Houthis down Reaper drone; US troops shuttle into Syria; Space Command launch date; Military AI vs. opioids; And a bit more.

For the second time since June, Houthi rebels shot down a U.S. military MQ-9 drone over Yemen Tuesday evening, U.S. officials confirmed to Reuters today. And that confirmation came just a few hours after imagery of the alleged incident first surfaced on social media. According to the Houthis, “The rocket which hit it was developed locally and will be revealed soon at a press conference.” The group’s spokesman, Yahya Saria, also promised “great surprises” in the coming days — apparently a reference to more attempts to shoot down aircraft in the sky above Yemen.

From the region: What was a three-nation naval coalition is now five on news the Aussies joined the U.S.-led Hormuz Strait shipping protection team, aka “International Maritime Security Construct,” according to an announcement from Canberra’s Foreign Ministry.  

Included in Australia’s contribution (emphasis added): “a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft to the Middle East for one month before the end of 2019; an Australian Frigate in January 2020 for six months; and [Australian Defence Forces] personnel to the International Maritime Security Construct headquarters in Bahrain.” More from the Australian MoD, here

Nation #4 to join: Bahrain, the monarchy announced Monday. The country’s contribution to the coalition includes… well, it’s not clear yet. 

Bahrain becomes now the second nation from the region — after Israel — to join the team, but just the first Arab nation to do so. A tiny bit more on the growing coalition, which could include Poland soon, via Reuters, here


From Defense One

US Army: No Afghanistan Withdrawal Plans Yet // Katie Bo Williams: “We have not received any direction to do anything at this point,” says Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.

Military Scientists Harness AI To Fight Synthetic Opioids // Patrick Tucker: A DIA group that scans millions of websites is overwhelming law enforcement with solid tips.

The US Military’s AI Can’t Find Targets On Its Own — Yet, Top USAF General Says // Marcus Weisgerber: The Air Combat Command leader says the tools are still learning.

Which US Cities Are Least Prepared for Climate Disaster? // Brentin Mock, CityLab: New studies find cities most vulnerable to climate change disasters—heat waves, flooding, rising seas, drought—are the least prepared.

Risks Grow As Countries Share Electricity Across Borders // Morgan Bazilian, Joshua Busby, and Sarang Shidore, Council on Foreign Relations: The world needs the efficiency of shared energy grids, so it also needs a way to prevent them from being used for coercion.

How Does This War End? Afghanistan Endgame, Part 2 // Melissa Skorka, Council on Foreign Relations: If the Haqqani network collapses the Afghan government, Pakistan threatens to make winning the next war even more difficult.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1991, the “August Coup” against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev collapsed on just its third day. 


It’s official: Space Command will open on Aug. 29. The Pentagon’s 11th combatant command will stand up next week, Gen. Joe Dunford announced at Tuesday’s meeting of the National Space Council
The new command will launch with 87 units to handle “missile warning, satellite operations, space control and space support,” the Joint Chiefs chairman said.
Reminder: Space Command is the functional combatant command for space operations, not the more contentious separate service branch dubbed Space Force. Congressional approval for the latter looks set to arrive this fall in the 2020 Defense Authorization Act, if House and Senate negotiators can come to agreement on their different visions for the new branch. NPR has a bit more, here

The White House is moving forward with its plan to sell Taiwan “66 F-16C/D Block 70 aircraft” as part of an arms sales package that comes in at about $8 billion,” the State Department announced Tuesday. 

President Trump thinks it’s time to let Russia back in the G7 group of world leaders. Russia was booted out of the G8 group five years ago for illegally annexing and invading Ukraine. Video via Reuters, here.

This week in dangerous information operations, be “Behind the Facebook-fueled rise of The Epoch Times” in this feature from NBC News’s Brandy Zadrozny and its dystopia correspondent, Ben Collins. 
Why this matters: “The small New York-based nonprofit news outlet has spent more than $1.5 million on about 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements in the last six months… Those video ads — in which unidentified spokespeople thumb through a newspaper to praise Trump, peddle conspiracy theories about the ‘Deep State,’ and criticize ‘fake news’ media — strike a familiar tone in the online conservative news ecosystem.” The long read begins, here.
Another thing about info ops on Facebook:Chinese State Media Want You To Believe Xinjiang’s Muslim Internment Camps Are Just Great,” Buzzfeed reported Tuesday after analyzing Facebook ad placements from Beijing’s state-run Global Times

To abide by President Trump’s 1,000-troop cap in Syria, American service members are being flown into and out of the country for specific missions, the New York Times reported Monday. 
By the way: Militants are once again pledging allegiance to ISIS out in the open in Syria, apparently unafraid of coalition or regime airstrikes, Flashpoint Intel’s Laith Alkouri noted Tuesday on Twitter. 

