The U.S. military versus migrant caravans. In about four days, America will have more troops on its southern border than it does in Iraq and Syria fighting the terrorists of the Islamic State group.
The quick read: “By the end of this week, we will deploy over 5,200 soldiers to the southwest border,” said Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Northern Command. He briefed the press on this development Monday afternoon alongside officials from Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security.
And those 5,200 extra troops — “That is just the start of this operation,” O'Shaughnessy said. “We'll continue to adjust the numbers and inform you of those.” Those numbers could rise to 14,000, a Defense Department official told Newsweek, thanks to an additional 7,000 active duty troops on “standby” status with 24-hour notice.
Name of the mission: Operation Faithful Guardian. And all of this is on top of the 2,092 National Guard soldiers already deployed to the U.S.-Mexico for Operation Guardian Support.
What prompted this escalation? Two migrant caravans — including “a large group of approximately 3,500 traveling through southern Mexico with the stated intent to reach the U.S. border,” Kevin McAleenan, Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told reporters. “This group is near the Chiapas-Oaxaca border in southern Mexico. We're also aware of a second large group of migrants at the Ciudad Hidalgo border crossing between Guatemala and Mexico.” The two migrant groups total 6,500 — and are dwindling in number as they march north.
By contrast: The U.S. has 5,200 troops in Iraq for an estimated 15,500 to 17,000 ISIS fighters; and 2,000 troops in Syria for an estimated 14,000 ISIS fighters, according to a Pentagon estimate from August.
The intent of the deployments: “I think part of the goal is to deter people from trying to cross between ports of entry,” said McAleenan. Added O'Shaughnessy: “We know border security is national security. And the U.S. military will advance CBP's capability to harden the border.”
By the way: “hardening the border” was an expression used six times by officials Monday in a briefing where they took just four questions from the press.
What the military brings to bear, according to O'Shaughnessy:
- "combat engineering battalions with expertise in building temporary vehicle barriers [and] fencing;"
- "three medium-lift helicopter companies" with "sensors that will allow them to operate at night" and "regardless of the conditions;"
- military police units;
- "three C-130s and a C-17 that is ready to deploy CBP personnel wherever they need to be at any time;"
- medical units
- logistical support
- and command posts.
For what it’s worth, all of the types of units O’Shaughnessy listed are available in the National Guard, Politico’s Wesley Morgan noted Monday evening on Twitter.
Asked Fox News’s Laura Ingraham of the president on her show Monday night (h/t ABC News’s Elizabeth McLaughlin): "What’s the military going to be able to do? Obama and Bush both sent the National Guard it’s had no effect."
Replied President Trump: "But they’re not me. This is the — I’m sending up the military. This is the military."
Op-ed: “So why do President Trump and Mattis view this migrant caravan of fewer than 4,000 civilian refugees, one thousand miles and at least six weeks away from the border, to be a more significant threat, much less an appropriate priority, for an already overstretched U.S. military,” writes Kelly Magsamen, a senior natsec official in the Bush and Obama administrations. Her conclusion: they don’t, and so: “The Department of Defense’s active participation in such an obvious stunt sets a dangerous precedent and abuse of our military.”
From Defense One
Secretary Mattis, Defend This or Resign // Kelly Magsamen: If Defense Secretary Mattis believes the migrant caravan is a not threat requiring 5,000 active troops deploying to the border, he should say so and quit.
Extraordinarily Important': Top US General Defends Saudi Relationship, Yemen War // Kevin Baron: ‘I think it is better if we are engaged,” CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel says in an interview.
After Laser Attacks, Pentagon Spending $200M to Protect Pilots’ Eyeballs // Marcus Weisgerber: The contracts came just months after the U.S. accused China of trying to blind military pilots in Africa and the Pacific.
Four Perfectly Trump Reasons Why He Wants Out of the INF Treaty // Jeremy Bash and Mark Simakovsky: Within Trump’s haphazard foreign policy there is logical coherence to him quitting a nuclear treaty Russia ignores. But it won’t make us safer.
