More funds for Pacific forces?; Syrian safe zones go into effect; Brain waves can help AIs learn to shoot; Secret USAF space plane returns from orbit; and just a bit more…

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

May 8, 2017

From the White House: an investment in Asia, not a pivot. President Trump wants to spend nearly $8 billion on the U.S. military in the Pacific, The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend. “The proposal, dubbed the Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative, was first floated by Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and has been embraced by other lawmakers and, in principle, by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris. Proponents haven’t developed details of the $7.5 billion plan,” the Journal’s Gordon Lubold reports.

Context: “The Trump administration is still formulating its larger policy for Asia after essentially discarding former President Barack Obama’s so-called Asia pivot, which was disparaged by critics as thin on resources and military muscle, and dropping U.S. support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade deal.”

And outlook: “Given President Donald Trump’s recent overtures to Chinese President Xi Jinping, any plan to expand the U.S. military presence in Asia eventually may require steps to reassure Beijing that new military measures aren’t directed at the Chinese.” More here.

Do the Chinese want PACOM’s Adm. Harry Harris out? The Japan Times cited “a source close to U.S.-China ties” saying as much this weekend—adding Beijing’s envoy to the United States, Cui Tiankai, sought this outcome back in early April in exchange for “exerting more pressure on North Korea amid concerns over its growing nuclear and missile threats.” That alleged drama, here.

Why hasn’t the U.S. Navy run any freedom-of-navigation patrols in the South China Sea since Trump took office? It’s not due to any Navy policy change, the Pacific Fleet commander said this morning. “We just present the opportunities when we have a ship in the area and there’s an area of interest, Adm. Scott Swift told reporters in Singapore. “They are either taken advantage of or they're not.” Reuters, here.  

The U.S. and the Philippine militaries kicked off a joint exercise today, a pared-back version of the long-planned wargame, Stars and Stripes reports: “Five thousand personnel, including about 2,700 U.S. troops — half the number who joined last year’s drills — will train to respond to disasters and battle terrorists. The 12-day exercise won’t include the usual live-fire exercises geared toward territorial defense or maritime security.” More on the messaging from Manila and the compliance from the U.S. military, here.  


From Defense One

France's Macron Hack Likely By Same Russian Group That Hit DNC, Sources Say // Patrick Tucker: A growing list of indicators point to a hack squad associated with the Russian GRU.

Can Russian Safe Zones Solve Syria? // Alexander Decina and Jesse Marks: If a potential negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict exists, something in the spirit of Russia's plan for decentralization and ceasefires might be it.

The Military is Using Human Brain Waves to Teach Robots How to Shoot // Patrick Tucker: Without even realizing it, soldiers could soon be training robot sharpshooters to take their jobs.

America's Allies Are in Decline. Here's How the US Should Adjust // Hal Brands: As global power shifts, Washington needs a new strategy, and a new way of managing its alliances.

Four Reasons Why Talking to North Korea Would Be Smart Strategy // Jacob Stokes: Trump is right to try and negotiate — if his administration does it the right way.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1945: V-E Day. Got tips? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


The Navy SEAL killed in Somalia last week has been ID’d as Kyle Milliken, 38, of Falmouth, Maine, the Portland Press Herald reported this weekend. “Milliken, a senior chief special warfare officer, was killed during an operation against the terrorist group al-Shabab in Barii, about 40 miles west of Mogadishu, the Somali capital…Milliken grew up in Falmouth and graduated in 1998 from Cheverus High School, where he was one of the school’s top track stars…Milliken enlisted in the Navy in 2002 and quickly joined the special operations forces. He underwent special warfare training in Coronado, California, and specialized in free-fall parachuting. He was based out of Virginia Beach, Virginia, starting in 2004. Milliken served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and earned four Bronze Stars, among at least 30 medals and commendations.” More here.

And in Somalia this weekend, a “regional leader” of the Shabab extremist group—whom Milliken fought last week—was killed in a Somali military raid on Friday, the Associated Press reported Sunday. “The statement by Somalia's information minister said Lower Shabelle regional leader Moalin Osman Abdi Badil and three associates were killed Friday in Bariire village west of the capital, Mogadishu.” A little bit more, here.  

On the restraint of AFRICOM chief, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser. According to The New York Times, reporting on Friday, “Waldhauser has said he is exercising caution in using his new authority to launch American-led missions, taking into consideration the difficulty of conducting operations amid a population of civilians on the move in search of food, and aid workers scrambling to provide it.”

The problem: “General Waldhauser’s caution comes amid increased scrutiny on control that Mr. Trump has ceded to the military, Trump administration officials have nonetheless begun questioning why Africa Command, which pushed hard to be unleashed, has carried out no operations under its new authority. Several said a meeting next week on the topic is under consideration for interagency policy talks organized by the National Security Council staff.” Much more, here.

Four days after pitching it, and three days after putting it into effect, Russia’s plan to reduce violence in Syria is getting a close look from the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James Mattis said this morning en route to Copenhagen to speak with allies, Reuters reports.

