More U.S. troops are being treated for injuries after Iran’s Jan. 8 strikes on Iraqi bases, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. “U.S. military officials declined to say Tuesday how many more are receiving care but said ‘additional’ personnel had been sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
And there could be still more soon, the Defense Department said. “These service members — out of an abundance of caution — have been transported to Landstuhl, Germany for further evaluations and necessary treatment on an outpatient basis,” U.S. Army Maj. Beth Riordan said in a statement. “Given the nature of injuries already noted, it is possible additional injuries may be identified in the future.”
The “no Americans were harmed by Iran” narrative was a useful one for the White House in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 8 strikes. And it’s in part what prompted President Trump to announce the following day “No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases,”
But President Trump said today, “I can report it is not very serious,” when asked about the injuries during his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “No, I don’t consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries I’ve seen… I’ve seen people with no legs and no arms,” he added. (It’s possible he’s referring to injuries he observed during a visit to Walter Reed in April 2017.) At any rate, catch his full exchange on the matter this morning, via CBS News, here.
The Jan. 5 attack by al-Shabaab that killed three Americans in Kenya raises "complex questions about the military’s mission in Africa," four New York Times reporters write in their new account of what happened. The title: “Hiding in the Grass: Fear and Confusion as Fighters Overran a U.S. Airfield”
There are lots of considerations for U.S. planners in this Times report, which comes from “interviews with a dozen American military officials or other people who have been briefed on the attack.” One that immediately leaps to our minds reading: “the risky dependence of American forces on their local counterparts, especially when it comes to base security.” What’s more, “The performance of the Kenyan security forces during and after the battle frustrated American officials. At one point, the Kenyans announced that they had captured six of the attackers, but they all turned out to be bystanders and were released.” Another critical consideration is the space between airfields and the nearest U.S. base — in this case a mile, and it was a mile that was critical to the response time for the American quick reaction force.
If any of this is news to you, you’re not alone. It’s been a busy January. And now that Iran tensions seem to be largely at our backs (for now), that’s why these events in Kenya are “only now drawing closer scrutiny from Congress and Pentagon officials,” the Times writes. Read the rest, here.
From Defense One
Pentagon Wants to Build One Satellite Per Week // Marcus Weisgerber: Over the next two years, the Space Development Agency is looking to put dozens of satellites into orbit.
Toward a War With Fewer Radio Calls // Patrick Tucker: A recent Air Force test that data-linked an F-35 and an F-22 promises to move and combine data automatically.
A Split-Screen Moment For Trump As Impeachment Trial Begins // Katie Bo Williams: The president is speaking at an economic forum as the Senate begins to debate whether to remove him from office.
Who Gets to Tell the Story of the Afghanistan War? // Kevin Baron: The Washington Post’s ‘Afghanistan Papers’ is the latest contribution to a growing argument over whether the conflict — or any of the ‘forever wars’ — was worth the cost.
The US Navy’s Three Great Intellectual Challenges // John R. Kroger: Design the force, wrestle with change, buy ships.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1968, U.S. Air Force and Navy aircrew began dropping and monitoring sensors for Operation Igloo White, a classified attempt to automate tracking of Viet Cong movements.
It may be hard to tell from the U.S., but protestors have made enormous strides across the Middle East in recent months, the Wall Street Journal reports from Cairo. For example, the Journal’s Jared Malsin writes, “Over the past year, massive protests forced out the longtime rulers of Sudan and Algeria and triggered the deadliest round of unrest in Iran since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago. Protests also forced the prime ministers of Lebanon and Iraq to resign as demonstrators decried corruption and demanded an end to sectarian governance.”
One key difference from the days of the Arab Spring: “the recent protest movements have remained committed to unarmed protest” in an effort to “avoid the bloodshed that took place after revolution turned to war in Syria, Libya and Yemen following the Arab Spring.”
So what next? Who knows. “In Algeria, the protest movement remains in a standoff with the military over demands for political reform. Protests in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon are continuing, having resumed quickly after the crisis between the U.S. and Iran earlier this month.” More behind the paywall, here.
