400 US troops to stay in Syria; New sales for old jets; Space Force grows; Germany, angry; And a bit more.
The U.S. military will keep 400 troops in Syria after the remaining ISIS fighters are cleared from their holdout in the Iraq-Syria border town of Baghouz, President Trump said Wednesday amid the thump of Marine One’s rotors before departing the White House for a tank factory in Ohio (more on that below).
When asked Wednesday if the United States is still pulling out of Syria as he promised on Dec. 19, Trump replied, “No, no. We’re — in Syria, we’re leaving 200 people there, and 200 people in another place in Syria closer to Israel for a period of time.” (Those two regions are Syria’s northeast and the U.S. base at al-Tanf, down near the border with Iraq and Jordan.)
Trump then held out an image of two maps purporting to show the progress made against ISIS during his time as POTUS. (After returning from the tank factory, Trump tweeted the two-map image; and you can find that here.)
Said Trump: “So this is a map of everything in the red — this was on election night in 2016. Everything red [in the top map] is ISIS. When I took it over it was a mess. Now on the bottom, that’s the exact same. There is no red. In fact, there’s actually a tiny spot, which will be gone by tonight.”
This morning in Baghouz, U.S.-backed forces deny ISIS has been finally defeated, Reuters reports — countering an evening report from Kurdish-aligned Hawar News, which was later removed.
Middle East scholar Charles Lister: “So, President Trump has confirmed: (1) ISIS is defeated; (2) The U.S will keep 400 troops in Syria — 200 in the NE & 200 in al-Tanf.” However, “(1) is factually incorrect and (2) represents an unsustainable policy based on assumptions that won't come true.” Read Lister’s recent analysis on the topic, posted just two days before Trump’s most recent remarks, entitled “Trump Says ISIS Is Defeated. Reality Says Otherwise,” over at Politico, here.
And about that map… it "shows ISIS retains a 'residual' presence in vast areas of Iraq & some areas of Syria," Lister added — piling on to the warnings contained in that February Pentagon IG report.
France is preparing to announce the “final territorial defeat” of ISIS in the “next few days,” said Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. But otherwise, France is still sort of guessing as to what’s going to happen next, Reuters reported separately Wednesday.
Topping the agenda of unanswered Qs for France: a plan for some sort of "safe zone" in northeastern Syria. Trump wants "about 200 U.S. troops to join what Washington hopes will be a total commitment of about 800 to 1,500 troops from European allies” for that project, Reuters writes. “However, the idea has met scepticism from Washington’s European allies, and foremost from France, which has 1,200 troops primarily based in providing air strikes, artillery support and training in Iraq. It also has an unspecified number of special forces in Syria.”
Worth noting: ISIS’s leader still has not been found. And a Pentagon watchdog report warned in February that ISIS “could resurge in Syria within six to 12 months and regain limited territory without sustained pressure.”
Bigger picture, from AP’s Bob Burns: “If history is a guide, the reconquering of IS-held territory may prove a short-lived victory unless Iraq and Syria fix the problem that gave rise to the extremist movement in the first place: governments that pit one ethnic or sectarian group against another.” More here.
From Defense One
America's Fighter Jet Makers Are Thriving, Thanks to Trump and Putin // Marcus Weisgerber: Orders of American warplanes on the rise as U.S. military spending rises and Russia rattles its sabers.
Space Force’s Projected Size Drifts Upward, Drawing Concern on Capitol Hill // Marcus Weisgerber: Despite “lean” pledges, aides are skeptical about the size of the proposed branch and the number of generals who will lead it.
Laser Weapons: A Blueprint for Adding Them to the Force // Henry “Trey” Obering III: Directed energy weapons promise a new advantage — if the U.S. accelerates development of related technologies and doctrine.
Americans Are Seeing Threats in the Wrong Places // Janet Napolitano and Karen Breslau: Security means teaching the public which dangers are real and which are not. Trump’s rhetoric isn’t helping.
A Nuclear Treaty the Trump Administration Can Support // Kenneth C. Brill and Andrew K. Semmel: The U.S. should help advance international proposals to tighten security around nuclear material that terrorists might use.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1980, President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Olympics in Moscow because of the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan, which began three months prior.
Has the acting SecDef been illegally promoting his former employer during his tenure as Pentagon chief? The Pentagon’s IG is investigating that question, Time’s Bill Hennigan reported Wednesday afternoon. “At issue is whether Shanahan pushed the Pentagon to buy more Boeing-made F-15X fighter jets, which the Air Force does not want, and whether he criticized Boeing-rival Lockheed Martin Corp. during government meetings.”
Where this stems from: a nine-page complaint filed last week by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a Washington watchdog group, “urging the agency to scrutinize the relationship.”
How DOD’s IG is framing their approach: “The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General has decided to investigate complaints we recently received that Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan allegedly took actions to promote his former employer, Boeing, and disparage its competitors, allegedly in violation of ethics rules. In his recent Senate Armed Services Committee testimony, Acting Secretary Shanahan stated that he supported an investigation into these allegations. We have informed him that we have initiated this investigation,” Dwrena Allen, a spokesperson for the inspector general, said in a statement. Read on, here.
