The Pentagon: our senior leaders knew about the Monday evening statement from the White House warning the Assad regime against further chemical weapons use in Syria—or at least Defense Secretary Jim Mattis knew in advance, The New York Times reported Tuesday. But the U.S. public is unlikely to see any of the purported evidence, as it’s “an intelligence matter,” State Department spox Heather Nauert said.
The view from 1600 Penn: “Our main aim is to make sure nothing happens,” a senior Trump administration official told The Daily Beast. “The fact of the matter is that inter-agency coordination did take place, but it’s also true that ‘normal channels’ have proven 100% ineffective in stopping these attacks for more than 5 years… Shaking up this system a little bit and surprising people-including Assad-might not be a terrible idea,” another WH admin official said.
Call me, maybe. President Trump’s Tuesday chat by phone with French President Emmanuel Macron yielded an agreement “on the need for a ‘joint response’ in the event of another chemical attack in Syria,” France24 news reported afterward. Their final line: “The French foreign ministry refused to say Tuesday whether it, too, had information about possible preparations by the Syrian regime for a chemical attack.” More here.
Publicly, Russia says it doesn’t know what the White House is talking about. “I am not aware of any information about a threat that chemical weapons could be used,” Kremlin spox Dmitri Peskov said Tuesday.
But privately, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke with U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson on Monday about the matter, among other issues—both the State Department and Kremlin said. Via Russia, “Moscow said Lavrov urged Tillerson to prevent ‘provocations’ by the U.S. and its allies against ‘Syrian government forces carrying out operations against terrorists,’” The Daily Beast reported. “According to the Russian foreign ministry, the agenda for the call was to discuss implementing the ceasefire plan that Russia, Turkey and Iran—and not the U.S.—recently negotiated in Kazakhstan.
Syria’s reax: We don’t have chemical weapons, Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister for national reconciliation told the Associated Press.
Reax from Iran: This warning is just “Another dangerous U.S. escalation in Syria on fake pretext will only serve ISIS, precisely when it’s being wiped out by Iraqi & Syrian people,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.
The U.S. military said it is keeping its focus on ISIS while the White House escalates it rhetoric and pro-regime troops swarm around U.S.-backed rebels in southern Syria.
SecDef Mattis told reporters this morning en route to a NATO defense ministerial: "You've got to really play this thing very carefully... We just refuse to get drawn into a fight there in the Syria civil war, we try to end that one through diplomatic engagement... [but] If somebody comes after us, bombs us or takes a heading on us or fires on us, then under legitimate self-defence we'll do whatever we have to do to stop it... The closer we get, the more complex it gets." That, via AFP, here. Or read more from the Washington Post, which is also traveling with Mattis, here.
The U.S. military may have killed a few dozen civilians allegedly taken captive by ISIS in Mayadeen, eastern Syria, on Monday. Story from NYTs, here.
ICYMI: It should be concerning that America’s Syria policy appears, in fact, to be made in Tampa, home of CENTCOM. The Atlantic Council’s Frederic Hof, who directs the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, investigated the implications of that apparent takeaway from recent developments in Syria. He begins with reminding readers of what he said “seemed to be a major clarification of American policy in Syria” just last week.
Writes Hof: “Referring to a Syrian town on the Iraqi border, [CENTCOM spox] Colonel Ryan Dillon said the following: ‘If they [Assad regime forces] want to fight ISIS in Abu Kamal and they have the capacity to do so, then that would be welcomed. We as a coalition are not in the land-grab business. We are in the killing-ISIS business. That is what we want to do, and if the Syrian regime wants to do that and they’re going to put forth a concerted effort and show that they are doing just that in Abu Kamal or Deir el-Zour or elsewhere, that means that we don’t have to do that in those places.’”
His bottom line: “The Trump administration correctly views Iranian domination of Syria—undertaken to secure and reinforce Hezbollah in Lebanon—as contrary to American interests. Yet Tampa articulates a policy that seems to be fully at peace with Iran and Assad dominating eastern Syria, provided they refrain from attacking American-supported, anti-ISIS forces, and provided they make a ‘concerted effort’ against ISIS in Syria. Is it possible that Iranian and regime threats to those forces over the past few weeks have achieved their desired effects?” Read on, here.
From Defense One
Ukraine Police Say This is the Source of Tuesday's Massive Cyber Attack // Patrick Tucker: The lesson from Tuesday's massive cyber attack, beware of updates from Ukrainian accounting apps that are orders of magnitude larger than normal.
Ukraine is Ground Zero in a New Global Malware Attack // Max de Haldevang and Keith Collins: The quick infection of nearly 300,000 computers worldwide is reportedly due to two software exploits released in April by the hacking group called the Shadow Brokers.
Time for the Pentagon to Overhaul Drone Management, New Report Says // Caroline Houck: As the Pentagon writes a long-term drone plan, the former head of Air Force intelligence has some suggestions.
Cherry Picking Intelligence For War in the Middle East? Here We Go Again // Paul R. Pillar and Greg Thielmann: Will Trump follow the Bush playbook and start a war with Iran?
