Trump keeps ’em guessing; Pompeo heads to Hill; Missiles duel over Riyadh; Cyber Marines go to sea; and just a bit more...
Keeping ’em guessing. President Trump now says an attack on Syria could happen “very soon or not so soon at all!” That was the first half of a tweet that continued, “In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our ‘Thank you America?’”
Trump’s military chief, meantime, is "still assessing the intelligence" on the suspected chemical attack in Syria, ABC News reported Wednesday during a Pentagon meeting with Mattis’s Dutch counterpart, Ank Bijleveld.
All business: "We stand ready to supply military options, if they're appropriate, as the president determines," Mattis told reporters. Noted ABC News: Mattis “would not say whether he was concerned about the president telegraphing U.S. military action in Syria.”
By the way: Syria just repositioned quite a few air assets in the wake of Trump’s warning on Monday, U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday — but declined to comment further.
Adds Fox News' Jennifer Griffin: "Satellite photos of Russian naval base in Tartus, Syria show all 11 Russian battleships have left Syria. Perhaps to avoid being sitting ducks as rhetoric between Trump and Russia escalates."
And Moscow says “I see you.” Reuters again: “The Russian military said on Wednesday it had observed movements of U.S. Navy forces in the Gulf. Any U.S. strike would almost certainly involve the Navy, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defenses. A U.S. guided-missile destroyer, the Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean, and other naval assets could be used in an attack.”
New this morning: French President Emmanuel Macron says he has proof Syrian regime troops were behind Saturday’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus, and that he will decide whether to strike Syria “in due course, when we judge it to be the most useful and the most effective," Agence France-Presse reports.
Macron: “We have proof that chemical weapons were used last week, at least chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of Bashar al-Assad," he said in an interview with France’s TF1 Television. Reuters notes Macron did not "giv[e] details on the evidence or how it was acquired."
The line Macron says he’s hoping to walk: "France will in no way allow an escalation or anything that would harm regional stability, but we cannot allow regimes that believe they can act with impunity to violate international law in the worst possible way."
Across the Channel, British Prime Minister Theresa May is “ready to join military action against the Assad regime in Syria without first seeking parliamentary consent,” the BBC reported Wednesday. More here.
Also from Britain this morning: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its investigators have "confirmed the UK's findings that Novichok was used to target the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury,” CNN reports this morning. Story and implications, here.
From Defense One
NATO Needs to Step Up its Maritime Defenses // Kathleen Hicks, Michael Matlaga and Andrew Linder: Here are a few steps the alliance should pursue at its upcoming summit in Brussels.
The US Military Budget Shows Just How Deep Donald Trump is Getting Into Syria // Ana Campoy: Despite Trump's distaste for global entanglements, the U.S. is spending more and more in Syria.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. OTD1961: Soviet Air Forces Maj. Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space. Two decades years later, Columbia launched on the first Space Shuttle mission.
Happening now: Defense Secretary Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford are testifying before the House Armed Services committee on the military’s FY19 budget request. Stream it live, here.
Also happening now: Army Chief Gen. Mark Milley talks about his service’s posture before the Senate Armed Services committee. Watch that one, here.
And happening soon: Former CIA Director Mike Pompeo is sitting before the Senate Foreign Relations committee for his confirmation to become the country's next secretary of state. That begins at 10:15 a.m. EDT, here.
Pompeo preview: "Years of soft U.S. policy toward Russia are now over," the Associated Press reported after obtaining excerpts of his opening statement.
Endorsing Pompeo: “53 national security experts and public practitioners,” the Center for Security Policy announced Wednesday. Read those 53 names and the letter they sent to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), here.
Related: “CIA Director Mike Pompeo failed to disclose last year that he owned a Kansas business that imported oilfield equipment from a company owned by the Chinese government,” McClatchy reported Wednesday.
Says former Naval aviator @HerbCarmen: “A man with previously undisclosed connections to Chinese government-owned oil & gas companies is about to become a voting member of The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS)."
Another departure at the National Security Council. Out: Deputy national security adviser Nadia Schadlow. She resigned Tuesday and will leave “by the end of the month,” CNN reported.
