Trump praises budget in address to Congress; Iraqis surround Mosul; USAF eyes prop-driven attack planes; Iran test-fires missile from submarine; and just a bit more...
President Trump repeated his promise to rebuild America’s military, Military Times’ reports off his first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday evening. “To keep America safe we must provide the men and women of the U.S. military with the tools they need to prevent war and, if they must, to fight and to win,” said President Trump. “I am sending the Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester, and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”
But few are optimistic about the budget’s prospects. For starters, Congress would have to repeal the Budget Control Act of 2011, as Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reported Monday, and the president’s address offered no new approaches to this Gordian knot.
On vets, the president “promised an increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs, whose budget has nearly quadrupled to $180 billion since 2001,” MT’s Leo Shane III writes. “Trump argued that ‘our veterans have delivered for this nation and now we must deliver for them.’”
Trump also said America’s partners, “whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific,” will be expected “to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost” for U.S. security.
On the flip side of that coin, Trump declared, “To those allies who wonder what kind of friend America will be, look no further than the heroes who wear our uniform.”
And the night’s longest standing ovation was indeed for a recent fallen special operator, Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who died in the late January raid in Yemen. Trump also responded to reports that the mission he approved yielded little useful information: “I just spoke to [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, ‘Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.’ Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity,” the president said, adding quickly, “Thank you.”
Catch the president’s full remarks in a transcript from CNN, here.
The White House is preparing a new immigration order to be signed possibly as early as today, AP reports. And this new order will reportedly remove Iraq from the list of countries affected by Trump’s travel ban.
The reason given: “Four officials told The Associated Press that the decision followed pressure from the Pentagon and State Department, which had urged the White House to reconsider Iraq’s inclusion given its key role in fighting the Islamic State group.”
The other six nations on the original ban—Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—will remain.
Also different in the upcoming order: it “no longer singles out Syrian refugees for an indefinite ban and instead includes them as part of a general, 120-day suspension of new refugee admissions. The officials also said the order won’t include any explicit exemption for religious minorities in the countries targeted by the travel ban. Critics had accused the administration of adding such language to help Christians get into the United States while excluding Muslims.” More here.
“Near-simultaneous” bombings in Kabul killed at least three and have wounded more than three-dozen others, Agence France-Presse reports from an attack the Taliban have already claimed.
What happened: “A suicide car bomber struck an Afghan police precinct in western Kabul and a gunbattle ensued, the interior ministry said, in a continuing attack which sent clouds of acrid smoke billowing into the sky. Five minutes later a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of an Afghan intelligence agency branch in eastern Kabul as another attacker was gunned down while trying to enter the compound...After the car bomber hit the police station ‘another attacker who entered the building has taken position inside. Security forces are still engaged in fighting,’ a ministry official told AFP.”
Adds Reuters: “Fighting at the police headquarters, not far from a military training school, lasted for several hours with gunmen barricaded inside the building...A separate attack appeared to have targeted an office of Afghanistan's main intelligence agency, the National Directorate for Security (NDS), on the eastern outskirts of Kabul. However a senior army official said that attack was quickly suppressed.”
For what it’s worth: “The latest violence comes two days after an Afghan policeman linked to the Taliban shot dead 11 of his colleagues at a checkpoint in the southern province of Helmand, in the latest so-called insider attack,” AFP writes.
And ICYMI, “Last month, a suicide bomber killed at least 20 people outside the Supreme Court in Kabul. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for that attack,” Reuters reports. More here and here.
From Defense One
'Winning' or Not, Trump Doesn't Seem to Be Listening To His Generals // Kevin Baron: Based on what he says, Trump already is defying his generals. The real test is what he actually does.
Sell India F-16s — and Build Them Abroad // Heritage Foundation’s John Venable: It's the right move for the United States, even if it makes the Trump administration uncomfortable.
House Intelligence Leaders Show Shaky Marriage on Russia Hack Investigation // Nextgov’s Joseph Marks: Chairman Devin Nunes says there's no there there; ranking member Adam Schiff says it's too early to judge.
