More US forces to the Mideast?; Missile parts seized at sea; CNO’s streamlined guidance; Plasma thrusters for sats; And a bit more.

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

December 5, 2019

The White House is reportedly considering sending more troops to the Middle East — up to 14,000 of them, the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef reported Wednesday evening. The additional forces could include "dozens more ships" that "would join the roughly 14,000 U.S. service members sent to the region since May, when U.S. intelligence analysts identified a threat from Iran." 

Current total: “Overall, there are between 60,000 and 80,000 U.S. troops deployed to the Middle East and Afghanistan, depending on the number of ships in the region and the rotation of ground forces,” U.S. defense officials told the Journal.

DOD pushes back on WSJ: “That is an erroneous item,” John Rood, defense undersecretary for policy, told lawmakers this morning. "We have deployed 14,000 troops over the last six months,” he said. “We're continuing to look at that threat picture, but haven't made a decision to deploy an additional 14,000 troops.” 

Pentagon spox: “To be clear, the reporting is wrong,” Press Secretary Alyssa Farah tweeted Wednesday evening. “The U.S. is not considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East.”

One reason we may be hearing about this consideration now: “On at least three occasions, the Pentagon announced new deployments of troops, warplanes and antimissile batteries to Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East, citing possible Iranian threats,” the WSJ story said. “Many of those deployment orders are due to expire in January, and officials said they were discussing a plan to make them permanent.”

Tweeted Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri: “I look forward to hearing tomorrow in Senate Armed Services [Committee] why the Pentagon reportedly wants 14,000 MORE troops in the Middle East, after sending 14,000 already this year alone. Is the Pentagon preparing for a land war?”

About that hearing, happening now: Rood and U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Allvin of the Joint Staff are on call for today’s testimony before SASC. The stated focus: "Strategic Threats, Ongoing Challenges, and National Defense Strategy Implementation." 

Last week, U.S. forces seized an unflagged boat with “suspected Iranian guided missile parts headed to rebels in Yemen,” AP reported Wednesday in an episode that purportedly “mark[s] the first time that such sophisticated components have been taken en route to the war there.” If it is indeed true that weapons were being smuggled to Yemen, that would violate a UN Security Council resolution.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, remember that “On at least four occasions during 2015 and 2016, the U.S. seized suspected Iranian weapons during similar ship inspections,” AP reminds us. “In those cases, however, the arms were smaller and less sophisticated.”

The dhow carried dissembled part[s] for anti-ship cruise missiles, land attack cruise missiles, air defense missiles and anti-tank missiles, the official said,” a U.S. defense official told ABC News of the Nov. 26 seizure.

Said Pentagon spox Cmdr. Sean Robertson: "An initial investigation indicates that these advanced missile components are of Iranian origin. A more thorough investigation is underway."

ICYMI: The U.S.-led counter-Iran naval coalition may need to remain in place “for years to come to protect oil shipping and Persian Gulf allies,” NBC News reported before Thanksgiving. That warning came from a new report from the Center for a New American Security entitled, “Implications of U.S.-Iran Tensions for the Global Oil Market.

One topline takeaway: “Even in the less escalatory scenarios, the United States would be forced into long-term deployments of a large number of air and naval assets that would need to remain in the Middle East for years at a cost of billions of dollars,” the authors write. “Such deployments would take away resources that would otherwise be dedicated to managing great power competition with China and Russia.” And that’s just for low-intensity conflict. 

In the more extreme conflict scenarios, major loss of life and an even bigger and longer-term American military deployment would be expected.” Read on, here.

By the way: The world right now is enjoying an “oversupply of oil,” AP reports, “which could drive down fuel and energy prices” as OPEC members meet today to discuss the way ahead. (The U.S. was briefly the world’s top oil exporter in June. That news came out in September, and before the devastating Houthi-claimed attacks on a key Saudi refinery on Sept. 14.)

Making matters worse for OPEC in the months to come, “even if members of the cartel cut production, there’s more oil coming online from non-OPEC nations including the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Norway and Guyana, which will more than make up for any drop in production.”

One curious observation amid U.S.-Iran tensions: “If something goes awry with Saudi production in the next few months, and there’s a fairly good chance something will happen… Russia’s going to be the first party looking to fill that gap,” an analyst from the geopolitical intelligence firm Luminae Group told AP. “And I think the Saudis know that.” More here.

For what it’s worth, here are five recent instances when President Trump insisted he ordered American soldiers to stay inside Syria to take Syria’s oil (an order which, if actually taken, would very likely constitute the war crime of pillage): 


From Defense One

Is US Deterrence Against Iran Doomed to Fail? // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: A key ingredient may be missing. And we won’t know until Tehran launches another attack.

