New twist in Berlin; Trump convenes natsec team; Palantir at Trump’s table; 100 Russian spies in the U.S.; New fighter jet from design to flight in 1 year; And a bit more.
Manhunt in Berlin. German authorities are pursuing a Tunisian man in the wake of the Monday truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed a dozen people, Agence France-Presse reports after officials found an ID in the vehicle. “Asylum office papers believed to belong to the man were found in the cab of the 40-tonne lorry used in the attack that killed 12 people. The man is in his early 20s, known by three different names, and was born in the southern city of Tataouine [Yes, the Star Wars town.], the reports said. He applied for asylum in Germany in April and received a temporary residence permit, according to the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.”
In another wrinkle, apart from authorities possibly detaining the wrong suspect initially, “Earlier Tuesday, the head of Germany's Federal Criminal Police force said police have not yet found the gun believed to have been used to kill the truck's Polish driver,” Voice of America reports.
Many saw this coming: ISIS claimed Tuesday it inspired the attack in Berlin.
President-elect Donald Trump, Flynn to meet today, after the Berlin attack and Monday’s assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Trump aides told the Associated Press. “Trump's meeting scheduled Wednesday with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn will come a day after Flynn and several other members of the incoming national security team met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence in Washington. Aides said the meeting was planned before the acts of violence, though they were discussed. The gathering with Pence included retired Gen. John Kelly, Trump's nominee for head of the Department of Homeland Security; retired Gen. James Mattis, the pick for defense secretary; and Rex Tillerson, the head of Exxon Mobil and the intended nominee for secretary of state.”
Get to know Mattis via his own former spokesman, retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Joe Plenzler, who also was a flak for the commandant, writing about 15 points you may not have known about the man, over at Task & Purpose, here.
Trump’s transition team recently passed a memo of their defense priorities to the Pentagon. Notably absent: any mention of Russia, Foreign Policy reported Tuesday. “Besides placing an emphasis on budgetary issues, ‘force strength,’ and counterterrorism in Iraq and Syria, the memo noted other briefings between the Defense Department and the Trump transition team on China and North Korea. But Russia was not mentioned. A Trump transition official declined to say where Russia fits into the president-elect’s defense priorities, but said the memo is ‘not comprehensive.’”
The Trump team’s response: “For the media to speculate that this list of issues represents all of the president-elect’s priorities is completely erroneous and misleading,” said Jessica Ditto, a transition spokeswoman.
The Pentagon reax: “We would leave it up to them to describe their priorities,” Gordon Trowbridge, the deputy Pentagon press secretary told FP. “We have provided them with multiple briefings that touched on Russia policy. That’s the extent of our knowledge on their priorities.” Story here.
The U.S. has sanctioned a Russian restaurateur “who has been accused of possessing links to a private Russian paramilitary group that fought in Ukraine and Syria,” The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. “The U.S. Treasury’s decision to sanction [Yevgeny Prigozhin] came 2½ months after Russian opposition figure and anticorruption campaigner Alexei Navalny published an expose of the Russian caterer on his website, accusing him of funding so-called troll factories in St. Petersburg that post pro-Putin comments in news-site comment sections, blogs and other online media in Russia.”
About that paramilitary connection: “Russian defense analyst Ivan Konovalov and an official close to the Russian Defense Ministry said Mr. Prigozhin was involved in one of Russia’s few attempts to create a private military company, which operated in Ukraine and later in Syria. The amounts of money that the group, which became known as Wagner, were paid were much higher than what other private security companies receive, leading to speculation of Kremlin support, an official close to the Russian Defense Ministry said.”
By the way: There are more than 100 Russian spies are operating on U.S. soil right now, the head of U.S. counterintelligence, William Evanina told NPR on Tuesday.
And in case you haven’t had enough, here’s a bit more on how the U.S. government lost to Russia’s disinformation campaign this election cycle, “current and former White House cyber security advisers” told Reuters.
Your Wednesday #LongRead: Can U.S. progressives help make national security great again during a Trump White House? Yes, writes David Solimini, former VP of the Truman Project. Read his argument in full, here.
