Ash takes over; Egypt bombs ISIS; A cease-fire grows ever more fragile; Why was corruption in Afghanistan ignored?; What is Plan X?; The top 10 mil sketches from SNL; And a bit more.
Today is Ash Carter’s first day as Pentagon chief. Carter, formerly the Penagon’s No. 2 before leaving that post more than a year ago, is back. Carter has wanted this job badly since the git-go, and now he has it and is not expected to be a placeholder secretary. Instead, Carter is thought to want to put his mark on the building and the department. He’ll likely focus on the budget—he’ll testify in coming weeks on that on Capitol Hill—but also on possibly tweaking drawdown plans for Afghanistan and on internal proposals to arm Ukraine.
But Carter, 60, is widely thought to not only bring new energy and ideas to the problems posed by global threats, but new street cred to the job as well. He has the strong backing of both Dems and Republicans on Capitol Hill and, presumably, at the White House. So expectations are high.
This morning, Carter will arrive around 8 a.m., climbing the stairs of the Pentagon’s River Entrance, which will likely be blanketed not with snow, but with salt, as Pentagon crews typically overdo it. Carter will first meet with the Pentagon’s top civilians, including his deputy, Bob Work, and the three service secretaries, the Navy’s Ray Mabus, the Army’s John McHugh, and the Air Force’s Debbie James.
Carter will then meet, one-on-one, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey. At 11 a.m. this morning, Carter will descend those River Entrance stairs once again, climb into a black Suburban, and go to the White House, where Vice President Joe Biden will administer the oath of office. Then Carter will meet privately, we’re told, with President Obama later in the afternoon. The “snow event” will disrupt some of what was likely planned for Carter’s first day. But here’s Carter’s message to the Department, we’re told, summed up, according to a senior defense official: “while the U.S. faces great turbulence and danger abroad, now is also the time for the nation to grab hold of opportunities.” Carter, we’re told, “comes prepared to make tough decisions to defend the country and support the men and women of the Department, while at the same time embracing change and building the force of the future.” More on all of this in coming days and weeks, right here at The D Brief.
Who else is doing what today? The White House’s three-day “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism” begins today… retired Marine Corps General James Jones, Jr., keynotes the Atlantic Council’s 11:30 a.m. discussion on “America’s Role in the World”... and later at 4 p.m., the Atlantic Council returns with retired (sort of) Gen. John Allen to talk “The Future of the Fight against ISIL: A Discussion with General John Allen.” More on that one, here.
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Meet the man from Tennessee once labeled “too moderate” and “too independent” who next week will chair the country’s new debate on war powers to fight ISIS. Defense One’s politics editor Molly O’Toole takes a closer look at Republican Sen. Bob Corker: “This is Corker—a careful and thoughtful counterweight to the jump-to-action style of the more hawkish members of his party. You won’t often see him on the Sunday shows, but quietly, behind closed doors, he’s the GOP senator with a direct line to the president…
“We’re dealing with ISIS, in a situation where there’s no longer a two-country issue. There are eight countries today in asymmetric type warfare, except that we have for the first time a terrorist group that’s able to occupy and hold territory,’ Corker said… From this perch, Corker will preside over the first full debate on war powers and U.S. military intervention in more than a decade. It’s a policy fight that could shape U.S. national security strategy beyond Obama’s last two years in office, for years to come....” Read the rest here.
Egypt has said it has bombed Islamic State targets in Libya after the video showing the apparent beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians. The BBC: “State TV said the dawn strikes had targeted camps, training sites and weapons storage areas. A second wave of strikes was reported hours later. Libyan officials said Egypt hit targets in the militant-held city of Derna. The strikes came amid widespread condemnation of the killings. The US and UN described them as ‘cowardly’.
“…The video of the beheadings was posted online by Libyan jihadists who pledge loyalty to IS. It was one of the first such videos to come from an IS group outside its core territory in Syria and Iraq.
The video describes the Copts as "crusaders" and refers among other things to two women, wives of Coptic priests, whose alleged conversion to Islam triggered a sectarian dispute in Egypt in 2010.
IS militants claim to have carried out several attacks in Libya, which in effect has rival governments.” More here.
