5-hour truce in Syria; China’s 3 giant navies; Saudi fires top generals; Russia claims progress on anti-satellite laser; and just a bit more...
Going its own way, Russia implements a five-hour truce in Syria. The purpose: “to allow people to leave Syria’s eastern Ghouta, after a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire across the entire country,” Reuters reported Monday from Moscow.
As part of the deal, the Ahrar al-Sham or the Jaish al-Islam factions will continue to be targeted, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday. Russia views the two groups as “partners of the former al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front.” Reuters reports that “The two major rebel factions in eastern Ghouta are Jaish al-Islam and Failaq al-Rahman. Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance of jihadists including Nusra, also has a small presence there.”
Not part of the deal: Any mention “of allowing relief supplies to enter the territory, where 400,000 people are living under siege and bombardment.”
Here’s video of some of the shelling and recovery efforts this morning in Eastern Ghouta, from the aid workers of the White Helmets. And Fox News has a grisly tally of recent violence in Eastern Ghouta, here.
The big concern: “Such pauses in fighting across Syria have had varying degrees of success over the past seven years,” the Washington Post reports from Istanbul. “And ‘humanitarian corridors’ or evacuation routes — from Aleppo city to villages in Idlib — have been plagued by logistical problems and acts of sabotage, even becoming targets.”
Noted The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen: “It's almost like the Russians are recycling the old press releases and announcements from Aleppo at this point.”
What’s more, “On Sunday, health authorities there said several people had symptoms consistent with chlorine gas exposure,” Reuters reported separately. And FWIW, “In recent weeks, the United States has accused Syria of repeatedly using chlorine gas as a weapon. Rebel-held areas of the Ghouta region were hit in a major chemical attack in 2013.” More on those attacks, here.
Don’t look now but “Russian state media just mixed up Syrian war footage with a video-game clip,” the Washington Post reported Monday after the sharp-eyed Aric Toler noticed something amiss in the video.
PR on the cheap? “It is unclear why Russian state media passed off a combat simulator as genuine footage. The Arma series has sold 12 million copies since 2006… making it a prominent and therefore easily identified game throughout the world. The Russian Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.” More here.
Turkey just sent its special forces into NW Syria, taking “control of the outer edge of Syria’s Afrin region,” Ankara’s state-run news agency Anadolu reported Monday. A separate outlet, Dogan news agency, reported Turkey's "gendarmerie and police special forces had entered Afrin from two points in the northwest."
About those special forces, “Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told the broadcaster NTV that the deployment of police special forces ‘is in preparation for the new battle that is approaching.’” More from Reuters, here.
From Defense One
Russia Claims It Now Has Lasers To Shoot Satellites // Patrick Tucker: A defense source tells Russian media that military engineers have advanced work on the next big anti-satellite weapon.
The Dark Arts of Foreign Influence-Peddling // Thorsten Benner: The Mueller investigation is showing the extent of Russian operations. But its real import extends far beyond that.
Russia Is Abetting Mass Murder in Syria // Evelyn N. Farkas: By standing by and watching a slow-motion Rwanda unfold, the U.S. risks becoming an accessory to evil.
Coast Guard Needs Fresh IT, People to Keep Networks Secure // Jack Corrigan: The service's head of Cyber Command outlines his strategy for updating old systems and getting personnel to rethink cybersecurity.
Welcome to this Tuesday 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. Fifty years ago today, CBS News’ Walter Cronkite returned from Vietnam to tell viewers the U.S. is “mired in stalemate,” and “the only rational way” is “to negotiate.” This, says presidential historian Michael Beschloss, reportedly caused Lyndon Johnson to say that if he’d lost Cronkite, he’d lost Middle America. The war would continue for another 7 years, 2 months and 3 days before the last American troops left Saigon.
Happening now: CYBERCOM’s Adm. Michael S. Rogers is testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in "review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2019 and the Future Years Defense Program." Watch live here.
Also now: CENTCOM’s Gen. Joseph Votel is testifying before the House Armed Services Committee. The focus: “Terrorism and Iran: Defense Challenges in the Middle East.” Catch that one live, here.
At 11 a.m. EDT: Update on the war on ISIS with Brig. Gen. Andrew Croft — the coalition's deputy commanding general for air operations.
