Mattis meets the press; NK says nuke talks ‘may fall apart’; New Yemen report; Ecuador buys Chinese panopticon; And a bit more…

Happening now: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford are holding a very rare press briefing this morning from the Pentagon. Watch it live, hereDefense One’s Marcus Weisgerber is there, and you can follow along with what he’s hearing on Twitter, here.

One perspective on the SecDef: Does it feel like every month brings a new instance of SecDef Mattis being caught off-guard or publicly rebuffed by his commander-in-chief? Writes Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman: “Mattis has been seen as one of the most influential voices in President Donald Trump’s orbit…But lately, he’s been losing more arguments than he’s winning.”  

Examples include his evolving position on the Space Force, as well as his “ability to influence the president on policies relating to Iran and North Korea.” Read on, here.


From Defense One

Austin, Texas, Just Became the US Army’s Silicon Valley // Patrick Tucker: The service is making a big bet that getting closer to tech startups will help deter future adversaries.

Turkey Made a Bet Against Assad—And Lost // Joost Hiltermann, The Atlantic: Back in 2011, Erdoğan supported the rebels against the Syrian regime in hopes of gaining influence across the Middle East. Things haven’t gone according to plan.

ISIS Is Ready For a Resurgence // Hassan Hassan, The Atlantic: The new recording released by the group’s leader suggested he’s looking to the past to chart a course for the group’s ultimate triumph.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief  by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1943, captured former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was transferred from the small island of La Maddalena Sardinia to the Campo Imperatore Hotel, a ski resort in Italy’s Apennine Mountains. Fifteen days later, the Nazis broke Mussolini free in a legendary raid on the extremely remote compound.


Why did Trump call off Pompeo’s North Korea visit? Recall that the Secretary of State was planning to head to Pyongyang last Friday — on a bid to make at least some progress on a nuclear agreement — when the president tweeted that the meeting was off. Now Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reports that Pompeo got a letter from the Kim regime. “The exact contents of the message are unclear, but it was sufficiently belligerent that Trump and Pompeo decided to call off Pompeo’s journey, where he was set to introduce his newly announced special envoy, Stephen Biegun, to his North Korean counterparts.”
“May fall apart”: CNN adds that North Korea warns in the letter that denuclearization “may fall apart.”
So now what? Rogin writes that Kim wants a declaration of peace, while the Trump administration appears to be split: “[National Security Adviser] Bolton believes any concessions, including face-to-face meetings, are seen by the North Koreans as signs of weakness and are therefore unhelpful. [SecDef] Mattis believes that issuing such a declaration without thinking through all implications could negatively impact U.S.-South Korean military preparedness on the peninsula. The State Department argues that the declaration is only a political step, far short of a peace treaty, which would come much later.”

For your ears only: Afghan war commander’s parting words. The outgoing U.S. commander of the Afghan war has about five more days on the job. U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson held his last press conference in that role last week. And this morning, he’s spoken with NPR’s Morning Edition about where things stand in Afghanistan, and what could lie ahead in the near-ish future there.
For the record, Martin had asked if the U.S. needs troops to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. Nicholson’s answer wasn’t a “yes;” but it sure as heck wasn’t a “no,” either. Replied Nicholson, “This is the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world — in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.” Set aside five minutes for that discussion, here.

Surprised? Russia has postponed its Afghan peace talks with the Taliban, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said Monday. Moscow had reportedly invited reps from 12 different countries to the talks; but neither Afghanistan nor the U.S. were going to attend. Perhaps a similar event in the future will involve an official from Kabul, Ghani said in a tweet Monday. But when that might happen is entirely unclear. Read on at Reuters, here.

America’s “top air commander in the Middle East” says Riyadh needs to be more transparent about its war in Yemen, The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt reported Monday. “The comments by Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian reflected increasing exasperation by United States officials over the conflict that has spiraled into a humanitarian disaster.” Harrigian steps down from his post this week after two years on the Qatar-based job.
Background: “In a report last week, Human Rights Watch analyzed 17 of 75 reported incidents involving civilian deaths that the coalition says it is investigating. It concluded that international standards regarding transparency, impartiality, and independence were not met. The Saudi-led coalition says it works to avoid civilian casualties and accuses its enemies, the Houthis, of using civilians as human shields.”

What is the U.S. Congress reading when it comes to the war in Yemen? Some may be reading this new CRS report titled dryly, “Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention.”
Understatement of the year: “The United States has few good choices in Yemen,” the report’s author writes in conclusion. Read the full 23-page PDF for yourself, here.

And here’s a headline this morning from the Associated Press — “Experts: UAE, Saudis may have committed war crimes in Yemen.”
Saved you a click: The experts are the UN’s Human Rights Council “say the governments of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia may have been responsible for war crimes including rape, torture, disappearances and ‘deprivation of the right to life’ during 3½ years of escalated fighting against rebels in Yemen.”
And for the record: “Also on Monday, the U.N. refugee agency said more than 450 civilians were killed in Yemen in the first nine days of August, making it one of the deadliest periods since the start of the war.” Read on, here.

France’s Macron says Europe can’t rely on the U.S. for its security anymore. French President Emmanuel Macron sought “to relaunch his diplomatic agenda” with a foreign policy speech Monday in Paris, Agence France-Presse reported.
Said Macron: “I want us to launch an exhaustive review of our security with all Europe’s partners, which includes Russia… Europe can no longer rely on the United States for its security. It is up to us to guarantee European security.” He also reportedly cautioned against an “awakening of nationalists and extremes” around the world, and expressed his concern over the apparent “aggressive isolationism” in America since the election of Donald Trump.

And finally today, ICYMI: Ecuador has “a nationwide network of 4,300 surveillance cameras, 16 regional response centers,” facial recognition software, thermal cameras and much more, all bought and paid for by China. Foreign Policy has that intriguing story from earlier this month, here.

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