Rogue Libyan General Khalifa Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli has stalled, so he decided to drop by Cairo this weekend for a chat with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“Egypt has close ties with Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) controls the east and swept through the mainly desert south earlier this year before moving to Tripoli ten days ago in a major escalation of conflict,” Reuters reports from Egypt’s capital. “Sisi, a former army chief, has led a far-reaching crackdown on Islamists with Egypt and has blamed Libya-based militants for some cross-border attacks.”
By the way: Haftar’s offensive threatens to disrupt regional oil supplies, “boost migration to Europe, let Islamist militants exploit the chaos, and worsen Libyans’ suffering,” Reuters writes.
Saudi’s chip in for Haftar’s offensive: The kingdom “promised tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the operation,” The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend. “The offer came during a visit to Saudi Arabia that was just one of several meetings Mr. Haftar had with foreign dignitaries in the weeks and days before he began the military campaign on April 4.”
“Mr. Haftar accepted the recent Saudi offer of funds,” Saudi advisors told the Journal. “We were quite generous,” one of the advisers said.
What’s Haftar gonna buy with that money? “The loyalty of tribal leaders, recruiting and paying fighters, and other military” stuff, the Journal writes.
What’s Riyadh get from this arrangement? “Mr. Haftar as a bulwark against Islamist groups, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, who took on a prominent role in Libya following the 2011 uprising and continue to participate in political life under the Tripoli government.”
Also supporting Haftar: The United Arab Emirates and Egypt with air power; and Russia has allegedly provided weapons and military advisers, according to the U.S. Not to be forgotten: “In 2016, France sent special forces to fight Islamist militants around the city of Benghazi in cooperation with Mr. Haftar’s troops.”
The damage of Haftar’s offensive includes 121 people killed so far, “mainly fighters,” Reuters reports. And the number of wounded has risen above 550, according to the U.N. In addition, “Some 13,600 people have fled their homes.” Meantime, “Tripoli government forces have halted [Haftar’s men] about 11 km (7 miles) from the center near an airport that was largely destroyed in a previous bout of fighting five years ago.” Read on, here.
Related reading: “The spy who came in with a cheese sandwich,” from UK’s The Express. It’s a story about Prince William, who “spent a week with the Secret Intelligence Service last month.”
Some things he witnessed:
- “live satellite imagery of an ‘unfolding situation,’” as Haftar’s forces took oil fields “before advancing on Tripoli.”
- “He also attended a briefing about urgently replacing an officer pulled out of South America.”
- And “he was shown a £1,000 armoured briefcase strong enough to withstand a Semtex explosion.” Read the rest, here.
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Trump’s Border Obsession Is Courting Disaster // David A. Graham: The president’s single-minded focus on immigration is shortchanging Homeland Security’s other crucial functions, from election security to emergency response.
Brexit Heralds the Decline of Anglo-American Power // Andrew S.E. Erickson: The UK’s all-but-inevitable departure from the EU may well scuttle NATO. U.S. officials must be prepared.
Welcome to this Tax Day edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 2013, three people were killed and more than 250 others wounded when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Seven years in Somalia? The U.S. military’s mission will likely take that long (at least) to complete, defense officials told CNN this weekend. If you’ve heard our podcast on the U.S. military escalating its airstrike campaign against al-Shabaab in Somalia, you’ll know who the “Danab” force of Somali army troops is. The U.S. is training this specialized force, modeled loosely on the Army Rangers. There are currently only about 500 of these troops trained and ready. The eventual goal is to have a force six times that size, CNN writes.
In short: “The plan is to build two [Danab] companies a year, with the end-state being five battalions and a brigade headquarters element,” AFRICOM spox Becky Farmer told CNN in a statement. “We think it’s going to take approximately seven years for the Somalis to absorb all of these forces… it could go faster, and it could go slower,” an unnamed defense official said.
Said AFRICOM’s deputy director of ops, Brig. Gen. William West: “The bottom line is we’re taking formations and fighters and leaders off the battlefield. And that is having [an] effect on the [al-Shabaab] network.”
Also ISIS in Somalia: A U.S. airstrike killed a key militant in northern Somalia on Sunday. But the militant was not actually with Shabaab anymore; rather, he was Abdihakim Dhuqub, reportedly the deputy leader of ISIS’s Somali-based affiliate, Reuters reports today. “Several missiles” hit the Toyota Dhuqub was traveling in outside the village of Xiriiro just after noon on Sunday. Tiny bit more, here.
ISIS in Iraq: Iraqi forces killed an alleged ISIS commander and four other fighters in the northeast. Reuters again, though it’s short on details, here.
And ISIS in the Philippines, “DNA tests have confirmed that the leader of an ISIS-affiliated terror group was killed in a military operation last month,” CNN reported Sunday.
The newly-deceased there: Abu Dar, who “was among a number of militants killed in the southern town of Tubaran” on March 14, according to CNN. “Dar became the group’s leader after two of its figureheads were killed in the southern city of Marawi during a five-month standoff” in 2017. A bit more from CNN, here.
Hunting North Korea at sea: A U.S. Navy destroyer — the USS Milius — is hunting for North Korean oil smugglers, and The Wall Street Journal tagged along for a ride “in the East China Sea to deter sanctions busting.”
