Trump’s Afghan cabinet meeting; North Korea’s 6th missile test in 3 weeks; China, Russia prod RoK air defense; And a bit more.

Trump calls Afghanistan war cabinet meeting: It’s potentially a big day for the 18-year old conflict as a draft U.S.-Taliban Afghan peace plan will get a review from President Trump and his top national security advisors today at his golf resort in New Jersey, CNN reported Thursday evening. 

Recall that on Monday, the U.S. and the Taliban ended their latest round of talks with no deal reached and “both sides [saying] they would consult with their leaderships on the next steps,” AP reported from Kabul. Looks like today is that U.S. consult. 

Is this the end of the war? What’s on the table, according to CNN: “a significant withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan — from about 15,000 troops to 8,000 or 9,000 troops — and enshrine official commitments by the Taliban to counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan.”

Reportedly included: A U.S.-Taliban ceasefire.

Reportedly not included: An Afghan security forces-Taliban ceasefire. More from CNN, here.

Must read: Admit it, writes Defense One‘s Kevin Baron, most of you — and most Americans — know little about the details of Afghanistan’s players. If you hear anything on TV about this war or most overseas counterterrorism operations, these days, it’s via the “end forever wars” pledges of presidential candidates. Here’s one warning, via former ISAF advisor Melissa Skorka, guest writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, that if the Trump administration is going to deal with the Taliban, they’d better have a plan to keep fighting the other most influential group in the region: the Haqqanis.

North Korea launched even more short-range, low-altitude missiles on Friday and vowed to end talks with the “impudent” South Koreans over Seoul’s pledge to unify the peninsula…26 years from now.

Fact facts about today’s early launches: 

  • It’s the sixth apparent missile test in three weeks, since July 25.
  • It involved two missiles fired from a different location, this time in Kangwon province on the east coast, near the city of Tongchon. 
  • Both reached an altitude of nearly 19 miles and flew 143 miles before falling into the sea between South Korea and Japan.

Worth noting: “The launch came a day after [South Korean President Moon Jae-in] pledged to try to reunify the Korean Peninsula by 2045 — the 100th anniversary of Korean independence — in his annual liberation day address,” CNN reports. In that speech, Moon also said “South Korea has defense capabilities stronger than those of North Korea, and that his country was monitoring the situation with Pyongyang and was trying to prevent the escalation of tensions,” CNN writes. (The Pentagon’s main wish is always that the South hosters its guns and does not respond to the North’s pokes.) 

North Korea’s reax to Moon: “We have nothing to talk any more with the South Korean authorities nor have any idea to sit with them again,” according to Pyongyang’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country. (*Chef’s kiss irony, right there.) 

ICYMI: North Korea just promoted 103 scientists for their work with the military. (We’d read more about it, but it’s behind NK Pro’s paywall, here.)

A North Korean knuckleball (that the U.S. maybe can’t hit): They include the KN-23, “which appears similar to the Russian Iskander missile, [that] took a lower trajectory, spending much of its flight at an altitude of 25 to 30 miles — potentially too high for the Patriot batteries, but too low for THAAD and Aegis systems to easily intercept,” the Washington Post reports, adding this baseball reference: “The KN-23 is like a knuckleball — fast, low, unpredictable and almost impossible to catch.”

In addition, “the latest missiles are solid-fueled [which] makes them easier to deploy and fire on short notice: Liquid fuel is corrosive and less stable, and it has to be added to a missile just before launch, a process that can give an adversary vital warning. Solid-fuel rockets, mounted as these have been on vehicles, can be hidden, moved around at will and launched quickly, making them almost impossible to take out before they are fired.”

To China next week: the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea, Yonhap News Agency reports. That’s slated for Tuesday through Thursday with a focus on “fleshing out the system of cooperation among the three countries,” according to Seoul. 

Chinese and Russian planes are prodding RoK, U.S. air defenses, the Wall Street Journal reports today. You may remember when we first heard about this happening most recently on July 22 (Reuters, CNN).

Thirty times. The Journal reports “China’s warplanes have entered South Korea’s air-defense zones about 30 times this year,” citing South Korean officials. “The number of such missions totaled 140 last year and 77 in 2017, they said.”

And for Putin’s part, “Russian warplanes have breached those zones about 14 times so far this year,” which is a notably “quicker pace than the 15 such instances last year and six undertaken in 2017.”

“These patrols are not simple mistakes,” said one nameless official from Seoul. A bit more, here

Peace through strength, or…?: Trump’s State Department is intent on selling Taiwan $8 billion worth of 66 F-16 fighter jets, a sale China is strongly against, the Washington Post reports this morning.

For what it’s worth: “The United States has not sold new fighter jets to Taiwan since the George H.W. Bush administration,” the Post writes. 

Important Q: “Is this going to trigger a crisis in the relationship?” asked CSIS’s Bonnie Glaser rhetorically to the Post. “No. This in and of itself is not going to derail progress on a trade agreement,” she said, adding, “This is not a new capability” for Taiwan. Read on, here


From Defense One

This week’s Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Booz Allen Hamilton eyes space money; Japan selling its Air Force One; Marines JLTV is battle ready, and more.

Air Force Tests Contraption That Can Turn Any Plane Into a Robot Plane // Patrick Tucker: Scientists say new ROBOpilot completed a two-hour test flight, essentially turning a manned plane into a drone.

In Afghanistan, Is Sirajuddin Haqqani Ready for Peace? // Melissa Skorka, Council on Foreign Relations: In peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, the United States should not fail to address the evolution of the Haqqani-al-Qaeda nexus.

The End of the Dan Coats Era // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: Whoever takes over from Coats permanently could serve as a needed voice of clarity about America’s biggest challenges—or see the intelligence community further sidelined.

