Meet the believers: the latest U.S. generals who have come to win the war in Afghanistan. After 16 years, here’s what’s different, they say: new rules, new plan, new firepower, new hope. From CENTCOM’s Gen. Joe Votel on down, As they see it, past years have brought only fits and starts on the battlefield and in the Situation Room, troop surges that won hard-fought gains and drawdowns that gave them up again, early overestimations of Afghan capabilities and more recent failures to build on successes. But now, they say, they have the strongest and most capable Afghan force they’ve worked with, led by a combat-seasoned generation of Afghan senior officers and NCOs. And they say that Trump’s plan gives them permission to wage a sustained, offensive air and ground campaign against what’s left of the Taliban. Afghanistan, they believe, finally has a chance to win.”
The booms continue. But even as Votel was deep in discussions at Ministry of Defense HQ in Kabul, a car bomb disguised as an ambulance shook the city, killing at least 100 and injuring 235 more. There may be a new faith among the U.S. generals, but plenty of old realities endure. Read on, here.
From Defense One
Meet the Believers: The Afghanistan War’s US Commanders are Ready For a Reboot // Kevin Baron: What’s different this time? New rules, new plan, new firepower, new hope.
US Air Force Looks For New Ways to Buy, Protect Satellites // Marcus Weisgerber: Ideas include smaller constellations — perhaps even spacecraft built to commercial standards.
How Trump Just Might Close Guantanamo Prison // Alberto Mora: The president asked SecDef and Congress to ensure that detention policies support warfighting aims. That should mean shutting Gitmo down.
China’s Surveillance State Should Scare Everyone // Anna Mitchell and Larry Diamond: The country is perfecting a vast network of digital espionage as a means of social control—with implications for democracies worldwide.
Booz Allen Hamilton Wins $621 Million DHS Cyber Contract // Joseph Marks: The six-year project will expand the continuous diagnostics and mitigation services DHS provides to other agencies.
Welcome to this Tuesday 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.
Happening now: SecDef Jim Mattis is testifying before the House Armed Services committee. The focus: President Trump’s new National Defense Strategy. Watch live over at C-SPAN, here.
DepSecDef making the rounds: On Monday, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan visited Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he got a whole bunch of classified briefings on the threat in space and what the Air Force is doing to counter it. Four reporters traveling with him received unclassified briefings. Here is Marcus Weisgerber’s dispatch from the stop: US Air Force Looks For New Ways to Buy, Protect Satellites.
Boat tour: Later in the day and one time zone west, Shanahan boarded a harbor boat for a look-see at the warships at Naval Base San Diego. Back on land, he saw the Mobile Innovation Center, a trailer filled with 3D printers where sailors learn to custom-print parts aboard ship. Marcus will have more on that in this week’s Global Business Brief newsletter.
Today: Shanahan speaks at 11:30 a.m. EST at the AFCEA West conference in San Diego — the first time the former Boeing executive will address the defense industry in his new, official capacity. Before heading back to Washington, Shanahan will check out Navy SEAL training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado.
A new chapter for the U.S. military in Iraq may have just started. Here’s why: There will be a “shift in focus” for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq, officials announced Monday from Baghdad. The shift will turn “from enabling combat operations to sustaining military gains against Daesh,” or ISIS, the statement reads.
Reason given: “As a result of the successful operations by the Coalition and its partners, Daesh has lost approximately 98 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria. However, Coalition commanders have noted Daesh is likely to transition back into an insurgency.”
Said the coalition’s Director of Ops, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga: “Our enduring presence as invited guests in Iraq will shift to focus more on policing, border control and military capacity building… Military success has bought time, space and security for non-military stabilization efforts to help the people of Iraq, and we look to facilitate the return of normalcy for Iraqis.”
Jargon watch: Forget any timetables you may have had in mind, because this mission “will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq,” the coalition said in their statement.
ICYMI: The Associated Press may have gotten a slightly early notice on this change in direction for the coalition — reporting Monday from Al-Asad Air Base, northwest of Baghdad, “American troops have started to draw down from Iraq following Baghdad’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State group last year, according to Western contractors” at Al-Asad.
But AP goes a little further, reporting, “Dozens of American soldiers have been transported from Iraq to Afghanistan on daily flights over the past week, along with weapons and equipment, the contractors said.”
