Tragedy outside Savannah; US committed to “dismantling” of DPRK nuke program; Green Berets in Yemen; Navy to stop announcing CO firings; and just a bit more…

Tragedy outside Savannah, Georgia. All nine American troops aboard a Puerto Rico Air National Guard WC-130 died Wednesday when the plane crashed moments after takeoff during its “final military flight” en route to the “boneyard” in Tucson, Ariz., for decommissioning, CNN reports this morning.  
“We don’t know the cause of the crash,” said Maj. Paul Dahlen, a spokesman for the Puerto Rico ANG. Adds CNN, “The plane from the 156th Airlift Wing in Puerto Rico had been in Savannah for ‘a number of days’ undergoing routine maintenance before heading to the Aerospace Regeneration and Maintenance Group in Arizona,” according to Dahlen. A bit more, here.

New this week: The first Guantanamo Bay detainee transfer of the Trump administration. The man: Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al Darbi, and he was just sent to Saudi Arabia to finish 13-year sentence, the Pentagon announced Wednesday. As a former member of al-Qaeda, he “plead guilty to charges relating to a 2002 attack on a French oil tanker,” Lawfare blog reports in a wider piece on the implications of the move.
Who else but Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald has a semi-profile of al-Darbi from her reporting in February.
So how many still have a cell in Gitmo? “Today, 40 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay,” according to the Pentagon.

From Defense One

Pentagon Bans Sale of Chinese-Designed Phones On Military Bases // Caitlin Fairchild: Military personnel better stick with iPhones or Android devices.

You May Have to Wait 2 Years to Get That Security Clearance // Lindy Kyzer: The metrics fail to capture the real-world impact of the backlog, which includes careers put on hold and the loss of top talent, says Raytheon's Jane Chappell.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. OTD1469: Happy birthday, Niccolo Machiavelli.

The U.S. is committed to “permanently” destroying North Korea’s nuclear program, Mike Pompeo told State Department employees on Wednesday, shortly before he was sworn in as the department’s new leader by President Trump.
In his own words: “Right now, we have an unprecedented opportunity to change the course of history on the Korean Peninsula… It’s time to solve this once and for all.  A bad deal is not an option.  The American people are counting on us to get this right. We are committed to the permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program, and to do so without delay.”
Where things stand: “Trump is expected to meet with Kim sometime before the end of June at a location that has yet to be disclosed,” the Washington Examiner reports. “Much of his preparations for the summit are being handled by Pompeo, who maintains a positive relationship with Trump and proved to be adept at nuclear diplomacy during his own meeting with Kim.” More here.
ICYMI: Van Jackson had a good take on what Kim wants and what the U.S. needs to decide it will accept, here.

Green Berets on Yemen’s border. We’ve known since at least May 2016 that the U.S. has troops in Yemen — with Pentagon spox Capt. Jeff Davis saying at the time Americans move “in and out of Yemen” regularly to help the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
But today we have a clearer picture of what Yemen-based U.S. troops have been doing nearby, thanks to the New York Times — reporting on “a team of about a dozen Green Berets [who] arrived on Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen,” in the city of Najran, sometime late last year.
The short read: “With virtually no public discussion or debate, the Army commandos are helping locate and destroy caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites that Houthi rebels in Yemen are using to attack Riyadh and other Saudi cities… Along the porous border, the Americans are working with surveillance planes that can gather electronic signals to track the Houthi weapons and their launch sites.”
Notes the Times: “There is no indication that the American commandos have crossed into Yemen as part of the secretive mission. But sending American ground forces to the border is a marked escalation of Western assistance to target Houthi fighters who are deep in Yemen.” Read more about how the scope of U.S. operations in Yemen have grown under the Trump administration, here.

Here’s an odd IO move from Afghanistan: U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller insisted Wednesday (video) “we’re the Mujahideen” in the graveyard of empires, Task & Purpose reported Wednesday.
In his own words: “The terrorists call themselves the freedom fighters, the Mujahideen – they’re not. They’re criminals. They’re apostates. They hide behind Islam. They sell drugs. They kill innocent people. That’s not what Islam is… The Afghan army and the Americans, we’re the Mujahideen. We’re the Mujahideen. That’s the message. Maybe they’ll get tired of this and they’ll decide that there’s a better way, and then we can move on to something else.” T&P’s Jeff Schogol can fill in the gaps for you on that short hit, complete with a “Rambo 3” reference, here.
Speaking of Marines, they “now depend on 3D printing for parts in winter warfare,” the military entertainment blog We Are the Mighty reports, citing a recent release from USMC Systems Command in Quantico, Va. Items include insulated radio covers and boot accessories. Details and photos, here.

Seeking U.S. missiles, Ukraine stopped cooperating with Mueller inquest. Donald Trump’s legal troubles and worldwide business dealings have always held the potential to pit the good of the country against his personal wealth and welfare. (Defense One’s Caroline Houck has tracked these potential conflicts of interest since 2016.)
Natsec observers were still shocked when one burst into view yesterday in the New York Times: “The decision to halt the investigations by an anticorruption prosecutor was handed down at a delicate moment for Ukraine, as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles, called Javelins.” More, here.
Quoth the professors:

  • “Holy crap. HOLY CRAP” — Dan Drezner of the Fletcher School in Massachusetts.
  • “Holy #%&$. When I argue that arms transfers can influence clients this was not what I had in mind.”— Jonathan Caverley of the U.S. Naval War College.

The Navy will stop announcing when it fires a CO. The sea service has always held its ship captains — and by extension, the commanders of all its units — to a very high standard of accountability. It’s a tradition that goes back to the age of sail, when a warship that sailed over the horizon was truly on its own. Part of that accountability, in the modern era, was telling the public, through the press, when a commander was being held to account for his/her failings. That’s ending, the service announced yesterday. (USA Today)
That drew quick condemnation from those who cover the Navy, and so  Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson got asked about it at a Naval Institute event. The CNO said the reactions were “somewhat overblown.” As Navy’s acting Chief of Information Capt. Greg Hicks explained it to the Washington Examiner later on, the Navy “will continue to announce high-profile, nationally-newsworthy firings through press releases, including disciplinary actions that result from major accidents and scandals. But other lesser actions will be released initially to a much smaller group of reporters who regularly cover Navy issues, and then to anyone else who asks about it, known as an RTQ, or response to query.”
The change brings the Navy into line with the other services, which rarely make a public announcement when they relieve their commanders for cause. But it’s not a good look. “Shortsighted,” one former top Navy PAO told the Examiner. “Not in keeping with our core value of earning the trust and confidence of the American people,” said another.
And it comes after:

  1. The Navy has been reeling from the Fat Leonard scandal;
  2. A welter of DOD and services move away from transparency.

Indeed, the news broke the same day Foreign Affairs published an essay by Loren DeJonge Schulman and Alice Friend arguing that all this secrecy comes at a cost. Read that, here.

And finally today — what it’s like to chase the moon on the West Coast. The U.S. Air Force maintains a quiet base in Mountain Home, Idaho. National Geographic took its cameras there to film pilots attempting “to intercept the Eclipse and stay in the moon’s shadow for 3 minutes.”
It’s part of NatGeo’s show, “One Strange Rock,” which has a new episode coming out Monday. Catch a 3-minute trailer for that new episode, featuring F-15 pilots on their moon chase, over here.

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