Trump shakes up NSC; Immigration ban roils airports, world capitals; US special operator KIA in Yemen; How much has F-35’s cost shrunk?; and just a bit more...
Trump elevates controversial aide over military, intel community chiefs in top national-security leaders group. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence will meet with the National Security Council’s principals committee only when summoned, according to an order signed by President Trump on Saturday. (White House chief of staff Reince Priebus walked that back a bit on Sunday, saying, “They’re included as attendees any time that they want to be included.”) Taking their place as a permanent member of the top inter-agency group for discussing national security is Stephen Bannon, the presidential advisor who is (as the New York Times writes) “a former Navy surface warfare officer, admiral’s aide, investment banker, Hollywood producer and Breitbart News firebrand” and who in the latter job (as Foreign Policy chairman David Rothkopf writes) purveyed “racist, misogynist and Islamophobic perspectives.” Bannon was executive chairman of Breitbart, a conservative site popular with white nationalists.
The order drew howls of protest from current and former national-security leaders. Sen. John McCain called it a “radical departure from any National Security Council in history.”
Former defense secretary Robert Gates, who served both Republican and Democratic presidents, “told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that the relegation for the defense chiefs was a ‘big mistake’: ‘Under the law, only two statutory advisers to the National Security Council and that’s the director of central intelligence, or the DNI, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff,’ Gates said.” That’s from The Guardian, here.
“This is stone cold crazy,” said Amb. Susan Rice, the most recent national security advisor to Obama, in a Twitter flurry.
NPR’s Phil Ewing: “What does it all mean, in practical terms? It's too soon to say. Former national security council staffers say their day-to-day meetings and process were not governed by whatever formal instruction issued by their respective presidents. Political staffers from the White House have attended meetings in the past.” More, here.
Chaos after a campaign promise, airport protests, and Capitol Hill push-back dominated the weekend narrative, as U.S. officials worked feverishly to carry out Trump’s early-Saturday order to ban travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the country, even with a valid visa or approved refugee application.
As hundreds were detained in the U.S.’s international airports and thousands gathered in protest, a hurriedly-filed lawsuit led a federal judge in New York to halt at least some deportations temporarily as border officials sought clarity. DHS initially defended the ban, but a terse statement from Secretary John Kelly appeared to relax the ban on green-card holders. CBS News rolls up some of the official requests for clarity or need for “adjustments,” including from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, here.
The broader implications for the counterterrorism war? Trump’s immigration actions “redefine America’s most lethal enemy in terms far broader than his post-9/11 predecessors,” the Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe reported Saturday, calling it “a vast departure for a country that has often struggled over the past 15 years to say whether it is at war and precisely who it is fighting.” To the White House, Jaffe writes, “America is locked in a world war for its very survival, and the enemies in this wide-ranging battle are not only radical Islamist terrorists but a chaotic, violent and angry Muslim world.”
That, he writes, marks a sharp contrast with “former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama [who] had defined the enemy in significantly narrower terms while in office, eager to avoid any moves that might make it appear as if the United States was at war with Islam.” However, the moves fall in line with “the somewhat dystopian vision of [President Trump’s] closest advisers,” Steve Bannon and Mike Flynn—both of whom have written and spoken at length about such issues for years. More from WaPo, here.
Did the White House move too quickly with the travel ban? Lawfare blog’s Benjamin Wittes says yes, and goes further: “In the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives. When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest.” Read on here.
But this is what you wanted: a recent Quinnipiac poll dated one week before the inauguration showed 48 percent approval for "suspending" immigration. Dig into the results for yourself, here.
The terrorists respond: In the past, “jihadists would have to argue to lengths that Obama, Bush, and others held anti-Islam agendas and hated the religion — not just radical terrorists. Trump, however, makes that argument a lot easier for them to sell to their followers,” said Rita Katz, founder of the SITE Intelligence Group, told WaPo in a report on jihadi reax, here.
Here’s how the ban was received by at least one officer at CENTCOM: “For ISIL it’s is like a 100 CIVCAS events. We'll never be able to 'countermessage' this,” one O-5 told Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations.
And the ban was not too kindly received in Iraq, too, this weekend—prompting the parliament in Baghdad (like the leadership of Iran) to pursue similar, if not 100 percent reciprocal, measures. Reuters rolls up some of the recent international uproar, here.
One more noteworthy international response: “Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country welcomed those fleeing war and persecution, even as Canadian airlines said they would turn back U.S.-bound passengers to comply with an immigration ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries,” Reuters reported.
"To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada," Trudeau tweeted on Saturday.
Roughly 24 hours later, Trudeau took to the airwaves to tell his fellow countrymen a “terrorist attack on Muslims” occurred at a mosque in Quebec City, killing six people and wounding eight others. Police arrested two suspects, but aren’t saying much more on the situation just yet. Reuters has the latest, here.
From Defense One
The Price of an F-35 Was Already Falling. Can Trump Drive it Lower? // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense One analyzed the changing cost of the JSF since the first production orders were placed in 2007. Here's what we found.
Everything I Need to Know about Russia's Internet Interference I Learned Through College Pranks // U.S. Army Aviator Crispin Burke: It's not terribly difficult to inject fake news into conversation.
