An Iranian missile launch poses a new test for the Trump White House. “The launch occurred Sunday at a well-known test site outside Semnan, about 140 miles east of Tehran,” Fox News reported Monday. “The Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile flew 600 miles before exploding, in a failed test of a reentry vehicle, officials said.”
The problem: The launch marks “yet another apparent violation of a United Nations resolution,” Fox reports. “U.N. resolution 2231—put in place days after the Iran nuclear deal was signed—calls on the Islamic Republic not to conduct such tests. However, this is at least Iran’s second such test since July. The resolution bars Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests for eight years and went into effect July 20, 2015.”
It also “opens up new possibilities for the administration,” The New York Times reports. “It could join Israel in seeking new sanctions that are missile-related, steering clear of the core nuclear deal. But it is unclear whether there is any desire for that in the European Union, China or Russia, all signatories to the accord.”
It’s too soon to know how the White House will respond, as spox Sean Spicer said Monday, “We’re aware that Iran fired that missile. We’re looking into the exact nature of it.”
On the same day, the White House decided to move the CIA director back into the National Security Council, a move that amends “Saturday’s memorandum establishing the NSC, which did not list the CIA director as a “regular attendee” of NSC meetings,” Politico reported Monday. “The elevation could create friction between the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The DNI replaced the CIA director on the NSC when Congress created the position in 2005 to oversee the entire intelligence apparatus.” More here.
Yemeni rebels strike Saudi warship. Also on Monday, Yemen’s Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels carried out a “rare suicide attack on a Saudi frigate” in the Red Sea, off the Yemeni coast, The Wall Street Journal reported after alleged footage of the attack surfaced on social media. Saudi news said the attack killed two and wounded three others. But varying accounts of what happened have yet to be sorted out fully, the Journal writes. “Three Houthi suicide boats attacked the frigate as it patrolled off the Hodeida port on Yemen’s western coast, the coalition said in a statement. The Houthis don’t commonly deploy suicide attackers in the battle against the Saudis and their allies. One Houthi boat hit the frigate’s tail, causing an explosion and ensuing fire, the coalition said. Saudi air force units took on the other two boats before they could strike, it said.”
On the other hand, “The Houthis’ official Saba news agency gave a different version of events, describing a guided missile hitting the vessel, which it claimed was carrying 176 soldiers and a helicopter. Unverified footage shown on the Houthi-owned Al Masirah television station showed an explosion hitting a gray military boat. A plume of smoke rose from the vessel.”
If it was a missile strike, it certainly wouldn’t be the first attempt, since Houthis have “fired missiles twice at the USS Mason, an American destroyer. The U.S. responded by striking Houthi radar sites along the coast.” More here.
Yemen raid, aftermath. The weekend U.S. special forces raid in Yemen was hailed by the White House as a success. But a senior U.S. military official told NBC News Monday, “Almost everything went wrong.”
His account, according to NBC: “An MV-22 Osprey experienced a hard landing near the site, injuring several SEALs, one severely. The tilt-rotor aircraft had to be destroyed. A SEAL was killed during the firefight on the ground, as were some noncombatants, including females.”
The Pentagon response: “There were a lot of female combatants who were part of this,” said Navy Captain Jeff Davis, Military Times reports. “We saw during this operation, as it was taking place, that female fighters ran to pre-established positions — as though they had trained to be ready, and trained to be combatants — and engaged with us. Some of these enemy killed in action are, in fact, female.”
Adds MilTimes, echoing NBC: “there appears to be very little that was routine about this troubled counter-terror mission, among the first authorized by President Donald Trump, which ended with one American dead, at least six others injured, a $70 million Marine Corps aircraft destroyed — by an American airstrike — and claims of dozens of civilians killed in the crossfire.”
However, “It is unlikely the raid force had prior intelligence suggesting women were among the group of fighters they would encounter in al Bayda, a U.S. defense official told Military Times on the condition of anonymity. And while it’s unusual to encounter women as trained combatants, U.S. counter-terror forces will not alter their approach in Yemen as a result, the official said.” More here.
