US troops repel a second attack in Syria; Trump hasn’t asked IC to stop Russian meddling; New Gitmo prison planned; Why human rights are now center stage in US-DPRK crisis; and just a bit more...

For the second time in a week, U.S. troops were attacked in eastern Syria, the Pentagon announced Tuesday. This latest attack occurred Saturday — the same day Israel shot down an Iranian drone and had one of its F-16s shot down for the first time since the early 1980s.

This latest encounter with U.S. forces happened just three days after the first one, which the U.S. military said led to the deaths of around 100 “pro-regime” fighters when they attacked a U.S.-partnered base near Deir ez-Zour, Syria. The U.S. threw a heckuva lot of hardware at that first encounter Wednesday; but only dispatched an armed MQ-9 Reaper drone for Saturday’s counterattack.

Saturday’s target: a Soviet-made T-72 tank, driven by unknown forces, said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, head of Air Forces Central Command.

Catch video of the strike, via Task & Purpose, here.

Reminder: The U.S. reserves the right to shoot first and ask Qs about who got shot later, Harrigan essentially said of these counterattacks in Syria. “This is executed as self- defense, and we are going to defend ourselves. We all need to be crystal clear about that. We're going to do that first — defend ourselves appropriately — and then … we've got to work through exactly who it was [that attacked] to understand [the threat].”

Understatement of the day: “It clearly is a very complicated and complex environment,” Harrigan added. Read more at, here.

One more thing about last Wednesday’s attack — the one that allegedly killed “100s” of Russian mercs — the true number is very likely much smaller, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times reported Tuesday. According to the Journal, “Moscow’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported [Tuesday] that 13 Russians were dead and 15 wounded” in the attack. And the NYTs changed their headline mid-day from “Four Russians” to “Dozens of Russians” killed in the attack Wednesday. Though the Times is still sticking with “four” in its lede. Read on, here.

In other Syrian war news: The Trump administration is expected to name a new envoy for the conflict, al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen reported Tuesday.

The man: John Hannah, who previously "served as the top national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, currently is a senior counselor to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies." No dates are known yet for when Hannah might get the public nod. Read more about his background, and the mountain of tall tasks awaiting whoever gets the job, here.

One more thing: France says it will carry out strikes against the Assad regime if it is proved to have used chemical weapons again. That, via Reuters, here.

From Defense One

Trump Has Never Asked Us to Stop Russian Election Meddling, Intelligence Chiefs Testify // Patrick Tucker: The intelligence community agrees Russia will try to influence the 2018 midterms, but they're less clear on how to stop the Kremlin.

Trump Said He Cut $1B from Air Force One's Price. His New Budget Says He Hasn't // Marcus Weisgerber: The Pentagon's budget request sent to Congress on Monday still projects two new Air Force One jetliners costing $4 billion.

How to Keep US Missile Defense on the Right Track // Ian Williams, CSIS associate fellow: Use the coming funding boost to smooth the development of a new kill vehicle and increase GMD testing in general.

A Baby-Step Solution for Improving the Defense Acquisition System // J. David Patterson, former special assistant to the deputy secretary of defense: Establish a source selection schedule and keep to it. Simple. Right?

Why Human Rights Have Taken Center Stage in the US-North Korea Crisis // Joseph Bosco, a former China desk director at OSD: Unable to threaten Pyongyang into submission, Trump turned to denouncing its nightmarish repression. That has consequences.

Cyber R&D Would Go Up at Defense, Down At Standards Agency // Nextgov’s Joseph Marks: Budget proposal would cut 18% from NIST, just as it updates cybersecurity rules that apply across government.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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.

