Today's D Brief: 200,000 Americans dead of COVID; Army sends armor to Syria; Space Force, deployed; WeChat ban, blocked; And a bit more.

Weeks after getting roughed up by the Russians, the U.S. military has sent more armored vehicles to eastern Syria. On Friday, Sept. 18, the U.S. military in the Middle East announced that it added “Bradley armored vehicles” — whose formal name is the Bradley Fighting Vehicle — to its Eastern Syria Security Area for its counter-ISIS mission. (Photos here.) The U.S. also sent an air defense radar system (Raytheon’s Sentinel) and “increased the frequency of U.S. fighter patrols over U.S. forces,” U.S. Central Command spokesman, Navy Capt. Bill Urban, said Friday.

The stated reason: “The mechanized infantry assets will preserve Coalition forces[’] freedom of movement to continue defeat Daesh operations safely,” CENTCOM officials said in a separate statement Friday afternoon. 

For a bit more of an explanation (but no mention of Russia), counter-ISIS coalition spokesman Army Col. Wayne Marotto added, “The mechanized infantry assets will help ensure the force protection of Coalition forces in an increasingly complex operating environment in northeast Syria. The Coalition forces remain steadfast in our commitment of ensuring the enduring defeat of Daesh.”

The new Bradleys had been deployed to Kuwait from the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, out of Fort Bliss, Texas. This new movement comes almost exactly a year since the last Bradleys were sent to Syria as part of President Donald Trump’s public orders to “take the oil” in Syria, which is a mission the U.S. military seems completely oblivious to, judging by remarks from military officials. 

By the way: CENTCOM also messaged Friday that it can send more Bradleys, since their troops are practicing rapid deployment loading drills from Kuwait’s Ali Al Salem Airbase. 

You may be wondering, like POTUS45: What about that oil in Syria? CENTCOM describes its oil-related mission thusly (emphasis added), according to Friday’s release: “The Department of Defense last repositioned Bradleys in Syria in October 2019 to partner with Syrian Democratic Forces to defeat Daesh remnants, protect critical infrastructure and deny Daesh access to revenue sources.”

Why that matters: Trump said again on Friday the U.S. military is in Syria “to keep the oil,” which is illegal, and is a point he quickly changed to “I kept the oil.” Here’s more, as it were, on that from Trump himself, speaking to reporters from the White House:

  • “We’re out of Syria, other than we kept the oil. I kept the oil. And we have troops guarding the oil. Other than that, we’re out of Syria… So we’re out of Syria, except we kept the oil, and we’ll make a determination.  We’ll probably be dealing with the Kurds and the oil and see what it all ends up.  But we’ll be out.”

Counterpoint: The addition of Bradleys is “a sign of deterioration,” wrote Brett McGurk on Twitter Friday. McGurk is the former State Department civilian who oversaw the ISIS war until — like SecDef Jim Mattis — he stepped down in protest of Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria in December 2018. 

“I used to help coordinate this mission. We never needed Bradleys to secure our personnel,” McGurk tweeted, adding, “Trump’s impetuous decision to abandon our posts has placed our people at heightened risk with no clear aim.” 

One last thing about all this, and it comes from CENTCOM’s Capt. Urban: “The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation in Syria, but will defend Coalition forces if necessary.”

From Defense One

Guam Becomes a Living Laboratory for Pentagon’s ‘Connect-Everything’ Experiments // Patrick Tucker: US INDOPACOM and the Air Force are testing new networked warfare solutions in the region right now.

EU, US May Sanction Belarusian Leadership Next Week  // Patrick Tucker: Tensions are still running high and crackdowns continue in Minsk

Esper's Convenient Lie // Paul Scharre: The defense secretary's claim that the two decades of countering violent extremism left the U.S. under-prepared for a near-peer fight doesn’t hold water.

The Air Force Needs a New Non-Stealthy Bomber // Maj. Shane Praiswater: There are important things the B-1 and B-52 do that the B-21 won’t.

The US Is on the Path to Destruction // Annie Lowrey, The Atlantic: Climate change is killing Americans and destroying the country’s physical infrastructure.

