Trump signs 2018 budget. After a blink-and-you-missed it government shutdown brought on by Sen. Rand Paul’s fulminations about a GOP-led Congress voting to massively increase government spending, President Trump signed into law a 2018 budget that will send some $700 billion to the Pentagon in base and OCO funding. New York Times, here.
Meanwhile, Vice President Pence is in Asia. He started Thursday with a speech to airmen at Yokota Air Base in Japan, where he criticized North Korea’s human-rights violations (“As we speak, an estimated 100,000 North Korean citizens labor in modern-day gulags”) and lauded the budget deal and American military strength. Stripes has a bit more, here.
Then on to the Olympics, where Pence arrived late to a dinner hosted by South Korean President Moon, and found himself without a seat. So he walked around the table shaking hands with everyone — except Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s official head of state. That wasn’t the only Veep-to-NorK snub; later at the opening ceremonies, neither Pence nor his wife rose with Moon and others in the VIP box when the North and South Korean athletes arrived under a single flag. Washington Post, here.
From Defense One
US Army Now Holding Drills With Ground Robots That Shoot // Patrick Tucker: Last year saw a historic first: an exercise in which an unmanned vehicle provided live covering fire for American troops.
Military Watchdogs Defend Process for Probing Officer Misconduct // Charles S. Clark: Rep. Speier wants tougher standards for sexual abuse cases.
Peace Through Bombings: The US Strategy in Afghanistan // Krishnadev Calamur: The goal of negotiating with the Taliban is at odds with President Trump's statements.
Global Business Brief, Feb. 8 // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense budget caps on ice; On the road with DepSecDef Shanahan; Ellen Lord's thoughts on autonomy and R&D; and more.
DHS Needs More Cybersecurity Workers—It Just Doesn't Know Where Or What Kind // Aaron Boyd: The government's primary cybersecurity agency is missing congressional deadlines to identify and categorize its cyber workforce, a congressional watchdog said.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.
After Russia apparently closed Syrian airspace to Ankara’s jets, Turkey’s offensive against Kurds in Afrin canton is picking back up this morning, and the Washington Post has a few reasons why (Surprise, surprise: weather and terrain play a big role).
More than 220 people have been killed over the past five days in the rebel stronghold of Ghouta, in Damascus, Agence France-Presse reports this morning.
Said State Department spox Heather Nauert: "These attacks must end now… The United States supports the United Nations calling for a month-long cessation of violence to allow the delivery of humanitarian supplies and the urgent medical evacuation of over 700 civilians in Eastern Ghouta."
Replied Russia: A humanitarian ceasefire in Syria is “unrealistic.”
BTW: That U.S. counterattack against “pro-regime” forces near Deir ez-Zor, Syria on Wednesday — a lot of firepower was brought for that one, the Defense Department told Fox News’s Lucas Tomlinson on Thursday.
Involved: “AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships and Marine Corps artillery killing 100 Russian and Assad-backed fighters in 3-hour battle beginning around midnight last night.”
Is it too soon to mention the M-word? The Washington Post reminds readers "the Trump administration announced a new Syria strategy last month." Under that plan, "U.S. troops will remain in northeastern Syria until there is a peace settlement regarding the wider war that includes a transition away from the rule of President Bashar al-Assad."
The problem with all that right now: "With no sign of such a peace deal in sight, the U.S. military is now committed to a potentially indefinite presence in Syria that is opposed by all of the main players in the country." More about suspicions of mission creep and more, here.
One more good read on the complexities of the Syrian battlefields near Deir ez-Zor: This from AFP.
Egypt just launched a new offensive against ISIS-linked fighters in the Sinai, the Washington Post reports. “The government has ordered up all branches of the security forces, including the air force and navy, dispatched soldiers and police to tighten control of its land borders. Warships have been deployed along its coast to ‘cut the terrorists’ supply lines and ensure they do not get backup, the military said in a statement.”
The aim: “tighten control of the country’s crossing points with neighboring countries and to cleanse the areas that are terrorist strongholds to safeguard the Egyptian people from the evils of terrorism and extremism.”
Context: Presidential elections are just around the corner in March. President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s popularity, the Post writes, “has declined amid economic austerity measures, rising prices and high unemployment. He has either arrested or sidelined all credible challengers in next month’s presidential elections, all but insuring his reelection. By going after the Islamic State, Sissi is hoping to regain popular support.” More here.
In Iraq, a Kurdish militia stands accused of carrying out the largest mass execution of alleged ISIS fighters in the war so far — near Tal Afar, Human Rights Watch says in a new report.
The group: “the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Asayish security forces from the West of the Tigris branch.”
