Welsh’s nuclear concerns; At last—a breakthrough on Iran; Airstrikes in Yemen making a difference?; No mercy in Tikrit; ‘Make a hole’; And a bit more.
The U.S. will up its contributions to the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis by providing aerial refueling for combat jets conducting airstrikes in Yemen, according to a senior military official via AFP’s Dan De Luce: “The U.S. military's Central Command (CENTCOM) has been given the green light to deploy refueling tankers for the Saudis and their Gulf partners in the operation, though the refueling will take place outside of Yemen's airspace, the official told reporters.”
“The Saudis are expected to reimburse the U.S. military for the cost of the refueling missions once they begin. So far, the U.S. had only provided intelligence. The U.S. is not providing coordinates for airstrikes, but is sending Saudi broader intelligence… The United States was delivering intelligence from surveillance satellites and aircraft to help the Saudis monitor their border and to track the location of [Houthi] rebel forces as they push south, the official said.” More here.
And more on Yemen below.
The Air Force wants more a bigger voice in the Pentagon’s nuclear arena, Defense News’ Aaron Mehta reports. “We lead and execute two thirds of the nuclear triad, for Christ's sake,” Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, told an Air Force Association breakfast. “We should be in the middle of the policy debates on this issue.” Mehta notes: “Welsh's comments on the need to maintain a strong voice on nuclear issues comes as the service is gearing up to award a contract on its next-generation bomber sometime this summer.” More here.
Last month, an Air Force general said the Pentagon has done a bad job defending the nuclear triad, which consists of Air Force bombers and ICBMs and Navy submarines. The Air Force has been working to clean up its nuclear image following an embarrassing scandal in which officers who oversee ICBMs cheated on proficiency tests.
Welsh also disputed a blogger’s account of a recent visit he made to Creech Air Force Base, the home to the Air Force’s drone operations. Air Force Times’ Jeff Schogol: “Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh angrily pushed back against criticism that he is not taking the problems facing drone pilots seriously.” More here.
Defense One will be hosting a breakfast with Welsh on April 22, and you’re invited. More info on that one here.
Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief, by Marcus Weisgerber with Ben Watson. Gordon Lubold returns Monday, so this is goodbye from the W2 team of Weisgerber and Watson.
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Under the Radar: President Obama appointed Lisa Disbrow the acting Air Force undersecretary on Monday. Disbrow is the Air Force’s comptroller, a role she will also remain in. She replaces Eric Fanning who is now Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s chief of staff. For nearly 10 months spanning parts 2012 and 2013, Jamie Morin served as the acting Air Force undersecretary while he was also the service’s comptroller. More here.
For the first time in three decades, a U.S. president was shown live on Iranian TV yesterday as a breakthrough framework accord was finally reached on Tehran’s nuclear program. WaPo’s Carol Morello: “Iran agreed in principle to accept significant restrictions on its nuclear facilities for at least a decade and submit to international inspections under a framework deal announced Thursday after months of contentious negotiations with the United States and other world powers.
“The limitations would produce a one-year ‘breakout’ period, meaning it would take Iran a full year to build up enough material to build one nuclear warhead, compared with current estimates of two to three months, officials said. Many sanctions initially would be suspended, rather than lifted permanently as Iran sought, so they could be “snapped back” into place if Iran was discovered to be cheating, the officials said.
“While the negotiations will continue through June, much of the attention will now shift to the White House and its defense of the negotiations, both in classified briefings to Congress and in public arenas.” More here.
NYT’s Michael Gordon and David Sanger on the wider diplomatic considerations: “…Mr. Obama, in a phone call today to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, invited Arab leaders to Camp David this spring to discuss Iran and the turmoil in the region. Analysts have long been worried that Saudi Arabia and other Arab states might mount their own nuclear programs if they decide that Iran is being allowed to retain too much of its nuclear infrastructure… [Israel’s Benjamin] Netanyahu, a strong critic of the deal, was apparently not mollified, and released a statement saying, ‘A deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel.’
