Dunford has questions about Niger deaths; Tillerson jets to Iraq, Afghanistan; USAF sets first F-35 deployment to Japan; ISIS’ foreign fighters head home; and just a bit more…

Gen. Joseph Dunford’s 60 minutes of transparency Monday regarding what the Pentagon knows about the Niger attack on October 4 reminded us it’s okay to say “I don’t know” when difficult questions can’t yet be answered — even if he said it 19 times during the course of Monday’s press conference. But what still makes this episode so concerning is it is “the single deadliest American toll resulting from military combat so far during the Trump administration,” The Wall Street Journal notes.

Some of the difficult questions we don’t yet have answers to, according to Dunford: “Did the mission of U.S. forces change during the operation? Did our forces have adequate intelligence, equipment and training? Was there a pre-mission assessment of the threat in the area accurate? How did U.S. forces become separated during the engagement, specifically Sergeant Johnson? And why did they take time to find and recover Sgt. Johnson?” Dunford called these “all fair questions that the investigation is designed to identify.”

Said former Pentagon spox, retired Rear. Adm. John Kirby: “For nearly an hour, Gen. Dunford answered every question to best of his ability. Should have happened sooner, but this was a solid presser.”

Some of the known knowns so far include: “The [U.S.] Special Forces unit didn’t call for help for an hour after shooting started, and French Mirage jets didn’t arrive for another hour after that,” the Journal wrote atop its write-up of Dunford’s presser. As well, “Within minutes of that call [for air support], an American drone arrived on scene. The drone didn’t fire at the militants, and Gen. Dunford declined to comment on whether the drone was armed or if it simply didn’t fire and just provided intelligence and surveillance.”

And when the French jets arrived on the scene, they did not fire at the suspected ISIS fighters on the ground. “I don’t know why the Mirages didn’t drop bombs during those initial passes,” Dunford said. “I don’t know if the unit on the ground asked them to do that. Those are things we’ll find out in the investigation.”

As for the overall U.S. footprint in Africa? “We have on the order of 6,000 — a little over 6,000 forces in Africa and they’re in about 53 different countries,” Dunford said while the U.S. military is still poised to “expand” its counterterrorism operations in Africa, as the Washington Post reported last week after Mattis spoke to Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz.

SecDef Mattis met with President Rodrigo Duterte today in the Philippines — not long after Duterte sat down with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and with five Russian warships anchored off Manila. Russia is “to formally hand over thousands of assault rifles, a million rounds of ammunition and 20 army trucks at a public ceremony on Wednesday,” Reuters reports.

Also new to the Philippines: “About 80 soldiers from Australia’s mobile training team will be deployed in local bases in the Philippines to train army and marine units in urban counter-terrorism warfare,” Reuters reports separately this morning.

SecState Tillerson wrapped his first trip to Iraq and Afghanistan on Monday, “secretly jetting in and out” of the two countries, The Wall Street Journal reports. “Mr. Tillerson met the leaders of both nations, including Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, on Monday during a broader tour through the Middle East and South Asia, which has included stops in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and will take him to Pakistan and India this week.”

His message for Iraq: Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government need to come together and “commit themselves to a unified Iraq, to the Iraqi constitution.”

His message for Afghanistan: “There are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. They don’t want their children to fight forever. So we are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government.” More here.

From Defense One

US Air Force Chief Helps Young Airman Locate Family In Puerto Rico // Marcus Weisgerber: After going a month without hearing from his hurricane-stricken family, Sr. Airman Malcom Soto-Gonzalez got a hand from an unexpected source.

Japan Needs Long-Range Strike Capabilities // Jeffrey Hornung: Ballistic-missile defense systems alone can’t ward off regional threats. Tokyo needs firepower to deter its enemies.

What McCain Knows That Kelly Forgot // Eliot A. Cohen: One veteran offered a dark picture of a nation estranged from its military—the other, a more hopeful vision of a future brighter than the past.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you don’t subscribe already, consider subscribing. It’s free. OTD1945: Norway executes Vidkun Quisling, who ran the country under Nazi occupation.

The prodigal sons of ISIS. “At least fifty-six hundred [ISIS fighters] from thirty-three countries have already gone home,” writes The New Yorker’s Robin Wright ahead of a report from the Soufan Group and the Global Strategy Network. “On average, twenty to thirty per cent of the foreign fighters from Europe have already returned there—though it’s fifty per cent in Britain, Denmark, and Sweden. Thousands more who fought for ISIS are stuck near the borders of Turkey, Jordan, or Iraq, and are believed to be trying to get back to their home countries.”

South Korea is building a ballistic missile to aim at North Korea, The Diplomat reports while reminding readers it has written on this “new surface-to-surface ballistic missile, likely designated Hyunmoo IV,” in the past. TD calls it a “Frankenmissile,” which is “capable of destroying North Korea’s underground military facilities and command centers.” More here.

Coming to Japan in early November: “Approximately 300 Airmen and 12 F-35A Lightning IIs from [Utah’s] Hill Air Force Base” will “deploy to Kadena Air Base, Japan for a six month rotation,” the U.S. Air Force announced Monday.
And in case you’re curious, “While a first in-theater for the F-35A, the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B variant has been stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan since January, 2017.”
Repairing F-35s? It won’t be easy “because maintenance facilities are six years behind schedule, according to a draft audit” obtained by Bloomberg.

Kremlin hackers hide malware in fake conference invitation. It’s a real event — next month’s International Conference on Cyber Conflict, or CyCon U.S., hosted by the U.S. Army and a NATO cyber defense institute — that the Fancy Bear hacker group used as cover. The Daily Beast: “The Russian hackers’ flier for the event is a Microsoft Word document named “Conference_on_Cyber_Conflict.doc”. It contains the logos of the conference organizers and a sponsor, and text copied from the conference website touting the 2017 theme, ‘The Future of Cyber Conflict’…Buried inside is a malicious macro that downloads and installs malware called Seduploader, a Fancy Bear reconnaissance program that lets the hackers take screenshots and gather basic system information to decide if the victim is worth spying on long-term.” Read on, here.

Building President Trump’s 355-ship navy? “Neither Congress Nor The Pentagon Have A Path” to that one, Defense News reported Monday. Writes David Larter: Defense Secretary “Mattis has told Congress that he thinks the fleet needs to grow but that he isn’t going to rob the other services to do it. Any substantial increase in the size of the fleet is contingent on 3 to 5 percent annual budget growth, which would be impossible under the current Budget Control Act.” And the prospects for a legislative agreement to ease the budget caps? “I wouldn’t hold your breath for a grand deal,” Todd Harrison, a budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Read on, here.

According to a new poll, “One in four [American] troops sees white nationalism in the ranks,” Military Times reported Monday. The survey was conducted about a month after the events in Charlottesville, Va., which drew swift rebukes from service officials at the time.
From the survey: “Nearly 42 percent of non-white troops who responded to the survey said they have personally experienced examples of white nationalism in the military, versus about 18 percent of white service members.”
However, “a notable number of poll participants also bristled at the assertion that white power ideology is a real problem.” Read on, here.

Finally today: The U.S. will soon be in the company of only Syria since Nicaragua abandoned those two nations, signaling its intent to join the Paris climate deal on Monday, The Guardian reported. “Nicaragua, which is often threatened by hurricanes, was the only country to reject the agreement in 2015, and has argued for far more drastic action to limit rising temperatures.”
What now? “The island country of Fiji will preside over the next round of UN climate talks, from 6-17 November in Bonn, Germany, where environment ministers from around the world will work on a set of international guidelines for the Paris accord.” Read on, here.

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