The Pentagon Is Funding the Destruction of Cultural Heritage  // David Elitzer: Construction of Trump’s border wall is undermining not just sacred sites but the rule of law itself.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with 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 1949, Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong officially inaugurated the People's Republic of China during a speech in Beijing.

It’s anything but routine for us to write this, despite the feeling that doing so seems unsettlingly commonplace, but now nearly 200,000 Americans have died from complications related to the coronavirus.
199,517 Americans have passed away so far from Covid-19, and that includes more than 770 in the past 24 hours, according to the latest information from Johns Hopkins University and Reuters.
And don’t miss this significant update from the CDC last week: “There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond six feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes).” Hat tip to the LA Times for its coverage of that quiet revision in the face of mounting evidence.
Which means we have new CDC advice to “stay at least six feet away from others, whenever possible.” (The Center’s previous recommendation was merely a suggestion to maintain “good social distance” of approximately six feet.)

The highest U.S. cases per capita are in North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri and Tennessee, according to the New York Times tracker.
The U.S. is still second behind India for daily deaths and new infections. And Turkey has reported more deaths every day for the last seven days, according to Reuters.
British scientists predict “exponential growth in illness and death if nothing is done to control the second wave of coronavirus infections” in that country, which is very possibly a prelude to new restrictions that could be announced later this week, AP reports from London.
Spanish officials in Madrid want the army to support police and to help disinfect the capital, Reuters reports. Authorities also need a hand reassembling “makeshift hospitals to be set up in the capital again, about three months after they were decommissioned when Spain emerged from its strict lockdown.” More here.

President Trump will spend the afternoon in Ohio, with planned remarks slated for 5 p.m. ET in Dayton, before pivoting to another airport hangar address — this time at Swanton’s Toledo Express Airport.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden is in Wisconsin again today, his second trip there in two weeks, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Also today: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, U.S. Representative to the United Nations Kelly Craft, and National Secretary Advisor Robert O’Brien will all speak today about “Iran Snapback Sanctions” from the State Department at 11:00 a.m. ET. Stream that live on YouTube, here.
Background: “Iran’s currency nosedived to an all-time low Sunday as the United States claimed it was ready to enforce all international sanctions against the country, while most of the world brushed off the U.S. move and acted as if nothing had changed,” the Washington Post reported Sunday in a preview of today’s sanctions event.

NORAD is on Day 2 of a four-day air defense exercise over the Arctic with America’s Canadian allies. That’s, of course, due — as North American Aerospace Defense Command described it in a statement Sunday — to “increased Russian military activity along the periphery of both nations.”
The drills began Sunday and involved F-22, CF-18 and F-16 fighter aircraft practicing “air defense operations” alongside an E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, and KC-135 and CC-150T refueling tankers.
See for yourself: NORAD has already posted a few images from the flight operations. And you can see a few of those via Twitter, here.
The ostensible purpose: To “demonstrate agile and dynamic force employment to and from critical NORAD forward operating locations along North America’s northern approaches,” NORAD said in its statement.
A few of the more recent Russian incursions into the margins of U.S. territory — around Alaska, e.g. — happened during Russian exercises in late August near the Bering Sea. 

Space Force’s first foreign deployment. The newest U.S. military service branch now has 20 troops stationed at Qatar’s Al-Udeid Air Base — at least some of whom are personnel who were already there and just switched services mid-tour.
“The missions are not new and the people are not necessarily new,” Col. Todd Benson, director of Space Force troops at Al-Udeid.
AP: “Benson declined to name the ‘aggressive’ nations his airmen will monitor and potentially combat. But the decision to deploy Space Force personnel at Al-Udeid follows months of escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran.” Read on, here

And finally today: A federal judge blocked the White House’s attempted ban on Chinese app WeChat in a ruling dated Saturday, which is one day before the ban was set to take effect. “Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in California said the government’s actions would affect users’ First Amendment rights, as an effective ban on the app would remove their platform for communication,” AP reports.
Now what? Unclear since “The White House did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the injunction.” A bit more from Reuters on the White House’s moves at this juncture, here.