Turkey’s assault on Kurds tops the American military’s concerns in Syria. Over the past three days, the leader of U.S. Central Command and other American military commanders in the region have sounded increasingly alarmed, Defense One’s Kevin Baron reports from Kuwait. CentCom’s Gen. Joseph Votel are watching to see if Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan will make good his threat to send forces eastward from Afrin toward Manbij. “Our object is to prevent something like that from happening,” said Votel, who said U.S. leaders in the region are in “constant contact” with their NATO ally.
ISIS still wants to “fight to the death” in its few remaining strongholds, and the U.S. military says it’s happy to oblige them. “We have them against the ropes and they are under duress,” said Col. Ray Owen, the director of operations for Special Operations Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, in Iraq and Syria, in a rare interview. “The intensity of the fight is extreme…and they’re throwing whatever they have left at us.” Read more, here.
The presidents of U.S. and Turkey spoke on the phone Wednesday and now neither side can agree on what was said. Turkey, recall, just invaded Syria again — this time to pressure the Kurdish canton in Afrin. According to the White House, President Trump “urged Turkey to de-escalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees.”
But that call registered a little differently in Ankara: “Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported that the official US summary ‘differ(ed) from the truth discussed between the Turkish and US Presidents’ phone conversation,’” CNN reports.
From Defense One
Turkey’s Attack on Kurds Tops US Concerns in Syria, Even as ISIS Keeps Fighting // Kevin Baron: Over the past three days, the leader of U.S. Central Command and other American military commanders in the region have sounded increasingly alarmed.
Air Force One Needs New Refrigerators. They Cost $24 Million // Marcus Weisgerber: The improvement is just the latest example of the bespoke requirements for the presidential jets.
Left-of-Launch Missile Defense: ‘You Don’t Want to Have Just One Solution to the Threat’ // Caroline Houck: The 3-star commander of the US Army’s space and missile-defense efforts talks about the changing mix of ways to counter threats.
The US Navy’s Next Frigate Should Jumpstart a Revitalization of the Defense Industrial Base // Robert C. O’Brien and Jerry Hendrix: As it searches for a good design at a good price, the Pentagon should bear in mind decades-old lessons about manufacturing’s ties to national security.
Trump’s Red Line on North Korea Gets Fuzzier // Uri Friedman: Mike Pompeo adds a few caveats to America’s strategy.
Welcome to this Thursday 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. military and its partnered forces have freed nearly 100 prisoners in Somalia and Afghanistan. The Somalia episode occurred exactly a week ago, though AFRICOM announced it on Wednesday.
Recovered: “30 male children from an al-Shabaab indoctrination center… in the Lower Shabelle region.”
According to AFRICOM, “five enemy combatants were killed and six were wounded. Some of those killed in the engagement appear to have been under the age of 18.” The command also said American troops advised on the mission, but not a single one of them fired their weapon.
And in Afghanistan, “U.S. and Afghan forces raided a Taliban prison in Helmand province Jan. 20, rescuing more than 60 Afghan security forces,” Military Times reported Wednesday. “The secretive operation is the second major Taliban prison raid in the province in the last week. In the past several months, four Taliban prison raids have been carried out by Afghan forces, three of those occurred in Helmand.” More here.
The U.S. appears to have conducted a new airstrike in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s Khaama Press reports this morning. The strike reportedly targeted a Haqqani network commander in “North Waziristan… in the vicinity of Speen Thal Dapa Mamozai in Orakzai Agency.” The target is believed to have been a man named Nasir Mehmood, whom KP reports goes/went by the alias “Khawari.”
Said Islamabad’s foreign ministry: “Pakistan condemns a drone strike in Kurram Agency carried out by the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) this morning, which targeted an Afghan refugee camp.” Tiny bit more, here.
The Barcelona attacks could have been much worse. A new study of the attack in Spain in mid-August 2017 reveals that the terrorists planned a far larger and more catastrophic event, including possibly a hit on the Eiffel Tower, The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi reported Wednesday.
