Pakistan stops sharing intel with US; Insider attack in Afghanistan; Draft nuke-posture review leaks; Trump’s back-and-forth on FISA; and just a bit more…

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

January 12, 2018

Pakistan has stopped sharing intelligence with the U.S. after the White House suspended its roughly $2 billion annual military aid package until Islamabad does more to fight terrorism, the Financial Times reported Thursday. The exclusion involves “information collected from sources on the ground in the border region with Afghanistan,” according to unnamed Pakistani officials.

The human intelligence involves a range of sources, from suspects coming from Afghanistan who are caught by our forces to our own intelligence-gathering mechanisms. All that is on hold for now,” a Pakistani official told FT.

What Pakistan hasn’t chosen to do yet: exercise its “more radical option of preventing US forces using Pakistan as a land route to Afghanistan.” Officials said the U.S. may, however, face steeper bill to use Pakistan as a logistics point en route to Afghanistan.

Adds FT:US officials say they have developed alternative supply routes in recent years that do not rely on Islamabad, but acknowledge these are less convenient.” Some of those routes include countries with a closer relationship to Russia than many U.S. officials are comfortable with, the Brookings Institution’s Tamara Cofman Wittes said in this week’s “Rational Security” podcast. Read on at FT for how these new moves could push Pakistan closer to China, here.

New Army unit heads to Afghanistan. About 500 to 700 more U.S. troops will head to Afghanistan — not replacing anyone — to act as combat advisers this spring, the U.S. Army announced Thursday.

The unit’s name: The 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB. They’re based out of Fort Benning, Ga., and every one of them volunteered for the job. Eventually there will be six of these units, five for active duty and one for the National Guard. But this is the first unit to be trained up and ready to go.

According to a preview the Army put out in October, the new unit’s requirements demand soldiers are more physically fit than the average Joe, as well as outfitting each troops with “the best weapons and night-observation devices, along with state-of-the-art communications equipment.” A bit more from Stars and Stripes, here.

And in Afghanistan, a suspected insider attack wounded a U.S. special operator recently in eastern Nangarhar province, the New York Times reports.

The episode unfolded in the Achin district of Nangarhar Province, the stronghold of the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan,” the Times writes. “Over the past year, Afghan forces, with the help of American Special Forces units and airpower, have tried to wipe out the group there, but it has been an uphill task because the Afghan government has had little control in the area for many years.”

What happened next gets a little murky, with Afghan officials telling the Times a “bombardment” occurred shortly afterward, killing more than a dozen militiamen. Complicating matters: “Members of the provincial council said the militia was led by a member of the Afghan Parliament and a regional strongman, Zaher Qadir, and had possibly been infiltrated by the Taliban.” More, here.

Video from Afghanistan has American troops in hot water. Politico reports “U.S. commanders have launched an investigation into video footage that appears to show an American service member firing into the cab of a civilian truck as the two vehicles pass on a road in Afghanistan, an action that could have violated the military’s rules of engagement and may hamper the alliance with the Afghan government.” Story and video, here.

With the U.S. focused intensely on ISIS in Afghanistan, what does it plan to do about Syria after ISIS? Maybe nothing; maybe a lot. We don’t know because the Pentagon, as Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said about 90 minutes in, “declined to be represented” at Thursday’s Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing entitled “U.S. Policy in Syria Post-ISIS.”

What we did learn from that hearing: 10 U.S. diplomats are alongside the 2,000 or so American troops in northeastern Syria holding down some of Washington's most successful post-ISIS stabilization operations inside Syria. That’s according to the State Department’s David Satterfield, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs — who did show up to Thursday’s hearing. Catch it in re-runs, here.

From Defense One

Pentagon Denies Gag Order, Says 'Services Are Allowed to Talk About Readiness' // Caroline Houck: They just have to do so carefully — or behind closed doors.

Shawn Brimley's Town // Andrew Exum: Washington, D.C., can be an easy city to mock or resent—but it's full of workers who've given up opportunities to serve something larger than themselves.

Pentagon Thwarts 36 Million Email Breach Attempts Daily // Frank Konkel: And you thought your inbox was dangerous.

DHS Offers to Vet States' Voting Systems. But Will They Ask for Help? // Joseph Marks: Some states remain wary of federal election-security assistance, but the ice is thawing, a Homeland Security official said.

Global Business Brief: January 11 // Marcus Weisgerber: Lawmaker hits tight-lipped Pentagon; Q&A with Engility CEO; Another undisclosed Patriot buyer; and more.

Welcome to this Friday 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.

Read a draft of the Nuclear Posture Review, as obtained by Huffington Post, which posted it here. A DoD spokesman declined to discuss the review, which is slated for official release next month. HuffPo: “In October, NBC reported that President Trump had told a gathering of high-ranking national security leaders that ‘he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.’ While the report doesn’t nearly go that far, it does call for the development of new, so-called low-yield nuclear weapons — warheads with a lower explosive force.”
There’s a lot of emphasis on “mini-nukes” and variable-yield weapons; get your background on that, here.