Almost 200 Firms Have Bid To Build Trump's Border Wall // Citylab’s Kriston Capps: From corporate behemoths to mom-and-pop shops, construction companies see an opportunity in designing Trump's border wall with Mexico, despite the project's notoriety.
Welcome to the March 1 edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1917: the Zimmerman Telegram is published in U.S. newspapers, drawing the country toward involvement in World War I. (Got a tip? Let us know by clicking this link to email us: email@example.com.)
In Iraq, coalition troops “took control of the last major road out of western Mosul that had been in Islamic State's hands, trapping the militants in a shrinking area within the city,” Reuters reports. “The army's 9th Armored Division was within a kilometer of Mosul's Syria Gate, the city's northwestern entrance...[that] links Mosul to Tal Afar, another Islamic State stronghold 60 km (40 miles) to the west, and then to Syria.” More here.
In case you were curious: Iraqi special forces fought off 73 ISIS drone attacks on the first day of the West Mosul offensive; there were just 40 such attacks on on the second day, the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris reported Tuesday.
Russia’s military is reportedly getting “impatient for President Donald Trump to make good on his promise to mount a joint fight against Islamic State,” Bloomberg reported Tuesday: “‘Enough talk about it,’ Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said, referring to prospects of cooperation with the U.S. in Syria. Russian and U.S. defense officials at airbases in the Middle East ‘are exchanging information and this could be extended’ to allow for joint operations, though no ‘there’ve been no concrete steps so far,’ Fomin said in an interview in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Tuesday.”
Writes Bloomberg: “Fomin’s comments are among the most direct expressions of frustration with the Trump administration from a senior Russian official, as initial euphoria over prospects for cooperation has given way to greater caution.”
What next? “While there’ve been ‘constructive’ talks between Russian and U.S. military chiefs, Russia wants a meeting ‘soon’ between Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his U.S. counterpart James Mattis, Fomin said. ‘We’re ready for any format’ of talks, he said.
Syrian peace talks in Geneva “seem destined to wind down this week without meaningful progress,” the Washington Post’s Liz Sly reports. “Five days into a round of discussions intended to take place between delegations representing the Syrian government and the opposition, government and opposition negotiators still have not met. Instead, the talks, due to end Friday, have become snarled in debates about procedures and process without yet addressing the major issues surrounding the remote possibility of finding a political solution to the nearly six-year-old war.”
“Syria talks aren't failing for a lack of U.S. leadership,” says former DoD official and Army Ranger Andrew Exum. They're failing, he says, because as Sly reports: “Whether a political settlement is even possible, given the current circumstances on the battlefield, is in question, however, analysts said. Russia’s intervention and the government’s victory in Aleppo decisively tilted the balance in favor of Assad, who is now in no danger of being toppled militarily by the rebels.”
Sly reached out to Jihad Makdissi, leading a separate opposition organization called the Cairo Group, and he said this: “Logically speaking, why would the regime give up something in Geneva that the armed opposition failed to gain militarily on the ground? The word ‘concession’ is not now in the dictionary of the regime’s mind. As long as the regime can’t manage to get international recognition again, why would they give concessions?” More to that, here.
Also this morning: a UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a report this morning that “says the evacuation of eastern Aleppo in December after months of siege and aerial bombing by Russian and Syrian forces was the latest in a series of war crimes committed in the six-year-old conflict,” AP reports. Why? “The agreement to evacuate rebel-held eastern Aleppo gave civilians no option to remain at the end of the protracted campaign, in which daily bombings left all the hospitals in the area out of service. The commission said such agreements ‘amount to the war crime of forced displacement of the civilian population.’” More here, or read the full report (PDF), here.
Before we leave Syria: CENTCOM’s Twitter feed gave in to “popular demand” on Tuesday and shared photos of Syrian Kurdish women the U.S. military is training to fight ISIS. Business Insider has a short write-up of those three tweets on a particularly sensitive topic for America’s Turkish allies in the counter-ISIS fight, here.
