The D Brief: Austin’s briefing won’t be televised; Former SEAL sues his lawyer; Death rate in Afg unsustainable; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson
A U.S. drone attack in northwestern Syria last night targeted alleged former French intel officer and Khorasan Group senior leader David Drugeon. Jennifer Griffin and Justin Fishel for Fox News on the known-knowns so far from that strike: “The drone struck a vehicle traveling in Syria's Idlib province that was believed to be carrying Drugeon. The driver of the vehicle is thought to have lost a leg and was expected to die, according to sources with knowledge of the operation. A second person thought to be Drugeon was killed, according to well-placed military sources. U.S. defense officials would only confirm that the US had carried out airstrikes against the Khorasan group Wednesday. The Pentagon is still carrying out bomb damage assessment following the strike and cannot confirm that Drugeon was killed.” More here.
Here’s a pretty hairy clip from AP on Iraqi troops fighting the Islamic State in Baiji earlier today, here.
Lloyd Austin will appear at The Atlantic Council this morning at 11 a.m. Gen. Austin, the commander of U.S. Central Command, will discuss the campaign against the Islamic State. CNN’s Jake Tapper will moderate the discussion with Austin.
But the cameras won’t be rolling when Gen. Austin speaks today. Although the event is on-the-record and was intended to be broadcast or at the very least live-streamed, Atlantic Council organizers now tell The D Brief they misunderstood the “ground rules” of the event and have had to ban any cameras. Other officials say Austin changed his mind about whether he wanted to appear on camera talking about the war. The event is still on the record, and media are invited to it, but it won’t be broadcast. Central Command officials said it was originally billed as a “scholarly event.”
From a spokesperson at CENTCOM to The D Brief this morning: “When asked by a major news network for permission to broadcast the event as an interview, we respectfully declined to preserve the original intent of the Atlantic Council's invitation and foster a thoughtful and scholarly think tank discussion off-camera."
If it was anyone else but Gen. Austin, it probably wouldn’t be noteworthy. But Austin, who really is on a very short list to replace Gen. Marty Dempsey as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff next year, is well-regarded but notoriously wary of the press, dodging reporters even in off-the-record settings. Austin, who did his first press briefing as Central Command commander last month at the Pentagon, is also the defacto commander of a war in Iraq and Syria that is costing American taxpayers more than $8 million per day. But it’s a war for which Obama administration officials have struggled to articulate a strategy—including Obama himself during a long press briefing yesterday. An event such as the one today would be seen normally as an opportunity for the experts—those in uniform—to provide the public an assessment of the war and explain the military’s approach. Limiting camera time means there is far less exposure for the military to explain its strategy. Event deets here.
ISIS undercut America’s Sunni Iraq allies in “the most successful assassination campaign since the Viet Cong’s attack on the Diem government in 1959-1960,” writes Craig Whiteside in an intriguing two-part series over at War on the Rocks. Part one on the counter “awakening,” here. Part two on Baghdadi & Co.’s path from prison to rulers went live today, and you can find that here.
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In Defense One: Obama seeks new war powers to fight the Islamic State. Defense One’s Molly O’Toole: “…In announcing his strategy to 'degrade and ultimately destroy' the Islamic State in September, Obama said, 'I’m confident that I have the authorization that I need to protect the American people.' But as the operation against the Islamic State expanded, the administration then said it was relying on the 2001 AUMF, as well as the 2002 AUMF, both over a decade old.” Read her story here.
The ominous War Powers debate is about to get interesting - at the Defense One Summit this month. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who long have called for a new AUMF, are confirmed to appear on stage at the Defense One Summit Wednesday, Nov. 19 to talk war powers in the age of terrorism along with politics reporter Molly O'Toole. Check out the burgeoning lineup—featuring Dempsey, Odierno, Sam Power and more—here.
