NATO in DC; To Syria, or not to Syria; Predicting nuclear war with North Korea; Taliban overrun another Afghan base; Hurricane Florence; And a bit more.

This morning: NATO SecGen Jens Stoltenberg visits Washington. He’ll be taking the stage at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank this morning just before lunch. The livestream of his remarks and following panel discussion begins at 11 a.m. EDT, here.
Yesterday, Stoltenberg dropped by the Pentagon “to discuss the implementation of key outcomes from the July NATO Summit in Brussels and plan for the October Defense Ministerial," the Pentagon announced in a readout this a.m.
Also discussed there: "a broad range of defense issues" (that clears things right up) and "fairer burden sharing, readiness and mobility" across the alliance.
Stoltenberg also dropped by the State Department, and Secretary Mike Pompeo shared a handshake photo from that one over on Twitter, here.
Stay tuned to Defense One over the next few days for a bit more out of that Stoltenberg DC drop-in...

New this morning: Our latest Defense One Radio podcast! And it’s a good one, featuring—

  • Drones, the national security bureaucracy, and the American way of war with Loren DeJonge Schulman of the Center for a New American Security, or CNAS, and co-host of Bombshell, the podcast over at War on the Rocks.
  • Then we check in on the "Houthi war machine" in the mountains and valleys of Yemen. Michael Knights of the Washington Institute is back from a visit to the conflict’s front lines. And he joins us to paint a startling picture of a rapidly-evolving 21st-century insurgency.
  • And we’ll end with a discussion on the prospects for nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea. Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies speaks with us about his new speculative novel, “The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States.”

Subscribe either on Google Play, iTunes, or Overcast, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

From Defense One

We Need a Strategy in Syria // Rep. Adam Kinzinger: ‘It’s time to act.’

America is Losing Power and Influence and Must Adapt, Warns UN Secretary General // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: The attraction of American today less clear says António Guterres, in an exclusive interview.

Ep. 20: Jeffrey Lewis on nuclear war; Loren DeJonge Schulman; the Houthi 'war machine' and more. // Defense One Staff: Welcome to our podcast about the news, strategy, tech, and business trends defining the future of national security.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber and Bradley Peniston: Deficit soars; 1-on-1 with Leonardo’s Bill Lynn; AFA preview; and more.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief  by Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1901, the 25th U.S. President, William McKinley, Jr., died after an eight-day struggle following an assassination attempt on September 6. The man who became POTUS26 on this day, Teddy Roosevelt, would push America’s navy and military to project U.S. power in a way never before seen in the country’s short history — and arguably never seen since.

The Taliban claim to have overrun another military base in Afghanistan, this one in the southeastern Zabul province, which shares a small border with Pakistan, The Long War Journal reported Thursday. The attack may have taken place in mid-August; it’s hard to tell with precision since word of this Taliban assault comes from the group itself posting footage to its website, Voice of Jihad. “[B]ut the video shows what appears to be a large base. ‘Shomolzo’ is Shamulzayi district, which is contested by the Taliban,” according to LWJ.
Big picture consideration: “Resolute Support, NATO’s command in Afghanistan, is recommending that the Afghan military withdraw from more remote outposts,” LWJ’s Bill Roggio writes. “[H]owever, this would cede more ground to the Taliban, which in turn leverages these areas to launch attacks on major Afghan population centers.”
For the record, a quick search of “Taliban overruns” on The Long War Journal’s site turns up no fewer than eight recent articles going back to April.  

When it comes to Syria, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., has had enough. The Air Force veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan-turned-congressman wants the U.S. military to do more about the ongoing crisis in Syria. In an exclusive op-ed for Defense One, Kinzinger says: “Our lack of a strategy in Syria has been a failing practice. The initial attacks already happening in Idlib are just a prelude to the civilian bloodbath that the world will soon witness if Assad once again uses chemical weapons on his own people. We cannot stand idly by and allow this humanitarian crisis to compound further. The peace talks with Turkey, Russia, and Iran have failed. It’s time to act.”
“To be clear, I’m not suggesting the U.S. invade Syria, post up thousands of U.S. troops, and start World War III,” he writes. “But, I am suggesting we take a stand for what is right, what is just, and what is in the best interest of the United States and the freedom-loving people around the world. We need a long-term strategy in Syria that leads to a solution of peace and an end to the ongoing, deadly conflict. This strategy should also include the end of the Assad regime and a place at the table of government for the Syrian people…”
To be clear, he does say: “Let’s make our presence known in Syria and let’s push back on these strongmen who target the innocent.” Exactly how… he leaves up to the president. Read the rest of his argument, here, including link to his floor speech this week.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, on the other hand, says she wants to prevent World War III. And she’s doing so this week by “condemning [President] Trump’s protection of al-Qaeda in Syria,” The D Brief has learned. Let’s explain:
Gabbard on Friday will be “introducing a bipartisan resolution with [North Carolina’s anti-war] Rep. Walter Jones calling on Trump to seek Congressional authorization before striking any adversary, specifically Syria, Iran, or Russia.”
The stated thinking behind this: “Trump has been weighing a strike against Idlib and [UN] Ambassador [Nikki] Haley warned of dire consequences for Russia or Iran if they continue strikes against Syria – potentially leading us to WWIII." Gabbard has long called for the executive branch to seek new Congressional authority for the continued wars on terrorism, and especially before the president orders any military action toward a regime-change.
You can watch her preview that in a short speech Thursday that’s now on YouTube, here.

