American troop spike in Mideast; USAF increasingly focused on space; US helps hunt for missing Argentine sub; Ukraine shows off armed drone; and just a bit more...

U.S. military presence in the Middle East grew 33% in the past four months, Chatham House’s Micah Zenko writes this morning on Twitter after glimpsing a new quarterly report from the Pentagon (which excludes data for Afghanistan).

The increase: 40,517 troops and Defense Department civilians grew to 54,180, according to data found here.

Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo to lay out possible next steps against Iran, the Associated Press reports from Egypt. “In what is perhaps the only concrete measure, the ministers said Arab telecommunications satellites would ban Iranian-financed television stations for what they said was their fomenting of sectarian and ethnic tensions. It gave no details.”

Tick-tock. “We are not declaring war on Iran at this stage,” Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said. “We have not taken a decision to ask the Security Council to meet, but we are just briefing the council, and maybe the next stage would be for us to meet and call for a Security Council meeting and submit a draft Arab resolution” against Iran. Read on, here.

Take a look: Here’s a map from the International Institute for Strategic Studies reviewing Iran’s military presence throughout the region.


From Defense One

As the US Air Force Turns Its Focus to Space, This Small Team Could Lead the Way // Marcus Weisgerber: Once seen as a threat to traditional acquisition channels, the Operationally Responsive Space office is making it faster and cheaper to put new capabilities into orbit.

Paris Pullout Shows How The US Is Shrugging Off Its Global Leadership // Welton Chang: If America so easily tosses aside a hard-won diplomatic victory, what else is it willing to jettison?

Ukraine Fields an Armed Drone for Use Against Pro-Russian Forces // Patrick Tucker: After much experimentation and disappointing American UAVs, the Ukrainian military has a drone of their own.

Why America Loses Every War It Starts // Harlan Ullman: There's no school for presidents, JFK said — but there needs to be a way to bring knowledge and understanding to bear on presidents' decisions.

Welcome to this Monday 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. OTD1933: Navy and Marine Corps balloonists set the world altitude record of 61,237 feet.


Today at 1 p.m. EDT: The price of U.S. nuclear forces — a panel discussion with Michael Bennett of the Congressional Budget Office. Bennett is bringing with him a new report on the Trump administration’s plan for modernizing the nuclear arsenal. Location: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in Washington. Details here.

U.S. helping Argentina search for missing sub. Members of the U.S. Navy’s Undersea Rescue Command are deploying gear to the southern Atlantic to help look for ARA San Juan, which has gone missing with 44 sailors. Air Force airlifters have brought two unmanned underwater vehicles to help, with a third on the way. A Navy P-8 subhunting aircraft has also joined the hunt, reports USNI News, here.

Booze ban in Okinawa after deadly weekend accident. “The U.S. military has ordered servicemembers in Japan not to buy or consume alcohol until further notice after a fatal vehicle accident involving a 21-year-old Marine on Okinawa,” Stars and Stripes reports from Yokota Air Base.
What happened: “A small truck driven by Hidemasa Taira, 61, was making a turn at about 5:30 a.m. at an intersection in Naha when it was hit by an Isuzu Elf driven by [Lance Cpl. Nicholas James-McLean] coming from the opposite direction, the spokesman said. Witness accounts say Taira had the right of way, and that James-McLean may have gone through a red light.”
What now? “Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen must return to quarters and cease consuming alcohol effective immediately,” the message said. “Off base liberty is NOT permitted in Okinawa. Authorized leave is to be conducted outside Okinawa.” All that, here.

Afghanistan’s army is having a very hard time with recruiting while threats from the Taliban rise, The New York Times reported this weekend. “Interviews with residents and army recruitment officers across several provinces suggest the Taliban pressure is taking a serious toll, with officials in some provinces reporting recruitment down by as much as 50 percent.”
Said one recruiter in Kunduz: “We used to gather about 350 or 400 people a month, now it’s about 150 a month.”
Solutions are in short supply, the Times writes. But one includes “rolling out a program to retire hundreds of old generals and colonels clogging the top, in the hopes of promoting a new generation of commanders. While many families relent under Taliban pressure and call their children back from the army, others resist — and pay the price.” Read on, here.