Egypt wants a UN coalition to help attack and stabilize a Libya overrun with extremists. That after el-Sissi’s jets attacked ISIS training camps and weapons caches near Darna. AP from Cairo, here.
The Islamic State has secured a haven in Libya. The WSJ’s Yaroslav Trofimov: “Two rival governments in Libya have fought an increasingly bloody civil war since last summer, as the world paid little attention. While they battled for control of the country’s oil wealth, a third force—Islamic State—took advantage of the chaos to grow stronger.” More here.
The Obama White House recognizes that ISIS’ propaganda machine has been effective and is now “revamping its effort” to counter it, according to the NYT’s Eric Schmitt this morning: “…At the heart of the plan is expanding a tiny State Department agency, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, to harness all the existing attempts at countermessaging by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.
“…With the Islamic State and its supporters producing as many as 90,000 tweets and other social media responses every day, American officials acknowledge they have a tough job ahead to blunt the group’s digital momentum in the same way a United States-led air campaign has slowed ISIS’ advances on the battlefield in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, in Syria.”
Said Richard Stengel, the former managing editor of Time, who is now State’s under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, to Schmitt: “We’re getting beaten on volume, so the only way to compete is by aggregating, curating and amplifying existing content.” More here.
And more about that summit: As recently as four days ago, the agenda appeared hastily organized and fraught with gaps—and it was anyone’s guess if a delegation from Saudi Arabia or the UAE would even be attending, US News’ Paul Shinkman writes: “The White House first announced on Jan. 11 its plans for the summit, the same day 2 million people marched in Paris in solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks... Any success from the summit relies on whether those involved actually address the problems that not only threaten Muslims now, but reportedly only serve to advance recruitment to extremists like the Islamic State group or al-Qaida.” More here.
The skinny, from Defense One’s Molly O’Toole: “It’s all scheduled to begin this very snowy day with a focus largely on U.S. domestic counter-extremism. Vice President Biden kicks it off, and representatives from pilot programs to counter extremism in Boston, the Twin Cities, and the Los Angeles metro area will share what they've learned. On Wednesday, President Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Lisa Monaco, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, will speak. There will also be a sub-meeting on foreign fighters. More than 60 countries' representatives will participate and Susan Rice is slated to close out the summit with a few remarks.”
Keeping terrorism in perspective: The anger of the suspect in the Danish shooting was only loosely tied to Islam. Andrew Higgins and Melissa Eddy, in the NYT, here.
A “gulf of suspicion”: The U.S. has dropped more than 8,000 bombs and missiles on ISIS targets, but no civilian casualties? The LA Times’ Bill Hennigan: “…U.S. and coalition warplanes have dropped more than 8,200 guided bombs and missiles on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since last summer. With the latest surveillance and guidance systems, commanders say, they do more than ever before to prevent bombs from hitting a hospital or causing any sort of unintended fatalities that could bolster support for the Sunni Muslim extremists.
“…The Pentagon says it has seen no proof that civilians have been killed in more than 2,300 airstrikes on vehicles, gun emplacements, weapons depots and other military targets, including some in urban areas such as Raqqah and Aleppo in Syria.” Read the rest here.
Meantime, in Ukraine, a cease-fire looks increaingly fragile. The NYT’s Andrew Kramer: “The plight of as many as 8,000 Ukrainian troops trapped in the vicinity of Debaltseve, as well as the prospects for an already fragile truce, look decidedly dimmer on Monday after a Russian television correspondent strolled down what was supposed to be a hotly contested road.” More here.
“You first” is ruining another ceasefire. Separatists and Ukrainian soldiers are both waiting for the other side to move their heavy weaponry away from agreed-upon zones in accord with the peace plan drawn up last week in Minsk. Rebels reportedly call their stubbornness in fighting for the strategic railhub at Debaltseve a “moral thing.” Reuters’ Anton Zverev from Donetsk, here.
New this morning: Transparency International UK releases a report that explains just how corruption undermined the mission in Afghanistan. TI UK launches the report, at 9 a.m. today, that looks at Afghanistan’s corruption, why it was ignored for so long and what must be done to improve security assistance in the future. The report identifies some nine reasons why the international community was so slow to respond to the problem and identifies an “anti-corruption policy framework” to learn from past mistakes. If the U.S. is a “learning organization,” then policymakers would do well to click here today after 9 this morning.
