US in ‘major’ Yemen op; Details on Australia plot; VCJCS talks mini-nukes; Seoul speeds up THAAD deployment; and just a bit more…

American and Emirati special forces have launched a “major operation” in south-central Yemen against fighters of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the UAE announced announced Thursday. A U.S. defense official told Fox News the Americans are acting in a supporting role for a multi-day “clearing operation” that involves Yemeni government troops as well in the Shabwah Governorate. The UAE is primarily in the lead, according to the defense official.

Adds Reuters: “Shabwa, one of the key southern Yemeni provinces, is where the U.S. military carried out an air strike in June that killed Abu Khattab al Awlaqi, one of the emirs of AQAP, along with two other militants. It is also the site of Yemen’s only gas terminal, in the province’s port of Belhaf, and the pipeline feeding the terminal has been targeted several times by AQAP, al Qaeda’s most active branch. The terminal stopped operating after foreign experts were evacuated in 2015.”

More to follow: “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will travel Friday to Dam Neck, Va., home to SEAL Team Six, and will receive an update on the operation, according to officials.” Read the rest, here.

“Little Sparta.” That’s what “Admiring U.S. generals, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis” call the UAE, according to the Washington Post, reporting from Dubai this morning. Those generals see the UAE as “a model for how regional allies could reduce the counterterrorism burden on the United States.” But the Qatar crisis, divergences of opinion in Libya, and allegations of detainee abuse plague the UAE-U.S. relationship — making it often as much of a headache as it is an ally, according to the Post. Read the rest, here.

A plot that deserves another look. The recent foiled terrorist attacks in Sydney show an extraordinary level of coordination across borders and oceans, according to this morning’s press conference by Australian authorities. They also show a desire to use unsuspecting airline passengers, as well as an intent to use poison gas.

Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Michael Phelan called it “one of the most sophisticated plots that has ever been attempted on Australian soil.”

What it involved: a “high-end” military-grade explosive in a piece of luggage. The bomb was partially assembled with an unspecified explosive, and was shipped by air cargo from Turkey to Australia. From there, it was to be completed “to create functioning device that could have brought down plane,” CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank notes on Twitter this morning. The bomb was then to be placed in a “bag, which was to be checked — but [that] plan [was] aborted.”

It is a concern that it got through,” said Phelan of the Turkey-to-Australia flight. “What we’re alleging is the components of the IED originated in Turkey at this stage. We are very confident that we have found every single component of that IED.”

The good news, Cruickshank writes: The “Device would NOT have beaten Aussie airport security. Authorities did tests.”

Worth noting: An ISIS “controller” in Syria guided the plotters for more than three months.

About that poison attack: Australian authorities called it a chemical dispersion device that would have sent hydrogen sulphide throughout the attack area. “The second plan was hatched after the first one failed, police alleged, and was not necessarily targeted at a plane,” Agence France-Presse adds.

And the alleged culprits: “Khaled Khayat, 49, and Mahmoud Khayat, 32, have been charged with two counts of ‘acts done in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act’ and are next due in court on November 14.” More from AFP, here.


From Defense One

US Military Eyes New Mini-Nukes for 21st-Century Deterrence // Patrick Tucker: The Joint Chiefs’ vice chair says smaller-yield weapons are needed to deter the use of same.

Russia’s Back-to-the-80s Foreign Policy // Daniel Fried: Moscow has reprised Cold War tactics against the United States. It’s worth remembering that they didn’t work out well for the Soviet Union last time.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: More on that Air Force One deal, New DepSecDef speaks out, Lockheed building satellite plant, and more…

What America Should Learn from North Korea’s Latest Missile Test // Ankit Panda: Preventive war, if it was ever a viable option, certainly isn’t now.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Happy 227th Birthday, U.S. Coast Guard (née Revenue Cutter Service)! Have something you want to share? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


