White House officials yesterday played down expectations for Wednesday’s summit of Arab leaders at Camp David, Md., after Saudi Arabia announced Sunday that its King Salman would no longer attend. Regional leaders previously signaled a desire for U.S. defense guarantees similar to what Washington recently signed with Tokyo. Instead, administration officials are now indicating the results of the two-day summit are likely to include promises to increase joint military exercises and build closer military-to-military relationships, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Carol Lee and Jay Solomon.
But despite the appearance of diplomatic turmoil as Riyadh steps up its role in regional security, the Saudis are still “almost entirely reliant on Washington for their security,” writes The New York Times’ Ben Hubbard. How reliant? Of the $500 billion Riyadh has spent on its military in the last two decades, nearly 75 percent has gone to the U.S.
State Secretary John Kerry landed in Russia’s coastal city of Sochi a short while ago where he’ll hold his first direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin since May 2013. Atop the agenda: pressuring east Ukraine separatists to comply with the Minsk 2 ceasefire signed in February; prodding Putin’s allegiance to Syria’s Assad regime in the hopes of framing some sort of political transition there; the crises in Libya and Yemen; and Kerry’s expected to ask Moscow not to provide Tehran with its S-300 missile system. AP and Reuters have more.
The Saudi-led coalition continued to hammer Houthi positions overnight in Yemen roughly 12 hours before a ceasefire is set to begin (at 4 p.m. EDT), Reuters reports this morning. The 10-nation coalition hit a probable arms depot in Sana’a yesterday sending an epic ball of fire skyward that multiple witnesses captured on their mobile phones. The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor compiled some of the footage here. A bit more on Yemen below.
From Defense One
By backing his brother’s 2003 Iraq invasion, GOP 2016 hopeful Jeb Bush is betting the American public is ready to move on—even as he stays quiet on what exactly the U.S. should do next. Politics reporter Molly O’Toole has more on the common ground Bush said Monday unites both he and Hillary Clinton.
Moscow’s VE Day celebrations brought together the Chinese and Russian presidents in a public display punctuating nearly three-dozen bilateral agreements the two world powers finalized last week, including a non-aggression cyber pact. The Atlantic’s Matt Schiavenza has more.
And Beijing’s military just warned its soldiers “smart,” wearable technology—like the new Apple Watch, for example—could easily transmit military secrets. Quartz’s Nikhil Sonnad has that one.
The same federal appeals court that ruled the NSA’s domestic metadata surveillance program illegal also offered clues as to how Congress and the White House can keep the intent of the program alive while not violating the Constitution. The Council on Foreign Relations’ David Fidler explains.
What are the dominant themes out of Washington this week? The Pentagon’s budget and Middle East strategy, writes National Journal’s Fawn Johnson rolling up the agendas out of the White House and Capitol Hill.
Welcome to Tuesday's edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Defense One. If you'd like to subscribe to The D Brief, click here or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to view it in your browser, you can do that, here.
Ahead of this afternoon’s (possible) ceasefire in Yemen, both sides appear to be establishing contingency plans should the other side fail to hold its fire. Saudi Arabia dispatched a “strike force” of tanks and artillery to Yemen’s border yesterday after Houthi rebels vowed renewed violence if coalition airstrikes continue this afternoon or at any point in the next five days of the ceasefire. That vow comes after Houthis yesterday took responsibility for the downing of a Moroccan F-16 with anti-aircraft artillery near a mountainous region bordering Saudi Arabia. The downing could force a significant strategy shift from Riyadh in the coming days, WaPo’s Erin Cunningham and Brian Murphy report.
The Houthis are sending children to transport ammo to fighters and to remove the killed and maimed from the battlefield, Human Rights Watch said in a report released this morning.
The Syrian army is in the middle of a huge counteroffensive to retake the northwestern rebel-held town of Jisr al-Shughur near the Turkish border. AFP’s Sammy Katz from Beirut.
And in Ankara, Turkey’s foreign minister said “technical reasons,” and not any wrinkles in Turkish-American relations, are behind further delays to the Pentagon’s training of moderate Syrian rebels there.
Meantime in Iraq, the Baghdad government distributed U.S. weapons meant for Sunni fighters to Shiite militias instead, allegedly delaying further any possible operation to retake the strategy city of Mosul, The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp reports.
The UN may not be able to ban nuclear weapons in the Middle East as soon as Egypt would like after Cairo yesterday demanded the resignation of the chief coordinator for the talks. Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau has more.
More than 200 Russian soldiers have died from fighting in eastern Ukraine, according to the just-released report compiled by the late Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead in Moscow in February, the AP reports this morning.
“According to Nemtsov's sources, at least 150 Russian soldiers died in August 2014. Their relatives received 2 million rubles (now worth about $40,000) in compensation and signed non-disclosure documents. Around 70 Russian soldiers died in January and February in fighting around the city of Debaltseve, the report said, adding that their family members were unable to receive compensation and appealed to Nemtsov for help.”
About 300 U.S. troops and their 14 Bradley fighting vehicles are on Russia’s doorstep for a two-week training exercise in Georgia to illustrate, in part, that the U.S. and its partners “can use the Black Sea as a transit corridor.” NYT’s Andrew Roth has more from Georgia’s Vaziani Military Base.
In mid-2017, the Air Force’s Special Operations Command will begin keeping a squadron of CV-22 Ospreys at Yokota Air Base in Japan, the Pentagon announced yesterday. The move is designed as a follow-up to the enhanced defense agreement Tokyo and Washington finalized in April. More from Air Force Times’ Brian Everstine.
Japan is stepping up its regional alliance activity in and around the South China Sea. The Philippines and Japan held their first joint naval exercises there today, and naval training with Vietnam is scheduled to begin this week, too. Reuters has more.
Manila’s armed forces chief, meanwhile, is eyeing a naval base opposite the disputed Spratly Islands, and he’s extending advance invitations to the U.S., Vietnam and Japan once it’s up and running—which could be a long way off yet.
Nation-states could begin turning to proxies to carry out cyber attacks, the NSA’s Adm. Michael Rogers warned yesterday at a cybersecurity event at George Washington University. FCW’s Sean Lyngaas has more.
Speaking of future threats—is Congress even paying attention to warnings from the intelligence community regarding threats to the U.S. homeland? Former CIA counterterrorism analyst Aki Peritz investigates in the columns of WaPo.
About that Sy Hersh article—the White House called Hersh’s alleged exposé of the Osama bin Laden raid "riddled with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods," the AP reports.
And Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell says Hersh’s reporting doesn’t pass the smell test either, saying of Pakistani intelligence: “Because we couldn’t trust them, we couldn’t tell them.” More on the Morell angle from Politico’s Bryan Bender and Phil Ewing.