US considers more troops to the Mideast; More money diverted for the border wall?; DOD, Pompeo split over Saudi attacks; GOP leader flips on election funds; And a bit more.

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

September 20, 2019

The Pentagon is considering deploying more anti-missile batteries and F-22s to the Middle East amid the rising tensions with Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The department is also mulling keeping an aircraft carrier strike group (nearby since May; remember the drama around that tasking?) in the region “to show heightened resolve and to bolster defenses following Saturday’s strikes” on the Kingdom’s Abqaiq oil processing plant. The USS Abraham Lincoln is nearby presently; but it will likely be replaced by the USS Harry S. Truman.

The anti-missile systems reportedly include Patriot batteries and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, system, "which can intercept ballistic missiles before impact and cover a much wider area." Adds the Journal, “Neither system necessarily would have been able to defend against the kind of coordinated cruise-missile and drone attacks used last weekend, but would strengthen the region’s defenses, particularly against ballistic-missile threats.”

President Trump’s National Security Council is holding a meeting today to discuss everything from “non-military options to a robust retaliatory strike and additional U.S. forces in the region," ABC News' Martha Raddatz reports this morning. 


From Defense One

Pentagon, Pompeo Diverge on Saudi-Oil Attacks // Katie Bo Williams: Defense officials say they won’t get ahead of Saudi Arabian investigators. The Secretary of State blames Iran.

It’s Really Hard to Buy Peace in Afghanistan // Iain King: Western leaders looking to replace troops with targeted aid may find it counterproductive.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Northrop reorganizes; Boeing starts work on new Air Force One; Amazon might deliver troops, and more.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston and Ben Watson. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1944, Operation Market Garden — up to that point, the largest airborne operation of World War II — entered its fourth day, with the goal of creating an invasion route into northern Germany from the Netherlands. More than 1,000 British, Dutch, French, Belgian, German, Italian, Polish and U.S. paratroopers will mark the 75th anniversary of the assault tomorrow when they descend on Ginkel Heath drop zone (aka DZ Y”), one of the landing zones used in Operation Market Garden. Follow along this weekend on social media with the hashtag #Arnhem75.


President Trump’s border wall needs $18.4 billion more, and it’s gonna need quite a bit of that from the Pentagon (again). That’s because the White House is "considering a plan to again divert billions of dollars in military funding to pay for border barrier construction next year" as President Trump is racing "to complete nearly 500 miles of new barrier by the 2020 election," the Washington Post reported Thursday evening. The problem is “that construction goal will require a total of $18.4 billion in funding through 2020, far more than the administration has publicly disclosed.”
What makes this particularly notable: 

Additionally obstacle in the way of this 500-mile border goal: “the government would need to obtain — either by eminent-domain claims or purchases — land that lies under nearly 200 miles of proposed barrier.”
For the record, “So far, the administration has installed about 65 miles of new barrier, all of it in areas where the government has replaced smaller or dilapidated fencing with imposing steel fencing as tall as 30 feet.” Read on, here

We are planning on Mar-a-Lago but nothing is set in stone,” a Marine told McClatchy’s Tara Copp Thursday evening after she learned the 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company in West Palm Beach “is planning a gala to celebrate the 244th anniversary of the Marines’ founding at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach on Nov. 16.”
What's going on: "Marine Corps balls are held every year in honor of the Corps’ Nov. 10 birthday, although not always on that day," Copp writes. "The balls have two parts: an official ceremony, which can use government equipment and taxpayer dollars, and a social function paid for by private fundraising associations. The 2017 ball, for instance, was a celebration co-hosted by the nonprofit Marine Corps League of the Palm Beaches and 4th ANGLICO at the Hilton Palm Beach Airport hotel."
But this year it’s a little different, since the Defense Department is under intense scrutiny from House lawmakers over alleged spending at President Trump’s other property in Scotland, the Turnbury golf resort — a place where “far more taxpayer funds have been spent than previously known,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings wrote in a letter (PDF) to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday.  
The Air Force told Cummings’ committee last week that “its crews had stayed up to 40 times at Trump’s property since 2015, but it has not provided a breakdown of the number of stays since Trump was elected.” 
But the Pentagon gave Cummings’ committee more documents since that appear (PDF) to “suggest the vast majority of stays have occurred since Trump took office, raising concerns among Democrats about a conflict of interest,” Politico — which first broke this story in early September — reported in an update Wednesday. But Esper’s department didn’t hand over enough documentation, with Cummings’s letter referring to the documents handed over to date as “woefully inadequate,” “belated and deficient.”
The Pentagon’s new deadline for handing over all Turnbury-related expenses is Sept. 27, or one week from today. 
Meantime, the Air Force has launched “a review of its selection of lodging accommodations,” the Washington Post writes in its report on U.S. military spending at Turnberry. “While initial reviews indicate that aircrew transiting through Scotland adhered to all guidance and procedures,” said Air Force spox Brig. Gen. Edward Thomas Jr., in a statement to Politico 12 days ago, “we understand that U.S. Service members lodging at higher-end accommodations, even if within government rates, might be allowable but not advisable. Therefore, we are reviewing all associated guidance.” 
Bigger picture consideration: “Even when [Air Force] aircrews follow all directives and guidance,” Thomas continued in his statement, “we must still be considerate of perceptions of not being good stewards of taxpayer funds that might be created through the appearance of aircrew staying at such locations.” Read more about the ongoing matter in this week’s letter from the House Oversight Committee to SecDef Esper, here
And that Marine Corps reserve unit Copp reported on? Nobody knows yet if it will still happen at Mar-a-lago. And no one seems to want to talk much about it either since Mar-a-Lago reception staff told Copp they "had departed their stations early in the afternoon, keeping to the club’s less strenuous off-season schedule." And "an attorney for the Trump Organization, did not immediately return a request for comment. Neither did Marine Corps headquarters. The White House had no immediate comment." 
As for precedents with this South Florida USMC reserve unit, the Palm Beach County Convention Center hosted the 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company’s gala in 2015. And “In 2014, it was held at the Broken Sound Club in Boca Raton. A press release said the club had donated the use of its facilities.” Continue reading, here

