Trump delegates Afghan decision; Russia makes surprise move in Syria; Toward ‘military omnipresence’; Bring back the FFGs? And just a bit more...

Trump’s Afghan war decision (is handed over to Mattis). As he did for the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, President Donald Trump on Tuesday delegated the decision on how many troops are needed to fight in Afghanistan to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, The New York Times reported.

Said Mattis to senators earlier in the morning: "We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible."

How soon? Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.: “We're now six months into this administration, we still haven't got a strategy for Afghanistan...When can we expect the Congress of the United States to get a strategy for Afghanistan that is a departure from the last eight years, which is, don't lose?”

Replied Mattis: "I believe by mid July we will be out of brief you in detail, sir. We are putting it together now and there are going to be actions being taken to make certain that we don't pay a price for the delay." More from Military Times, here.

Reuters notes that it’s been now four months since America’s top officer in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, told lawmakers he need "a few thousand" more troops. The U.S. currently has nearly 9,800 American servicemembers deployed to Afghanistan, according to the Times. For weeks, reports have been circulating that the U.S. may send another 3,000 to 5,000. “Those forces are expected to be largely comprised of trainers to support Afghan forces, as well as air crews.”

For the record: “More than 2,300 Americans have been killed and more than 17,000 wounded since the war began in 2001,” Reuters writes.

And on the ground: “The Afghan government was assessed by the U.S. military to control or influence just 59.7 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts as of Feb. 20, a nearly 11 percentage-point decrease from the same time in 2016, according to data released by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.” More from Reuters, here.

Don’t look now, but ISIS has captured a portion of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, NYT reports this morning. “Taliban fighters who had previously controlled the extensive cave and tunnel complex fled overnight after a determined, weeklong assault by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, according to villagers fleeing the area on Wednesday.”

The shift to Tora Bora came after that MOAB strike in Nangarhar on April 13, according to Hazrat Ali, “a member of Parliament and a prominent warlord from the area who helped the Americans capture Tora Bora from Al Qaeda in 2001,” the Times writes.

ISIS has some 1,000 or so fighters near Tora Bora, according to Ali. And that not only gives them “an easily defended base at Tora Bora… but also access to many other parts of Nangarhar Province through the Spin Ghar mountains along the Pakistan border, where Tora Bora sits,” he said. They’ve also reportedly captured a marble quarry and a fuel depot.

What that means: “ISIS has a stronghold and will capture [surrounding] areas one after another” unless Kabul can mount a counteroffensive soon. Read on, here.

From Defense One

Military Omnipresence: A Unifying Concept for America's 21st-Century Fighting Edge // Charles F. Wald and Ted Johnson: The Pentagon should converge its technological and doctrinal efforts towards a perpetual, networked presence that enables operations and awareness anywhere in the world.

Boeing to Cut 50 Executives, Reorganize Defense Business // Marcus Weisgerber: Fresh off a move to from St. Louis to Washington, the firm's defense division says it's removing a layer of bureaucracy.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1775: the Continental Congress authorized the enlistment of expert riflemen to serve the United Colonies for a year—marking the formal birth of the U.S. Army. Got tips? Email us at (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)

Pentagon officials blindsided by Russia in southern Syria. Russian forces have moved towards Al-Tanf, Syria, where U.S.-backed rebels maintain a garrison. And that’s a development “I did not anticipate,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told lawmakers Tuesday. “I did not anticipate that the Russians could move there. We knew it was a possibility... but it was not a surprise to our intelligence people who saw the potential for them to move out in that direction. The middle Euphrates River Valley clearly, Assad—thanks to the Russians and the Iranian support—is flexing his muscle. He's starting to feel a little more optimistic about his strategic situation.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford clarified, “We still have freedom movement outside of the Al Tanf area. And we're not limited from moving up towards the Euphrates River Valley at this time.”

Nonetheless, the U.S. has moved the big guns of its HIMARS artillery from Jordan to southern Syria, the military told CNN Tuesday.

Mixed messaging from nameless officials: “One defense official said that the HIMARS move was a response to actions by pro-regime forces, who have been deploying their own artillery near the perimeter of the 55-kilometer ‘de-confliction zone’ surrounding At Tanf…A second official, however, said it was not clear whether the HIMARS deployment was in direct response to threatening action by the pro-regime forces.”

