Trump sends Guard to border, changes mind on Syria; Russia hustles to catch up in AI; Japan shakes up defense forces; and just a bit more...

Since the military can’t pay for his wall, President Trump is sending the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. Or, as Just Security's Kate Brannen framed the sudden evolution of a tough campaign promise: “I will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it” has become “I’ll deploy a few thousand Guard troops to the border and U.S. taxpayers will pay for it.”

Known knowns are slim. "It’s our expectation that the National Guard will deploy personnel in support of CBP’s border security mission," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters Wednesday. "It will take time to have the details in place but we are beginning today and we are moving quickly.”

We don’t have a ballpark for how many troops will be deployed, Defense One’s Caroline Houck reports. But we have two recent precedents: President Bush sent about 6,000 Guard troops to the border in 2006, and President Obama sent 1,200 or so there four years later.

According to an unnamed senior admin official, speaking to reporters Wednesday on background: “We’re not going to DOD and saying, ‘We need X number of people.’ We are going to DOD and saying, ‘We need to fulfill this mission requirement,’ and DOD is working to identify and task that out.”

Nielsen said military support could include “everything from aerial surveillance…through to some of the support functions that the guard was able to do under President Bush. We’ve been very specific state-by-state, locale-by-locale, of what CBP believes they need, and then we’ll work in conjunction with the governors who are in fact on the front lines to see what they need, and work it within the National Guard.”

Read the text of Trump’s authorization, obtained by CNN, here.

Also on the White House’s border security wishlist: new walls built around military bases near the Mexico border, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Said one Guard official to The D Brief, Wednesday evening: “This is moving really fast. I’ll bet every JFHQ in the southern U.S. states are working overtime tonight.”

One window into how this all happened so suddenly: A seasonal caravan of migrants caught the president’s attention (tweet here) when the annual story made a sensationalistic appearance on Buzzfeed News in late March. The Trump-tempting headline: “A Huge Caravan Of Central Americans Is Headed For The US, And No One In Mexico Dares To Stop Them

Look a bit further into “How the caravan story exploded on America’s political right,” via the NYT, here.  

And the status of the caravan this morning: Marching north from southern Mexico, though it could “disperse into smaller groups after reaching Mexico City,” according to CNN. “Organizers…estimate that some 200 or so people will proceed all the way to the US border in the coming days, although the number could be higher. Last year, about 150 went all the way to the border, they said.”

Worth noting: “What has been striking is that this year's event has the largest number of people ever, with more than 1,100.” More here.

Also, U.S. farmers depend on migrants. Here’s Military Times’ Tara Copp on the seasonal spike in the number of migrants into Texas: “At the White House, [DHS Secretary] Nielsen said they are seeing a spike in crossings starting in March. This is not unusual. I grew up in Texas and worked in South Texas before D.C. Migratory farmers from Mexico were critical to getting South Texas cotton/citrus to market. Migrants would cross back into Mexico for Christmas, come back for spring.”

The view from across the border: All four of Mexico’s presidential candidates competing in its July election tweeted against Trump’s National Guard decision on Wednesday, noted José Díaz-Briseño of Mexico City-based Reforma newspaper. Those responses, en Español, here.

From Defense One

Trump Reverses, Says He'll Keep U.S. Troops in Syria // Kevin Baron and Caroline Houck: The president officially walked back last week's off-the-cuff remark that the U.S. would leave Syria 'very soon,' leaving even more questions about the mission.

Denied Wall Funding, Trump Sends National Guard to Southern Border // Caroline Houck: Details are still being hashed out, but previous presidents' decisions to do the same offer clues about what's to come.

US Defense Firms Eye Expansion Into Saudi Arabia // Marcus Weisgerber: As the arms deals roll in, companies are pitching joint ventures to the visiting crown prince.

In AI, Russia Is Hustling to Catch Up // Samuel Bendett: Putin is spurring frenetic efforts to marshal the country's academic and industrial resources for breakthroughs in the field — and just might achieve them.

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. OTD1951: Ethel and Julius Rosenberg are sentenced to death for delivering nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.

