US at war in 7 countries — including Niger; US Army rebuilds Afghan firebases; F-35s to India?; and just a bit more...

The U.S. military is officially fighting wars in seven countries, according to the White House’s latest war report. Known formally as the “Report on the Legal and Policy Frameworks Guiding the United States’ Military Force and Related National Security Operations,” the unclassified portion flags ops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Niger — all under the banner of the same war authority granted in the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force to fight al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Groups the U.S. military is fighting: AQ, ISIS, the Houthis in Yemen, the Taliban, the Haqqani network, the Assad regime (with the April 2017 cruise missile strikes), al-Shabab, and “elements [in Niger] assessed to be part of ISIS.” The report’s classified annex goes into the groups in more detail.

The largest section is reserved for Syria, not that that makes it any easier to say which of these conflicts might wrap up first, as they still encompass the “arc of instability” referenced by Obama-era officials — and even President George W. Bush almost exactly 12 years ago.  

Reminder about why all these conflicts are legal: the 2002 AUMF “contains no geographic limitation on where authorized force may be employed… to defend the national security of the United States.”

Also in the report: confirmation “that the U.S. is sharing intel with the Saudis in their Yemen bombing campaign, though U.S. military officials continue to deny that they're doing so,” Breaking Defense’s Paul McCleary noted Wednesday on Twitter. Read the full report, here.

One more thing about Yemen: Defense Secretary Mattis is a big fan of the U.S. military’s Saudi support for its war in Yemen. So much so that he’s pleading with Congress (PDF) ahead of a Senate vote on whether to end U.S. assistance for a meandering conflict now its 1,087th consecutive day. The Washington Post has the rest of that story, here.

From Defense One

Pentagon Tells Leaders to Talk More With Contractors — and Less to the Public and Press // Marcus Weisgerber: One day after Air Force leaders severely restricted media contacts, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan encouraged Pentagon officials to engage more with industry.

The Military Race for Space Will Turn on the Ability to Choose Commercial Services // Patrick Tucker: Like a befuddled consumer facing an entire aisle of jams and jellies, the Pentagon can't figure out how to buy smart in the exploding market of commercial satellite services.

Team of Sycophants // Eliot A. Cohen: Tillerson's dismissal leaves the White House more than ever the conniving and dishonest court of an erratic, ill-informed, and willful monarch.

Why Did Trump Fire Tillerson Now? // David Frum: The specific timing of the move—following the secretary of state's split from the president to condemn a Russian attack in the U.K.—raises questions about its motive.

Welcome to this Thursday 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. OTD2011: Syrians protest Assad regime in Damascus (more below).

Also in that war report: An operation in Niger you (probably) didn’t know about. Almost three months after it happened, the U.S. military told the New York Times about a Green Berets assault in Niger that killed 11 alleged ISIS fighters on December 6. The U.S. element was partnered with Nigerien troops, and reportedly none of them were injured in the firefight. The battle was referenced in just a single line in the war report cited above.
But that’s not the whole story: The combat “along with at least 10 other previously unreported attacks on American troops in West Africa between 2015 and 2017 — indicates that the deadly Oct. 4 ambush was not an isolated episode in a nation where the United States is building a major drone base,” the Times’ Adam Goldman reported Wednesday.
While the public may not have known, and AFRICOM chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, failed to mention it in his February testimony before Congress, “A senior House Republican aide said on Wednesday that lawmakers had been notified about the Dec. 6 attack soon after it happened.” Read on, here.

ICYMI: The U.S. Army says it’s expanding its footprint in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes’ Chad Garland noticed after reading this release from Big Army public affairs a week ago.
The relevant line: “Some of the FOBs we are extending communications capabilities to have not been in use for several years, and [are being renovated] to provide reliable and secure signal services to these places requires additional material and equipment, and the personnel to maintain and operate it," according to Col. Christine Rummel — whose title is the very long “director of communications integration in Afghanistan for the 335th Signal Command (Theater) (Provisional).”  

We pivot eastward now, because PACOM’s Adm. Harris wants to sell F-35s to India, the India-based Stratpost reported Wednesday, calling Harris “the first U.S. official to refer to such a potential sale.”
Where they take their jump: Harris’s Feb. 14 testimony before the House Armed Services committee. There, Harris flagged aircraft for possible sale to India, including F-16s, the F/A-18E, 12-15 P-8Is, a SeaGuardian UAS, an MH-60R multi-role sea-based helicopter, and the F-35.
According to Stratpost, "the main reason why there has been no discussion on such a potential sale [before that Feb. testimony] is the reluctance on both sides to be the first to initiate a conversation about the prospect. This appears to have changed.”
Next steps: “The two countries have planned a 2+2 meeting of foreign ministers and defence ministers next month.” Read on, here.

NATO tells Moscow to explain itself. “The Western NATO military alliance called on Russia on Wednesday to give Britain ‘complete disclosure’ of the Soviet-era nerve agent used in an attack on a Russian double agent on March 4, following a British briefing to allies at NATO headquarters,” reports Reuters.
NATO's statement: “Allies expressed deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on Alliance territory since NATO’s foundation [in 1949].”
German defense minister: It’s “highly likely” that Russia is behind this “serious violation of international agreements on chemical weapons.”
Nikki Haley to the U.N. Security Council: we should hold the Kremlin accountable. “The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent,” Haley said at a UNSC meeting in New York, NBC News reported. “Haley said the United States stood in ‘absolute solidarity’ with Britain after the country expelled 23 Russian diplomats in response to the chemical attack last week on the ex-spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia.”

The U.S. Navy went to the Arctic and took CNN along for the ride. While there, Jim Sciutto talks with the commander and crew of the USS Hartford, a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered submarine, which breached the Arctic ice. The five-minute report begins here.

And finally today: Exactly seven years ago, the protests that would morph into a civil war began in Syria’s capital city of Damascus. Six protesters were initially detained by Assad regime forces, which would go on to use increasingly violent means to try to put down the unrest. In the more than 2,500 days since, some 400,000 Syrians have died, and nearly 13 million have been displaced — including more than 5 million now living as refugees in countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Review dozens of the weapons used throughout the conflict in our 10-part series produced in July 2016, here.