Mattis named as SecDef; 14 car bombs a day in Mosul; Russia to use Iranian airbase; Counterterror gadgets of the future; and just a bit more...
It’s Mattis for SecDef: At a Thursday rally in Cincinnati, Donald Trump said he intends to name retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as the 26th U.S. Secretary of Defense. “Don’t let it outside of this room, so I will not tell you that one of our great, great generals...we are going to appoint ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as our secretary of defense,” Trump told supporters. “But we’re not announcing it until Monday, so don’t tell anybody.” The president-elect called the former CentCom commander, who led Trump to at least temporarily question his attraction to torture, “the closest thing we have to George Patton.” (Via the Washington Examiner, among others.)
A nearly universally respected combat leader known for his deep study of the history of warfare, Mattis “has often said that Washington lacks an overall strategy in the Middle East, opting to instead handle issues in an ineffective one-by-one manner,” reports the Washington Post.
Mattis’ appointment will require Senate approval as well as a Congressional waiver of a law that forbids generals to become SecDef for seven years after retirement. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has already vowed to oppose such a waiver, citing the law’s intent to protect civilian authority over the military, while the chairs of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, have declared their support for Mattis’ appointment.
About that nickname: Before the pop crowd caught on to Gen. Mattis as “Mad Dog,” which nobody who really knows him actually uses, he already had a nickname: “Chaos,” Defense One’s Executive Editor Kevin Baron writes. Except it seems the fanboys got that wrong, too. It wasn’t meant to be a tough-guy handle, as some are saying. It comes from his own staff—and it is an acronym. “Yeah, he got the call sign when he was the CO of 7th Marine Regiment. CHAOS = Colonel Has Another Outstanding Suggestion.” As well, a former aide says, “The Mad Dog thing is a sure way to smoke out the fakers.”
For what it’s worth, U.S. Army troops working in Ukraine tell The D Brief they’re ecstatic with the pick: “Mattis may not be Army, but he’s got our respect.”
Iraqi security forces have clawed back two more neighborhoods in south Mosul, “bringing to 23 the number of neighborhoods retaken by the special forces in the eastern sector of the city since the campaign to retake Mosul began on Oct. 17,” AP reports. “Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Tamimi of the special forces told The Associated Press his men were now in full control of the Zohour neighborhood, more than a week after they first entered the district. He said his men also captured the neighborhood of Qadissiyah-2.”
For an overview of the battle lines around Mosul, see an updated map, here.
ISIS suicide bombers around Mosul are declining due to fewer foreign fighters and severed supply lines, Iraqi special forces commander Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi told Iraqi news this morning.
ISIS has hurled more than 632 car bombs at Iraqi troops—adding up to about 14 per day—since the Mosul offensive began, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarullah said Thursday. More from the Washington Post, here.
ISIS is still losing large stocks of ammunition and DIY artillery, according to this recent haul from the ISF.
And they’re telling their supporters to ditch the communication apps Telegram and WhatsApp, “suspecting they are being used by the U.S.-led coalition to track and kill its commanders,” Reuters reported Thursday.
The U.S. military fighting ISIS just released the results of dozens of new civilian casualty investigations, bringing the total number of admitted unintentional deaths in the war on ISIS to 173, according to Airwars’ Samuel Oakford.
Denmark just pulled its F-16s from the ISIS fight, AP reports. “Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen says the Scandinavian country would instead send engineering troops to help with reconstruction projects. He didn't specify where.” That, here.
Turkey’s foreign minister called for an immediate ceasefire in Syria, and went on to call Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “unfit to rule,” Reuters reports. It’s an interesting, if likely unpromising development, since Turkey’s president walked back a similar tough line on Assad Thursday, after Russian President Vladimir Putin rang Ankara to protest.
There’s a key ISIS stronghold in eastern Syria that few are talking about, but it could be the next big phase in the counter-ISIS war. “Deir Ezzour province is on the border of Syria and Iraq, and it contains the only remaining land bridge where Islamic State leaders and foot-soldiers can move between the two countries… With Islamic State running out of havens, Deir Ezzour is the ‘natural fallback’ option, said Col. John Dorrian, Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “Deir Ezzour is also significant because Islamic State has used it to store crude chemical weapons it has manufactured, according to recent midlevel defectors.”
Said one Western diplomat to the Journal: “My concern is that we’re not really thinking about Deir Ezzour, it’s on no one’s radar. It’s a ‘later’ problem for the coalition.”
