Syria, after the strikes; Secret US-NK meeting; New USAF attitude toward space biz; Facial recognition, in the dark; and just a bit more...
Someone shot at chemical weapons inspectors Tuesday in Syria, Agence France-Presse’s Maya Gebeily reports from the war-torn country. No one was injured in the incident, and the investigatory team returned to their temporary base in the capital, Gebeily’s colleague, Carole Landry, reports this morning.
An unnamed source tells Reuters this morning “the advance team had left after being met by protesters who demanded aid and hearing gunfire.” In the meantime, “A U.N. source said the OPCW inspectors would probably not be going to Douma on Wednesday. The U.N. source did not give details of the shooting incident. The source did not say when the inspectors might visit the site, or whether a planned visit to Douma on Wednesday had been postponed.”
It’s been 10 days since the alleged chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma. And determining exactly what munitions were used in the attack still appears to be an enormously difficult task. To bring us current on where that stands, AFP’s Gebeily provided this short timeline:
- April 7: gas attack reported in Douma
- April 9: Russia says its probe found no evidence of CW
- April 10: OPCW says will probe Douma
- April 14: OPCW team arrives in Syria
- April 14: Army declares control of Ghouta, inc. Douma
- April 17: UN team fired on in Douma
The takeaway there: The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (the one whose investigators were fired upon yesterday) “seems to be last group not to have accessed Douma — from Russian military police to Syrian forces to journalists.”
No soup for you. SecDef Mattis sought the approval of Congress before striking Syria, but he was “overruled” by none other than President Trump, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
The short answer why: POTUS “wanted a rapid and dramatic response,” and running this sort of thing through Congress — as President Obama tried unsuccessfully in late August 2013 — doesn’t have the best or most expedited track record.
Mattis’s thinking: “linking military operations to public support” has long been important to the SecDef, the Times writes. As well, “Mr. Mattis is particularly concerned about overextending the American military in Syria. He does not want the United States to veer from its stated policy of focusing only on the fight in Syria against the Islamic State — and avoid delving into the country’s seven-year civil war.” Read the rest, here.
Remember that plan to rouse up an “Arab force” to secure Syria and pave the way for the U.S. military to exit? The Wall Street Journal reported on it late Monday, and we wrapped most of it up at the top of Tuesday’s D Brief.
The Saudis on Tuesday said they’ve offered to send ground troops to Syria, Middle East analyst Hassan Hassan noticed on Twitter. However, it’s still too early to say what direction this plan will go in the coming weeks and months.
But Erik Prince remains a big fan, telling the Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum — with apparently zero supporting evidence: "The entirety of U.S. mission in Syria can be outsourced at zero cost to the US taxpayer and zero risk to American service personnel."
From Defense One
US Air Force Is Moving Faster on Space Contracts, Industry Execs Say // Marcus Weisgerber: The service has new purchasing authorities, a planned new structure for its satellite-buying arm — and a new attitude, company leaders say.
Three Things to Watch from the PACOM's (Likely) Next Commander // Caroline Houck: The current leader of U.S. Fleet Forces command says he would work on the U.S.-India relationship "with great energy."
US Army Figures Out How To Do Facial Recognition in the Dark // Patrick Tucker: New method uses machine learning to extrapolate features from thermal images.
The Corker-Kaine Bill Would Codify, not End, the Forever War // Elizabeth Goitein: The replacement AUMF would formalize a reversal of the Constitution, allowing the president to declare wars and Congress — if it dares — to veto them.
Pentagon Releases Second Draft RFP For Multibillion Dollar JEDI Cloud // Frank Konkel: The final JEDI draft request for proposal includes answers to more than 1,000 questions industry posed in the first draft RFP.
Welcome to this Wednesday 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. OTD1988: U.S retaliates against Iran for the mining of the frigate Samuel B. Roberts, sinking two Iranian warships.
President Trump “did something unusual for a U.S. president – he personally helped to close a major arms deal” in January, Reuters reports from negotiations with Kuwait over $10 billion in Boeing jets.
What that means, in short: “Trump has gone further than any of his predecessors to act as a salesman for the U.S. defense industry," Reuters writes — echoing a trend that began shaping up weeks before Trump took office, as our own Marcus Weisgerber reported at the time.
“Coffee’s for closers only.” According to Reuters, “members of Trump’s cabinet [will] sometimes act as ‘closers’ to help seal major arms deals, according to people familiar with the matter. More top government officials will also be sent to promote U.S. weapons at international air shows and arms bazaars.”
This is all part of Trump’s “buy American” initiative — here’s what that looked like at the recent Singapore Air Show. The point: to “help American defense firms compete better against increasingly aggressive Russian and Chinese manufacturers and give greater weight than before to economic benefits of arms sales to create more jobs at home.”
Policy changes could come as early as today, U.S. officials told Reuters. And those are expected to “loosen U.S. export rules on equipment ranging from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery… possibly trimming back to months what has often taken years to finalize.” Much more to Reuters’ special report, here.
CIA Director Pompeo met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over Easter. “The extraordinary meeting between one of Trump’s most trusted emissaries and the authoritarian head of a rogue state was part of an effort to lay the groundwork for direct talks between Trump and Kim about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program,” reports the Washington Post, citing two people with direct knowledge of the trip.
Asked about it, Trump appeared to say that he had personally already spoken to Kim. Later, he and a spokeswoman walked that back.
Arms Control Wonk Jeffrey Lewis’s thread on Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang includes this: “So, while Pompeo is hardly the first IC official to find himself a diplomat, he does neatly illustrate the conflict of interest that used to inform the norm against running policy out of the IC. There may be good reasons to bend the rule, but there were good reasons for it, too.”
South and North Korea are prepping for their own summit next week. Reuters: “Technically it’s not possible for the two Koreas to announce an end of the 1953 armistice at next week’s summit,” said Park Jae-jeok, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul. “But South and North Korea could agree on their intention to end the war and work toward a peace agreement, and pursue discussions with the involved countries.”
Trump’s take: “U.S. President Donald Trump said the effort has his ‘blessing,’ if North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal.” More, here.
From Capitol Hill: Draft legislation from House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) would eliminate several Defense agencies, including DISA, NextGov’s Frank Konkel reported Tuesday.
Proposed: "transfer[ing] the functions, personnel and assets of Joint Force Headquarters Department of Defense Information Network to U.S. Cyber Command," and "reduc[ing] the number of chief information officers in the Senior Executive Service from approximately 60 to five." More here.
And finally today: Get to better know Tammie Jo Shults, pilot of the Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, which experienced “what sounded like an explosion boomed from the left side of the plane” on Tuesday traveling to Dallas from NYC, CNN reports.
Known-knowns on the engine explosion: "One of 24 fan blades was missing, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said in Philadelphia. Sumwalt said a first look showed there was evidence of metal fatigue where the blade attached to a hub."
Some very interesting background on Shults: “She was one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy’s history, and the first woman to fly F-18s,” Heavy.com reported Tuesday — in a worth-the-click piece here.