Trump promises partial Afghan drawdown; US nears crossroads in Iraq; Happy birthday to Space Command and the nuclear arms race; And a bit more.
The U.S. will pull about 5,400 troops from Afghanistan, leaving about 8,600 remaining, President Trump said Thursday morning to Fox News Radio. And you can expect that number to be reevaluated if a peace deal is concluded with the Taliban, the president told told Fox's Brian Kilmeade.
That would bring the U.S. force level back down to about where it was when Trump took office — at least according to the Pentagon's official count. But Politico's Wesley Morgan notes that the actual number of troops in-country was closer to 11,000. Half a year into his presidency, Trump approved an increase to the current 14,000.
He spoke* one day after his chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joe Dunford, told reporters, "I'm not using the 'withdraw' word right now," citing concerns that Afghanistan's own security forces are not yet able to keep the country from becoming a terrorist haven alone.
The U.S. and Poland have chosen six locations to stage American troops as part of a deal the two countries signed two months ago “to counter Russia’s growing assertiveness since its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine,” Reuters reports today from Warsaw. “The military deal signed in June will increase the number of non-permanent U.S. troops in Poland by 1,000. There are on average about 4,500 U.S. troops in Poland on rotation as part of NATO forces.”
With Hurricane Dorian bearing down on Florida, President Trump cancelled his planned trip this weekend to Warsaw to announce that basing deal and to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of WWII. Vice President Mike Pence — who was just in Poland this past February, to somewhat viral effect — is now going in Trump’s place. Tiny bit more from Politico, here.
From Defense One
Happy Birthday, Nuclear Arms Race // Joe Cirincione: If we remember how we could have stopped it, we may yet find a way to do so.
Alleged Israeli Strikes Bring US to Crossroads in Iraq // Katie Bo Williams: The Pentagon is worried that attacks on Iran-linked targets could damage its relationship with Baghdad. But what does the White House want?
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Roadmap for a busy autumn: DOD wants small drones; Embraer's new export, and more…
Saudi Arabia and Israel Are Growing Closer. Why? // David Mednicoff, The Conversation: The simple answer is Iran. But there is a more complex answer as well.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1963, the Moscow-to-Washington “hotline” went into effect for the very first time.
Space Command is officially the U.S. military’s 11th and newest combatant command, CNN reported off the launch Thursday in a White House ceremony you can watch on DVIDS here. “The command will initially consist of just 287 personnel and its final location has yet to be determined,” CNN writes.
Now attention shifts to Trump's prediction that Space Command "will soon be followed — very importantly — by the establishment of the United States Space Force as the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces," as Trump said Thursday.
Failure to launch in north Iran. The folks at Planet Labs satellite imagery found an interesting image Thursday from the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran’s Semnan province, just outside of Tehran. It’s the same place that was recently dressed up in a coat of bright blue paint, as NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel reported four days ago.
Brumfiel returned Thursday with a new image from the launch pad, this one featuring a smoldering column of smoke ascending to the atmosphere and easily snapped by Planet Labs’ microsats.
"This looks like the space launch vehicle blew up on the launch pad," said Dave Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute. "This failure happened maybe a couple of minutes before the image was taken."
If confirmed, it would be Iran’s third failed attempt to put a rocket into orbit this year. Brumfiel reminds us that “Earlier this month, Iran said one such satellite, known as Nahid-1, was ready to be launched.” As recently as July, Iranian officials told the AP they planned “three more launches this year, two for satellites that do remote-sensing work and another that handles communications.”
An even closer Thursday image is this one from Colorado-based Maxar Technologies. That one “appeared to show the rocket still attached to the machinery used to transport and erect it for launch,” and looked to a second analyst “like an accident during launch preparation.”
Some quick Iranian space launch trivia, via AP: “Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.” More at NPR, here.
After hanging out with Putin this week, Turkey’s Erdogan is talking up a possible visit with Trump on the sidelines of the UN next month in New York. Judging by this video from a Russian military expo in Moscow on Tuesday, the Turkish president appears to be keen on exacerbating the tensions between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to military technology. Already the Russian S-400 system has become an F-35 “deal breaker” for the U.S. So now Erdogan is making sure the world knows he’s flirting with the idea of buying Russia’s Su-57 stealth jets instead.
Today in Ankara, Erdogan fanned the flames of F-35 vs. Su-57 acquisition rumors. Reuters has his remarks, here.
U.S. investigators are expanding their probe of Huawei, including "additional instances of alleged technology theft... that weren’t covered in indictments of Huawei issued earlier this year," the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Among the new allegations: “that Huawei stole smartphone camera technology from Rui Oliveira, a multimedia producer from Portugal.” In addition, employees at the company’s Sweden office “stashed foreign-made equipment in a secure basement to be dissected by Huawei engineers.” The company also set up encrypted email addresses for staff and made clear that employees “had the responsibility to collect competitor information,” which is prohibited by U.S. corporate guidelines.
For the record, Huawei maintains its innocence, insisting “the company has never been found by a court to have acted maliciously in any case involving alleged theft of trade secrets.” Read on, here.
By the way: China just forced a WSJ reporter to leave the country, and declined to give a reason why. The Journal, however, notes in its coverage of this episode, “Mr. Wong was co-author of a report on a cousin of Chinese President Xi Jinping whose activities are being scrutinized by Australian law enforcement and intelligence agencies.”