And later today: Hope Hicks, White House communications director, is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.
Why size matters with three giant Chinese “navies.” “Numerical superiority allows China’s second and third sea forces to flood the maritime gray zone in ways that its neighbors, as well as the United States, may find very hard to counter,” writes the Naval War College’s Andrew Erickson. What are all these fleets? There’s the People’s Liberation Army Navy (300-plus ships), the China Coast Guard (1,275-plus), and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (3,500-plus). “The PLAN has formidable firepower; most PLAN ships have longer-range antiship cruise missiles than U.S. Navy ships possess. The CCG is an actual threat to both the U.S. Navy and the sea forces of all China’s maritime neighbors, and has an extremely substantial law-enforcement capability on a par with that of the U.S. and Japanese coast guards.” Then there’s the PAFMM, an occasionally lethal “harassing force with questionable legal authority.” Much more detail at The National Interest, here.
The U.S.’s own lesser-known fleets are also doing more these days. There’s the 125 ships of the civilian-crewed Military Sealift Command, which “is building up its presence off Europe and Africa, as insurgent activity and potential threats to allies by Russia stretch the military’s supply lines,” Stripes reports. And the Army’s own logistics fleet recently added a third of its biggest type of vessel to its Hawaii operations. Read, here.
ICYMI: U.S. could put new nuclear cruise missile on destroyers, Strategic Command’s Gen. John Hyten said Feb. 16. Read more, here.
Two U.S. Navy captains were fired for “mishandling multiple staff complaints of workplace harassment“ and “substandard performance,” Navy Times reported Monday.
Russia stops a diplomatic plan in Yemen. The short story: Moscow vetoed a UN resolution “that would have pressured Iran over the illegal use of Iranian-made missiles by Houthi insurgents in Yemen,” and instead submitted their own version, which “conspicuously avoided the issue of Iranian weapons in Yemen,” The New York Times reported Monday. The Russian version was then approved unanimously. (For the record, Bolivia was the only country to join Russia in the UNSC veto; China abstained from voting.)
The sticking point, as is often the case with Russia at the UNSC: "The Russians have said the evidence of Iran’s malfeasance [in Yemen] is inconclusive. Iran has described the evidence as a fabrication concocted by the United States and Saudi Arabia."
Sudden changes to the Saudi military. Out: the “heads of the ground and air defence forces" and the army's chief of staff, as well as commander of Saudi Arabia’s joint forces, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Executive Affairs, al-Jazeera and Saudi-owned al-Arabiya reported Monday.
Why? Perhaps in an effort to “repair its image,” AJ writes.
Another way to look at it: “Saudi Arabia dismisses top generals as its forces are bogged down in Yemeni conflict,” the International Business Times writes.
Assessing President Trump’s war in Somalia. According to one independent Somali journalist, thousands of people have fled their villages to escape U.S. drone attacks. And many other allegedly innocent farmers are being killed by those drone strikes, too, writes Jamal Osman, who interviewed families around Mogadishu to file this report late last week.
Gitmo court wants SecDef Mattis to weigh in on abrupt dismissal. National Security law professor Steve Vladeck calls this latest wrinkle “a fascinating development… where the military judge presiding over the 9/11 trial is apparently going to demand an explanation from Secretary Mattis [about] why he fired the Convening Authority (Harvey Rishikof). The answer could pose real problems for the [war court’s] commissions.” The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg (of course) has the story, here.
Raj Shah exits DIUx. Shah was brought in to lead a reboot of the group founded to connect the Pentagon to Silicon Valley. “Since he took over in May 2016, Shah ― an F-16 pilot in the Guard who has worked with a number of tech companies in the past ― helped oversee DIUx expansion to Boston, Massachusetts, as well as Austin, Texas. He also strengthened ties between the tech hub and the military services, and in October the group transitioned its first program into a true Pentagon contract,” writes Defense News, here.
And finally today: a video of Archie Bunker advising America on how to stop terrorists from hijacking planes. His solution — met with laugher by the audience (or at least a laugh track): arm all the passengers as they board and have them turn in their weapons when they land.
In the name of transparency, the above video was found and shared by Jesse Ferguson, former Deputy National Press Secretary for Hillary Clinton.