Immigration ban protest. More than 100 U.S. diplomats have reportedly signed a letter protesting President Trump’s order restricting immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries. Headed for the Dissent Channel, one draft version of the letter says of the ban that “it has caused a crisis right here in America and will do long-term damage to our national security.” Read on at the WaPo, here.
In response, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said federal employees can “either get with the program or they can go.” CNN, here.
From Defense One
Trump Says He Fixed F-35 Program in Two Months // Marcus Weisgerber: The president says the project is “now in good shape,” but pledges to continue considering Super Hornet bids from Boeing.
Defense Department Hiring Freeze Rules Coming Soon // Kellie Lunney: Here are some of the civilian exemptions senators are demanding to Trump’s federal freeze-out.
‘We Are Better than this Ban’: US Diplomats Plan Official Dissent // Krishnadev Calamur: White House to State Department: “They should get with the program or they should go.”
Can Mike Flynn Regain Influence Inside the White House? // Andrew Exum: Trump’s national security advisor faces challenges ahead in his quest to become part of the president’s decision-making process.
15 Questions Trump Should Answer About His ‘Safe Zones’ // Micah Zenko: If the president is serious about this, White House officials must clarify exactly what this new and expansive military mission would entail.
Trump’s Immigration Order Is a Propaganda Victory for ISIS // Charlie Winter: The American president has reinforced the victimhood narrative at the core of the Islamic State’s recruitment pitch.
What Trump’s Reshuffling of the National Security Council Means // Kelly Magsamen: A former Bush and Obama NSC staffer says changes to the Council’s top committee suggest Trump may exclude it from his decision-making entirely.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, Monday’s version of The D Brief characterized Trump aide Stephen Bannon as a white nationalist. Bannon is former executive chairman of Breitbart, which is popular with many in the white nationalist movement.
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Escalation in Ukraine. “Ukraine and Russia blamed each other on Tuesday for a surge in fighting in eastern Ukraine over recent days that has led to the highest casualty toll in weeks and cut off power and water to thousands of civilians on the front line,” Reuters reports this morning. Both “accuse each other of launching offensives in the government-held industrial town of Avdiyivka and firing heavy artillery in defiance of the two-year-old Minsk ceasefire deal.”
The fighting has killed eight Ukrainian troops and wounded 26 others since Sunday, according to Kiev. More here.
U.S. Army tanks will arrive in the Baltic states “in a few days,” U.S. Army Europe Commander, Gen. Ben Hodges said, according to Swedish SVT news.
Meantime, “U.S. tanks alongside Polish armored vehicles blasted a flurry of rounds in a show of firepower Monday before a group of political and military leaders,” Stars and Stripes reported from Zagan, Poland. “The U.S.-based infantrymen arrived in January for a mission that will send units along NATO’s eastern flank on training missions with allies from the Baltic states to Bulgaria and Romania. The deployment of the Fort Carson, Colo.-based unit marks the beginning of a year-round presence of a tank brigade in Europe.” More here, and more on the eastern European build-up, here.
A top European Union official—Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament—has announced the EU’s “most pressing threats,” the Washington Post reports. Topping the list: ISIS, Vladimir Putin, and President Trump, Verhofstadt said in a speech Monday at the Chatham House think tank in London. Writes the Post: “Interestingly, given that Verhofstadt is tasked with preventing Brexit from pulling the E.U. apart, he did not name Brexit as one of the fronts. But he may have been using Trump as a proxy for the type of political ideology that inspired Brexit.” More here.
ICYMI: Russia’s military is in the middle of the biggest build-up in the Arctic “since the 1991 Soviet fall and [that] will, in some areas, give Moscow more military capabilities than the Soviet Union once had,” Reuters reported Monday. Their quick read: “That poses a potential dilemma for President Donald Trump, who wants to repair U.S.-Russia ties and team up with Moscow in Syria rather than get sucked into an Arctic arms race.” More here.
