Mattis unveils (some) Afghanistan strategy details; USNS Comfort joins 10K troops in Puerto Rico; Russians hack US soldiers’ cellphones; Marine vet stole truck to help Las Vegas injured; And just a bit more...
Sixteen years into America’s war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has a new strategy it says will help bring the conflict to an end. “A large part of it: Intensifying the U.S.- and NATO-led air campaign in order to drive the Taliban to the negotiating table,” Defense One’s Caroline Houck reports from Capitol Hill, where Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford went to fill in some details of President Trump’s approach to the war. Mattis said the U.S. wants to “embolden the Afghan forces by providing close air support and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets. That will make them more effective, in turn convincing the Taliban and other extremist groups that ‘you’re not going to be able to win this by killing.’”
Acronym alert: The new strategy for Afghanistan, Mattis said to SASC members, can be summarized as 4R+S — “regionalize, realign, reinforce, reconcile and sustain.” Two of those Rs stand for the addition of some 3,000 troops to the U.S. force in Afghanistan, and the plan to push these advise-and-assisters down to the Afghan forces’ battalion levels, Mattis said.
Weapons free: U.S. forces are no longer bound to be in contact with enemy forces in Afghanistan before opening fire, but may attack enemy forces anywhere they pose a threat. Read on, here.
Want a FAQ-style rundown on the new strategy? Washington Examiner’s Jamie McIntyre has you covered, here.
Bottom line: “Dunford put the cost of operations in Afghanistan this year at $12.5 billion, about $5 billion of which would pay for Afghan security forces. Allies are contributing $1.1 billion to the support of the security forces." That’s from USNI News.
Also: It’s in the national security interests of the U.S. to stay in the Iran deal, Mattis told senators Tuesday. The Wall Street Journal: “Maine Sen. Angus King asked Mr. Mattis whether he thought the deal was in ‘our national security interest at the present time.’ After a pause, Mr. Mattis replied: ‘Yes, senator, I do.’He went on to say that he supports a ‘rigorous’ administration review to determine whether Iran is living by the agreement and whether it is in the U.S. interest.”
Mattis: “I believe, at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.” Read on, here.
From Defense One
The US Will Be Dropping A Lot More Bombs on Afghanistan // Caroline Houck: More air support for Afghan forces will help drive the Taliban to the negotiating table, Mattis and Dunford tell Congress
Closing the Taliban's Office in Qatar Would Be a Historic Mistake // Jarrett Blanc: With no military solution in Afghanistan, the US needs credible interlocutors to end the war — like the ones who secured the Bergdahl deal.
The Pentagon Has the World's Largest Logistics Problem. Blockchain Can Help // Elana Broitman: DoD should join other logistics-heavy organizations in experimenting with the cryptography-messaging-accounting technology that powers Bitcoin.
Turkey Opens Its Largest Overseas Military Base in Somalia // Abdi Latif Dahir: The military base in Somalia is also a reminder that despite Turkey's growing regional and national problems, Africa remains central to its global expansion strategy.
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Floating hospital arrives to San Juan. More than 500 medics have brought the more than 1,000 hospital beds and 11 operating rooms of the USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) to the hurricane-stricken island of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Navy announced Tuesday. Some of the capabilities aboard the ship: “The hospital ship has one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States and is equipped with four X-ray machines, one CAT scan unit, a dental suite, an optometry lens laboratory, physical therapy center, pharmacy, angiography suite and two oxygen-producing plants.” More here.
There are about 10,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Puerto Rico, SecDef Mattis told lawmakers Tuesday. "There is no lack of resources, sir,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We are ready to go even to the point that it is going to impact the deployments perhaps of some of these troops overseas next year because we have interrupted the preparation. That is OK, when it is helping fellow Americans." More from Capitol Hill, via the Washington Examiner, here.
Meanwhile, “The Army Corps of Engineers is deciding where to install 100 additional generators, and another 300 are en route to the island,” The New York Times reports from the city of Las Marias.
The Russians are (still) hacking the phones (and Facebook accounts) of U.S., NATO soldiers deployed to Poland and the Baltic states, The Wall Street Journal reports this morning. “Troops, officers and government officials of North Atlantic Treaty Organization member countries said Russia has carried out a campaign to compromise soldiers' smartphones. The aim, they say, is to gain operational information, gauge troop strength and intimidate soldiers.”
One key indicator pointing to Russia: “the equipment used, such as sophisticated drones equipped with surveillance electronics, is beyond the reach of most civilians.”
How it was discovered, at least one time: “U.S. Army Lt. Col. Christopher L'Heureux, who took over as commander of a NATO base in Poland in July” says he was among the intended targets. “Soon after... he returned to his truck from shooting drills to find his personal iPhone had been hacked and reported lost. The hacker was attempting to breach a second layer of password protection through a Russian IP address, he said. ‘It had a little Apple map, and in the center of the map was Moscow,’ said Col. L'Heureux, stationed not far from a major Russian military base. ‘It said, “Somebody is trying to access your iPhone”.’”
Said Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings: “Russia [is] almost doing us a ‘favor’ teaching us about this vulnerability now, so we can adapt.”
FWIW: Russia is adding facial recognition to its surveillance camera system in Moscow, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.
RIP, Lt. Patrick Lawrence Ruth and student aviator Lt. j.g. Wallace Eugene Burch. Both men died when their T-45C Goshawk trainer jet crashed Sunday in east Tennessee. U.S. Naval Institute News: “Though the cause of the crash won’t be determined for some time, USNI News understands that a physiological episode does not appear to be a factor.” A little bit more here. Or see photos of the men, via the U.S. Navy this morning, here.
Attention retired Air Force pilots: Want your job back? The service is asking those with the specialty code in the 11X series to fill staffing shortages, according to a release Monday.
The fine print: “Pilots who retired within the last five years in the rank of captain, major or lieutenant colonel, and under age 60, may apply for the program. Participation is limited to 25 retired pilots and active-duty tour lengths are limited to 12 months.” More here.
There aren’t many times when it’s okay to steal (er, commandeer) a truck. But the Vegas massacre was one of them. That’s just what Marine vet Taylor Winston did Sunday night amid the carnage in Nevada. “The Marine veteran ran from danger after a sniper opened fire on the crowd, but instead of leaving, he drove more than two dozen victims to the hospital,” CBS News reported Tuesday. Winston called the scene “a mini war zone but we couldn't fight back."
As he describes, “I saw a field with a bunch of white trucks. I tested my luck to see if any of them had keys in it, first one we tried opening had keys sitting right there. I started looking for people to take to the hospital," Winston said. "There was just too many and it was overwhelming how much blood was everywhere... Once we dropped them off, we were like well, let's go back for round two and go get some more. I transported probably 20 to 30 people injured to the hospital." Read the rest, here.
Happening today: Authors and experts will answer questions about “Escalation and Deterrence in the Second Space Age,” a new report out from CSIS. 3 to 4 p.m., 1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036. Details, here.
And finally today: Some Houston homeowners are upset about a man in their neighborhood who purchased an old WWII Sherman tank — and parked it on the street in front of his home.
Said the owner, attorney Tony Buzbee: "Took a year to get here but now it's on River Oaks Boulevard. This particular tank landed at Normandy. It liberated Paris and ultimately went all the way to Berlin. There's a lot of history here."
Some of the complaints: the tank "impedes traffic,” it poses a "safety issue" and raises "serious concerns for neighbors.” That according to Buzbee in an interview with local KHOU news.
Buzbee’s retort: "The problem is there is no action they can take. They can ticket it or they can try to tow it, but the truth is unless I decide to move it, it's not going anywhere." Read on, here.