THAAD arrives in Korea; How Iraq got off the travel-ban list; Has the F-35 already seen combat?; US SOF is still hunting Kony; and just a bit more…

THAAD arrives in South Korea. The first elements of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system have been deployed, U.S. Pacific Command announced Monday evening. The move comes less than two days after North Korea launched four likely SCUD missiles toward Japan (video here), and less than a day after North Korean state TV announced the North was practicing to hit U.S. military bases in Japan, the Washington Post reported.   

Noted PACOM in their statement: “The THAAD system is a strictly defensive capability and it poses no threat to other countries in the region. THAAD is designed to intercept and destroy short and medium range ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight.”

Catch footage of the THAAD system arriving in RoK, here.

About that clip: “No amount of speeches or diplomatic assurances has the assurance value of YouTube video of a THAAD launcher rolling out the back of a C-17,” said Tom Karako of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In the context of U.S.-Japan relations, it’s worth noting that the U.S. Navy and Japan successfully tested a ballistic missile interceptor in early February. The test marked “the third flight test and the first intercept test of a SM-3 Block IIA, the most advanced version of the SM-3 ‘hit-to-kill’ interceptor,” The Diplomat reported at the time. “The missile interceptor is designed to destroy short- to intermediate-range ballistic missile threats and can be deployed at land-based Aegis Ashore sites and Aegis-equipped warships. The latest of different variants of the SM-3 features a larger rocket motor and a larger kinetic warhead.” More on that test, here.

In case you’ve been out of the loop for a while, Reuters reminds us that, “The move by the U.S. military is likely to deepen the brewing conflict between South Korea and China, which says the THAAD deployment destroys the regional security balance.”

And on this point, France24 TV calls South Korea the “shrimp caught between two whales.” The reason: China fears the THAAD can be “turned left and deployed against China,” France24’s Seoul correspondent Andrew Salmon explains in a video, here.

In other U.S.-China news: Tensions in the South China Sea may have taken up the lion’s share of our attention in terms of tracking U.S. Navy freedom of navigation operations around the globe. But 21 other countries had claims challenged by the U.S. Navy in 2016, the Pentagon announced in an annual report Monday. Breaking Defense: “All told, 13 of the 22 countries challenged were in East Asia or South Asia, a region of growing economies, rising nationalism, and complex island territories. Just four were in Europe, two in the Persian Gulf (Iran and Oman), two in the Americas (Brazil and Venezuela), and one in North Africa (Tunisia).” More here.

And ICYMI: “China to Raise Military Spending, but Less Than in Recent Years,” the New York Times reported this weekend, possibly reflecting that Chinese “leaders do not plan to engage the United States in an arms race even as President Trump seeks to bolster the Pentagon’s spending.” More here.

Iranian vessels harass the USNS Invincible in the Strait of Hormuz. Washington Post: “Swift-moving Iranian vessels came dangerously close to a U.S. Navy surveillance ship in the Strait of Hormuz over the weekend, U.S. officials said Monday. The apparent harassment of the USNS Invincible on two occasions, on Thursday and Saturday, came amid Iranian state media reports that Iran had tested its newly acquired S-300 missile air defense system that is designed to intercept incoming missiles.”

And just because: Here is a guide to identifying ships and boats of the two Iranian naval forces, from the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Back to Hormuz: In one of the incidents, “an Iranian frigate came within 150 yards of the Navy ship on Thursday,” Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis, said Monday. Two days later, “a number of smaller boats approached the U.S. ship, closing to within 600 yards,” the Post reports.

Adds the Post: “three ships from Britain’s Royal Navy were reportedly accompanying the Invincible,” which is a surveillance ship “typically equipped with scientific instruments and radar that allow them to monitor missiles and rockets from their launching to the point that they land.”

Why that’s relevant here: In addition to Iran’s previous missile tests this year, “Fox News reported that Iran had test-fired a pair of ballistic missiles that destroyed a floating barge over the weekend,” the Post reported, adding, “that could not be independently confirmed.”

Fox News has an update of sorts to the story this morning, writing: “Iran removed a powerful missile from a launchpad east of Tehran within the past few days, Fox News has learned.”

Where they take their lead: “New satellite imagery from Feb. 3, obtained exclusively by Fox News from ImageSat International and verified by U.S. officials, showed Iran preparing a Safir for launch. That missile is the type Iran has previously used to put a satellite into space….In a surprising about face, Fox News learned Tuesday morning that Iran’s missile had been removed from the launchpad. It was not immediately clear why.” Story here.

From Defense One

Iraq Agreed to Share More Information With US to Avoid Travel Ban // Patrick Tucker: Other countries will have a harder time pulling the same trick.

What ISIS Will Do After Mosul Falls // Colin P. Clarke and Amarnath Amarasingam: They have options, two terrorism scholars write.

The Cyberwar Information Gap // The Atlantic’s Kaveh Waddell: Unlike a conventional military strike, state-on-state cyberattacks can go unreported for years.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Bradley Peniston and Kevin Baron. #OTD1936: Germany sends troops to re-enter the Rhineland demilitarized zone, breaking treaty obligations. (Got a tip? Let us know by clicking this link to email us:

Iraqi troops have seized three new locations from ISIS in west Mosul: “the main government building, the central bank branch and the museum where three years ago the militants had smashed statues and artifacts,” Reuters reports this morning from a fast-moving offensive.

An elite Rapid Response team stormed the Nineveh governorate building and government complex in an overnight raid…They also seized a building that housed Islamic State’s main court of justice, known for its harsh sentences, including stonings, throwing people off building roofs and chopping off hands.”

