US stands aside to let Turkey invade Syria; N.Korean nuke talks fail; 2nd whistleblower emerges; Deterring Iran won’t be enough; And a bit more.
The U.S. is letting Turkey invade Syria, and — according to the president — it’s giving all ISIS fighters captured in the last two years over to Ankara. That’s one quick read of the White House’s message announced late Sunday evening and just hours after the two country’s leaders spoke by phone. A longer read would emphasize, among other seemingly very consequential matters, how “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation,” and, in fact, “will no longer be in the immediate area.”
That would seem to involve just “100 to 150 United States military personnel,” the New York Times reports this morning, citing administration officials who said that U.S. troops (emphasis added) “would not be completely withdrawn from Syria.”
President Trump went on an unusual five-tweet thread on the matter this morning — kicking things off with an apparent untruth about the original duration of the U.S. military in Syria, writing it was only supposed to last “for 30 days, [but] that was many years ago.” (Not that it’s rife with consequence, but the president got that particular fact wrong, CNN’s Daniel Dale tweeted immediately afterward in a fact-check. Wrote Dale: “There was never a specific time period attached [to that Syria deployment for the U.S. military].” What’s more, Dale added, “Trump previously said eight times that US troops were supposed to be there for ‘four months.’”)
Trump also took a jab at European nations — a follow-up to the initial WH statement, which fingered “France, Germany, and other European nations” for not taking ISIS foreign fighters back for trials. (It’s also a call back to an August 21 threat “to release them into the countries from which they came. Which is Germany and France and other places.”) The Sunday statement said this all now means that the “United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer.” And as a result, “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years.”
For what it’s worth, the latest figures on how many ISIS fighters that might be ranges somewhere around 2,000. However, there are another 68,000 associated family members at the al-Hol refugee camp in northwest Syria. And there are only about 400 people guarding them, the Washington Institute’s Aaron Zelin noted this morning. It’s not yet clear what will happen there. Here’s a wider look at ISIS detention facilities across Syria, via the Institute for the Study of War.
Added Trump in his tweet-explanation this morning: “the U.S. is always the ‘sucker,’ on NATO, on Trade, on everything.”
Oh, and about the Kurds? That’s to say the Kurdish-dominant Syrian Democratic Forces, with whom the U.S. military has been partnered to defeat ISIS in Syria… here’s POTUS45’s POV on that relationship: “The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.”
And the final takeaway, as far as Trump is concerned this morning: “WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out... We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”
The SDF were quite appalled by the news, writing on Twitter shortly after the WH statement was released that Turkey’s invasion plans represent a "mechanism of death" meant to"displace our people & change the stable & secure region into a zone of conflict and permanent war." (Note: The SDF tweeted this statement in Arabic before the WH statement came out, sharp-eyed Joanne Stocker of Defense Post pointed out last night.)
The Pentagon view? They’re scrambling there. Or, as Fox News’s Lucas Tomlinson tweeted today: “Pentagon ‘completely blindsided’ by White House order to pull U.S. forces back from northern Syria green-lighting Turkish invasion: U.S. officials.” Three days ago, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he and Turkey were on the same page about the previous security arrangement for patrolling northern Syria’s border with Turkey. However, Politico’s Wesley Morgan noticed, Esper and his Turkish counterpart’s respective bosses “clearly are on a different” page when it comes to Syria.
Worth noting: Trump will meet with his top military leaders this evening to discuss Sunday evening’s announcement, CBS News’s Mark Knoller reports.
“Disaster in the making,” is how Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-.S.C., described the news from the White House in his own tweet this morning. Graham’s four reasons why this is no bueno, as listed in a follow-up tweet:
- Ensures ISIS comeback.
- Forces Kurds to align with Assad and Iran.
- Destroys Turkey’s relationship with U.S. Congress.
- Will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.
And Graham’s not done; his third tweet said he’s ready to “introduce Senate resolution opposing and asking for reversal of this decision,” adding he “Expect[s] it will receive strong bipartisan support.”
The view of Trump’s former ISIS war czar, Brett McGurk? He warns “Turkey has neither the intent, desire, nor capacity to manage 60k detainees in al Hol camp, which State and DoD IGs warn is the nucleus for a resurgent ISIS. Believing otherwise is a reckless gamble with our national security.” And McGurk has much more to say, including a number of blunt jabs at the very top of his own Twitter thread early this morning, which you can find here.
Other takes for what might lie ahead can be found on the Twitter feeds of Syria analysts like Tobias Scheider, Aaron Stein, Jennifer Cafarella and Charles Lister — none of whom appear to be terribly optimistic just yet.