Report: whistleblower complaint concerns a promise President Trump made in a phone call to Ukraine. That, from the Washington Post, is the latest in the saga that has the executive branch apparently illegally withholding the complaint from Congressional overseers.
Trump spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky just over two weeks before the complaint was filed, the Post notes, adding that House Democrats are already investigating “whether Trump and his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani sought to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping Trump’s reelection campaign. Lawmakers have demanded a full transcript and a list of participants on the call.” (Giuliani muddied the waters a bit Thursday, appearing to both deny and admit it to CNN.)
IC IG testified behind closed doors Thursday. Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, was summoned to talk about the complaint to House Intelligence Committee members. He did so for about three hours, yet “repeatedly declined to discuss with members the content of the complaint, saying he was not authorized to do so,” sources told the Post.
So most of the discussion involved why Atkinson believes that the complaint was an “urgent concern” that, by law, needs to go to Congress. Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to release the document. Read on, here.
Trump says he’s done nothing wrong. “Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself,” he tweeted
Later, he went after the (still unnamed) whistleblower, which led CNN’s Josh Campbell to note: “The U.S. President is publicly attacking a government whistleblower who went through proper legal channels to report suspected wrongdoing.”

America’s Ambassador to Libya met with “rogue” Gen. Khalifa Haftar in the relative safety of the UAE, the U.S. Embassy in Libya tweeted out in a photo Thursday that makes Ambassador Richard Norland appear considerably less thrilled than the Field Marshall to his right. 
Norland’s meeting in Abu Dhabi comes just three days after Haftar’s men “mounted an air strike on the central city of Sirte held by the internationally recognised government,” Reuters reported Monday. Haftar — who is backed by the UAE and Egypt — has so far been “unable to breach the city’s defences and even lost his main forward base in Gharyan.”
Reminder of what’s going on here: “Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) force has been trying since April to take Tripoli, which is held by the internationally recognised government, with a ground campaign supported by air strikes. The campaign has displaced more than 120,000 people in Tripoli alone, killed hundreds of civilians, and risks disrupting oil supplies from the country in chaos since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.”
Worth noting: Ambassador Norland met Haftar’s nemesis, UN-backed Government of National Accord’s “Prime Minister Sarraj last month in Tunis [and] he was accompanied by Gen. [Stephen] Townsend, the commander of Africa Command,” CNN’s Ryan Browne tweeted Thursday. While Townsend didn’t accompany Norland Thursday, the ambassador was joined by AFRICOM’s deputy director for intelligence, Stars and Stripes reported.

Back stateside, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally greenlit $250 million in election security money, “an abrupt turnaround after more than a year of opposition from the Kentucky Republican on the issue,” the Washington Post reported Thursday. “A final figure would have to be negotiated with the House, which has approved $600 million, and the compromise legislation would have to be passed by both chambers.” More here

Afghanistan update: America’s Afghan peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was subpoenaed by House lawmakers to appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee for a public hearing on Thursday. Later, Khalilzad’s name was removed from the guest list; but Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer reported Khalilzad did in fact brief the committee Thursday; it just happened in a classified, closed session. Which is in line with the increased classification of Afghan war data the Pentagon has been engaged in going back to at least April, as Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported at the time. 

And finally this week: Read over how NASA blanked on a “football-field-sized asteroid” that “narrowly missed the planet” in late July. Buzzfeed News’ Dan Vergano and Jason Leopold reported Thursday internal emails show NASA scientists only noticed the massive object just 24 hours before its passed by our planet. “The flyby came five times closer to Earth than the distance to the moon — a close shave by astronomical standards.”
Wrote one scientist to his colleague: “This object slipped through a whole series of our capture nets… I wonder how many times this situation has happened without the asteroid being discovered at all.”
Wrote another: “This one did sneak up on us and it is an interesting story on the limitations of our current survey network.” 
Said one of those scientists to Buzzfeed News: “The automated systems that calculate trajectories and the chance of impact … worked as designed. The issue with 2019 OK was not with [NASA] or the [Minor Planet Center],” but rather with — as Vergano and Leopold write — “the surveys’ algorithms for identifying dangerous space rocks.” Read the full story, here

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


By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston // Ben Watson is news editor for Defense One. He previously worked for NPR's “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now” in Washington, D.C. Watson served for five years in the U.S. Army, where he was an award-winning combat cameraman and media advisor for southern Afghanistan's special operations command during the 2010-11 surge. // Bradley Peniston is deputy editor of Defense One. A national security journalist for two decades, he helped launch Military.com, served as managing editor of Defense News, and was editor of Armed Forces Journal. His books include No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf, now part of the Chief of Naval Operations' Professional Reading Program.

September 20, 2019

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2019/09/the-d-brief-september-20-2019/160028/