“Now, attention will shift to Mr. Obama and Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, who was elected on a platform of ending sanctions. They share a common task: selling the agreement at home to constituencies deeply suspicious of both the deal and the prospect of signing any accord with an avowed enemy.” More here.
WSJ’s Jay Solomon and Carol Lee on what the Obama administration conceded to arrive at Thursday’s breakthrough, here.
The U.S. military has placed a small group of officers in an air operations center in Riyadh to coordinate operations with the Saudi air force, AP’s Bob Burns reports, here.
So are those Saudi airstrikes making any progress—since after nine nights of bombings, Houthi militants continue to make advances? NYT’s David Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim: “Thursday, Houthi fighters captured a presidential palace in the southern port of Aden, killed a Saudi soldier in a skirmish at the border and wounded five others. Islamist militants, meanwhile, capitalized on the chaos caused by the airstrikes to free a leader of Al Qaeda and hundreds of others from prison and to partly seize control of a crucial city in the south.” The Times’ piece focuses on the man overseeing the Saudi-led campaign, King Salman’s son Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s defense minister and chief of the royal court.
Kirkpatrick and Fahim: “The Saudi government has not disclosed Prince Mohammed’s precise age, but he is believed to be around 30. He was one of the only men in his generation of the royal family to be educated entirely in Saudi Arabia, with no schooling abroad.” More here.
Meanwhile in Tikrit, Iraqi soldiers show ISIS no mercy at all—and aren’t keen on crediting U.S. airstrikes, in case anyone’s asking, NYT’s Rod Nordland reports on location: ““Yes, the international coalition helped, but not really in a good way,” [Muen al-Khadimy, one of the popular mobilization’s top leaders and a senior official in the Badr Organization] said. ‘Without them, we would have liberated Tikrit by Tuesday. They caused a big confusion with our plan.’ …Journalists were not free to roam the city, and even a promised visit to a mass grave of Iraqi air force cadets was canceled without explanation.
“There were no Islamic State prisoners taken at all in the recent fight, said Mr. Khadimy, the senior Badr official. ‘To be honest, everywhere we captured them we killed them because they were the enemy,’ he said. Then, perhaps realizing how that sounded, he explained that any ISIS fighters who were about to be captured were assumed to be suicide bombers, so they were killed as a precaution.” More here.
CNN’s Arwa Damon filmed Iraqi militiamen holding a decapitated ISIS militant’s head as they danced and cheered the Tikrit advance. That graphic video, here.
U.S. military officials are monitoring the behavior of Iraqi forces in Tikrit, they tell AFP’s Dan De Luce as Amnesty International said it has launched an investigation into the alleged human rights violations from the recent offensive. That, here.
The death count from al-Shabab’s Thursday attack on a Kenyan university has risen to nearly 150 in a growing indication that terrorists are increasingly targeting schools and students across the world. The Atlantic’s David Graham, in Defense One, here.
BBC’s Africa editor Mary Harper with a bit on how al-Shabab have become dangerously media savvy, from PRI’s The World, here.
The F-35 may have just cleared another hurdle, Aviation Week’s Guy Norris and Amy Butler report on the heels of the JSF’s recent air-to-air combat maneuvers against F-16s. That, here.
A research paper published in the journal Science three years ago solved the riddle of how H5N1, or bird flu, became airborne in humans. Little did they know that paper would revolutionize the way nations around the world approached bioterrorism. Defense One’s tech editor Patrick Tucker with more: “Military leaders are fond of saying that they don’t want to ever find themselves in a fair fight – they always want the advantage. In the context of biological threats, that means understanding how to weaponize Ebola even if international laws and treaties, like the Geneva Convention, prohibit the use of such weapons in the field.
“The H5N1 case shows how a once-difficult challenge is becoming exponentially easier because published results move so quickly in the age of digital interconnection, according to Gaymon Bennett, an Arizona State University religious studies professor and biotechnology expert who has written extensively on synthetic biology.