Who’s saying what: “Two Iraqi officials confirmed to The Associated Press that the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi government have reached an agreement to draw down troops in Iraq for the first time since the war against IS was launched over three years ago,” AP reported, adding immediately afterward, “The Iraqi officials said the process has not officially begun.”
Looking ahead, “One senior Iraqi official close to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said 60 percent of all American troops currently in country will be withdrawn, according to the initial agreement reached with the United States. The plan would leave a force of about 4,000 U.S. troops to continue training the Iraqi military.”
In case you’re curious: “A Pentagon report released in November said there were 8,892 U.S. troops in Iraq as of late September,” AP reminds readers. A bit more, here.
Also from the ISIS war: Removing bombs from the former Syrian city of Raqqa could take more than two decades, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing a U.S. government contractor in charge of the effort.
While the Defense Department faces its first-ever audit, one of its largest agencies — Defense Logistics — can’t account for “more than $800 million in construction projects,” according to an internal audit conducted by the accounting firm, Ernst & Young, and obtained by Politico.
Context: “The DLA serves as the Walmart of the military, with 25,000 employees who process roughly 100,000 orders a day on behalf of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and a host of other federal agencies — for everything from poultry to pharmaceuticals, precious metals and aircraft parts. But as the auditors found, the agency often has little solid evidence for where much of that money is going.”
The big picture: “The [defense] department has never undergone a full audit despite a congressional mandate — and to some lawmakers, the messy state of the Defense Logistics Agency’s books indicates one may never even be possible.” Read on, here.
Should the U.S. military give a rip about illegal fishing? A new report from the Stimson Center says the answer should be yes. And not only that, but the global spread of illegal fishing — believed to account for between 20 to 50 percent of the “global catch” — is disrupting naval operations, economies and food paradigms across the globe. But there are some things combatant commanders can do. Dive into the Stimson Center’s report for more, here.
Big changes could be coming to the way the U.S. military decides who is fit enough for combat, Military Times’ Tara Copp reports. Click through for the photographed NCO yelling like he’s really hangry; stay for more on how the dreaded “tape test” could be out, and new nutrition charts and diagrams could be in. We’ll pour out a Rip-It in the name of those who might be feeling the pain…
Watch SpaceX try to launch its new heavy-lift rocket today. First, watch this SpaceX animation, which depicts the Falcon Heavy’s two boosters and second stage flying themselves gently back to their launch pads. Then, tune in for the real thing. New York Times: “SpaceX will broadcast the launch on its website, spacex.com, beginning at 1:10 p.m. Eastern, and on YouTube. We’ll add the live video feed to this page once it becomes available. The launch window is from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.”
So what? It’s true that as the military seeks smaller satellites, a heavy-lift rocket is useful for only the real behemoths among the Pentagon’s spacecraft, largely intelligence. Still, the per-launch price tag is expected to be roughly half of the $350 million United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy.
Just in it for the explosions? SpaceX’s Elon Musk himself gave five reasons why Falcon Heavy might blow up, here.
Finally today: Trouble in the war court down south. SecDef Mattis just fired the top official overseeing the Guantanamo war court, the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg reported Monday. It just so happens to be the same official Mattis appointed back in April.
Out: “Harvey Rishikof, an attorney with experience in national security law who, unlike earlier war court overseers, had no U.S. military experience.”
In: “the general counsel at the Defense Logistics Agency, Jim Coyne, [will now serve] as acting convening authority.” That office “is responsible for approving cases for trial, plea agreements, reviewing convictions and sentences — and resourcing defense teams.”
Why the change? Unclear exactly, but Rosenberg has some ideas: “Rishikof has been responsible for several recent controversial decisions, including suspending the contempt of court sentence of the chief defense counsel, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker. Without explanation, his office also rejected a proposed charge sheet for three former CIA captives held here on suspicion of plotting terror attacks in Southeast Asia, including the grisly 2002 Bali nightclub bombing.”
Related op-ed: How Trump Just Might Close Guantanamo Prison. Alberto Mora, a former General Counsel of the Department of the Navy, argues that if SecDef and Congress take seriously Trump’s order to ensure that detention policies support warfighting aims, they should shut Gitmo down.
There is a lot more to Rosenberg’s story — including the stat that there are “41 captives [currently in Guantanamo], 10 of them with military commissions cases” — here.