More prop planes vs. ISIS? A-29 Super Tucanos and Beechcraft’s AT-6s could return to service as a new U.S. Air Force fleet of light-attack planes against ISIS, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. “Gen. David L. Goldfein, the service’s top officer, said the proposal is part of an ongoing dialogue that dates back years and could soon include an experiment in which private companies demonstrate what the planes can do.”
Goldfein: “I’m not interested in something that requires a lot of research and development here,” he told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I’m looking for something that I can get at right now, commercial, off the shelf, low-cost, that can operate in an uncontested environment, that can deliver the capabilities that we need, that can also be something that perhaps our allies and partners that are in this fight with us” can find useful.
Reminder: CENTCOM already “deployed two Vietnam-era, twin-engine OV-10G Broncos on loan from NASA to Iraq in 2015, flying them in missions against the Islamic State to assess how light-attack planes might help in the air war...The use of the planes was the latest step in a program called Combat Dragon II, which dates back nearly a decade and involves Special Operations Command,” WaPo writes.
And the dollars and cents side of all this: “Air Force officials estimate that the cost of flying a propeller plane like the A-29 or AT-6 would be a few thousand dollars per hour. In comparison, it costs about $18,000 per hour to fly the A-10 attack jet. Other hourly costs are: $19,000 for the F-16; $24,000 for the F-15E; $42,000 for the F-35A; $44,000 for the AC-130J; $62,000 for the F-22A; $63,000 for the B-52; $77,000 for the B-1B; and $120,000 for the B-2, according to service statistics.” Read the rest, here.
USAREUR’s Hodges wants transparency on Russian exercises. U.S. Army Europe commander, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, this morning “called on Russia to open its major military exercise later this year to observers to assuage the anxieties of its neighbors,” Reuters reports.
The context there: “Russia has unveiled plans to stage its Zapad 2017 exercise near its western borders this autumn but has not said how many troops will take part. Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite said the Baltic countries were concerned about the exercise and called on NATO for additional security measures.”
Hodges’ reax: “For me, Zapad represents an opportunity for the Russians to demonstrate that they are committed to security and stability in Europe also through transparency, by inviting media, by inviting observers, more than the minimums required by Vienna, to demonstrate, to show what's going on, to be transparent,” he told reporters in Lithuania.
He also said the U.S. needs to find new “ways to address Russia's use of unmanned drones, such as those deployed in Eastern Ukraine and Syria,” writes Reuters. More here.
In other war tech news, Iran says it test-fired missile from submarine, The Times of Israel reported Monday. "Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said the Nasir missile, which he described as Iran’s latest submarine launched cruise missile, 'successfully hit its target' during its test launch, the official IRNA news agency reported. Tasnim news agency said the Dehlaviyeh, a laser-guided missile, had also been successfully tested" back in 2012 based on "a Russian anti-tank missile."
Key takeaways here: “Cruise missiles — such as the Nasir fired in the most recent missile launches — are not covered by UN Resolution 2231, which was passed shortly after the nuclear deal with Iran was signed in July 2015...However, the test is likely to be viewed in Israel and the US as another aggressive maneuver by Tehran to expand its missile program.” A little bit more, here.
And lastly today: “An unspecified number of Navy Special Warfare forces have been punished for flying a Trump flag on a military convoy seen traveling through Louisville last month,” Louisville’s Courier-Journal reported Tuesday.
Navy Times picks up the story: “The vehicles carrying the Trump flag were unmarked. But an investigation found they belonged to Navy Special Warfare service members who 'violated the spirit and intent of applicable DoD regulations concerning the flying of flags and the apparent endorsement of political activities,' said Lt. Jacqui Maxwell, of the Naval Special Warfare Group in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Maxwell said 'administrative corrective measures' were taken with each individual, but declined to elaborate on the punishments or how many were punished." Read the rest, here.