The allegations: “The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Peshmerga military forces detained the men, both foreign and Iraqi, in a school in Sahil al-Maliha, a village 70 kilometers northwest of Mosul. Asayish forces bused them to a prison in Shilgia, a village 45 kilometers away, according to a now retired security force member, and from there they took them to two sites in the vicinity of the town of Zummar, where they executed them.” HRW found what they believe is at least one grave where the bodies were buried. More here.
ICYMI: Nine Abrams tanks fell into the hands of an Iranian-backed militia after the Mosul offensive, Military Times reported Thursday.
An American drone strike is reportedly behind another death in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reports this morning, citing “Afghan government sources.”
Targeted: “Khan Saeed Sajna, the Mehsud splinter group leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)... in a US drone strike in North Waziristan.”
Muddying the waters on this story, Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported overnight that Sajna was killed “in a drone strike in the Margha Area of Barmal in Afghanistan.” ET adds his nephew and two guards were also killed in the strike, which allegedly hit the vehicle they were all traveling in. ET also cites an “intelligence official” as saying “there were at least three reported drone strikes on the Pak-Afghan border in the last 24 hours.” That, here.
Pakistan has a message for President Trump: “Pay for Our Border Fence to Reduce Terrorism,” Bloomberg reported Thursday. A bit more: "Less than 10 percent of the fence planned along the 1,456 miles (2,343 kilometers) of mountainous border with Afghanistan has been completed so far due to financial constraints."
FWIW, "Pakistan and Afghanistan have 235 crossing points, some frequently used by militants and drug traffickers, of which 18 can be accessed by vehicles." Read on, here.
Yemen update: More than 85,000 people have been newly displaced over the past 10 weeks, the United Nations said this morning. “More than 70 percent” of the displaced have come from “the Hodeida and Taez governorates on Yemen's west coast,” AFP reports.
Other “front lines” have flared up, too, sending Yemenis fleeing from “the border governorates of Jawf and Hajjah, and in the oil-rich eastern province of Shabwa.”
As the war in Yemen currently stands, "More than 9,200 people have been killed since the Saudi-led alliance joined the Yemen war in 2015, according to the World Health Organization, triggering what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian disaster. Another nearly 2,200 Yemenis have died of cholera amid deteriorating hygiene and sanitation conditions." More here.
The White House’s interim clearance mafia. “Dozens of White House employees are awaiting permanent security clearances and have been working for months with temporary approvals to handle sensitive information while the FBI continues to probe their backgrounds,” U.S. officials told the Washington Post Thursday. Named: Jared Kushner and Rob Porter. Story, here.
Should ICE be its own intelligence agency? The Trump administration is reportedly pursuing this option — extending an effort by the Obama White House, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday.
Military Times readers: no parade, please. After word broke that the Pentagon had been directed by Trump to start planning a military parade, the independent newspaper asked its readers to weigh in. “As of Thursday afternoon, more than 51,000 readers had responded. The majority, 89 percent, responded ‘No, It’s a waste of money and troops are too busy.’ The other 11 percent responded ‘Yes, it’s a great opportunity to show off U.S. military might.’” Read on, here.
And now for something completely different: Watch F-15 Eagles low-flying in the Welsh Mountains of the Mach Loop. Footage via amateur photog Elwyn Roberts.
In an apparent first, Beijing says its Russian-made Su-35 advanced fighter jets have been carrying out combat patrols in the South China Sea, Military Times reported Thursday, citing an initial report from Japan Times. “The People’s Liberation Army Air Force announced the operation online Wednesday… [but] did not indicate when the exercise took place or how many of the single-seat, twin-engine, highly maneuverable aircraft were involved. It claimed the fighter jets were conducting ‘joint combat patrol’ exercises to enhance the air force’s long-range operational capability, although it was not clear what made them joint.” Tiny bit more, here.
The U.S. Army has a new beret for its SFABs, and it’s brown. No, not Ranger brown (or tan, to be precise). But that’s part of some folks’ objections to the new item in AR-670-1. Army Times has the story (and photos), here.
Finally today: Some wild drone news out of China. “In Guangzhou, China over the past several months, something genuinely amazing has been unfolding,” CNN’s Jon Ostrower reported Thursday. The company “Ehang has been flying passengers in a pair of autonomous single and two-seat electric drones.” The company has reportedly completed more than 40 trips with actual humans since 2015. We’re just only seeing footage of it this week, Ostrower writes.
What’s more, “It's one of a bunch of companies racing to bring their different versions of computer-controlled airborne taxis to market. The contenders include big plane makers like Boeing (BA) and lesser-known startups.” Ehang’s model — called the 184 — can reportedly travel more than 80 mph. Buckle up. The story continues, here.