Background: “Eight countries—the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and France—have provided ships and planes tasked with covering a region of 700,000 square miles where transfers take place… Surveillance operations are generally kept secret, but from March 30 to April 2, The Wall Street Journal traveled on the Milius as the warship conducted its third deployment this year to track North Korean shipping.” Read on (paywall alert), here.
President Trump’s decision to formally nominate Acting SecDef Shanahan for the job will await the conclusion of an ethics probe, the Washington Post reported Friday.
The hold-up: The Pentagon’s inspector general is looking into allegations that Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, “may have improperly sought to influence decisions affecting his longtime employer.”
So what’s the problem? “Some worry that overseas leaders may perceive they are dealing with a Pentagon leader with reduced status because of the absence of the Senate’s imprimatur,” the Post writes. “The situation has threatened Shanahan’s stature in Congress, where he is trying to get a defense budget passed to recalibrate the military and establish the Space Force. It also could complicate his ability to fill jobs at the Pentagon and manage an extensive bureaucracy that often seeks to wait out or slow-roll political appointees.” Read on, here.
Apropos of nothing: “Nostalgia Is a National Security Threat,” Micah Zenko warned in Foreign Policy last week. The quick read concerns what’s referred to as retrospection bias, the “tendency to actively forget negative events from long ago, and thus we disproportionately judge the past in a more positive light.”
Check your Cold War nostalgia: The threat comes in the form of overstating global stability during the Cold War. “The Cold War is particularly notable for being compressed and selectively remembered as global ideological battleground where ‘we’ won over communism. This collective nostalgia—which overlooks the greater number of genocides and mass starvations, mass casualty wars of all types, and the 72 regime changes the United States attempted between 1947 and 1989—makes the Cold War seem stable and the outcomes obvious.”
The result: “over-reactionary policies best represented by the staggering $4 trillion spent overseas in post-9/11 wars,” he writes. This condition of “perpetual threat escalation” also “leads to disproportionately spending finite taxpayer resources on the military,” as well as “strategic misdiagnosis about what actually threatens the American people.” There’s still more. And you can read on, here, to find out.
Speaking of nostalgia: “Deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Europe reached its zenith at 10,000 warheads in 1970,” critical infrastructure analyst, Casillic, wrote on Twitter this weekend. Skeptical? So was Alex Wellerstein, who explains and contextualizes, here.
North Korea’s Kim gives the U.S.“until late this year” to change its approach to nuclear talks, or else, “There won’t be as good an opportunity as last time,” The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend off North Korean state-run media.
Trump responded on Twitter by saying a third summit between the two men “would be good in that we fully understand where we each stand.” But DJT made no mention of Kim’s vaguely ominous year-end ultimatum.
What’s really going on: “The North’s negotiating strategy for nuclear talks have emphasized Mr. Kim’s personal rapport with Mr. Trump but eschewed working-level talks. Some former U.S. officials say that approach left too wide of a negotiation gap, contributing to the impasse in Vietnam.”
What’s next: Another summit, of one kind or another. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said this morning “Now is the time to begin the preparations in earnest” for a fourth summit between Moon and Kim, Reuters reports. Moon was reportedly speaking to senior secretaries and told them he’s ready to meet Kim again “regardless of venue and form.”
Like Trump, Moon, too, chose to ignore an unsavory allegation by Kim earlier this week — that Moon shouldn’t “pose as a meddlesome ‘mediator’ and ‘facilitator’” for the United States. More from Reuters, here.
Unpredictable weather is crippling coffee farms in Central America, “ruining harvests, upending lives and adding to the surge of families migrating to the United States,” The New York Times reported this weekend.
What’s going on: “Gradually rising temperatures, more extreme weather events and increasingly unpredictable patterns — like rain not falling when it should, or pouring when it shouldn’t — have disrupted growing cycles and promoted the relentless spread of pests. The obstacles have cut crop production or wiped out entire harvests, leaving already poor families destitute.”
Brace yourself: “Last year, the [World Bank] reported that climate change could lead at least 1.4 million people to flee their homes in Mexico and Central America and migrate during the next three decades,” the Times writes. “But President Trump has vowed to cut off all foreign aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador because of what he calls their failure to curb the flow of migrants north. Critics contend the punishment is misguided, though, because it could undermine efforts to address the very problems that are driving people to abandon their farms and head to the United States.” More here.
Back inside the U.S., a gig at the Border Patrol is the go-to job in the Rio Grande valley, the Times reported separately this weekend.
The short read: “The Border Patrol presently has about 19,500 agents, some 1,800 fewer than Congress has provided funds for. Though the agency lost almost twice as many agents in recent years as it hired, it managed to achieve a net increase of 118 agents in the latest fiscal year. Those figures are still far from the (sic) Mr. Trump’s goals. So the Border Patrol has beefed up recruiting efforts across the country, and perhaps nowhere more than in South Texas, where it has been conducting a broad marketing campaign.” Continue reading, here.
And finally today: National security rock band names — a diverse collection of entries in a growing Twitter thread.
Who started this thing? RAND’s Ali Wyne, who kicked things off with Deterrence Failure, Internecine Aggression, Red Lines, Descent into Anarchy, Unholy Alliance, War of Attrition, Compel and Contain, The Gray Zone, Hybrid Aggression, Madman Theory, and more.
Additions to the thread include:
- Iron Clad Alliance
- Insane Diplomatic Policy
- Escalation Dominance
- Hobbes in Chains
- Pariah State
- Strategic Hamlet