House rejects limits on eavesdropping, voting Thursday to extend the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program for six years despite efforts by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to restrict the agency’s ability to listen in on and use Americans’ conversations and other communications. New York Times has more, here.
Was Trump swayed by morning TV? At 6:46 a.m., a commentator on Fox & Friends opined against the bill, the Washington Post reports. “And then, just 47 minutes later, Trump was no longer in favor of the bill that his own White House had been championing. In a tweet, the president quoted verbatim the Fox headline from Napolitano’s appearance and suggested that the FISA law had been used by the Obama administration to ‘so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign.’”
Fixing the mess: House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisc., “spent 30 minutes on the phone with the president explaining the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance, as many fellow Republicans reacted in disbelief and befuddlement.” Trump got more counseling from White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly on the way to Capitol Hill, where the president “parried questions from confused lawmakers.”
Finally, 101 minutes after the first tweet, Trump tweeted out his support for the bill, saying that “today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land” and “We need it!”
So what? Writes The Atlantic’s David Graham: “The implication, made before and reinforced Thursday, that the president can be induced to swing his stance on key policy fights based on a single segment on cable news has potentially wide-reaching implications for American policy—including for lobbyists, special interests, or foreign countries seeking to influence the government.”

The U.S. just sent three nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers to Guam, not exactly in secret, Japan Times reported Thursday. “During this short-term deployment, the B-2s will conduct local and regional training sorties and will integrate capabilities with key regional partners, ensuring bomber crews maintain a high state of readiness and crew proficiency,” U.S. Pacific Air Forces announced on the unit’s website. More from the Washington Post, here.  
Meantime, North Korea may be involved in more tunneling work at a northeastern nuclear test site, the folks at 38 North report with annotated satellite imagery.
By the way: Check out this old 1952 Cold War propaganda film about U.S. artillery in the Korean War, including footage of the Army using tanks as makeshift indirect fire platforms.
BTW, part 2: Millennials need new movies about nuclear war, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists writes. Worth the click, here.  

I thought we were friends. Putin says North Korea won “this round” of the nuclear standoff with President Trump, The Hill reported Thursday.

ICYMI: The Trump White House is due to sit down with Russian military officials in Azerbaijan in late January, Buzzfeed News reported Sunday.
The involved parties: “Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the supreme allied commander of Europe, or SACEUR, and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces.”
"Other meetings planned for January and February include talks on the Ukraine crisis between Vladislav Surkov, one of Vladimir Putin’s top aides, and Kurt Volker, the special envoy for the Ukraine crisis; discussions over longstanding irritants in US-Russia relations between Tom Shannon, the No. 3 official at the State Department, and Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister; and conversations related to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).” More here.

President Trump is not expected to reimpose strict sanctions on Iran, the Associated Press reported this week, backed up Thursday by the New York Times.
Related: Attorney General Jeff Sessions just set up a Hezbollah investigation team, Reuters reported Thursday —  just a few short weeks after Politico published “The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook.”
More reading on Iran: American policy toward the country can be aptly summarized as “Speaking Loudly and Carrying a Little Stick,” the Atlantic Council’s Aaron Stein warned this week for War on the Rocks.

Arms on the high seas. Greek authorities intercepted a ship loaded with arms and headed for Libya. “The Tanzania-flagged Andromeda had been heading from Turkey to Libya when it was stopped on Sunday, officers said. It had been stacked with 29 containers full of explosives and detonators. The materials on board included a large quantity of the explosive agent ammonium nitrate and 11 empty liquefied petroleum gas tanks.” More from Greek media, here

Gators with frickin’ laser beams. The U.S. Navy says it will test the prototype Laser Weapon System aboard the San Antonio-class amphibious ship Portland as early as this fall. LaWS was last tested aboard ship in 2014. Defense News, here.

Who wants an F-52 fighter jet? President Trump lauded the delivery of just that kind of aircraft in a recent deal with Norway, the Washington Post reported Thursday. The problem is F-52s, of course, only exist in the video game “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.” Details, here.

Weekend reading: Two looks at popular culture’s impact on national security.
Start with “How Tom Clancy Novels Shaped American Foreign Policy,” which excerpts a longer academic article. Sample: “Legislators not only invoked Clancy as a shorthand for “military technology” or “power politics” (as one might use “Stephen King” as metonymy for “horror story”)—they cited details from the books as evidence of the real-world necessity for specific policy changes.” Read on, here.
Then hop over to: “The Good War: How America’s infatuation with World War II has eroded our conscience,” which points some fingers at Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks as it argues that America’s proper response to 9/11 should have been to remember Vietnam, not invoke World War II. That, here. And have a safe weekend, gang. We'll catch you again on Tuesday.

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston // Ben Watson is news editor for Defense One. He previously worked for NPR's “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now” in Washington, D.C. Watson served for five years in the U.S. Army, where he was an award-winning combat cameraman and media advisor for southern Afghanistan's special operations command during the 2010-11 surge. // Bradley Peniston is deputy editor of Defense One. A national security journalist for two decades, he helped launch, served as managing editor of Defense News, and was editor of Armed Forces Journal. His books include No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf, now part of the Chief of Naval Operations' Professional Reading Program.

January 12, 2018