Trump to military: End ops in Syria “within a few months” or as quickly as possible. That’s a notable change from his opinions on Thursday in Ohio and then again in the White House on Tuesday. It’s been difficult to keep up with the swings back and forth on how Trump feels about the ISIS war and the 2,000 or so American troops in Syria fighting the group today.
The gist: “The president appears to have changed his mind between his Tuesday press appearance and meeting with members of his national security team later that day. Instead, he reportedly told the Pentagon to start planning for a withdrawal, but did not set a deadline,” Defense One’s Kevin Baron and Caroline Houck reported Wednesday. More, here.
Behind the scenes: Trump didn’t like being told by military officials and his national security team on Tuesday that a “very soon” exit of U.S. troops from Syria “would be unwise,” CNN reported Wednesday. Of particular note: Trump’s desire to have Middle Eastern allies contribute more to stabilization funding. The Daily Beast has a bit more on that angle, here.
Turkey’s Erdogan: We won’t stop trying to push the Kurds out of northern Syria, the Associated Press reported from Ankara. There on Wednesday, the presidents of Russia and Iran met with Erdogan to discuss the way ahead in Syria. That two-day meeting is set to end today. But the first day’s progress — surprise, surprise — seems only marginal, AP and Reuters report.

From the Middle East: ISIS fighters “renewed” their pledge to leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Reuters reported Wednesday. Worth noting: “There have been conflicting reports over whether Baghdadi, an Iraqi, is still alive.”
How ISIS stayed in power: NYT ace Rukmini Callimachi found thousands of the group’s internal documents, which reveal their secrets of governance and rule. Read, here.
ICYMI: The Houthi rebels in Yemen are releasing FLIR footage of attempted shoot-downs of UAE F-16s, The Aviationist reported late last week.

In Africa, a gun battle in Mali left 30 fighters dead, Reuters reports this morning from France’s ongoing regional counterterrorism campaign.

Poor weather is cutting some of the U.S.-South Korea joint military drills taking place this month, Stars and Stripes reported Wednesday from Seoul.
Cancelled: "a Marine amphibious assault exercise... which evokes memories of the World War II invasion of Normandy," and which was supposed to begin today. Other air- and ground-focused drills are ongoing, and involve some 11,500 U.S. and 290,000 South Korean troops, Stripes writes. A bit more, here.
What, exactly, is “denuclearization”? The word’s getting thrown around a lot as the ultimate goal, or perhaps the non-negotiable beginning, of U.S. talks with North Korea. But as Middlebury prof Jeffrey Lewis explains in the New York Times, it’s more complicated than that: “Many people, including President Trump, seem to hear ‘denuclearization’ and imagine a promise by Mr. Kim to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, recently acquired at great cost. But the term means more than the North’s disarmament. It imposes obligations on the United States, too — even if Americans don’t want to hear that part.” Read on, here.

Japan has just begun the “biggest organizational shake-up” in its postwar military history, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday from Asaka, home of Japan’s ground self-defense forces.
What’s new: “a central command station for Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force opened” at Asaka on Wednesday. “The headquarters will control Japan’s five regional armies and a new amphibious brigade similar to the U.S. Marine Corps.”
A perk Trump would like: The new “command will also eliminate the need for the U.S. military to deal with several local counterparts for operations in Japan. Around 50,000 U.S. troops are based in Japan under a security-treaty alliance.”
A bit of history: “The army, disbanded in 1945, was re-established nine years later but split into five to thwart a repeat of the conspiracy of senior army officers that helped propel the country into World War II.” More here.

Back stateside, the hand behind the brass goes AI. When it was announced a few weeks ago that Sally Donnelly would leave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' staff after serving just over one year as his right-hand woman, a lot of folks said, "Who is that?" Well, long ago, Donnelly was a reporter, but then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen hired her and several other civilians onto his CAG (Commander's Action Group, kind of an in-house think tank) to be straight-talking civilian advisors.
Donnelly left government after Mullen retired, and started the consulting firm SBD Advisors. (The former admiral is now chairman of their board.) Among the things they do: "help senior folks leaving government figure out what they want to do next," said Price Floyd, former public affairs chief at the Pentagon.
That's how Private Citizen Donnelly became attached to then-retired General Mattis and several other notable defense leaders. This week, SBD Advisors was acquired by ITC Secure, a cyber and artificial intelligence service firm. How does SBD fit in? "This partnership will enable us to help current and future clients who are developing solutions with artificial intelligence, cyber and policy," said Mullen.

USMC loses four troops in a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crash in California, about 10 miles north of the Mexico border near El Centro, the Corps’ 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing announced Wednesday afternoon.
USAF loses pilot after F-16 crash in Nevada, near Nellis Air Force Base.’s Oriana Pawlyk has more, here.  
According to Fox News, "U.S. service members killed in non-combat aviation crashes totaled 37 in 2017 versus 19 in 2016 (95% increase)," Lucas Tomlinson tweeted this morning.

And finally today: 50 million, 80 million — who’s counting? Facebook’s data breach problem expanded by 37 million to 87 million accounts that “may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica,” Facebook announced in a statement Wednesday.