Trump fires FBI chief; Turks decry plan to arm Kurds; How France foiled Russian hacking; The future of Army small arms; and just a bit more...
Into uncharted waters. “Trump Fires Comey Amid Russia Inquiry” is the New York Times headline today, riding right past the president’s attempts to frame his surprise firing of the FBI chief as having to do with something else. Lawfare concurs: “Comey testified just the other day that the FBI is ‘conducting an investigation to understand whether there was any coordination between the Russian efforts and anybody associated with the Trump campaign.’ Splitting hairs over whether this does or does not mean that Trump is ‘under investigation’ cannot obscure the fact that Trump just fired someone who is leading an investigation that deals with whether his aides, campaign, and White House staff had improper dealings with adversary foreign intelligence service.” Read on, here.
There’s also this, from Politico: Trump “had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia.”
And this, from NBC News: “President Donald Trump has hired a Washington law firm to send a letter to a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee saying he has no connections to Russia, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday.”
So now what? First up, there’s today’s Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who joked about Comey’s firing this morning in a brief public appearance at the State Department.
But all eyes are on Congress. Lawfare rounds up responses from lawmakers, here.
Meanwhile, here’s Michael Hayden, CIA and NSA chief under Obama, talking to Cipher Brief: “I’m trying to avoid the conclusion that we’ve become Nicaragua.”
The AP’s grim read: “Trump thrusts US presidency into perilous area.” That, here.
From Defense One
Intelligence Leaders Are Practically Begging Trump to Condemn Russian Hacking // Patrick Tucker: The president's unwillingness to call out Moscow's electoral meddling is doing the Kremlin a favor, one former top spy testified to lawmakers.
Unprecedented: US Air Force Will Let a Defense Company Pick Its Next Jamming Plane // Marcus Weisgerber: The latest twist in the Compass Call replacement saga sparks concerns that it cedes an inherent military function to a private firm.
Diplomacy with North Korea Can Work // Bernadette Stadler: But success will require the Trump administration to learn some lessons from the last nuclear agreement with Pyongyang.
Russia's Meddling in the French Election Backfired Spectacularly // Max de Haldevang: After the U.S. election, Russia's mysterious psy-ops seemed formidable, but the French vote has made the Kremlin look crass rather than cunning.
What Is America's Secret Space Shuttle For? // Marina Koren: It's not clear what the U.S. Air Force's X-37B is supposed to do — or if it's worth its hefty price tag.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1972: A pair of F-4 aviators become the first U.S. aces of the Vietnam War. Here are photos from today’s Victory Day parade in Moscow. Got tips? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
“Unacceptable.” That’s what Turkish officials call the White House’s plan to directly arm the Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State group in Raqqa, Syria. Arm them with what? “Small arms, including rifles and machine guns, as well as other military equipment,” NPR’s Tom Bowman reported.
Now to the drama: “Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said the president made the decision Monday,” the Washington Post reported, “describing the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a diverse group dominated by Kurdish fighters, as ‘the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.’”
Acknowledging Ankara’s position, White said, “We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey. We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.”
The Turkish reaction, of course, was a bit different. "Both the PKK and YPG are terrorist organizations and they are no different apart from their names," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters this morning on the sidelines of a conference in Montenegro. "Every weapon seized by them is a threat to Turkey."
Said Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli: “We hope the U.S. administration will put a stop to this wrong and turn back from it...Our wish is that the U.S. stops this wrong and does what is mandated by our friendship.”
One reporter’s reaction: “The US has been arming the YPG for ages but this will end the fiction that it's doing so via Arabs in the SDF,” WaPo’s Liz Sly wrote this morning on Twitter.
There’s also a bit of progress in governance plans for territory won back by the SDF in northern Syria, according to the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister, who writes that a new deal has apparently been reached to allow the Free Syrian Army’s Liwa al-Mutassim group “take over authority of YPG and SDF territories in northern Aleppo.”
