More troops head to Afghanistan; Army’s space force doubled in 6 years; CENTCOM visits Yemen; White House preps transgender guidance; and just a bit more...
Additional U.S. troops are already on their way to Afghanistan, The New York Times reports this morning without offering a heckuva lot more. "At a news conference in the Afghan capital, the military commander for United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson, said that the influx of new troops — mostly trainers for the Afghan security forces... was already underway in the country [and] would continue over the next few months."
Nicholson: “There will be additional capabilities, some of that is already arriving. But we are not going to talk about the specific numbers. We are not going to telegraph to the enemy what it is we are going to do and how we are going to influence the battlefield.”
What you can expect: More U.S. airpower, something that’s already on a steep incline compared to 2016 — “almost twice as many” in the first seven months of this year compared to the same span of time in 2016, the Times reports. More here.
ICYMI: "the actual footprint” of U.S. soldiers in-country somewhere is “between 11,000 and 12,000 on any given day,” NBC News reported Wednesday. Why? “[O]verlap between units as service members are transitioning in and out and there are units and people there on temporary duty shorter than 120 days.” Story, here.
Pakistan on Tuesday pushed back on President Trump’s characterization of Afghanistan’s neighbor in the 16-year war the other side of the Durand Line. Islamabad, said Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, “does not allow use of its territory against any country,” calling ideas to the contrary a “false narrative of safe havens.” But the folks at The Long War Journal did a bit of digging to map the terrorist groups that are “openly operating inside Pakistan.” Check that out, here.
You probably wouldn’t have guessed this, but U.S. Navy navigation errors may have killed more Americans than the war in Afghanistan this year, NPR’s Philip Ewing reported Wednesday. The service has “suffered at least four big accidents this year, two of which may have killed a combined 17 sailors…That compares with 11 service members killed in Afghanistan — details are available from the Military Times and icasualties.org.” Read Ewing’s report in full, here.
From Defense One
Are 'Restrictions' Keeping Us From Winning in Afghanistan? // Patrick Tucker: An Army intelligence expert and retired special forces warrior lay out what red tape the President should cut in Afghanistan.
The Army's Space Force Has Doubled in Six Years, and Demand Is Still Going Up // Caroline Houck: As the service hastens to mint new orbital operators, its leaders are watching the debate over a separate Air Force space corps — and just maybe a new service branch.
'Believe Me:' Trump Promises Shutdown if Congress Doesn't Fund the Border Wall // Eric Katz: The president says the wall is getting built, one way or another.
Trump's Path to Indefinite Afghan War // Max Boot: President Trump's much-anticipated Afghan policy rightly avoids troop withdrawal timelines but offers little prospect for progress against the durable Taliban.
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CENTCOM’s Gen. Votel visited the Yemen border where he got “a first-hand look on Wednesday at Saudi Arabia's military fight against Yemen's rebels, visiting the border area on the same day the Saudi-led coalition was accused of bombing a hotel and killing civilians,” the Associated Press reports off feedback from CENTCOM.
“The objective of Votel's 600-mile day trip from Riyadh to Saudi Arabia's southwestern Jizan region was ‘to develop a better understanding of the Saudi challenges with security the border,’” Air Force Col. John Thomas, a CENTCOM spox, told AP. “Votel met with Saudi Arabia's Lt. Gen. Fahd Bin Turki, toured an operations center and met Saudi commanders and troops. It was his first visit to the Yemen border region as head of Central Command.”
For what it’s worth: “Votel never crossed into Yemeni territory during the visit, which lasted much of the day... the small group traveling with Votel got separated from him at one point and there were other logistical problems, including a vehicle breakdown." More here.
Deadly situation for Syrians in the ISIS-held city of Raqqa, Amnesty International said Wednesday on the heels of a new report. How they describe the city: Raqqa is a “deadly labrynth” where civilians are under fire from ISIS artillery, sniper fire, land mines and “booby-traps,” in addition to coalition airstrikes and artillery on suspected ISIS positions throughout the city.