And those sentiments were echoed two weeks ago at the Defense One Summit by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East policy, Andrew Exum. “X” sat down with Kim Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War to talk about what’s next in the fight against ISIS. And you can find that discussion, here.
Iran just gave Russia permission to use that airbase for airstrikes in Syria—again.
Writes Reuters, on location: “The U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) was tasked with uniting Libya's warring factions but has struggled to assert its authority in Tripoli and has been rejected by power brokers in the east. Recently the government it displaced in Tripoli has attempted a comeback, regaining control of the Rixos hotel, which was meant to house a new legislative body under the deal that created the GNA. Military vehicles were seen mobilizing near the Rixos on Thursday and shops in the area closed amid rising tension. Military vehicles including tanks could also be seen in Bab Benghashir and Abu Salim neighborhoods, while clashes were reported in Abu Salim and Hadba districts.”
Previewing next week: Obama’s final counterterrorism speech will take place Tuesday at CENTCOM, according to the White House.
From Defense One
The Pentagon Wants Eye-Reading Software, X-Ray Tools, and A Virtual Facebook to Fight Terrorism // Patrick Tucker: Here’s a list of gear the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office is seeking to give U.S. counterterror operators.
The Global Business Brief: December 1 // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense execs bullish on foreign and domestic sales; Classified contracts rise; Report forecasts rise in global arms spending.
The NSA-Cyber Command Divorce Is Inching Closer to Reality // Nextgov’s Joseph Marks: Even if the spending-bill provision becomes law, the split may not happen until 2018.
Cutting NASA Earth Observations Would Be a Costly Mistake // Rear Adm. (ret.) David Titley, once the Navy’s chief oceanographer: NASA’s Earth observation satellites provide constant real-time data on space, the atmosphere and the oceans—information critical to U.S. Navy and Department of Defense operations worldwide.
Welcome to the Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Bradley Peniston and Marcus Weisgerber. On this day in 1942, a Manhattan Project team started the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction on a University of Chicago squash court. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
Bob Work’s farewell tour. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work has been the driving force behind the Pentagon’s Third Offset, its quest to find new technologies that could give the U.S. military an advantage in (or deter) the wars of the future. So it’s fitting has last official trip as the No. 2 political appointee at the Pentagon he would go to visit some two companies developing some of those technologies. Today he will see new missile technology being developed by scientists Raytheon in Tucson, Ariz., and submarine drone being built by Boeing in Southern California. Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber is with Work and report more on his visits to the defense firms. Follow Marcus on Twitter @MarcusReports.
Other stops on Work’s trip? He’ll be at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif., with just about every other senior leader in the Pentagon. Make sure your read Marcus’ preview of who will be at the Reagan forum in this week’s Global Business Brief.
What’s Trump’s Pentagon transition team up to? They had a roundtable Wednesday with the Joint Staff, Work said, and now they’re making their way to the individual services. “As their team builds up, they’ll go deeper and deeper,” said Work, who was the Navy lead for President Obama’s Pentagon transition team. “They’re operating very much like the transition team that I was on.”
What’s the transition team have to say? “The one thing the transition team has said over and over is they’re very complementary of all of the work that we’re doing and all the information we’re providing,” Work said. Among the areas the have been briefed to the transition team is the Third Offset and innovation groundwork that Carter and Work have laid over the past two years.
What’s next for Work after the Pentagon? “We got plenty to do between now and Jan. 20 to support Secretary Carter and at the same time we have to support the transition team and help them get ready,” Work said. He’s helping build the Pentagon’s 2018 budget proposal, which will be recommended to the Trump’s team. And even after he’s departed, he says he’ll be rooting for the new Defense Department leaders. “Anything that I can do. Whether it’s just being on the outside being a cheerleader, whatever I’m asked.”
The group also reportedly stormed an Afghan army outpost in western Kandahar province on November 19, seizing a cache of RPGs, NVGs, M-16s, grenade launchers and M249s in the district of Ghorak in Kandahar, the Long War Journal reported Thursday. “Ghorak is situated along a belt of Taliban-controlled or contested districts in southern Afghanistan that spans the provinces of Farah, Helmand, Uruzgan and Kandahar. The Taliban has used this southern safe haven to directly threaten the capitals of Farah, Helmand, and Uruzgan. Afghan forces, backed by US advisers and airstrikes, have struggled to stave off Taliban offensives against the capitals of these three provinces.”