CBS reports the U.S.-backed Iraqi troops stormed the complex, then pulled back in the face of a fierce counter-attack from ISIS.

The Rapid Response troops began taking sniper fire almost immediately after seizing the government building, Reuters writes, while civilians fled en masse from the southwestern Mamoun district. “U.S. special forces were also seen walking between buildings in the same area, some of them carrying assault rifles with scopes and silencers. Helicopters attacked targets just north of their positions as thick smoke filled the sky from various explosions.” More here.

Meanwhile: President Trump’s new executive order, signed Monday to take effect on March 16, deletes Iraq from the list of Muslim-majority countries whose citizens are banned from entry. “In order to get off the list of countries whose refugees will soon be barred from the United States, the Iraqi government has agreed to share a lot more information. Baghdad also will move quickly to repatriate refugees when they’ve broken the law,” D1’s Patrick Tucker reports. “But the governments of the remaining six — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — will have a harder time pulling the same trick.” Read on, here.

In Syria, rebel group Jaish al-Islam launched what appears to have been a huge Iranian Zelzal-2 rocket on Syrian regime positions on Monday. Catch video of the launch here; or read up on how JaI may have come upon weapons like these, here.

Has the F-35 already seen combat? A French reporter says yes, in January. Le Figaro‘s Georges Malbrunot reports: “For the first time, Israel used F-35s the night of January 12-13 to hit Damascus…The Israeli raid targeted Pantsir S-1 missile warehouses destined for Hezbollah at the Mezzeh military airport in Damascus. The IDF also destroyed an S-300 missile anti-aircraft battery deployed on Mount Qassioun near the presidential palace. Before leaving the Israeli F-35 finally flew over the palace of Bashar al-Assad on the heights of Damascus…Up to now, Israel used F-16s to hit Syria. But the Hebrew state received F-35s in late 2016 from the US. Israel wants at all costs to prevent its sworn enemy Hezbollah from bringing Pantsir missiles to Lebanon. “With the Pantsir, Hezbollah ensures an almost aerial ban of Lebanon by the Israeli air force,” according to a soldier.

Dunford ducks away to meet his Russian and Turkish counterparts— and you wouldn’t know it unless you track the Pentagon’s internal information service, DoD News. Dunford continues his streak of keeping out of the press by keeping the press corps off his plane, even for something as big as a face-to-face meeting with Russia about the war in Syria. As the top U.S. military officer posed for photo ops—covered by a roomful foreign press, it appears—hours earlier Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis explained in unusual detail to dozens of journalists how U.S. fighting vehicles had lined up along the western side of Manbij to keep Russia and Syrian forces, or anyone else, from trying to retake the city from U.S.-backed Syrian opposition forces. It’s an odd juxtaposition and timing, when Gen. Joseph Votel, top commander of U.S. Central Command, once again just took several journalists to the region, including the New York Times, Foreign Policy, and CBS News.

Joint Chiefs chairmen all have their own relationships with the press. Adm. Mike Mullen loved press interaction. Gen. Martin Dempsey was slow to warm up to Washington, but had ’em eating out of his hands by the end of his term. We’ll see where Dunford takes it.   

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has declined to take a full planeload of journalists on his first two trips abroad. But his still-forming staff recently met with Pentagon journalists and is working toward a system for full-plane coverage soon. The other Joint Chiefs continue regular public engagements with the press. Dunford sat with Brookings’ Michael O’Hanlon last month, but that’s a think-tank researcher. Reporters were allowed to ask questions from the audience. But so far, into Month Three of the Trump administration, neither Mattis nor Dunford has given a customary joint Pentagon press conference. One reason: the Pentagon doesn’t yet have a press secretary. That may change very soon, we hear. We hope. Stay tuned.   

Trump blames wrong president for most Guantánamo ‘back to battlefield’ releases. Of the 122 former Gitmo prisoners known to have returned to fighting, nine were released by the Obama administration and the rest by the Bush administration. In an early-morning tweet, the current president incorrectly said that his predecessor had released all of them. Incidentally, Trump, who promised on the campaign trail to keep the prison open and put more people in it, had not mentioned the camp since taking office. Miami Herald reports, here.

Conflict-of-Interest Watch: The president “helped build a hotel in Azerbaijan that appears to be a corrupt operation engineered by oligarchs tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” The New Yorker reported Monday.

Lastly today: Remember the hunt for Kony? It’s still happening, and U.S. special forces are still very much involved, NBC News’ Mac William Bishop reported recently from the Central African Republic. “On its surface, this is a simple mission. U.S. Army Special Forces, or Green Berets, have been ordered to “apprehend or remove” one of the world’s most notorious warlords from the battlefield, along with his top commanders…[but] The area of operations is the size of California, with about 80 military personnel and several dozen support personnel tasked with finding around 150 fighters with Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, operating across portions of four countries in some of the world’s most inaccessible terrain.”

Explaining the suck: “Patrols can last days. They are hard: physically, mentally and tactically demanding. In most areas, the vegetation is thick. The only way forward is behind hooked machetes swung by the Ugandan point men. Even with a path cut through the grass and trees, the man in front disappears after only a few yards.”

But wait, there’s more: “With extreme temperatures and oppressive humidity, heat exhaustion is a concern. So are wild animals. Crocodiles, hyenas, big cats, troupes of aggressive primates and venomous snakes all stalk these wilds. There are swarms of bees and disease-carrying insects. Long, needle-like thorns rip apart clothing and pierce flesh, and poisonous plants abound.”

The bottom line presently: “As the Trump administration shifts its focus to counterterrorism, the Green Berets’ mission to find Kony may be axed as early as this month with the warlord still at large.” Many more details to Bishop’s story, here.

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