Deployed right now? Your photo or short video could make it to the massive “jumbo-tron” (Cleveland calls theirs the “Humongatron”) hi-def TV screen during next Monday’s “Hoops for Troops” event with Lebron James and the rest of the Cleveland Cavs. Photos need #CavsSalute and #HoopsForTroops hashtags, and videos—none longer than 15 seconds—can be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org
Afghan forces’ casualties are not sustainable. Defense One’s own Watson has this piece: “This past year has been shaky for Afghanistan. The massive NATO drawdown is well under way. Former President Hamid Karzai is out and a new president now shares the spotlight in Kabul along with his election rival. But the greatest and most telling development this year could be the unprecedented scale of casualties that Afghan army and police are taking as they transition from ‘in the lead to full responsibility for Afghanistan’s security in 2015. It’s the sort of pressure on the force that a top U.S. general in Afghanistan flagged Wednesday as ‘unsustainable.’”
The ANSF has sustained about a 6.5 percent increase in casualties this year—4,634 versus 4,350 killed in action, Anderson said.
Anderson, to reporters yesterday: “They do need to decrease their casualty rate… Those numbers are not sustainable in the long term…” Full transcript of briefing, here.
The drawdown in Afghanistan has created a “Mount Trash-more” at Bagram Airfield. AFP has this: “More than 2,000 buildings will be destroyed by December, with a final 500 torn down by contractors next year after the US military engineers have left... Dubbed ‘Mount Trash-more’ after Mount Rushmore—the US mountain carved into the faces of former presidents—the dump is opened to Afghan companies who salvage what they can from the debris.” More here.
Also in Defense One: Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s “Weapons Man,” doesn’t buy rumors of sequestration’s repeal. Our own Marcus Weisgerber, here.
Meantime, “No Easy Day” author Mark Owen/Matt Bissonnette is suing his own lawyer for $8 million. Owen/Bissonnette, the former SEAL who used an alias to write the book about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, claims his attorney Kevin Podlaski, advised him not to allow the Pentagon to do a security review of the book—a decision which has landed Owen/Bissonnette in much hot water, since he now owes the government $4.5 million for writing the book on the raid without the proper clearances from the Pentagon. The legal complaint provided to The D Brief, here.
The name is out on the SEAL who actually killed bin Laden. Meghann Myers for Military Times: “Robert O’Neill, a SEAL turned public speaker, has been named by the UK’s Daily Mail and the special operations community blog SOFrep.com as the member of SEAL Team 6 who fired the shots that killed bin Laden in a May 2011 raid on his compound in Abottabad, Pakistan.”… O’Neill and his family decided to reveal his role in the Navy SEAL’s most storied raid despite the risks. Tom O’Neill, Robert’s father, told the Mail Online, “People are asking if we are worried that ISIS will come and get us because Rob is going public. I say I’ll paint a big target on my front door and say come and get us.” More here.
Washington denies a role in the unrest in Yemen, the NYTs, here.
The U.S. sends a Kuwaiti detainee home from Gitmo after 13 years. ABC this morning, here.
President Obama requested $6 billion to fight Ebola, the NYT, here.
Who's doing what today? Gen. Marty Dempsey is at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in NYC speaking on ethics and the arms profession at 9:30 a.m. … President Obama to award a posthumous Medal of Honor to Civil War-era Army First. Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing for his actions as commanding officer of Battery A, 4th United States Artillery, Artillery Brigade, 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac during combat operations in the vicinity of Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. Cushing gets his due at 11:45 a.m…. There's also an evening “A Salute to the Troops: In Performance at the White House” with the prez & vice + spouses. The lineup there includes Mary J. Blige, Common, John Fogerty, Willie Nelson--as well as active duty Army Sgt. Christiana R. Ball, Marine Corps Captains Matt Smith and John Ed Auer. The band Daughtry is also expected to perform via satellite from a USO concert at Yokota Air Base in Japan. All that stuff can be live-streamed at the White House's website starting at 7:25 p.m.
Fears rise among U.S. pilots that China’s J-31 stealth fighter jet will best the F-35. U.S. Naval Institute’s Dave Mujamdar has this preview of next week’s Zhuhai international airshow: “’They’re still in the glossy brochure phase of development, so they still look ten feet tall and bulletproof,’ one senior U.S. fighter pilot familiar with the F-35 program told USNI News. ‘I think they’ll eventually be on par with our fifth gen jets—as they should be, because industrial espionage is alive and well.’” More here.
The More You Know: The D Brief got this over the transom from the Air Force but it’s kind of interesting if you’re wondering what it’s up to when it comes to the Air Force and Iraq and Syria.