Trump Just Ghosted NATO, But Here’s What He Said That Matters // Kevin Baron: The president was on a roll until he surrendered a final chance to lay out his concerns and priorities.

Will New Plasma Thrusters Keep Next-Gen Satellites Safe? // Patrick Tucker: How the fourth state of matter could enable more nimble satellites and change the space game.

Britain’s Secret War With Russia // Tom McTague, The Atlantic: The poisoning of a double agent sparked an intelligence and PR battle between London and Moscow, the details of which are only now emerging.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1950, Chinese troops entered the North Korean city of Pyongyang as UN forces retreated.


Five takeaways from the CNO’s new capstone guidance for the US fleet. Defense News’ David Larter reports that Adm. Michael Gilday kept the title but discarded much else from his predecessor’s version of “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority.” The 8-page document instructs sailors to put readiness first, set ambitious warfighting goals, improve training, etc. Read on, here.
Bryan McGrath: The new guidance is a “clear, concise, and important indicator of how Gilday intends to lead the Navy, and its clarity and purpose should help re-establish confidence in the Navy after a series of newsworthy leadership transgressions in the past few months.” But the former CO and current naval analyst also has suggestions: “we are trying to build a 21st Century Navy with a 20th Century bureaucracy, and I’m sorry to say the bureaucracy should be different and larger than it is now. Great power competition merits it.” Read on, here.
Speaking of those transgressions, Larter rounds up just how many admirals, COs, and political appointees have come and gone in the past four years, here.

Russian mercs in Libya. Libyan officials believe they’ve got evidence documenting “between 600 to 800 Russian fighters in Libya,” and the Libyans are “collecting their names in a list to present to the Russian government,” AP reports today from Tripoli. At least some of the fighters are believed to be from the private security contractor, Wagner Group, which is run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin.
One reason why this matters: “Moscow has repeatedly denied playing any role in Libya’s fighting,” AP writes. Another reason: it would seem to be another nation in Africa that Russia has expanded its various influence and military operations into, following behind Central African Republic, Sudan, Egypt, Republic of Congo, and reportedly Madagascar, Angola, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
Hit that subscribe button: We’ve got an upcoming Defense One Radio podcast concerning Wagner Group, and wider Russian influence operations expected to come in 2020. If you’ve got questions as we wrap up production for that episode, send them our way to production@defenseone.com

Another round of U.S.-Taliban talks is about to begin, the U.S. State Department announced Wednesday after Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad visited Kabul, Afghanistan. Khalilzad will soon travel to Qatar “to discuss steps that could lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and a peaceful settlement of the war, specifically a reduction in violence that leads to a ceasefire.” 
The New York Times celebrates Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura, a man who “arrived in Afghanistan in the 1980s to treat leprosy… He later found, however, that severe drought was killing more people than his clinics could save. So he discovered a new calling: irrigation.”
Nakamura died Wednesday, along with five other members of his organization when they were “attacked by gunmen while driving to work in Jalalabad.” Read his story, here.

Back stateside, House lawmakers have launched an investigation of the $400 million border wall contract given to Trump-promoted firm. On Monday, the Pentagon announced that it had contracted a 31-mile segment of border barrier in Arizona to North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel, a company that had not appeared on the military’s list of qualified contractors until its CEO started appearing on Fox News and the U.S. president started pressing the issue. Now the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security has asked DOD’s inspector general to investigate.
Independently, a judge put the work on hold pending resolution of a lawsuit charging that the wall would illegally hurt the environment. Read on, here.

A sailor killed two people before killing himself Wednesday at Hawaii’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. “Two of the victims have died and a third is in stable condition at a local hospital as of Wednesday evening,” the Wall Street Journal reported. The shooting happened in the afternoon “at the base’s dry dock 2, when the gunman shot three Defense Department civilian employees before shooting himself.” 
“The sailor was assigned to the fast attack submarine USS Columbia, which is at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for maintenance,” AP reports. “The shipyard repairs, maintains and modernizes the ships and submarines of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which is headquartered at Pearl Harbor. The base is the home port for 10 destroyers and 15 submarines. It also hosts Air Force units.” Little else is known at this point in the investigation; but you can read on at AP, here

And lastly today: the return of “Bad Ideas in National Security” from the folks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. These annual short articles look at “recently considered and not too obvious bad ideas” in defense and foreign policy. This week’s batch include “Integrating Artificial Intelligence with Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications,” (which seems just a bit obvious) and “China-Driven U.S. Strategy” (somewhat less so). Enjoy!


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.

December 5, 2019

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2019/12/the-d-brief-december-05-2019/161692/