From Defense One
The US Is Trying to Restore Deterrence in the Gulf. That Won’t be Enough // Christopher J. Bolan: Iran and Saudi Arabia are locked in a security dilemma. Here are some potential ways out.
US Customs Officer Harasses Defense One Journalist at Dulles Airport // Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston: Repeating “You write propaganda, right?”, officer held passport until he received an affirmative answer.
New Tech Aims to Tell Pilots When Their Plane Has Been Hacked // Marcus Weisgerber: Raytheon is pitching a product to detect cyber intrusions into aircraft, drones, and even missiles.
The US Government Keeps Too Many Secrets // Mike Giglio, The Atlantic: American officials classify too much information, from the trivial to the politically inconvenient. The overreliance on secrecy invites abuse.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1885, Danish physicist Nils Bohr was born in Copenhagen — a city he fled in 1943 once the Germans occupied Denmark. Bohr would later travel to the U.S. where he helped develop the first atom bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan in 1945.
Nuclear talks with N. Korea broke down within hours. Speaking some nine hours after the first talks in eight months talks began in Stockholm on Saturday, North’s chief negotiator said U.S. diplomats had arrived “empty-handed,” according to Yonhap, the South Korean news agency. New York Times:“It was the latest indication that President Trump’s signature diplomatic initiative has stalled.
U.S.: We’d be willing to resume talks in two weeks.
N. Korean Foreign Ministry: “As we have clearly identified the way for solving [the] problem, the fate of the future DPRK-U.S. dialogue depends on the U.S. attitude, and the end of this year is its deadline.” More, here.
What was the U.S. proposing? Vox reports: “Here’s the offer, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations: The United Nations would suspend sanctions on Pyongyang’s textile and coal exports for 36 months in exchange for the verifiable closure of the Yongbyon nuclear facility and another measure, most likely the end of North Korea’s uranium enrichment.”
Trump is cutting the NSC staff, Bloomberg wrote, citing five people familiar with the plans. Some said it was part of a White House effort to increase efficiency under new National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, and to trim a staff that grew to 310 people during the Obama administration. Read, here.
New developments in the impeachment inquiry surrounding President Trump’s alleged abuse of the power of his office by withholding congressionally mandated aid from Ukraine while requesting personal favors from his Ukrainian counterpart:
- A second whistleblower emerges: “An intelligence official with ‘firsthand knowledge’’ has provided information related to President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine,” the Times reports.
- The CIA’s top lawyer concluded that a potential crime had been committed, weeks before a whistleblower filed the Aug. 12 complaint, and referred the matter to the Justice Department. (NBC News) DOJ declined to open an investigation. (Washington Post)
- Businessmen connected to Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and his Energy Secretary Rick Perry were working to “steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies,” apparently using “inside knowledge of the U.S. government’s plans in Ukraine.” (AP)
- Three House oversight committee chairmen said Friday that they have sent subpeonaes to the White House and Vice President Mike Pence to obtain documents related to their investigation into the allegations.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo missed the Friday deadline to turn over documents subpeonaed by the House House Foreign Affairs Committee. (Reuters)
- Text messages between a pair of U.S. diplomats “show just how deeply officials were engaged in Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. (Politico)
Context: Perhaps you’re wondering: Is it ever okay for a U.S. president to ask another government to investigate a political rival? Edward B. Foley, who runs Ohio Sate University’s election law program, writes: “Sometimes, yes—which is why Donald Trump’s potential impeachment hinges on his motive in doing so.” (Politico Magazine)
Are you an executive-branch employee who has seen wrongdoing? Just Security has a guide to bringing it to Congress’ attention. TIL: “In response to the introduction of a government-wide nondisclosure agreement employees must sign as a precondition to obtain a security clearance, Congress has passed an anti-gag appropriations rider since 1988 that outlaws any spending that will gag employees from communicating with Congress.”
Oh, and: Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., has called for the whistleblowers to be stripped of the anonymity guaranteed by federal law. TPM, here.
Niger ambush, two years later: Military Times: “The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for information that leads to the arrest or conviction of the militants who committed or aided in the deadly Oct. 4, 2017, attack on a joint U.S.-Nigerien military patrol that left four U.S. soldiers dead.”
But one of the soldiers blamed for the deaths says the Army didn’t hold the higher-ups accountable for their part. In an essay in the New York Times Magazine, Alan Van Saun — a West Point grad who served 15 years in infantry and Special Forces — writes, “Today, exactly two years after we lost Sgt. First Class Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright and Sgt. La David Johnson, I have no reason to believe any lessons have been learned to prevent more soldiers from being killed under the same circumstances.” Read.