Pence, Erdogan meet; US bombs its former Syrian HQ; ISIS prisoners escape; US, Saudi may link air defenses; And a bit more.
There’s no press allowed in Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s palace today as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence drops by to talk about, in part, a ceasefire for Turkey’s military in northern Syria. That’s the word from the LA Times’s Eli Stokols, who is traveling with Pence and his diplomatic entourage (photographed here) on what McClatchy calls the White House’s “damage control” mission to the Turkish capital of Ankara.
Update: Here’s a photo of Pence and Erdogan. (Judging by appearances, you’re probably having a better day than they are.)
This morning on Capitol Hill: Pentagon leaders brief lawmakers on the “Situation in Syria and the Wider Region” behind closed doors. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley began their presentation at 9 a.m. EDT before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Trump held a Wednesday meeting about his northern-Syria retreat with Congressional leaders at the White House. It took a bizarre turn when the president reportedly “lashed out at lawmakers critical of the decision” in “an extraordinary White House meeting that ended in acrimony” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walking out, according to the Washington Post.
Terrorists “7,000 miles away” don’t concern me, the U.S. president reportedly said. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Colorado, reminded him that the 9/11 attack was launched from Afghanistan, the Post’s Mike DeBonis reported.
Also: Trump released an extraordinary letter he sent to Erdogan on Oct. 9, three days after the U.S. president announced that Turkey would “soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria.” In the letter to Erdogan, Trump warned his Turkish counterpart against “slaughtering thousands of people,” which Trump wrote would force him to “be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy—and I will,” he wrote.
“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Trump ended the letter. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool! I will call you later.”
Turkey’s response: “Look, it was a leaked old letter which was not taken seriously at the time, especially given its lack of diplomatic finesse,” Erdogan’s senior advisor Gulnur Aybet told NPR’s Morning Edition today. She continued, “And the response to the letter was the start of the operation.”
Back on Capitol Hill, Trump is losing support from House Republicans who joined Democrats and “voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to oppose his troop pullout and urge the administration to contain the fallout from Turkey’s incursion into Syria,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The House measure—which passed by a 354-to-60 vote—was unanimously backed by Democrats. They were joined by 129 Republicans, a rare display of GOP opposition to a stance held by the Republican president on a high-profile matter.”
The White House planned, then cancelled an all-senators brief on Syria for later Thursday, CNN’s Zachary Cohen reported late Wednesday. Why cancel? Because SecDef “Esper didn’t feel comfortable doing the briefing w/ [State Secretary Mike] Pompeo’s deputy,” John Sullivan. That's according to what a source familiar with the matter told Cohen’s colleague, Manu Raju.
Pompeo already has a stacked schedule heading into the weekend, with his office announcing he’ll travel from Ankara today to Jerusalem for chats with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday. And later that day, Pompeo flies to Brussels for a discussion with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg “to discuss Transatlantic security issues and U.S. goals for the upcoming NATO Foreign Ministerial and Leaders Meeting.”
More on Turkey after the jump.
From Defense One
China Has Begun to Shape and Manage the US, Not the Other Way Around // John Pomfret, The Atlantic: US policymakers long sought to export American values to China. The reverse is happening instead.
The US Literally Doesn’t Know How Many ISIS Fighters Have Escaped In Syria // Katie Bo Williams: “We just have less eyes on the ground to know for sure what is happening,” said one senior defense official.
Turkey’s Military Ties to US and NATO Remain Strong: US Army Leaders // Patrick Tucker: Joint exercises remain on the schedule as Turkish forces attack America’s Syrian rebel allies.
Trump Is Complicit in Erdoğan’s Violence // Kori Schake, The Atlantic: Now the war in Syria has a victor. And it’s not the U.S.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. OTD1941: the U.S. destroyer Kearny becomes the first American warship torpedoed by a German submarine in WWII — even before the U.S. entered the war.
U.S. bombs its own base to keep sensitive materials from Russia. Trump’s order to pull out was so unexpected and short-notice that withdrawing U.S. troops lacked the time to haul away munitions from the Syrian headquarters of the anti-ISIS coalition. On Wednesday, a pair of Air Force F-15Es bombed a munition dump at the compound, located between Kobanî and Ain Issa close to the Turkish border, CNN reports.
Reminder: the U.S. stores roughly 50 nuclear bombs in Turkey. “Incirlik is Turkey’s air base, not ours,” MIT’s Viping Narang told the Washington Post. “And that is essentially the problem. We store these nuclear weapons in secure vaults on a Turkish air base, where we either have to secure them under the present circumstances, or bring transport aircraft to the base, move them on a Turkish air base and then fly them out of Turkish airspace if we wanted to extract them. Under the present circumstances, that is not a simple logistical or security feat.”
Trump appeared to confirm that Incirlik houses nukes on Wednesday, breaking decades of policy under which officials neither confirm nor deny the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in foreign countries. Read on, here.
ICYMI: Erdogan wants nukes. In September, he falsely said, “There is no developed nation in the world that doesn’t have them.” (Reuters)
Also ICYMI: arguments for removing U.S. nukes from Turkey from an MIT professor and a former deputy commander of U.S. European Command.
The U.S. and the Saudis are talking about linking up missile defense systems, the Wall Street Journal reports. It’s part of a larger list of cooperative measures, including counter-drone technology, the two nations are considering as deterrents and responses to Iranian aggression.
Said one U.S. official: “We’ve told them their defense system was not up to speed. But their defense apparatus [and] their central command lack competence.”
By the way, “The kingdom’s air-defense system never had a chance to activate because neither the Saudi nor U.S. systems detected the launch of the airstrike,” the Journal writes. What’s more, “The U.S. and Saudi air-defense systems operating in the kingdom don’t share live data if an attack is detected. Under the U.S. proposal, both sides would share a joint-control room and allow them to more easily coordinate a response.” A bit more behind the paywall, here.
The Senate has confirmed U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, a former leader of the Aerospace Corporation. The nomination had been held up by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., “who sought Barrett’s commitment to end U.S. Air Force personnel staying at properties owned by President Donald Trump, such as the Turnberry resort in Scotland, where C-17 crew stayed in March while en route to Kuwait,” Defense News wrote.
Today at 1:45 p.m., the Senate will vote on whether to override Trump’s veto of a law to stop him from diverting money from military construction to extend barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. The veto is expected to stand.
And lastly today: Serving U.S. diplomats and other officials continue to talk to House investigators about Trump’s use of his public office for private gain, despite his efforts to stop them. New York Times: “One by one, a parade of Trump administration career diplomats and senior officials has offered a cascade of revelations. Those accounts have corroborated and expanded upon key aspects of the whistle-blower complaint that spawned the impeachment inquiry into whether the president abused his power to enlist Ukraine to help him in the 2020 presidential election.” Read, here.