The Pentagon and the FBI are sending investigators to Niger after this week’s ugly uproar that played out initially over what Americans were doing there — and which became another debate altogether over Gold Star families.
NBC News: “Africa Command (AFRICOM) has sent a team to the African nation to conduct a ‘review of the facts,’ according to two U.S. defense officials. The officials are careful not to call the inquiry an investigation, but admit they simply don't know what happened on Oct. 4.”
The Wall Street Journal added the bit about the FBI, reporting its investigators, too, “are helping gather and evaluate evidence about the militants considered responsible for the ambush and how members of the group learned of the joint U.S.-Nigerien patrol… Bringing the bureau into the probe of a military operation gone awry isn’t unprecedented, FBI officials said. The FBI has the authority to take over the investigation but hasn’t yet done so, the officials said.”
As far as what is known so far, the Journal writes, “The joint U.S.-Nigerien patrol on Oct. 4 was picking up supplies in a village in the area and members decided to engage with local leaders while there, officials said. Among questions U.S. investigators are asking is whether villagers purposely sought to delay the troops’ departure, in part to allow the attackers to set up the ambush, two defense officials said.”
And their support system included reliance “on the French military for air support and used aircraft flown by contractors to evacuate the injured, Pentagon officials said. The U.S. force also relied on intelligence from a demoralized Nigerien military in communities where villagers feared that providing the government with information could lead to a death sentence from militants, a Nigerien official said.”
What’s more, “One indication of the level of confusion after the attack is that the U.S. military has provided three different answers for who flew the medevac helicopter,” NBC writes. “First U.S. military officials said it was French military, then that it was the U.S. military. Now, they're saying it could have been a U.S. contractor.”
We’ve also been given a new acronym from the attack: ISIS-GS, which stands for ISIS in the Greater Sahara. “The attack ‘has not been claimed by a terrorist group, but a group claiming association with ISIS, ISIS in the Greater Sahara, is likely responsible,’ said a US official.”
And as for local and regional reach of those U.S. troops and assets, “The U.S. has five outposts in Niger as well as a military presence at the international airport in the capital of Niamey, which is in the far west of the country,” according to NBC. “The U.S. also has a drone base in Agadez in Central Niger from which the U.S. can monitor militant activity as far north as Libya and as far south as Nigeria.”
The big picture take: “These four soldiers being killed and most people not knowing what they were up to is a game changer,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C. “I’m concerned that we’re not regularly briefed about operations.”
Added Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.: “I want the information that the Senate Armed Services Committee deserves and needs."
Perhaps most telling, “Without connection with local population, there is no way to win any counterterrorism action,” said Adal Ag Rhoubeid, a Tuareg leader and former presidential candidate in Niger who is from the area where the Oct. 4 ambush occurred. “The Nigeriens are losing control in that area. There is no hospital, no schools. All the Nigerien forces do is patrol. The bad guys know they are coming back.” More from the Journal, here.
From Defense One
This Technology Could Help Solve IED Detection — And Airport Security Too // Caroline Houck: New radio-wave sensors are designed to suss out hidden explosives —whether in car bombs or carry-on laptops.
Trump's Iran Strategy Is No Strategy At All // Daniel DePetris: It's a laundry list of grievances, some get-tough rhetoric, and a quixotic retreat from diplomacy that ties one hand behind the president's back.
How Somalia's Deadliest Attack Ever Tore Open the Heart of a Nation // Abdi Latif Dahir: The collective rage over the Mogadishu bombing ignited a renewed sense of unity among Somalis, leading to protests in major cities and the staging of solidarity events.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Under a B-52 with Gen. Goldfein; 11% cut to USAF budget request?; New Mideast arms-export numbers, and more…
Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you don’t subscribe already, consider subscribing. It’s free. Born OTD1924: James Chadwick, who discovered the neutron and worked on Britain’s atomic bomb project.
Raqqa is officially liberated, the U.S.-backed (and largely Kurdish) Syrian Democratic Forces announced from the city this morning.
A problem of optics: This scene from Raqqa, with Kurdish PKK founder and leader Ocalan’s image rather hard to miss.
Next for Raqqa? “The people of the majority Arab city and surrounding province would decide their own future ‘within the framework of a decentralized, federal democratic Syria,’” according to the SDF. However, the prospects there do not seem very bright at the moment: “Kurdish-led authorities in other parts of northern Syria are already moving ahead with plans to establish the federal system in areas they control, kicking off a three-phase election process last month in Kurdish majority regions. The plans for autonomous zones in northern Syria have encountered broad opposition from the United States, neighboring Turkey, and the Syrian government in Damascus.” More here.
