Libyan conflict divides Mideast; Tiny waves, big promise; More DOD leaders leave; WH fights new Russia sanctions; And a bit more.
Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord accepted Turkey’s offer of military assistance in its fight against “renegade military commander” Khalifa Haftar, whose men are advancing on Tripoli, al-Jazeera reports today.
Reminder: “Turkish officials have previously said Ankara may send troops to Libya if the GNA requested it, but Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday that no such request had been made yet.” However, “On Wednesday, [Turkish] President Erdogan said his government was ready to help the GNA.”
Said Erdogan on Wednesday: “From military and security cooperation, to steps taken regarding our maritime rights — we are ready." Reuters has more on Erdogan’s remarks, here.
Context: “For Ankara, Libya is more than just a friendly north African country in trouble,” policy fellows Tarek Megerisi and Asli Aydıntaşbaş wrote in an explainer Tuesday at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Over the summer, Turkish military advisers, limited arms deliveries, and a fleet of around 20 drones helped forces defending against Haftar push back on all fronts.”
Panning out across the region, “The conflict in Libya also represents the new faultline in the Middle East, with Turkey and Qatar on one side and UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt on the other. The Turkish vision of the region is at odds with UAE and Saudi policies. The proxy war between the two camps is playing out in both Libya and Syria.”
Perhaps most significantly, write Megerisi and Aydıntaşbaş, Erdogan’s rapprochement with Libya allows it “to restrict oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Cyprus. Turkey’s maritime border deal with Libya, endorsed by the Turkish parliament last week, draws a vertical line across the Mediterranean, disrupting plans between Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel over oil and gas drilling rights.”
But hold your horses, al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow writes from Istanbul, warning, “it is only after [the Turkish] Parliament gives a mandate on troop numbers and the work they will be doing in Tripoli, that they will be allowed to be deployed.” A bit more, here.
From Defense One
This Little-Used Area of the Electromagnetic Spectrum Might Be the Future of of Battlefield Communications // Patrick Tucker: If commercial 5G millimeter-wave gear can be hardened against jamming, the U.S. Army thinks it might gain a real battlefield edge.
Can Military Leaders Handle the Truth About Afghanistan? // Jim Golby and Peter Feaver: Our recent poll suggests that public confidence in the military is high, but that it may be on shaky ground.
US Military Should Deepen Its Use of Deception, Pacific Air Forces General Says // Marcus Weisgerber: “Gadget culture won’t beat China, says Gen. Charles Q. Brown.
Russia Is Waging Asymmetric Warfare Against the US — And We’re Letting Them Win // Sarah Chayes: We must do more to harden against these attacks on our economy, institutions, and the public.
Pentagon Wants to Spark an American Small-Drone Industry // Heather Kuldell, Nextgov: Acquisition chief Ellen Lord wants domestic options for small UAVs— and for defensive systems that can bring them down.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1998, U.S. President Bill Clinton was impeached in the House of Representatives for lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. Twenty years and 364 days later (that is, last night) President Donald Trump was also impeached in the House over abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The Pentagon is shedding leaders at an alarming rate. The fifth official in seven days just announced her resignation, The Hill reported Wednesday. The latest to depart is Ambassador Tina Kaidanow, “a longtime State Department official who joined the Pentagon in 2018,” according to Defense News. She was the Defense Department’s senior adviser for international cooperation.
The others jumping ship include “the Dec. 12 notification that top Asia policy official Randall Schriver would leave after two years on the job, the Dec. 13 announcement that top official in charge of personnel and readiness Jimmy Stewart had resigned after taking the role in October 2018 the Tuesday report that Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency leader Steven Walker will leave in January, and the news earlier Wednesday that Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Kari Bingen submitted her resignation on Dec. 5 and will leave Jan. 10,” according to The Hill.
Why all the departures? Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman on Wednesday pointed to “a toxic work environment created by John Rood, the Defense Department’s top policy official,” according to “many current and former defense officials.”
The Pentagon’s reax: Rood is a good man, and thorough. “He has demonstrated effective and constant leadership over the past two years as Under Secretary for Policy in a difficult, demanding and vital role in the Department with responsibility for aligning civilian and military policy across the globe in accordance with the Secretary’s focus on the National Defense Strategy,” Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told FP.