Nuggets: The Air Force is conducting nearly 70 percent of the missions and 60 percent of the strikes against the Islamic State;
And as of Oct. 30: Air Force aircraft have flown more than 66 percent of the more than 7,500 sorties supporting operations in Iraq and Syria since Aug 8. (4,989 of the 7,541 sorties = 66 percent).
The Air Force has conducted approximately 60 percent of the approximately 850 strikes in Iraq and Syria, including the majority of the strikes in Syria (496 of the 849 = 58 percent);
The Air Force has flown 95 percent of the more than 2,500 tanker sorties that are considered essential to the range and persistence of the current ops, and approximately 1,100 Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or ISR, sorties (2,519 tanker sorties and 1,125 ISR sorties).
And points to whomever can help Defense News' Paul McLeary with whatever in the world is on the hood of this Iraqi security forces humvee.
Obama’s Democratic defeat Tuesday reinforces the views of a declining U.S. global role. The WaPo’s Griff Witte and Anna Fifield in London: “A Republican romp in U.S. midterm elections that was built in part on American anxiety about an increasingly dangerous world prompted concerns from overseas Wednesday that President Obama’s global role will only be further diminished.
“With little prospect of an end to Washington gridlock on major domestic issues, Obama will have no shortage of foreign crises to turn to, including Russian advances in Ukraine, the disintegrating order in the Middle East and the threat of a spreading Ebola virus.
“But from London to Tokyo, observers said the bruising defeats suffered by Obama’s Democratic allies will probably leave him with less clout to navigate global troubles—and could add to a leadership void that Republicans seized on to help gain advantage with voters.” More here.
The U.S. military has a creeping readiness problem, and it’s time the new Congress own up to it, argues Mackenzie Eaglen at Real Clear Defense: “The danger of being unready or unable to respond to contingencies is a problem now—not tomorrow… Pilots in a conflict zone or high-tension area are getting the staff and parts needed to keep jets in the sky. But those not deploying anytime soon are forced to sit idle alongside their parked aircraft and wait… The same challenge of AARP-eligible fleets and maintenance shortages applies acutely to the U.S. Air Force… Crew shortfalls, maintenance backlogs and unrelenting demand mean the U.S. Navy is increasingly becoming what one commander labeled a ‘two-tiered fleet divided between manned and trained ships—and everyone else.’” More here.
Was JSOC initially taken for a ride on a Bergdahl ransom? The Hill’s Kristina Wong: “In a Nov. 5 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, [Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.] wrote "it has been brought to my attention that a payment was made to an Afghan intermediary who 'disappeared' with the money and failed to facilitate Bergdahl's release in return." More from Hunter—who also penned an op-ed for us on the need for a better hostage response mechanism than what failed journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley—from The Hill, here.
Iraq doesn’t want your foreign fighters—but it is open to sending its troops abroad for training. Military Times with more, here.
On the evolving (and retreating) tactics of ISIS as they try to escape the dark shadow of coalition airstrikes. Ben Hubbard for NYT in Baghdad: “Across the territories the Islamic State holds, the group has overhauled its operations. Bases and hospitals have been evacuated and moved to civilian homes that are harder to identify and bomb, Iraqi officials said. Fighters who used to cross the desert in convoys now move in small groups or by motorcycle... In Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, ground forces have cut the group’s supply lines and killed a number of its local leaders with the help of tips from angry residents, security officials there said, speaking on condition of anonymity under government protocols." However… "While airstrikes have weakened the Islamic State, its adaptations will make it even harder to fight without effective ground troops." More here.
Hashtag Bourbon Summit: A shout-out yesterday to Kentucky bourbon from the Prez himself. Obama was asked yesterday at the press briefing whether he'd have that drink with Sen. Mitch McConnell he promised back in 2013's WH Correspondents Dinner. “Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress. ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask,” he told the audience. "You know, actually, I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell," Obama said yesterday. "I don’t know what his preferred drink is, but..." The good folks on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail were quick to snag this one, tweeting out: "We are ready to serve our country and help with the #Bourbon summit with Pres. Obama and Sen. McConnell."