Today's D Brief: Biden ends support for Yemen war, orders global posture review; DoD COVID update; Confronting China’s civ-mil fusion; And a bit more.

The U.S. is ending its offensive support to the Saudi-led war in Yemen, President Joe Biden announced Thursday from the State Department in his first major remarks on foreign policy since taking office in January. He also ordered Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to conduct a review of America’s global military posture and vowed to rebuild alliances and partnerships frayed by his predecessor.

On Yemen: “This war has to end,” Biden said Thursday, hinting at his intended path toward reaching that goal. “I’ve asked my Middle East team to ensure our support for the United Nations-led initiative to impose a ceasefire, open humanitarian channels, and restore long-dormant peace talks.”

Biden also appointed a new U.S. envoy to Yemen, former deputy assistant secretary for Arabian Gulf Affairs Tim Lenderking, in the hopes of ending that chaotic country’s six-year civil war. 

The halt “extends to the types of offensive operations that have perpetuated a civil war in Yemen that has led to a humanitarian crisis,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House Thursday. And that halt covers “two arms sales of precision-guided munitions that the President has halted, that were moving forward at the end of the last administration,” Sullivan said.  

Biden: the U.S. is not turning its back on the Saudis. “Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, UAV strikes, and other threats from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries,” he said. “We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people.”

Nor is the U.S. blindsiding Mideast allies. “We have spoken with both senior officials in the UAE and senior officials in Saudi Arabia,” Sullivan said. “We are pursuing a policy of ‘no surprises’ when it comes to these types of actions so they understand that this is happening, and they understand our reasoning and rationale for it.”

Reax from the Houthis, who control the Yemeni capital of Sana'a: “If the U.S. administration is serious about this, I think the aggression will stop. The aggression is American in the first place because America stands behind the Saudi and Emirate aggression,” Mohammed al-Bukhaiti of the Houthi's political council said Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal.

One constant for Yemen: America’s counter-al-Qaeda operations will not stop, Sullivan said. 

Oh, by the way: AQ’s leader in Yemen has been under arrest for several months, the UN said Thursday in a somewhat surprise announcement that capped weeks of associated rumors. CNN flagged the UN report’s findings about AQ in the Arabian Peninsula

That guy’s name: Khalid Batarfi. He was rolled up in an operation that involved Yemeni forces. Batarfi’s deputy, Saad Atef al Awlaqi, was reportedly killed in the same capture operation in Ghayda City, a coastal city in far southeastern Yemen, back in October. 

What the experts are saying about the White House decision: “Ending U.S. support won't automatically mean an end to the war, at all,” Peter Salisbury of the Chatham House responded on Twitter. “There is a really fine balance to be struck here, in finding a way to end the war that armed, political factions, local groups and civil society can buy into. Not easy at all.”

“Ending U.S. support for offensive ops (e.g. munitions sales, for one) speaks to rising congressional ire over Saudi Arabia's atrocious targeting record in Yemen,” said Varsha Koduvayur of the Iran-watchers at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, D.C. “With Saudi Arabia's growing interest in an exit strategy, there is real opportunity for Biden to harness the momentum” and take “Congress's concerns seriously, unlike his predecessor. That said, U.S. must not abandon Yemen to Iran.”

The Biden decision now leaves “the U.K. as an outlier in its continued support and arms sales to the Saudi/UAE led coalition,” award-winning Yemen reporter Iona Craig tweeted. 

About that new envoy: “Lenderking knows his stuff, is respected by key players and, speaking from my own experience, actually listens,” Yemen expert Adam Baron tweeted. 

Worth noting: At least seven officials in the Biden administration were in key foreign policy and national security roles when U.S. support for the Saudi-led Yemen war began in 2015 during the Obama administration, scholar Micah Zenko pointed out on Twitter Thursday. “Reporters should ask them why? And what they learned?” Zenko suggested. 

From Defense One

New AI Can Detect Emotion With Radio Waves // Patrick Tucker: There are national security and privacy implications to an experimental UK neural network that deciphers how people respond to emotional stimuli.

A Sharper Approach to China’s Military-Civil Fusion Strategy Begins by Dispelling Myths // Elsa B. Kania and Lorand Laskai: MCF isn't new. It's not all-encompassing. It's not even uniquely Chinese.

Defense Sector's Health Gets a 'C' From Industry Group // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: An NDIA-Govini report says increases in cyber vulnerabilities hurt the industry in 2020.

After a Month, Just 900 DHS Employees Have Received COVID Vaccine // Eric Katz, Government Executive: Some 53,000 agency employees are eligible for early access.

