160+ ISIS fighters killed in Afghanistan; Pentagon’s migrant-kid camps; Lasers in the East China Sea; USAF buys its cheapest giant rocket; and just a bit more…

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

June 22, 2018

In Afghanistan, a three-week U.S. and Afghan special forces clearing op has ended after killing more than 160 ISIS-linked militants just 10 miles from the Pakistan border, in southern Nangahar province, The Wall Street Journal reports this morning. A bit more, but not a lot, here.

Turning to Syria now, tensions are rising in the deconfliction zone in the south, Reuters reported Thursday.
The allegation: "A Syrian army officer was killed in a U.S strike on a Syrian army outpost" near al-Tanf, Syria.  

The Pentagon, however, disagreed, relaying to Reuters that what happened was "a U.S.-backed Syrian rebel group stationed in the Tanf garrison had engaged on Thursday evening an 'unidentified hostile force'… forcing it to retreat. It said there were no casualties on either side." More here.

And after more than a week of intensified fighting, the Houthi rebel group in Yemen says it may be willing to hand over the port of Hodeida to the UN — which is a small but welcome gesture from the UAE and Saudi militaries’ perspectives. Reuters reports this morning: “A Western diplomat said the United Nations would oversee income from the port and make sure it gets to Yemen’s central bank. The understanding is for Yemeni state employees to remain working alongside the United Nations.”
Unfinished business: “Sources cautioned that the plan still needed agreement from all sides to the conflict, and would not, at least in its initial stages, result in an immediate ceasefire.”

From Defense One

Defense One Radio, Episode 9 // Space Force!; BAE Systems CEO Jerry DeMuro; Border security, Trump, and more.

Before You Help a Fragile State's Military, Ask These Uncomfortable Questions // Mara E. Karlin: A checklist for a Pentagon that rarely looks into why so many of its partner-building efforts fail.

SpaceX Just Sold the US Air Force the Cheapest Enormous Rocket It's Ever Bought // Tim Fernholz: The launch will cost $130 million, far less than the $350 million average cost of United Launch Alliance's Delta IV.

In 2020, We'll Have Digitized Immigration. Until Then, We Have JAG Lawyers // Patrick Tucker: An effort to shrink the case backlog hobbling the immigration system is just getting started.

The Global Business Brief, June 21 // Marcus Weisgerber: Managing a defense company in the Trump era, Convo with BAE Systems CEO, Tanker-delivery dates and more.

Officials ID North Korean Nuclear Test Site To Be Destroyed // Patrick Tucker: But arms control officials yawn, saying this site is not as important as it was a few years ago.

Welcome to this Friday 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. #OTD1990: The Berlin Wall’s Checkpoint Charlie is dismantled.

Pentagon ordered to prep housing for 20,000 migrant children: “The 20,000 beds at bases in Texas and Arkansas would house ‘unaccompanied alien children,’ said a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, although other federal agencies provided conflicting explanations about how the shelters would be used and who would be housed there.” NYT, here.
And the existing detention centers? We don’t even know the locations of all the children already separated from their parents. The Washington Post has a roundup of what we do know, and a request for additional information, here.
Papers please, I-95 edition: For 11 hours, U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped all vehicles in the southbound lanes of I-95 in Maine’s Penobscot County. “If you want to continue down the road, then yes ma’am. We need to know what citizen — what country you’re a citizen of,” an agent said Wednesday evening to two Bangor Daily News reporters who went through the checkpoint. BDN has more, here.
The 100-mile “Constitution-free zone”: In certain parts of the country, such checkpoints are becoming routine, thanks to increasingly active use of a 1953 law that allows border guards to demand proof of citizenship up to 100 miles away from any U.S. border. Two-thirds of U.S. citizens live within that span. ICYMI: Charts, maps, and more from Tanvi Misra in Defense One, here.

China’s lasers are posing a new threat to U.S. pilots — this time not in Djibouti, but off the coast of China, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Location: "in and around the East China Sea."
What happened: At least two dozen times since September, "laser signals [were] directed at American aircraft appeared to be coming from fishing boats operating in the area and from shore," Pentagon officials told the Journal.
Key difference: “Unlike in Djibouti in East Africa, where military-grade lasers were used against American pilots in some cases earlier this year, all of the incidents that have occurred in the East China Sea involved smaller, commercial-grade lasers—along the lines of the widely popular ‘cat grade’ lasers that pet owners might use to play with their pets.”
And for that reason U.S. officials call it “low-level but concerning harassment,” and it’s certain to be on Defense Secretary Mattis’s agenda when he travels to Beijing next week. Read on (paywall alert), here.
Related: If the U.S. military doesn’t step up its R&D game, it will fall behind China in just two years, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said Thursday at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security in Washington. Details via the U.S. Naval Institute News, here.

Today in important things the president said that are not true: "The document we signed, if people actually read it to the public, you’d see: No. 1 statement, we will immediately begin total denuclearization of N. Korea. Nobody thought that would be possible," President Donald Trump told members of his cabinet Thursday at the White House.
Says MIT’s Vipin Narang: “It does not. And we are in a boatload of trouble if he thinks that.”
Replied the Pentagon: [crickets] Actually it didn’t reply to Reuters’ request for elaboration on the president’s remarks. And neither did the White House.
In fact, Reuters couldn’t get anyone to explain what the president was talking about. Read more on the scant known-knowns in the current state of North Korea’s “denuclearization,” here.
Kim’s promise: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added: “I was there when [Kim Jong Un] said it. He made a personal commitment. He has his reputation on the line in the same way that we do…we’re going to create a brighter future for N. Korea. We’re going to denuclearize just as quickly as we can achieve that."
Reax from Brookings’ Thomas Wright: This is one of the most naive statements ever made by an American diplomat. I hope he is trying to mislead us because it would be truly frightening if he believed it.”
Context: Wired’s history of North Korea’s broken nuclear promises.

Across the Potomac, the Pentagon thinks China has enough hypersonic weapons that “it could potentially deploy them on a large scale,” Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Paul Selva, told the CNAS crowd on Thursday. National Defense Magazine has that, here.

China also has the “world’s most powerful naval gun,” and it’ll be ready to use by 2025, CNBC reported Thursday citing “people with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report.”
What we think we know about this weapon: It’s a railgun, which uses “electromagnetic energy instead of gunpowder to propel rounds, and China's is capable of striking a target 124 miles away at speeds of up to 1.6 miles per second, according to the report.”
By comparison, “The U.S. Navy's railgun, years away from being operational, remains a classified system still in development under the Office of Naval Research.” Read on, here.

And finally this week: F-35 rollout, Turkish edition. Watch 53 seconds of that… event… via, the Washington Examiner’s Dave Brown on Twitter, here.
Reportedly from the same event: Turkish reporter Ragip Soylu learned he was denied access to the Fort Worth facilities — but only after flying from DC. Tweeted Ragip, as he was leaving: “My accreditation was rescinded based on security grounds… Apparently I have become a national security threat over night.”
Related: the Marine Corps has lost its first F-35 (one that had erupted into flames two years ago), Marine Corps Times reported Thursday.

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 Military.com, 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.

June 22, 2018