BREAKING: Trump’s Germany pullout revealed; Disinfo and DJT, Jr; 3-day ceasefire in Afghanistan; Iran shows force; The Pope gets hacked; And a bit more.

BREAKING: Within weeks, Trump will begin pulling 11,900 personnel from Germany… The U.S. military’s troop count will drop from 36,000 to 24,000, or roughly 33% of the entire American force, Defense Secretary Mark Esper revealed this morning.

Where are they going? Is this really a European drawdown? 5,600 will be repositioned within NATO countries & 6,400 will return to U.S. — although Esper said that “many” of these will begin conducting rotational deployments back to Europe, including into Poland and the vulnerable Baltics, reports Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams, from a Pentagon press briefing early Wednesday morning with Esper, NATO commander Gen. Tod Wolters, and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten. 

The cost…? Likely in the “single-digit” billions of dollars, Esper said.

Why now..? The repositioning plan grew out of the Pentagon’s ongoing massive strategic review of all of the U.S. combatant commands — the organizing command structure of all U.S. troops worldwide. Esper and other Pentagon leaders insisted Wednesday that the effort is designed to give the United States more flexibility to counter Russia and China. It was “accelerated” when Trump insisted on the German troop cuts, he said. 

Esper says: “We began this process actually several months ago when I gave EUCOM direction to begin looking at ways to improve our force disposition in NATO,” Esper said. “I’m telling you that this is going to accomplish what the president with regard to getting us down to a lower number in Europe and it meets those other objectives I laid out with regard to the strategic piece.”

Critics question Trump’s motive: Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who on Sunday promised to introduce legislation attempting to block the troop reductions, tweeted during the Wednesday press conference that it was an off-the-cuff decision “likely just to embarrass Germany.”

Recall lawmakers began lodging concerns last month, which Defense One covered here. Others are challenging the OMG reaction by Trump critics, though. Read ‘Defund the Europeans,’ here


From Defense One

Raytheon CEO Projects Three-Year Coronavirus Downturn
By Marcus Weisgerber
It's 'a hell of a lot worse than what we originally projected,' says the head of the new company formed by the United Technologies-Raytheon merger earlier this year.

Was the Pentagon's Blacklist of Chinese Companies Justified?
By Patrick Tucker
An independent study of the list found China uses its favored companies to wipe out competition and spread economic influence.

Three Urgent Questions for the Air Force's New Chief of Staff
By Mara E. Karlin and Jim Mitre
The service has too long delayed the hard choices that would prepare it to deter China.

We Need a Better China Policy in the Middle East
By Bilal Y. Saab and Joseph Votel
With allies and direct lines to Beijing, Washington must do more to keep China's presence in the region from becoming a threat.

Bill Barr's Unconstitutional Campaign to Reelect the President
By Donald Ayer
The attorney general is using official violence and intimidation to help Trump win a second term.

There Is Nothing Conservative About What Trump Is Doing in Portland
By Paul Rosenzweig and Arthur Rizer
Unconstitutional police activity is not conservative. It's authoritarian.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Kevin Baron, Katie Bo Williams, and Ben Watson. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.


America’s coronavirus death toll reached its highest rate in two and a half months on Tuesday at more than 1,590 people. Reuters calls it “the fastest increase in fatalities” since early June when “the United States went from 100,000 cases to 110,000 cases in 11 days.” Another 60,000 cases were added across the U.S. on Tuesday, as well.
To date, nearly 150,000 Americans have died from the virus, which has infected some 4.3 million people in the U.S., according to the New York Times. “Not only are American cities in the South and West facing deadly outbreaks like those that struck Northeastern cities in the spring, but rural areas are being hurt, too. In every region, people of color will continue to suffer disproportionately, experts said.”
For the month of July, Texas leads the nation with nearly 4,000 deaths,” Reuters reports, “followed by Florida with 2,690 and California, the most populous state, with 2,500. The Texas figure includes a backlog of hundreds of deaths after the state changed the way it counted COVID-19 fatalities.”
Today, hospitals across Arizona, California, Florida and Texas are reportedly overwhelmed with new patients.
What to do from here: “[L]ocal restrictions must be tightened when required,” researchers told the Times, “and governors and mayors must have identical goals.” Also, “Testing must become more targeted.” And contact tracing? Well, for many states, the effort “is now moot — there are simply too many cases to track,” the Times reports.
And a vaccine? “[N]one is expected to arrive this winter in time to stave off what many fear will be a new wave of deaths.”