Mattis: "All wars eventually come to an end and we've been looking for a long time how to bring this one to an end. So we’ll look at the proposal and see if it can work."

Adds Reuters: “He added that basic details were still unclear, including who specifically would ensure the zones were 'safe' and exactly which groups would be kept out of them. Pressed as to whether he thought the de-escalation zones could help end the conflict, Mattis said: 'The devil's always in the details, right? So we've got to look at the details.'" That from Denmark, here.

The first Syrian casualties post-zone implementation occurred just hours after going into effect on Saturday, AP reports: “at least four opposition fighters dead and a child wounded in central and southern Syria” amid “limited reports of bombing in northern Homs and Hama, and the southern province of Daraa, areas expected to be part of the ‘de-escalation zones.’”

For what it’s worth, “opposition activists in southern, central and northern Syria told The Associated Press on Saturday that the situation was more clam Saturday than previous days, with little shelling and airstrikes reported.” That, here.

So, can the safe zones really make a difference? The Council on Foreign Relations’ Alexander Decina and Jesse Marks say yes — not in their present form, but in the framework they were negotiated under. Read, here.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds have some fancy new gear—“and the Pentagon denies supplying it,” Military Times reported this weekend. The gear includes night vision goggles, flash lights, and IR illume, and more gathered in a single graphic you can find, here.

Those U.S.-backed Kurds continue to make slow advances against ISIS west of Raqqa as they push the group out of another village near Tabqa. A bit more here.

Syria has seemingly warmed to the Kurds, with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem calling their fight against ISIS “legitimate” and within the framework of keeping Syria as one country.News of that perspective from the leadership in Damascus comes as rebels in that city are evacuating the besieged district of Barzeh today under a deal reached with the government.

Russia is flying its AWACS planes in Syria once more, Defense News reported this weekend. “Imagery captured May 3 by the ImageSat International (ISI) Eros B satellite, published here for the first time, shows [at least one Russian A-50 Aerial Early Warning and Control aircraft] deployed at the Latakia Air Base in Syria. The deployment, less than a month after a US Tomahawk cruise missile strike on a key regime air base, significantly augments Russia’s ability to defend the entire airspace over Syria against aircraft or missile attack.” Story and photos, here.  

In Iraq, the Islamic State group’s use of human shields continues to plague the pursuit of closure in the Mosul offensive, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel James Browning told Reuters this morning.

The situation: “The Islamic State fighters herded a group of civilians into a house in the city of Mosul and locked them inside as Iraqi forces advanced. Moments later, the militants entered through a window, lay low for a few minutes, then fired their weapons. The plan was simple. They would draw attention to the house by firing from the windows, then move to an adjacent building through a hole in the wall, in hope of goading coalition jets flying above to strike the house.” But coalition officials were watching with overhead surveillance and declined to strike the facility. More to the ongoing saga of trying to kill ISIS without turning local Moslawis against the coalition or Iraqi security forces, here.

Don’t look now, but Iran just threatened Pakistan, vowing “Tehran would hit bases inside Pakistan if the government does not confront Sunni militants who carry out cross-border attacks,” Reuters reports. The impetus: “Ten Iranian border guards were killed by militants last month. Iran said Jaish al Adl, a Sunni militant group, had shot the guards with long-range guns, fired from inside Pakistan.”

Major General Mohammad Baqeri, the head of the Iranian armed forces: "We expect the Pakistani officials to control the borders, arrest the terrorists and shut down their bases. If the terrorist attacks continue, we will hit their safe havens and cells, wherever they are." That, here.

Happening today: Former Obama administration officials will testify in the Senate’s probe into Trump campaign officials possible links to Russia. On deck: James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence under Obama, and Sally Yates, who was Deputy Attorney General. Preview, here.

Adds AP: “The highly anticipated hearing — it is Yates's first appearance on Capitol Hill since her firing in January — is expected to fill in key details in the chain of events that led to the ouster of Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's first national security adviser, in the early weeks of the administration.”

ICYMI: Trump campaign officials photocopied documents from a SCIF in Washington and removed them before President Trump took office, former Obama administration officials told the Associated Press on Friday. It was one of two stories that day on warnings given to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn that his communications with the Russian ambassador was likely under U.S. surveillance. The question looming over both stories: How could Flynn—former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency—not have known the Russian ambassador would be surveilled?

Both of the stories are relatively long reads, but you can dive into the thorny issues of Trump campaign officials, Russia and what the U.S. intelligence community came to understand all too late in the 2016 campaign, here, and via the Washington Post, here.

Lastly today: USAF “space plane” ends two-year flight. The Boeing X-37B touched down in Florida on Sunday, ending the fourth mission of the unmanned experimental platform. As usual, Air Force officials declined to say what the 29-foot-long craft has been doing since it went up in May 2015, nor why it will head back to orbit for a fifth mission later this year. Reuters, 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 Military.com, 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.

May 8, 2017

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2017/05/the-d-brief-may-08-2017/137641/