Taliban suicide attackers killed 22 at a police HQs in Afghanistan's Logar province today while across the border in Pakistan, suicide bombers killed another 7 in Lahore. Reuters Mirwais Harooni from Kabul, here.
The FAA proposed new guidelines for civilian drone use on Sunday, and our tech editor Patrick Tucker rolls up its implications on the national security front, including the agency’s decision to stop short of mandating licenses for pilots: “Drone operators will have to get an ‘operator certificate,’ pass an aeronautical knowledge test and be at least 17 years old, but operators would not be required to get a full pilot license… If the FAA had mandated drone operators have a pilots license, then that could have triggered a fast exodus of drone pilots from the Air Force into the private sector where demand for qualified pilots would be enormous. The less strict qualification rules suggest that more people will be able to apply for drone pilot jobs and the most highly-qualified drone pilots in the military may elect to stay there.” Read the rest here.
The usual droning suspects. Who are the world’s most deadly drone powers today? From China integrating the devices into their A2/AD system, to Tehran punching above its weight while Israel makes enormous strides, The National Interest’s Robert Farley has more, here.
What is DARPA’s latest “Plan X”? Find out at The Christian Science Monitor’s impressive new digital security-themed project, Passcode, which launches today. CSM’s Sara Sorcher puts Plan X’s cost at close to $125 million as it hopes to mark “the first major attempt to create an actual online battle space and would fundamentally shift the way the military operates on the virtual battlefield.” Full story over here. It’s one of Passcode’s first new features designed to keep you current on all things related to security and privacy in the digital age, and it just went live right here.
“This is the big one!” Two days after SNL’s big 40th Anniversary show, here’s 10 of the best Saturday Night Live military sketches, compiled by “Under the Radar,” including our favorite, Kenan Thompson playing Colin Powell in a send-up of (kids, get out the Google) Redd Fox’s Sanford and Son. “This is the big one!” Click bait, here.
A Cameroon army colonel says he’s holding 1,000 Boko Haram suspects in a prison Maroua after killing another 86 of them in recent days. AFP, here. Niger police arrested another 160 Boko Haram suspects after their cross-border attacks less than two weeks ago. That, also from AFP, here.
Sad to be parting ways with Chuck Hagel at last? Task and Purpose’s Lauren Katzenberg has a festive distraction for you: 8 True Stories of Terrible Deployment Breakups, over here.
And Doctrine Man has these 10 lessons every incoming XO should know, here.
The VA’s new choice cards—a novel idea meant to reduce wait times—is hardly having the desired effect, veterans say. WaPo’s Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, here.
Mara Karlin starts today as the new DASD for Strategy and Force Development. From Pentagon Policy Chief Christine Wormuth’s e-mail to staff on Friday: “…Mara, too, is a terrific and deserving choice for DASD(SFD). She is well positioned for this important job which includes formulating the Quadrennial Defense Review and Defense Planning Guidance, assessing future national security challenges and risk management, developing long-term comprehensive strategies and force planning scenarios, coordinating Policy participation in the PPBE process, and coordinating global and internal policy planning… She remains an Adjunct Professor in Strategic Studies at SAIS. Her previous DoD experience includes serving as Special Assistant to USDP, Levant Country Director, and South Asia Specialist.”
A new report claims that the U.S. embedded spyware overseas. The NYT’s Nicole Perlroth and David Sanger: “The United States has found a way to permanently embed surveillance and sabotage tools in computers and networks it has targeted in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and other countries closely watched by American intelligence agencies, according to a Russian cybersecurity firm.
“In a presentation of its findings at a conference in Mexico on Monday, Kaspersky Labi, the Russian firm, said that the implants had been placed by what it called the “Equation Group,” which appears to be a veiled reference to the National Security Agency and its military counterpart, United States Cyber Command.” More here.
The decision to discharge soldiers from the Army now has to be made by a senior civilian in a move that will make it far more difficult to remove them from service. USA Today’s Tom Vanden Brook, here.
Your Tuesday #LongRead: Take this authoritative deep-dive into what makes ISIS tick—according to their diabolically faithful reading of Islam and how they view their role in a coming apocalypse—from The Atlantic’s contributing editor Graeme Wood, here.
NEXT STORY: The American Education of Vladimir Putin