Propaganda, aliens, witches, and the president’s son: Twitter suspended Donald Trump, Jr.’s account temporarily on Tuesday for sharing that video of a group of white-coated people calling themselves “America’s Frontline Doctors” who falsely claimed hydroxychloroquine was a legitimate and effective coronavirus treatment (it is not) and that masks do not help (they do).
What to know about the video: It was “designed specifically to appeal to internet conspiracists and conservatives eager to see the economy reopen, with a setting and characters to lend authenticity,” the Times reports.
What you wish you didn’t learn from that video: “Before Trump and his supporters embrace [Stella] Immanuel’s medical expertise, though, they should consider other medical claims Immanuel has made—including those about alien DNA and the physical effects of having sex with witches and demons in your dreams.” You really should read The Daily Beast’s crazy look into this person, here.
What we’ve all learned: Stopping false propaganda is very difficult in real time. It spread from the Trumps and right-wing information warfare site Breitbart to anti-vaccination Facebook groups and QAnon users, YouTube, and Twitter. Eventually, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube removed as many versions of the video as they could on Tuesday, citing a violation of its “policies on sharing misinformation related to the coronavirus,” the Times writes. But by then, many millions had already seen it.
Here’s President Trump, in his own words, defending his apparent gut feeling about the video to reporters who asked what the logic was behind his Monday evening retweet. AP has more on all that, here.
DJT, Jr. first tweet back from suspension: This attack on Barbie.

Russian intelligence is operating three English-language sites to spread disinformation about the coronavirus, U.S. officials told AP on Tuesday. Those three sites are located at InfoRos.ru, Infobrics.org and OneWorld.press. “Officials say the sites promote their narratives in a sophisticated but insidious effort that they liken to money laundering, where stories in well-written English — and often with pro-Russian sentiment — are cycled through other news sources to conceal their origin and enhance the legitimacy of the information.”
Russia denies. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov today called the charges “some kind of a persistent phobia.” And he added, "when it comes to Russia, it is going through this difficult time better than many other countries, albeit not without problems. Indeed, all the media point to considerable problems that the United States are experiencing during this period.” More from AP, here.

Christmas for defense companies? The Senate GOP’s $1 trillion COVID-19 relief bill includes about $29 billion worth of the “defense industry's Christmas list for some reason,” Task & Purpose’s Jeff Schogol reported Tuesday. What’s more, “the proposed defense spending in the COVID-19 relief package would replenish some of the money that the Pentagon transferred from its budget to pay for the wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.”
Read some details via this Twitter summary from Politico’s Connor O’Brien. Or read this review from the Washington Post.

The Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire for this weekend’s Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. It’s set to begin on Friday, and Afghan security forces have been ordered to abide by the truce as well, the Washington Post reports from Islamabad.
The Taliban’s fine print includes permission to shoot back if fired upon and the group’s fighters are not allowed to travel to government-held territory. One possible reason for that last stipulation: Defections resulted from the 2018 ceasefire, where the Taliban and government troops hung out together without violence. It would appear that the Taliban has gotten wise to that two years later, the Post writes.
Afghanistan’s President Ghani says peace talks with the Taliban could begin as early as next week. And, as you might imagine, the U.S. military is pretty pumped about that. Here’s a video message from Afghan war commander, U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller, with 20 seconds of muted enthusiasm for these latest developments. 