Related: Lebanon announced a new government coalition on Tuesday. But the changes may not be enough to appease protestors, the Journal reported separately from Beirut.
Worth noting: “Last week, the U.K. designated all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. It had previously designated only the group’s military wing that way.” (BTW: The U.S. designated Hezbollah a terrorist group way back in 1997.)
A U.S. drone strike killed 15 civilians in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday from Kabul. That came from a report released the same day by Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission.
As far as we know, “The strike on Jan. 8 killed Mullah Raaz Mohammad Nangyalai, a regional commander of the Rasoul Group, an insurgent faction that split from the mainline Taliban in 2015,” Stripes writes. “U.S. air support was called in by Afghan government forces after an attempt to arrest one of Nangyalai’s deputies triggered intense fighting with the militants.”
The response from U.S. officials in Afghanistan: Ask the Afghan Defense Ministry. And that “ministry did not respond Tuesday when contacted by phone.” A bit more, here.
The Saudis may have hacked Jeff Bezos’ phone. You probably remember when that story first broke in 2018. But now UN officials believe the hack may be part of a broader campaign to silence critics of the Saudi kingdom, The Guardian and Yahoo News reported Tuesday.
What’s going on here? “The Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos had his mobile phone ‘hacked’ in 2018 after receiving a WhatsApp message that had apparently been sent from the personal account of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia,” The Guardian reported. "The two men had been having a seemingly friendly WhatsApp exchange when, on 1 May of that year, the unsolicited file was sent... Large amounts of data were exfiltrated from Bezos’s phone within hours."
One possible link to Riyadh: “Spyware similar to the type that is believed to have been used to infect Bezos’s phone was previously deployed by the Saudis to hack into the phone of Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who is suing NSO Group, the Israeli maker of the Pegasus spyware,” Yahoo News writes. And by the way, “WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is suing NSO for having ‘violated both U.S. and California laws as well as the WhatsApp Terms of Service, which prohibit this type of abuse.’”
One more curious digital detail amid all this: “The irony is that NSO Group uses Amazon Web Services to interact with WhatsApp's APIs,” tweeted Alex Stamos of Stanford’s Internet Observatory. “So if NSO was behind the intrusion, then some of the key evidence is available to Bezos' excellent AWS security team.”
Speaking of device security: At least seven “senators had Apple Watches strapped on their wrists in the chamber at the start of the impeachment trial Tuesday, despite guidelines from Senate leadership that all electronics should be left in the cloakroom in the provided storage,” RollCall’s Katherine Tully-McManus reported Tuesday.
Pentagon bookkeeping is not like your bookkeeping. In 2019, Defense accountants made $35 trillion in adjustments to its books. That’s trillion with a T, a total that’s “larger than the entire U.S. economy and underscores the Defense Department’s continuing difficulty in balancing its books,” Bloomberg reports.
The total reflects more than 500,000 adjustments and “a lot of double, triple, and quadruple counting of the same money as it got moved between accounts,” said Todd Harrison, a Pentagon budget expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Pentagon says most of that reflects inadequacies of decades-old DOD financial systems. The department “is actively developing strategies” to reduce accounting adjustments, Mark Easton, the Defense Department’s deputy chief financial officer, wrote to the GAO, which is to release a report on the matter today. Read on, here.
And finally today: Beginning in February, you can purchase your very own Lego version of the International Space Station. Cnet has the story of the 864-piece toy set that includes a space shuttle, rotating solar panels and lots of tiny pieces your heel will painfully locate one very inconvenient moment.
For the record, Cnet reminds us, “The space shuttle is outdated technology at this point, so you'll have to craft your own Soyuz, SpaceX Crew Dragon or Boeing Starliner to get with the times.”
Bigger picture: “The Lego ISS is part of a 10-year celebration for the Lego Ideas program, where fans submit designs of their own to a voting process… The Lego ISS is based on a build created by fan Christoph Ruge.”
And the cost comes in about $70 USD. A bit more, here.