Russia blocks Syrian ceasefire; N. Korea open to US talks; Houthi drones take out Patriot battery; USAF working on new anti-personnel bomb; and just a bit more…
Russia says no to a ceasefire in Syria announced by the UN Security Council this weekend. “The Security Council on Saturday unanimously demanded a 30-day ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations,” Agence France-Presse reported Sunday as the death toll in Eastern Ghouta rose to well over 500 since February 18.
On the other side, “Rebel shelling has caused 36 deaths and a number of injuries in Damascus and nearby rural areas in the last four days, Zaher Hajjo, a government health official, told Reuters.”
The snag with that ceasefire: “The measure did not specify when the truce would go into force beyond saying it should be ‘without delay,’” AFP reported.
For the record: “During the 48 hours the diplomats spent arguing about the language & punctuation in the UN's Syria ceasefire resolution, 180 people were killed in Ghouta, including 26 women and 42 children, and 491 were injured, 108 of them children,” the Washington Post’s Liz Sly tweeted Sunday, citing data from the Syrian American Medical Society.
And here’s an exhaustive accounting of death and violence in Eastern Ghouta, from a new report by the UK-based Syrian Network for Human Rights.
From Russia’s state-run Tass news agency: “The Russian leader emphasized that the ceasefire did not extend to military operations against terrorist groupings in Syria.”
Like Russia, Syria and Iran will continue to pursue “terrorists” in Eastern Ghouta during the ceasefire, Reuters reported off Iranian news agencies on Sunday. Buzzfeed News’ Borzou Daragahi called Damascus and Tehran’s continued assault an “open contempt for international law.”
One more thing: Russia verbally confirmed the deployment of its new stealth fighter jet, and Israeli satellite imagery (via Haaretz) provided the visual confirmation.
From Defense One
US Announces New Sanctions Against Smugglers Who Bring Fuel to North Korea // Patrick Tucker: The White House takes aim at international shipping companies in its latest attempt to undermine Pyongyang's weapons developments.
We've Lost the Opening Info Battle against Russia; Let's Not Lose the War // Dan Mahaffee: Our defenders must understand not just media technology but the critical historical and societal contexts that give it power.
America Is Teaching Syria a Dangerous Lesson // Frederic C. Hof: Bashar al-Assad seems to have gotten the message that he can do whatever he wants short of using sarin gas.
Pentagon R&D Funding Fell $4B Short of Experts' Recommendations Last Year // Jack Corrigan: While there's no magic number for research spending, the Pentagon is spending less than experts recommend.
Welcome to this Monday 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. Today in 2003: One month ahead of the U.S. invasion, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein tells CBS that he has no links with al-Qaeda and vows to die in Iraq.
North Korea: we’re willing to talk to the U.S. On Monday, North Korean diplomat Kim Yong-chol told Chung Eui-yong, the South Korean president’s top security advisor, that Pyongyang was open to bilateral talks with the United States. Via Yonhap News: “The U.S. seemed to remain cautious, with White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders saying Washington will first see if Kim’s remarks represented the North's first step toward denuclearization.” Read on, here.
A strike against smugglers. On Friday, the Trump administration announced sanctions on 27 international shipping companies that have helped the North Korean regime smuggle coal and oil into the country. D1’s Patrick Tucker, here.
Gaming out China’s “freeze-for-freeze.” Under this proposed deal, which has been on the table for months, N. Korea would halt ICBM tests if S. Korea and the U.S. suspend their big joint exercises. RAND analyst James Dobbins explores the likely results, here.
Russian military intelligence hacked Olympics computers and tried to frame N. Korea. That’s the story from a pair of unnamed U.S. intelligence officials, in what would seem to be an unusual semi-official attribution of an attack, via the Washington Post. What has been publicly confirmed is a Feb. 9 disruption of Olympics ticketing websites, which led to some empty seats at the opening ceremonies. “Apart from accessing the computers, GRU cyber-operators also hacked routers in South Korea last month and deployed new malware on the day the Olympics began,” the Post reports. There’s more, here.
Taking note: The Post’s Tokyo bureau chief took a photo of something fishy in the press box: “Curious. Lots of North Korean “reporters” at the Olympics, and yet no reports in North Korea about the Olympics…”
China “pushes back” on allegations President Xi could rule for a long time after the country’s Communist Party “cleared the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely, by announcing Sunday that it intends to abolish term limits on the presidency,” The New York Times reported from Beijing.
Bigger picture concerns: “The move alarmed advocates of political liberalization in China who saw it as part of a global trend of strongman leaders casting aside constitutional checks, like Vladimir V. Putin in Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey.”
About the pushback, Reuters reports this morning: “In an unusual step amid intense international media attention, China’s foreign ministry, which normally only comments on diplomatic matters, said amending the constitution was a matter for the Chinese people.” More takes from other China’s Global Times and People’s Daily, here.
Related: Online “searches for ‘migration’ spiked after the news came out around 4 PM that China is eliminating a two-term constitutional cap on presidential terms,” one observer noted on Twitter Sunday.
Happening tomorrow: President Xi Jinping sends his top economic policymaker to Washington on Tuesday in a bid to reduce trans-Pacific trade tensions, NYTs reported Friday.
Wanna see a new Chinese armed drone? AP went to a drone fair in Abu Dhabi and came back with this report on “the Wing Loong II,” and more.
For more on China’s emerging drone industry, read this from The Drive, published Friday.
