Why Islamic extremism persists; China’s moon missions; Iran’s drones shadow US ships; Trump-Saudi financial ties; And a bit more.

Brace yourself: Islamic extremism is likely gonna be here for a fairly long while. That’s because “little progress had been made in dealing with the underlying conditions that have given rise to armed Islamist militants,” and not a single one of the more than 80 defense chiefs from around the world “were able to commit to doing something about the problem” in a meeting held Tuesday in Washington, Reuters reported.   

A more realistic goal from that meeting came from U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. His message: You’ve got to take back your suspected ISIS fighters currently held by the Syrian Democratic Forces, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams writes.

For the record, there are around 700 foreign fighters from around 40 countries currently being held by the SDF, Dunford told reporters after the conference. The U.S. has been successful in returning some to their home countries—e.g., Macedonia repatriated seven in August in one of the few public examples—but many more remain. "Where appropriate," both Dunford and McGurk emphasized, the U.S. wants to see them returned home for prosecution.

But returning those guys to their home poses a thorny legal challenge, Williams reports. Consider, for example, John Doe, the U.S. citizen suspected of fighting for ISIS who has remained in military custody in Iraq for over year without charges.

Mr. Doe is currently challenging his detention and backdoor negotiations between the parties have dragged on for months. "That case highlights the difficulties of this challenge," said McGurk on Tuesday. "A lot of these people are dangerous people and to bring them back you want to make sure they can be prosecuted—and what's the evidentiary basis for that, given the standards of evidence in different countries."

In case you were curious, because reporters were: McGurk declined to publicly name any of the countries who have agreed to take back fighters.

Speaking of action vs. Islamic extremists: The U.S. military said it killed some 60 al-Shabaab fighters in a recent airstrike on the central Somali semi-coastal city of Harardere, U.S. Africa Command announced Tuesday.

The strike hit its target four days prior, on Oct. 12., and is believed to be “the largest airstrike against al-Shabaab since November 21, 2017, when U.S. forces conducted an airstrike against an al-Shabaab camp killing approximately 100 terrorists,” AFRICOM said.

For your ears only: Why America’s military action against al-Shabaab has not only escalated quietly — but will likely proceed without end for many many months to come. There are quite a few reasons why this appears to be the case, according to the authors of a new book on the history of al-Shabaab, Harun Maruf and Dan Joseph of Voice of America.

Hear Maruf and Joseph explain why at the 15:41 mark of episode 24 of Defense One Radio, here.

From Defense One

China’s Moon Missions Could Threaten US Satellites: Pentagon // Patrick Tucker: A satellite on the far side of the moon might not be quite what the Chinese say, Air Force official warns.

If Iran Never Leaves Syria, Will America Stay Forever? // Colin P. Clarke and Ariane Tabatabai, The Atlantic: If the Trump administration’s containment strategy fails, it could embolden Tehran while miring U.S. troops indefinitely.

The Khashoggi Affair Will Change the US-Saudi Relationship // Kathy Gilsinan: Even if the storm largely blows over, U.S. law means some aspects will never be the same.

Microsoft, Amazon CEOs Vow to Continue Defense Work After Google Bails on JEDI // Frank Konkel, Nextgov: The leaders of two contenders for the Pentagon’s massive cloud contract sounded off on Google’s decision not to bid.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you find this useful, please consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1997, the U.S. military successfully tested a new space weapon — the anti-satellite laser called the Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (aka, MIRACL) on the MISTI 3 satellite more than 400 kms above the planet. The test was both good and bad since it showed the U.S. could do this; but it also revealed other nations could as well. Read a bit more about that test from FlightGlobal, here.

An American National Guardsman and his Ukrainian co-pilot died from a crash in Ukraine on Tuesday, more locally-based Meduza news first reported possibly off this Facebook status from the Ukrainian military. The U.S. Air Force later said an American was involved in the crash — and later confirmed the death of the Airman. As Ukraine’s military did previously on Facebook.
Known-knowns: A Ukrainian Su-27UB fighter aircraft crashed in the Khmelnytskyi region — roughly 180 kms southwest of Kiev — at about 5 p.m. local time during the Clear Sky 2018 NATO exercises.

The Trump White House is still trying its damnedest to get Iran out of Syria, and a new plan to do so could put American troops there in greater danger, NBC reported Tuesday. The new plan — a response from the 2018 NDAA to requiring a White House strategy for Syria — would sanction Iranian and Russian companies rebuilding in Syria, and would involve the U.S. withholding reconstruction money for any Syrian regions where Iranian troops are believed to be present, five “people familiar with the plan” told NBC.

BTW: It’s now common for Iran to send drones over American warships in the Persian Gulf, U.S. Naval Institute News reported Tuesday from an NDIA Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Annapolis, Md.

The Taliban just assassinated another politician in Afghanistan. “An Afghan lawmaker contesting this week’s parliamentary elections was among four people killed on Wednesday by a bomb planted under his office chair,” Reuters reports.
The victim: Abdul Jabar Qahraman, and he was killed in Helmand. The Taliban claimed responsibility, calling him a “renowned communist.” So far, three suspects have been rounded up in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.
ICYMI, because we did: Qahraman is now "the 10th candidate killed in the past two months, with two more abducted and four wounded by hardline Islamist militants." More here.

What does the U.S. get for $84 billion worth of military equipment given to Afghanistan? Don’t ask because it has pretty much no idea, the Government Accountability Office said in the newly-released public version of a recent report issued in September.
The chief reason why this lack of accountability endures: The U.S. Defense Department “has little direct contact with the front-line units that make up about three-quarters of the Afghan forces.” Details in this 38-page PDF, here.

Khashoggi disappearance spotlights Trump’s financial ties to Saudi Arabia. Why would a U.S. president float exculpatory speculation for Saudi rulers? POTUS says it has nothing to do with money: “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!”
But even Fox News knows that Trump and the Saudis are financially intertwined, tweeting this short list:

  • 1991: Sold yacht to Saudi Prince
  • 2001: Sold 45th floor of Trump World Tower to Saudis
  • Jun 2015: I love the Saudis...many in Trump Tower
  • Aug 2015: "They buy apartments from me...Spend $40M-$50M"
  • 2017: Saudi lobbyists spent $270K at Trump DC hotel

Trump’s Saudi ties were explored at greater length just last week by the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold: “Saudi royalty has been buying from Trump dating to 1995, with some of the deals coming during periods when Trump was in need of cash.” More recently, Saudis have been sending money to the president by staying more frequently at his hotels.
His family has ties as well: “Saudi Arabia pledged $100 million to Ivanka [Trump]’s proposed World Bank Women Entrepreneurs Fund on the same May 2017 weekend that a visiting Trump announced a record-breaking $100-billion arms deal with the Gulf kingdom.” That’s from Defense One’s Tracking Trump’s National-Security Conflicts of Interest,” launched in 2016 and updated periodically since.
Peruse a collection of other efforts to track the Trump family’s financial conflicts of interest, assembled by the Sunlight Foundation, here.
Several lawsuits have alleged that the president is illegally receiving foreign emoluments. At least one has been cleared to proceed.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is in Vietnam today for what will soon be “the biggest-ever U.S. cleanup [operation] for contamination left by the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War,” Reuters reports from Bien Hoa Air Base. The operation isn’t expected to begin until early 2019. More here.  

And finally today: Military Times says almost half of American troops think the U.S. will be drawn into a major conflict in the next year. About 46% think so in this year’s unscientific survey, compared to only 5 percent last year, Leo Shane III writes. Read the full results and more context for the Qs, here.