US says Arabs should take over Syria mission; Joint warning about Russian hackery; New AUMF debated; Italy’s answer to not-quite-wars; and just a bit more...
The U.S. wants an “Arab force to replace the U.S. military contingent in Syria and help stabilize the northeastern part of the country after the defeat of Islamic State,” U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal on Monday.
Asked to do more: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. The U.S. wants them "to send troops" as well as "contribute billions of dollars to help restore northern Syria."
One big problem: “There is just no precedent or established basis for this shaping into a successful strategy,” the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister told the Journal.
Some of the roadblocks: "Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are involved militarily in Yemen, and Egypt would be reluctant to defend territory that wasn’t controlled by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad." Too, Lister said, Arab states would not "be eager to send forces to Syria if the U.S. military didn’t agree to keep some troops there."
A big fan of the idea: Erik Prince, who reportedly "said Monday that he has been informally contacted by Arab officials about the prospect of building a force in Syria but that he was waiting to see what Mr. Trump would do."
Overnight in Homs, Syria: Regime air defense went haywire and started launching missiles at targets which apparently were never there, Agence France-Presse reports this morning.
Known knowns: "In the early hours of Tuesday, Syrian state media reported that air defence systems had shot down missiles over Homs province," AFP reports. "Big explosions were heard overnight near Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs city, and near Damascus where two other air bases are located," according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Later in the morning, Syrian state media put out a statement laying the blame on a "false alarm that Syrian air space had been penetrated triggered the blowing of air defence sirens and the firing of several missiles," with one nameless Syrian official admitting, "There was no external attack on Syria." That and a bit more, here.
Syrian regime troops began shelling “the last area outside its control near Damascus” this morning, Reuters reports. The location: “Yarmouk, Syria’s biggest camp for Palestinian refugees since the mid-20th century.” It’s been under ISIS control “for several years,” Reuters writes, adding, “Although the vast majority of residents have fled, the United Nations says thousands remain.”
In neighboring Jordan, U.S. Marines are rehearsing “civilian evacuation operations, and chemical and biological drills,” Marine Corps Times reported Monday. "Known as Eager Lion, the nearly two-week exercise started Sunday" and involves "roughly 1,800 Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit... as well as U.S. Army and Navy personnel, for a total force of roughly 3,600 U.S. troops." A tiny bit more, here.
From Defense One
For Not-Quite-Wars, Italy Has a Useful Alternative to Traditional Troops // Elisabeth Braw: More nations should consider creating police-cum-military forces for hybrid stabilization missions.
The Unconstitutional Strike on Syria // Garrett Epps: AUMF? The Syrian government is not Al Qaeda, nor an affiliate, nor a successor, nor anything except a sovereign nation against which the president has decided to go to war.
A Trump Doctrine for the Middle East // Martin Indyk: The region has now been Trump-branded as "a troubled place"—and one America is not particularly interested in helping.
Trump's Syria Strategy Actually Makes Sense // Kori Schake: And it does not involve a commitment to change the horrible and predictable outcome of the civil war.
Neither Precise Nor Proportionate // Eliot A. Cohen: Trump's attack on Syria was unserious but intended to relieve emotional pressure—and in many ways, worse than doing nothing at all.
US Military Dominance Requires Better Command-and-Control Tools // Todd Probert: Commanders need an AI-infused infrastructure to keep tabs on friendly and hostile forces, suggest actions, and help carry out orders.
Welcome to this Tuesday 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: The CIA lands 1,400 American-trained Cubans at the Bay of Pigs.
U.S., UK issue unprecedented warning about Russian cyberattacks. “Russia has targeted ‘millions’ of devices in both countries, often seeking to hack into individual homes or small businesses or to control their routers,” said Ciaran Martin, chief executive of Britain’s National Cyber Security Center.
What’s happening? “Russian state-sponsored actors are using compromised routers to conduct spoofing ‘man-in-the-middle’ attacks to support espionage, extract intellectual property, maintain persistent access to victim networks and potentially lay a foundation for future offensive operations,” the British government said in a statement.
