Dunford in Pakistan; Soldier killed in 13th deployment; DOD: Russia is lying about Syria; Mattis denies Woodward report; and just a bit more…

Searching for substance in Pakistan. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Dunford and SecState Pompeo are in Islamabad today, Military Times reports, traveling with the general. But will they finally be the ones to persuade Pakistan to do more, as American officials have wanted for years, to help improve security on Afghanistan’s doorstep?

“On the surface,” the answer is a yes, Dunford told reporters. In fact, he used the phrase three times when talking about whether Pakistan will better cooperate with the U.S., “recognize that a peaceful solution in Afghanistan is the right approach,” and “support an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace process.” And so as before, Dunford said, “what we’re looking for is actions to back that up.”

One big due out: Will the now-suspended $300 million in military aid to Pakistan improve Dunford and Pompeo’s negotiating prospects?

Speculated Dunford: “I think they [the Pakistanis] understand the delicate situation we are in right now in our bilateral relationship and I wouldn’t expect that they will seek to make it worse. But we’ll see what happens.” Read on, here.

In pictures: Here’s the SecState and Joint Chiefs Chairman leaving the tarmac earlier today.

The American soldier killed Monday in that Afghanistan insider attack? It was a Command Sergeant Major from the new brown-beret volunteer SFAB units — Security Force Assistance Brigades — now routinely rotating to the Afghanistan theater for host-nation training.

His name: Timothy Bolyard, 42, of Thornton, West Virginia, Army Times reports. He was reportedly shot with small arms fire by a member of the Afghan national police during training in Logar Province.

Worth noting: Bolyard is the second SFAB soldier to be killed in an apparent insider attack during the high-risk unit’s first deployment to Afghanistan. “Cpl. Joseph Maciel, a 3rd Infantry Division soldier assigned to 1st SFAB’s force protection element died in July in another apparent insider attack,” AT writes.

Bolyard had been in the Army 24 years, and was on his 13th deployment (!) when he was shot and killed. His son, Preston, told West Virginia’s WDTV his dad “was less than two months from coming home and retiring.”

From Defense One

The China Hype // Defense Priorities’ Benjamin H. Friedman: While Beijing’s military gains are impressive, their value fades in the circumstances we’re told to worry about.

McCain’s Likely Successor Is No GOP Maverick // Katie Bo Williams: Sen. Jim Inhofe’s record suggests his Armed Services Committee will hew even more closely to Trump.

Washington Won’t Keep Rebuffing Moscow’s Cyber Proposals Forever // Alex Grigsby, Council on Foreign Relations: Here’s where the U.S. will find common ground with the country that attacked its 2016 election.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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.

SecDef Mattis warns against chemical weapons use in Syria. As Syria-watchers brace for escalation in and around northwestern Syria’s rebel bastion of Idlib governorate, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters in New Delhi today “We have zero intelligence that shows the opposition has any chemical capability.”  
His remarks go against Russian officials’ statements this week alleging a rebel plan to stage CW attacks in Idlib and blame the Assad regime for them, Reuters reports with Mattis. Quite a twisted allegation; but coming from Russia, it’s par for the course in Syria.
Said Mattis: “We have made very clear that by putting out innuendo that somehow any chemical weapon use coming up in the future could be ascribed to the opposition, well, we want to see the data. We cannot see anything that indicates the opposition has that capability.”
Added a Pentagon spox in a statement to Reuters about Idlib on Tuesday: “That Russia is seeking to plant false lies about chemical weapons use suggests that Moscow is seeking to deflect from its own culpability when these heinous weapons are used.”
America’s red line in Syria, continued: “If [Assad regime troops] want to continue to go the route of taking over Syria, they can do that, but they cannot do it with chemical weapons,” Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, said Tuesday in New York. Video of that, here.

From the region: Dunford is looking at Greece pretty darn closely these days. That includes the possibility of “increasing access for U.S. aircraft and ships, and increasing joint exercises there,” Military Times reported Tuesday from Dunford’s travels.
Why? America’s ongoing conflicts in Libya, naval activity in the Mediterranean, the war in Syria, uncertainty with strategically-located but unpredictable ally Turkey, to name a few listed by Dunford an unnamed U.S. officials.

In southern Iraq, deadly protests are flaring up over a lack of basic services, the Washington Post reports from Baghdad — now four months after national elections had some people thinking improvements would happen quickly.
Warns RAND’s Colin P. Clarke: “The government is showing it is either unwilling or unable to provide basic services, which erodes its political legitimacy and opens the door for violent non-state actors to step in and fill the void. We’ve seen this play before and it doesn’t end well.”

The way of the future? As the U.S. withdraws ground troops from Niger, it plans to boost the number of armed drones there, Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman reports. We’d tell you more but it’s behind a paywall.

For your eyes only: British Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament the men identified as suspects in the Salisbury poisonings back in March are in fact members of Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU. Sky News has her saying as much in a clip, here.  
The GRU men May identified: Alexander Petrov and Rusdan Boshirov. “Police say they came to Britain two days before the March 4 attack on the Skripals in the city of Salisbury, and that traces of the Novichok nerve agent were found in their London hotel room,” the Associated Press reports this morning in a developing article with more breaking elements, here.
Probable GRU modus operandi, per the BBC: “They likely smuggled the nerve agent in a perfume bottle, which they apparently discarded after spraying the Skripals’ door handle, to be discovered in a ‘charity bin’ by the two hapless later victims who tried to make the atomizer work.”

Mattis denies slagging Trump. In his new book, Bob Woodward recounts a meeting in which President Trump wondered why the United States was working to maintain security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis responded. Woodward writes that after the meeting, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ” That’s via the Washington Post, which published bits from the book on Tuesday.
SecDef says he didn’t say that. Later in the day, the Pentagon released a statement by Mattis: “The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward’s book were never uttered by me or in my presence. While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature…” Read the whole statement, here.
Trump weighs in, tweeting at 7:33 a.m. on Wednesday: “Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost. Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws?” (Mr. President, the Dept. of Be Careful What You Wish For would like a word.)

Big shoes for a short-timer. Former Senator John Kyl will pause lobbying for Northrop Grumman and Raytheon to serve out The Maverick’s time in Congress this fall, The Daily Beast reported Tuesday (h/t David Larter).
McCain’s likely SASC successor. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s record suggests his Armed Services Committee will hew even more closely to Trump. But at the same time, Inhofe has said he wants to devolve power from the committee head to the subcommittees. Read on, from D1’s Katie Bo Williams, here.

There’s still time to send us your favorite war movie recommendations. (Ref. this long Newsweek list of 60+ films.) Email us or leave us a voice mail at (757) 447-4596.

And finally this morning: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife have given $10 million to a super PAC called “With Honor Fund,” which aims to elect military veterans from both parties to Congress, The Wall Street Journal reports this morning. So far, “With Honor Fund is backing 33 House candidates now running—19 Democrats and 14 Republicans,” the Journal writes. More on Bezos and other millionaire donors, here.

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