From “Let’s get out” to let’s keep fighting in Afghanistan. President Trump’s much-anticipated speech about the 16-years-and-counting war was largely notable for the president’s own about-face from his get-out-now campaign rhetoric. “Most of what he announced was a simple continuation, or mild expansion, of what the U.S. had been doing under President Barack Obama,” writes Defense One’s Kevin Baron. “Trump did not say what the generals had told him. He did not reveal what he learned. But here’s what military leaders have been saying of late: There’s not one war in Afghanistan; there are about 20 battles against terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan that are causing instability, dividing the country, and weighing down its future. Some of those battles are with organizations that could threaten the West. And there are just three organizations that the United States has prioritized as targets because they are most likely capability to launch, or inspire, attacks outside of Afghanistan.”
Trump said the U.S. strategy would shift from a “time-based” ending to one that seeks certain “conditions on the ground.” He said the U.S. would mount an integrated, all-instruments-of-government approach that would aim not at “nation-building” but “killing terrorists.” All this has been tried before over the war’s long span, though differences may emerge when details do, write Col. Liam Collins and John Amble of the Modern War Institute at West Point. Missing, for example, were Trump’s thoughts on the authorized-but-not-enacted 4,000-troop increase or Erik Prince’s proposal to fight the war with mercenaries. But even at the high-strategic, introductory level of his first presidential speech about the war, potential flaws are evident. It’s hard, for example, to mount an integrated campaign in a foreign country when you’re also cutting the State Department budget by almost a third. Collins and Amble’s piece is worth reading in full, here.
Video and full transcript of the speech, via NYT, here.
The war in Afghanistan today, visualized. See where Taliban and ISIS fighters are believed to be holed up in an impressive chart by Agence France-Presse, which also shows American annual troop deployments and deaths going all the way back to 2001. One of your D Brief-ers was there when the deployments peaked — around late 2010 and early 2011, up to the time when Osama bin Laden was killed — and you can see some of his photos of the Afghan people and landscape, here and here.
From Defense One
Will Anyone Care About Trump’s Barely-Different Afghanistan War Plan? // Kevin Baron: Pull out. Stay in. Double down. It’s the military’s war until elected officials make it America’s war. And Americans won’t care by Wednesday, anyway.
US Air Force Hires Two Firms to Start Developing America’s Next ICBM // Marcus Weisgerber: Boeing and Northrop Grumman have each received deals to start developing a replacement for the Minuteman III.
What We Still Don’t Know About the Islamic State’s Foreign Fighters // Graeme Wood: The biggest concern is what happens when they come back home.
‘We Do Not Have Long to Act”: Tech Heads Warn UN About Autonomous Arms // Steve Mollman: SpaceX head Elon Musk and other industry leaders write that autonomy will lead to wider and faster war.
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Have something you want to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
Some U.S. sailors’ remains have been found off Singapore’s coast, U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Adm. Scott Swift told reporters this morning at the Changi Naval Base. Swift did not elaborate on how many sailors have been recovered so far. But “the amphibious-assault ship USS America joined the damaged destroyer” on Monday, Stars and Stripes reports. “It has been providing MV-22 Ospreys and SH-60 Seahawk helicopters to assist with the search, the Navy said. Ships and aircraft from the Malaysian and Singaporean naval and security forces are also helping to search an area east of Singapore where the collision occurred.”
NPR reports Swift said the Malaysian navy “also reported finding remains, but it was not yet clear if they were from the McCain.” More on those developments, here.
CNO Richardson called a Navy-wide “operational pause” to review safety measures and “fundamentals” for all of the service’s 277 vessels, the Navy announced Monday. Richardson also “ordered a broader, monthslong review to examine the specific problems with the Navy’s Seventh Fleet, based in Japan, as the Navy has suffered four major ship accidents in the western Pacific since February,” The New York Times reported Monday.
Richardson: “This review will be on a very tight timeline…I want to get frequent updates. This requires urgent action. We need to get to it and take corrective action… in the few-months timeframe.”
The Chinese reax to the McCain-Alnic collision: The U.S. Navy “is becoming a dangerous obstacle in Asian waters” while China is trying to boost navigational safety, the China Daily, a state newspaper, said in an unsigned editorial. “Anyone should be able to tell who is to blame for militarizing the waters and posing a threat to navigation,” it wrote. More from the Washington Post, here.
The USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) is back in Norfolk, Va., after six months of airstrikes on ISIS, Stars and Stripes reported Monday. Taking CVN-77’s place: CVN-68, the USS Nimitz.
