America’s military chief stumbled slightly defending the White House over alleged Russian bounties in Afghanistan, and the president’s top officer trashed the Confederacy in a high-profile hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
“Those generals fought for the institution of slavery,” said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. “We have to take a hard look at the symbology. The Confederacy, the American Civil War, was fought and it was an act of rebellion. It was an act of treason against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution. Those officers turned their back on their oath.”
Background: There are ten Army bases named for Confederate generals and one colonel that have come under scrutiny amid the nationwide protests in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported Thursday. And in the weeks since those protests began in late May, the Army has publicly signaled that it was open to renaming the bases. However, that was quickly smacked down by President Trump on June 10 when he tweeted that his administration will “never” rename the bases. And now, of course, the matter has become a toxic flashpoint in America’s culture wars.
SecDef Esper’s thoughts on the matter? “Racism, bias, and prejudice have no place in our military, not only because they are immoral and unjust, but also because they degrade the morale, cohesion, and readiness of our force,” he told lawmakers Thursday.
And about the alleged Russian bounties on Americans in Afghanistan, Gen. Milley said this: “If, in fact, there’s bounties directed by the government of Russia or any of their institutions to kill American soldiers, that’s a big deal. That’s a real big deal.”
“Russia paying bounties for the murder of American service members would be an unacceptable escalation,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, also on Thursday. “If true, the administration, in my judgment, must take swift and certain action to hold the Putin regime accountable.”
Talking point takeback. In one curious linguistic twist at the HASC Thursday afternoon, Esper told lawmakers he never received any briefings from U.S. officials on “bounties” from Russia to the Taliban for killing American service members in Afghanistan. And so Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, put out a messaging email trumpeting that very point. However, just 30 minutes later, Esper was asked if he ever received a briefing about Russian “payments” for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan — and Esper answered in the affirmative. (h/t Joe Gould of Defense News for flagging that wrinkle, along with Turner’s email.)
Also discussed: the fact that so many law-enforcement officers sent to confront protesters are dressed in military gear. Milley said that the Pentagon’s review of the violent June 1 clearing of a park near the White House so President Trump could hold a photo op had noted “the challenges that National Guard members faced when police wearing camouflage made it difficult to determine who was military and who was not,” McClatchy reported. Esper also said that he has spoken to National Guard Bureau Chief Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel and that he wants the review to “include a discussion with law enforcement about the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office 1033 program, which transfers excess military equipment to police departments. The program has transferred thousands of armored vehicles, camouflage clothing, tens of thousands of guns and millions of rounds of ammunition over the years to local police departments.” Read McClatchy’s report, here.
From Defense One
Top US General Slams Confederacy As ‘Treason’, Signals Support For Base Renaming // Katie Bo Williams: “Those generals fought for the institution of slavery,” Gen. Mark Milley told a House hearing.
13 Lessons from the Crozier Controversy // William Toti: A retired Navy commodore dissects how the captain mishandled the COVID-19 outbreak aboard the carrier Theodore Roosevelt.
COVID-19 Cases Are Rising, So Why Are Deaths Falling? // Derek Thompson, The Atlantic: The gap between soaring cases and falling deaths is being weaponized by the right to claim a hollow victory in the face of shameless failure. What’s really going on?
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense CEOs push for COVID aid; Pentagon not investing enough in AI; More trade shows go virtual and more.
Russia Wants Its Civil and Military Sectors to Cooperate. So Far, Not So Much // Maria Shagina and Mathieu Boulegue: So U.S. policymakers should watch out for Russian efforts to avoid sanctions through trade with China.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 2017, the Iraqi city of Mosul was retaken from ISIS. The BBC recounts the operation, here.
Another day, another record set in the U.S. “New coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose by more than 63,000, another single-day record,” the Wall Street Journal reports this morning.
Leading the way in daily reported cases per capita: Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and Georgia, according to the Washington Post's tracker.
By the way: Altogether, those six states host nearly 70 different U.S. military bases.
Also in the U.S., deaths are on the rise again. Thursday saw 842 Americans die of complications related to COVID-19, and the rolling 7-day average rose for a fifth consecutive day, per the New York Times’ tracker.
Why did deaths decline from late April to late June, even as known cases began rising again? It’s still something of a mystery, but The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson looks at five possible explanations.
The WHO will begin investigating the origins of the coronavirus in China when two experts head to Beijing this weekend, AP reports.
“In three weeks, India shot up from the world’s sixth worst-affected country to the third,” AP reports separately today. “The fragile health system was bolstered during a stringent lockdown but could still be overwhelmed by an exponential rise in cases.”
U.S. surveillance aircraft have been unusually busy just south of Taiwan in recent weeks, The War Zone reports off aircraft-tracking sites. Why? Perhaps because of a) Chinese exercises in the area and b) the recent passage of not one but two U.S. aircraft carrier groups through the South China Sea. Read on, here.
And lastly today: A woman has now officially earned a Green Beret. U.S. Army Special Operations Command announced the milestone in a statement Thursday. “From here, you will go forward and join the storied formation of the Green Berets where you will do what you are trained to do: challenge assumptions, break down barriers, smash through stereotypes, innovate, and achieve the impossible,” said USASOC's Lt. Gen. Fran Beaudette upon graduation. “Thankfully, after today, our Green Beret Men and Women will forever stand in the hearts of free people everywhere.”
The new special operator is an engineering sergeant, according to the New York Times’ Thomas Gibbons-Neff, who has been tracking her progress closely for several months.
But she’s not the first female Special Forces graduate: “In 1981, before all combat jobs were open to women, Capt. Kate Wilder officially graduated from Special Forces training,” Neff reminds us, adding, “She was forced out by her superiors in the final days of her course, even though she had passed it in its entirety. The Army investigated the episode in the following months and subsequently sent her a graduation certificate dated for Aug. 21, 1980. But Captain Wilder never joined the Green Berets, and she left the Army in 2003 as a lieutenant colonel.” A bit more from the Times, here.
Here's another first: The first Black woman to become a U.S. Navy tactical jet pilot — Lt. (j.g.) Madeline Swegle — will get her wings of gold later this month, 45 years after Rosemary Mariner became the first woman to fly Navy tactical jets, The War Zone reports.