Energy Dept. Is Updating Its Cyber Defense Assessment Tool // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: Created in 2012 to help protect the nation’s electrical grid, the tool helps government and industry compare their preparations to established standards.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1888, Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in northwestern Wales. This man — who later came to be known as Lawrence of Arabia — gave us many memorable lines from his autobiography, including: “Under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is,” and “The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armory of the modern commander.” 


Gibraltar released that impounded Iranian oil tanker, Grace 1, despite the U.S. Department of Justice trying to intervene on Thursday. The move now gives the Brits a bit of a reprieve as the UK tries to de-escalate tensions with Iran, AP writes. More from AP, here.  
The State Department’s reax: “The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to deny Iran and its proxies the resources they need to engage in malign and destabilizing activities in Syria and elsewhere. This includes the full enforcement of U.S. sanctions with respect to Iran and the IRGC.” Full statement, here

ICYMI: Trump’s “third-country agreement” immigration deal with Guatemala is falling apart. President-elect Alejandro Giammattei said this week that the previously pledge isn’t going to work since the country has insufficient resources “to tend to its own people, let alone those from other countries,” AP reported Wednesday from the capital city. Recall that Trump “pressured Guatemala to sign the deal by threatening to punish Guatemala with taxes.”
About that deal: It was “signed in July by the outgoing administration of President Jimmy Morales [and] would require migrants from other countries who cross into Guatemala to apply for asylum [in Guatemala] rather than in the U.S.” 
We can’t say we weren’t warned: Here’s Lawfare from mid-July on why that third-country agreement “Exceeds Statutory Authority.”
What’s more, Giammattei “also noted that the agreement would have to be ratified by the congresses of both nations to go into force.” And that’d be a big problem for him because of “widespread criticism” among Giammattei’s countrymen. Read on, here
For the record, “More than 500 migrants have lost their lives in the Americas so far this year, about a 33% increase from a year ago,” AP reports today off new data from the UN’s International Organization for Migration.
New today from AP and the PBS series FRONTLINE: Alleged abuse of migrant kids separated from their parents at the border could put U.S. taxpayers “on the hook for more than $200 million in damages.” 
And there could be much more to come: “With more than 3,000 migrant children taken from their parents at the border in recent years, many lawsuits are expected, potentially totaling in the billions.” Story here.

Russia hack of Bulgarians’ data tied to F-16 sale? From the New York Times Wednesday: “The hack was made public — with the data leaked to news media organizations from an email bearing a Russian address — just as Bulgaria was finalizing its [$1.25 billion] purchase of eight new F-16s as part of an American-backed plan to replace the country’s aging Soviet-era jets and bring its air force in line with NATO standards.”
Making this hack possible: “something known as SQL Injection — essentially, the attacker uses a login page to insert malicious code that allows access to data.” 
Also making the hack possible: the Bulgarian tax authority “acknowledge[d] that it had never performed even simple penetration testing.”
According to U.S. eyes, “the hacking bears the hallmark of an operation by Russia’s military intelligence service, the G.R.U., to include a financial and political influence campaign targeting key decision makers within Bulgaria’s government,” the Times writes. But as with many cyber intrusions in the past, “United States spy agencies have not yet conclusively determined who carried out the attack.” More here

About your building security: In still more data breach news this week, “Researchers said they have found a publicly accessible database containing almost 28 million records—including plain-text passwords, face photos, and personal information—that was used to secure buildings around the world,” ArsTechnica reported Wednesday. 

Advertisers in news publications want to dictate which key words can show up beside their ads, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. And some of those undesirable words overlap with national security. That includes “immigration,” “shooting,” “gun,” “attack,” “Brexit,” “Trump,” “Russia,” “ISIS,” and “explosion,” for example. 
The bottom line: “Marketers have used blacklists for years to sidestep controversy,” the Journal writes. But “Now those blacklists are becoming more sophisticated, specific and extensive.” 
What does that mean for news about those words? As you might have guessed, lifestyle coverage gets incentivized over hard news. That includes sections like technology, business and sports. Meantime, the growth of blacklisting key words is “cutting into the revenue of some online news publishers… a sector already taking a hit as advertising spending shifts to online ad giants Facebook Inc. and Google.”
One attempt to course-correct: machine learning, like CNN is trying today with SAM, or its “Sentiment Analysis Moderator.” Read on, here

One more thing from the intersection of media, politics and national security: “A nationwide review conducted by ABC News has identified at least 36 criminal cases where Trump was invoked in direct connection with violent acts, threats of violence or allegations of assault,” ABC’s Mike Levine reported Wednesday, calling all three-dozen cases “remarkable in that a link to the president is captured in court documents and police statements, under the penalty of perjury or contempt.” 
Why this is noteworthy: POTUS45 seems to be in a class all his own. “I think my rhetoric brings people together,” Trump said four days after last week’s shooting in El Paso, an attack wherein the accused shooter echoed some of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric before killing 22 people and injuring dozens of others. However, “ABC News could not find a single criminal case filed in federal or state court where an act of violence or threat was made in the name of President Barack Obama or President George W. Bush.” More — including a breakdown of those 36 cases — here

And finally this week: The president wants the U.S. to buy Greenland, the Wall Street Journal first reported Thursday evening, followed by the New York Times and now today, AP
One word of caution, however, since one person told the Journal: POTUS45 isn’t that serious about buying Greenland because “Mr. Trump hadn’t floated the idea at a campaign rally yet.”
Does it all sound too familiar? Perhaps because such an idea surfaced in 1946 and AP reported on it almost 50 years later on May 2, 1991. That 1991 headline: ”Wanna Buy Greenland? The United States Once Did

Have a great weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!

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