Taliban appoint a new leader; Not all Taliban like this new leader; Eyes on Raqqa—and the nearby Kurds; SOCOM wants to predict the future; Moral risk and the citizen soldier; And a bit more.
Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada. That’s the new leader of the fractured Taliban, the group said in a statement, The New York Times reports this morning. “Mawlawi Haibatullah, believed to be in his mid-50s, is viewed as an important cleric and a spiritual authority within the Taliban ranks, but one who lacks military experience. Mullah Omar, the movement’s founding leader, was reported to have relied on his interpretation of jurisprudence when making decisions. Mawlawi Haibatullah served as a top judge during the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan, in Kandahar as well as on the Supreme Court in Kabul.”
And Haibatullah knows Kandahar well, having been born just a few miles west of the city in the restive district of Panjawai. It’s believed that his past as a scholar will help unite the disparate Taliban factions that have been floundering since the death of Mullah Omar more than three years ago.
Not that all those factions are on-board with the new pick, the Times writes. “Sheikh Haibatullah is not the right choice for us,” said Mullah Niazi from one of the breakaway groups. “He has been selected quite similarly to Mansour with no consensus of all mujahedeen — it will never be acceptable to us.” Read the rest, here.
An attack on Afghanistan’s spy service in mid-April was the last straw in deciding to finally pursue a drone strike on now-dead former Taliban leader Mullah Mansour, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday in this breakdown of how U.S. intelligence tracked Mansour from Iran all the way to his final moments in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.
It seems Mansour had been getting either lazy (taking the same path multiple times along Route N-40, which the Journal writes “cuts between Taftan on the Iranian border and Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan”) or there were not enough alternatives to N-40. Either way, Balochistan has now lost its status as an “off-limits” place for U.S. drone strikes, which could set a precedent for more strikes on insurgent leaders hiding in the relative safety of cross-border Pakistan. More here.
Pakistan says the Mansour strike violated international law. But will this matter? The Journal again: “Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan warned that the strike would have ‘serious implications’ for the country’s relations with the U.S. In the first substantial comment from Pakistan since the incident, he said that if every country targeted perceived threats aboard, ‘there will be the law of the jungle in the world,’” which sort of describes the territory just east of Afghanistan where the strike was carried out. But Kahn went further: “I want to state that the government of Pakistan, regardless of the target, strongly condemns this drone attack… The justification provided by America to the world for this drone attack is illegal, unjustified, unacceptable, against Pakistan’s independence and sovereignty, and completely against the U.N. Charter and international law.”
Line of the day: “You can’t expect that you drone their leader and say ‘come to the negotiation table’,” Khan said.
For the record: “The U.S. has carried out more than 400 drone strikes in Pakistan, but this was only the second outside the country’s tribal areas.” Read the rest, here.With Mansour out of the picture, has anything really changed about the direction of the war in Afghanistan? Ask three people what they make of Mullah Mansoor’s death by drone and you’ll get three answers, none offering a swift end to nearly 15 years of fighting. “From the perspective of those who have lived Afghanistan’s security woes,” Defense One contributor Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes, “the one certainty they fear they can count on is more violence.” That, here.
Iraqi troops are advancing on Fallujah from two directions, AFP reports. “Forces from Iraq's 8th Division backed by tribal fighters set out from the Amriyat al-Fallujah area south of the city and the Al-Salam intersection to its southwest,” as coalition and Iraqi warplanes pound ISIS fighters from the air, said Staff Major General Ismail al-Mahalawi, the head of the Anbar Operations Command.
Leading the charge: Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service, about 1,500 of them, according to CBS. They’re joined by another roughly 10,000 local soldiers and 8,000 police. Military Times has more on the CTS, here.
The Fallujah fight is also good news for Iraq’s Shiite militias operating under the Popular Mobilisation Front umbrella, al-Jazeera reports this morning.
Eyes are turning to contested turf around the Islamic State’s de-facto HQ in Raqqa, Syria—specifically territory north of the capital, the Washington Post reports of the Kurdish-led force that is scaring non-Kurd residents in Raqqa governorate. Some residents of the HQ city itself are even reportedly mulling an alignment with ISIS as the Kurd force slowly advances.
“A few thousand Kurdish and Arab fighters — grouped under the umbrella of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes — began moving south from the existing front line about 30 miles north of Raqqa, according to a statement from the SDF and the U.S. military,” the Post reports. “The operation aims to secure control of a stretch of territory in the mostly desert terrain north of Raqqa, said Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S. military.” More here.