The Quebec mosque shooting’s known knowns—and a word of caution on breaking news: “Two men were initially arrested—the French-Canadian now confirmed as the lone gunman, and a man of Moroccan descent who was later released and is now considered a witness,” writes former FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan this morning. From there, “Supporters of the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement—with its strong nationalist, racist, and anti-immigrant stances—pounced on initial reports of the Moroccan suspect as proof of the folly of Canada’s perceived openness regarding refugees.” That happened to have been incorrect.
However, Soufan continues, “The false narrative that immigration will inevitably lead to terrorism was not confined to fringe elements; during a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer specifically mentioned the Quebec attack as a reason for President Trump’s order, which he said was being ‘proactive, not reactive.’”
So, what now? “The actual facts—that the suspect was not an immigrant but a French-Canadian college student from Quebec—show the danger of sustained levels of inflammatory rhetoric surrounding immigration. This rhetoric is particularly dangerous in terms of describing Muslim immigration in the West, which has been conflated with the refugee crisis and exaggerated fears of terrorism. The motive of the Quebec attacker is still unknown, though the specific target—a mosque that has seen other incidents such as a pig’s head delivered to the building—is strongly suggestive.” More here.
For what it’s worth, here’s the WSJ on the countries targeted under the Trump White House’s travel ban: The short story—“None of the major U.S. terrorist attacks or plots on or since Sept. 11, 2001, appear to have been carried out by people from the seven countries. The 19 men involved in the Sept. 11 attacks were from Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. The same is true of other prominent incidents since the Sept. 11 attacks.”
The more telling component: “Of 180 people charged with jihadist terrorism-related crimes or who died before being charged, 11 were identified as being from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan or Somalia, the countries specified in Mr. Trump’s order, according to an analysis of data on the attacks by The Wall Street Journal. None of the 11 were identified as coming from either Syria, Libya or Sudan, and none of the 11 were involved in any major U.S. plot resulting in the deaths of Americans, including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”
And what’s more, on the note of homegrown extremism: “Approximately 85% of all suspects who took steps toward terrorist-related violence inside the U.S. since the Sept. 11 attacks were U.S. citizens or legal residents and about half were born U.S. citizens, New America Foundation officials calculated.” More here.
Mattis to the Pacific. First stop on the first international trip for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will be South Korea, where the scandal-battered government is still pledging to support the deployment of THAAD anti-missile batteries, but opposition politicians aren’t so sure anymore, noting that China hates the idea and is already retaliating economically. Read more from the Washington Post, here.
(ICYMI: a Jan. 27 report from SAIS’s 38 North project says North Korea has likely restarted a plutonium reactor after swapping out depleted fuel rods.)
After that, it’s on to Tokyo, where Mattis is expected to confirm that the U.S.-Japanese defense treaty ensures that a Chinese attack on the disputed islands would require the U.S. to come to Japan’s defense. Yomuri Shimbun, here.
China has taken its rhetoric up a notch. “‘A war within the president’s term’ or ‘war breaking out tonight’ are not just slogans, they are becoming a practical reality,” said a commentary piece published Jan. 20 on the People’s Liberation Army official website. Written by an official at the Central Military Commission’s national defense mobilization department, it said that “the call for a US rebalancing of its strategy in Asia, military deployments in the East and South China Seas and the instillation of a missile defence system in South Korea were hot spots getting closer to ignition,” according to the South China Morning Post, here.
Need a quick rundown of the current and future nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and China? Popular Science has you covered, here.
The Pentagon is looking at whether the Chinese and Russian leadership could survive a nuclear strike, a study ordered by Congress in last year’s defense authorization act. Bloomberg, here.
Bloomberg also has a short status update on China’s second aircraft carriers, which is a bit more than two years into construction. Read, here.
Lastly today: The Pentagon is under fire for the way it fights ISIS online, the Associated Press reports this morning from Tampa, Fla. AP: A counter-propaganda program called WebOps, which was “aimed at thwarting Islamic State recruiting over social media is plagued by incompetence, cronyism and skewed data, an AP investigation has found.” There are quite a few allegations to sort through, many stemming from a whistle blower complaint. Story here.