Small Korean thaw; Iran’s spear phishers, working overtime; China says it will keep the global order in 2018; How much does Russia pays its mercs?; and just a bit more…

Small Korean thaw. In Seoul, President Moon Jae-in responded eagerly on Tuesday to Kim Jong-Un’s New Year’s Day overture, accepting the offer of high-level talks between the countries — and proposing to start them next week. Already, a long-severed hotline between the Koreas has been reconnected at a DMZ crossing point. All that and more from the New York Times, here.

White House response: President Trump on Tuesday morning responded via tweet to the prospect of talks between the Koreas: “…Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not - we will see!” Some 10 hours later, Trump also responded to another part of Kim’s Jan. 1 speech, in which the North Korean dictator declared his readiness to use the “nuclear button” on his desk: “…I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his…”

From Defense One

Iran’s Cyber War on Dissidents Could Infiltrate Your Mailbox // Patrick Tucker: Tehran’s agents are busily working against the protesters — and anyone who may have contacted them from abroad.

Kim Jong Un’s Trap for South Korea // Scott Snyder: An offer of dialogue from the North could be an effort to split the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

Why the Iran Uprising Matters // Karim Sadjadpour: Change will not come easily, peacefully, or soon.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.

The U.S. is withholding $255 million in aid to Pakistan because they’ve not done enough to fight terrorism, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, announced Tuesday. “There are clear reasons for this. Pakistan has played a double game for years. They work with us at times, and they also harbor the terrorists that attack our troops in Afghanistan. That game is not acceptable to this administration.”
There’s a Trump tweet for that: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” the president tweeted on Monday. Read on at The Hill, here.

The first U.S. combat death in 2018 happened Monday in Afghanistan — near ISIS in Afghanistan’s stomping grounds in Achin, Nangarhar province, in the east, NATO’s Resolute Support command announced Tuesday. All we know so far is that one service member has died and four others were wounded “during a combat engagement” in Achin.  
Update — We have a name for the fallen soldier, via the Defense Department this morning: “Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin, 34, of Fort Lee, New Jersey, died Jan. 1 in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, after being engaged by enemy small arms fire while on a dismounted patrol. Golin was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Carson, Colorado.” RIPSFC.

What CENTCOM’s Gen. Votel wants from Afghanistan in 2018: “a more aggressive Afghan military pressuring Taliban and other insurgents over the normally quieter months of Afghanistan’s winter, and then quickly going on the offensive in the spring,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday after sitting down with the general in Washington.
However, AP reminds us, this whole plan is “hardly the first time the American military has vowed to shape up the U.S.-backed army into a force that can defeat the Taliban, al-Qaida, ISIS and others. Nor does Trump’s approach represent the first time a frustrated president has pumped troops into the country to turn the situation around.” Read on, here.

Another U.S. strike in Somalia targeted Al-Shabaab fighters early Tuesday about 50 kilometers from the capital in Mogadishu, U.S. Africa Command said Tuesday.
Initial damage assessment: The airstrike killed “two terrorists and destroy[ed] one vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, preventing it from being used against the people in Mogadishu.”

Somalia, in perspective. Somalia is in the same company as Yemen and Pakistan when it comes to an escalated U.S. airstrike campaign in those countries in 2017. Libya, however, is down sharply from the year prior, according to this analysis by the Long War Journal, published Tuesday.
The big picture take: “Based 2017 data, the Trump administration appears to be conducting a more muscular version of President Obama’s targeted counterterrorism strategy. The Trump administration has loosened rules of engagement and has restored many decision making authorities to the military.”
And ISIS and AQ are down, but not out. “Nearly one year after Trump ramped up the targeting of al Qaeda and the Islamic State, both group maintain potent insurgencies.”
One note of caution: “Transparency with regards to available information on these strikes, however, suffered in 2017,” LWJ reports. “The US military has released very few details about US strikes against AQAP in Yemen this year. Of the more than 114 strikes against AQAP in Yemen, CENTCOM has only provided details on four, all of which involved high value targets.” Lots more to read, including maps and data, here.

ISIS is now in “hit and run attack mode” in Iraq and Syria, coalition officials told The Wall Street Journal this morning.
Quote of the day: “We’re not really sure what’s next…if it’s ISIS 2.0. History has shown that the ungoverned spaces—the dark areas—those are breeding grounds for extremism,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Seth Folsom. Full story (paywall alert), here.

The South China Sea allegedly “fell off” President Trump’s radar last year, the Washington Post reports.
The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda adds: “I don’t necessarily disagree; just curious since I’ve heard the opposite too (from nonpartisan types). I think the jury’s still out on the merits of devolving authority to PACOM. Tactically valuable, sure, but strategy is less clear.”

From the region: China has begun “a major acoustics research project in the area of the Mariana Trench, within Micronesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone,” U.S. Naval War College’s Ryan Martinson tweeted on December 29.
The more you know: “The project is led by the Northwest Polytechnic University (Xi’an), with support from China Oceans University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the State Oceanic Administration,” Martinson explained. “Though framed as a civilian research project, it has clear military implications, both in improving China’s undersea warfare capabilities in deep waters and (possibly) tracking U.S. undersea assets operating in the area. The PRC team apparently maintains a ‘long-term comprehensive observation buoy’ in waters above the Trench. It recently attached six acoustic sensors to the buoy.”
What to do about it? “The U.S. government should 1) immediately remove this buoy and 2) NOT approve future marine scientific research of this kind by PRC entities (assuming it did approve these),” Martinson says. You can read more about this project over at The Diplomat, right here.  

BTW: China says it will be the “keeper of the international order” in 2018, The Diplomat reports separately off Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s New Year’s speech.

Today in statistics: Global arms exports in 2017 totaled $192 billion, Chatham House’s Micah Zenko wrote on Twitter Tuesday after glimpsing the State Department’s latest World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers report.
Of those, 83 percent were American arms exports, at $159 billion; 8 percent came from the European Union ($15.3 billion): 5 percent were Russian arms (at $9.4 billion); and less than 2 percent came from China (at $2.9 billion).
Commentary from Zenko: “For all the claims that Russia’s Syria intervention would boost its weapons sales, Russian arms exports declined 15% for last two years there’s data. For past 11 years, [the] US has been the top arms exporter (by value) to the world’s least democratic countries (measured by Polity), according to State Dept. Responsible for 40% of those sales. Last point. US arms exports now make up 7% of all US exports by value. They fuel so many jobs in so many Cong districts, that no politician will consider longer-term consequences of these sales.” Don’t forget you can catch the full report, here.

And finally today: We have a little better picture of how much Russian mercenaries are paid to work in combat operations for Vladimir Putin, thanks to this report from The Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtzova. The data pertains to Russia’s private army contractor, Wagner, which pays soldiers from $4,000 to more than $10,000 a month. By comparison, a regular contract soldier who serves one to two years is paid about $333 to $403 per month. And Russian officers with 15 years in service — their monthly check is about $964. Read on for the implications of this alleged Russian variant of Blackwater, here.

Correction: Our item about the first combat death of 2018 initially said “2017.”

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