The quiet special ops wars in Africa; Nuclear deception from North Korea; US ballistic missile defense special report; UAE pauses the battle for Hodeida; And more.

U.S. special operations troops are fighting in Africa, not just “advise and assist”-ing from the rear. That may sound obvious to close observers of global war on terrorism, but it probably would surprise the American public and some members of Congress, who have been told by Pentagon officials repeatedly that America’s military intervention on the continent is more saccharin than it actually is. “Our special operators not only advise and assist and accompany their partner force, but also direct it under these programs,” said recently retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, who command all U.S. special operations forces in Africa, in this Politico piece.

Politico uses the Niger ambush as entry-point to explain the true extent of what American SOF forces really are doing across Africa, and the authority that allows them to borrow African forces to help the Americans in direct raids to hunt and kill enemies—rather than the other way around.

“I’ve got guys in Kenya, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Tunisia who are doing the same kind of things as the guys in Somalia, exposing themselves to the same kind of danger…. We’ve had guys wounded in all the types of missions that we do,” Buldoc said.

Pay attention to this idea, and how Washington uses this mode of imposing security on Africa, and elsewhere, in the global war on terrorism. It is a welcome and important window on actual U.S. military and intelligence operations across Africa, and a crystal ball into what Americans should expect from the Pentagon and other intelligence agencies during the Trump administration and beyond. Anyone who has passed through Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier over the past decade has witnessed tents turn into air-conditioned barracks and offices, as it has grown into a sizable and pretty permanent looking base for special operations missions.

The kicker… “I don’t think Congress or SOCOM [Special Operations Command] really hold them to account. Nobody’s put the boot on people’s necks to make sure these programs truly are effective.”

Defense One Radio Episode 10: This week we dive into the U.S. border security mess, including whether Central American forces should be trusted with security assistance, with former Defense One reporter Molly O’Toole who has covered immigration and security extensively; and we talk about next week’s NATO Summit, the Trump-Putin winky in Helsinki, and more.


From Defense One

Special Report: How America Protects Its Citizens and Allies from Ballistic Missiles // Ben Watson: The U.S. military has four primary means of shooting down incoming missiles. But even together, they can’t promise to stop everything.

The Great Russian Disinformation Campaign // David Frum: In a new book, Timothy Snyder explains how Russia revolutionized information warfare—and presages its consequences for democracies in Europe and the United States.

You Should Be ‘Significantly Concerned’ There’s No White House Cyber Coordinator, Policy Experts Say // Joseph Marks: They also worry we’re going the wrong way on integrating government cyber operations.

Banning Software Won’t Keep the Government Safe, Says Nuclear Security Agency Official // Joseph Marks: Rather than banning software from China or Russia, the U.S. government should focus on reducing the danger any particular app can pose.

Here’s What the White House’s AI Committee Will Focus On // Aaron Boyd: The committee created two groups, one dedicated to machine learning and another for research and development priorities.

The Trump-Putin Summit: What the Europeans Fear // Yasmeen Serhan: A U.S. leader meeting a Russian one is not particularly unusual. The context is.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Kevin Baron and Ben Watson. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. On this day in 1863, the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment carried out a “suicidal charge” on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Pa. “The regiment began the day with 262 men, but lost 215 in 5 savage minutes,” writes Minnesotan Brian Klaas this morning. “That 82% casualty rate is the highest in U.S. history.”


North Korea’s Kim Jong-un appears to have lied to President Donald Trump about reducing his nuclear weapons program. U.S. intelligence agencies present that reality now that we have a series of corroborating reports from different news outlets.

  • NBC News was first on Friday, reporting — with the input of a dozen U.S. officials — “US intelligence shows North Korea trying to deceive the US about its nuclear program.” The apparent deception from Pyongyang concerns “the number of facilities, the number of weapons, [and] the number of missiles” North Korea is producing, despite ongoing negotiations with the U.S. to rid the country of all of its entire nuclear weapons program.
  • The Washington Post seconded much of the above in a Saturday report you can find here. The short read: “North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile, and instead is considering ways to conceal the number of weapons it has and secret production facilities, according to U.S. officials.”
  • Then came The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reporting, “Pyongyang is pushing ahead with weapons programs even as it pursues dialogue with Washington.” Included here but not in the other two reports: “A story in three photos: (1) Kim Jong Un inspecting plans for expansion of key missile-production site in Aug 2017 (2) The site on Apr 1, before Kim’s summits with Moon and Trump (3) The site as of Friday, looking a lot like the 2017 mockup,” writes WSJ’s Jonathan Cheng, with the imagery to back it up.
  • And on Sunday evening, The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda wrote “North Korea Has Continued Ballistic Missile Launcher Production in 2018, Per US Intelligence.”

The apparent source document for at least some of these revelations: a “previously undisclosed Defense Intelligence Agency estimate that North Korea is unlikely to denuclearize,” WaPo reports.
For your eyes only: “Watch North Korea expand its solid-fuel missile infrastructure in this nice gif from PlanetLabs.” (That was shared by @armscontrolwonk Jeffrey Lewis.)

To summarize where we find ourselves now on the “denuclearization” of North Korea, Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists writes:

  • DPRK is dismantling “one nuclear + (it promises) one missile test site.”
  • It is expanding “uranium, plutonium, tritium, + solid fuel missile production.”
  • All while it is apparently “refusing verification [and] planning to conceal” where it is able.

