US drone war may expand; ISIS & the NYC attack; Google chief says China will pass US in AI; DARPA’s new hypersonic work; and just a bit more...

America’s drone war may be about to expand to Niger — a move that would raise to eight the number of countries in which the U.S. drops bombs to kill bad guys. Niger’s defense minister has formally requested the U.S. military bring in armed drones to fight various insurgents and ISIS wannabes around Mali and the African Sahel, Reuters reported Wednesday.

In fact, Defence Minister Kalla Mountari told Reuters, he asked U.S. officials to arm the drones “some weeks ago.” For what it’s worth, it’s been now exactly four weeks and one day since the deadly attack in Niger that killed four American soldiers. Reuters writes: “Asked if Washington had accepted the request, he said: ‘Our enemies will find out.’”

Niger’s Prime Minister Brigi Rafini relayed the same message in an interview Wednesday in Toronto (paywall alert) with The Wall Street Journal.

Guantanamo Bay for NYC terrorist? That’s what President Trump said while investigators Wednesday zeroed in on a flood of evidence connecting the Manhattan truck attacker with the Islamic State group.  

Wanna review that evidence? The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi has done a superb job wrapping a great deal of it up, here.

Some excerpts: “He began plotting attack 1 yr ago after hearing speech by ISIS leader Baghdadi calling for Muslims in US to avenge killings in Iraq… He rented truck on Halloween for a 2-hr window with no plans of returning it. He wanted to drape ISIS flag over truck, but decided not to."

What's more, "The terror group's magazine said to use a truck, drive until you can’t, jump out & harm [people] with a secondary weapon. Also leave a note... That's pretty much what this guy does. Over several blocks, he crushes people in the bike lane, then crashes into bus." The dots virtually connect themselves on this one, Callimachi explains more fully, beginning here.

But the GTMO idea — is it a smart one? One national security law professor says, “no.” For starters, Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas wrote on Twitter Wednesday, “It's not at all clear that it would be legal. Even assuming relationship [between the] suspect and ISIS. There's no settled law for detaining non-citizens lawfully present in US at time of arrest as ‘enemy combatants’ under [the] 2001 AUMF.” After laying out the case for why that is, Vladeck writes, “Legal uncertainty isn't only reason it's a bad idea; it's also completely unnecessary. Civilian courts have handled lots of these cases.” Read on for his lengthy take, which begins here.
Or read The Atlantic’s take on “Guantanamo and the Myth of Swift Justice,” here.

Trump’s tweet about punishing the suspect wasn’t helpful to prosecutors. "Mr. President, we all know he should get the death penalty. But when *you* say it, it makes it harder for DOJ to make that happen," tweeted former Chief Asst. U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy.

BTW: The NYC attack reveals a disturbing problem with labels and definitions in this American age of easy access to weapons. The problem: The NYC attack — which killed eight people — is called terrorism whereas the Nevada attack — which killed 58 and wounded more than 500 — is not terrorism, but rather a mass shooting. CNN breaks down some more unsettling differences in the response to the two attacks, here.

One more thing: “When Its Attacker Is in Handcuffs, Islamic State Stays Mum,” The New York Times reports this morning. Worth the click, here.

From Defense One

Four New Questions For Trump on Syria // Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and Kevin Baron: The ISIS fight is nearly over, military leaders say. Is the United States ready to lead what happens next?

China Will Surpass US in AI Around 2025, Says Google's Eric Schmidt // Patrick Tucker: Schmidt, who also chairs the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, says the Chinese are poised to erase a key American advantage — and the Trump administration is helping them.

A Former CIA Director Describes the Dangers of 'Trump Unleashed' // Uri Friedman: John Brennan praises the advisers who restrain Donald Trump's impulses, calls out the president's "enablers" inside the White House, and considers the prospect of World War III.

What the Attack in New York Revealed About the Islamic State's Supporters // Graeme Wood: As ISIS loses territory, the greatest danger remains that more competent fighters will return home.

Amid Federal Finger-Pointing, FEMA Takes Stock of Puerto Rico Effort // Eric Katz: The director acknowledged an imperfect response and says he wants to create a cadre of FEMA reservists.

Ash Carter: Behind the Plan to Defeat ISIS // Ashton B. Carter: To its credit, the Trump administration followed the path we set in the Obama administration.

Welcome to Thursday’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. OTD1947: first and only flight of the H-4 Spruce Goose.

Happening today: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson speaks to reporters on the service’s “Fleet Comprehensive Review, as well as the findings of investigations into the collisions involving USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain.” That gets started at 1 p.m. EDT in the Pentagon Briefing Room.

