The D Brief: What if Kobani falls? The military doesn't need more money for war; The Pentagon finally names the problem; Hagel sees a role for the Army as a coastline force; Building a better military robot; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson
Learning to share: Kurdish fighters are feeding coalition war planners targeting data on ISIS around Kobani—and the escalated air campaign seems to be working. Eric Schmitt and Kareem Fahim for The New York Times: Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said “the airstrikes had killed ‘several hundred’ Islamic State fighters. Kurdish officials said the intensified attacks had allowed them to regain territory and push the militants back on several fronts, after fears rose last week that the city would be overrun… [I]n recent days, a system had been devised that allowed Kurdish fighters to help American mission planners pinpoint Islamic State targets. The official… said that guidance was corroborated with satellite and drone imagery, electronic intercepts and other intelligence."
However, Omar Alloush, a Kurdish official in Kobani, called the coordination ‘flawed’— the NYT, here.
A journalist in Kobani told Reuters the 21 U.S. air strikes near Kobani persisted ‘throughout the day, which is a first.’ “It was the largest number of air strikes on Kobani since the U.S.-led campaign in Syria began last month, the Pentagon said. The White House said the impact was constrained by the absence of forces on the ground but that evidence so far showed its strategy was succeeding… ‘And sometimes we saw one plane carrying out two strikes, dropping two bombs at a time,’ said Abdulrahman Gok, a journalist with a local Kurdish paper who is inside the town. ‘In the afternoon, Islamic State intensified its shelling of the town,’ he said. ‘The fact that they're not conducting face-to-face, close-distance fight but instead shelling the town from afar is evidence that they have been pushed back a bit.’”
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said if Kobani falls "that would be a setback. There's no question about that."
What else did Kirby say yesterday about Iraq? On Iraq’s Anbar province, where a third of Iraq’s army is positioned: “The situation in Anbar province remains contested. There are—there are pockets around Fallujah and Ramadi that ISIL still possess… [But] it’s a mixed picture there in Anbar…”
And on the capability of the Iraqi forces there: “I can’t honestly look you in the eye and say that every unit there of that third of the army is of the same caliber of quality and competence. They aren’t."
Speaking of U.S. boots, Rand’s Bryan Jenkins runs down the list of what exactly a 10,000 to 25,000-strong U.S. ground force would do in Iraq and Syria today. Writing for Defense One: “They could bolster local defenses in critical areas… be used as a mobile strike force to follow up the bombings or destroy concentrations of enemy forces… [and] a more ambitious and costlier task for American forces would be to drive ISIL forces out of the cities and towns they now hold.” The bottom line: “The United States initiated the bombing campaign to prevent the consolidation and further expansion of ISIL and preempt potential future terrorist attacks on the United States. The deployment of ground forces could accelerate the achievement of that mission, but could just as easily exacerbate the situation.” Read his entire take here.
Welcome to Thursday's edition of The D Brief, Defense One's new, first-read national security newsletter. We hope you'll stay with us, and if you like what you see and you want us to subscribe a friend or colleague, we're very happy to do that. Subscribe here or send us a holler at email@example.com and we'll put you on the list. Whatever you do, follow us @glubold and @natsecwatson.
To name a problem is to, theoretically, get a better handle on it. So, the name-hyper U.S. military, which had avoided naming the conflict in Iraq and now Syria, finally just named that problem: [Drum roll….] Operation Inherent Resolve, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey told CNN. Pentagon officials had been dismissing as irrelevant the questions from reporters for weeks about why the Pentagon, which is quick to name any operation big or small hadn't named the conflict – one that is costing more than $7 million per day since Aug. 8.
Kirby on what it all means: "…what it says, what it means, and for us what it means is that we are going to stay resolved and determined to get after this threat. We're going to do it in as fulsome a way as we can. And we're going to do it for as long as required.
"And the last thing I'd say is, we're going to do it in partnership. And I think that's where the inherent comes in, in the name. We're going to do it in partnership with other nations, and there are some 60 now that are involved in this effort in various forms and fashions, but it's very much a multinational, multilateral approach. And I think that's what the name signifies."
The name was one that was first allegedly shot down by Pentagon officials. Read WSJ’s Julian Barnes initial story on #OperationName from Oct. 3 here.
Meantime, is there an escape hatch for VA aides? Top VA employees facing imminent firing over mismanagement are rushing to retire ahead of a new law’s requirement to accelerate their termination. The WSJ's Ben Kesling: “The VA implemented a five-day wait period after an employee is notified of a “decision to remove” them, allowing time to respond to the decision and to ensure any firing would stand up in court, a VA official said. But that period also gives eligible employees the opportunity to retire instead of contesting their firing… The recent retirements have angered some in Congress, such as Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), one of the main proponents of the new law. ‘The department appears to be giving failing executives an opportunity to quit, retire or find new jobs without consequence,’ said Mr. Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.” More here.
Despite a plethora of problems in the Middle East, Chuck Hagel is still banging the drum for the Asia Pivot – and he sees a new role for the Army … in the littorals… are the Marines gasping? This from Defense One's Marcus Weisgerber: "…there are plenty missions there for the Army, Hagel said Wednesday." Hagel yesterday at the Army's big trade show, AUSA: "[T]he Army could broaden its role by leveraging its current suite of long-range precision-guided missiles, rockets, artillery and air defense systems,” Hagel said during a luncheon address at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting to an audience that included many defense contractors. “These capabilities would provide multiple benefits … such as hardening the defenses of U.S. installations; enabling greater mobility of Navy Aegis destroyers and other joint force assets; and helping ensure the free flow of commerce.” Since the pivot was announced in 2012, experts have said the expansive, maritime region favors the Navy and Air Force. In recent years, the Army has been looking sea-basing attack helicopters, a mission historically conducted by the Marine Corps.