Bottom line up front, from North Korea’s POV: “Our shit works, so we’re building more.”
And about The Diplomat’s report on the production of ballistic missile launchers, Panda advises us not to be that surprised. After all, “these [assembly goals] are in line with Kim’s New Year’s Day directive on warhead/ballistic missile production.”
One supposition, from MIT’s Vipin Narang: “the North Korea leak [could be] designed to generate leverage so we can get these sites shut down. The alternative is that it’s the [U.S. Intelligence Community] striking back against the ‘mission accomplished’ narrative. Could also be a bit of both.”
Despite all that, John Bolton thinks North Korea could “dismantle all of their W.M.D. and ballistic missile programs in a year,” the national security advisor told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday (transcript here). The New York Times digs into Bolton’s position and stated plans — which experts find unrealistic — here.
Talking not fighting: South Korea’s defense ministry says they have resumed using ship-to-ship radio links with North Korea for smooth communications at sea for the first time in 10 years, via Yonhap News agency, here.
North Korea, still opening to China, sent its vice minister of external economic affairs to Beijing this morning where he was “soon whisked away in a Chinese vehicle” upon arrival. That, also from Yonhap, here.

Wait, what? President Trump won’t rule out accepting Russia’s illegal claim to Crimea, he told reporters (via AFP) on Friday when asked about it ahead of his meeting with Vladimir Putin in exactly two weeks. Trump’s reply to the question: “We’re going to have to see.”
Bolton carried Trump’s water in his Sunday appearance on “Face the Nation,” where he said the U.S. policy is still in place, but hey, Trump likes to say “we’ll see” all the time to world leaders, so, you know, NBD, shrug emjoi. “The president makes the policy; I don’t make the policy.” Watch Margaret Brennan’s excellent interview, here.
Other countries that have recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea: Afghanistan, Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. (That via Casey Michael of ThinkProgress on Friday.)
Also Bolton: Plans to push Iran out of Syria? Bolton said Trump may pitch to Putin “a larger negotiation on helping to get Iranian forces out of Syria and back into Iran.” Not a lot of elaboration on that point (which we covered in Friday’s D Brief), but you can hear him make it on “Face the Nation,” here.

In fairly significant U.S. ally news this weekend:

  • Pentagon staffers are crunching the numbers on a large-scale withdrawal of American troops from Germany after Trump was taken aback to learn there were 35,000 U.S. troops there and expressed interest to aides in removing them, according to the Washington Post. Word of that move reportedly set off a “nervous scramble at European embassies in DC,” WaPo’s John Hudson (one of three reporters on that story) tweeted.
  • The U.S. ambassador to Estonia resigned over frustrations with Trump’s positions on the EU and NATO. Fox News has that story, here.
  • In July 4th related news: “Britain could be replaced by France as Washington’s closest ally,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told his British counterpart, The Guardian reports citing “a leaked letter to the British defence secretary.”

Meanwhile in Syria, the British bombed pro-Assad forces in early June and damaged one of its own C-130J Hercules cargo planes “after a heavy landing during a covert mission,” Haaretz reports this morning.
Read a bit more on that attack, what the U.S.-led coalition said about it (and didn’t) at the time, and what we know now that the Brits acknowledged their role in airstrikes that day, via this thread from Defense Post’s Joanne Stocker.

Afghanistan is officially back at war with the Taliban now that President Ashraf Ghani has lifted his country’s unilateral ceasefire, AP reported Saturday from Kabul.  

In Yemen, the battle for Hodeida is on “pause,” the UAE says, as it pressures the UN to negotiate a full withdrawal of Houthi forces from the western port city. AP has more from Sana’a, here.  

Meanwhile, the U.S. just test-dropped a new nuclear bomb, the National Nuclear Security Administration announced on Friday.
What happened: The new, guided B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb was test-dropped from B-2 bomber — “the first such end-to-end qualification tests on a B-2,” Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists tweeted.“The B61-12 has already been tested from F-15E, F-16, and Tornado. Delivery of first of about 480 to begin in 2020.”

Apropos of nothing: A truly insane prison breakout story from France. Reuters’ headline: “French gangster flees prison in spectacular helicopter escape,” complete with commandos and a kidnapped pilot. Read it, here.

And finally today: China has a “laser AK-47” and it’s “ready for mass production.”
The grisly gist, via the South China Morning Post: “The ZKZM-500 laser assault rifle is classified as being ‘non-lethal’ but produces an energy beam that cannot be seen by the naked eye but can pass through windows and cause the ‘instant carbonisation’ of human skin and tissues… The 15mm calibre weapon weighs three kilos (6.6lb), about the same as an AK-47, and has a range of 800 metres, or half a mile, and could be mounted on cars, boats and planes.”
Buyers wanted: “ZKZM Laser, a technology company owned by the institute in Xian. A company representative confirmed that the firm is now seeking a partner that has a weapons production licence or a partner in the security or defence industry to start large-scale production at a cost of 100,000 yuan (US$15,000) a unit.”
Where these nasty things are headed to first: anti-terrorism squads in the Chinese Armed Police. Read on, here.

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