We haven’t heard a great deal about ISIS in Afghanistan in recent days. But don’t think for a minute that’s necessarily a good thing, Seth Jones of RAND Corp wrote in Lawfare this week. Why? “The Afghan Taliban has benefited from the Islamic State’s decline. The Taliban has strengthened its power, bolstered its reputation, and complicated U.S. and Afghan government efforts to wind down the Afghan war... The Islamic State’s loss of territory will not occur in a vacuum. Who will benefit? Other terrorist groups or non-state actors? The local government? Regional powers? As the United States and its allies undermine Islamic State territorial control in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and other countries, policymakers need to shift their attention to understanding and influencing who fills the vacuum. As in Afghanistan, the United States may not be much better off with the winners.” Worth the click, here.
Panning out over all of the country, “the Afghan government now controls only about 60 percent of the country, the Taliban hold sway over about 10 percent, and the remainder is contested,” according to CENTCOM Commander, Gen. Joseph Votel, The New York Times reports this morning in a wider piece about “the Afghan security crisis.”
According to Western and Afghan officials, “about 40,000 to 45,000 militants are active across Afghanistan. The Taliban are estimated at about 30,000 fighters, some of them seasonal. But the rest are foreign militants of different — and often fluid — allegiances, at times competing but mostly on the same side against the Afghan government and its American allies.”
And this line ought to give us pause: “Of the 98 U.S.- or U.N.-designated terrorist organizations around the globe, 20 of them are in the Af-Pak region,” according to Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. “This is the highest concentration of the numbers of different groups in any area in the world.” Read the rest, here.
The other “forgotten war.” The war in Yemen has rendered foodstuffs so low that families are asking which child they should save, WaPo reports. “The health system and other safety nets that caught many children before their bodies withered away are frayed or have disappeared. International aid agencies are facing a multitude of barriers, including airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition helped by the United States and obstruction by the rebels who rule the capital, Sanaa, as well as the main northern sea port of Hodeidah. The U.N. Children’s Fund estimates that 370,000 Yemeni children are severely malnourished and facing death, and 2 million are in urgent need of help.”
What’s it like in Yemen? “Imagine someone, his legs shaking, walking into a human slaughterhouse,” writes AFP photographer Mohammed Huwais, of one scene at the aftermath of an airstrike. “When he gets inside, he sees burning bodies, others completely charred, chopped off heads, amputated legs. Now imagine that among the dead you see friends and colleagues. And add to that the feeling that you are taunting death, because the bombing could start again at any moment.” Read his take, called “When the heart bleeds,” here.
Iran chafes at U.S. Senate vote to extend the Iran Sanctions Act for a decade, calling it a "clear violation" of the 2015 nuclear deal, Reuters reports. "If they implement the ISA, Iran will take action accordingly," said Iran's nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, on state TV.
Adds Reuters: “It was not immediately clear what form any eventual retaliation might take. One lawmaker quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency said Iran's parliament planned to discuss a bill that would prevent the government purchasing 'American products.' Such a bill could jeopardize deals such as U.S. planemaker Boeing's (BA.N) tentative agreement to sell passenger jets to Iran.” That, here.
Did Iran cyber attack Saudi Arabia? “State-sponsored hackers have conducted a series of destructive attacks on Saudi Arabia over the last two weeks, erasing data and wreaking havoc in the computer banks of the agency running the country’s airports and hitting five additional targets, according to two people familiar with an investigation into the breach,” Bloomberg reported Thursday.
Where the investigation stands: “Although a probe by Saudi authorities is still in its early stages, the people said digital evidence suggests the attacks emanated from Iran.”
The implications moving forward: Such attacks “could present President-elect Donald Trump with a major national security challenge as he steps into the Oval Office. The use of offensive cyber weapons by a nation is relatively rare and the scale of the latest attacks could trigger a tit-for-tat cyber war in a region where capabilities have mushroomed ever since an attack on Saudi Aramco in 2012.” Full story here.
Apropos of nothing: Check out these maps of America’s infrastructure—the electric grid, pipelines, bridges, airports, railroads and waterways—from the graphics team at the Washington Post.
Lastly this week—because why not—scroll through “19 unforgettable quotes from legendary Marine Gen. James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis” compiled by Business Insider. Not terribly certain we need to set this up any more, so go check out the roll-up for yourself here. And we’ll see everyone again on Monday!