ISIS in Yemen claimed a series of suicide attacks in the southern port city of Aden on Saturday, Site Intelligence Group reported off ISIS’s Amaq News agency. The attacks, using at least two suicide bombers, killed more than a dozen and wounded 40 others at “the headquarters of a Yemeni counter-terrorism unit... in Tawahi district in south-western Aden,” The Guardian reported. “Security sources said two suicide bombers detonated two cars laden with explosives at the camp’s entrance while six gunmen tried to storm the facility. They were all killed by guards and their bodies taken to a military hospital.”
Background: “The attack was the first of its kind in southern Yemen since gun battles erupted in January between southern separatists and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government over control of the city. Aden is the temporary capital of Yemen’s internationally recognised Hadi government, which is now operating out of Saudi Arabia.” More here.
Related: “IS media show signs of recovery after sharp decline,” the BBC reported this weekend.
By the numbers: “IS's gradual media recovery over the last three months saw it publish 308 items in November, 326 items in December and jump to 673 items in January... This means that in terms of numbers, IS's monthly media output in January is not far behind its September mark, the month before the group lost Raqqa, when it produced 776 items. Prior to that, between January and September 2017, IS produced an average of 800-1000 items per month.” More here.
There are now two “rival” draft resolutions on Yemen at the UN Security Council now that “Russia put forward a rival text aimed at blocking action against Iran over missiles sent to the country's [Houthi] rebels,” Agence France-Presse reported Sunday from the UN.
On the one hand, there is a “British-drafted resolution that would condemn Iran for violating a U.N. arms embargo by providing missiles and drones to Shiite rebels in Yemen — and commit to future action against Tehran,” Voice of America adds.
On the other is a “Russian-drafted text... [which] would extend the sanctions regime on Yemen until February 2019 without any reference to the UN report's findings on Iran and possible action targeting Tehran,” AFP writes.
Main sticking point: “The report by a UN panel of experts concluded that Iran was in violation of the 2015 arms embargo after determining that missiles fired by the [Houthis] at Saudi Arabia last year were made in Iran. Russia maintains that the report's findings are not conclusive enough to justify action against Iran.” Read on, here.
Also this weekend: Using a “swarm of drones,” the Houthis reportedly destroyed a UAE Patriot missile defense system in central Yemen’s Ma’rib province, South Front reported Saturday, citing reports from Yemeni al-Masirah TV.
A bit more on that: “According to al-Masirah, Yemeni forces attacked the UAE Army Patriot PAC-3 system with “a swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs],” while the UAE Army headquarters was targeted with several ballistic missiles launched by the Yemeni Missile Forces. The Saudi-led coalition immediately announced that its air defenses in Yemen had intercepted two ballistic missiles, which had been launched by the Houthis over the center of Ma’rib province. However, the collation didn’t report shooting down any UAVs of the Houthis.” Read the rest — including a bit more on the Qasef-1 UAV believed to have been used in the attacks — here.
Two al-Shabab car bombs hit the Somali capital, killing at least 45, Reuters reports this morning from Mogadishu — two days after the scene of violence on Friday “near the president’s residence and a hotel close by.” According to Shabab, “Five [of its fighters] including the two drivers [were] martyred from our side.” More here.
The Taliban killed at least 20 Afghan soldiers in western Farah province, The New York Times reported on Saturday. “In one attack, the insurgents detonated explosives packed into an American-made Humvee that had been captured from the Afghan Army. And in another, they made off with a Humvee, replenishing their supply. In the most lethal strike, insurgents overran a checkpoint in Farah Province around 3 a.m. Saturday. An Afghan Army spokesman said that 18 government soldiers were killed and two others wounded, and that a firefight with the attackers had continued even after reinforcements arrived.” More here.
The U.S. Air Force is working on a 2,000-pound fragmentation bomb, Aviation Week reported Thursday. Known as the BLU-136/B, it is part of the USAF’s “answer to the phase-out of anti-personnel/anti-material cluster munitions,” said author James Drew on Twitter. The solution: “rain down iron fragments instead.” More here (paywall alert).
In case you missed it: A majority of Americans say the U.S. military is strong enough or too strong, according to a recent Gallup poll published late last week.
The numbers: “Americans’ attitudes are split almost evenly across three views of the defense budget, with 34% saying the federal government is spending too much on national defense and the military, 33% saying "too little" and 31% saying defense spending is about right.”
Caveat: “Americans' views on these issues are not shared by GOP congressional and military leaders, nor by Trump — all of whom pressed for the major increase in military spending in the current federal budget.” Read on, here.
Homeless veterans could soon have a place to call home. They’ll just need to hitch a ride to Idaho to get there, AP reported Friday. "The building, which would be the state's first permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless veterans, is expected to be complete by the end of 2020... the housing project could end up anywhere in Idaho, depending on the proposals that are submitted. But Boise city officials are already working on a funding plan, hoping the project will be built there."
FWIW, "The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the Boise VA Medical Center, would pay for supportive services under the plan." Read the rest, here.
And finally today: We have a date for our Trump-directed military parade. Politico reported this weekend the president wants his military to go marching down the streets of a U.S. city on Veterans Day — November 11, 2018.
Known-knowns: The instruction came from "an unclassified Feb. 20 memo written by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster" which suggests "the parade route should begin at the White House and end at the Capitol."
Have more questions? Ask the Pentagon, the White House said Friday. Read on, here.