What to do about it? Bloomberg: “The main advice offered Monday for individuals and companies: Make sure that your router software is up-to-date and its password is secure.”
Why now? New York Times: “The warnings issued Monday, including the release of technical guidance to businesses and individuals, had been in the works for a long period and do not reflect any response to recent events, the officials said.” Robert Hannigan, an executive with the cybersecurity company BlueVoyant and the former director of the British electronic spying agency GCHQ: “We have found the Russians in routers and deep inside networks for 20 years. But this is about saying to the Russians, ‘We know where you are pre-positioned and if something happens, we will know it is you.’”
Trump scraps new sanctions on Russia. On Sunday, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced that the United States would imposed new new sanctions on Russian companies that aid Syria’s chemical weapons efforts. But on Monday, the White House said, no, the president hadn’t approved the new sanctions, and wouldn’t. NYT, here.
Can Congress “revamp” presidential war powers? “Sens. Bob Corker and Tim Kaine, the Republican chairman and a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, filed bipartisan legislation late Monday” to do precisely that, Stars and Stripes reports. (Link to the draft legislation — via Lawfare — here.)
Key points: “The legislation authorizes military force against al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and designated associated forces, but no authority for action against any nation state. It also installs a congressional review process every four years that requires presidential input.”
What’s more: “While the president can immediately order military force against a new threat or in a new country, within 48 hours, Congress must be notified, the legislation requires. That will trigger a 60-day window in which Congress can intervene and stop the effort through expedited legislation.” Few expect any serious movement on the issue, having been conditioned through years of similar attempts, Stripes notes. More, here.
Here are eight important questions about the 2018 draft AUMF, thanks to Bobby Chesney of the University of Texas School of Law, writing in Lawfare.
Missile Monday in Yemen. Saudi air defense systems in the southern city of Najran reportedly shot down a ballistic missile fired Monday from Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen, al-Arabiya reported. And just the day prior, two other ballistic missiles were intercepted headed “toward the Yemeni western coastal city of al-Mokha.”
Across the Mandeb Strait, the UAE has decided to pull its military training mission out of Somalia, Gulf News reported this weekend — just over a week after Somali security officials seized "three suitcases containing $9.6 million" reportedly "intended for the Somali army."
The problem there, according to a Somali official speaking to Voice of America: “The salary for the army is less than $1 million. This [was] almost $10 million.”
In Afghanistan, more than 20 ISIS fighters were reportedly killed last week in a joint U.S. and Afghan special operations raid in north-central Jowzjan province’s Darzab district, near the border with Turkmenistan, Stars and Stripes reported Monday from Kabul.
For what it’s worth: “U.S. and Afghan forces have killed 90 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan this year, the majority in Jowzjan’s Darzab district,” according to the U.S. military. More here.
What’s going on at Boeing’s St. Louis plant? Why we ask: “Flaws at Boeing’s St. Louis aircraft production facility ranged from missing, backwards and out-of-specification fasteners found on undelivered F/A-18s and F-15s to oversized holes, missing components and incorrect parts installed on the factory’s production line,” Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reported Monday, citing four “Corrective Action Requests” from the Defense Contract Management Agency.
"Some of the issues remain unresolved after more than 904 days," which raises questions about risks posed by tossing millions more money at Boeing for President Trump's "surge in military spending." Read on, here.
And lastly today: Pentagon contractor, ManTech, is under fire for allegedly unsafe working conditions for MRAP repairs downrange, The Daily Beast reported Monday off a new lawsuit from six U.S. workers. The allegations include work in “slave-like conditions, confiscating passports, and forced [employees] to work around toxic chemicals with no protection."
The gist: “When [ManTech contractors] arrived in [Kuwait], something strange happened, according to the suit: ManTech employees confiscated their passports, and didn’t give them work visas. Instead, the men got tourist visas—and then were put to work. Since they didn’t have their passports, they couldn’t leave or apply for legal authorization. And since they’d signed a contract promising to pay ManTech significant sums of money if they quit, the plaintiffs felt they had no choice.” Much more to the story, here.