2 Americans shot dead in Jordan; Bridging the US-Israeli divide; The Pentagon’s quest for bionic soldiers; Yemen war draining anti-ISIS resources; And a bit more.
Two Americans dead, one injured in Amman this morning, ABC reports. A Jordanian police officer “went on a shooting spree…at a U.S.-funded facility for training Iraqi and Palestinian security forces at the facility in Muaqar on the eastern outskirts of the capital … before committing suicide,” Reuters reports. AP adds a South African trainer was also killed in the attack. Fox News is reporting the two Americans killed were contractors with the State Department.
In Egypt, investigators said Sunday they are “90 percent sure” a bomb brought down the Russian flight out of a resort town that killed all on board when it crashed in the Sinai more than a week ago. “‘The indications and analysis so far of the sound on the black box indicate it was a bomb,’ said the Egyptian investigation team member,” Reuters reported. “Lead investigator Ayman al-Muqaddam announced on Saturday that the plane appeared to have broken up in mid-air while it was being flown on auto-pilot, and that a noise had been heard in the last second of the cockpit recording. But he said it was too soon to draw conclusions about why the plane crashed.”
Not that that stopped Russia from suspending tourism flights from Egypt on Friday to evacuate some 11,000 Russian vacationers from the resort town over the weekend following the advice of Moscow’s intelligence chief.
Consensus is turning among once-reticent U.S. lawmakers as “a growing body of evidence” suggests it was in fact a bomb that brought down the plane, the New York Times reports from the Sunday talk show rounds.
“I think there’s a growing body of intelligence and evidence that this was a bomb—still not conclusive—but a growing body of evidence,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“Right now all the evidence points” to the Islamic State’s involvement, Rep. Peter King, R-NY, added.
While the evidence is still anything but conclusive, Russian and Egypt investigators remain in the lead—and Moscow has reportedly requested the FBI’s assistance.
But U.S. lawmakers are also keying in on the possibility a bomb made it onto the plane “with the help of somebody on the inside,” Schiff said. And that could mean “there are probably at least a dozen airports in the region and beyond that are vulnerable to the same kind of approach, which is exactly why we have to harden [airport security] defenses.” More here.
And Egypt on Sunday arrested one of its own journalists for allegedly publishing false news and “insulting the military” in the process. The journalist, Hossam Bahgat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, “investigated the low-key convictions of 26 military officers accused of having plotted a coup against the current government. The report raised questions about possible dissent in the ranks and about potential retribution against officers who had crossed the secret police.” That story, here.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes his first visit to the White House in more than a year today. Despite Bibi and Obama’s very public divergence of views on the Iran nuclear deal, the U.S. and Israel are far closer than many folks realize, Obama’s former Middle East policy chief at the Pentagon, Matt Spence, writes in Defense One.
The best fix for this rocky relationship “lies in reinventing the most solid foundation that exists between both countries—the U.S.-Israeli defense and intelligence partnership—through three new areas of cooperation,” writes Spence.
One involves kick-starting a kind of tech innovation race; another dives into benefits of “a quiet trilateral security dialogue with Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia in a third country like Jordan.” There’s no shortage of pressing topics to discuss, but a focus on common threats is a great start: “the impact of the Islamic State and instability on Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon,” for example. “Russia’s new military action; security cooperation with Egypt; and Iranian threats in Yemen, Syria, and beyond.”
The third and final area of cooperation is arguably the most urgent, and you’ll find that in Spence’s entire take here.
Pairing Humans With Robots. That’s the plan for the Pentagon’s third offset, its strategy to best Russia and China on the battlefield of the future. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work laid out the oft-mentioned project at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley over the weekend. “The way we will go after human-machine collaboration is allowing the machine to help humans make better decisions, faster,” Work said.
Humans and machines working more closely together will help soldier make decisions faster, which could prove particularly useful in scenarios, including defending against missile attacks where there is little time to react, Work told Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber who traveled with him to the west coast for the event. More here.
Speaking of Russia, the Pentagon is “making a number of moves in response, many but not all of which I can describe in this forum,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said alluding to classified battle plans and weapon projects. It is also “updating and advancing our operational plans for deterrence and defense.”
Rubbing Elbows—The Reagan forum is an event widely attended by Pentagon, congressional and industry leaders. In fact, some industry CEOs flew to Simi Valley for the forum on Saturday and then straight to Dubai for the massive air show there, which kicked off on Sunday.
The Metrojet 9268 crash in Sinai was a topic talked about on an off the stage at the forum. Virtually everyone believes a bomb placed on the plane by an insider is cause. “It’s my judgment, and I think all of the indicators point to the fact, that it was a bomb put on the airplane by ISIS based,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told reporters. “If it is an ISIS bomb, which I think is likely, then the implications are extraordinary,” he said. McCaul and others said that if ISIS is responsible it marks an escalation in the militant group’s capabilities. “It should be a wake-up call that people should recognize how the ISIS ability has spread,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.
Like those business execs, let’s go from Simi Valley to Dubai, briefly, where China is shopping its J-31 stealth fighter. But, there no one seems to want it. From Defense News: Top company officials briefed the media on the stealth characteristics and attack capabilities of the [J-31], but did not take questions from the audience.” More here. And more from Dubai below.
From Defense One
Washington’s Arab allies would be wise to sharpen the ranks of their armies and special operations troops instead of amassing a fleet of “fancy” jets, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in a recent interview.
“It is apparent to us, and we are trying to make it apparent to the Gulf states, and some of them understand this—the United Arab Emirates is one that understands—that the reason they lack influence, and feel they lack influence in circumstances like Iraq and Syria, with [ISIS], is that they have weighted having high-end air-force fighter jets and so forth over the hard business of training and disciplining ground forces and special-operations forces,” said Carter. That interview in full, here.
