Trump fires Rex; Mattis visits Afghanistan; US threatens Syrian action; More troops’ wives fear deportation; and just a bit more...
Trump fires Tillerson; Pompeo to State; Haspel moves up at CIA. On Friday, President Trump asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to step down. This morning, he nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson, and tapped Deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel to move up. All that and more from the Washington Post, here.
Pompeo’s qualifications to be America’s top diplomat include five years as an Army armor officer, a Harvard law degree, six years in the House of Representatives, and nearly 14 months atop the spy agency.
Haspel to lead the CIA: She has worked there since 1985, mostly undercover. She drew praise when Trump tapped her for the deputy job last year, but: “She has been part of several controversies, including her involvement in several torture programs conducted by the U.S. She also ran waterboarding and other interrogation techniques at some of CIA’s ‘black sites’ or secret prisons,” as IBT put it last year. The New York Times has more: “Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.”
Tillerson unloads on Russia: The secretary cut short a diplomatic trip in Africa when Trump called to fire him. On the plane back to Washington, Tillerson walked back to the contingent of reporters traveling with him, and proceeded to lay into Russia. He cited the mysterious poisoning of an ex-spy in London and more generally, aggressive behavior around the world. AP reported that he “said he’s grown ‘extremely concerned’ about Russia, noting that he spent most of the first year of the Trump administration trying to solve problems and narrow differences with the Kremlin. He said after a year of trying, ‘we didn’t get very far.”
“Instead what we’ve seen is a pivot on their part to be more aggressive,” Tillerson said. “And this is very, very concerning to me and others that there seems to be a certain unleashing of activity that we don’t fully understand what the objective behind that is.” More, here.
Tillerson’s legacy at State: “Veteran diplomats, who had seen in the gravelly voiced Mr. Tillerson a man of stature, experience and great wealth whom they hoped the president would respect and heed, eventually turned against him, as he expressed more interest in shrinking the department than expanding American influence.” NYT, here.
Outlook from here: The shakeup comes less than a week after Trump accepted an invitation to meet with North Korea’s leader and ordered steel and aluminum tariffs that have angered allies and require broad, quick, and intense international negotiations.
From Defense One
Postponing a Wargame Helped Create a Diplomatic Opening // James Siebens: Delaying Foal Eagle 2018 made an underappreciated contribution toward the first meeting of U.S. and North Korean heads of state.
How Much Do America's Arms Makers Depend on Foreign Metal? No One Seems to Know // Marcus Weisgerber: Certainly, no one seemed concerned about it until Trump's tariffs sent them scrambling to find out.
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. On this day in 1895, America awarded its first submarine building contract to the John P. Holland Torpedo Boat Co., for what would eventually become the USS Holland.
SecDef Mattis made a surprise visit to Afghanistan today. Under discussion: “both the military campaign and ‘peeling off’ some members of the Taliban to pursue a peace deal with the Afghan government,” the Washington Post reports, traveling with the secretary.
Scene-setting: “The defense secretary and his staff arrived at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on an C-17 jet in the morning before being whisked away on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in damp, chilly weather to the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul. He met immediately with senior officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass and Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top U.S. officer in Afghanistan. He planned to meet later in the day with Ghani.”
FWIW, “The defense secretary’s latest visit included a new security precaution in which journalists traveling with him were directed to withhold publishing anything until after he left the airport and arrived at the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul. That followed a Taliban attack on the airport in September a few hours after Mattis’s last visit.” Read on, here.
The Taliban’s tug-of-war with government forces continues in the western Farah province, the New York Times reported Monday from Kabul. "Dadullah Qani, a member of the Farah provincial council, said Taliban fighters stormed Anardarah district, which used to be a safe area, and overran a number of government compounds early on Monday. Additional troops that were later sent in retook the district and pushed the Taliban back out," a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry told the Times. “They lost 56 fighters and a dozen of them were wounded,” the Afghan MoI spox said of the Taliban. “Of our forces, I can confirm eight men were killed and 13 wounded.” That, here.
Evergreen headline: “U.S. Officials Brace For Return Of Terrorist Safe Havens To Afghanistan.” That’s a separate New York Times’ read on how the war in Afghanistan is going presently. One depressing sentence from that: “now, Afghan and American officials said, the same area that was obliterated by the United States’ biggest conventional bomb [the MOAB] is once again being used by extremists to plot attacks against the Afghan government and the West.” More on America’s ongoing war in the legendary “graveyard of empires,” here.
The U.S. is prepared to act unilaterally in Syria, America’s Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said Monday “as she circulated a new draft resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire,” the Washington Post reported.
