The U.S. military is sending 1,000 more troops to the Middle East, on top of the 1,500 re-routed to the region last month as a deterrent against Iran. This latest development in U.S.-Iran tensions follows the release of an assortment of June 13 surveillance imagery by U.S. Central Command late Monday afternoon purporting to show that “Iran is responsible for the [Gulf of Oman tanker] attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine.”
What these 1,000 will do: “address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East,” according to an evening statement from the Pentagon’s Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan.
Why this is happening (emphasis added): “The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region,” Shanahan said in the statement. That emphasis on “proxy groups” is subtle but important since the Pentagon cannot seem to definitively and conclusively tie the June 13 attacks to Iran, despite the aforementioned new imagery and even an attack storyboard from CENTCOM Monday evening. (Of course, the sailors in the fast attack craft wouldn’t be wearing labels reading, “I’m definitely from Iran” — a classic “gray zone” dilemma of plausible deniability in military actions against the U.S. and its various allies.)
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” Shanahan said in his Monday statement, repeating a line that has been offered multiple times by Pentagon officials since Thursday. “The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests. We will continue to monitor the situation diligently and make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting and credible threats.”
We did get a few questions answered about the June 13 incident in CENTCOM’s imagery release Monday evening. Among them:
- When did the alleged Iranian boat first show up? (0535Z, and it hung around for about 8 hours.)
- From what direction did it come? (8 nautical miles southeast of the USS Bainbridge, which you can see in CENTCOM’s provided map, here.)
- When did "Iranian fast inshore attack craft arrive," the group that included the IRGC "Gashti" boat that removed the limpet mine? Answer: About 0915Z.
- And where did that "Gashti" boat go afterward was kinda answered: It “conducted an at sea rendezvous with a U/I tug.”
Still unknown: What happened to the Gashti boat’s personnel after the rendezvous with that tug (which could help explain where the allegedly removed limpet mine went and who exactly removed it), as well as how CENTCOM knows without a doubt that these boats and personnel were with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
But those unknowns are kind of moot, from CENTCOM’s POV, since it insists “Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency” involved in those June 13 actions.
Tehran’s reax to all this: “Iran will not wage war against any nation,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech broadcast today on state TV, according to Reuters. “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”
Happening today: State Secretary Mike Pompeo heads to CENTCOM and SOCOM HQs in Tampa, Fla., “to discuss regional security concerns and ongoing operations” with CENTCOM’s Gen. Kenneth McKenzie and SOCOM’s Gen. Richard Clarke, the State Department announced Monday.
For the record: “Pompeo's visit to Central Command was previously scheduled and not arranged as a result of the attacks last week on the two tankers,” a nameless defense official told NBC News.
Tweeted Defense One’s Kevin Baron on the news of Pompeo’s trip: “Is it normal for a SecState, the nation’s top diplomat, to visit a COCOM to discuss military options during a pending hotspot — and not the SecDef? Even an ‘acting’ one? Very unusual.”
By the way: Iran says it dismantled a U.S. cyber espionage network from the CIA, “and that several U.S. spies had been arrested in different countries as [a] result of this action,” Reuters reported Monday in a story that kinda resembles some April reporting from Yahoo News’s Jenna McLaughlin.
Left unanswered by this “cyber espionage” news: “how many CIA agents were arrested and in what countries.” Tiny bit more, here.
From Defense One
Boeing Tankers Still Have Debris; Fix is ‘Months, Maybe Longer’ Away // Marcus Weisgerber: But the Air Force is once again accepting aircraft so that new inspection processes can be brought to bear, acquisition chief Roper says.
The Coming Flood of Space Junk Can’t Be Stopped by Technology Alone // Patrick Tucker, Government Executive: Giant nets may help, but nations must solve the problem with new rules down here on Earth.
Iran Has Options and It’s Starting to Use Them // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign has not forced Tehran to yield—in fact, it’s done the opposite.
