President Obama makes a rare appearance at the Pentagon today to meet with the members of his National Security Council. His goal: “to try to explain his strategy for stopping the Islamic State group abroad and its sympathizers at home,” the Associated Press reports in a preview of that trip and one other related stop later this week to the National Counterterrorism Center.
After his meeting at the Pentagon, Obama is to brief the press on the administration’s fight against ISIS while a nervous U.S. population grapples with the sharp rhetoric of the 2016 campaign trail and fears of additional attacks after the San Bernardino shooting.
“Terrorists like ISIL are trying to divide us along lines of religion and background. That’s how they stoke fear. That's how they recruit,” Obama said in his weekly address on Saturday. This week, he said, “we’ll move forward [against ISIS] on all fronts.”
But White House press secretary Josh Earnest cautioned that Obama does not intend to announce any major changes to counter-ISIS strategy. More from AP, here.
Iraq doesn’t want U.S. or British ground troops in its fight against the Islamic State, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Friday at the British Embassy in Washington.
“Prime Minister Adadi told me to my face: We do not want British troops or, with respect, even American troops,” Fallon said. “This has to be done by local forces that can enjoy the confidence of the Sunni tribes.” Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber has more from that one, here.
After months of infrastructure destruction, U.S.-led coalition jets have moved back to targeted ISIS fighters on the move now that their petroleum networks have been disrupted by U.S., Russian, French and British airstrikes in recent weeks, USA Today reports. “The peak in attacking dynamic targets occurred from Nov. 10 to 23 when pilots hit 339 fleeting targets compared with 57 that had been planned before they launched their raids, the figures show.”
The drawbacks to this change in approach: “Hitting moving targets comes with greater risk of civilian casualties.” More here.
And in Jordan, “the main Western-backed Arab rebel group in Syria appears on the verge of collapse because of low morale, desertions, and distrust of its leaders by the rank and file,” Stars and Stripes reported Sunday. “With an estimated 35,000 fighters, the FSA remains the biggest rebel group and is a key element in the U.S. strategy. Islamic State fighters are believed to number about 30,000 but spread over a wider area of both Syria and Iraq.”
What’s at stake: “If the FSA can’t be relied on as a strong partner, however, the U.S. and its Western partners would have to turn to an assortment of smaller hardline Islamic militias — backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar — that the West fears are too militant to reconcile with the secular government.” More here.
A Russian warship fired warning shots at a Turkish fishing vessel this weekend in the latest flare-up between the two nations since Ankara downed one of Moscow’s jets last month.
And this morning, Turkey announced it had withdrawn some (but not all) of the troops that ruffled Baghdad’s feathers when Ankara sent them seemingly unilaterally to the doorstep of Mosul more than a week ago. “Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, quoting unnamed military officials, said a 10- or 12-vehicle convoy including tanks had left the Bashiqa camp and was heading toward northern Iraq. The agency did not give further details but said military officials insisted it was simply a troop ‘rearrangement,’” AP reports.
And Moscow is busy arming its choice rebels with “weapons, ammunition and materiel,” the head of Russia’s military general staff said Sunday. “The statement appeared to suggest Russia was supplying the weapons, but the military could not be reached for clarification,” AP reports, adding, “FSA’s chief of staff has denied receiving Russian weapons.” That in the broader roll-up of developments out of Syria, here.
European and American arms firms are losing ground to Russian and Asian manufacturers, Agence-France Presse reports this morning. The short summary: “Companies based in Western Europe and the United States continue to dominate the top 100, with 80 percent of the total market share. But sales for Western European and US companies decreased by 3.2 percentage points between 2013 and 2014,” AFP writes. “Meanwhile, the 36 companies representing the rest of the world on SIPRI's list saw their sales soar by 25 percent, boosted by an almost 50-percent rise in Russian arms sales.” More here.
Happening now: U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work is keynoting the Center for a New American Security’s inaugural National Security Forum in Washington. Heavy hitters on the daylong event — co-produced by Defense One — include CJCS Gen. Joe Dunford, Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley, and more, more, more. Check out the agenda — and watch the livestream — here.
From Defense One
U.S. Air Force to ask for more drones. Responding to increased demand, the service is prepping a $3 billion proposal to add 75 Reaper drones, more than double the number of drone squadrons, and sprinkle new drone-ops centers around the country. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker has the story, here.
A Senate vote on Donald Trump’s religious test. Republican Party leaders have been quick to condemn Donald Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States, but his presidential rival, Ted Cruz, and three other Republicans opposed legislation that would prohibit such discrimination. The Atlantic, here.
Battle for the White House, a new ebook from Defense One. If you want to know the future of U.S. national security strategy, look to the 2016 presidential election. Whoever wins the White House will inherit the wars President Obama had pledged to end, along with dozens of ongoing counterterrorism operations in overlooked countries and an increasingly complex global security environment. This ebook wraps up the essential reporting you need to understand where the race is, and where it’s going. Buckle up and download it here.
Welcome to the Monday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. special operators have been fighting in southern Afghanstan’s Helmand province for weeks, the New York Times’ Rod Nordland reports from Kabul. “The extent of the American role has been kept largely secret,” he writes, “with senior Afghan officials in the area saying they are under orders not to divulge the level of cooperation, especially by Special Operations forces on the ground. The secrecy reflects the Pentagon’s concern that the involvement may suggest that the American combat role, which was supposed to have ended in December 2014, is still far beyond the official ‘train, advise and assist’ mission.”
The Afghan perspective: “The security situation is really bad,” said Toofan Waziri, a Helmand politician and prominent television commentator. Without more foreign air support, he added, “the entire province would probably fall to the Taliban in three days.”
The uncomfortable bottom line presently: “corruption, incessant attacks and an ineffectual government response have sapped the security forces’ fighting spirit, according to accounts by local soldiers and officials. Many Afghan soldiers and police officers have laid down their weapons and left the battle.” Read the rest, here.
Bummer. The Navy’s newest warship, the littoral combat ship Milwaukee, broke down Dec. 11 and had to be towed more than 40 nautical miles to a Virginia port. “The ship suffered an engineering casualty while transiting from Halifax, Canada, to Mayport, Florida, and ultimately its home port of San Diego,” wrote Navy Times’ David Larter, who was aboard when stray metal filings caused the port shaft and then the starboard shaft to be shut down. “The cause is being evaluated by ship’s crew and technical consultants,” Larter wrote, here.
In Yemen this morning, a Tochka rocket attack by Houthi rebels in the city of Taiz killed dozens of soldiers from the Saudi-led coalition, including two senior commanders from Saudi Arabia and another from the U.A.E., Reuters reports, adding “Monday's strike was the worst reported since more than 60 Saudi and Emirati troops were killed in September when another Tochka rocket hit the al-Safer air base near Marib in northeastern Yemen.” More here.
“Mobbed Up: Arms Dealer In American Anti-ISIS Effort Linked To Organized Crime” is the headline on BuzzFeed reporter Aram Roston’s second inquest into where the U.S. was getting the weapons to give to those “train-and-equip” moderate Syrians. “The revelations raise questions about the security checks the Pentagon uses in crucial counterterrorism programs and about how business executives with underworld ties or past legal trouble can win military contracts worth millions of taxpayer dollars.” Read on, here.