We Conservatives Warned You, Trump Will Not Get Better. Here's What You Can Do. // Eliot A. Cohen: To my friends thinking of serving this administration, either you stand up for your principles and decent behavior, or you go down as a coward or opportunist.
Trump Wants DHS to Hire 15,000 for Border Security? Not So Fast // GovExec’s Eric Katz: The proposed surge would provide assets some agency officials have long requested. It would also enable Trump to fulfill a campaign promise—but it comes with challenges.
5 Things to Know Before the US Reduces Its Role at the UN // The Council on Foreign Relations’ Stewart M. Patrick: Trump's hyper-nationalist, 'America First' agenda will play well with his populist base. But it signals a reckless abdication of U.S. global leadership.
Cyber Commission Remains Bullish Trump Team Will Take Some Recommendations // Joseph Marks, NextGov: The cyber review, ordered by Obama, may have a future under the new president, even if Obama doesn't get credit.
Trump Has Made an Enemy Out of a Friend // Ambassador Jorge Guajardo: The U.S. is not talking to Mexico, a neighbor, trade partner and trusted ally because of a campaign promise few took seriously.
Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1912, American historian Barbara Tuchman—author of “The Guns of August” and “The Proud Tower”—was born in New York City. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
Deadly USSOF raid followed by reported drone strikes in Yemen. America’s newly escalated war in Yemen cost a special operations soldier his life while three other SOF were wounded and an Osprey was damaged beyond repair in a dawn raid Sunday on an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula hideout in a southern region of central Yemen's al-Bayda province, CENTCOM announced this weekend.
NBC News: “Yemeni security and tribal officials told the Associated Press the assault, in central Bayda province, killed three senior al Qaeda leaders. They say the Sunday attack killed Abdul-Raouf al-Dhahab, Sultan al-Dhahab, and Seif al-Nims. The al-Dhahab family is considered an ally of al Qaeda. In addition, the officials said some two dozen men had been killed or wounded in the raid, and that U.S. forces captured and departed with at least two men.”
The raid yielded “important intelligence that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world,” President Trump said in a statement.
And the reported drone strikes that occurred this morning and are said to have “killed two men believed to be al Qaeda militants in central Yemen, local officials said early on Monday,” Reuters reports. “The officials said the pilotless plane targeted a vehicle traveling in Baihan in the province of Shabwa, in which two suspected al Qaeda members were traveling. Both men were killed, they said.”
Worth noting: “Defense officials told NBC News that the U.S. was not tracking a specific plot involving the militants targeted in the operation, but that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was actively trying to carrying out attacks against targets world-wide. They added that the U.S. military has been focusing more on the group recently, and that can be expected to continue.” More here and from the New York Times, which has the most details, here.
Jordan’s King Abdullah is slated to become the first Muslim leader to visit the White House today, although Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports “it remains uncertain if he will hold talks with President Donald Trump.” The White House’s daily schedule says VP Mike Pence will speak with the King before having lunch with the president later in the day.
Trump and Saudi King Salman have reportedly agreed to “support safe zones” in both Syria and Yemen, the White House announced this weekend. Curiously, Reuters writes, “The Saudi Press Agency, in an initial readout of the call, made no specific mention of safe zones, but said the two leaders had affirmed the ‘depth and durability of the strategic relationship" between the two countries.’” However, the agency later said "the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques had confirmed his support and backing for setting up safe zones in Syria,” but there was no mention of such zones in Yemen. More from Reuters, here.
In other world leader talks this weekend, Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday. Said the White House: “The call lasted approximately one hour and ranged in topics from mutual cooperation in defeating ISIS to efforts in working together to achieve more peace throughout the world including Syria. The positive call was a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair. Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today's call the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.”
The Kremlin read-out mentions Ukraine—something the White House made no mention of. As well, neither mentioned the U.S. intelligence community’s report on alleged election meddling. And the Kremlin statement also hinted at "resumption of normal economic relations."
In Ukraine, Kiev’s troops are dealing with “the deadliest outbreak of fighting in the east of the country since mid-December,” Reuters reports. “The rebels began attacking government positions in the eastern frontline town of Avdiyivka on Sunday, Ukrainian officials said. Five soldiers were killed and nine wounded on Sunday and two more were killed on Monday, they said...The separatist website DAN said on Monday shelling by Ukrainian troops had killed one female civilian and wounded three others in the rebel-held town of Makiyivka, south of Avdiyivka. The reports could not be independently verified. On Sunday the separatists said one of their fighters had been killed during heavy Ukrainian shelling of their positions.” More here.
Lastly today: Two men in the U.K.—a reverend and an activist—“entered the BAE Systems site in Warton, Lancashire, on Sunday morning with the intention of disarming planes” that were intended for Saudi Arabia, Sky News reported, with no elaboration on how they attempted to disarm the aircraft. In a statement, one of them said, “Stopping or even delaying Saudi Arabia having more planes with which to bomb Yemen would save innocent lives and prevent war crimes." For a bit more on the matter of U.S. and U.K. arms to support KSA’s war in Yemen, read here.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this D Brief characterized Trump aide Stephen Bannon as a white nationalist. Bannon is former executive chairman of Breitbart, which is popular with many in the white nationalist movement.