The Trump administration defunded 127 military construction projects to build border barriers. Nearly seven months after declaring a national-security emergency amid a surge of asylum seekers, the administration has decided to reassign $3.6 billion that Congress had approved for construction projects at military bases — half of them stateside, and the other half abroad, the New York Times reports.
Lawmakers were notified by Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a Tuesday letter that included short descriptions of the 11 border-barrier projects. The funds will build about 113.5 miles of new barriers and replace about 72.5 miles of existing ones, according to the letter, which was obtained by the Times.
Esper released no list of the defunded projects, saying that he first wanted to notify lawmakers about affected projects in their districts. Other defense officials said that the list includes no family housing, barracks, or projects whose contracts have already been awarded or were expected to be awarded in fiscal 2020.
A list of potential targets released by the Pentagon in March included about $4.35 billion worth of projects eligible for defunding under those limits. A Washington Post analysis found that the likeliest to lose funding include projects in Puerto Rico and Europe-based efforts to stiffen deterrence against Russia.
Democratic lawmakers denounced the move as an ineffective use of resources, a degradation of readiness, and a violation of the legislature’s constitutional right to apportion funds. “It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who said the move would short the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
And Republican lawmakers? Several already broke ranks with Trump over the issue earlier this year, while others have been more quietly lobbying to save hometown projects. Luke Hartig’s parting thought in Just Security this morning: “Any way you look at it, the politics of military construction will remain the under-the-radar force that drives much of the final outcome on President Trump’s border wall.” Read that fresh analysis, here.
Today: SecDef Esper flies to Europe for visits with AFRICOM and U.S. European Command at Stuttgart, Germany, the secretary (more probably his staff) tweeted after boarding a C-17 to cross the Atlantic.
From Defense One
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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 1862, a Union train with sixty men was ambushed by a Confederate force of Louisiana militia in Boutte Station, La., about eight miles west of New Orleans. The train was “sidetracked by a misplaced switch” and sent “into an ambuscade of guerrillas” (the militia) who began “rapidly shooting down the unprotected guards” until one of them — a wounded U.S. Army Pvt. Lewis J. Ingalls — “ran to another switch and, opening it, enabled the train and the surviving guards to escape,” according to the narrative in Ingalls’s Medal of Honor citation. The train would make it to New Orleans carrying 14 dead Union soldiers and another 22 who were wounded in the battle, which surely would have been much worse if not for the courage of Pvt. Ingalls.
NORTHCOM support for Hurricane Dorian: The Defense Department on Tuesday was authorized to provide logistics, health and engineering support to the Bahamas for up to 14 days if needed, Reuters Idrees Ali reported. That includes “more than 2,700 personnel, 40 helicopters and 80 high-water clearance vehicles to support federal, state and local partners should our assistance be requested,” U.S. Northern Command tweeted.
And Marine Corps recruits were moved from Parris Island, S.C., to Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., Parris Island officials announced Tuesday. More from Marine Corps Times, here.
Unsurprisingly, the “Afghan government has concerns about [the] U.S.-Taliban peace deal,” Reuters reports today from Kabul. By now you now the deal, “which would see around 5,000 U.S. troops withdrawn and five bases closed in exchange for guarantees that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on America.” It’s the same deal that’s been brokered without the involvement of anyone from Kabul’s actual Afghan government.
And violence hasn’t stopped at all this week, with the latest happening today across the northern cities of Takhar and Sar-e Pul, “as well as continuing fighting in Pul-Khumri. [And] In the southern province of Uruzgan, a car bomb attack on the police headquarters in Khas Uruzgan district was followed by a fierce gunbattle, while in the eastern province of Paktia, a district police chief was killed by a roadside bomb.”
Up next: Zalmay Khalilzad, special U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, “is expected to hold a series of meetings with Afghan and NATO officials to explain the draft agreement, which must still be approved by U.S. President Donald Trump before it can be signed.” More here.
Related: “War-weary Afghans have little voice in their country’s fate,” AP reported Sunday from Kabul.
And a host of former U.S. ambassadors and envoys to Afghanistan penned a dire warning letter to U.S. negotiators like Khalilzad on Tuesday entitled, “Withdraw Forces Only After Real Peace.”
Signatories to that letter: Ryan Crocker, John Negroponte, James Dobbins, Robert P. Finn, Ronald E. Neumann, William Wood, Earl Anthony Wayne, James Cunningham, and Hugo Llorens.
The NBC News headline for that letter: “U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan could trigger ‘catastrophic’ civil war, ex-U.S. diplomats warn.”
The ISIS-heavy refugee camp at al-Hol, Syria, is a hellish problem with no solution, the Washington Post’s Louisa Loveluck and Souad Mekhennet reported Tuesday on location.
