Today's D Brief: DoD extends Guard’s Capitol mission; SecDef’s Asia trip; Freeing China from US tech; ISIS’ Syrian ops; And a bit more.
Now it’s official: A few thousand National Guard troops will remain deployed to the U.S. Capitol for at least another 60 days. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the request from the Capitol Police on Tuesday, the Pentagon announced in the evening.
The new authorization runs through May 23, and involves nearly 2,300 National Guard personnel. “This represents a reduction of nearly 50 percent of the current support force,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said.
The goal: To “work with the U.S. Capitol Police to incrementally reduce the National Guard footprint as conditions allow,” Kirby said.
Related: The FBI is offering $100,000 to help find the person who appears to have left two pipe bombs near the Capitol on Jan. 5, the night before the failed insurrection. The bureau released four videos Tuesday evening that seem to show the culprit, clad in a gray hooded sweatshirt and Nike shoes, carrying a backpack that allegedly contained the pipe bombs. The explosives, which contained galvanized pipes, a kitchen timer and black powder, “were viable devices,” the FBI said. More info here.
Later today: Border security update. The White House’s Special Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Southern Border Ambassador Roberta Jacobson is scheduled to join Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s briefing today.
The focus of Ambassador Jacobson’s input: “The root causes of migration and what the Biden-Harris Administration is doing to address the issue,” according to Pili Tobar of the White House’s communications team.
By the way: “ICE arrests fell more than 60 percent in February compared to [the] last three months of 2020,” the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti reported Tuesday, calling it “one early measure of how Biden’s narrower priorities are changing U.S. immigration enforcement.”
In those numbers: “ICE officers averaged nearly 6,800 arrests in October, November and December, the last three full months of the Trump administration,” Miroff and Sacchetti write. “In February that fell to about 2,500 arrests, the latest figures show.” More here.
What about the nearly 4,000 troops at the U.S.-Mexico border? They’ll be staying on until September, as Politico reported in February — though they will not be constructing any border wall sections, according to a Pentagon spokesman. Their taskings fall under the vague categories of “surveillance, maintenance, logistics and transportation” support to Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection.
New: 500 more troops from the Texas National Guard are headed to the border as “part of a broader policing surge” ordered by state Governor Greg Abbott, Courthouse News reported Tuesday. Abbott calls the broader taskings, which were announced this weekend, “Operation Lone Star.” And the soldiers involved will “assist state police with the Texas Department of Public Safety” at observation posts near the border.
According to Abbott, “Border Patrol [agents] apprehended about 90,000 people in the Rio Grande Valley” in 2020, Stars and Stripes reports. “This year, there have been 108,000 apprehensions so far, Abbott said.” More from Stripes here.
From Defense One
GOP Lawmakers Push Chinese Threat at Indo-Pacific Commander’s Hearing // Elizabeth Howe: Adm. Davidson called China the “greatest long-term strategic threat of the 21st century.”
Lockheed-Aerojet Deal Clears Another Hurdle // Marcus Weisgerber: Aerojet Rocketdyne shareholders approved plans for the $4 billion sale that Lockheed claims will save the U.S. $100 million annually. But the FTC is still reviewing.
The US Talks A Lot About Strategic Complexity. Too Bad It’s Mostly Just Talk. // Josh Kerbel: The pandemic sidelined a national security community that gives only lip service to a vital concept.
Biden’s Interim National Security Guidance Is a Good, If Small, First Step // Gregory D. Foster: Next come the big questions: what is America’s current status, and where do we want to go?
Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1876, Alexander Graham Bell first successfully tested a telephone.
SecDef Austin is headed to the Pacific region this weekend for his first overseas trip as defense secretary — one day after President Biden is scheduled to meet virtually with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia. (More on the Biden VTCs, via Reuters, here.) The Pentagon announced Wednesday that Austin will head first to the Indo-Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii on Saturday; and he’s heading there because it’s “a priority theater,” as the Defense Department described it.
Stop #2 brings him to Japan alongside America’s top diplomat, State Secretary Antony Blinken, for talks with their counterparts, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
Stop #3 is planned for South Korea, where the Austin-Blinken team has planned visits with RoK Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Minister of Defense Suh Wook.