China Is Secretly Enrolling Military Scientists in Western Universities // Echo Huang and Isabella Steger, Quartz: Dozens of scientists and engineers linked to China’s People’s Liberation Army obscured their military connections when applying to study overseas.
Russia, US Offer Competing Vision of Cyber Norms to the UN // Alex Grigsby, Council on Foreign Relations: Two proposed versions of an “international code of conduct for international information security” set up a clash between autocracies and democracies.
Beijing Tells South China Sea Command: Prepare for War // Annabelle Timsit, Quartz: The Southern Theatre Command must concentrate preparations for fighting a war, Chinese president Xi Jinping said this week.
Trump Hobbled Efforts to Counter Violent Extremism // Peter Beinart, The Atlantic: The administration cut programs designed to prevent atrocities like Pittsburgh.
Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1954, the Department of Defense announced it was now fully desegregated — seven years after President Truman ordered the military to "take steps to have the remaining instances of discrimination in the armed services eliminated as rapidly as possible."
Remember the Taliban Five? They’re pretty much diplomats now. “The men were released from Guantanamo in 2014 by the U.S. in exchange for an American soldier held by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Bowe Bergdahl, and sent to Qatar,” The Wall Street Journal reminds us. Now they’re part of the Taliban’s official diplomatic staff from the group’s political office in Doha, Qatar, “which could enable a more serious political dialogue with Washington.”
It’s unclear how much about this move POTUS45 was tracking, the Journal writes. But it “appears to be a significant concession from the U.S. side. It had been a longstanding demand from the Taliban that was previously opposed by the White House.” Read on, here.
An attempted mosque bomber in Kansas wants a lighter jail term because he was an “early and avid supporter” of Donald Trump, according to a memo his lawyer filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Kansas, the Washington Post reports.
Background, via Huffington Post: “Patrick Stein was one of three right-wing militiamen found guilty in April of a conspiracy to kill Muslim refugees living in rural Kansas. Ahead of the 2016 election, Stein and two others plotted with an FBI informant and an undercover agent to bomb an apartment complex that housed Muslims in Garden City. Stein went by the handle ‘Orkin Man’ and referred to Muslims as ‘cockroaches’ he wanted exterminated.”
Notes terrorism scholar J.M. Berger: “To be quite clear, this is a violent extremist disclosing who radicalized him.” More here.
Xi’s power plays are making China more brittle. In shoring up his personal power, President-for-life Xi Jingping has undermined the various systems that allowed China’s unlikely rise as an authoritarian economic power, argues Jonathan Tepperman in Foreign Policy. Where once a fairly meritocratic system rewarded moderate innovation at the local to national level, now government officials fear to act — and fear to deliver bad news to the autocrat.
The natsec so-what: “Since taking power, Xi has charted a far more aggressive foreign policy than his predecessors, alienating virtually every neighbor and the United States by pushing China’s claims in the South China Sea, threatening Taiwan, and using the military to assert Beijing’s claims to disputed islands. Should China’s economic problems worsen, Xi could try to ratchet up tensions on any of these fronts in order to distract his citizens from the crisis at home. That temptation will prove especially strong if U.S. President Donald Trump keeps poking China by intensifying the trade war and publicly denouncing it.” Read on, here.
Oh, and: "I think in 15 years — it's not inevitable, but it is a very strong likelihood — that we will be at war with China,” Ben Hodges, the retired three-star who commanded U.S. Army forces in Europe from 2014 to 2017, told a Warsaw security forum last Wednesday. Via Military Times, here.
One more thing: This Black Mirror-like glimpse into life in China and its future — no, present of social credit system, where “every action has a lifetime of consequences.”
And finally: Drydock sinks — taking Russia’s aircraft carrier with it. The Admiral Kuznetsov was up on blocks for repairs on Tuesday when PD-50, a floating drydock that serves the Northern Fleet, suddenly sank. Russian state media blamed a pump system failure that flooded ballast tanks. It also said the carrier’s own hull was intact, and that the ship was being towed to another facility. Via The War Zone, which notes that something similar happened to a NASSCO drydock in San Diego in July.