The context: “Half a year after the territorial defeat of the Islamic State, the vast sprawl of tents at the al-Hol camp is becoming a cauldron of radicalization. About 20,000 women and 50,000 children who had lived under the caliphate are held in dire conditions at the camp, which is operated and guarded by 400 U.S.-supported Kurdish troops.”
What’s going on: “With the men of ISIS imprisoned elsewhere, the women inside the fences of al-Hol are reimposing the militant group’s strictures, enforcing them upon those deemed impious with beatings and other brutality and extending what residents and camp authorities call a reign of fear.”
One enormous worry: “The children need help here. You can see it,” one camp official told the Post. “How do we stop them becoming their parents?” Meantime, “The SDF says it cannot be counted on to hold the camp residents indefinitely. But neither the United States — which ultimately holds sway in this corner of Syria — nor European and Arab allies have advanced a workable solution.” Read on, here.
Otherwise in Syria, the U.S.- and Turkey-implemented “safe zone” in the northeast is off to a good start, a Kurdish leader tells the Associated Press from the border town of Ad Darbasiyah. That official is Ilham Ahmed, co-chair of the executive committee of the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Council.
Why are we hearing from Ilham? “The Kurds now worry about being abandoned by the U.S. amid Turkish threats to invade Syria, and are keen to work out an agreement with both parties that would safeguard their gains.”
About the “safe zone,” AP writes that it encompasses “an area five to 14 kilometers deep (three to eight miles) with no YPG presence, as well as removal of heavy weapons from a 20-kilometer-deep zone (12 miles), she said. Turkey wants a deeper zone,” and no final zone length has yet been decided.
And carrying out that mission is still a hugely uncertain mission. Said Ahmed to AP: “In the coming days, and because of the needs of the [safe zone] formation and implementation of the security mechanism, they may need more [U.S.-led coalition] forces. It is not yet clear what the U.S. administration would decide.”
In the interim, “At least two U.S-Turkish joint reconnaissance flights have flown over the area, and on Tuesday, joint patrols between U.S. troops and Kurdish-led forces also examined the area where fortifications have been removed.”
And Kurds don’t want to lose their hard-fought gains, with some officials still holding out hopes for a more generous negotiation with Turkey that “would constitute an indirect Turkish recognition of the Kurdish-led administration in northeastern Syria.” Read on, here.
ICYMI: Israel carried out airstrikes against suspected Hezbollah sites in eastern Lebanon last week, and Israeli diplomat Elad Strohmayer took to Twitter Tuesday to explain those strikes in a five-tweet thread with two images and one gif.
And here’s a video from CNN with a two-minute review of Israel-Hezbollah exchanges of fire this weekend, and why.
The U.S. just sanctioned Iran’s civilian space agency following last week’s failed launch, the Wall Street Journal reported. “The new U.S. sanctions target both the Iranian Space Agency and two of its research institutes, and are the latest in a maximum-pressure campaign to target Iran’s oil, leadership, economy and security apparatus… The announced sanctions came as [U.S. Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo met with incoming European leaders on Tuesday, during a short trip to Brussels.” And the outcome of that meeting — which included “a French initiative to provide Iran economic relief from U.S. sanctions in return for complete compliance with the  nuclear accord” that the Trump administration formally backed out of in May 2018 — isn’t clear just yet. A bit more behind the paywall, here.
China’s AI unicorns are looking for money wherever they can get it. Beijing has at least four AI startups specializing in facial recognition that are valued at more than $1 billion, WIRED reports. “Now, the companies are looking to expand overseas, with help from public markets.”
The four AI-themed companies are Megvii, SenseTime, CloudWalk, and Yitu. And analysts aren’t expecting a heckuva lot of money from U.S. investors, given the Trump administration’s ongoing trade war with Beijing and concerns about the espionage potential of some of emerging technologies from China. That’s why “other parts of Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Africa” are expected to be the biggest investors. Read on, here.
Related: “Massive iPhone Hack Targets Uyghurs,” cybersecurity professional Bruce Schneier reported on his blog Tuesday morning.
A few things to keep in mind about this iPhone hack: It “used fourteen zero-days exploits. It used them indiscriminately. And it remained undetected for two years.”
The bigger picture worry is pretty significant, Schneier writes, saying “This upends pretty much everything we know about iPhone hacking. We believed that it was hard. We believed that effective zero-day exploits cost $2M or $3M, and were used sparingly by governments only against high-value targets. We believed that if an exploit was used too frequently, it would be quickly discovered and patched. None of that is true here.” Read on for why, here.
And finally today: Former SecDef Mattis is making the rounds this week on his book tour, with Tuesday finding him in New York City before an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations. You can rewatch his appearance there — which included the line, “We’ve militarized our foreign policy. It’s all about sanctions and regime change” — online here.
Or you can hear “the Warrior Monk” speaking to the WSJ for about 20 minutes in its podcast, published Tuesday, here.