The path of the assault is intended to pass through Shaddadi, Tal Abyad and Kobane—towns along the east and north of Syria, the BBC reports. An SDF source told the Kurdish news agency, Rudaw, that fighters would be “advancing to the villages of Big Fatiseh, Small Fatiseh and Tishi, in order to clear them of [IS] militants first.”FYI: The SDF are believed to have some 30,000 fighters at its disposal, the BBC adds.
Happening today: Two noted ISIS and Syrian war scholars, Hassan Hassan and Charles Lister, are linking up in Washington today at the request of Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison. That gets under way at 2 p.m. EDT at Rayburn. Details here.
New SOCOM commander wants to predict the future: Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas sees America’s elite troops transforming from a reactive to a proactive force, one that operates globally, but still with a light footprint, Defense One Tech Editor Patrick Tucker reports from the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, or SOFIC, in Tampa. Thomas’s vision is a force that is predictively employed, rather than reactively deployed. “It is in the area of left of bang where we must strive to be more relevant in the future,” he said. More here.
From Defense One
Take a photographic tour inside one of America’s newest subs, the USS New Mexico, with naval enthusiast Bradley Peniston as your guide, traveling with Defense Secretary Ash Carter to Sub Base New London, Connecticut.
What moves at 80 miles per hour, generates enough power to run communications gear and is quieter than a conversation? Say hello to the military’s stealth motorbike, writes Defense One Tech Editor Patrick Tucker, at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa.
The nuclear football goes to Japan. Obama will have the power of 22,000 Hiroshimas in the suitcase his aide carries with him on a stop that will be the emotional endpoint to the nuclear policy efforts he began in Prague seven years ago. Will he make the most of this moment? Ploughshares Fund’s Joe Cirincione digs into the stakes, here.
Stop saying the U.S. is dropping “cyber bombs” on ISIS. It is not surprising that the inflammatory rhetoric about cyber bombs is a headline grabber. But one must understand that “cyber” is really a catch all term encompassing changing spreadsheets, intercepting email, jamming comms, and a lot of deception. Great read from a trio of academics, via the Council on Foreign Relations, here.
Join us for our first-ever Defense One Tech Summit on June 10, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and some of the brightest minds in military and consumer technology will be on-hand to discuss the future of innovation and national security. Reserve your seat here.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. On this day in 1999, a bipartisan Congressional report revealed China had been stealing design secrets for the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal in a secretive campaign going back to the 1970s. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.
Final F-35 testing slips to 2018. Why? Because the program cannot upgrade 23 already-built jets into the specific configuration required for the tests quick enough, Pentagon officials said on a call with reports late Tuesday. The Pentagon’s top testing official warned of this delay, but project officials had been shooting to begin the evaluation in the summer of 2017. The Joint Strike Fighter is currently undergoing what is called developmental testing, which verifies if a new weapon or piece of equipment meets its technical requirements. Operational testing will verify the jet can fly realistic, war-like missions. Later this year, the Air Force is still planning to declare its jets ready for war later this year, prior to this testing, just like the Marine Corps did last year. More here.
Not so fast on that F-35 bulk buy. While a number of the project’s allies are pushing to buy large quantities of planes of multiple years, the Defense Department will not seek that authority until a new U.S. president is sworn into office, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's undersecretary for acquisition, said. The so-called “block buy” was a hot topic for discussion this week during an annual meeting of top American and ally program officials at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. The allies are considering this type of bulk purchase beginning in 2018.
Time to phase out the the Pentagon war budget? That’s what the Stimson Center recommends in a new report. “We conclude in this report that the uncertainty created by current reliance on OCO [overseas contingency operations spending account], particularly to fund base budget needs, could be detrimental to national security. Given the consequences of continued misuse of OCO, we suggest that President Obama and his successor develop and commit to a credible plan to wind down OCO funding beginning with the expiration of the Bipartisan Budget Act in [fiscal 2020].” More here.
Canadian Snowbirds invade DC. The Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds in their white and red CT-114 Tutor training jets streaked across a sunny Washington skyline Tuesday. Here are some pictures from the sky and here are some from the ground outside of the Pentagon. Want more? Here’s a video from the ground.
Want to see the Snowbirds up close? They’re at the Smithsonian’s Udvar Hazy Center near Dulles Airport today from noon until 5 p.m. There, they will give presentations and allow visitors to check out the Tutor jets up close. More here.
Lastly today—don’t miss this take on the complicated moral dilemmas of the American citizen-soldiers, from former Marine PAO and National Book Award-winner Phil Klay, writing for Brookings. This is one of the better pieces of writing we’ve come across in months. It’s a long read, but most certainly worth the click. Let us know what you think after going here.