Trump seeks new path in Afghanistan; Ousters at NSC; Navy railgun spurs power breakthrough; Wanted: planetary protection officer; and just a bit more…

The U.S. military is losing the war in Afghanistan. Is it time to replace the general in charge? NBC News reports President Trump “repeatedly suggested” that to Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford in a tense, two-hour meeting in the Situation Room on July 19.

NBC’s lengthy report, sourced to “senior administration officials,” shows now a third U.S. president struggling with what to do about a conflict launched three weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. And it’s a fight that has now killed 2,402 servicemembers after Wednesday’s attack on a NATO convoy outside of Kandahar Air Field.

Trump is seeking a different path from his predecessors, but the problems facing his generals are much the same. His frustration was reportedly very evident in the Situation Room: “One official said Trump pointed to maps showing the Taliban gaining ground, and that Mattis responded to the president by saying the U.S. is losing because it doesn’t have the strategy it needs.”

Says New York Times reporter, and former Marine officer, C.J. Chivers: the president “seems to grasp that [the] brass is out of ideas.”

As well, “Trump complained about NATO allies, inquired about the United States getting a piece of Afghan[istan]’s mineral wealth,” NBC reported. “He also startled the room with a story that seemed to compare their advice to that of a paid consultant who cost a tony New York restaurateur profits by offering bad advice.”

That last story — about New York’s 21 Club in 1987 — stemmed from a recent chat Trump had with four U.S. veterans of the Afghan war at the White House, and was meant to “to highlight [to Mattis and Dunford] how he thought his high-ranking advisers were failing him,” Business Insider writes. (FWIW: That meeting occurred one day before the tensions in the Situation Room.)

One option Trump could consider: Blackwater founder Erik Prince bringing in his private air force to strike targets across Afghanistan. Military Times lays out that pitch to use Prince’s “turn-key composite air wing,” here.

Trump has reportedly made no decision on the Afghan war, “stunning” his advisers, according to NBC. Also: “Two Pentagon officials close to Mattis said he returned from the White House that morning visibly upset. Mattis often takes a walk when grappling with an issue. That afternoon, the walk took longer than usual, the officials said.” So back to the drawing board for Mattis. Or, “be patient, and convince everyone,” as Defense One’s Gayle Lemmon reported in June.

Is it too soon for humor? Duffel Blog has this headline: “US threatens to pull this war over if everyone doesn’t stop asking for an Afghan strategy break.”

From Defense One

The US Navy’s Railgun Breakthrough Could Change Energy Storage // Patrick Tucker: New capacitors offer big power storage and transmission in a mini-package, with benefits beyond electro-cannons.

It’s Long Past Time to Rethink US Military Posture in the Gulf // Mara E. Karlin and Melissa G. Dalton: The rift between Qatar and other Gulf nations should prompt a long-overdue review of what the Pentagon keeps in the region, and where.

How the U.S. Can Help Ukraine Help — and Defend — Itself // Michael Carpenter: When Secretary Mattis arrives for his upcoming visit, he should bring promises of arms for the military and support for anti-corruption forces and the country’s defense industry.

Here Are the Jets That May Become Air Force One // Caroline Houck and Marcus Weisgerber: The USAF has a deal in the works to turn a pair of Boeing 747 jetliners abandoned by a bankrupt Russian airline into the next presidential transport. Here’s what they look like.

The Pentagon is Funding Silicon Valley’s Space Industry to Watch North Korean Missiles // Tim Fernholz: The U.S. military doesn’t have the information it needs to stop an attack by North Korea. But officials believe they know where to get it.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1958: USS Nautilus makes the first submerged voyage to the North Pole. Have something you want to share? Email us at (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)

In video: The first aircraft launch and landing at sea using electromagnets instead of steam and water brakes. It comes from U.S. Fleet Forces Command over on Facebook.

President Trump signed the Russian sanctions legislation into law on Wednesday. But not without calling it “seriously flawed,” largely because, as the Washington Post reports, “it limits his ability to negotiate sanctions without congressional approval.” But he signed it anyway, in the name of “national unity,” he said in his statement afterward.
Meanwhile, VP Pence is promoting “NATO expansion, Western values, [as well as] countering Russian aggression and propaganda” — which, in contrast to the president, seems to be a “parallel universe tour,” foreign policy consultant Molly McKew noticed Wednesday from Pence’s trip to Montenegro.
New poll: 79 percent of Americans support “either maintaining (41%) or increasing (38%) sanctions against Russia,” Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council, tweeted — citing the results of a new survey (PDF) of more than 2,000 Americans between late June and mid-July.
Some more pull-outs, via Daalder:

  • A majority of Americans think the US should work to limit Russia’s international influence (53%) rather than cooperate (43%) — a reversal from 2016, when 58% favored cooperating and 39% thought the US should aim to contain Russia.
  • 44% of Americans say that Russian influence in US elections is a “critical threat” to America.
  • More American now say Russian military power is a “critical threat” than in any Chicago Council poll since 1990.

Find out the overview page for the report, here.

Another Mike Flynn loyalist is gone from the National Security Council, The Conservative Review reported Wednesday. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster axed Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a 31-year-old senior director for intelligence and former Defense Intelligence Agency officer.
The Atlantic brings us up to date on a few more of those let go: “Cohen-Watnick’s removal is the latest in a series of firings by McMaster, whose tenure at the helm of the NSC has been marked by tension with some of his employees as well as conflict with Bannon and a less-than-stellar rapport with Trump. On July 21, McMaster’s deputy Ricky Waddell fired Rich Higgins, a director for strategic planning on the council who had produced a memo alleging a ‘political warfare’ conspiracy against the president conducted by globalists and Islamists using the tactics of a Maoist insurgency. Last week, McMaster fired Derek Harvey, the NSC’s top official for the Middle East and, like Cohen-Watnick, a Flynn appointee.” More on all that, here.

Pics of those 747s that might become the next Air Force One. Woodys Aeroimages caught the jets before they went into desert storage. Photos, here.

Also happening now: Boeing is drawing a huge 787 over the United States. Follow along live at FlightAware, here. It’s scheduled to end around noon on the east coast. And a tip of the hat to CNN Aviation Editor Jon Ostrower for pointing this one out.

The State Department says Americans have 30 days to leave North Korea. That was yesterday, so now it’s 29. The reason: the risk of “long-term detention,” Reuters reports, which makes North Korea the only country Americans are now banned from visiting. Journalists and humanitarian workers can apply for an exemption. More here.

China is practicing attacking THAAD anti-missile batteries, The Diplomat reports. The Chinese Army Rocket force “also struck ground-based models of U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth fighters… [a]ccording to U.S. government sources with knowledge of the exercise.” Story, here.

Finally: Save the planet from aliens. That’s the actual job description for a NASA post that “may have one of the greatest job titles ever conceived: planetary protection officer. It pays well, between $124,000 and $187,000 annually. You get to work with really smart people as part of the three- to five-year appointment but don’t have to manage anyone. And your work could stave off an alien invasion of Earth or, more important, protect other planets from us.” WaPo has the story, here.

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