Trump’s first drone strikes?; Rift with IC threatens West’s spy network; Rough start to Syrian talks; Retreating, ISIS blows up Mosul hotel; and just a bit more...
Some of the first reported drone strikes of President Donald Trump’s tenure occurred Saturday in the south-central Yemeni province of Bayda, killing “10 militants with Al Qaeda, three of them hit while riding on a motorcycle and the other seven killed in a vehicle in a separate drone attack in the same area,” The New York Times reported from the capital of Sana’a on Sunday.
For the record, they add, “The United States did not take responsibility for the strikes, as is its standard policy. No other forces are known to be conducting drone strikes in the area.”
“The two Saturday strikes killed Abu Anis al-Abi, an area field commander, and two others,” AP reports.
However, the Times writes, “The greatest loss of life in Yemen over the weekend was from an offensive begun two weeks ago on the Red Sea coast by the Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi… Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 52 Houthi fighters in [the Red Sea port city of] Mokha on Saturday and Sunday, according to Yemeni news reports, while the Houthis killed 14 of the Hadi government attackers.”
And just this morning, Hadi’s forces reportedly seized Mokha, which the Times said has long been suspected of being a key location for the smuggling of Iranian arms into Yemen.
U.S. Navy watch: The George H. W. Bush Carrier Strike Group departed Norfolk, Va., on Saturday, headed to the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility (that is the Middle East and Europe/North Africa, respectively), Navy Times reported Sunday. “The aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush and embarked Carrier Air Wing Eight and Destroyer Squadron 22 staffs, as well as the guided-missile destroyers Laboon and Truxtun, will meet up with the Mayport, Florida-based guided missile cruisers Philippine Sea and Hue City, which departed their homeport on Jan. 21, too.” More here.
Will the Western spy network fall apart? Politico: “U.S. officials and analysts fear other countries will hesitate to share information with a Kremlin-friendly Trump administration” whose leader has spent “weeks insulting the intelligence agencies he now oversees.” Read on, here.
Trump tried to make nice with a Saturday visit to the CIA, but wound up angering some by blaming others for the rift. Just-departed CIA chief John Brennan said he was “deeply saddened and angered at Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement.” The Guardian reports, here.
From Defense One
The Foreign Crises Awaiting Trump // Brookings’ Thomas Wright: Trump wants to undo the liberal international order the U.S. built and replace it with a 19th-century model of nationalism and mercantilism. Its unwinding cannot, and will not, be pretty.
Ranked: Donald Trump's Foreign-Policy Contradictions // Matt Peterson, via The Atlantic: A guide to the unpredictable presidency to come.
One Last Trip With Joe Biden // The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons: How the vice president spent a few of his closing days in office.
Welcome to this first Trump Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 971, Chinese Song dynasty forces defeated the war elephant corps of the Southern Han. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
“Insolent,” “provocative,” “uncompromising,” “harsh,” a “rocky start”—The Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan this morning are going about as well as most would have anticipated “after rebel groups refused face-to-face negotiations with the government, which in turn labelled its delegation terrorists,” The Telegraph reports. “The landmark talks, brokered by Russia and Turkey, are the first between armed opposition groups and the regime since war erupted in the country in 2011. They are a showcase of the new power brokers in the region, with an increasingly disengaged Washington left sidelined.”
The Trump administration, reportedly deeply involved in transition matters, has sent the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, George Krol, to attend at least the “opening session held at the luxury Rixos President Hotel in Astana,” AP reports this morning.
Their forecast: “The harsh and uncompromising tone delivered by the two sides, so soon after the talks started with an opening ceremony and speeches by various representatives, was a bad omen for the gathering.”
Indeed, a rebel spokesman already vowed to continue the Syrian war if the talks in Astana go nowhere.
Nevertheless, “At the top of the agenda is an effort to consolidate last month's cease-fire brokered by Turkey and Russia. The truce, which excludes extremist groups such as the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, has reduced overall violence but fighting and violations continue on multiple fronts,” AP reports. More here.
In Iraq, the ISIS blew up “the largest hotel in western Mosul on Friday, in an attempt to destroy it and prevent Iraqi forces from using it as a landing spot or base in their offensive to capture the city,” Reuters reported Sunday. (Remember when ISIS “re-opened” the five-star hotel back in May 2015? The Telegraph has that look-back, here.)