AFRICOM says it killed a civilian in an airstrike over Somalia, Voice of America reported Tuesday. “The death occurred from a U.S. strike on Feb. 2 in the vicinity of Jilib, Somalia. The civilians killed and wounded ‘weren’t visible’ when the military conducted the strike, which targeted and wounded one al-Shabab terrorist,” AFRICOM spox Col. Chris Karns told VOA.
“The findings were part of AFRICOM’s second quarterly report on civilian casualties and marks only the third time in AFRICOM’s history that the command has said civilians were killed in Somalia as a result of U.S. airstrikes against Islamist militants.” More here. Also, from New York Times here

Iran attacked a fake U.S. carrier with a missile on Tuesday, putting two U.S. military bases in the region on high alert, Al-Dhafra Air Base, in Abu Dhabi, and Al-Udeid Air Base, in Qatar. “State television footage also showed a variety of missiles being fired from fast boats, trucks, mobile launchers and a helicopter, some targeting the fake carrier,” AP reported. Catch video of a few of the tests, via Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, here.
About that carrier: “The replica used in the drill resembles the Nimitz-class carriers that the U.S. Navy routinely sails into the Persian Gulf from the Strait of Hormuz,” AP writes. “The USS Nimitz, the namesake of the class, just entered Mideast waters late last week from the Indian Ocean, likely to replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea.”
And in a new first today, Iran says it tested an “underground ballistic missile,” AP reports separately this morning. “Drone footage captured by the Guard showed two missiles blasting out from covered positions in the desert early Wednesday morning, with debris flying up into the air in their wake. The Guard did not identify the location of the launch, nor the missiles involved.” More here.

We could be on the verge of a mini-breakthrough in southern Yemen, where separatists have scuttled larger efforts to secure peace across the country, which has suffered through a Saudi-led war since March 2015. AP reports from Cairo today. “The announcement comes after months of infighting in a Saudi-led coalition that saw secessionists seize control of the southern port city of Aden, the interim seat of the internationally recognized government, igniting fierce clashes across much of the south.” Saudi officials seem to be celebrating the most at this point. Read on, here.

Russian mercs from Wagner were just caught reportedly trying to destabilize Belarus during its election. Belarussian media reports today that 32 Wagner private military contractors were detained last night near the capital city of Minsk. Nearly 200 of the mercs were reportedly due to arrive in Belarus with ill intentions, according to reporting from local outlet Belta. Story, here. (h/t Russia-watcher Rob Lee)

And lastly today: The Vatican was allegedly hacked by a Chinese team known as RedDelta ahead of talks to update the Catholic Church’s work in China, the New York Times reported Tuesday. “[T]his appears to be the first time that hackers, presumed by cybersecurity experts at Recorded Future to be working for the Chinese state, have been publicly caught directly hacking into the Vatican and the Holy See’s Study Mission to China, the Hong Kong-based group of de facto Vatican representatives who have played a role in negotiating the Catholic Church’s status.”
How it's believed to have happened: "an electronic file that looked as if it was on the official stationery of Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra… But there were also new techniques and new computer code, and identifying the true source of a hack is difficult.”
Also: Russia has a Chinese spy problem. And according to state-run media TASS, that spy problem was located in the heart of St. Petersburg’s Arctic Social Sciences Academy. “According to a TASS source familiar with the case, the investigation believes that Mitko gave China information on research on hydro acoustics and submarine detection methods.” Continue reading, here.

