Terror by truck; US, Russia meet on Syria; Exclusive: USAF’s pilot-shortage plan; CNO heads to China; and a bit more.
Terror by truck in France. A 31-year-old man from Tunisia drove a large rented truck into throngs of people celebrating Bastille Day at the French coastal city of Nice, killing at least 84 and wounding many others, including 18 with critical injuries, The New York Times reports—accompanied by an illustration of the route taken by the driver whose attack began when he made a left turn beside a children’s hospital. “Witnesses said they saw parents frantically throwing their children over fences to avoid them being struck by the lorry,” The Huffington Post reports.
The attacker, “who was born in Tunisia and had dual French citizenship,” HuffPo adds, “has been named in French media as Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, from Nice, and police are currently searching his home. Local newspaper Nice Matin said he worked as a truck driver… [and] French television station BFM TV reported that he was a divorced father of three who had become depressed following the breakdown of his marriage.”
Bouhlel was shot dead by police, who riddled his truck’s windshield with bullet holes. The Telegraph has quite a bit more about the driver, here.
So far this morning, there has been no claim of responsibility from any terrorist groups; though terrorism analyst Thomas Jocelyn from The Long War Journal notes that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been advocating for precisely just these sorts of attacks since at least 2010. But then again, ISIS spokesman Adnani has as well, though in more recent messages to followers.
The link to Syria’s war is difficult to overlook, as U.S. State Secretary John Kerry flagged before the second day of his meeting with Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow this morning. “Nowhere is there a greater hotbed or incubator for these terrorists than in Syria,” Kerry said before stepping behind closed doors for a three-hour talk with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “People all over the world are looking to us and waiting for us to find a faster and more tangible way of them feeling that everything that is possible is being done to end this terrorist scourge.” That, via The Wall Street Journal, over here.
What’s on the table in those U.S.-Russia discussions: “calls for the creation of a joint military command center staffed by military and intelligence officers who would share information so as to permit ‘integrated operations’” and a little-discussed proposal that “requires Syria’s Air Force — which has routinely bombed civilian areas — to be largely grounded,” U.S. officials told The New York Times.
A possible reason for that last request: “In just the past week, the Syrian Army has repeatedly announced cease-fires only to conduct an extensive military campaign around the rebel-held section of the stricken city of Aleppo, leaving about 300,000 people there besieged. The government is also advancing on the Damascus suburb of Daraya, one of the first areas to revolt against the government, with many of its 8,000 residents fearing an imminent massacre. In recent days, a refugee camp near the Jordanian border was bombed, and civilians were killed. Whether it was the Russians or Syrians who undertook the operation is not known.” More on the ISIS fight below the fold.
The U.S. Air Force is short 700 fighter pilots. Here’s our plan to fix that, write USAF Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein in an op-ed at Defense One. “The Air Force has faced fighter pilot shortages before – often related to cyclical hiring peaks in the private sector – but this one has the potential to be more damaging. After 25 years of continuous combat, the Air Force is as busy as we have ever been, but we are also smaller than we have ever been. Consequently, we have less margin for error when it comes to filling our cockpits and addressing personnel shortages.” Together, James and Goldfein lay out what they intend to do, and what they need from Congress, to stop the exodus of pilots to airlines and civilian lives. Read on, here.
From Defense One
Tech hates Trump. What does that mean for the Pentagon? An open letter from Silicon Valley leaders suggests a GOP victory would scuttle Ash Carter's outreach effort. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker has the story, here.
In Iraq, the ‘real mystery’ is what comes after ISIS. Even as Iraqi special forces and Shia militias roll back the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Baghdad has done little to address the underlying causes of Sunni militancy, says journalist Ned Parker, interviewed by the Council on Foreign Relations, here.
Is global terrorism getting worse? Depends on your definition. Civil war is driving many recent attacks, and that blurs both statistics and remedies, writes The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman, here.
Like battlebots, except these robots automatically patch cybersecurity holes. Hacking teams and their algorithms will square off in a Las Vegas arena, in a contest sponsored by DARPA. Via NextGov, here.
White House wants 3,500 ‘critical’ new cyber jobs filled in 5 months. One of the administration’s short-term moves calls for agencies to more than double the number of new people hired in ‘critical cybersecurity and IT positions’ since October 2015. From NextGov, here.
All of Cleveland will be a ‘no drone zone’ for the GOP convention. The Secret Service says the rule—which covers 82.47 square miles of land and water—is just business as usual. From Quartz, here.
Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1958, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower authorized “Operation Blue Bat,” sending 5,000 American Marines to Lebanon at its president’s request, to help end a civil war in the face of a Muslim rebellion. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.
