Today's D Brief: No DOD farewell for Trump; US forces shrink in Iraq, Afghanistan; 20K Guardsmen to protect DC; New N. Korean weapons; And a bit more.

The U.S. military has drawn down to outgoing POTUS45’s ordered levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller said in separate statements this morning. 

Let’s be clear: This is a significant adjustment to America’s military posture in and around the Middle East. However, U.S. operations are expected to continue as they had before outgoing President Donald Trump ordered those drawdowns in the wake of his failed re-election bid in November. 

  • By contrast, more than 20,000 American troops are en route to Washington, D.C., to protect the nation’s Capitol and surrounding government buildings from right-wing extremists in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next Wednesday. 

Today, roughly 2,500 American troops are deployed inside both Iraq and Afghanistan, and that’s the lowest number for Afghanistan since 2001, according to Miller. 

About America’s military future in Afghanistan, Miller said, it will continue as we’ve understood over the past several months. Which is to say, “Working alongside our NATO allies and partners, the United States will continue to execute both our counterterrorism mission and the train, advise and assist mission in support of Afghan Security Forces working to secure peace in their country,” said Miller. “Moving forward, while the Department continues with planning capable of further reducing U.S. troop levels to zero by May of 2021, any such future drawdowns remain conditions-based.”

And in Iraq, “ISIS remains a threat,” Miller admitted, and “a U.S. and Coalition presence remains vital.” For those reasons, he said, the U.S. will continue to have a counterterrorism platform in Iraq to support partner forces with airpower and intelligence. Most operations in Iraq were already being conducted by our Iraqi partners, enabled by U.S. and Coalition forces. We can continue to provide this support to our Iraqi partners at the reduced U.S. force level.”

ICYMI: Congress told the Pentagon to stop drawing down. The 2021 Defense Authorization Act “bars using funds appropriated for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to pay for a drawdown below 4,000 U.S. troops” until Miller gives Congress a “comprehensive, interagency assessment of the risks and impacts,” Reuters reported Monday. 

The costs for ignoring Congress? They seem pretty negligible, according to Reuters: “The Pentagon’s action will likely anger Republican and Democratic lawmakers opposed to further troop cuts and renew concerns about the outgoing Trump administration’s disdain for Congress, even in its waning days.” More here

New in the region: Israel to CENTCOM. President Trump just ordered “a last-minute reorganization of the American defense structure” by making U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility finally include the nation of Israel, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. 

It wasn’t in CENTCOM already? Nope, and that’s “because of acrimony between Israel and some of the Pentagon’s Arab allies,” the Journal’s Michael Gordon and Gordon Lubold remind us. “U.S. military responsibility for Israel had long been allocated to its European command. That arrangement enabled U.S. generals in the Middle East to interact with Arab states without having a close association with Israel, which at the time was seen as an adversary in the Arab world.”

This order from Trump follows the so-called Abraham Accords, a White House-backed push to normalize Israel’s relations with the UAE and Bahrain. 

Worth noting: “By making the decision during his last days in office, Mr. Trump has left it to his successor to fully implement the decision and deal with the consequences.” More behind the paywall, here

BTW: Israel is believed to have just carried out its deadliest airstrike in Syria in years, killing “57 regime forces and allied Iran-backed fighters,” the Guardian reported Wednesday. 

From Defense One

Pentagon Won’t Throw Traditional Farewell Ceremony for Trump // Kevin Baron: It’s a shame, and a missed opportunity — not despite recent events but because of them.

Acting SecDef Defends Capitol Reaction, Says DoD Is Prepared for Next Week / Patrick Tucker: Defense Department “absolutely” concerned about domestic terrorism next week but feels bureaucratic issues that delayed national guard are resolved.

Air Force Recommends Space Command Move to Alabama  // Patrick Tucker and Marcus Weisgerber: With one week left on the job, Secretary Barrett picked Huntsville. The decision, however, is not final.

Roper Makes His Pitch To Biden Team: ‘I Want to Be Part of the China fight’ // Marcus Weisgerber: The Air Force acquisition chief says he keeps politics out of his work at the Pentagon — and that the U.S. will lose against China without agility.

Former Air Force Chief Goldfein Joins Blackstone // Marcus Weisgerber: The retired general picked the investment firm over opportunities at defense companies.

America’s Far Right Isn’t Authoritarian. It’s Anti-Statist. // Michael Hunzeker and Christine German: The distinction makes a difference in understanding and confronting the threat.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from 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. On this day in 1865, the treasonous Confederate army lost its last major seaport when Fort Fisher was taken back by Union forces after three days of fighting off the southern coast of North Carolina, near Wilmington. More than 200 Union troops and nearly 600 Confederates were killed in that battle. Fifty-four Union service members were given the Medal of Honor for their actions in the confrontation, which historians refer to as the Second Battle of Fort Fisher. The war wouldn’t officially end until May 9.

Our world’s invisible killer is killing much more than we see. The global COVID-19 death toll is starting to look a lot larger than we previously thought, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The numbers: “The recorded death count from the Covid-19 pandemic as of Thursday is nearing 2 million,” the Journal writes.
Behind the numbers: However, after looking into publicly available data for 59 countries and jurisdictions, WSJ “found more than 821,000 additional deaths that aren’t accounted for in governments’ official Covid-19 death counts.” That raises the Journal’s coronavirus death toll to more than 2.8 million people worldwide. 
And for the U.S.? “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show more than 475,000 excess deaths through early December, a time frame that also included about 281,000 deaths linked to Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.”
In an ordinary year, “U.S. deaths grow about 1.6% a year as the population grows and ages,” the Journal writes. But in 2020, “The pandemic led U.S. deaths to climb at least 10%” from 2019 numbers. Continue reading, here.

North Korea showed off some new weapons in a military parade Friday. The new stuff includes an apparently new missile launcher and a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, according to Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
Big-picture take: “The sheer diversity of new short-range solid-fuel missiles we’ve seen over the last few years in North Korea is pretty amazing,” tweeted Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard practiced piloting triangular “suicide drones” into targets in the central Iranian desert today. The Associated Press reports from Dubai that the drones “strongly resembled those used in a 2019 attack in Saudi Arabia that temporarily cut the kingdom’s oil production by half.”

Returning: the Joining Forces program, an Obama-era project that “focused on three areas: employment, wellness and education,” Stars and Stripes reports in a Biden White House preview. The program will fall “under the office of the future first lady Jill Biden, who helped established it in 2011.” More from Stripes, here

And finally this week: Pakistani security officials have combined two things very few people (to our knowledge) have been clamoring to link — armed police and rollerblades. This Karachi-based force is reportedly made up of 10 men and 10 women, and hopefully none of them exaggerated their skills before being issued equipment.
“Skating commandos” is what ArabNews calls them; and we truly wish them the best of luck patrolling a city of 15 million people. They’re not expected to hit their beats until at least February. (At least one of your D Brief-ers has always been terrible on roller skates, and the mere thought of combining that with live ammunition in one of the world’s largest cities is anxiety-inducing, to say the least.) Tip of the hat to NPR’s Diaa Hadid for spotting this one. 

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Tuesday!