Iraq may have set its bar too high when asking for the world’s help. The situation is aptly summarized in this NYTs hed: “War-Weary Iraq Asked Its Allies for $88 Billion. They Pledged $4 Billion.”
How much of that comes from the U.S.? Well, technically zero. For a more full picture, Reuters writes, “Although the United States said on Tuesday it was extending a $3 billion credit line to Iraq, it has not provided any direct government assistance. It instead hopes it can count largely on Gulf allies to shoulder the burden of rebuilding Iraq.”
Who is chipping in? “The Saudis, Emiratis, Kuwaitis and Qataris all pledging around $1 billion each.”
The big picture take, writes the Times: “President Trump is leaving nation-building to others, and they are barely responding.”

In case you were wondering: The Trump administration’s plan for peace in the Middle East is “fairly well advanced,” SecState Tillerson said this morning from his regional trip this week that finds him in Amman, Jordan today. While there, Reuters reports, Tillerson “signed a five-year [$6.4 billion] aid package that extends U.S. support to Jordan, a key regional ally, despite Trump’s threat to withhold support from states opposed to his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
About that plan: ”I have seen the plan,” he told reporters. “It’s been under development for a number of months. I have consulted with them on the plan, identified areas that we feel need further work. So I think it will be up to the president to decide when he feels it’s time and he’s ready to put that plan forward. I will say it’s fairly well advanced.”
Tillerson also said Iran should withdraw all its forces and militias from Syria, something almost no one thinks will happen any time soon. More from Reuters, here.

The Afghan Taliban want to end the Afghan war through talks — but don’t think that’s because they’re done fighting today, Reuters reports this morning from Kabul. "The Taliban offer of dialogue came in a statement addressed to the American people... The Taliban, fighting to oust foreign forces and defeat the U.S.-backed government, said the United States must end its “occupation” and accept the Taliban right to form a government 'consistent with the beliefs of our people.'" Not much else about the conflict’s dynamics appear to have changed: Afghanistan blames Pakistan for the Taliban’s strength and ability to endure — and Pakistan rejects the accusations. Read the rest, here.  

How should the U.S. military operate in Niger after the deadly attack in October? Ideas on the table include “reducing ground missions in West Africa and stripping field commanders of the autonomy that allows them to send service members on risky missions,” Military Times writes, summarizing the NYT’s initial report from late last week.

New top-secret prison planned at Gitmo. “The Pentagon wants $69 million to replace the Top Secret prison where the accused 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and 14 other former CIA captives are kept,” reports the Miami Herald off Monday’s 2019 budget docs. The existing Camp 7 is reportedly rundown (reporters aren’t allow to see it) — and replacing it was a goal of then-SOUTHCOM, now White House chief of staff John Kelly, but his efforts were rebuffed as the Obama administration worked to close the controversial prison complex at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, a policy reversed by Trump last month. Read on, here.

And what of the ISIS fighters captured in recent years? Don’t send them to Gitmo, Mattis told reporters yesterday. Instead, “...allied countries of origin should take custody of ISIS foreign fighters captured in Syria rather than sending them to Guantanamo Bay, as proposed under a new policy announced by President Donald Trump,” reports.

ICYMI: Intel community IG conceals whistleblower report. Not just one whistleblower’s report, but the IC Office of the Inspector General’s own study of 190 whistleblower cases that found that IC reviewing authorities had declared all but one of the cases to be without merit. The report’s release was canceled by the office’s new acting head, Wayne Stone, who also “sequestered the mountain of documents and data produced in the inspection, the product of three staff-years of work. The incident was never publicly disclosed by the office, and escaped mention in the unclassified version of the IC IG’s semiannual report to Congress,” reports The Daily Beast. “The affair casts serious doubt on the intelligence agencies’ fundamental pact with the rank and file: that workers who properly report perceived wrongdoing through approved channels won’t lose their job or, worse, their security clearance, as a result.” Read on, here.

And finally today: China says it shot down a missile in space. The Feb. 5 test of a mid-course anti-missile interceptor was “like a hypersonic bullet hitting another hypersonic bullet,” writes New America’s Peter W. Singer in Popular Science. Read on, here.