Bigger picture: “Chinese authorities have increased pressure on foreign news media in recent years to dissuade them from reporting on matters the government considers politically sensitive or detrimental to China’s image and interests. Press credentials and threats not to renew them have been frequently invoked by authorities as part of that pressure campaign.” Story here.
After multiple requests for comment from media outlets today, China’s foreign ministry released the following statement, carried by Reuters: “We resolutely oppose malicious, defamatory attacks on China by individual foreign reporters and we do not welcome this sort of journalist.”
In case you were wondering, AP notes this morning “Wong is the sixth journalist to leave China under such circumstances since 2013, according to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China,” which condemned “in the strongest possible terms the use of visa non-renewal as a form of punishment.”
Japan wants to convert two destroyers into aircraft carrier for F-35s starting next year, the Journal reports this morning off the Defense Ministry’s newest budget proposal. That budget, totaling $50.3 billion, is up 1.2% over the previous year. And it “includes funds to enable the flight deck of the flat-top destroyer Izumo to withstand the intense direct heat from the engines of vertical takeoff and landing jet fighters.”
Why pursue carriers? Planners in Tokyo reportedly see them “as a way to provide firepower to defend a string of islands that extend several hundred miles from Japan’s mainland to near Taiwan.” Interoperability with America’s own expanding F-35 arsenal is key to this planning, too.
In perspective: “While Japan’s military spending has been rising, it has remained around 1% of the size of its economy, compared with around 2% for China and 3% for the U.S. relative to the size of their much-larger economies.” A bit more behind the paywall here.
Wanna know how quantum radar could completely change warfare? Popular Mechanics posted an explainer this week here.
Related: An illustration of how the technology works, by Jamie Withorne of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, here.
ICYMI: Scientists want to put AI in your pants — er, “bionic shorts,” they call them, as MIT’s Technology Review reported earlier this month.
What’s going on: researchers at Harvard University and the University of Nebraska, Omaha, are developing “lightweight exoskeleton-pants” that “reduce a person’s metabolic work rate 9.3% when walking and 4% when running (equivalent to removing 12 to 17 pounds from the waist).”
One catch, from our POV anyway: They weigh 11 pounds.
How can “AI-powered cameras” one day help prevent mass shootings? By predicting a human’s movements and reading “the expressions on people’s faces and their mannerisms and be able to tell if they look violent,” a Colorado school district security manager told AP after five years using a surveillance system from the Canada-based company, Avigilon. Another company, “Athena-Security, has cameras that spot when someone has a weapon.”
For what it’s worth, “The overall market for real-time video analytics was estimated at $3.2 billion worldwide in 2018 — and it’s anticipated to grow to more than $9 billion by 2023,” according to this estimate. And as the systems continue to improve and proliferate, so will concerns about privacy, bias, and false positives. Read on, here.
PSA: Scammers are impersonating FBI phone numbers and agents, including mimicked “field offices in California, Montana, Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Kentucky,” CNN’s former bureau man Josh Campbell reported Thursday.
One way it goes down: The “scammers indicate that a warrant of arrest exists for the person, which will be dismissed by a federal court in exchange for immediate payment.”
Know this: “Federal law enforcement officers do not call private citizens to request money or threaten arrest.” Read on, here.
And finally today: A subtle reminder that for some who uphold the law in the U.S., the pursuit of justice never rests — that “The men and women of law enforcement don’t wake up,” because, as one U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio wrote this week, “We never went to sleep. We are always awake.”
Where this comes from: “U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman's comments on recent Ohio cases involving political violence,” remarks released Thursday by the Justice Department and flagged by Seamus Hughes of the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
At the heart of the matter: A federal complaint against James Reardon, a 20-year-old from New Middletown, Ohio. He’s a “man with white nationalist leanings was charged in federal court in connection with a threat made on Instagram against a Jewish community center,” Cleveland.com reported Thursday.
After thanking the community for its support, Herdman cuts to the chase rather bluntly: “Now let me speak generally to those who are advocates for white supremacy, or white nationalism. I am talking directly to you. The Constitution protects your right to speak, your right to think, and your right to believe. If you want to waste the blessings of liberty by going down a path of hatred and failed ideologies, that is your choice.
“Democracy allows you to test those ideas in the public forum,” he continues. “If you want to submit your beliefs to the American people and get their reaction, please be my guest. Keep this in mind, though. Thousands and thousands of young Americans already voted with their lives to ensure that this same message of intolerance, death, and destruction would not prevail — you can count their ballots by visiting any American cemetery in North Africa, Italy, France, or Belgium and tallying the white headstones. You can also recite the many names of civil rights advocates who bled and died in opposing supporters of those same ideologies of hatred. Their voices may be distant, but they can still be heard.
“Go ahead and make your case for Nazism, a white nation, and racial superiority. The Constitution may give you a voice, but it doesn’t guarantee you a receptive audience. Your right to free speech does not automatically mean that people will agree with you. In fact, you have an absolute God-given and inalienable right to be on the losing end of this argument. What you don’t have, though, is the right to take out your frustration at failure in the political arena by resorting to violence. You don’t have any right to threaten the lives and well-being of our neighbors. They have an absolute God-given and inalienable right to live peacefully, to worship as they please, to be free from fear that they might become a target simply because of the color of their skin, the country of their birth, or the form of their prayer.”
There’s much more to Herdman’s remarks, which you can read in full here.
Have a safe, fun holiday weekend, everyone! And we’ll see you again on Tuesday...