Adds Lister on the plan to arm the Kurds for the Raqqa operation: "This isn’t a matter of Turkey or the YPG—it's an issue of balancing future stability with short-term goals...prioritizing short-term goals (Raqqa) over or above long-term stability will result in more instability." At any rate, he says, “Raqqa isn’t the be-all, end-all of ISIS—they have already moved their 'capital' management south to Al-Mayadin.”
Syrian de-escalation zone update, Israeli diplomacy edition. “Iran's potential role in enforcing zones along Israeli border” is worrying Joint Chiefs Chairman, Gen. Joseph Dunford, Stars and Stripes’ Tara Copp reported Tuesday from Jerusalem. His big concern: Hezbollah’s possible involvement in the Russian-Iranian-Turkish plan put into force last weekend. Story, here.
Russian edition: “Despite leading new ceasefire effort in Syria, US officials say Russia shipped more artillery units to the Assad regime days ago,” Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson reports this morning via Twitter.
The U.S. military is shifting forces to the Baltics to “increase its ability observe Russian troop movements near the Baltic states during a large military exercise planned by Moscow this summer,” the Washington Post reports this morning. “The Russian exercise, known as Zapad, or West, occurs every four years and will take place this year in western Russia, including Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The U.S. military estimates that 70,000 to 100,000 Russian troops could take part in the exercise, the officials said, adding that the Russian military could also take the opportunity to upgrade certain equipment permanently stationed in the region. Specifically, the officials said that they expect the Russian missile defenses in Kaliningrad to be permanently upgraded with nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missile systems.” More, here.
In the name of the Brits’ security. An open letter from former senior military officers to the British prime minister warns the UK is at risk if defense spending does not rise. The BBC has the letter, and investigates five questions behind its concerns, here.
Germany just put down nearly a billion on new tanks, Defense News reports. “All told, the Bundeswehr stands to get 104 used Leopard 2 battle tanks out of storage that manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann will upgrade under a contract with the German Defence Ministry from the A4 configuration to the newest A7V standard… The German Army is slated to receive the upgraded tanks beginning in 2019, with deliveries finished by 2023. The new tank deal will bring the number of German tanks to 328, in line with a goal set by Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen.” More, here.
How to fight Russian hackers, French edition: “dozens of false email accounts, complete with phony documents, to confuse” the digital disruptors of a democracy process, The New York Times reports from Paris. Their lede: “Everyone saw the hackers coming. The National Security Agency in Washington picked up the signs. So did Emmanuel Macron’s bare-bones technology team.”
Said one official: “I don’t think we prevented them. We just slowed them down. Even if it made them lose one minute, we’re happy.” Worth the click, here.
A big, beautiful ship takes to the sea for the first time in five years: the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), it rejoined the fleet Tuesday, “leaving the Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipyard and heading into the Atlantic for sea trials,” Navy Times reports.
Meanwhile, an older one heads for the scrapyard. Photos of the decommed Independence under tow, here.
The future of U.S. Army small arms has been mapped out, Military.com reported Tuesday. “The Army's senior leadership has issued a directed requirement to field more than 1,000 Medium Anti-Armor Weapon Systems, or MAAWS, which is also known as the Carl Gustaf, said Lt. Col. Loyd Beal III, who runs Product Manager Crew Served Weapons. The service plans to field the new M3A1 -- the replacement for the current M3 Carl Gustaf, Beal said, adding that the goal is to have the first unit equipped in fiscal 2018.”
A new squad automatic rifle is expected in another eight years. As well, “The Army hopes to field a new Precision Sniper Rifle by fiscal 2021, Beal said. The PSR is a multi-caliber rifle that will enable sniper teams to engage man-sized targets out to 1,500 meters, he said. If all goes well, the PSR will replace the Army's M2010 sniper rifle, chambered for .300 Winchester magnum, and the M107 sniper rifle, chambered for .50 caliber, Beal said.” More here.
And now for something completely different: We turn south, where poop is now “bioterrorism” in Venezuela, AFP’s Central American bureau chief, Marc Burleigh, relayed from the country where protests against the sitting government have continued since mid-April. Those protests have risen to the point of protesters digging into port-a-johns and tossing the business at police. The result is a new decree you can read for yourself in Spanish, here.