Said Haley to the UN Security Council: “When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action... We warn any nation determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering, but most especially the outlaw Syrian regime, the United States remains prepared to act if we must... It is not a path we prefer. But it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take again.”
Russia’s response: This morning Reuters reports Russia says it will strike any U.S. “missiles or launchers” used in any such unilateral attack in Syria, according to state-run RIA. On Monday, Russia said Damascus has “the right to remove the threat to the safety of its citizens. The suburbs of Damascus cannot remain a hotbed of terrorism,” said Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia. He also reportedly "mocked the number of times his country was mentioned during the debate Monday — counting 22 times by Haley, 16 times by the French envoy and 12 by the British representative," WaPo writes.
Syria’s response: “Isn’t it enough what they’ve done in Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen, invoking very cheap lies?” All that and a bit more, here.
Grain of salt, considering the source, but Russia’s defense chief, Sergei Shoigu, said Russia has tested 210 different weapon systems in Syria. More talk, here.
Turkey claims to have reached a deal with the U.S. over the disputed Syrian city of Manbij. There, according to Ankara’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Turkey and the U.S. will provide joint security, and the Kurdish YPG militia will leave.
One big problem: Syrian Kurds deny any such agreement has been reached, the Associated Press reports this morning. Turkey may be getting ahead of talks since Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reports “Çavuşoğlu said Turkey and the U.S. will decide on a plan to secure Manbij during talks on March 19.” Then again, with Tillerson now out as America’s chief diplomat, it’s almost impossible to know what will happen with the Kurd-U.S. relationship in Syria. Check back here for the latest.
For your eyes only: Here’s a notable application by Turkey of combined drone ops for removing IEDs in northwestern Syria, shared on Twitter by former British infantry officer Nick Waters.
#LongRead: “They’re Still Pulling Bodies Out of ISIS’ Capital” — as in, dead civilians that had gone uncounted in the coalition’s official collateral-damage assessments. That from Samuel Oakford, writing at The Daily Beast just six days after the New York Times reported similar findings in Mosul, Iraq.
The U.S. military is reviewing its rules for helmet camera use in combat, the Associated Press reported Monday after the footage of the deadly attack in Niger resurfaced online last week. Lots of ideas on how to curb use — encryption of some kind, shortening battery life, e.g. — but few that seem to be promising right off the bat. Story, here.
After visiting Vietnam, the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group is in the South China Sea exercising with Japanese allies, Japan Times reported Monday. The “Vinson and the USS Wayne E. Meyer guided-missile destroyer were conducting combined operations with the MSDF’s Ise helicopter destroyer as part of drills aimed at bolstering maritime interoperability between the longstanding allies... The operations will include formation steaming as well as anti-submarine and air-defense training, and the Ise will also conduct a replenishment-at-sea with the Vinson." More here.
The U.S. Navy wants to snag some prime mountainous real estate in Washington for SEAL training, the Seattle Times reports this morning.
Under discussion: “the possible use of [state] 29 parks ranging from Cape Disappointment at the state's southwest tip to Deception Pass in northwest Washington… as well as other public sites such as the Port of Anacortes, a Tacoma wastewater plant and a closed prison on McNeil Island.”
The idea is for most of this training to talk place “at night, [and] often involving submersible diving vessels and SEAL swimmers stealthily coming ashore and making their way to designated locations. That might be quite a spectacle for a camper walking a nighttime beach, but such glimpses of the SEALs are supposed to be rare.” The Navy is reportedly accepting public comments about the proposals until March 23. Read on, here.
More deportation fears for the spouses of U.S. service members. The latest is Loretto Dalmazzo Sullivan, wife of Navy Petty Officer First Class Justin Sullivan. Justin was named the 2017 Sailor of the Year, but now Military Times reports family concerns have shifted to a whole different kind of attention: Keeping Loretto from having to leave the country as the Trump administration pushes its hard line on immigration. Loretto is not alone. Military Times has more on her story, as well as a few others like it, here.
Lastly today: So there was a hidden microphone in Guantanamo. And now two lawyers for a man — Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — accused of bombing the USS Cole in 2000 want answers from the U.S. government about why this microphone was found in August in the room where they regularly meet with their client.
The gist: “Although the details have been murky, the defense lawyers had made clear that they had found something that raised concerns about their ethical obligation to protect the confidentiality of their communications with their client,” the New York Times’ Charlie Savage reported Monday. “They also complained that they could not talk to Mr. Nashiri about it because the details were classified, and that the judge, Col. Vance Spath of the Air Force, rejected their request for an evidentiary hearing to investigate the problem.” More here.