Known knowns: “The cell was planning to stuff explosives into two vans, which were going to be used as car bombs. One was to be used in Spain, but the other may have been destined for Paris.” The group also had amassed more than 200kg of high explosives. By contrast, Callimachi reports, “The Paris attackers had at most a few lbs of TATP in their suicide belts. Brussels airport bombers had around 20 kg per suitcase… Keep in mind that the two 20-kilogram suitcases of TATP which ISIS rolled into the Brussels airport in 2016 killed over 30 people. What would 5x that amount do?” Read the full story, here.
The U.S. Senate is not protecting staffers’ email or personal devices from hacking, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday. That story comes just a short time after the cybersecurity firm Trend Micro said Russian hackers had turned their sights on Senate employees, as our colleagues at NextGov reported on Jan. 12.
Here’s a #ThrowbackThursday take on the “World’s top 10 spy and cold war museums,” via the New Zealand website, Stuff.
165 defense contractors had their initial security clearances revoked in 2017 after further investigations “linked the recipients to problematic or illicit activity,” NBC News reported Wednesday.
Watch the Chinese navy show off mostly Russian weapons on their Sovremennyy-class destroyer, TAIZHOU 138.
Brief background: “China bought 4 Project 956 / 956EM ships as carrier escorts, is now upgrading them with Chinese weapons,” Navy watcher Chris Cavas tweeted Wednesday, along with video of the demo, here.
ICYMI: A-10s will save the Afghanistan war. Okay, maybe not. But like the rising number of American troops in the country, a squadron of Warthogs have returned, NATO’s Resolute Support public affairs office announced Wednesday.
The aircraft are headed to Kandahar, legendary home of the surreal “boardwalk” in the south. From there, “Along with a detachment of KC-135 Stratotankers that have operated from Kandahar since September, the A-10s, MQ-9s and HH-60G will complement F-16s, C-130J, EC-130H and other aircraft supporting these operations from Bagram Airfield.”
To review, the Taliban (and ISIS, and the Haqqani network and whoever else is antagonizing Kabul’s leadership) are now facing an air force consisting of “F-22s, F-16s, B-52s, A-10s and MQ-9s, along with support from [U.S.] Navy F-18s.”
Now for some quick humor: The satirical site, Duffel Blog, writes that Ken Burns was working on a documentary of the Afghan war — but ran out of hard drive space to continue. That, here.
We turn now to a more serious take on the Afghan war: “Audiences made ‘12 Strong’ the No. 2 film at the box office last weekend, and the real-life heroes at the heart of the tale deserve the thanks of a grateful nation,” writes columnist David Von Drehle of the Washington Post. “But if those moviegoers were also watching the news, they would have seen images of desperate people on the balconies of Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, trying to escape from the Taliban gunmen waging a massacre inside.”
Panning out, he continues, “Twenty-five centuries of history suggest that Afghanistan is as close to ungovernable, untameable, as any land on Earth. The list of conquerors and imperialists who have come and gone is daunting: from Cyrus the Great, the father of the Persian Empire, to Alexander the Great, to Genghis Khan, and later Queen Victoria… Like the nation’s booming opium crop, Afghanistan is a habit the world can’t shake.” Meantime, we go to the movies for solace. Read on, here.
Finally today: Rummage through a new cache of “snowflakes.” The National Security Archive at George Washington University has obtained 953 of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s famed one-page (many just one-sentence) memos, and posted them here. Paul Szoldra, he of Duffel Blog and many, many military-related pieces at Business Insider, has plucked out several choice snowflakes at his new Code Red blog. Among them is a Dec. 17, 2001, memo in which “Rumsfeld actually wrote the phrase ‘when the war on terrorism is over.’” Read, here.
What we really want to see: The Jan. 6, 2003, memo where Rummy lampoons a raft of terms — including “readiness,” saying “readiness for what?” He described it to documentarian Errol Morris for his 2013 film, “The Unknown Known.” You can find those remarks at the 1 hour, 11 minute mark of the film.