Can a $47 million dollar deal — and anti-tank missiles — alleviate the crisis in Ukraine? That’s one consideration as President Trump considers a new package of measures aimed at countering Russia’s support for separatists in the former Soviet territory, ABC News reported this weekend.  
What to know: “The National Security Council decided during a meeting on Tuesday to greenlight the presentation of a $47 million grant package to the Ukrainian government to purchase American defense arms, including the powerful Javelin anti-tank missiles.”
The obvious tension: “If Trump approves the arms deal, it would be a major shift from the party platform on sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, which was amended when Trump was the party's nominee for president, from supporting ‘lethal defensive arms’ to Ukraine to the more vague ‘appropriate assistance’ — language that ran counter to the perspective of many of the organization’s Republicans.”
There are evidently two other (undescribed) options on the table as well; but SecState Tillerson and SecDef Mattis reportedly prefer the Javelin route, ABC reports. Read on, here.

ICYMI: “US Threatens Its Own Treaty-Busting Missile Development in Response to Russian Violations,” reads The Drive’s headline summarizing a story initially reported by The Wall Street Journal last week.

South Korea’s spies think the North can develop an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. “by the end of the year,” Reuters reports this morning from Seoul.

On refusing “illegal” nuclear orders: It could happen, said STRATCOM’s Gen. John Hyten at the Halifax International Security Forum this weekend.
Hyten: “The way the process works is simple. I provide advice to the president, he’ll tell me what to do, and if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal,’ and guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is.” Defense News has the rest, here.

A NATO contractor just pissed off Turkey’s Erdogan. The alliance’s secretary general apologized to Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan this weekend after a contractor used a fake media portion of a NATO exercise to depict Erdogan and Turkey’s founding leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, on an “enemy chart,” The Guardian reports. “The individual who posted the material was described as a Norwegian civil contractor seconded by Norway, and not a Nato employee.” Extra reading from The Wall Street Journal (paywall alert), here.

Speaking of Turkey: The country’s interior ministry just just hired 500 hackers for its police force, according to the pro-government newspaper Akşam. These new “white hats” are to be tasked with “closer supervision of those insulting state officials, the Turkish people or their religious values on social media and video sites.”

Here’s an odd one. Prisoners at Gitmo were allowed to keep their art. Now the Pentagon may burn it instead. Miami Herald: “U.S. military officials declined to explain what caused them to abandon the years-long practice of releasing detainee art after inspection by prison workers schooled in studying material for secret messages under the rubric of Operational Security.” Read on, here.

Travel a lot — or plan to soon? Here’s a column how how to foil “Cyber-Spies on Business Trips,” from NYTs.

In video: Scare your pants off with this short film called “Slaughterbots,” which — true to its title — dives into the “Dystopian Future of Autonomous Killer Drones.” The film was screened last week at the United Nations in Geneva during a meeting of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
Background — and backers: “The Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mitigating existential risks posed by advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence, commissioned the film. Founded by a group of scientists and business leaders, the institute is backed by AI-skeptics Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, among others,” Seeker.com reports. Read on, here.

Lastly today: Can David Lynch save Ukraine? Probably not, and no one really expects that from the quirky mind behind “Twin Peaks.” But Lynch did visit Kiev and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko this weekend.
Why? Lynch is reportedly soon “opening the foundation for psychological assistance to veterans of war, refugees and victims of domestic violence in Ukraine.” Poroshenko also pitched Lynch on the idea of a movie about Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russian-backed terrorists. No word on how Lynch responded. More from Kiev, including photos inside the House of Chimeras, here.

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