Turkey had better not attack Kurds in Syria who are partnered with the U.S. military, the Pentagon told Turkish officials Wednesday before telling CNN about it, too. The warning came just hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a crowd in Istanbul that his military will begin a new offensive against Kurdish PKK troops in Syria east of the Euphrates River “in a few days.” Added Erdogan on Wednesday: “Our target is never U.S. soldiers… This step will allow for the path to a political solution to be opened and for healthier cooperation.”
According to the Pentagon, “Unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party, particularly as US personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern. We would find any such actions unacceptable. We believe this dialogue is the only way to secure the border area in a sustainable manner, and believe that uncoordinated military operations will undermine that shared interest,” Commander Sean Robertson told CNN.
Catching up on the recent history of U.S.-Turkish relations and the Kurdish question? Defense One contributor Gayle Tzemach Lemmon told us what she learned speaking to Kurds and Arabs around the Syrian city of Raqqa (and elsewhere in the country) earlier this year in episode 18 of Defense One Radio.
The war in Yemen is de-escalating, slightly. Peace talks held this week in Sweden have yielded another incremental gain for the starving noncombatants throughout Yemen: reps for the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government “agreed to a ceasefire in the strategic Houthi-held port city of Hodeidah and to place it under the control of local forces,” Reuters reports off remarks from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this morning.
Said Guterres: “We have reached an agreement on Hodeidah port and city. We will see a neutral redeployment of forces in the port and city and the establishment of a governorate-wide ceasefire.”
Some quick context: “The fighting has produced one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with 22 of Yemen’s 29 million people in need of aid, according to the United Nations. The two sides have for months been locked in a stalemated fight over Hodeida,” the Associated Press reports.
Some longer context: Our 36-minute audio documentary (via Stitcher) of how the war in Yemen escalated a variety of sequential civil wars to a full-blown regional conflict.
There’s a remarkable photo of the agreement reached in Sweden at top of AP’s report this morning. Find that photo here.
Other signs of progress include “the agreement of a prisoner swap to include some 15,000 people… to take place by Jan. 20.”
From here? The two parties are discussing a “draft agreement” circulated by the UN’s Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, that altogether appears to involve “a political framework for a post-war Yemen, the reopening of the airport in the capital, Sanaa, and a proposal for Hodeida, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis dependent on international aid,” according to AP.
For the record: “The U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, said in a report Tuesday… that the conflict in Yemen has killed more than 60,000 people, both combatants and civilians, since 2016.” Find all that data, here.
And one more Yemen bit, this one back stateside: U.S. senators are expected to vote today on “a resolution that would call on the U.S. to pull assistance from the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a measure that would rebuke Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” AP reports separately from Washington.
Background: “Senators voted 60-39 on Wednesday to open debate on the Yemen resolution, signaling there is enough support to win the 50 votes needed. But it’s unclear how amendments to the measure could affect the final vote,” which is expected later today.
And there could be more coming in 2019, AP warns. That’s because “The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, California Rep. Adam Schiff, said he intends to lead a ‘deep dive’ into Saudi Arabia and Yemen” once January rolls around. As well, “Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the likely incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he would hold hearings on Saudi Arabia early next year.” A bit more to all that, here.
From Defense One
From Small Wars to Great Power, Trump’s Africa Reset Could Change US Military’s Role // Katie Bo Williams: The U.S. is cutting 10 percent of its counterterrorism troops in Africa. Will China and Russia fill the gap?
Trump’s New Vetting Center Just Opened. Will It Make Us Safer? // Katrina Mulligan: Too little is known about the visa and immigration center, including the extent of its authority and whether adding a bureaucratic layer will cause more problems than it solves.
How DHS Is Trying to Sort Good Cyber Tools from Snake Oil // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The department is investing in ways to do apples-to-apples comparisons of the many cyber products on the market.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! And if you find this stuff useful, consider sharing it with somebody you think might find it useful, too. The last moonwalk took place #OTD1972 as part of Apollo 17, commanded by Navy Capt. Gene Cernan.
A second Canadian citizen in China has gone missing after a Chinese tech executive was arrested in Vancouver for allegedly helping Iran avoid U.S. sanctions, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, said Wednesday at a news conference.
The first Canadian detained: Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat now with the International Crisis Group. He’s reportedly being held in Beijing.
The second: Michael Spavor, a businessman “who has longstanding ties with Pyongyang,” according to the BBC. He’s thought to be in Liaoning province in the country’s northeast, according to CNN. “Spavor is the founder of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, a company that helps to facilitate trips to North Korea. He had previously assisted in helping former NBA player Dennis Rodman travel to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong Un, the country’s leader.”
Update: The tech executive was granted bail on Wednesday — 10 days after her arrest — at a cost of $7.5 million. (Reuters) The Canadians, however, have yet to be released.
Big-picture take: “given the timing, it is hard to believe that [the detention of Kovrig and Spavor] is coincidental, rather than retaliatory,” Elsa Kania of CNAS tweeted Wednesday.