Spotted in Syria today: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani, near “the Syrian border with Iraq,” according to state-run Tasnim News Agency. The Long War Journal: “In the latest picture, Soleimani was seen giving a prayer of gratitude in desert and visiting Afghan Fatemiyoun Division militiamen under his command, according to Tasnim. This unit has been operating near the Coalition military base at Tanf, and has assisted pro-regime forces in offensives near Palmyra in central Syria and toward the Iraqi border.” More here.

The bigger picture. Here’s what Mattis thinks Russia is up to: “I think a disruption of the international order is something that Russia, in a shortsighted way, thinks works to their benefit,” Mattis said in response to a question about why Russian hackers are allegedly under the microscope for a possible role instigating the Qatar diplomatic row by planting false news. “I think what you're seeing here, though, is the continued prevalence of threats—not just to our own country, not just the Western European democracies—but they're trying to break any kind of multilateral alliance.”

Meanwhile, the view from the Qatar-Saudi border: crickets.

BTW: Here's how Russia targets the U.S. military: “With hacks, pro-Putin trolls and fake news, the Kremlin is ratcheting up its efforts to turn American servicemembers and veterans into a fifth column,” Politico reported on Monday.

While we're talking cyber measures, here’s a new-ish one for you: The “Hidden Cobra” of select North Korean hackers, which have “targeted the media, aerospace and financial sectors, as well as critical infrastructure, in the United States and globally,” Reuters reported Tuesday off of a “a rare alert squarely blaming the North Korean government for a raft of cyber attacks stretching back to 2009 and warning that more were likely.”

What you need to know to protect yourself: “Hidden Cobra commonly targets systems that run older versions of Microsoft Corp operating systems that are no longer patched, the alert said, and also used vulnerabilities in Adobe Systems Inc's. Flash software to gain access into targeted computers. The report urged organizations to upgrade to current versions of Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight or, when possible, uninstall those applications altogether.” More, here.

Back to Syria, where the battle for Raqqa is moving swiftly (maps here).

But the airstrike campaign in Raqqa has caused a "staggering loss of civilian life," according to UN investigators. But exactly how many deaths have occurred is impossible to know right now. BBC, here.

Iraqi and Syrian military officials met in Baghdad Tuesday. At least one topic of discussion: the two countries’ borders and how to keep ISIS from slipping back and forth across the Sykes-Picot line. More the Middle East Eye, here.

Meat grinder in Mosul. “Starting at around 3 a.m. the militants launched seven car bombs at the front lines south of the Old City, their last remaining foothold,” the Washington Post reports from Irbil.

“Simultaneously, 25 fighters wearing suicide vests attacked them from behind their lines. Another police commander put the number of suicide attackers at 50. The militants had snuck down the Tigris River and attacked with the assistance of ‘sleeper cells’ which provided vehicles for them,” a federal police colonel said.

Reuters reports ISIS claims to have killed 40 federal police in the attack.

What’s left? “Iraqi and U.S. military officials estimate that up to 1,000 fighters may remain in the area of just over a square mile. Penned in, they have little choice but to fight to the death.” More from WaPo, here.

Battle for Marawi death toll: “The [Philippine] military said 290 people had been killed so far, including 206 militants, 58 soldiers and 26 civilians. About 100 militants are in the besieged area, the military has said. There are also an estimated 300-600 civilians trapped or being held hostage in the city.” The latest from Reuters, here.

More Super Hornets. The Navy wants to buy at least 80 more Boeing F/A-18E/F over five years, “a change from its previous on-the-books plan to zero out the aircraft program beginning next year,” admirals told lawmakers Tuesday, according to USNI News. Their written testimony to the Senate Armed Services’ seapower subcommittee: “These additional procurements begin to mitigate the decline in [the Navy’s] strike fighter inventory and enable older aircraft to be pulled from service for mid-life upgrades and rework to extend their service life.”

Bring back the FFGs? The Navy is also taking “a hard look” at bringing up to eight Perry-class frigates out of mothballs as part of Adm. John Richardson’s try-everything effort to get the fleet to 355 ships, USNI News reports. “A lot has changed since we last modernized those,” Richardson told a Naval War College audience. “It’ll be a cost benefit analysis in terms of how we do that.” He was a bit more sanguine about efforts to extend the planned lives of some DDG 51-class destroyers: “That’s going to be money in the bank if we do that.”

The Oliver Hazard Perry class was conceived in the early 1970s by Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, who brooked his service’s predilection for top-of-the-line everything and ordered a small, cheap warship that could be produced in large numbers. The Perrys were in service from 1975 to 2015.