Another warning against pre-emptive strikes on North Korea. This one comes from Thae Yong Ho, who was deputy chief of mission at the North Korean Embassy in London until last year, when he became the highest-ranking defector in decades. Yesterday, Thae testified on Capitol Hill. Via AP: “North Korean officers are trained to press their button without any further instructions from the general command if anything happens on their side,” Thae told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, referring to a U.S. bombing or military strike. “We have to remember that tens of millions of South Korean population are living 70 to 80 kilometers away from this military demarcation line.”
What’s Thae’s solution? He suggested the U.S. use “soft power”: sanctions and the use of information to turn North Koreans against Kim’s regime. Read on, here.

BTW: Only 25 percent of Americans think military action is needed against North Korea, according to a CBS News poll.

Meanwhile: CNN cites “a US official” saying that North Korea is working on “an advanced version of its existing KN-20 intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially reach the United States.” Read, here.
Prepping Trump for his Asia trip. Politico: White House staff are trying to apply what they’ve learned about their boss in advance of a trip fraught with opportunities for missteps and mistakes. “Top aides have sought to keep the briefings short to avoid overloading the president with details but have scheduled dozens of them to plan public remarks and outline what he should say about North Korea on defense and China on trade.” That, here.
Don’t give away the farm. Writing at the National Interest, former OSD China-desk officer Joseph Bosco warns that Chinese leaders will flatter and intimidate Trump into making dangerous concessions — just as they did Bill Clinton in 1998. He also has some positive suggestions. Read, here.

ICYMI: America’s hypersonic military research continues, and DARPA just signed two new contracts to push the technology further along, Defense Systems recently reported. “Over the last month, DARPA has awarded contracts to Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc. and Orbital ATK to develop and conduct ground tests of a prototype engine. The Orbital ATK contract was valued at $21.4 million. The amount of the Rocketdyne deal was not disclosed.”
The goal: “to develop reusable aircraft capable of hypersonic speeds of about Mach 5 (about 3,300 miles per hour). The program seeks to develop a propulsion system capable of exceeding the top speed of traditional jet-turbine engines that top out at about Mach 2.5 while developing a reusable capability required for sustained flight at Mach 5.” A little bit more, here.
Need a little catch-up on the whole hypersonic thing? Read this take from our Tech Editor Patrick Tucker from back in April 2016.

Twenty-five people were killed in a likely Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a market in Yemen, The New York Times reported Wednesday from the capital of Sana’a. “The attack late Tuesday destroyed a building in the center of a market in the northern province of Sada, the heartland of the Shiite rebels known as Houthis. The health officials said children were among the victims.”The Saudi-led coalition said it will look into the attack: “Preliminary findings will be announced as soon as operational vetting and comprehensive reviews take place,” the coalition said, adding that it was “morally and legally committed to protecting civilians as well as civilian objects.”
And the Times reminds us about the overall dire situation inside Yemen, writing the country “was already the Arab world’s poorest nation before the war, and its infrastructure and health system have all but collapsed, leading to a severe outbreak of cholera, which has killed over 2,000 people since April.” More here.

Baghdad-vs.-Kurds drama continues. Reuters, from Baghdad: “Iraqi forces threatened on Wednesday to resume operations to capture northern Kurdish-held territory after accusing authorities there of delaying handing over control of Iraq’s borders with Turkey, Iran and Syria… Control of the border area is of crucial importance for the landlocked Kurdish region. An oil pipeline runs from northern Iraq into Turkey, carrying crude exports which are the Kurds’ in principal source of funds.” Read on, here.

British military chief resigns amid allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior. Such allegations have taken down Fox News execs, stars and executives in Hollywood — and now “Britain’s defense secretary Michael Fallon abruptly resigned Wednesday following allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday. “In his letter of resignation, Fallon wrote, ‘A number of allegations have surfaced about MPs in recent days, including some about my previous conduct. Many of these have been false but I accept in the past I have fallen below the high standards that we require of the armed forces that I have the honour to represent.’ He concluded, ‘I have reflected on my position and I am now resigning as defense secretary.’” Full story, here.

Lastly today: A Marine general is now on 21-day confinement in Guantanamo after "the USS Cole case judge Wednesday found [Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker] in charge of war court defense teams guilty of contempt for refusing to follow the judge’s orders," the sole reporter on location, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, reported Wednesday. “The judge’s dizzying pace of events— sentencing the Marine general in a 35-minute hearing, then ordering three civilian lawyers to defend the Saudi in his capital case by video link — came as the colonel sought to force the civilian, Pentagon-paid attorneys back on the case.” Read on, here.