The Saudi military lost two pilots when their helicopter went down over Yemen this morning, Reuters reports from Dubai.
Location: eastern al-Mahra province, where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, are known to operate.
Meanwhile to the west, “Yemeni forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition seized the main road linking the port city of Hodeidah to the capital Sanaa, blocking a supply route for the Houthi group that controls both cities,” Reuters reported from that front on Thursday.
FWIW, The UN, in a statement Thursday, said that offensive on Hodeida is still as dangerous and ill-advised as it has ever been. (h/t Yemen watcher @Dr_E_Kendall)

A foreshadowing of that Russian poisoning... in Florida? Four years ago, U.S. authorities caught and stopped a Russian GRU hit man hunting a Russian informant of theirs secretly resettled in Florida. Those shady Ruskies then went after the informant's relative, The New York Times reported Thursday, in a case that — given what we now know about the Skripal poisoning — looks markedly more sinister.
But wait, there's more: Two GRU officers were arrested this spring in the Hague on their way to the Swiss chemical weapons laboratory that investigated Syria attacks and Skripal poisoning, NYT’s Ellen Barry adds after reading this report from Dutch news.  

BTW: RT’s televised defense of the accused Skripal poisoning suspects is nothing but “lies,” British officials say after watching a nearly half-hour performance released Thursday by Moscow.
Russia’s reax: You’re being “absurd,” Brits.
One more BTW: Russia’s premiere propaganda outlet, RT, sees itself as at least as important as the Russian military. (h/t Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council)

No escalation in Taiwan, thanks. SecDef Jim Mattis rejected the State Department’s June request to send U.S. Marines to Taiwan, CNN reported Thursday. The decision was actually made in August; and had it not been rejected, the Jarheads would have arrived sometime in October.  
Location: The “new American Institute in Taiwan facility which will house some 450 staff and sits in the outskirts of Taiwan's capital, Taipei.” The building is basically a defacto embassy — since Beijing’s “One China Policy” means the U.S. can’t maintain a formal embassy there. Had the order been finalized, it would have been the “first time in nearly 40 years that US Marines [would be guarding] a diplomatic post in Taiwan.”
So wait, why was it rejected? Not because it would certainly have pissed off the Chinese, nameless U.S. defense officials told CNN. It was rejected because there were simply not enough “resources” available for the request, they said.
So, send in contractors, of course. Once again, private security will do the dirty work U.S. uniforms cannot, and that move is likely to be more expensive than Marines, CNN writes. Full story, here.
Extra reading: “The ‘Taiwan card’ and its role in U.S.-China relations,” from former DOD official Joseph Bosco — here.

While the east coast braces for a heckuva storm this weekend, here’s a stupid question with a useful answer: Why don’t we just nuke tropical storms before they become hurricanes? The question has come up so many times the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a damn web page just for those wondering.
And NOAA is not alone: National Geographic has done much the same, here.
The quick answer: "[B]ecause then you’d just have a radioactive hurricane,” writes nuclear PhD-seeker, Martin “Cleansing Nuclear Fire” Pfeiffer on Twitter. “The scale of energy involved is orders of magnitude greater than any nuke anybody ever set off or even designed," he adds.
For the record: Your average hurricane yields the equivalent energy of about "a million Hiroshima bombs exploded at a rate of more than 10 a second," according to this 2005 take (updated in May) from Canada’s Globe and Mail.
How is the U.S. military preparing for Florence? "A total of 7,000 U.S. troops have [been] tasked with taking part in relief efforts, of which about 3,000 are active-duty service members," Task & Purpose reports off Thursday's presser by Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command. In addition, "Thousands of other troops from all military branches have been ordered to prepare to deploy if needed." Details, here.  

Be safe out there this weekend, gang. Batten down your hatches, secure the rum, and whatever else you and your neighbors gotta do. And we’ll catch you again on Monday!