US exiting Syria; Big Turkish arms sale approved; Russia’s maneuverable ICBM; Hackers post UN and EU cables; And a bit more.
The U.S. has already begun withdrawing some of its roughly 2,000 troops from Northeastern Syria, the White House announced this morning after word broke initially from The Wall Street Journal and CNN. CNN emphasized President Trump’s desire for a "full" and "rapid" exit from Syria — something he shocked many with when he first mentioned it in late March to a crowd of union builders in Ohio.
Included: Removing "all" U.S. State Department personnel from Syria within 24 hours, Reuters reports.
Said one U.S. official to WSJ: “The Pentagon has an order to get to move troops out of Syria as quickly as possible.” Read the full WH statement, here.
The trigger point for a U.S. exit: When ISIS at last holds no more territory in Syria.
So what’s left of ISIS in Syria? “Islamic State has been effectively cornered in a small stretch of Syrian territory along the Iraq border, where the U.S. military estimates about 2,000 fighters have managed to hold off complete defeat for months,” WSJ reports.
Caveat: a DOD IG report from August estimated there could be as many as 30,000 ISIS fighters remaining across both Syria and Iraq (even though Iraq declared its war against ISIS officially over more than a year ago).
Or, according to President Trump, tweeting at 9:29 a.m.: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
But wait: Isn’t the U.S. trying to train up to 40,000 local Syrian troops to to fight ISIS, ensure stability, and help with diplomacy, as Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said in November? Said Dunford then: “We estimate that between 35,000 to 40,000 local forces need to be trained and equipped in order to provide stability. We’re probably somewhere along the line of 20 percent through the training of those forces.” A bit more on that plan, as it were, here.
Said the Pentagon in a statement to reporters this morning: "At this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, tweeting at 10:09 a.m.: “Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake.”
Adds journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon this morning: “I just returned from my fifth trip to Northeast Syria in 18 months. If Trump quits now, there are four winners: ISIS, Assad, Russia, and Iran.” Defense One has her must-read piece, here.
In related news: The U.S. has approved the potential sale to Turkey of $3.5 billion in Patriot missiles, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced late Tuesday.
Involved: If buyers and seller come to terms, the deal would cover 80 Patriot missiles, sixty PAC-3 missiles, four radar sets, 20 launching stations, and related gear.
Justification given: “This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of a key NATO Ally on the front lines of the fight against terrorism. Turkey is a member of and critical enabling platform for the Defeat-ISIS campaign and continues to be an essential element of our National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy efforts to compete against great powers in both Europe and the Middle East.” Read the rest, here.
ICYMI, Russia has been very publicly trying to sell its own missile defense system to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, going back to at least December 2017. The two countries agreed on a deal two days before the end of the year. Turkey reportedly acquired one S-400 battery at a cost of $2.5 billion; delivery of that system isn’t expected until at least the first quarter of 2020, Defense News reported in their July summary. Almost from day one of negotiations, Erdogan very publicly expressed his interest — even saying in at one point in August that Turkey “needs” the Russian system.
FWIW: It would seem the only jets to pose an actualized threat to Turkish troops and citizens in recent years have been Russian jets (the November 2015 shootdown near Turkey’s Hatay province) — and Turkey’s own, as in the ones used in that wild 2016 attempted coup.
But now Turkey really wants the Patriot system, a package it passed over two times already because the U.S. wouldn’t share missile tech details with the Turks, Defense News reported Tuesday evening. The first time it rejected the U.S. happened “in 2013 when it chose a Chinese system that it later dropped out of, and in 2017” with the Russian deal noted above.
Erdogan spoke to Trump last Friday, the WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum reports today. That came about a week after Erdogan “moved Turkish military forces to the border and threatened to attack the Kurdish forces within days.” After that Friday conversation, “the discussions about withdrawing U.S. forces moved rapidly.” More (paywall alert), here.
