Trump threatens border shutdown; US cuts aid to ‘Northern Triangle’; Climate change vs the US military; Busy natsec week on the Hill; Electricity rationing in Venezuela; And a bit more.

President Trump again threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border if President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador doesn’t do more to halt illegal immigration through Mexico, Reuters reports off developments that escalated on Friday and continued over the weekend.

What’s going on: “Amid a surge in migrant detentions at the southwest U.S. border, Trump on Friday said he would close the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) frontier, or sections of it, during the coming week if Mexico did not halt the flow of people.”

However: “Policy experts say Trump’s demand is not realistic and that Mexican authorities are already stretched. Still, Mexico has signaled it will redouble efforts to contain migration, which stems largely from three poor, violent Central American countries: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.”

This should sound familiar: Trump also threatened to shut the southern border during the early part of the last government shutdown in late December.

For Obrador’s part, he “has sought to enlist Trump’s aid in tackling the problems of Central America, which critics say has been scarred by a history of messy U.S. interventions,” Reuters writes.

But instead, the State Department announced this weekend that it will cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, “raising questions about Trump’s commitment to helping there.” More here.

About that aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, aka, the “Northern Triangle” of countries: The White House wants to cut “FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs,” which is believed to total nearly $1.3 billion, CNN reports.

And ICYMI on Wednesday, “Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen signed what she called a ‘first of its kind’ regional compact agreement with the Northern Triangle countries aimed at preventing irregular migration, combating criminal organizations and ultimately helping with US border security,” CNN adds. A bit more, here.  


From Defense One

The Newest AI-Enabled Weapon: ‘Deep-Faking’ Photos of the Earth // Patrick Tucker: Step 1: Use AI to make undetectable changes to outdoor photos. Step 2: release them into the open-source world and enjoy the chaos.

Podcast: Climate change versus the US military // Defense One Staff: In this episode, we investigate matters of resilience and base design as part of a broader look at how climate change will likely affect the U.S. military in the years ahead.

The ‘Caliphate’ Is Gone. Where’s the ‘Caliph’? // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: As the war on the Islamic State moves into a new phase, its leadership tries to adapt.

As Africa Seeks Global Partners, It Will Ask: Who's Helping with Climate Change? // Michelle D. Gavin, Council on Foreign Relations: If the United States hopes to outduel China for influence on the continent, it must consider Cyclone Idai and its turbocharged ilk to come.

Without JEDI, Pentagon’s AI Efforts May Be Hindered // Frank Konkel, Nextgov: DOD won’t be able to fully harness AI unless it manages to build — or buy — a national-defense cloud.

DEA Never Checked If Its Massive Surveillance Operations Are Legal, Watchdog Says // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The administration “failed to conduct a comprehensive legal analysis” of three NSA-style bulk data collection programs, according to the Justice Department Inspector General.

The Dismal Career Opportunities for Military Spouses Are a Readiness Issue // Julie Bogen, The Atlantic: Most military families are under stress due to their financial situation.

Welcome to this Monday 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 1954, the U.S. Air Force Academy was founded just outside Colorado Springs.


How has climate change cost the Defense Department already? And what sort of costs can the U.S. military expect to pay in the future?
In our latest Defense One Radio, we looked into resilience and base design as part of a broader look at how climate change will likely affect the U.S. military in the years ahead.
We spoke to a man who was the Navy’s chief oceanographer just a few years ago, David Titley. We also spoke to a climatologist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Benjamin Santer. And we interviewed John Conger, who directs the Center for Climate and Security, and who helped direct the Pentagon’s 2018 infrastructure vulnerability assessment related to climate change.
Find this newest episode on Spotify, Overcast, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts — or read the episode’s transcript at Defense One, here.

Related: It’s been six months since a hurricane hit Camp Lejeune, but still the base “remain[s] frozen in time, with walls still caved in and roofs missing,” NBC News reported this weekend. The damage was done by Hurricane Florence, the wettest storm ever recorded in the Carolinas.
Now "The Marines say they need $3.6 billion to repair the damage to more than 900 buildings" across Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station New River, and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.
But that’s not all. Diverting U.S. military resources to the border is causing problems. “In a recent memo to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller cited, among other ‘negative factors,’ the diversion of resources to the border, where the Trump administration has sent active-duty troops to patrol and plans to use military funding to pay for a wall,” NBC’s Courtney Kube writes.
One more important point, which Neller cited in his letter to NavSec Spencer: the next hurricane season is only three months away. More here.  

