GOP senators slam Trump, Mattis; Russia’s Black Sea wargames; INF pullout draws near; Airbus looks to pounce on tanker buy; And a bit more.

GOP senators say the Trump administration is covering up Khashoggi’s killing. Emerging from a long-sought Capitol Hill briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday, Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., declared themselves convinced that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Graham added that you’d have to be “willfully blind” to dispute it.

The Post: “This is completely contrary to the narrative that has been put forward by President Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Trump has said it’s unknowable whether the crown prince was actually behind it — despite the CIA concluding this with ‘high confidence’ — while Pompeo said last week that there was no ‘direct reporting’ implicating him.”

Mattis, rebutted. Graham also rebuked SecDef James Mattis, who has repeatedly said “there is no smoking gun” when asked about the murder. “There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,” the senator told reporters.

Defense One’s Kevin Baron: “Today’s briefing may do more damage to the [defense] secretary’s credibility than anyone else’s. In essence, top senators with intelligence oversight just emerged to say they don’t believe Mattis or Trump. They believe Gina Haspel, and they’ve seen enough. It’s the most direct challenge to Mattis’s credibility since he joined Trump’s team.” Read on, here.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, lawmakers peppered the nominees for U.S. Special Operations Command and Central Command about what the National Defense Strategy’s shift from counterterrorism to great power competition means for their prospective commands. D1’s Katie Bo Williams reports, here.

From Defense One

The CIA Presented a ‘Smoking Gun’ on Khashoggi. What’s the Senate Going to Do About it? // Kevin Baron: Lindsey Graham and others emerged from a CIA briefing convinced that Trump and SecDef Mattis are wrong about the murder.

Lawmakers Probe Role of Special Operations in Great Power Competition // Katie Bo Williams: The two four-stars up to lead CENTCOM and SOCOM faced questions about how their commands will change under the National Defense Strategy.

Airbus Looks to Pounce As Boeing Struggles to Deliver First Tanker // Marcus Weisgerber: The fight between the commercial airliner titans is moving back into the defense space. And this time, Lockheed Martin is in Airbus’ corner.

Saudis, Yemen War Leading New Democrats Away From Obama Foreign Policy // Peter Beinart, The Atlantic: They also want to rein in presidential war powers.

Trump's Iran-Centric Syria Policy Takes Shape // Samuel Oakford, The Atlantic: Congress likely won’t take action to rein in the military powers it granted the president after the 9/11 attacks—powers that Trump uses with the broad aim of countering Iran.

Who Will Prevent the Next India-Pakistan War? // Hannah Haegeland: China’s stakes and vulnerabilities in South Asia have grown. U.S. leaders should make use of this.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! And if you find this stuff useful, consider sharing it with somebody you think might find it useful, too. On this day in 1950, Chinese Communist Forces took Pyongyang.

The White House’s pullout of the INF treaty accelerates. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to NATO HQs in Brussels this week to announce the U.S. will pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty in about two months unless Russia plays nice.
The formal message: “The United States will suspend its obligations under the Treaty effective in 60 days from December 4 unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance.” The Washington Post’s John Hudson was on the scene in Belgium as Pompeo took his message public on Tuesday.
INF, in review: "The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987, banned nuclear and nonnuclear missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, or about 310 to 3,400 miles."
The White House's gripe: The treaty "puts the United States at a military disadvantage against China, which is not bound by the treaty," Hudson writes.   
And Russia’s alleged violations of the INF center on development going back to 2013 “of a ground-launched cruise missile (NATO designator: SSC-8, Russian designator: 9M729) with a range capability between 500 and 5,500 kilometers,” according to the State Department.
What exiting the treaty would mean: The U.S. military makes new weapons and missiles. But what kind of new weapons? Unclear for sure; but WaPo got its hands on a memo from National Security Advisor John Bolton instructing the Pentagon to “develop and deploy ground-launched missiles at the earliest possible date” after the U.S. formally exits the INF. Which again, isn’t official yet… but the countdown has officially begun.
One more thing: This U.S. pullout was supposed to happen last week. Read on for why there is this 60-day (now 59-day) window in Hudson’s full report, here.

Reminder: In October 2017, Putin previewed all this INF drama when he said Russia would develop new weapons if the U.S. did the same.
A clue about where that came from: This Wall Street Journal article a month later, in November 2017, about how earlier that Summer, “Congress instructed the Pentagon to begin research and development on an intermediate-range, road-mobile, ground-launched missile system in response to Russia’s violations of the treaty. The Pentagon started preliminary research for the missile given the likelihood that it soon would be required by law.”
Look what you made me do, continued: On hearing Tuesday’s announcement from SecState Pompeo, Russia’s Putin this morning repeated that October 2017 message in televised remarks. Reuters has that story, here.

Speaking of Russia: Moscow’s navy is shooting missiles and rockets today in the Black Sea region. Holding drills in annexed turf is a good way to remind folks you’re ready to defend stolen territory. To that apparent end, Reuters reports two of Russia’s submarines — the Rostov-on-Don B-237 and the Stary Oskol B-262 — “practiced emergency deployments for detecting, accompanying and destroying sea and coastal targets with rocket fire,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry. “Separately, Pantsir medium-range surface-to-air missile systems in the east of Crimea practiced detecting, identifying and shooting down aerial targets.” More here.

Another thing from Pompeo on Tuesday: He said President Trump is now building “a new liberal order” (Pompeo’s words) and “reshaping the post-World War Two system on the basis of sovereign states, not multilateral institutions,” Reuters reported separately from Brussels.
Some excerpts:

  • Axe to the system? “International bodies must help facilitate cooperation that bolsters the security and values of the free world, or they must be reformed or eliminated.” Those bodies include the UN, Organization of American States (OAS), World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union.
  • And praise for NATO: "All NATO allies should work to strengthen what is already the greatest military alliance in all of history. Never – never – has an alliance ever been so powerful or so peaceful, and our historic ties must continue."

FWIW: Pompeo’s speech was not entirely well-received, as this take from Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations suggests — as does the full Reuters report from Brussels. Still more disbelief on location in this report from The New York Times’ Gardiner Harris.

Subtle indications of America’s escalated war against al-Shabaab. There were U.S.-backed Somali commando raids and a couple U.S. airstrikes carried out against suspected al-Shabaab positions across the Lower Shabelle region in southern Somalia overnight, the Associated Press reports from neighboring Kenya.
BTW: There have been more U.S. airstrikes this year in Somalia — 37— than in any previous year, judging by U.S. Africa Command releases and data maintained by the folks at The Long War Journal.
Also in Somalia: The U.S. State Department just renewed its “permanent diplomatic presence” in the country — since the U.S. closed its embassy at the height of civil war 30 years ago.

Across the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in Yemen, AP writes that few expect an end to the Saudi-led war on the Houthis anytime soon — despite the best indications in years that the Saudis and the Houthis will talk at last in Sweden. More, here.

Dear troops on the U.S.-Mexico border: Grab some hot cocoa; quite a few of you are probably gonna be there through the holiday. Announced the Pentagon on Tuesday evening: “The Secretary of Defense has approved an extension of the ongoing Department of Defense (DoD) support to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) response to migrant caravan arrivals. DoD support to DHS is authorized until Jan. 31, 2019.”

Finally today: An occasional reminder that tracking enemies in a combat zone is not an easy task. On Tuesday, we were reminded of how the guessing game is pretty much wide open. Joint Chiefs Director, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, told senators the U.S. estimated there to be about 20,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan…only to revise that stat just minutes later. His second guess: Closer to 60,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Others like FDD’s Bill Roggio put the estimate much higher.