“‘It took specialized facilities and millions of dollars’ for University of Wisconsin researchers to figure out how create the amino acid sequence that would allow the virus to reproduce in mammal lungs, he said. “But once you publish the sequences … once they’ve done that work, it would take a competent physician a few thousand dollars and few weeks to reproduce the result.” Read the rest, in this visually-striking interactive, here.
A2/AD—for Europe? As NATO and Pentagon planners begin to envision conflict with Russia in Europe’s east, they must focus on Moscow’s growing A2/AD capabilities and move quickly to apply the lessons from Asia. CNAS’s Richard Fontaine and Julianna Smith writing in Defense One: “Russia’s ability to contest the landmass in Europe’s east may actually exceed China’s capacity to keep American forces away from thousands of miles of coastline... the West needs to prepare for a scenario in which it is denied access to the countries on NATO’s eastern flank long enough to establish facts on the ground that would be hard, and perhaps impossible, to reverse.
“If the fighting in Ukraine is any example, we could expect Russia to move quickly to seize railheads, as it has done in Debaltseve, and to contest airspace, as separatists have done in downing Ukrainian aircraft.” Read the rest, here.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea has not encouraged but rather complicated China’s opposition to secessionist movements, writes former intel analyst Gabriel Alvarado at the intelligence and natsec blog OvertAction, here.
Naturally, Japan also has serious concerns over the buildup in the South China Sea, The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp reports ahead of SecDef Ash Carter’s trip to Asia next week. That, here.
ICYMI: The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Harry Harris, Jr., said this week China’s “Great Wall of Sand” in the South China Sea is significantly escalating the possibility of military confrontation in the region. WaPo’s Simon Denyer from Beijing, here.
Thailand’s junta chief lifted martial law this week—but says he will not tolerate criticism of his army as they maintain their grip on power that appears to be tightening. Reuters from Bangkok: “The ruling junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, lifted martial law late on Wednesday and in its place invoked Section 44 of the interim constitution... The junta has pushed back a general election promised for 2015 to 2016... The special security measures will continue to outlaw political gatherings and will allow authorities to censor the media. Those who take part in political gatherings of more than five people can be sentenced to up to six months in prison.” More here.
See also: The Council on Foreign Relations’ Joshua Kurlantzick has a bit more on what’s at stake for coup leader-turned prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government, here.
The Big Takeaway from the White House’s reversal this week sending arms to Egypt: Shifting Egypt’s U.S. weapons buys from “cash-flow financing” to a debit out of their annual defense allocation signals the biggest shift in Washington’s security relationship with Cairo since 1979, the German Marshall Fund’s Derek Chollet writes in Defense One: “The Egyptians have long valued cash-flow financing. Beyond the prestige, it has allowed them to modernize their military and purchase major weapons over the course of several years. The problem with cash-flow financing has been how it limits the United States. This is unsustainable given the political winds that now buffet both sides.
“In order to preserve the relationship, future presidents need greater flexibility in how they can manage the assistance. The decision to wind down cash-flow financing over the next several years is a way to do it.” More here.
Pakistani officials quietly flew an American once believed to have been a top al-Qaeda operative—and also someone who managed to find his way on a so-called Pentagon “kill list” in 2013—to the U.S. to face terrorism charges. WaPo’s Adam Goldman with more on that, here.
Bowe Bergdahl’s Article 32 hearing is now scheduled for July 8, WaPo’s Dan Lamothe reports, here.
Because it’s Friday: Here’s “Drug deal,” “make a hole,” “nut-to-butt” and 6 other military terms that will make you sound like a bit of lunatic around civilians, from the military blog We Are the Mighty, here.
"If the military wanted you to have a family, they'd issue you one." Former Cavalry officer Joe Byerly—responding to a recent article in Task & Purpose on the effect the military has on servicemembers’ children—says the impact of military service on marriages deserves closer attention as well. And he shares some of his own principles for “nurturing the homestead.” Read that one, here.
Your weekend headscratcher: Why is Obama keeping four seconds of Nixon-era tape secret? Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio investigates, here.