Venezuela is rationing electricity for the next 30 days, embattled President Nicolas Maduro announced today in video gathered by Agence France-Presse.
Also part of that emergency plan: “reduc[ing] the length of the workday and keep[ing] schools closed due to the devastating blackouts.” Video, here.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson takes a budget-themed “farewell tour of Capitol Hill this week,” Military Times’ Leo Shane III reports this morning. That’s because she has “three appearances before congressional committees this week, all related to ongoing budget review work by lawmakers.”
Shane has the full line-up of military-themed hearings on the Hill this week — including 14 (!) on Tuesday alone, 11 on Wednesday and two on Thursday — here.
Some of the hearing topics this week include

  • Army/Air Force budgets,
  • Missile Defense Policies/Programs,
  • NASA’s budget,
  • Climate change,
  • NATO,
  • Space Programs,
  • Afghanistan,
  • the Middle East,
  • Yemen,
  • Navy/Marine Corps Aviation and more.

Two Marines were killed Saturday when their AH-1Z Viper helicopter crashed during training in Yuma, Arizona, the Arizona Republic reported Sunday. “The names of the pilots who died have not been released pending notification of their families,” AP adds.

Japan now has its first F-35A Lightning II fighter squadron, The Diplomat reported this weekend. “The first four F-35As were all built in the United States, while the remaining [eight] F-35As of the squadron were assembled at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Nagoya.” Read on, here.

The new nominee to lead AFRICOM is a familiar face from the war on ISIS. Stars and Stripes reports Army Gen. Stephen Townsend got the nod from President Trump following a Friday announcement from the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Townsend has been leading the Army’s TRADOC for the past 12 months. Before that, he was the Operation Inherent Resolve commander. “A change of command date has not yet been set, but the switch over is expected to take place in summer,” Stripes writes. A tiny bit more, here.
Who slides in at TRADOC? Lt. Gen. Paul Funk — also a former OIR commander — who for a short time still currently leads Fort Hood and the Army’s III Corps, Army Times reported Friday. It’s unclear yet how soon Funk moves to TRADOC; but given Townsend’s summer window for departure, the timing is likely to fall within the next six months.

Look out, 5th Fleet: Bahrain’s joining the Huawei highway, the mobile networks that use 5G gear made by the Chinese manufacturer, Reuters reported this weekend.
The quick read: “VIVA Bahrain, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabian state-controlled telecom STC, last month signed an agreement to use Huawei products in its 5G network, one of several Gulf telecoms firms working with the Chinese company,” Reuters writes. A bit more, here.

The U.S. delivered six Metal Shark “45 Defiant” patrol boats to Vietnam’s Coast Guard today, according to the U.S. embassy in Hanoi. The vessels “can reach speeds of up to 50 knots (93 km per hour) and [are] suited for both inland and offshore use,” Reuters writes.

The Philippine military is worried about the 600-plus Chinese vessels circling Manila’s Thitu Island in the West Philippine Sea. "These vessels are considered as Chinese maritime militia and are occasionally complemented by Chinese Coast Guard vessel to sustain China’s assertive presence in the vicinity of the sandbars," a Phillipine naval officer told ABS-CBN News on Friday.
Says RAND’s Derek Grossman: “Gray zone operations, all day everyday. China now has de facto presence—& yes control—around Thitu island. And it did so without firing a shot. Also tough for US/Phils to baseline what ‘normal’ behavior is when Beijing keeps shifting the goalposts.”
Catch up on what Beijing is up to when it comes to the South China Sea in our two-part podcast explainer, Beyond South China Sea Tensions, here.

Who wants to buy a few Soviet and Chinese-made MiG fighter jets? Albania’s military has a few for sale some three decades after shedding communism, AFP reports in another minute-plus video clip. Briefly seen in the video: Albania’s airport hanger built into a mountain. Watch, here.

And finally today: A new vector of info attacks via Facebook. “Russian agents are spreading propaganda on the pages of real people willing to sell or rent them out,” The New York Times reported this weekend in what it calls a new tactic in election tampering.
Speaking of: Ukraine’s national elections are now down to the incumbent (Petro Poroshenko) versus a comedian (Volodymyr Zelensky), Reuters reports this morning from Kiev.
AP has a bit more on the funny guy, “who has no links to Ukraine’s corruption-ridden political elite and can offer a new approach to settling the grinding five-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine,” here.
The next round of elections in Ukraine is set for April 21. More from RFE/RL, here.

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