Secret new missions in Africa; Border troops’ tick-tock; How Estonia does e-voting; And a bit more.

Three new (to us, anyway) classified operations in Africa. On February 9, 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis designated three new classified contingency operations: Operation Yukon Journey, the Northwest Africa Counterterrorism overseas contingency operation, and the East Africa Counterterrorism overseas contingency operation. These operations “seek to degrade al Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated terrorists in the Middle East and specific regions of Africa.”

That’s from the most recent quarterly report to Congress on Operation Inherent Resolve and related operations by the Inspector Generals of Defense, State, and USAID.

On the one hand:  “ISIS has lost control of all of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and remains in control only of an estimated one percent of territory it once held in Syria.”

On the other: ISIS has continued “to move underground and solidify as an insurgency in Iraq and Syria. Despite the loss of almost all of its territory, the terrorist organization kept some of its bureaucratic structures in place and continued to raise funds.” All this raises the “potential for an ISIS resurgence” should the coalition cease to support Iraqi forces.

Read over the report, whose authors are less bound than regional commanders to put an optimistic face on events, here — or get with your 2-shop and find the classified version, which has the details on Yukon Journey and the other two mystery missions.

From Defense One

How Estonia Secures Its Electronic Elections From Kremlin Attacks // Patrick Tucker: Could innovations like a volunteer infosec corps and 'data embassies' help the U.S.?

What Happens When the US Starts to ‘Defend Forward’ in Cyberspace? // Jonathan Reiber: The author of DoD’s 2015 cyber strategy takes a look at the 2018 version.

In the Gulf, Repression and Discontent Are Rising as US Influence Wanes // Hassan Hassan, The Atlantic: After the Arab Spring, rulers are cracking down harder in the absence of US officials to curb their worst impulses.

US Diplomatic Vacancies Are Straining Alliances // Doyle McManus, In 18 countries, the White House has yet to designate a U.S. ambassador. That includes Australia, a close ally to America that is beginning to look to China instead.

Welcome to this 2018 midterm elections 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 1971, the U.S. detonated a 5-megaton nuclear warhead more than a mile beneath Alaska — a test whose authorization went all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused to halt it in a 4-3 decision on the day of the shot. “Ponds, lakes and dirt soared into the air as 15-foot ground waves" that day while "Cliffsides fell into the sea and the ocean boiled like foam.”

Border troops tick-tock. As long as everyone did what they were instructed on Monday, there should be around 5,200 active duty American troops deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border today. That’s according to numbers given by Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning to reporters Monday. But the department isn’t going to give out daily updates on numbers, he added, so don’t expect any “tick-tock” data like that in the days ahead.
That’s 5,200 troops in full body armor, most of them are unarmed (MPs are the exception). What are they up to? Laying down that 22-mile bundle of concertina wire they brought with them, according to this video posted over the weekend. They’re also forming convoys, and getting briefings.
How the Pentagon describes the threat at the border: Don’t ask. Or you can; you can ask about a half-dozen times, like reporters did on Monday. But no uniformed spokespeople would answer the question; instead, military PAOs referred reporters to their PAO comrades at Customs and Border Protection.
Why the deflection? Officially, it was the CBP that requested the U.S. military’s assistance in all this. And because “border security is national security,” as Manning repeated off the script from the initial press briefing on this operation on Oct. 29.
In case there was any ambiguity, Manning said the White House specifically requested active duty troops for this CBP logistical support — and totally not a stunt — mission.
Bad time to remind everyone that there are 5,200 U.S. troops deployed to Iraq to fend off 15,000 members of ISIS?
A few things the 5,200 U.S. troops can’t do at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Buzzfeed’s Vera Bergengruen:

  • They can’t patrol or man checkpoints.
  • They can’t detain or arrest anyone.
  • They can’t enforce immigration or criminal laws.
  • They also are restricted from interacting with migrants.
  • And Reuters reported Monday evening that back in October the military declined a Department of Homeland Security request “to build housing for detained migrants” during preparatory talks for Operation Faithful Patriot.

See for yourself what’s going on: Keep up with all the latest U.S. military imagery from the border via the “MIGRANT CARAVAN” tag over at DVIDS.
Another great nugget from Buzzfeed’s Bergengruen: “5 of the 39 units deployed to the border are public affairs units — public relations officers, photographers, media support staff. In less than a week, the Defense Department has posted more than 420 photos and videos.”

The Afghan Taliban recently overran a few more military bases in both north and south-central Afghanistan, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy’s Bill Roggio reported Monday in The Long War Journal.  
Locations: the very scenic Tarin Kot in Uruzgan province on Sunday; and “a public order police base… between Sherin Tagab and Dawlatabad districts” of the northern Faryab province, local Pajhwok news reported late last week.
Recent locations of bases overrun by the Taliban include Zabul; Baghlan; Paktika; Faryab again; Ghazni; the list continues here.

What questions do you have about Afghanistan? We’ll be speaking  with LWJ’s Roggio and Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies later this week about America’s longest war for this week’s Defense One Radio podcast.
Let us know what you think via email (here) or leave us a voice mail at (757) 447-4596.

That fatal U.S. military mission in Niger back in October 2017? Four American troops died that day. Now thanks to The New York Times’ Thomas Gibbons-Neff, we know “Some of those punished in recent weeks included the Green Beret team leader, Capt. Mike Perozeni, and his second in command, a master sergeant. Those absent from the six letters of reprimand include the two senior officers who approved the mission and who then oversaw the operation as it went fatally awry.” Different spanks for different ranks, here.  
Also worth the click from NYT’s man-in-the-‘Stan Mujib Mashal and Gibbons-Neff: “How a Taliban Assassin Got Close Enough to Kill a General,” the story of the chaotic last moments of Afghan Gen. Abdul Raziq, who was assassinated last month in Kandahar City.

Back stateside, the Pentagon’s legendary revolving door is still spinning under Trump. “Almost two years after Donald Trump came to Washington pledging to ‘drain the swamp’ of special interests and clear waste from the Pentagon’s supply chain, a steady stream of retired generals, admirals and government procurement officers are still accepting lucrative positions with companies that do business with the military,” the Washington Post wrote Monday off a new report by the advocacy group Project on Government Oversight.
Some data points from the report:

  • This year alone, there were 645 instances of the top 20 defense contractors hiring former senior government officials, military officers, Members of Congress, and senior legislative staff as lobbyists, board members, or senior executives.
  • Nearly 90 percent of them became registered lobbyists, “where the operational skill is influence-peddling.”
  • At least 380 senior Department of Defense officials and military officers became lobbyists, board members, executives, or consultants for defense contractors, including 25 generals, nine admirals, 43 lieutenant generals, and 23 vice admirals.

Trump in December 2016: “The people that are making these deals for the government, they should never be allowed to go work for those companies” (Via USA Today).

And finally today: Watch your step when traveling in China. Police in Beijing and Shanghai have deployed a new surveillance tool that tracks how people walk and can identify them by their gait, the Associated Press reports.
Add that to the facial recognition tech already widely in use in major transit hubs in mainland China, and being exported to places like Zimbabwe.
No word yet on the best ways to thwart technology like this, nor if it’s possible the Brits were well ahead of us all on the question of deterrence.