Fight Deepfakes with Cyberweapons and Sanctions, Experts Tell Congress // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: Social media companies and the federal government must help fight hyper-realistic misinformation, witnesses told the House Intelligence Committee.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day in 1815, the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium spelled the end of Napoleon Bonaparte’s seat on the French throne, and his domination of Europe.
The U.S. military carried out two airstrikes on al-Shabaab fighters near the southern coastal Somali town of Jilib, U.S. Africa Command announced Monday. The strikes are believed to have killed two fighters and zero civilians.
BTW: The U.S. has been using a new “knife-missile” designed to minimize civilian casualties — and one place that missile has been used is in Somalia, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first wrote about the missile on May 9. Read a few cautionary notes about that missile in the pages of Defense One one day after the story broke.
Reminder of AFRICOM’s goal in these Somali strikes: "to transfer the responsibility for long-term security in Somalia from AMISOM to the Federal Government of Somalia and its Member States” and to “use all effective and appropriate methods to assist in the protection of the Somali people, including partnered military counterterrorism operations with the Federal Government of Somalia, AMISOM, and Somali National Army forces."
How monumental is that task? We explored that very question in an April podcast on rebuilding the Somali army. Listen, here.
U.S. airstrikes are soaring in Somalia: “More than 20% of all reported US counter terror actions in Somalia since 2007” — a total of 210 — “have now taken place in the first half of 2019,” the monitors of Airwars tweeted Monday on news of the Jilib airstrikes.
Dig into the data: The analysts at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy’s Long War Journal have been dutifully tracking strikes not just in Somalia, but also Yemen, Pakistan and Libya. Find all that, here.
From the region: French and Mali commandos killed 20 alleged ISIS fighters from the group’s Greater Sahara enclave in Menaka in a joint operation with the Niger military, Defense Post reports.
Also in the op: a Gazelle helicopter had an “emergency landing,” which injured a French sniper, but fortunately no one was killed. Read on, here.
America’s hypersonic missile makes an appearance. Take a look at the AGM-183A Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW — otherwise known as a hypersonic missile that was just test-flown on a nuclear-capable B-52H bomber last week. (Image source: Edwards Air Force Base’s Twitter feed.)
For your eyes only: A graphic showing the major jet fighters constructed in Europe, including the Future Combat Air System jet forecast to enter service in 2040. (via AFP)
Did you know: F-35s need a thing called Printed Circuit Boards, and a company called Exception PCB makes them? What you may not have known is that Exception PCB is owned by a company called Shenzhen Fastprint.
Long story short: Shenzhen Fastprint also supplies electronics to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Devin Thorne shows how we know.
Expect limits on rare earth materials to U.S. military firms, Chinese state-run media said Monday, “after China’s state economic planner confirmed industry experts have proposed export controls.” Reuters: “Numerous reports from state-run Chinese media have raised the prospect that China may limit its supplies of the minerals to gain leverage in its trade dispute with the United States.” A bit more, here.
Background on how the U.S. grew dependent on these strategic Chinese minerals, here.
A proposal to help solve the problem by boosting battery recycling, here.
ICYMI: Acting SecDef Shanahan to Politico: I’m a really good pick for the job of Pentagon chief. Read his pitch to the public in a four-person bylined article posted Friday, here.
BTW, POTUS45 offered up a tepid endorsement of Shanahan on Friday: “He's been recommended, now he has to be approved by Congress. We are going to see.”
And finally today: a parting thought about the 2019 information environment, via George Packer, writing in the July issue of The Atlantic. The title and subhed of that piece: “Doublethink Is Stronger Than Orwell Imagined,” or “What 1984 means today.”
The excerpt: "We are living with a new kind of regime that didn’t exist in Orwell’s time. It combines hard nationalism—the diversion of frustration and cynicism into xenophobia and hatred—with soft distraction and confusion: a blend of Orwell and Huxley, cruelty and entertainment." Packer’s #LongRead begins, here.