Unwelcome news from Hawaii. The U.S. Army has called off its search for five soldiers who went missing after a nighttime Blackhawk crash last week west of Kaena Point, Oahu, the Associated Press reports this morning. “The Army identified the missing soldiers as 1st Lt. Kathryn M. Bailey, 26, of Hope Mills, North Carolina; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brian M. Woeber, 41, of Decatur, Alabama; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Stephen T. Cantrell, 32, of Wichita Falls, Texas; Staff Sgt. Abigail R. Milam, 33, of Jenkins, Kentucky; and Sgt. Michael L. Nelson, 30, of Antioch, Tennessee.”
Adds AP: “All five crew members on board had life vests, air bottles for underwater breathing and radios with built-in GPS systems.” Story, here.
In Lebanon, ISIS fighters reportedly left behind “anti-aircraft missiles” as well as “mortars, medium and heavy machine guns, assault rifles, grenades, anti-tank weapons, anti-personnel mines, improvised explosive devices and ammunition” after a abandoning a hide out on the border with Syria.
The Lebanese army is pushing ISIS fighters out of the border region — AP reports that operation is in its “third phase” now — at the same time that the Syrian army and Hezbollah are pressuring ISIS in their offensive on the Syrian side. A tiny bit more, here.
Is North Korea sending Syria SCUD missiles and air defense systems? A UN investigative panel suspects that might have been the case with two shipments from Pyongyang’s Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation to “front companies for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre,” which Reuters reports “has overseen the country’s chemical weapons program since the 1970s.” More here.
The U.S. Navy just tested a new missile designed to hit a moving target at sea, The Diplomat reports. “The U.S. Navy and U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin conducted the first free flight launch of the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), the U.S. military’s next-generation anti-ship missile with standoff capabilities. The launch was initiated from a B-1B Lancer strategic bomber over Point Mugu Sea Range in California on August 16… According to Lockheed Martin, the subsonic LRASM has an estimated range of over 320 kilometers and is fitted with a 450-kilogram penetrator and blast fragmentation warhead.” More here.
The Pentagon wants to spend $500 million renovating Guantanamo, the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg reports, “including a Navy request to build a $250 million, five-bed hospital here that has been singled out for study by a Senate committee… In two other major projects, Congress is poised to give the Army $124 million to build a new barracks for 848 prison troops to be ready four years from now. And on a different corner of the base, the Pentagon is soliciting bids of up to $100 million to build a skeletal structure for a 13,000-migrant tent city and housing” for the roughly 5,500 American forces who monitor the 41 detainees currently held at the facility.
In addition, “a Miami-based Cuban-American construction firm is building a new pre-K through Grade 12 school for up to 275 students with imported labor, materials and equipment for a whopping $66 million.” Adds Rosenberg, “The base’s workforce of about 2,200 Jamaicans and Filipinos, meantime, live in old barracks and separate trailer camps.” Read the rest, here.
Closure of a sort in Spain. The driver of the van that plowed into pedestrians last week in Barcelona has been shot dead by Catalan police, “capping a four-day manhunt for the last member of a 12-person terrorist cell likely led by a mysterious imam,” the Washington Post reported Monday.
The short story: “After receiving a tip from locals who spotted a suspicious character hiding in the vineyards around the village of Subirats, an hour’s drive west of Barcelona, rural law enforcement officers, accompanied by Catalan police, confronted Younes Abouyaaqoub. Josep Lluís Trapero, chief of the Catalan National Police, said Abouyaaqoub threw open his shirt to reveal what officers believed was a suicide bomb belt around his waist. The chief said Moroccan-born Abouyaaqoub then shouted “Allahu akbar,” or God is great in Arabic, and police shot him dead.” More here — or listen to NPR’s report from today’s “Morning Edition,” here.
Lastly today: Escapism in LEGO land — with a detour into Cold War aviation. The famous block company has been taking pitches for new toys for almost a decade now. It’s already given us things like the Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket; women of NASA; and the Mars Curiosity Rover.
A new idea is now on the table: the SR-71A Blackbird, and a chance to commemorate its final flight on Oct. 9, 1999.
From the creator, David Low: “My Lego SR-71 is built to a minifig scale of 1 stud/ft representing the NASA 844 aircraft to compliment [sic] the other excellent LEGO NASA models. It is shown with the engine starter and pilot in the custom pressurised suit, and if you splash a bit of water under it, it will look like the real one leaking fuel on the tarmac.” Check it out, here — or submit your LEGO ideas, here.