America’s top naval officer is headed to China for a three-day visit beginning Sunday, the Associated Press reports. “Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, will meet the commander of the People's Liberation Army's Navy, Adm. Wu Shengli, during his trip to the Chinese capital of Beijing and the port city of Qingdao... Richardson is scheduled to visit the Chinese navy's headquarters in Beijing and meet with other senior defense officials. He will visit the navy's submarine academy and tour the aircraft carrier, Liaoning, when he is in its home port of Qingdao. They will discuss the South China Sea, ongoing Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, military drills, and ways to boost interactions between the two militaries.”
Get to better know the ins and outs of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—and how China says the U.S. is playing a double game by not ratifying the treaty while simultaneously insisting Beijing abide by the recent UNCLOS-associated ruling from The Hague on contested islands in the South China Sea. That take via Stars and Stripes, here.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden just held a mini-pep rally on the USS John C. Stennis near Hawaii. “In the wake of this week’s arbitral tribunal ruling on the South China Sea, it’s essential that we continue to express our mutual support for the rule of law,” Biden said. “You are either going to abide by international standards or not. Don’t pretend.”
And now for your more typical Biden remark: “Some of you pilots have heard threats and warnings as you fly through unofficially but nonetheless a declared Chinese air defense space. And you said, ‘Like hell. This is open space. This is all of our air space.’” Biden is off to Australia and New Zealand in the coming days to talk security and cooperation, Stripes adds.
Back to the ISIS battlespace briefly, about which The Wall Street Journal has an under-the-radar look at how the U.S. quietly won Turkey’s approval for an offensive in Syria with the Kurds: “The U.S. won Turkish backing for the assault on the Syrian city of Manbij with a series of political and tactical compromises to rein in the Kurds, Turkish, U.S. and British officials said. That included having U.S. special-operations forces and local Arabs play an important role in the fight and arranging for a mostly Arab council to rule the city if it was retaken, U.S. officials said. The breakthrough came after talks between President Barack Obama and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and culminated in the previously unreported May meeting at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base with U.S. and Turkish officials and representatives of the force seeking to liberate Manbij.”
The perceived importance of the Kurdish YPG’s involvement: “The point of the meeting was to show that the bulk of the force we want to use are Arabs from Manbij and would include a smaller YPG element to fortify the force militarily as they’re good at calling in airstrikes,” according to a senior U.S. official.
The benefit: “U.S. officials said that if the Manbij operation goes according to plan, more Arabs may be willing to join the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is vital to retaking Raqqa, a larger city with a stronger militant force. In addition, they said, Ankara may be willing to broaden cooperation if its concerns about the Kurds are allayed. Ankara currently bars the U.S. from resupplying Kurdish ground forces using Incirlik, the base from which the Pentagon spearheads its anti-Islamic State campaign in Syria.”
What ultimately won over Turkey: “U.S. officials provided assurances that 300 members of U.S. special-operations forces currently based in Syria would help conduct the offensive, which was crucial to securing Ankara’s approval for the Manbij operation,” the U.S. official said. Read the rest, here.
Warning order: In Iraq, CENTCOM Commander, Gen. Joseph Votel told Reuters that more U.S. troops are probably going to be requested in the coming weeks as the counter-ISIS coalition eyes Mosul.
Now let’s pan out to the bigger picture considering all of these dynamics—extremism in Europe, Russian-U.S. cooperation, the war on ISIS and America’s ongoing war in Afghanistan: “A series of promises” to involved parties in all of these conflicts “have solidified America’s continued war footing through the end of the Obama administration,” U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman reports, writing, “In truth, these conflicts are ramping up in intensity. And from [U.S. Defense Secretary Ash] Carter's perspective, there's no immediate end in sight to America's participation.”
What we should probably expect: “[A]s he prepares to vacate the White House, it would be no surprise if Obama also has adopted a new appreciation for the idea of a ‘war of necessity’ when it comes to these intractable conflicts – reinterpreting the same phrase President George W. Bush once used to describe and justify America's involvement in Iraq in the first place.” More here.
Lastly today: ISIS cares a lot less about secure communications than you might think, SITE Intelligence’s Rita Katz wrote after reading this report from Vice News’ Motherboard: “The use of apps by IS fighters, recruiters, and followers has been the group’s main method of private communication and coordination in recent years. With an ever-growing menu of encrypted chat programs to choose from, IS-supporting recruiters, tech experts, and fighters have used, endorsed, and warned against almost any messaging app you can think of...Though it would be reasonable to consider that this encrypted app disorganization might be a tactic to keep government agencies confused, or not to draw attention to one specific program, that’s not the reason. We constantly hear that IS and jihadists are urged to use secure communication methods to keep governments in the dark in using different apps. Their priorities, however, are much more geared toward individual circumstances and, at times, convenience.”