Carnage in Kabul; Militias seize Libyan oil ports; Three ways of looking at NorK’s missile test; That Wikileaks dump; and just a bit more...

More than 30 people were killed in Kabul when disguised gunmen stormed the Sardar Daud Khan military hospital in a six-hour attack claimed by the Islamic State group, AFP reports from the capital. “Hospital administrators told AFP three gunmen wearing white laboratory coats began spraying bullets after a suicide bomber on foot blew himself up at the backdoor entrance, sparking chaos inside the 400-bed facility...At least two other loud explosions—including what the defence ministry called a car bomb in the hospital's parking lot—were heard as Afghan special forces launched a clearance operation that lasted around six hours.”

How it ended: “The attackers were gunned down after special forces landed on the roof of the hospital in a military helicopter.”

Most of those killed were patients, doctors and hospital staff, RFE/RL’s Frud Bezhan reports, adding, “some patients climbed out of the building and could be seen sheltering on window ledges.”

Afghanistan’s Tolo News has video from the scene, including that helo landing on top of the hospital, here.

What Pyongyang was (very probably) up to. We have a bit more data on North Korea’s presumed target in Sunday’s four missile launches that fell into the Sea of Japan, thanks to some open-source digging from Dave Schmerler of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Writes Dave: “So it would seem that the recent ER-Scud Salvo test was a simulated attack on the US base at Iwakuni.”

Last year, he writes, “North Korea simulated a nuclear attack on Busan. That tests map showed range ring the same distance from launch site to Busan.” Using new pictures of Sunday’s launch, Schmerler notes that Sunday’s launches sent missiles “the same distance out to sea that they would have flown in an attack on Iwakuni.”

The same Iwakuni that’s home to the U.S. military’s F-35s, staged for the ongoing Foal Eagle 2017 exercise with South Korea.

What’s all this matter? Writes Schmerler, citing a line from his colleague, @armscontrolwonk Jeffrey Lewis: “We’re practicing invading them; they are practicing nuking us.”

So, how’s Japan taking all this? “Japanese lawmakers are pushing harder for Japan to develop the ability to strike preemptively at [North Korea’s] missile facilities,” Reuters reports this morning.

What’s on the drawing board: “Japan is already improving its ballistic missile defenses with longer-range, more accurate sea-based missiles on Aegis destroyers in the Sea of Japan and from next month will start a $1 billion upgrade of its ground-based PAC-3 Patriot batteries. Also under consideration is a land-based version of the Aegis system or the THAAD system.”

But those changes could very well take too long, Reuters writes. “A quicker option would be for Japan to deploy ground-to-ground missiles to defend against an attack on its Yonaguni island near Taiwan fired from bases on Japanese territory several hundred kilometers to the east. A missile with that range could also hit sites in North Korea. Japan could also buy precision air launched missiles such as Lockheed Martin Corp's extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) or the shorter-range Joint Strike missile designed by Norway's Kongsberg Defence Aerospace AS for the F-35 fighter jet. But with limited capability to track mobile launchers, some Japanese officials still fear any strike would leave North Korea with enough rockets to retaliate with a mass attack.” It’s too soon to know which way lawmakers will actually lean, much less decide on. Read more about the Japanese response options, here.

And the Chinese reax? "China's suggestion is, as a first step, for North Korea to suspend nuclear and missile activities, and for the U.S. and South Korea to also suspend large-scale military drills," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said this morning. Wang went on to register China’s disapproval of the THAAD anti-missile system the U.S. military is deploying in South Korea. Read more here.


From Defense One

Cocktails & Conversation: Space and Satellites in the New Administration: This afternoon! Join Tech Editor Patrick Tucker, DoD's acting space-policy chief, and CSIS' Todd Harrison from 5:30 to 7:30 at LongView Gallery (1234 9th St NW, Washington, DC).

CIA Silent as Wikileaks Claims to Publish Thousands of Agency Files // Patrick Tucker: The group says the 8,000-plus files detail the existence and function of key hacking tools.

Pick Up the Pace on Missile Defense // Sen. Dan Sullivan: Five steps to keep U.S. defenses ahead of North Korea's efforts to make weapons that can threaten American cities.

Calm Down About North Korea's Nukes // Cato Institute’s John Glaser: History shows that nuclear states don't behave more aggressively or coercively.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1917: The February Revolution begins in Russia, leading to the tsar’s abdication. (Got a tip? Let us know by clicking this link to email us: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


In Iraq, Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has reportedly “left operational commanders behind with diehard followers to fight the battle of Mosul, and is now hiding out in the desert, focusing mainly on his own survival,” Reuters reports, citing U.S. and Iraqi officials. This one’s admittedly difficult to certify, writes Reuters. “But U.S. and Iraqi intelligence sources say an absence of official communication from the group's leadership and the loss of territory in Mosul suggest he has abandoned the city...rarely using communication that can be monitored, and moving constantly, often multiple times in one 24-hour cycle, the sources say. From their efforts to track him, they believe he hides mostly among sympathetic civilians in familiar desert villages, rather than with fighters in their barracks in urban areas where combat has been under way, the sources say.”