Gen. Kelly brings “military discipline” to the White House. Among the new chief of staff’s immediate challenges: “brokering peace between warring factions in the West Wing; plugging leaks about internal activities; establishing a disciplined policy-making process; and walling off the Russia investigations,” writes the New York Times. “He has privately acknowledged that he cannot control the president and that his authority would be undermined if he tried and failed. Instead, he is intent on cosseting Mr. Trump with bureaucratic competence and forcing staff members to keep to their lanes, a challenge in an administration defined by tribal loyalties to power players like Mr. Kushner and Mr. Bannon.” Read on, particularly for the insight from former WH chief of staff Leon Panetta, here.
Elsewhere in the White House: “Everything the president wants to do, McMaster opposes,” two former National Security Committee staffers tell the Daily Caller, speaking about National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
Who are these former staffers? Could one be Rich Higgins, fired on June 21 after writing a memo that “describes supposed domestic and international threats to Trump’s presidency, including globalists, bankers, the ‘deep state,’ and Islamists”?

Trump’s plan to hire 15,000 more Border Patrol and immigration personnel to help keep out undocumented immigrants is unrealistic, says the Homeland Security department’s inspector general. Washington Post: “Agency leaders have done such poor planning for what their workforce should look like, with an understaffed, poorly trained human resources operation, that they cannot justify thousands of new employees, the report says.”

Trump administration launches review of drone export regulations. “For months, rumors have floated among both the defense industry and arms control communities that the Trump administration plans to change the 2015 export law that controls what unmanned aerial vehicles can be sold to allies,” writes Defense News, which quotes an administration official as saying the review will be part of  a broader look at the “spectrum at ways we can modernize and seek smarter new approaches to U.S. defense trade policy.”
Read on, here.

South Korea accelerates its deployment of THAAD anti-missile batteries, forging ahead despite “an on-going environmental impact survey” that had previously held up the deployment of additional THAAD systems, Yonhap News Agency reported Thursday. More on President Moon Jae-in’s reversal — mere days after North Korea’s second successful ICBM test — here.

A Taliban suicide bomber wore a woman’s burqa when he attacked a NATO convoy in Qarabagh, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, while riding a motorcycle on Thursday. The attack killed one American soldier, two civilians and wounded six other U.S. service members, an Afghan official said this morning.
“It was the second suicide bombing in as many days that targeted NATO,” AP reports. “On Wednesday, a suicide attacker hit a convoy on the edge of the southern city of Kandahar, killing two U.S. soldiers and wounding another four. Both attacks were claimed by the Taliban.”
And that’s not all for recent violence in Afghanistan: “On Thursday, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into a police outpost in Gareshk, killing two policemen and wounding another two… [and] in southern Helmand province, the Taliban stormed a market on Friday in the Gareshk district and fired at a nearby police station.” More here.

The U.S. is selling Nigeria “up to 12 Embraer A-29 Super Tucano aircraft from Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Corp.,” at a cost of nearly $600 million, AP reported Thursday. “The aircraft come with sophisticated targeting equipment that the U.S says will help Nigeria fight terrorism, trafficking, insurgency and illicit trade” in the fight against extremists like Boko Haram.  
What happens next: “The State Department notified Congress late Wednesday of its plans to approve the sale. That triggered a 30-day review period in which lawmakers can try to block the sale,” citing, for example, the Leahy Law preventing the U.S. from supporting militaries that violate human rights. “While several Democrats in particular have raised concerns,” AP writes, “Congress is unlikely to stop the administration from proceeding.” More here.

Lastly this week: The same day Boeing was making its epic, Etch A Sketch, trip back to Washington state on Thursday, The Verge asked what in the world this unidentified military spy plane was doing flying over Seattle. “The aircraft, which goes by the callsign ‘SPUD21’ and wears a nondescript flat gray paint job with the only visible markings being a USAF serial on its tail, is a CASA CN-235-300 transport aircraft that has been extensively modified for the surveillance mission.”
What makes them say that? The aircraft’s “dizzying array of blisters, protrusions, humps and bumps. These include missile approach warning detectors and large fairings on its empennage for buckets of forward-firing decoy flares.”
But the question remains: What is it doing? The Verge goes farther than you might think in attempting to answer the question. Check out their best effort, over here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!

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