Notes the WSJ’s Felicia Schwartz (Israel/Palestinian Territories correspondent): Removing U.S. troops from Syria “would have major implications for Israel as well.”
Big-picture take: “More than anything, this is an extraordinary insult to the recent efforts of Amb. Jeffrey,” said Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute. He’s referring to the effort of Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who spoke at our Defense One Summit in November. He explained how the plan was still to get the Syrian conflict back to the UN peace table in Geneva.
From Defense One
ISIS Is Not Defeated. Pulling US Troops From Syria Would Jeopardize Everything // Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: I just returned from my fifth trip to Northeast Syria in 18 months. If Trump quits now, there are four winners: ISIS, Assad, Russia, and Iran.
The Biggest Difference Between Inhofe and Smith? How Much Danger the U.S. Faces // Katie Bo Williams: The incoming SASC chair says “we live in the most dangerous world of my lifetime.” His HASC counterpart calls that “simple paranoia.”
Russia Claims To Be On Track to Deploy a Maneuverable ICBM Next Year // Patrick Tucker and Paulina Glass: Observers say that’s unlikely.
Trump’s Space Force Request Is Coming — But Final Form Remains Hazy // Marcus Weisgerber: Will his proposed space organization more resemble the Air Force or the Marines? Pence didn’t say.
Want NATO Allies to Boost Defense Spending? Don’t Build Fort Trump // MIT’s Barry Posen: Basing an American division in Poland will reduce allies’ incentive to build up their own forces.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Bradley Peniston and Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you find this stuff useful, consider sharing it with somebody you think might find it useful, too. OTD two years ago, a man drove a truck into pedestrians in Berlin, killing 12.
President Trump is set to sign off on a policy directive ordering the creation of a Space Force, a sixth branch of the military, Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Meantime, Trump has formally directed the creation of U.S. Space Command, the military’s 11th combatant command. Its task: oversee military operations in space across the Air Force, Army, and Navy, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports.
What that means: There is no Space Force yet as a separate branch of the military. That decision will come from Congress. But Tuesday’s announcement from the White House is the latest in a series of bureaucratic moves needed before the administration sends its formal proposal to the Hill.
Mid-range forecast: “It’s still unclear whether Congress will support a Space Force,” Weisgerber writes.
Short-range forecast: VP Pence is at the Pentagon today for a briefing on military space operations and cyber defense. So stay tuned...
Giant trove of hacked documents found online. Discovered by cybersecurity firm Area 1, the trove includes documents, emails, and event diplomatic cables belonging to ministries of foreign affairs and finance worldwide, United Nations, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and more.
The New York Times: “Hackers infiltrated the European Union’s diplomatic communications network for years, downloading thousands of cables that reveal concerns about an unpredictable Trump administration and struggles to deal with Russia and China and the risk that Iran would revive its nuclear program.”
Whodunit? China, it seems. “The techniques that the hackers deployed over a three-year period resembled those long used by an elite unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army.” Read on, here.
Facebook allowed other tech giants access to users’ private messages. New York Times: “The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.”
What? “Facebook also allowed Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada to read, write and delete users’ private messages.” Read on, here.
Stay tuned: This week, the Senate Intelligence Committee is to release two reports analyzing Russia’s use of social media to influence the U.S. public. Wired: “The most explosive finding in the report may be the assertion that both Facebook and Google executives misled Congress in statements.”
Green Beret allegedly in cahoots with international drug ring. That’s what Florida prosecutors tell the court. Northwest Florida Daily News: “The Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Green Beret under federal indictment for allegedly conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States from Colombia is apparently associated with an unspecified ‘international drug trafficking organization,’ according to documents filed in federal district court in Pensacola.”
And finally, ICYMI: Mike Flynn rebuked in court. Once the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, then Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn appeared in federal court on Tuesday. The plan was for him to be sentenced under a plea deal that rewarded federal investigators looking into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. Instead, the judge slammed Flynn, wondering aloud whether he had “sold out his country” and perhaps committed treason. The Washington Post has that and what happened next, here.