Another couple of factors that could be playing a role in all this, according to former Pentagon official Jim Townsend to FP: "It’s Trump, it’s late in an administration, and so it is really hard to find people to fill these jobs.”
For the record: Out of 59 Senate-confirmed positions at the Pentagon, 15 are currently vacant, Seligman reports; and that number will rise to 18 with the new departures. Find the full list of vacancies, here.
The Trump administration is “quietly fighting a new package of sanctions on Russia,” The Daily Beast reported Thursday after learning about a 22-page letter from a State Department official to “a top Senate chairman on Tuesday making a wide-ranging case against a new sanctions bill.”
The bill comes from the office of Sen. Lindsey Graham; but in the letter, the Trump administration argues the bill would cripple Russian domestic energy development, as well as “target American banks operating in Russia and harm American asset managers,” TBD writes.
One key sticking point for the White House: As written, the bill “would require that the State Department and the Intelligence Community report to Congress every 90 days on whether or not the Kremlin is meddling in U.S. elections.”
The bill already advanced "out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday morning... The next step will be a vote on the Senate floor.” And TBD reports “it is unclear if or when that will happen.” Read on, here.
ICYMI: Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor was instructed to step aside before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Kyiv, Ukraine, on January 3, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Taylor was reportedly informed “on Dec. 11 that Mr. Pompeo had instructed him to hand over his responsibilities in Kyiv on Jan. 1.”
Reminder: “Taylor told Congress that he became concerned after concluding that [President] Trump had made nearly $400 million in security assistance contingent on a commitment by [Ukrainian President] Zelensky to investigate [Joe] Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, and the allegations that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.” More, here.
What YouTube entertainment channel has the third-largest reach, behind Disney and WarnerMedia? TheSoul Publishing, which happens to be "run by Russian nationals and based in and managed from Cyprus, with U.S. operations housed in a shared work space in New York," writes Lisa Kaplan, CEO of a disinformation monitoring organization called Alethea Group, in Lawfare on Thursday.
Why does it matter? The company "creates political content, including pro-Russian versions of histories that contain inaccurate information." That includes videos claiming Ukraine is part of Russia, “that Alaska was given to the United States by Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev,” and another with a string of absurd falsehoods about 9/11 and President Obama’s role in the war on terror.
Additionally strange, Kaplan was "unable to identify any YouTube channels associated with TheSoul Publishing that were created before 2016." There is also notably strange and coordinated behavior across many of the associated entities operating across Facebook and with enormous reach. Continue reading, here.
Get to better know and understand how online tracking works. The New York Times “Smarter Living” newsletter’s Tim Herrera recently compiled a very useful list of the many, many ways our browsers gather information we type without our consent in his November 24 edition, here.
Some things Herrera learned looking into the matter: “Google was sharing my creditworthiness with third parties. If you want Target to stop sharing your information with marketers, you have to call them. And, my favorite: If you would like Hearst, the publishing giant, to stop sharing your physical mailing address with third parties, you have to mail a physical letter with your request to the company’s lawyers.”
One useful takeaway: the website simpleoptout.com “provides links to the opt-out pages for some of the most popular destinations online — places that are definitely tracking you as you read this.”
By the way: Location services on your phone do a lot more work than you probably realize. The NYTs has a mega-feature out today all about phone tracking around the U.S. — including in secure facilities like the Pentagon and the White House and Mar-a-Lago.
One of the authors has a useful Twitter thread on some of the more urgent lessons, here. He opens that discussion: “Months ago, someone contacted us with an astounding dataset. It tracked the precise movements of more than 12 million Americans in several major cities including Washington, New York and San Francisco. Today we published our findings.” Read on here, or check out a complementary Twitter thread explaining the project’s methodology and implications, here.
Two quick links on how to disable location tracking on Android and iPhones can be found here and here, respectively.
And finally today: Cancer from K2? U.S. special operations forces who deployed to a military site in Uzbekistan shortly after the 9/11 attacks "were likely not counted" in a 2015 Army study on the base's health hazards "due to the secrecy of their missions," McClatchy's Tara Copp reports today in a new feature.
Why we’re hearing about this now: “As part of McClatchy’s continued investigation into the rising rates of cancers among veterans, members of those special operations forces units who were based at K2 are speaking out for the first time because of the difficulty they have faced in getting the Department of Veterans Affairs to cover their medical costs.” Read on, here.