Mattis, Tillerson say no new AUMF needed; Benghazi suspect captured; N. Korea stole S. Korea warship plans; New funds pledged for Sahel fight; and just a bit more...
The U.S. military doesn’t need any new authorization to fight dozens of groups in at least 19 countries — and “any attempt to place time limits or geographical constraints in a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force could cripple efforts to fight terrorists,” President Donald Trump’s secretaries of state and defense told lawmakers last night on Capitol Hill.
The hearing was called in the wake of the Oct. 4 attack in Niger that left four American troops dead in an apparent ambush near the border with Mali. Military Times reports that operation “brought new focus on the need to update the military force authorizations governing those missions.” And yet Monday’s debate stayed largely to the scripts of previous war authorization debates on Capitol Hill: “The 2001 and 2002 authorizations to use military force remain a sound basis for ongoing U.S. military operations against a mutating threat,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senators.
When might these wars wrap up? Mattis said, essentially, that it’s impossible to know: “We cannot put a firm timeline on conflict against an adaptive enemy who could hope that we haven’t the will to fight as long as necessary…We must recognize that we are in an era of frequent skirmishing, and we are more likely to end this fight sooner If we don’t tell our adversary the day we intend to stop fighting.”
Groundhog Day? “The testimony — the third hearing on the issue by the committee since the summer — repeats past comments from Mattis and other administration officials,” Military Times writes. “Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he plans on holding more hearings on the issue in months to come, but admitted he sees little hope for progress on the issue.”
However, “A number of lawmakers said it is time to update the law to be more consistent with current conditions and threats. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are co-sponsoring a proposal providing new legal authority to combat al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State.”
Quote of the evening (century?): “This has been a 16-year struggle,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “I don’t think it’s going to be over any time soon.” Read on at WaPo, here; or Military Times, here.
In case you’re curious, “Since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD) has obligated $1,463.3 billion for war-related costs,” according to a newly released Pentagon report which says cost about $180,000 “to prepare and assemble.” Dive into the numbers for yourself, here.
Today in uncomfortable visualizations: What has 16 years of war in Afghanistan gotten us? A deluge of bad indicators about the next few years, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Pentagon redacted portions of Afghan war stats that were previously public, The New York Times reported Monday. “Among the details being kept private in the report are the number of people in the Afghan army and police force, how many of them have been wounded or killed and the state of their equipment.” The U.S. military in Afghanistan said it was done at Kabul’s request.
Is there a precedent? Yes: “The information has been classified only once before, in 2015, as the Obama administration was trying to portray the war in Afghanistan as all but over. At the time, as Taliban militants surged across the country, officials said that the figures, if made public, could endanger Afghan and American lives.” Read on, here.
Taliban warns U.S. hostage is dangerously ill. The man: 61-year-old Kevin King, “one of two professors at the American University of Afghanistan abducted at gunpoint in Kabul last year,” The Guardian reported. The other professor is name Timothy Weeks. According to the Taliban, King “is suffering from ‘a dangerous heart disease and kidney problem,’ Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed said in a statement on Monday.”
FWIW: “Western officials believe the two men are captives of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani group,” The Guardian writes. “The Taliban have not made public their demands for releasing King and Weeks, which the spokesman told the Guardian said had been shared with the US. However, in the video, the two men asked for a prisoner exchange.” More here.
From Defense One
As Smoke Clears from Mueller Indictments, Two New Characters Rise In Russia Spy Scandal // Patrick Tucker: By Monday's close, Trump-Russia watchers had two names to add to their 'persons of interest' list.
'Military Options' Against North Korea Isn't the Problem—Loose Talk Is // Jung H. Pak: There are a lot of ways for things to go wrong.
A Federal Court Pushes Back on Trump's Transgender Military Ban // Emma Green: A judge issues a preliminary injunction, taking issue with everything from the framing of the directive to the way it was delivered.
Washington Still Doesn't Understand Iraq // Robert Ford: The U.S. dream of a democratic and federal Iraq is over. Appointing Iran the next boogeyman won't help.
Welcome to Tuesday’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. OTD1952: U.S. explodes world’s first hydrogen bomb.
When might President Trump order an attack on North Korea? What if Kim fires first? Also at last night’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Secretary Mattis was asked under what circumstances the president might launch a nuclear attack against North Korea without consulting Congress. “A direct imminent or actual attack,” Mattis replied, reports Washington Examiner’s Daily on Defense.
Then the secretary was asked what happens if North Korea attacks first. “I mean the president will be woken up or whatever, but our commands are — we've rehearsed this. I will just tell you routinely,” he replied.
Mattis said the U.S. would first attempt to shoot down any incoming ICBM with land-based U.S. interceptor missiles. Then Trump would have “a wide array of options, including a non-nuclear response. After the immediate defense would of course depend on the president and laying out options, a wide array of options, I will tell you. We would take the action the president directed and I'm sure that Congress would be intimately involved,” Mattis said, “And in alliance with our allies as well, I might add, because many of them have roles to play here, have indicated they'll be with us.”