Background: “Sources close to the National Security Council have for weeks expected that Schadlow, who was a close adviser to Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, would resign or be pushed out after President Donald Trump announced he was replacing McMaster with Bolton. A senior White House official said Schadlow spoke with Bolton on Tuesday and submitted her resignation ‘to allow him to build his own NSC leadership team.’” More here.
California’s governor has dispatched another 400 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, CNN reported Wednesday.
That brings California’s Guard commitment to around 700, adding to “one ongoing operation [that] has 55 Guard troops at the 140-mile border and 250 deployed statewide.”
Head out to Starr County, Texas, where the New York Times’ Manny Fernandez hung out with about 250 Texas Guard troops overlooking “the swift green waters of the Rio Grande” with their binos, M4s and 9mm pistols. Not a ton of excitement to that gig, but lots of interesting scenery and context, which you can dig into, here.
From the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based Houthi rebels launched armed drones and ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia. And this time, Saudi air defenses appear to have been up to the task.
The short read, from Bloomberg: “One missile was intercepted over Riyadh, with loud blasts heard in the night sky above the Saudi capital on Wednesday. Two other missiles were intercepted over the southern areas of Jazan and Najran, authorities said. The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen said it also downed a drone targeting an airport in the southwestern province of Abha and another in Jazan.”
The alleged drone used: “Qasef-1,” which you can read more about from Popular Science over here. The Houthis said they targeted facilities of oil giant Saudi Aramco in southern Jizan. But Aramco responded everything was “normal and safe.”
What did happen afterward: “oil prices [rose] to their highest level in more than three year years,” Financial Times reports in the wake of the Houthi attacks. Their quick read: “Concerns over the missile launch and rising tension between the US and Russia over an alleged chemical attack in Syria caused Brent crude to rise by more than $2 a barrel to $73.09 on Wednesday. Brent crude, the international benchmark for oil prices, has increased by 9 per cent in the past three days.”
Speaking of intercepts, a Greek pilot is feared dead this morning when his Mirage 2000-5 jet crashed about 9 miles northeast of Skyros island, AirLive reports. Citing “Greek media,” AirLive writes, “The aircraft was returning to its base after a dog fight with Turkish fighter jets that violated Greece’s airspace.”
However, “There “was no dogfight,” according to the Greece Ministry of Defence. “By the time pair of Greek Mirage jets arrived to engage, the Turkish jets had vanished from Greek airspace.” How the aircraft crashed is still unknown; a second pilot on the mission said he did not notice a parachute emerge from the downed Mirage, so the outlook doesn’t look good. A search mission is reportedly underway in the waters near Skyros. A bit more, here.
Can North Korea actually hit the U.S. mainland yet? Joshua Pollack recommends this NKNews piece, “which nicely captures the range of the debate over North Korean ICBM capabilities.”
U.S. Cyber Command could get permission for broader ops. “Lawmakers and Pentagon leadership are considering plans that could one day provide U.S. Cyber Command with additional authorities to more easily operate outside declared war zones, two senior U.S. officials acknowledged Wednesday during an open congressional hearing,” Cyberscoop reported. This could allow CYBERCOM to do more to protect private companies, or allow the military to attack a much larger set of targets. More, here.
Cyber Marines heading to sea. The U.S. Marine Corps is looking at putting teams of network-defense specialists alongside the other warriors that deploy aboard the Navy’s amphibious warships, the commander of Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command said Tuesday. It’s part of the Corps’ effort to better integrate defensive cyber operations into all aspects of their work. The Marines recently established a cyberspace military occupational specialty, and are looking to add some 3,000 information operators to handle intelligence analysis, targeting, electronic warfare and cyber. More at USNI News, here.
Marine general suspended for calling sexual-harassment allegations “fake news.” Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein was director of Marine and Family Programs, the office that handles sexual assault prevention and response for the Marine Corps. Stripes has more, here.
And finally this morning, America’s special operators in Africa are pulling back a bit from the “front lines, a move U.S. officers believe will make troops less vulnerable to the type of militant attack that left four U.S. soldiers dead in this West African country last fall,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. Full story (paywall alert), here.