An American death in Afghanistan; Trump summons South Asia strategists; Danger-close drone strikes in Syria; WH aide slams ‘military solution’ in Korea; and just a bit more...

An American service member was killed fighting ISIS in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said Wednesday. An unspecified number of additional American and Afghan troops were also wounded in the fight. The death means now 10 U.S. troops that have been killed in action in Afghanistan in 2017, LA Times’ Bill Hennigan noted.

Happening tomorrow at Camp David: President Trump and VP Mike Pence sit down with Trump’s National Security Team to discuss South Asia strategy, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday. A tiny bit more on that from The Hill, here.

Pence is ending his international trip early and is coming home today, his office announced Wednesday. “Pence and his wife were scheduled to travel to Colombia, Argentina, Chile, and Panama from Aug. 13-18,” the Washington Examiner reports. “The early return to the states comes as President Trump has struggled to please the public with his handling of the Charlottesville protests and car attack last weekend.”

Adds the Examiner: “The change was made to facilitate a meeting about South Asia with Trump at Camp David on Friday.” More here.

From Defense One

State Department Has No Idea What It Costs to Give Security Clearances // Lindy Kyzer: Despite orders from Congress last year, Foggy Bottom can't say what clearances cost or how long they take.

Why North Korea Walked Back Its Threat on Guam // Krishnadev Calamur: Signs of a conflict with the U.S. may have been overblown.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Have something you want to share? Email us at (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)

Bannon cold-calls a reporter and unloads. President Trump’s Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, perhaps inadvertently, shined a light on the White House’s alleged plans and options when it comes to China and North Korea — after calling The American Prospect’s Robert Nutter this week, and making no mention of any of his remarks needing to stay off the record. So on the record it is; and here are some of the talking points Bannon laid out:   

  • “We’re at economic war with China. It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.”
  • On North Korea: “There’s no military solution, forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
  • On staffing the State Department and the Pentagon with like minds: “I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State.”
  • And on the far-right — elements Bannon’s former Breitbart media outfit enflamed to great effect in the months before and after the 2016 election: “Ethno-nationalism—it's losers. It's a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more. These guys are a collection of clowns.” Read the rest of the allegedly unintentional interview, here.

CJCS Dunford is still working the crowd in China, following the president’s orders “to develop credible viable military options and that's exactly what we're doing,” he told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday. A military solution to the North Korean nuclear dilemma would be "absolutely horrific," he said, "there's no question about it... [but] what's unimaginable is allowing KJU (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) to develop ballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead that can threaten the United States and continue to threaten the region."

What comes next as the tension eases between Washington and Pyongyang? “Being deterred by a poor, backward and brutal regime like this is a humiliating place to be for a country that still views itself as the unchallenged global superpower,” The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda muses in Politico. “Perhaps in time the United States will learn to stop worrying and, if not love, at least tolerate a stable deterrent relationship with a North Korea bristling with nuclear-tipped ICBMs. The only other option is teetering on the brink of ‘fire and fury’ every week. And that’s just no way to live 70-plus years into the nuclear age.”

Not terribly far from the Korean peninsula, U.S. B-1B bombers exercised Tuesday with Japan Self-Defense Forces aircraft over the Senkaku Islands: small, uninhabited islands called the Diaoyu chain and claimed by the Chinese. “Peter Dutton, who directs China Maritime Studies at the U.S. Naval War College, calls the Senkakus ‘a focal point for the challenge of power between China and Japan,’” wrote Will Morris, a Defense One intern who went back to Harvard last week. Various experts told Morris that the Senkakus are among the points of friction that, through the American system of defense treaties, just might entangle the world in war. Read on, with some thoughts on easing tensions, here.

The U.S. military is launching “danger-close” drone strikes in Syria, LA Times Bill Hennigan reported from Creech AFB in Nevada on Wednesday. “Hundreds of U.S special operations forces are deployed in Syria, and in some cases they direct airstrikes. But the danger-close missions also require approval from Syrian militia commanders because the missile blasts may put their ground troops at risk… To assist the drone pilots, some Syrian Democratic Force commanders have been given a device called the ROVER, for remote operated video enhanced receiver. It displays real-time feeds from the cameras and sensors flying above them.” More, here.

A rising star of the far right, Jack Posobiec, “is a U.S. naval intelligence officer [whose] “security clearance is currently suspended,” NBC News reported Wednesday. “Posobiec told NBC News that he was never given an explanation but suspects it was because he had become ‘more outspoken on Twitter.’”
After NBC’s story broke, Posobiec spoke with Task & Purpose on Wednesday to clear the air best he could. You can read that exchange, here.

Former Pentagon spox, Col. Steve Warren, has retired in a move Foreign Policy called Wednesday an “abrupt departure…sure to aggravate the administration’s already difficult relations with the press corps.”
FP: “Warren’s career included a stint as spokesman for the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State and running the Pentagon press operation. He had been courted by senior officials after Donald Trump was elected president, and encouraged to retire from the Army in order to apply for a senior media advisor job at the Pentagon, a civilian position.”
So, what happened? “Unfortunately, the White House determined he was not a suitable candidate for the position,” Dana White, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told FP in an email. Read on, here.

From West Point: “There’s a consistent problem with U.S. efforts to win the information war,” write Army Reserve intelligence officers, Will DuVal and Adam Maisel, over at West Point's Modern War Institute. Their start point: “Of the four instruments of national power (‘DIME’—Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic), the ‘I’ has often been obscured by its more tangible counterparts. But never before has the ‘I’ been so significant than in the Information Age.”
Their proposal: “a revival of the Cold War-era United States Information Agency (USIA), albeit with a modern overhaul to optimize its effectiveness in an information environment dramatically different than that of the Cold War…Borrowing from the appointment timeline for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the USIA director’s term would be staggered to ensure continuity between presidential terms. Furthermore, the USIA director should maintain a permanent seat on the National Security Council.” Read the rest, here.

Lastly today: A Ukrainian hacker has now become a witness for the FBI as it probes the “the electronic break-in of the Democratic National Committee,” The New York Times reported Wednesday. “It is the first known instance of a living witness emerging from the arid mass of technical detail that has so far shaped the investigation into the election hacking and the heated debate it has stirred. The Ukrainian police declined to divulge the man’s name or other details, other than that he is living in Ukraine and has not been arrested.”
Adds the Times, “There is no evidence that Profexer worked, at least knowingly, for Russia’s intelligence services, but his malware apparently did.” Read on, here.