Another arms depot went up in flames outside Baghdad on Tuesday, this time near Balad Air Base, about 80 kms north of the capital, al-Jazeera reported shortly afterward. “The explosion caused stored rockets to fly into nearby orchards and into Balad base itself,” killing two and wounding five others.
Recall that a depot erupted in flames last Monday, killing one and wounding 29 others inside Baghdad. That incident is reportedly still under investigation, but Iraq’s prime minister banned unauthorized flights in Iraq while authorities figure out exactly what happened in both events — as well as a third depot blast from July in Amerli, Iraq.  

WaPo speaks out on Afghan peace plan. The Post’s Editorial Board came out Monday in opposition to any hasty peace deal the White House tries to broker with the Taliban. 
In short: “An acceptable agreement with the Taliban would condition the final withdrawal of U.S. troops on a settlement between the insurgents and the Afghan government. It would also provide for a continuing presence of U.S. counterterrorism forces to strike the Islamic State and other emerging terrorist threats. If Mr. Trump agrees to a pullout that omits such requirements, he will risk turning what could still be a successful outcome for the United States in Afghanistan into a shameful failure.”

A Maryland man was arrested Tuesday in Seattle on federal interstate threat charges after he wrote on Facebook how he wanted to kill a Hispanic woman who worked at a restaurant he’d visited, USA Today’s Brad Heath noted Tuesday on Twitter. 
Wrote the arrested man: “I thank God everyday President Donald John Trump is President and that he will launch a Racial War.” The accused has not yet entered a plea, ABC News reports in its coverage of the story, here
BTW: Here’s a subtle reminder of threats Americans face at home, from a man who monitored one of the biggest threats abroad for several years. Brett McGurk, former ISIS war special envoy, posted this reminder Monday on Twitter: “According to FBI data, domestic terrorism has killed more Americans than international terrorism since 9/11 — and [citing May Congressional testimony from the FBI’s Michael McGarrity, Assistant Director for the Bureau’s Counterterrorism Division] ‘Individuals adhering to racially motivated violent extremism ideology have been responsible for the most lethal incidents.’”

Current and former Air Reserve technicians at a Mississippi air base “are raising the alarm that chemicals they were exposed to may be tied to a number of deaths and illnesses among their fellow airmen,” McClatchy’s Tara Copp reported Tuesday.
At the center of the controversy: “exposure to hexavalent chromium, a chemical linked to cancer.” Airmen are believed to have been exposed during industrial welding and paint spraying since “Safety filters for the building were not working properly for years and the paint spraying took place in open bays, getting into all parts of the unit’s workspace, even the break room.” Read on, here

Apropos of nothing: Here’s a short Military Times story (and video) about a 23-year-old Montana man who just received his first haircut in 15 years — right before enlisting in the Army.

And finally today (because we missed this in late July): NPR’s Hannah Allam dropped by RAND’s offices in D.C. to ask “Can This Group Of Teen Girls Save The World From Nuclear War?” On this particular day in July, teenagers from Girl Security, a nonprofit that introduces girls to defense issues, had dropped by the think tank to learn about tensions on the Korean peninsula from RAND’s Stacie Pettyjohn, Becca Wasser, Ellie Bartels and Jenny Oberholtzer — also known as RAND’s “Dames of War Games” group.
The situation: “U.S. talks with North Korea had collapsed, and deadly tit-for-tat attacks had spiraled into open conflict.” There’s a “blue team, assuming the roles of U.S. and allied South Korean generals,” and a red team, “playing North Korean leaders determined to stay in power.”
Some of the questions asked by the teens: 

  • Is North Korea’s mindset, like, taking it to an urban area? Would they still be willing to use a chemical weapon in an urban setting?”
  • Say you were to denuclearize North Korea. Can’t they just make more?”

What’s the point of all this? In part, to have teens “think hard about the stakes involved in a game of brinksmanship between two nuclear powers,” Allam writes. And if you’re wondering who came out the victor in that wargame above, you’ll have to click through to read or listen to the rest of the story, here

Question for you, readers, since many have backgrounds in national security: Do you have any memorable episodes with wargaming in your past or current jobs? Let us know. We will be exploring the subject of wargaming in a future podcast episode, so send us your thoughts and stay tuned…

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