Multiple explosions hit Kabul today, killing at least five people who had gathered near a Shiite shrine and cemetery in Kabul "to mark the holiday of Nowruz, the Persian New Year," AP reports from the capital. One attacker is reportedly in custody, according to Reuters.
All that C-wire U.S. troops installed down at the Mexico border? Thieves in Tijuana have been stealing portions of it for resale to homeowners trying to protect their properties “as the city grapples with a surge in crime,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Wednesday.
Fifteen to 20 arrests have been made so far, and “Contractors were seen Monday at a border fence on the U.S. side of the Colonia Libertad neighborhood of Tijuana, replacing some of the stolen wire.”
Nebraska’s flooded Offutt Air Force Base is under a restricted access order, base officials announced Wednesday. And if you want inside, your entry will have to be “approved by the Recovery Operations Center and routed to the Emergency Communications Center; all others will be detained.”
So far, “Approximately 20 Offutt families were displaced from their homes due to flooding,” and an airshow has been cancelled. As well, "5 RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft from Offutt have been flown to MacDill AFB in Florida," where the "55th Wing says they'll keep flying training missions," the Omaha World-Herald's Steve Liewer reported Wednesday. Otherwise, base personnel are still working to project “global combat airpower” despite this “1,000-yr flood.” Keep up with the latest via Twitter from Offutt and Liewer.
“If it weren’t for me, this place would have been closed," Trump said Wednesday during a stop at the Lima Army Tank Plant in Ohio. "And you’re doing us a favor," he told plant workers, according to CBS White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.
For what it’s worth: The White House has been “lavishing money on the factory to boost jobs and votes in Ohio — with tanks that are too heavy and the Army barely wants,” David Cloud of the LA Times reported last July.
Also from Lima: The president disparaged John McCain again on Wednesday. C-SPAN has the clip, here. And AP has a bit more on small clutch of Republicans who spoke out against this latest Trump swipe at McCain, here.
Germany says it probably won’t make NATO’s 2% GDP benchmark on defense spending this year, “the latest gesture of defiance by Chancellor Angela Merkel toward President Donald Trump,” The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Said former NSC Director for Russia, Michael Carpenter: “This was bound to happen. Trump & his non-diplomats (Bolton, Grenell) have cajoled with so little tact & such brazen disregard for the Alliance's common values that Allies are now backing away from the 2% pledge. Other West Europeans may follow Germany.”
Also from Germany: An opposition politician has called for the U.S. ambassador to be expelled, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported Wednesday.
So what is U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell accused of doing? Acting like "a high commissioner of an occupying power," according to Wolfgang Kubicki, the deputy chairman of the opposition Free Democrats. Read on, here.
ICYMI: Franz-Stefan Gady, a senior fellow with the EastWest Institute, more or less predicted this at Defense One a few days ago. Read: "Why Germany Should Further Boost Defense Spending, and Why It Probably Won’t. Also: why the Trump administration should shut up about it.”
South Korea is mulling a new summit to bring Trump and Kim Jong-un back together again. That’s the word after America’s spy chief visited South Korea’s president in Seoul on Wednesday, according to Yonhap News agency.
The background there: U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan “Coats' trip to Seoul follows the recent collapse of U.S.-North Korea negotiations on ending the North's nuclear program... Seoul is hoping to help narrow the gap between the U.S. and North Korea through its own dialogue with the communist state, possibly including an inter-Korean summit.” Tiny bit more, here.
The USAF has ordered “a review of training procedures for military pilots of large cargo and transport planes, including Air Force One, in the wake of the Ethiopian airlines crash earlier this month,” CNN’s Barbara Starr reported Wednesday.
What’s going on: “Air Force officials say they don't believe any of their aircraft have had problems similar to those suffered on the Boeing 737 Max 8, which have been grounded worldwide following the Ethiopian airlines crash. One official noted Air Force automated pilot systems are different to those on the Boeing plane that has now suffered two crashes. But questions have been raised about whether commercial pilots had proper training on the Boeing 737 Max 8 and knew how to cope if their automated systems failed.” More here.
The war in Yemen is still dragging on, and the Houthis now vow “Never to Surrender a Major Port,” AP reported Tuesday from the Yemeni capital of Sana’a.
The port in question is Hodeida, "the main entry point for humanitarian aid to Yemen." The Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis "have agreed to withdraw their forces from the port, but are divided over who will run it once they pull out," AP writes. "The U.N.-brokered deal was vague on that point, saying a 'local force' would take over without specifying who would lead it."
What now? Continued talks with U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths. Read on, here.
And finally today: New Zealand just banned military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today — less than a week after the Christchurch attack that killed 50 people in two mosques. According to the Washington Post, the plan involves a “buyback program… to take existing weapons out of circulation, and those who do not comply will be subject to fines.”
Exempted: “farmers for pest control and animal welfare.”
And the political opposition in New Zealand? “The center-right opposition National Party supported the ban, with its leader, Simon Bridges, saying it was ‘imperative in the national interest to keep New Zealanders safe.’”
The new laws are expected "to be in place by April 11," Reuters reports. In addition, that buy-back scheme is slated to cost "up to NZ$200 million ($138 million)."