US ‘developing military options’ for Syria; Army launches R&D hub; Troop data disappears from DOD site; China mulls Pacific base; and just a bit more…

The U.S., France, and possibly the UK and Middle Eastern allies could partner up in a military operation aimed to discourage future chemical weapons use in Syria’s brutal civil war,” Reuters reported Monday evening after President Trump held a meeting on Syria with military officers (photo here).  

Two options for strikes: “Dumayr air base, which is home to Syrian Mi-8 helicopters and has been linked in social media to the strike in Douma,” or “Humaymim Airfield in northwest Syria, which was singled out by the White House in a March 4 statement that identified it as the starting point for bombing missions by Russian military aircraft in Damascus and Eastern Ghouta.” No U.S. officials told Reuters even the vaguest of plans under discussion, only acknowledging Monday evening that “military options were being developed.”

Russia’s reax: Any U.S. response to Saturday’s alleged attacks could have “grave repercussions,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the UN Security Council in its emergency meeting on Syria Monday.

By the way, Russia has apparently figured out how to jam U.S. drones in Syria, NBC News reports this morning, citing four U.S. officials. “The Russians began jamming some smaller U.S. drones several weeks ago, the officials said, after a series of suspected chemical weapons attacks on civilians in rebel-held eastern Ghouta… The drones impacted so far are smaller surveillance aircraft, as opposed to the larger Predators and Reapers that often operate in combat environments and can be armed.”

Affecting U.S. operations? Yes, NBC writes. “The Defense Department will not say whether the jamming is causing drones to crash, citing operational security… But one official confirmed the tactic is having an operational impact on U.S. military operations in Syria.” Read on, here.

Back to the UN Security Council: U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley pointed a harsh finger at Russia in the wake of Saturday’s gruesome attacks in Douma: “When the Syrian military pummels civilians, they rely on the military hardware given by Russia. Russia could stop this senseless slaughter, if it wanted. But it stands with the Assad regime and supports without any hesitation.” That clip via MSNBC, here.

Haley also pitched a new organization to investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in a draft resolution that “would give UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres 30 days to pull together the body and urged Syria to cooperate.” But there’s no indication that organization will get off the ground any time soon.

Pulling the conspiracy card. For Russia’s part, NBC reports from the UNSC on Monday, its UN ambassador said “the U.S. was training fighters to conduct just such [alleged chemical weapons] attacks to create the pretext for a military operation.” More from Bloomberg, here.

#LongRead: One message of Monday’s airstrikes in Syria is that Israel will continue to deter and contain Iran as its troops fight in support of the Assad regime, the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister argued for The Daily Beast on Monday.

From Defense One

US Army Seeks Faster Weapons Development with a New Collaboration Hub // Caroline Houck: Super-strong materials, cyber defenses are on the agenda as the Army Research Lab launches new partnerships.

Expose — and Hinder — China’s Actions in the South China Sea // Council on Foreign Relations’ Ely Ratner: The U.S. needs to systematically collect and publicize data on China’s efforts to expand and consolidate its control in the area.

What Is America Going to Do About Syria Now? // The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman: After the latest suspected chemical attack, the United States has four options.

The Logic of Assad’s Brutality // Thanassis Cambanis, via The Atlantic: No meaningful American response will be forthcoming, no matter how hideous the war crime.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. OTD1963: USS Thresher, the world’s most advanced attack submarine, sinks with all 129 hands during tests off the coast of Boston.

Transparency in wartime fades for the U.S. military. The Defense Department has scrubbed previously reported numbers of troops in combat across Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, Military Times’ Tara Copp reported Monday. “The numbers have been available for years on DMDC,” or Defense Manpower Data Center, here. Those numbers “are now all gone,” Copp writes.  
The Pentagon’s response:DMDC is currently updating their policy for these reports. The information should be available soon, and retroactive numbers will be available.” Story, here.

Untransparent trend: If the numbers don’t reappear, it will seem to be of a piece with various exhortations by Secretary Mattis, CNO Richardson, and other defense leaders to be more guarded about releasing information to the public.
But deterrence requires knowledge: Moderating the kickoff panel for the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference on Monday, one of your D Briefers asked the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps what the new National Security Strategy’s “deterrence by denial” concept would require. Gen. Glenn Walters replied that “it’s important that our potential adversaries will know we have the capability, that they can see it, that it’s not kept in a closet back in the United States.” Watch the video; Walters’ comment comes at 18:00.
Other news from the panel, which also featured Adm. Charles D. Michel, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard; MARAD Administrator Mark H. Buzby; and Vice Adm. William Merz, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Systems:

Arizona added 113 Guard troops it will send to the U.S.-Mexico border, Governor Doug Ducey announced Monday, raising its troops commitment to 238.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he’s “committing at least 1,000 National Guard troops” to the effort, the Associated Press reported Monday.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez said she’ll send “more than 80” of her Guard troops, “the first of an anticipated 250 from New Mexico serving in the border operation,” AP writes.
And South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said he’ll also send some of his Guard troops to the border. However, the number, duties and duration are still to be worked out. A bit more from AP, here.

For your eyes only: Another ISIS leader was killed in Afghanistan five days ago in Faryab province. The deceased: An Uzbek commander named Qari Hikmatullah, cited as “the main facilitator of ISIS-K fighters into northern Afghanistan,” as well as a man believed to be Hikmatullah’s bodyguard. Video, via NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan, and NATO write-up, here.
Some good news for Afghans: “Uzbekistan’s Special Representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev said his country has decided to reduce the electricity prices from the current 8.5 cents a unit to 5 cents a unit,” Tolo News reports as part of a Kabul-led effort to help resolve power shortages in the country. Story, here.

China is eyeing a new military base on Vanuatu, some 1,000 miles northeast of Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Monday, calling it the “first overseas base China has established in the Pacific, and only its second in the world.” Story and graphics, here.

Dystopia watch, China edition. “The Chinese government forces residents of a part of the country, home to a Muslim minority population, to install an Android app that scans devices for certain files,” Vice Motherboard’s Joseph Cox reported Monday. “Turns out,” he writes, “that app is sending IMEI, file data from phones to its server in plain text.” Details, here.

For your ears only: “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” from journalist and historian Richard Rhodes, is now available as a free audiobook. If you’re unfamiliar, this classic was first published in 1987 and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and a National Book Critics Circle Award. Begin listening, here.

And finally today, a new first for the U.S. Senate: Army veteran and Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth just became the first senator to give birth while in office, “and one of just 10 female lawmakers to bear a child while serving in Congress,” the Washington Post reported Monday.
New to the world: Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, named after the great aunt of Bryan Bowlsbey, Duckworth’s husband. That great aunt also happened to have been an Army nurse. Continue reading, here.

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