Welcome to this Friday 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 1958, the U.S. Air Force lost a 7,600-pound nuclear bomb in the waters near Savannah, Ga., after an F-86 fighter plane collided with the B-47 bomber at about 2 in the morning. The bomb was dropped from the B-47 as its pilot struggled to regain control, which fortunately he did, and later landed at what’s now Hunter Army Airfield. The bomb, however, was never located — presumably resting somewhere at the bottom of the Wassaw Sound, south of Savannah.

Biden has ordered up a review of America’s global military posture. In a Thursday statement, Austin said DoD will conduct “a global force posture review of U.S. military footprint, resources, strategy and missions.” Following the president’s lead, the SecDef also vowed to “consult our allies and partners as we conduct this review.”
The president also formally halted the Trump-ordered withdrawal of troops from Germany. Read on, here.

DoD COVID travel update: Three out of every five U.S. military bases are still under coronavirus-related travel restrictions, the Defense Department said in its latest update Thursday. And that means just 86 out of 231 locations (37%) have no related travel restrictions. Review the full list (PDF) here.
One more thing: COVID-19 masks are now mandatory for “all individuals on military installations and all individuals performing official duties on behalf of the Department from any location other than the individual’s home, including outdoor shared spaces,” according to a new directive from SecDef Austin.
Exceptions include: 

  • “when an individual is alone in an office with floor-to-ceiling walls with a closed door”; 
  • “for brief periods of time when eating and drinking while maintaining distancing in accordance with CDC guidelines and instructions from commanders and supervisors”;
  • “when the mask is required to be lowered briefly for identification or security purposes”; 
  • and “when necessary to reasonably accommodate an individual with a disability.”

Certain other exceptions are available, for children, e.g., and you can read over those in the last graf of Austin’s directive (PDF) here

Troops’ political social-media posts are in the spotlight in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, reports. Patricia Kime and Oriana Pawlyk note a few of the more prominent ones (“Beijing Biden is not my president” wrote one airman) and offer a look at the legal tensions at play.
The DoD directive on political behavior has not been updated since 2008. “It fails to address social media...and this is a significant shortfall,” says Heidi Urben, a retired Army colonel who teaches at Georgetown University and who has wrote a 2017 case study on the matter.
Meantime in California: 10 pounds of Composition C-4 is missing, possibly stolen, from the Marine Corps’ Twentynine Palms base, local KGTV news reported Thursday. The powerful plastic explosive went missing during a late-February exercise; NCIS and Marine units are investigating.

The Idaho Army National Guard lost three pilots this week when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed while training near Boise, Stars and Stripes reports. Rest in peace:

  • Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jesse Anderson, 43; 
  • Chief Warrant Officer 3 George “Geoff” Laubhan, 39; 
  • and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Peltzer, 43. Read more at Stripes, here

Great power watch: Three Chinese spies posing as journalists were just kicked out of the UK, the Telegraph reported Thursday.
Also: Reuters turned its eye to China’s sand-dredgers working furiously to thwart Taiwan “by tying down the island democracy’s naval defenses and undermining the livelihoods of Matsu residents.”

  • BTW: The U.S. Navy today sent its destroyer USS John S. McCain on a South China Sea mission to assert “navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands,” which are contested by China. Reuters has that one, too, here

And Russian aircraft just “flew in Estonian airspace without permission,” the defense ministry said Thursday. 

Now for something completely different: At least one individual from America’s new Space Force is busy keeping the country safe while working not at a high-tech base in Colorado or Alabama — but in remote Africa. It can be a funny point to observe, but it also points to something very useful about the Space Force: This particular deployed service member is a satellite communications specialist. And satellite security is pretty much job #1 for the Space Force, especially since there are fortunately no active wars happening up there above the Earth’s atmosphere.
Of course, the Air Force’s public affairs has quite a bit more to say about this, and you can read its feature on Senior Airman John Jaquez, here

Biden’s pick to lead Veterans Affairs could be confirmed in the Senate on Monday evening, Politico’s Andrew Desiderio reports. It would be the last scheduled action in that legislative body ahead of former President Trump’s impeachment trial, which begins Tuesday.
ICYMI: The Senate's Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved Denis McDonough’s nomination in a unanimous vote Tuesday. “McDonough, 51, served as principal deputy national security adviser under former President Barack Obama and later took the job as Obama’s chief of staff," Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday, adding, "Dat Tran, principal deputy assistant secretary for the VA’s Office of Enterprise Integration, is serving as acting secretary.”

And finally this week: Take a moment to watch and hear the fantastic acoustics of the Library of Congress, where a U.S. Army soldier sang this week — and was filmed in a vertical video and posted to YouTube. (Hat tip to Twitter user @finalgeorge, who flagged one of the clips Wednesday.)

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