I Could Kill You with a Consumer Drone // Brett Velicovich: As a former intelligence soldier who now sells drones for a living, I can tell you that this problem is bigger than almost anyone realizes.
The FBI's Role in National Security // Zachary Laub: The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been reoriented toward counterterrorism in recent years, but continues to face charges of overreach.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Have something you want to share? Email us at email@example.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
Happening today: the House Armed Services Committee begins marking up its National Defense Authorization Act. Read a mega-preview from the U.S. Naval Institute News, here.
Or read “Why Congress and the Pentagon Should Bypass Trump’s Defense Spending Bill,” from Alex Wagner, chief of staff for Army Secretary Eric Fanning, writing this morning in Defense One.
Related reading: The F-35’s ballooning support costs make it a huge budgetary risk, according to an assessment from the Defense Department’s testing office, Bloomberg reports this morning.
The stakes: “President Donald Trump requested 70 F-35s in his fiscal 2018 budget request, up from 63 last year. The two primary House defense committees signaled this week that they want to add as many as 17 more. Negotiations between Lockheed and the Pentagon are also under way for a “block buy” of 445 of the aircraft for the U.S. and allies.” More here.
PACOM’s Harris warns the ISIS exodus from Iraq and Syria is sending jihadis to “beachheads” throughout Asia, The Wall Street Journal reported from Australia, where Harris spoke at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute this morning.
On the Philippines’ ongoing war against ISIS affiliates south of Manila: “Marawi is a wake-up call for every nation in the Indo-Asia Pacific.”
On North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un: coordinated, international efforts should help bring him “to his senses, not to his knees.”
And on China: “I believe the Chinese are building up combat power and positional advantage in an attempt to assert de facto sovereignty over disputed maritime features and spaces in South China Sea... Fake islands should not be believed by real people.” More here.
Happening tomorrow: South Korea’s newly-elected President Moon Jae-in comes to the White House for dinner and an Oval Office meeting the next day, NYTs reports in a preview looking into a narrowing set of options available to President Trump for confronting North Korea’s nuclear program.
By the way: China just launched “its most advanced domestically produced destroyer on Wednesday,” AP reported from Beijing. "The first 10,000-ton Type 055 entered the water at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard on Wednesday morning, the navy said in a news release. It said the ship is equipped with the latest air, missile, ship and submarine defense systems. China is believed to be planning to launch four of the ships."
FWIW, "In terms of displacement, it is roughly equivalent to the Arleigh Burke class of destroyer."
Background: "China’s navy is undergoing an ambitious expansion and is projected to have a total of 265-273 warships, submarines and logistics vessels by 2020, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Naval Analysis. That compares with 275 deployable battle force ships presently in the U.S. Navy, China’s primary rival in the Asia Pacific, although the once-yawning gap between the two is narrowing rapidly." Read on, here.
Also, China might have a new sub-tracking surveillance ship—but its range might be fairly limited. The Diplomat can fill you in on the rest.
Russian harassment in the Baltics, naval edition: “At least one Russian naval vessel and helicopters harassed the M/V Green Ridge in late May as it was bound for a port in Lithuania, an encounter the ship’s master characterized as ‘intense and threatening,’ per an internal report on the incident obtained by Defense News.”
According to the report: “The captain of the Green Ridge ... reported it was harassed by Russian ships and helicopters nearing Russian waters on its approach to Klaipeda, Lithuania, anchorage… The captain characterized the harassment as intense and threatening. The vessel was followed to the Lithuanian border." Story, here.
New defense nominee: Ellen Lord, the CEO of Textron Systems, will be selected by President Trump to be the next the undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Notes Defense News: “There are several notable wrinkles to Lord’s nomination, however. The first is that the office of AT&L is set to devolve into two new entities come Feb 1... Another wrinkle comes from the fact Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made clear his displeasure at bringing in executives from top defense firms” just last week. More from Defense News, here.
Lastly today: Eyes are on Venezuela after a member of the special forces allegedly stole a helicopter and flew over the capital encouraging residents disown their government. But that’s not all; the soldier—reportedly named Oscar Perez—also filmed a video to communicate his message, which comes after nearly three months of ongoing protests. The Washington Post, reporting from Caracas: “Wearing a uniform and reading from notes, he spoke into a video camera about the ‘criminal government’ as four masked men with guns stood behind him. Describing his group as a nonpartisan alliance of military, police and civilian officials, Perez said that their fight was not against the rest of the security forces. ‘It’s against the impunity imposed by this government. It’s against tyranny. It’s against the deaths of young people who are fighting for their legitimate rights. It’s against hunger.’” Story, here.
And to the west, just a bit is the overshadowed story of Colombia’s FARC rebels laying down their arms after 52 years of war. NYTs from Mesetas, Colombia: “The rebels have abandoned their battle camps for demobilization camps like the one in a lush stretch of countryside near Mesetas — temporary settlements of tents and drywall buildings where the rebels have been slowly handing over their weapons, 7,132 at last count. Some rifles will remain at the camps for security purposes until Aug. 1, the United Nations inspectors said, and rebel weapons caches were still being examined. But for the most part, the inspectors said, the disarmament is essentially complete.” Read the rest, here.