Another disappeared person in China: “Award-winning photographer Lu Guang, whose work focuses unsparingly on the harshest realities of life in China,” AP writes. He “was arrested in Kashgar city in the country’s far west region of Xinjiang,” his wife told AP on Wednesday.
Lu Guang’s work includes this series on “poor Chinese villagers who became infected with HIV after selling their own blood to eke out a living.” More from AP, here.
Learn about China’s “social credit” system with this five-and-a-half-minute video from Vice News.
The tease: “You start with 1,000 points. If you do something bad, you get points docked. If you do something good, and you happen to be spotted, you get points added.”
BTW: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox & Friends on Wednesday that the Chinese government hacked the Marriott hotel chain. (h/t Politico’s Eric Geller)
Speaking of hacking, Iranian hackers “often nicknamed Charming Kitten spent the past month trying to break into the private emails of more than a dozen U.S. Treasury officials,” AP reports this morning. “Also on the hackers’ hit list: high-profile defenders, detractors and enforcers of the nuclear deal struck between Washington and Tehran, as well as Arab atomic scientists, Iranian civil society figures and D.C. think tank employees.” Story, here.
“Cascading effects” of Arctic warming. The latest dire warning about our warming world comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2018 Arctic Report Card. “The Arctic has experienced the ‘most unprecedented transition in history’ in terms of warming temperatures and melting ice…Without sea ice cover to deflect sunlight, the ocean will absorb more sunlight and the planet will continue to get warmer,” NPR reports off an interview with Emily Osborne, lead editor of the report and a researcher with NOAA’s Arctic Research Program. Read, here.
The U.S. Navy is worried. “Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said that he’s concerned about naval bases and sea level rise. US is seeing “100 year storms coming every 2-3 years. We need to start addressing that.” That’s Breaking Defense’s Paul McCleary, tweeting from Wednesday’s Senate hearing on Navy and Marine Corps readiness.
Trump revelations alarm intelligence experts. The Associated Press asked a bunch of former intel officials about various documents released over the past week in connection with the sentencing of Trump’s former personal lawyer and his former campaign manager. “The attempts by Russians to establish contact, which were laid out in the latest court filings by special counsel Robert Mueller, were persistent, apparently targeted and more frequent than would be expected during a typical presidential campaign, former officials said after reviewing the documents. ‘This pattern is what the Russians do everywhere else in the world,” said Steven Hall, a former CIA official. ‘It’s standard intelligence tradecraft.’” Read on, here.
New ethics guidelines for US special operators. In the wake of high-profile criminal allegations about various operators, Gen. Raymond Thomas III laid out in a Wednesday email what he expects from the men and women of Special Operations Command: “Remain vigilant. Do not allow a sense of personal entitlement or the desire for privilege or benefit to cloud your judgment. As Secretary Mattis has said, ‘play the ethical midfield.’ Do not run the ethical sidelines where one misstep will put you out of bounds.” Newsweek has the email, and the story, here.
Speaking of ethics, U.S. lawmakers are still allowed to own stocks in industries they oversee. That leads to things like this: “Just days after signaling his support for unprecedented levels of U.S. defense spending, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reported purchasing tens of thousands of dollars of stock in one of the nation’s top defense contractors.” That’s from the Daily Beast, which asked Inhofe about the order. The lawmaker said his financial adviser placed the order, that he subsequently cancelled it, and that he has told the adviser not to buy more defense stocks. Read, here.
France is teaching its students how to spot “junk information online.” The New York Times has that story of how one nation is coping in the “age of propaganda,” here.
PSA from the Department of Homeland Security: “Walls Work” That’s the title of this piece posted online early Wednesday. Unfortunately, the first few paragraphs make for humorous reading because — it seems — someone removed most every instance of “a,” “an” or “the” in the first few lines.
Example: “DHS is committed to building wall and building wall quickly. We are not replacing short, outdated and ineffective wall with similar wall. Instead, under this President we are building a wall that is 30-feet high. FACT: Prior to President Trump taking office, we have never built wall that high.” More where that came from — along with lots of stats at the bottom — here.
Nearly 15,000 immigrant children are now in U.S. custody — “putting shelters near capacity,” NPR reports this morning.
What’s going on: “The national network of more than 100 shelters are 92 percent full, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The situation is forcing the government to consider a range of options. Those could include releasing children more quickly to sponsors in the United States or expanding the already crowded shelter network. Most of migrant children are teenaged boys from Central America who travel to the border alone.” More here.
Related: President Trump spoke with Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday — but the two didn’t even talk about the border wall, Obrador said afterwards. What did they talk about? Job creation and a possible Obrador visit to DC. Reuters has that, here.
And now for something completely different: How commercial rocket launches can disrupt air traffic — and how it could get worse. The Washington Post packs all that and more in a multimedia project that begins, here.
Finally today: @JoyAngela is developing a “comprehensive list” of stuff people say at the Pentagon. Our own Marcus Weisgerber spotted the list, and is now soliciting your recommendations via Twitter.
Look over the growing chart — which may have to move to a spreadsheet real soon — in this photo shared by Marcus this morning. And add to the thread what you think is missing. One of your D Brief-ers’ personal favorites: the self-licking ice cream cone.