America’s coronavirus death toll reached its highest rate in two and a half months on Tuesday at more than 1,590 people. Reuters calls it “the fastest increase in fatalities” since early June when “the United States went from 100,000 cases to 110,000 cases in 11 days.” Another 60,000 cases were added across the U.S. on Tuesday, as well.
To date, nearly 150,000 Americans have died from the virus, which has infected some 4.3 million people in the U.S., according to the New York Times. “Not only are American cities in the South and West facing deadly outbreaks like those that struck Northeastern cities in the spring, but rural areas are being hurt, too. In every region, people of color will continue to suffer disproportionately, experts said.”
For the month of July, Texas leads the nation with nearly 4,000 deaths,” Reuters reports, “followed by Florida with 2,690 and California, the most populous state, with 2,500. The Texas figure includes a backlog of hundreds of deaths after the state changed the way it counted COVID-19 fatalities.”
Today, hospitals across Arizona, California, Florida and Texas are reportedly overwhelmed with new patients.
What to do from here: “[L]ocal restrictions must be tightened when required,” researchers told the Times, “and governors and mayors must have identical goals.” Also, “Testing must become more targeted.” And contact tracing? Well, for many states, the effort “is now moot — there are simply too many cases to track,” the Times reports.
And a vaccine? “[N]one is expected to arrive this winter in time to stave off what many fear will be a new wave of deaths.”

Propaganda, aliens, witches, and the president’s son: Twitter suspended Donald Trump, Jr.’s account temporarily on Tuesday for sharing that video of a group of white-coated people calling themselves “America’s Frontline Doctors” who falsely claimed hydroxychloroquine was a legitimate and effective coronavirus treatment (it is not) and that masks do not help (they do).
What to know about the video: It was “designed specifically to appeal to internet conspiracists and conservatives eager to see the economy reopen, with a setting and characters to lend authenticity,” the Times reports.
What you wish you didn’t learn from that video: “Before Trump and his supporters embrace [Stella] Immanuel’s medical expertise, though, they should consider other medical claims Immanuel has made—including those about alien DNA and the physical effects of having sex with witches and demons in your dreams.” You really should read The Daily Beast’s crazy look into this person, here.
What we’ve all learned: Stopping false propaganda is very difficult in real time. It spread from the Trumps and right-wing information warfare site Breitbart to anti-vaccination Facebook groups and QAnon users, YouTube, and Twitter. Eventually, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube removed as many versions of the video as they could on Tuesday, citing a violation of its “policies on sharing misinformation related to the coronavirus,” the Times writes. But by then, many millions had already seen it.
Here’s President Trump, in his own words, defending his apparent gut feeling about the video to reporters who asked what the logic was behind his Monday evening retweet. AP has more on all that, here.
DJT, Jr. first tweet back from suspension: This attack on Barbie.

Russian intelligence is operating three English-language sites to spread disinformation about the coronavirus, U.S. officials told AP on Tuesday. Those three sites are located at InfoRos.ru, Infobrics.org and OneWorld.press. “Officials say the sites promote their narratives in a sophisticated but insidious effort that they liken to money laundering, where stories in well-written English — and often with pro-Russian sentiment — are cycled through other news sources to conceal their origin and enhance the legitimacy of the information.”
Russia denies. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov today called the charges “some kind of a persistent phobia.” And he added, "when it comes to Russia, it is going through this difficult time better than many other countries, albeit not without problems. Indeed, all the media point to considerable problems that the United States are experiencing during this period.” More from AP, here.

Christmas for defense companies? The Senate GOP’s $1 trillion COVID-19 relief bill includes about $29 billion worth of the “defense industry's Christmas list for some reason,” Task & Purpose’s Jeff Schogol reported Tuesday. What’s more, “the proposed defense spending in the COVID-19 relief package would replenish some of the money that the Pentagon transferred from its budget to pay for the wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.”
Read some details via this Twitter summary from Politico’s Connor O’Brien. Or read this review from the Washington Post.

The Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire for this weekend’s Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. It’s set to begin on Friday, and Afghan security forces have been ordered to abide by the truce as well, the Washington Post reports from Islamabad.
The Taliban’s fine print includes permission to shoot back if fired upon and the group’s fighters are not allowed to travel to government-held territory. One possible reason for that last stipulation: Defections resulted from the 2018 ceasefire, where the Taliban and government troops hung out together without violence. It would appear that the Taliban has gotten wise to that two years later, the Post writes.
Afghanistan’s President Ghani says peace talks with the Taliban could begin as early as next week. And, as you might imagine, the U.S. military is pretty pumped about that. Here’s a video message from Afghan war commander, U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller, with 20 seconds of muted enthusiasm for these latest developments. 

AFRICOM says it killed a civilian in an airstrike over Somalia, Voice of America reported Tuesday. “The death occurred from a U.S. strike on Feb. 2 in the vicinity of Jilib, Somalia. The civilians killed and wounded ‘weren’t visible’ when the military conducted the strike, which targeted and wounded one al-Shabab terrorist,” AFRICOM spox Col. Chris Karns told VOA.
“The findings were part of AFRICOM’s second quarterly report on civilian casualties and marks only the third time in AFRICOM’s history that the command has said civilians were killed in Somalia as a result of U.S. airstrikes against Islamist militants.” More here. Also, from New York Times here

Iran attacked a fake U.S. carrier with a missile on Tuesday, putting two U.S. military bases in the region on high alert, Al-Dhafra Air Base, in Abu Dhabi, and Al-Udeid Air Base, in Qatar. “State television footage also showed a variety of missiles being fired from fast boats, trucks, mobile launchers and a helicopter, some targeting the fake carrier,” AP reported. Catch video of a few of the tests, via Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, here.
About that carrier: “The replica used in the drill resembles the Nimitz-class carriers that the U.S. Navy routinely sails into the Persian Gulf from the Strait of Hormuz,” AP writes. “The USS Nimitz, the namesake of the class, just entered Mideast waters late last week from the Indian Ocean, likely to replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea.”
And in a new first today, Iran says it tested an “underground ballistic missile,” AP reports separately this morning. “Drone footage captured by the Guard showed two missiles blasting out from covered positions in the desert early Wednesday morning, with debris flying up into the air in their wake. The Guard did not identify the location of the launch, nor the missiles involved.” More here.

We could be on the verge of a mini-breakthrough in southern Yemen, where separatists have scuttled larger efforts to secure peace across the country, which has suffered through a Saudi-led war since March 2015. AP reports from Cairo today. “The announcement comes after months of infighting in a Saudi-led coalition that saw secessionists seize control of the southern port city of Aden, the interim seat of the internationally recognized government, igniting fierce clashes across much of the south.” Saudi officials seem to be celebrating the most at this point. Read on, here.

Russian mercs from Wagner were just caught reportedly trying to destabilize Belarus during its election. Belarussian media reports today that 32 Wagner private military contractors were detained last night near the capital city of Minsk. Nearly 200 of the mercs were reportedly due to arrive in Belarus with ill intentions, according to reporting from local outlet Belta. Story, here. (h/t Russia-watcher Rob Lee)

And lastly today: The Vatican was allegedly hacked by a Chinese team known as RedDelta ahead of talks to update the Catholic Church’s work in China, the New York Times reported Tuesday. “[T]his appears to be the first time that hackers, presumed by cybersecurity experts at Recorded Future to be working for the Chinese state, have been publicly caught directly hacking into the Vatican and the Holy See’s Study Mission to China, the Hong Kong-based group of de facto Vatican representatives who have played a role in negotiating the Catholic Church’s status.”
How it's believed to have happened: "an electronic file that looked as if it was on the official stationery of Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra… But there were also new techniques and new computer code, and identifying the true source of a hack is difficult.”
Also: Russia has a Chinese spy problem. And according to state-run media TASS, that spy problem was located in the heart of St. Petersburg’s Arctic Social Sciences Academy. “According to a TASS source familiar with the case, the investigation believes that Mitko gave China information on research on hydro acoustics and submarine detection methods.” Continue reading, here.

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