US ops in Syria enter new phase; B-52s over South China Sea; Iran deal teeters; Worker-bee satellites; and just a bit more...
When will U.S. troops leave Syria? We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, here’s a Pentagon-supplied map showing the location of several recent Iraqi airstrikes in the coalition’s ongoing “Operation Roundup” to secure the Iraq-Syria border — with an emphasis on northeastern Syria. That mission is now in its 37th day, and has moved onto “phase two,” U.S. Army Col. Thomas Veale, spokesman for the counter-ISIS command in Baghdad, told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon via VTC.
The focus of “Operation Roundup” is now on advancing further into Syria’s portion of the Middle Euphrates River Valley, an offensive that has shifted “quite a bit of ISIS traffic… west toward Syrian regime-held territory,” Veale said.
So, when will U.S. troops leave Syria? Whenever ISIS is annihilated, so don’t ask about any timelines.
That was the gist, but Veale’s answer was a bit more colorful. The question he was asked by Task & Purpose’s Jeff Schogol: “Is there a timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria as we speak?”
His answer: “I — are you trying to get President Trump to fire me?” After Schogol said, “Negative,” as in that was not the intent of my question, Veale replied, “Yeah, — we're going to have to — we're not — we're not going to talk timelines. You know, these — this is a conditions-based campaign right here, and the condition is, as very clearly stated, the annihilation of ISIS.”
However, a UN-centric process is still the guiding framework, Veale said, echoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s take in months past. Veale: “[T]here's a political process set forth in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, and that's going to obviously dictate quite a bit the end, as you say — the beginning of the end in Syria. But we'll do what the policymakers want us to do. Right now, there's still a lot of work to be done to defeat ISIS. They have a fielded conventional threat in Syria, and that's — that's what we're doing.”
And for a few illustrative metrics on the overall ISIS war to date, Veale said “IED-related casualties in Iraq have decreased from nearly 6,700 in the first quarter of to just over 800 during the same timeframe in 2018.” And “Vehicle-borne IED attacks, which tend to be more harmful, have also been reduced from 64 percent of all IED explosions in 2016, to about 17 percent of the total thus far in 2018.”
About that “roadmap” for Manbij, Syria — a fairly vague deal struck Monday between U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart — Veale said “[Q]uite honestly, I don't know what the outcome of that is. We'd expect an official government announcement for that.” Indeed.
From Defense One
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Beijing Announces Inaugural China-Africa Defense Forum // Abdi Latif Dahir, Quartz: Hosted by the Ministry of Defense, the June 26-July 10 event is just Beijing's latest effort to deepen ties with the continent.
How Much Caffeine Do You Need? Ask the Army's New Algorithm // Michael J. Coren, Quartz: Caffeine affects everyone differently.
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. On this day in 1944, Operation Overlord begins.
The Trump-Kim summit is just six days away. And now we have not just a confirmed venue (the Capella Hotel on Singapore’s southern island of Sentosa), but also quite a bit more insight into what White House officials are expecting, thanks to Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs.
The highlights, via Arms Control Now’s Kingston Reif:
- The White House wants North Korea to commit to a timetable for denuclearization;
- POTUS still reserves the right to "walk out of the meeting if it doesn’t go well,” and he is mulling “a follow-up summit at… Mar-a-Lago… if the two men hit it off;”
- POTUS will be joined by SecState Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser John Bolton, as well as “the CIA’s top Korea expert, Andrew Kim; the National Security Council’s point person on Korea, Allison Hooker; and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, who has negotiated much of the groundwork for the summit with the North Koreans.”
- White House officials reportedly think Trump has an advantage in the venue since Singapore is — from their POV — a "Westernized metropolis" where North Korea’s Kim Jong-un “fears being...assassinated.”
- And one more thing: “Trump has been advised not to offer Kim any concessions.” Quite a bit more to chew on in Jacob’s story over at Bloomberg, here.
Don’t mention cyber. A pair of reporters asked experts and lawmakers whether North Korea’s burgeoning and effective hacking operations should be on the summit agenda. Most — but not all — said no way. From Fifth Domain, here.