With recent past as a guide, Boeing and Lockheed Martin’s protest of the Pentagon’s secretive $80 billion new bomber contract with Northrop Grumman will likely lead nowhere. “With so much riding on the contract, it was expected the Boeing-Lockheed team would ask for the review,” Global Business Reporter Weisgerber writes. “Bid protests are up sharply since 2001, when companies protested 603 Pentagon contract awards. That number jumped to 1,365 in 2013,” according to data from Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall. Despite protests spiking right around 2009—when defense spending peaked—the number of protests upheld by the federal government has actually dropped. More here.
Welcome to the Monday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know: email@example.com.
The U.S. military says it’s poised to ramp up its airstrikes against ISIS after a perceived lull since Russia entered the battlespace, the Wall Street Journal reported from the biannual Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference on Saturday. “The slowdown of U.S. airstrikes coincided with Russia’s deployment of combat jets to Syria and the launching of its own airstrikes. But U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Brown Jr. said that had ‘nothing to do’ with the U.S. efforts.”
But Washington’s Arab allies in the region are a bit distracted by a neighboring war to contribute more to Iraq and Syria, NYTs’ Eric Schmitt and Michael Gordon reported Saturday from the $60 million U.S. command center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
The tally: “So far, eight Arab and Western allies have conducted about 5 percent of the 2,700 airstrikes in Syria, compared with 30 percent of the 5,100 strikes in Iraq…The United Arab Emirates last carried out strikes in Syria in March; Jordan in August; and Saudi Arabia in September, according to information provided by allied officials last week. But the Arab allies insist they are still playing an essential, if less active, military role in the war.”
Sidenote on the ISIS war: Buried in the defense budget is some $5 million to pay the families of Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. airstrikes. TDB’s Kate Brannen explains why this is more problematic than it may at first seem (hint: admissions of such deaths have so far been alarmingly scant; that could soon change, Brannen writes).
About that other war: “Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shifted most of their aircraft to their fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Jordan, reacting to the grisly execution of one of its pilots by the Islamic State, and in a show of solidarity with the Saudis, has also diverted combat flights to Yemen. Jets from Bahrain last struck targets in Syria in February, coalition officials said. Qatar is flying patrols over Syria, but its role has been modest.”
And the Brits are “letting down” their allies by dragging their feet on airstrikes in Syria, General Nicholas Houghton, the head of Britain’s armed forces said Sunday. “In the most simplistic way it's like being asked to win a football match but not being able to go into the opponents' half," he said. What’s the hold-up? Gaining enough consensus in the House of Commons. More from the BBC, here.
Speaking of consensus: U.S. lawmakers could be on the verge of their first war vote in 13 years. That as a bipartisan group of 35 House submitted a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., to schedule a debate on new war powers to fight the Islamic State “as quickly as possible,” AP reported. More here.
For what it’s worth: Predator and Reaper drone-maker General Atomics is opening up shop in the Middle East on the heels of similar recent moves from Textron and Lockheed Martin.
Obama will attempt to unilaterally close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul said on “Fox News Sunday.” McCaul: “He's done this before and it's hard to stop this kind of action.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s Gitmo closure plan is reportedly favoring the Colorado state penitentiary over the so-called “Alcatraz of the Rockies” supermax facility, AP reported this weekend. The full plan is expected some time in “the coming week.” More, here.
On the 2016 campaign trail, GOP front-runner Ben Carson is hitting back at the media after taking a big hit on Friday with Politico’s report that he fabricated some key details in his biography—particularly hit bit about receiving a full scholarship to attend West Point.
“There’s no question I’m getting special scrutiny,” Mr. Carson said on CBS. “Every single day or every other day or every week, they’re going to come out with, ‘Well, you said this when you were 13’…and the whole point is to distract, distract the populace, distract me.”
Carson: “Will an apology be coming. I doubt it,” he wrote on his Facebook wall over the weekend. More from WSJ, here.
By the way: DoD employees favored Carson over all other candidates—in a poll taken just before Friday’s “flap” over West Point, Government Executive’s Eric Katz writes, here.
And—newsflash—both Carson and Donald Trump lack a “clear national security strategy,” the folks at the Heritage Foundation say. The Washington Examiner’s Jacqueline Klimas has that one, here.
Miss this weekend’s night launch of a Trident D5 ballistic missile from the USS Kentucky off the coast of Southern California? No worries, a photographer captured the event in a nifty time-lapse shot you can see here.
Apropos of nothing: A prominent aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the media mogul behind the rise of Russia Today, Mikhail Lesin, was found dead in a D.C. hotel on Thursday, apparently of a heart attack, the Washington Post reported. Lesin was in his late 50s when he passed. More on the death here, or take a deep dive into the mogul at the height of his power from The Daily Beast, here.
Lastly—Veteran’s Day is fast upon us, and there’s one thing a majority of U.S. businesses miss about the occasion, argues Mary Beth Bruggeman of the volunteer aid organization The Mission Continues, writing in the Huffington Post. And that’s what appears to be a lack of appreciation for the veteran “reintegration gap.”
The “free lunches, discounted dinners, box seats at sporting events...set veterans apart into a different class of civilian, which further widens the divide between our country's civilian and military populations,” she writes.
“Let me be clear: our veterans do need something from us, but it's not what they've been getting. Veterans deserve our gratitude, but store discounts simply cannot be the only way that we recognize them. We should be evoking fulfillment rather than entitlement. The best thing you can give a veteran is reassurance that they still have a purpose and a mission.” Read her fix for the alleged misplaced gratitude, here. Or check out a list of this year’s discounts, compiled by the folks at Military Times, here.