From Defense One
How Trump’s Deal-Powered Vision Will, and Won’t, Change U.S. Foreign Policy // The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman: “The day of the chess player is over,” the businessman once wrote.
How Did One Small Defense Firm Get a Seat at Trump’s Tech Summit? // Patrick Tucker: The meeting put data-viz firm Palantir next to some of the world’s largest data-gathering companies.
A New Military Jet Flies Just One Year After It Was Designed // Marcus Weisgerber: The new Boeing-Saab plane took to the sky for the first time, showing that defense firms can build complex weapons quickly.
What Are Turkey and Russia Doing in Syria? // The Atlantic's Kathy Gilsinan talks to the Council on Foreign Relations' Steven Cook, who offers context and backstory behind the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara.
Here’s a Better Way to Understand Urban Violence in the Middle East // Citylab’s Mimi Kirk: A new book plumbs the region's history to frame the events of today and tomorrow.
Welcome to the Dec. 21 edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. On this day in 1945, Gen. George S. Patton died of injuries sustained in a car crash. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
ISIS used chlorine gas to attack Iraqi special forces in Mosul over the past two days, one of the Counter-Terrorism Services commanders said Wednesday. No casualties were reported, though breathing problems were noted in the commander’s (short) interview with Kurdistan 24 news.
The winter season has delayed the Shi’a-dominant Popular Mobilization Units’ charge on ISIS-held Tal Afar, Voice of America reports.
The Mosul offensive is on pause, although the official word for it is a “planned operational refit,” U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Matthew Isler, deputy commander for the coalition's air forces told Reuters this morning. “The refit follows 65 days of ‘going at this at an operationally high tempo the entire time,’ he said, and includes repairing vehicles, resupplying ammunition and preparing forces for the next stage.” More here.
Get a closer look at the $12.5 million-a-day U.S. air war in Iraq and Syria via this stat-heavy take from the Washington Post.
Some highlights: "Since strikes began in the later summer of 2014, U.S. and allied aircraft have conducted over 16,000 strikes in both countries. U.S. military officials estimate that 50,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed... The United States and its allies have flown an average of 20 strike sorties per day in Iraq and Syria since 2014, said Dave Deptula, retired Air Force lieutenant general, who is dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. That’s far fewer than the initial period of the 2003 Iraq War, with almost 800 strike sorties per day; the 1999-2000 Kosovo air operation, with almost 300 sorties per day; or the 1991 Desert Storm operation, with more than 1,200 sorties per day."
However, "the U.S. military has acknowledged that its air attacks have killed at least 119 civilians in Iraq and Syria since 2014. Watchdog groups say the true figure is likely much higher." Much more here.
ISIS has reportedly issued an arrest order for its now-former finance minister, Abu Tabark, who has fled the group in Iraq three days ago, Kurdish Rudaw news reports.
In Syria, 60 buses are being held up in the freezing cold after another “last-minute hitch” in evacuation plans, Reuters reports.
Russia calls on Syria’s Kurds to negotiate with the Assad regime, Kurdistan 24 news reports.
Israel’s military says yes, Hezbollah is using U.S. military equipment in Syria—most likely from a deal struck with the Lebanese government.
Raytheon was just awarded a $53 million contract to supply TOW missiles to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, who have been supporting rebels in Syria for years.
Here’s to hoping this lasts: The U.S. has officially ended its air operations over Sirte, Libya, AFRICOM announced Tuesday.
Rejoice! U.S. sailors will get their job titles back, Navy Times reported Tuesday. “Effective immediately, enlisted sailors will officially regain their ratings, the traditional job titles that have inspired a deep cultural loyalty and that have defined enlisted career tracks for generations, Navy officials said. The move comes three months after the Navy stunned sailors around the world in September by eliminated ratings titles, including those such as boatswain’s mate that dated back to the founding of the service. The extraordinarily rare move comes after a fierce backlash from the fleet that became a distraction from the Navy's broader effort to reform the antiquated personnel system, Navy officials said.” More here.
Lastly today—a short list of some of the items you’re bound to find in a stateside military home this Christmas, via Militaryoneclick.com. Number one: combat boots by the front door. Two: the olfactory blend of fuel, sand, as well as Turkey and (perhaps) Chestnuts. Read the last three, here.