Better late than never. NATO joined the counter-ISIS coalition, Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the ISIS war said Thursday. One can’t help but note the timing — the two largest cities once held by the group (Mosul, Iraq; and Raqqa, Syria) are now liberated. The alliance’s new task: training teams on the ground and providing aerial surveillance from AWACS planes in the sky.
In leaked remarks to employees, Facebook’s security chief says the company should see itself as on par with Northrop Grumman or Raytheon — but in fact employees treat the company “like a college campus.” ZDnet has the story, here.
What the CIA director meant to say… The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia meddled in America’s 2016 election, and remains uncertain whether that affected the election’s outcome, a Central Intelligence Agency spokesman said Thursday. That corrected his boss, Mike Pompeo, who said earlier in the day that the IC believed that it did not. CNN has that, here.
Axios on why it matters: “Pompeo's statement won't reassure the intelligence community that their assessments will be trusted and given due attention, especially after Trump has indicated he doesn't believe the conclusions on Russian interference.”
Pompeo also underlined North Korea’s progress toward a nuclear weapon that can strike the United States. Speaking at an event hosted by Foundation for Defense of Democracies, he said, "They are close enough now in their capabilities that from a US policy perspective we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving that objective," adding that “when you're now talking about months, our capacity to understand that at a detailed level is in some sense irrelevant." CBS News, here.
Visualize every one of Iran’s missile launches since 1988, via this project from the folks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
And in Yemen, Saudi-led forces’ Patriot anti-missile systems have taken out more than two dozen incoming missiles: Scuds, Tochkas, and other types launched from Yemen since June 2015. That’s CSIS as well, here.
‘Look what you made me do.’ Russia says it will develop new nuclear and non-nuclear weapons if the U.S. does the same, The Independent reported Thursday. The implicit agreement he’s referring to: “the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which eliminated all short and intermediate-range – going from 500 to 5000km (3,100 miles) – nuclear and conventional missiles.”
According to Putin, the INF treaty covers “sea-launched missiles… because Russia’s navy and air force did not have the capability at the time.”
To paraphrase, “What Putin really means [is] ‘Russia will publicly unveil a treaty-violating weapon it has been secretly working on for years, then blame the US,’” wrote one U.S. Army fires officer with an eye on the developments.
BTW, the U.S. Navy took out some medium-range ballistic missiles with SM-3s off Scotland on Tuesday, according to a release from Raytheon this week.
ICYMI, SecDef Mattis on BRAC: “29 percent of Army buildings and 28 percent of all Air Force facilities are excess,” according to the latest Pentagon infrastructure study Mattis recently sent to Congress, The Hill reported Wednesday. As well, the Navy “has classified 6 percent of its buildings as unneeded, and the Defense Logistics Agency has similarly said 13 percent of its facilities are excess.”
Background: “Pentagon officials for the past five years have asked Congress for permission to start another round of base closures. But lawmakers, fearing that a BRAC round would target bases in their districts and be politically damaging, have blocked such a move.”
Prospects now? Only slightly better. Read on, here, or over at Business Insider, here.
Duterte thanks China for killing an ISIS leader in the Philippines, Reuters reports — adding that Duterte’s thanks may not be properly placed. “The smoking gun that took out the region's most feared insurgent on Monday was one of the 100 sniper rifles donated by China, Duterte said, although the ranger unit conducting the operation said the shot was fired from a heavier weapon mounted on an armored vehicle.”
Pakistan kills a key insurgent — Umar Mansoor, of Pakistan's Tehreek-i-Taliban. He "was reportedly mastermind behind 2014 massacre at Army Public School in Peshawar, which claimed the lives of more than 140 people, a majority of them children," Voice of America reported Thursday. How was he killed? Still unclear, but Pakistani media attributes his death to one of the recent suspected U.S. drone strikes in the country this week. More here.
Pro-tip: Do not lie about being a Navy SEAL. The backlash will not be pretty. That one from Navy Times, here.
Lastly this week, let drones show you around the Trump border wall prototypes that began appearing in San Diego.
The situation: “Construction crews are erecting eight looming prototypes of President Trump's border wall in a remote section of the San Diego borderlands,” NPR reports. “Four are solid concrete; four are made of steel and concrete; one is topped with spikes. They all approach 30 feet in height.”
Whatever wall is chosen, it must meet three main requirements: It must be “hard to scale, hard to penetrate and hard to tunnel under," says Roy Villareal, chief of the San Diego Border Patrol sector.
The cost for the demo in San Diego? $20 million, paid by Customs and Border Protection “to six construction companies from Mississippi, Maryland, Alabama, Texas and Arizona.”
Adds NPR, “it's anybody's guess whether they'll ever get built. Trump's border wall is opposed by congressional Democrats and some Republicans, as well as most of California's and San Diego's leadership. But they're certainly getting lots of press.” Read on, here. And have a safe weekend, everyone. We’ll catch you again on Monday!