Airstrikes accelerate in Somalia; Milcon target list, questioned; Offutt AFB, underwater; B-52s near Russia; And a bit more.

AFRICOM is averaging an airstrike in Somalia every three days. That’s 28 strikes in 78 days so far in 2019 — more than double last year’s pace — and doesn’t include the latest strike Tuesday, which AFRICOM says killed another three Shabaab fighters. Full 2019 dataset via Long War Journal, here.

Civilian casualties? An Amnesty International report released Tuesday night accused the U.S. military of causing the deaths of 14 civilians in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia in five strikes during 2017 and 2018 — claims that U.S. Africa Command flatly denies.

No, says AFRICOM. Officials confirmed to reporters Tuesday that the command did conduct strikes in four out of the five incidents cited in Amnesty’s report, but they said those killed were all affiliated with the Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab. AFRICOM claims that it has caused no civilian casualties, despite a dramatic escalation in the pace of strikes since President Trump designated parts of Somalia an “area of active hostilities” in 2017, relaxing the targeting rules.

Worth noting: Neither Amnesty or the DOD stood in the bomb craters and assessed the damages. Amnesty officials, however, did conduct “more than 150 interviews with eyewitnesses, relatives, persons displaced by the fighting… in-person or over encrypted voice calls placed from phones located outside Al-Shabaab-held territory.” The Defense Department, for its part, said it was unable to conduct in-person investigations into the allegations of civilian casualties citing the danger of sending personnel into Shabaab-controlled territory.

Who counts as a “civilian”? A close reading of the Amnesty report suggests that the discrepancy in numbers might stem from the Defense Department’s way of counting “civilians.” The report cites an interview with retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, who led Special Operations Command Africa from April 2015 until June 2017.

  • Do you have questions about al-Shabaab, Somalia, the Horn of Africa, or AFRICOM? Let us know as we interview a handful of experts over the next few days for an upcoming episode of Defense One Radio.

From Defense One

Russia Is Turning Up Its Nuclear Rhetoric. That’s a Problem // Matthew R. Costlow: U.S. and NATO officials have an interest in steering Russian bluster away from its rising focus on nuclear weapons.

Why Germany Should Further Boost Defense Spending, and Why It Probably Won’t // Franz-Stefan Gady: Also: why the Trump administration should shut up about it.

A Technological Path Out of the Missile-Defense Security Dilemma // Brian Dunn: As boost-phase defenses become viable, they could reduce the destabilizing effects of longer-ranged defenses on great-power relationships.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Bradley Peniston, Katie Bo Williams and Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. The Iraq War can drive today, anthropomorphically speaking. The U.S. invasion, which President George W. Bush called a “war of necessity” and former NSA director Lt. Gen. William Odom called “the greatest strategic mistake in American history,” began 16 years ago in 2003.

Fewer milcon projects under the gun? On Monday, Defense Department officials released a 23-page list of military construction projects that they said might get cut if Congress doesn’t pass Trump’s 2020 budget proposal. Turns out that about two-thirds of those projects are in categories that defense officials said in February were safe from a White House looking to fund border-barrier extensions. When Military Times’ Tara Copp filtered out the ostensibly exempt projects, she found that the remaining ones are budgeted to cost about $4.3 billion, which is a lot closer to the $3.6 billion that the president declared a national emergency to obtain.
So what was the point of the larger list? Are previously exempt projects back on the chopping block? Is there confusion within DOD? Was the larger list compiled in bad faith? Perhaps Acting SecDef Shanahan can clear all this up when he testifies before the House Armed Services Committee next week.

In a new first, India’s military began exercises with 17 African nations this week in Pune, Maharashtra, south of Mumbai, The Diplomat reported Tuesday.  
Name of the drills: Africa-India Field Training Exercise 2019, or AFINDEX-19.
Involved: Benin, Botswana, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. More here.

B-52s approach Russia from two sides on training missions. On Monday, a quartet of Buffs flew “theater familiarization flights” over the Norwegian, Baltic, and Mediterranean Seas coming no closer than 95 miles from Russian territory, Air Force Times reports.
Meanwhile in the Pacific: also on Monday, an unspecified number of B-52s took off from Guam and flew east of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. Read on, here.

U.S. troops test rapid-deployment capabilities. AP: Hundreds of U.S. soldiers have begun arriving in Germany in the first test of a rapid deployment strategy meant to bolster NATO’s presence in eastern Europe in the event of Russian aggression or other emergencies.” Next they’ll head to Poland for exercises. A bit more, here.
ICYMI: U.S. and Polish officials met last week to discuss a proposal to permanently base some U.S. forces in Poland.

Hackers halt aluminum production at Norway’s Norsk Hydro. Reuters reports that the plant, “one of the world’s largest aluminum producers,” was hit by ransomware on Tuesday. Plant officials said they planned not to pay, but to restart the facility from backup servers.
LockerGoga: The attackers used a newish piece of malware called LockerGoga, which security researchers said “has been linked to an attack on French engineering consultancy Altran Technologies in January.” A bit more, here.

Missing the point: EPA chief Andrew Wheeler tells CBS News on Wednesday morning that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.” Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean we have time to waste.
Notes Axios: “Multiple scientific assessments, including a major 2018 report from the Trump administration, have found that climate change is already harming Americans through hotter and longer-lasting heat waves, heavy precipitation events, and other impacts.”
Out of step with U.S. public: “Polling earlier this year found that about 7 in 10 Americans (72%) say the issue of global warming is either ‘extremely,’ ‘very,’ or ‘somewhat’ important to them personally — while 46% said they already personally experienced the effects of global warming.”
Case in point: Offutt Air Force Base remains largely underwater, thanks to record floods caused by unusual winter weather. Some 60 buildings were flooded last weekend— twice as many as previously reported — and the main runway remains unusable. Base officials cancelled the annual airshow, which was to have been held in June. Omaha World-Herald, here.

Judge blocks transgender ban. The Hill: “A federal judge on Tuesday said her injunction preventing President Trump’s transgender military policy from taking effect remains in place days after the Pentagon released a memo to implement the policy.” Read, here.

And finally today: “U.S. Firms Are Helping Build China’s Orwellian State,” Foreign Policy reports in a deep-dive from Lindsay Gorman and Matt Schrader of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund.
Companies and entities involved: MIT, Yale University geneticist Kenneth Kidd; Massachusetts-based company Thermo Fisher, as well as “Bito—led by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University—and Exyn, a drone software company competing in a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) artificial-intelligence challenge.” Read on, here.

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