Meanwhile in the west Mosul offensive, “U.S.-backed Iraqi forces...are now closing in on the area around Mosul's Great Mosque on the western bank of the Tigris, where Baghdadi proclaimed his caliphate,” reports Reuters. More here.

What may be helping the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces advancing in Mosul: they can now “control the ISIS drone system in the western half of Mosul through the use of parasite machines,” according to Rudaw news.

Said Iraqi special forces Lt. Gen. Abdul Ghani al-Assadi to Rudaw: “That issue has been resolved completely...They [ISIS] used it on the first day against the Counter Terrorism Service which recorded 72 sorties from them. On the second day, we recorded 52 sorties. Then we used some machines, [interference] parasite machines, it became 8, and five days before now, and until today, not even a single flight.”

What we know about this “interference machine”: The Americans brought it, one officer said. "It is like a big vehicle. ISIS can no longer send even one drone into the sky."

Coalition spox, Col. John Dorrian, described them as “jammers,” Rudaw writes, (understandably) without a great deal more detail. Read the full story, here.

In Libya this week, militias seized some of the country’s oil terminals, and now want to move on the city of Benghazi, where a Russian-aligned former general—Khalifa Hifter—reigns, AP reports this morning. “Col. Mustafa Alsharksi, leader of the so-called Benghazi Defense Brigades, said more than 3,000 men are poised to continue eastward now that they have taken over the oil terminals of al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf. The move threatens to escalate the conflict between Libya's two competing parliaments and governments, each backed by a set of militias, tribes and political factions, and potentially damage the contested oil installations.”

To review the underlying dynamics: “Hifter's army is allied to the internationally recognized parliament based in eastern Libya, while the internationally recognized government based in the capital, Tripoli, opposes Hifter. The latter has condemned the fighting and says it has no role in it, according to a statement released by the Presidency Council, the United Nations-brokered body that was given the task of forming the government and that has presidential powers.” More here.

We’re now more than six years away from the Arab Spring protests that swept the Middle East. So five scholars at CNA Corp. have produced a 50-plus page report looking at where things stand now, and what to expect moving forward. Among the key considerations: “the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar each have a vision for Libya that they are pursuing; these visions are not shared...The United States supports the GNA, provides assistance, and is degrading and destroying the Islamic State. The Gulf states are supporting their forces in line with their own strategic interests. The bottom line is that not everyone can get what they want in Libya, and Gulf support for competing forces in that country will arguably contribute to prolonging the conflict there.” Worth the click, here.  

Proposed budget cuts that may imperil security: Item 1) The Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal would “gut the Coast Guard and make deep cuts in airport and rail security to help pay for its crackdown on illegal immigration, according to internal budget documents reviewed by POLITICO — a move that lawmakers and security experts say defies logic if the White House is serious about defending against terrorism and keeping out undocumented foreigners.” Here’s a reaction from retired Adm. James Loy, a former Coast Guard commandant who served as deputy homeland security secretary and TSA administrator under President George W. Bush: “It is ignorant of what constitutes national security...They simply don’t understand the equation.” Read on, here.

Item 2) The budget proposal would also cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control. Quoth Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla: “What CDC does is probably more important to the average American than, in a sense, the Defense Department,” he said. “You’re much more likely to be killed in a pandemic than you are in a terrorist attack, so you need to look at it that way.” Via the Boston Globe’s StatNews, here.

About that report that Israel had sent its F-35s into battle? Barbara Opall-Rome, Defense News’ longtime Tel Aviv bureau chief, doesn’t buy it: “This is crap. IAF has not yet installed EW or Comm in the first pair of F-35s and would not use them for such mission w/o C4Net.”

A more believable first: Israel has test-fired a Spike anti-surface missile from an unmanned boat. Jerusalem Post has the story, here.

Two new SECNAV candidates: “The White House is considering Richard V. Spencer, an investment banker with extensive business experience and ties to the Pentagon, and Randy Forbes, a former Virginia congressman and onetime chairman of an important naval subcommittee, to head the Navy,” officials tell former D Brief-er Gordon Lubold. WSJ, here.

Lastly today, we leave you with this offbeat lede about a new development in space technology: “In space, no one can hear you poop,” writes Charlsy Panzino of Air Force Times. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a health and hygiene issue for astronauts. That’s why NASA asked the public for ideas to help astronauts deal with their Number 1 and Number 2 problems, as part of the NASA Space Poop Challenge. The competition challenged creative minds to come up with ways for astronauts to manage personal waste in space while ditching the traditional diaper.”

The winner: Air Force Col. Thatcher Cardon, commander of the 47th Medical Group at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. He won the $15,000 prize “with his MACES Perineal Access and Toileting System, or M-PATS.” We’ll let Panzino fill you in on the details, which you can find here.

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