- Update: This past weekend, U.S. and South Korean officials reportedly reached a breakthrough on the troop-hosting arrangement that’d become such a sticking point during the previous White House administration. Reuters reports today Seoul has agreed to a 13.9% increase in those costs, which is “the biggest annual rise in nearly two decades.” The deal spans six years; and, fortunately for Seoul, “Both sides agreed to freeze South Korea’s contribution for 2020.”
And India is Austin’s final scheduled stop. There, Austin has planned a visit with New Delhi’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, as well as “other senior national security leaders to discuss deepening the U.S.-India Major Defense Partnership and advancing cooperation between our countries for a free, prosperous and open Indo-Pacific and Western Indian Ocean Region.”
From the region: Myanmar security forces have killed more than 60 protesters and arrested nearly 2,000 people since the military coup of Feb. 1, Reuters reports.
Developing: The Norwegian parliament has been hit with a new cyber attack reportedly linked to a “vulnerability” in Microsoft’s Exchange software. “We know that data has been extracted but we do not yet have a complete overview of the situation,” Marianne Andreassen, parliament’s administrative chief, said in a statement today.
In other unsettling cyber news, hackers accessed the archives and live feeds from surveillance customers of Verkada Inc., a company that services a variety of industries ranging from hospitals, police departments, prisons and schools across the U.S., Bloomberg reports.
China is spending big to free itself from U.S. technology, the New York Times reports. "The country’s new five-year plan, made public on Friday, called tech development a matter of national security, not just economic development," Paul Mozur and Steven Lee Myers write.
Why this matters: "The plan pledged to increase spending on research and development by 7 percent annually, including the public and private sectors.” And that goal “was higher than budget increases for China’s military, which is slated to grow 6.8 percent next year, raising the prospect of an era of looming Cold War-like competition with the United States.” Continue reading, here.
Also: China and Russia said Tuesday that they might build a moonbase together. Or it might be one that orbits the moon. It’s pretty soon in the whole plan, which seems designed to at least partly complicate America’s renewed attention on space, the Times reports separately today. More from CNN and the BBC.
Caution: 2034 could be a disastrous year for U.S.-China relations — and most of the rest of the world, according to a new work of fiction by former NATO Supreme Allied Commander retired U.S. Navy Adm. Jim Stavridis and highly-decorated Marine Elliot Ackerman. The fiction in question is “2034: A Novel of the Next World War,” and it hit bookshelves Tuesday.
We really enjoyed this book, so we spoke to Ackerman and Stavridis for our latest episode of the Defense One Radio podcast, which we’ll post later today. Subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Troubling signs in Afghanistan: The Taliban have reportedly demanded an end to projects helping women to be more independent, according to Agence France Presse.
Why this matters: “So far the hypothesis is that the Taliban have changed, but this is really a concrete example that they haven't,” an aide worker told AFP.
Ramadan surge for ISIS in Syria? Operating from “a stable territorial base in the mountainous regions of the Central Syrian Desert,” the group has begun to displace pro-Assad regime forces in the area and “destabilize other parts of Syria,” according to a 14-page brief from the Institute of the Study of War. “Assad’s Russian and Iranian backers have attempted to contain ISIS’s insurgency but are unwilling to commit force at the scale necessary to succeed.”
What’s next? “ISIS could attempt to seize new territory or financial assets in central Syria during its Ramadan campaign beginning in April 2021.” Read on, here.
Lastly today: President Biden’s photo-op message to Americans. Flanked by two high-profile female generals — Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost and Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson — and joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, POTUS46 sent the following message in a tweet on Tuesday afternoon: “I want every child to know that this is what vice presidents and generals in the United States Armed Forces look like.”
ICYMI: Biden nominated Van Ovost and Richardson to four-star leadership posts at Transportation Command and Southern Command, respectively, after their nominations were held up under the previous president. CNN has more here.
In quiet Pentagon personnel news, five new low-profile officials were recently sworn into their jobs, the Defense Department announced Tuesday. For the record, “A total of 87 appointees have [been] sworn-in, including the two Presidentially-Appointed, Senate confirmed positions that have been confirmed so far (Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense),” the Pentagon said in a statement.
By comparison, the Biden administration has filled fewer top political jobs than its predecessors at this point, reportedly in part due to the impeachment trial of POTUS45. The Partnership for Public Service has a tracker, here.