B-52s over the South China Sea. Flying from the U.S. Navy Support Facility at Diego Garcia, two B-52H Stratofortress bombers conducted a "Continuous Bomber Presence" mission over the contested waters of the South China Sea, U.S. Pacific Air Forces announced Tuesday — not long after those aircraft flew to Diego Garcia from Guam.
Background: “The flight comes about a week after the U.S. sent guided-missile destroyer Higgins and the guided-missile cruiser Antietam within 12 nautical miles of the contested South China Sea Paracel Islands and uninvited China from a massive, multi-national Rim of the Pacific naval exercise,” Air Force Times reports. “It also comes directly after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis used a major security conference in Singapore to call out China for instigating “intimidation and coercion” though its militarization of the islands and economic pressures it exerts in the region.” Read more about over at Air Force Times, here, or at CNN, here.
Bracing for an Iran deal collapse: WSJ: “Senior European officials conceded in a letter to the Trump administration that their efforts to save the Iranian nuclear accord by maintaining major trade and investment with Tehran are buckling in the face of planned U.S. sanctions.” More, here.
Putin, pouncing. The Russian leader met with the next EU president in Austria on Tuesday “sensing an opportunity almost unimaginable just months ago: to overhaul frosty relations with a European Union infuriated by President Trump on a host of issues, from climate and Iran to, most recently, tariffs and trade.” Not bad for a strongman who illegally annexed European territory, meddled in its elections, etc. NYT, here.
ICYMI: This all comes on the heels of a vanishingly rare public rebuke of one G7 member by the rest. On Saturday, the group issued a statement hammering Trump’s tariffs ahead of its summit in Canada. More, here.
Facebook allowed Huawei access to users’ data. The giant Chinese manufacturer has long drawn U.S. scrutiny for its ties to the Beijing government; its cellphones have been banned from sale on U.S. military bases, for example. NYT has more.
One worry: Chinese intelligence agencies may be using the info to help recruit spies in the United States. “Prosecutors say China is seeking to cultivate former U.S. intelligence officers with security clearances—and personal problems,” reads a WSJ subhead. Read that story, here.
So a White House contractor was arrested on the job Tuesday after it was discovered he had an outstanding attempted murder warrant, CBS News reported shortly after it happened.
According to the Secret Service, they were notified Monday “by the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) that Martese Edwards was the subject of a warrant issued out of Prince Georges County, MD. On June 5, 2018, Edwards was promptly arrested by Secret Service Uniformed Division Officers at a checkpoint outside of the White House complex when he was reporting to work as a contractor. Edwards was transported to MPD Second District for processing." Threat mitigated? A tiny bit more to read, here.
U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl gets a dishonorable discharge, North Carolina’s WRAL reported Tuesday from Fort Bragg’s U.S. Army Forces Command.
The quick read: “Bowe Bergdahl was sentenced in November by Army Judge Col. Jeffery R. Nance to a reduction in rank – from sergeant to private – a $10,000 fine and a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Army. U.S. Army General Robert B. ‘Abe’ Abrams reviewed and approved the sentence Tuesday.”
But the story’s not over yet. Bergdahl’s lawyers are appealing Tuesday’s decision, which sends the case to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals at Fort Belvoir, Va.
Finally today: LTs behaving badly. Like really badly. A “Virginia Army National Guard Lieutenant” who was also “a commander with an engineering battalion at [the Guard’s] Fort Pickett” stole an armored personnel carrier and led Virginia police on a 60-mile chase (at the top speed of 45mph) before getting tased by police and effectively turning himself in, CBS News reports this morning — now that the situation appears to be under control.
It appeared to be quite out of control when videos began appearing on social media Tuesday evening showing the dangerous shenanigans play out on the highway. The first video we spotted can be seen here.
And it wasn't long before the video was set to Jerry Reed’s “Eastbound and Down” — the classic song made famous from the movie “Smokey and the Bandit.” Find that edit, by request via The Daily Beast’s Adam Rawnsley, here.