Adds Reuters: “The rights group also said Russia-backed Syrian government forces had carried out indiscriminate attacks against civilians, reported to have included cluster and barrel bombs, in a separate campaign against the militants south of Raqqa city.”
For the record: “The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria's war through a network of on-the-ground contacts, said between June 5 and Wednesday it had documented the deaths of 789 civilians, 200 of them children, in Raqqa city as a result of bombardment by the U.S.-led coalition and SDF. Monitoring group Airwars told Reuters they believe between 725 and 993 civilians have likely been killed from coalition actions in Raqqa city since the offensive began in early June.” Read the rest, here.
That U.S.-Russia military hotline is “humming” these days, Reuters reported separately Wednesday. “U.S. officials told Reuters that there now are about 10 to 12 calls a day on the hotline, helping keep U.S. and Russian warplanes apart as they support different fighters on the ground.”
Said the U.S.-led coalition’s Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend: "The Russians have been nothing but professional, cordial and disciplined." More, here.
ISIS wants safe passage from their besieged positions on the border with Lebanon and Syria so they can flee to Deir ez-Zour. Credit the Lebanese army, on the one hand, and a joint Hezbollah-Syrian army operation, on the other, for the developments there — according to “an official in the pro-Assad military alliance.”
Russia just sent nuclear-capable bombers near South Korea and Japan, “over the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, prompting Japan and South Korea to scramble jets to escort them,” according to Moscow. “Russia's Defence Ministry said in a statement the Tupolev-95MS bombers, code named ‘Bears’ by NATO, flew over neutral waters and were accompanied by Russian Sukhoi-35S fighter jets and A-50 early warning and control aircraft. It gave no details about the overall number of aircraft that had taken part in what it called a pre-arranged flight and did not say when or why the mission took place.” Read on, here.
In Ukraine, Defense Secretary James Mattis takes a tough line toward Russia — but won’t yet promise lethal weapons to Kiev’s troops, Reuters reports. "Despite Russia's denials, we know they are seeking to redraw international borders by force, undermining the sovereign and free nations of Europe," Mattis told reporters in a meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko this morning.
And about those arms, what Mattis referred to as “defensive lethal weapons,” the SecDef said “we are actively reviewing it… Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor since it is their own territory where the fighting is happening."
A plan to send “defensive weapons” to Kiev is reportedly at the White House “but has not been signed.” More here.
Army suspends drill sergeants at Fort Benning amid allegation of sexual assault. WaPo: Allegations that at least one of them sexually assaulted a trainee sparked an investigation by Army Criminal Investigation Command and the service’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, Army officials said Wednesday. “The investigation began after a female trainee accused a drill sergeant of sexual assault, and it expanded after that allegation ‘revealed indications of additional allegations of sexual misconduct involving trainees and drill sergeants,’ the Army said in a statement. It declined to say how many drill sergeants are now under investigation.”
Lastly today: White House preps military transgender guidance. A month after President Trump tweeted that transgender people would be banned from serving in the military, his administration has reportedly prepared a 2.5-page memo outlining how that ban will work. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will have six months to work out the details, the Wall Street Journal reports (under the byline of former D Briefer Gordon Lubold). “Mr. Mattis under the new policy is expected to consider ‘deployability’—the ability to serve in a war zone, participate in exercises or live for months on a ship—as the primary legal means to decide whether to separate service members from the military, the officials said.”
Swift rebuke: “Transgender people are just as deployable as other service members,” said West Point graduate and Army vet Sue Fulton, the former president of Sparta, a military organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that advocates for open service. “Other service members may undergo procedures when they are at home base, just as other service members schedule shoulder surgery or gall bladder surgery.” Read WSJ’s full story, here.
Reminder: Mattis was reportedly “appalled” by Trump’s original tweets, which plunged the estimated several thousand transgender servicemembers and their units into limbo. The tweets were quickly followed by a Politico report that Trump’s decision may have been more about getting Congress to pass an unrelated bill with funds for the border wall, and less about military readiness, unit cohesion, and health care costs, as the White House later claimed.