Reuters: “The Mosul Hotel, shaped as a step pyramid, appeared to be leaning to one side after the explosions, said two witnesses contacted by phone... The Mosul Hotel sits alongside the Tigris river that cuts the city into two halves. The explosion comes as Iraqi forces appear about to take full control of the eastern side and prepare to attack the western bank.”
Elsewhere in Mosul, some of Saddam’s old palaces have been retaken from ISIS, Kurdish Rudaw news reported Sunday in a 6.5 minute video you can find here.
Iraqis react to Trump’s tease about taking Iraqi oil, in remarks he made at the CIA on Saturday: “Of course I would fight the Americans if they came for the oil,” one Iraqi told Buzzfeed News’ Borzou Daragahi, reporting from Tal Abta.
The actual line from Trump: “If we kept the oil, you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place. So we should have kept the oil, but, OK, maybe we’ll have another chance. But the fact is, we should have kept the oil.”
Said another Iraqi to Buzzfeed: “There’s no way Trump could take the oil unless he launched a new military front and it be a new world war,” said Kareem Kashekh, a photographer who works for the Popular Mobilization Units. More here.
Noted Foreign Policy this weekend: “Aside from being physically impossible to sequester billions of barrels of underground oil, that would constitute a breach of international law.”
Thirteen U.S. Marine aircraft are headed to Australia in April as the legacy “Asia pivot” rides out the Obama momentum, The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported Saturday. The aircraft: “four tilt-rotor Ospreys and five Super Cobra and four Huey helicopters, all out of Hawaii.”
The Marines will be moving “to four major forward areas of operation over the next decade—Japan, Guam, Hawaii and Australia—as part of a "distributed laydown" that seeks to deter growing threats in the vast Asia-Pacific region, particularly from from China and North Korea... The presence was to grow to a 2,500-member Marine Air-Ground Task Force during the 2016-2017 time frame, but officials said the sixth iteration of the deployment will remain at 1,250 Marines who are expected to arrive in Australia in April.” Find full text of the story over at Military.com, here.
Nuclear worries in the UK. Last June, a British “Trident II D5 missile — which can kill millions when armed with nuclear warheads — experienced an alarming failure after being launched from a British submarine off the coast of Florida,” The Sunday Times of London reported this weekend. “It was the only firing test of a British nuclear missile in four years and raises serious questions about the reliability and safety of the weapons system.”
However, they add, “she would not say whether she had known about the failure or whether, as The Sunday Times of London reported, it had been covered up by Downing Street under her predecessor, David Cameron, shortly before the referendum on Britain’s exit from the European Union.”
The context: “The British Navy had not performed such a test for four years because of the expense of the missile, but had carried out tests in 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2012, all of which had been successful and publicized by the Ministry of Defense. The current test took place after the submarine had been refitted with new missile launch equipment and upgraded computer systems. Replacing Trident has been controversial because of the cost and because the current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, long an antinuclear campaigner, is opposed to retaining Britain’s nuclear deterrent, while his party’s official position has been to retain and renew it.”
After looking into the case of accused U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin, “a Mandarin-speaking Asian-American military officer accused of leaking highly sensitive U.S. military secrets to Chinese and Taiwanese officials,” Navy Times’ David Larter reports after reading “a trove of documents” and conducting “a series of interviews with officials inside and outside the military... There’s very little evidence of any espionage by Lin and there is growing doubt that the government can prove that Lin was a spy.” Lin’s trial date is in March. Story here.
Lastly today, and just ahead of spring budget hearings, a new congressional research report says the U.S. Army’s ground combat systems—“main battle tanks, tracked infantry fighting vehicles, tracked self-propelled artillery and multiple launch rocket systems”—are old and outdated, Military Times reports. “For the first time since World War I… the Army does not have a new ground combat vehicle under development and, at current funding levels, the Bradley [Fighting Vehicle] and Abrams [tank] will remain in the inventory for 50 to 70 more years.”
By contrast, “near-peer competitors such as China and Russia are close to fielding or have already fielded modern main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. Russia’s new T-14 Armata tank — which boasts 48 tons and a 125mm smooth bore autoloader as its main armaments, is currently under development. China fielded the MBT-3000 in 2012 — coming in at 57 tons, the tank is capable of firing laser-guided rounds, the CRS reported, citing data supplied from IHS Jane’s 360.” More here.
In other military tech news, a new fabric could make plate carriers for troops as much as 40 percent lighter. Military.com has that story, here.