Afghanistan, “the Taliban and al Qaeda captives stepped off the plane one by one, dressed in turquoise blue face masks, orange ski caps and fluorescent orange jumpsuits, their hands in manacles,” CNN reported that day. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: And let us know your news:

A “mysterious bombing” in Kandahar, Afghanistan, killed five diplomats from the UAE on Tuesday, AP reports. “The bomb targeted a guesthouse of Kandahar Gov. Homayun Azizi, who was wounded in the assault along with UAE Ambassador Juma Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi. The attack killed 11 people and wounded 18, said Gen. Abdul Razeq, Kandahar's police chief, who was praying nearby at the time of the blast. Razeq said investigators believe someone hid the bomb inside a sofa at the guesthouse. He said an ongoing construction project there may have allowed militants to plant the bomb.” More here.

Yesterday’s death toll from Afghan bombings has risen to 50: 37 in Kabul (Taliban-claimed) and another 13 in Kandahar (Taliban-denied), Reuters reports.

Here’s a map of those recent bombings in Afghanistan, via AFP.

In Yemen, dozens were reportedly killed in fighting near the Red Sea Strait, AP reports. “Since Monday, fighters aligned with Yemen's internationally recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi have been making advances and seizing more territory from Yemen's Houthi rebels… The battles are part of the so-called Golden Spear operation launched by the coalition and Hadi's government and aimed at uprooting Houthis and allied forces from the western coast, starting from the strait of Bab al-Mandab and extending to the vital Red Sea ports of Mokha and Hodeida. The coalition accuses Houthis of using these ports to receive supplies of arms and ammunition from Iran.”

The war in Yemen, by the numbers: “More than 4,200 civilians have been killed and the fighting has left more than three million people displaced… 1,400 children have been killed and more than 2,140 wounded since the war started…about 1,400 of them had been recruited by the warring parties. Over 2,000 schools are no longer being used because they were destroyed, used as shelters for the displaced or occupied by fighters and used for military purposes.” More here.

Map three of the day: Here’s a glimpse at turf held by various factions in Yemen from late December, via analysts at Risk Intelligence.

Taiwan scrambles jets and a sub-hunting P-3C as China sends its carrier to the Taiwan Strait, The New York Times reports. “It was the third time in three days that air forces in the region had scrambled jets in response to Chinese military activity, after Japan and South Korea deployed fighters on Monday. Those actions occurred when a squadron of six Chinese bombers and two other aircraft flew over the waters that separate Japan and South Korea and over the Sea of Japan.”

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, South Korea says its northern neighbors have enough plutonium for 10 nuclear bombs.

The U.S. military is sending F-35Bs to Japan for the aircraft’s first overseas mission. Stars and Stripes has that one, here.

Finally today: The U.S. Air Force can never deliver enough close air support for the Army, writes USAF Col. Mike Pietrucha in War on the Rocks. Why? In part, “The fundamental disagreement between services is not over the utility of CAS, but over the priority of CAS. Ground commanders charged with directing the tactical fight have an insatiable and understandable appetite for airpower support. U.S. Army officers, in particular, appear to be very uncomfortable with the give-and-take of joint planning efforts and would prefer to be able to direct airpower like they did in 1942. This preference manifested itself in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, where the Air Force initially provided little air support because none had been asked for.” Read the rest, here.

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston // Ben Watson is news editor for Defense One. He previously worked for NPR's “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now” in Washington, D.C. Watson served for five years in the U.S. Army, where he was an award-winning combat cameraman and media advisor for southern Afghanistan's special operations command during the 2010-11 surge. // Bradley Peniston is deputy editor of Defense One. A national security journalist for two decades, he helped launch, served as managing editor of Defense News, and was editor of Armed Forces Journal. His books include No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf, now part of the Chief of Naval Operations' Professional Reading Program.

January 11, 2017