Building a better military robot: Defense One’s Tech Editor Patrick Tucker reports on the touchscreen future of military robotics: “Despite the drawdown in Afghanistan and the end of the war in Iraq, the military still needs robotic systems to detect improvised explosive devices as well as provide tactical intelligence or to look around the next corner, so to speak… The next step for robot manufactures is to make them easier to operate in groups. Last week, iRobot released a new Android piloting system called uPoint Multi-Robot Control. Defense One tested it on site and found it fast, intuitive and not unlike an iPad-based first-person-shooter video game.” Get the full story here.
Back to Iraq –
ICYMI: John Allen talked yesterday about the coalition’s effort to build Iraq’s defense forces from the ground up. Allen, the retired four-star Marine who is now the special envoy for the war effort who has become the defacto face of that U.S. effort since U.S. Central Command's Gen. Lloyd Austin has yet to speak broadly and publicly about it. Yesterday, Allen briefed reporters at State after meeting with folks in Iraq and other places.
On Turkey’s role in future operations: “And as you’ve already heard, our Turkish partners have voiced their support for training and equipping the moderate Syrian opposition, and there is a DOD team on the ground, a joint team from the European Command and the Central Command on the ground in Ankara today, working out operational details.”
John Allen's BLUF on Iraq: “The intent at this juncture is to take those steps that are necessary with the forces that we have available and the air power that we have at our fingertips to buy the white space necessary for what comes next, which is the training program for those elements of the Iraqi national security forces that will have to be refurbished and then put back into the field, ultimately for the Iraqis to pursue the campaign plan, which they’re developing, to restore the tactical integrity of Iraq and the sovereignty of Iraq. And it’s going to take a while.” Read the transcript of Allen's comments here.
Speaking of Turkey: no problem here, keep moving: “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday there was no discrepancy between Ankara and Washington over the strategy for fighting Islamic State in Kobani and that Ankara would define its role according to its own timetable.” The rest from Reuters here.
Single sourced, but interesting: FP's Gopal Ratnam reports that a person "familiar with joint assessments" says at least 1,000 trainers, from the U.S. and NATO allies, would be needed for the training mission in Iraq, here.
The Pentagon is spending $7.6 million per day on war operations in Iraq and Syria. But the Pentagon for now has no plans to ask Congress for more money for the 2015 war spending request. Although the White House has been clear that this is a long-term effort, Kirby said yesterday there are no plans for now to ask for more money. Kirby: "we're going to continue to work closely with Congress and consult with Congress about costs going forward. And there very well could be adjustments that need to be made, but we're just not there yet."
Defense One just ran a piece from three people from POGO, the Project on Government Oversight, with this title: "Stop Saying the Pentagon Can't Pay for Our Wars." Read that bit here.
There was some follow up from the NYT's big Page Oner yesterday on troops and chemical weapons. The Times wrote about abandoned chemical weapons in Iraq and how U.S. troops became "secret casualties" when they stumbled across it in 2008. The Pentagon said yesterday that while it does not have a tally for all those service members exposed to chemical weapons between 2003 and 2011, there were about 20 troops known to have been exposed to such weapons between 2006, and 2008, according to a follow-up to the story by the WaPo's Missy Ryan, here.
Kirby also said that while Hagel was aware of the issue and yesterday's story, he had no plans to initiate a secretary-level review of the issue, and that the secretary expected commanders at all levels to take care of their troops. Kirby, yesterday to reporters: "Secretary Hagel has high expectations for all leadership, medical and otherwise, that we're going to give our troops the care and support that they need. And if errors were made, mistakes were made, his expectation is they'll be rectified."
Carl Levin's parting thoughts on the media, the Islamic State and Pakistani leaders. Defense News, with a piece about the retiring Michigan senator's comments at a forum yesterday, here.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, a car bomb killed eight Afghan soldiers with the CIA-trained Khost Protection Force. The NYT: “Fighters with the force, who operate in Khost Province, swooped on a remote compound believed to house suicide bombers, killing three people including one woman, the Khost governor’s office said in a statement. But once they had secured the compound, a car bomb exploded, killing eight of the militiamen and wounding five.” More here.
Also in Afghanistan, Kabul’s intelligence agency says it captured two senior leaders of the Haqqani network. The WSJ, here.
And in Libya, renegade General Khalifa Hifter surged ground forces and a barrage of airstrikes to pound Islamist militias near Benghazi on Wednesday. The New York Times has this: “In a televised address announcing the assault, General Hifter, who calls his campaign Operation Dignity, declared that his men ‘are now ready to reach their most important goal for this phase, which is the liberation of the city of Benghazi.’… One faction, which portrays itself as a bulwark against Islamist extremists, includes General Hifter; other former Qaddafi military men.” More here.
The Pentagon will need almost a month and a half to complete the set-up for its Ebola treatment units in Liberia. Dan Lamothe for The Washington Post: “Army Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Williams [said] the 'lion’s share' of the treatment units will be complete by late November, with a few lagging into December… The United States has faced criticism for how long it has taken for it to send troops, but Williams defended the plan Wednesday. It made sense to perform on-the-ground assessments before growing the force, he said.” More here.
NEXT STORY: The Campaign Against ISIS Finally Has a Name