Hopes pinned on China, Russia. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Fox News last night, “I don't think we can have a country like North Korea have a ICBM that can deliver a thermonuclear device on the mainland of the United States.” he added, “The great hope we all have, and they are already doing this, is that the Chinese exert their pressure....We have great hopes for the Russians as well.” Daily on Defense’s wrap on this is worth reading in full, here.
Actual news on Benghazi! Four years after the deadly attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, American special operators believe they have captured one of the culprits, the New York Times reports, writing he is now one of two men captured from the attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The culprit: Mustafa al-Imam had been “filmed entering and leaving the diplomatic compound the night of the attack,” according to the Times. He “was caught on Sunday in the area of Misurata, Libya, brought aboard a United States warship and will be taken to the United States to face criminal charges,” according to U.S. officials.
Known-knowns are slim, the Times writes. However, “officials said that plans to apprehend him had been in the works for months as the American military waited for authorization from the White House. Officials said Mr. Imam was living in Tripoli and had recently traveled to Misurata, a coastal city between Tripoli and Benghazi. The military’s Joint Special Operations Command had been watching him closely, along with others thought to have participated in the attacks.” More here.
Want to glimpse a turf map of Libya? The folks at Risk Intelligence have just your thing, here.
And for the region, the U.S. is pledging as much as $60 million for a new multinational force in Africa’s Sahel region, the State Department announced Monday. Tillerson said the money will be used to fight ISIS affiliates and the like throughout the Sahel. The EU pledged another $60 million and Germany and France each added $9 million apiece. According to The Wall Street Journal, “The force is set to have 5,000 soldiers drawn from the militaries of five African countries—Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania—and will require $400 million in the first year of operation, starting in spring. It is known as the G5 Sahel force, named for the five member nations. The goal, officials said, is to enable the joint force to undertake offensive operations in the region, a stark difference from a U.N. force, for example, which focuses on defensive, peacekeeping operations.”
What’s the U.S. special operators’ support system like in Africa? Nothing like they were used to in Afghanistan, Foreign Policy reported Monday.
North Korea hacked some of the South’s warship plans. That’s the latest from a hack that occurred in April 2016 when “about 60 classified military documents were among the 40,000 hacked from South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Co.,” Bloomberg reports.
A bit more about the alleged targets: “They included information on construction technology, blueprints, weapons systems, and evaluations of the ships and submarines. South Korea’s Aegis-equipped ships and submarines are key to plans for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea should it send a submarine equipped with ballistic missiles to target key facilities in the South.” Read on, here.
A pair of Russian bombers were intercepted near the Japanese islands of Hoshu and Hokkaido on Monday, The Diplomat reported, adding, “Japanese airspace was not trespassed.”
The Russian aircraft: “nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers.”
The interceptors, according to Russia’s defense ministry: “a pair of F-18 fighters (of the U.S. Air Force), and a pair of F-15, F-4 and F-2A fighters (of the Japanese Air Force).” More here.
U.S. Air Force B-2s used open channel for their radios during a recent drill over Missouri in mid-October, The Aviationist reported Monday. The situation: “Tons of military traffic, including B-2s and B-52s bombers, E-3 Sentry AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft supported by KC-10 and KC-135 tankers were involved in a series of simulated air strikes on little airports all over Missouri.”
The twist? “Radio comms over unencrypted UHF frequencies as well as the use of Mode-S and ADS-B transponders allowed milair airband listeners in the area to monitor the operations and to catch some interesting details,” including “the fact that, during one night, one of the aircraft radioed a message about a ‘possible DPKR leadership relocation site’ whose coordinates pointed to a hangar located at the Jefferson City airport.” The intrigue continues, here.
And from the region: China tells U.S. to stay out of territorial discussions in the South China Sea. That short hit from the Associated Press, here.
New U.S. stuff will be headed to South Korea’s military, Defense News reports. What kind of stuff? U.S. officials were vague, saying only “more U.S. weapons, develop[ing] more advanced missiles and receiv[ing] a more consistent presence of U.S. military nuclear weapons to defend against North Korea.” That, here.
Newsflash: China’s air force “practiced bombing runs targeting the U.S. territory of Guam,” Military Times reported from Hawaii — without giving a time period for those practice runs.
Also from Hawaii, where Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford traveled through on Monday: Dunford says he’s taking North Korea’s threat to detonate a hydrogen bomb above the Pacific Ocean literally. “I would fully expect if he‘s telling us he’ll do it, he’s going to,” Dunford said.
In the Middle East, U.S. troops could stay in Iraq to finish off ISIS whether Baghdad wants them to or not, U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson told senators on Monday.
Complicating matters somewhat, Sunni militias in Iraq say they have no interest in disarming, as Tillerson demanded last week.
And finally today, we round up a few of our favorite military-themed Halloween costumes spotted on social media — including some cool NASA fans, a few paratroopers (from Fort Bragg, of course), and three of the president’s son’s children in military/law-enforcement gear.