Today's D Brief: Migrant children at JBSA, Bliss; North Korea wants attention; Taiwan’s new missile; Blinken at NATO; Biden’s drone review; And a bit more.
The U.S. military says it will “temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children at a vacant dormitory at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland” and at Fort Bliss (also in Texas) — where a “suitable temporary housing facility” will be built.
This comes from a request by the Department of Health and Human Services, which Reuters reports concerned as many as 5,000 children at Bliss and another 300 or JBSA-Lackland. And HHS “will maintain custody and responsibility for the well-being and support for these children at all times on the installation,” the Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced Wednesday evening.
And for those concerned about impact on “the troops,” Kirby says it’s nil. Or, it “will not negatively affect military training, operations, readiness, or other military requirements, including National Guard and Reserve readiness.”
A drive to make COVID vaccines mandatory for troops got a shot in the arm from a group of lawmakers who called for President Joe Biden to let the Defense Department make that call. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., son of former SecDef Leon Panetta, led the call in a letter citing “overwhelming evidence that disinformation and vaccine skepticism are rampant within our formations.”
Letting troops decide for themselves is “harmful to our national security,” according to Panetta. It’s also “contrary to the best interests of servicemembers, their families, communities and colleagues,” he argues. More on that here, from Navy Times.
What’s going on here? Blame China and Russia, a Panetta spokesperson said in an email to Defense One, citing reports (here and here, e.g.) that the two nations — joined by Iran — are conducting “coordinated” disinformation campaigns to sow doubt in vaccines, for the added benefit of promoting their own country’s products.
FWIW: The Pentagon says a third of troops are refusing the vaccine, which “is driven largely by a hesitancy among younger service members,” CNN’s Oren Liebermann reported Friday. “Officials who spoke to CNN say younger troops generally feel Covid-19 poses little risk to them,” he added.
How the troops feel: According to a defense fellow in Rep. Panetta’s office, “A recent Blue Star Families report found that only 40% of active duty servicemembers planned to take the vaccine. 49% planned not to take it and 11% were undecided. 71% of service members choosing not to take the vaccine said it was due to concerns related to vaccine development. These are the same concerns being promoted by the Chinese propaganda machine.”
Nearly 3 in 5 U.S. military bases have lifted travel restrictions, according to the latest update from the Defense Department. That’s 59% of bases worldwide, which includes JBSA — but not Fort Bliss, where up to 5,000 migrant children could be headed soon. Find the full list of bases with and without COVID travel restrictions (PDF) here.
From Defense One
Afghanistan Deadline is ‘Too Soon’ for Biden Administration, Top House Dem Says // Marcus Weisgerber: ‘Running for the exits pell-mell by May 1 is dangerous,’ said HASC Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, who backs pulling out ‘responsibly.’
What the Navy’s War on Sleep Deprivation Teaches Us about Cultural Change // Elizabeth Howe: A campaign to make ship drivers rest has lessons for larger-scale culture shifts.
The GOP’s Fake Controversy Over Colin Kahl Is Just the Beginning // Kevin Baron: Senate Armed Services Committee Republicans who call Biden’s Pentagon-policy pick too political are fooling nobody.
Taiwan Wants More Missiles. That’s Not a Bad Thing. // Michael Hunzeker and Alexander Lanoszka: Ground-based, short-range missiles are a realistic and relatively quick way to improve cross-Strait deterrence.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. 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 1948, the first official tornado forecast was announced in Oklahoma, successfully predicting Tinker Air Force Base would be walloped for a second time in six days.
North Korea launched two ballistic missiles on Wednesday in an apparent escalation of its cruise missile launches on Sunday. Cruise missiles, you may recall from Wednesday, are not covered by U.N. Security Council resolutions. Ballistic missile launches, however, are a violation of UNSC resolutions.
One of those missiles was for a submarine, though it was launched from the ground, Jennifer Griffin of Fox News reported, citing a senior U.S. official. And that means the U.S. is thinking North Korea is still testing and improving its weapons systems while also trying to “poke the [Biden] administration to see its reaction.”
“When we practice attacking them, they practice nuking us,” Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies told CNN. “That's just the yin and the yang.”
By the way: Taiwan says it’s begun mass production on a long-range missile, Reuters reports off input today in parliament from Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng. Three other long-range missiles are also “in development,” but they’re not in the mass-production stage yet, said the deputy director of Taiwanese weapon manufacturer National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology. “The institute, which is leading Taiwan’s weapon development efforts, has in recent months carried out a series of missile tests off its southeastern coast.”
Bigger picture: “Taiwan’s armed forces, dwarfed by China’s, are in the midst of a modernisation programme to offer a more effective deterrent, including the ability to hit back at bases deep within China in the event of a conflict,” Reuters writes. More here.
Also from the region: China appears to be avoiding a global port ban on North Korean oil imports, the New York Times reports.
Why this matters: “Refined petroleum products such as fuel are not only crucial to North Korea’s overall economy, but also to its nuclear and ballistic missile program, the target of the sanctions,” the Times writes. “China supported the U.N. Security Council resolution restricting North Korea’s fuel imports. But [new satellite] images show the country has been willing to turn a blind eye to violations.” Details here.
Blinken’s first NATO speech. In a keynote speech during his first appearance in Brussels as the top U.S. diplomat, Secretary of State Tony Blinken called for renewed unity, modernization, and focus among the transatlantic allies. It follows last week’s Biden administration-orchestrated U.S.-China talks in Alaska, the Blinken-Austin visits to Tokyo and Seoul, and Quad country talks.
China, China, China… “Beijing’s military ambitions are growing by the year. Coupled with the realities of modern technology, the challenges that once seemed half a world away are no longer remote,” he said, at NATO.
It’s all China… “The United States and European countries are closing ranks to respond to what the U.S. calls ‘aggressive and coercive’ behavior by China, days after the U.S. and its allies launched coordinated sanctions against Chinese officials accused of rights abuses in the far-western Xinjiang region,” says AP, in their take on Blinken’s topline message.
Well, it’s also... terrorism, disinformation, economic coercion, climate change and more, in the threat matrix NATO needs to concern itself with, he added.
Airing the family business, Blinken also said the U.S. would not hide or sugarcoat the rifts between allies, or within their own populations, but called on all allies to recommit to the Article V bedrock of an attack on one is attack on all. The New York Times reviews those rifts, here.
Where are the people? The Biden administration has been so slow to nominate staff that it is “unlikely that his security agencies will be fully staffed until fall,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “Of more than 300 positions in the State Department, Pentagon, DHS and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Biden administration has nominated 16…”
How bad is it? Just 26 of 1,250 confirmable positions have made it through the Senate. At the Pentagon, of the 57 civilian posts in play, just two are filled: SecDef Austin and DepSecDef Kathleen Hicks. “Some candidates are thinking of dropping out because they can’t put their lives on hold.” At the Pentagon, none of the service secretaries have been named, much less the leads in weapons buying, R&D, and more.
What’s the hold up? At DOD, well… Colin Kahl. The president’s pick for undersecretary in charge of policy has been embroiled in a GOP takedown attempt. On Wednesday, all 13 Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee said they’d oppose his nominate, citing a mix of offending tweets and actual policy positions (basically, the positions of Kahl’s former boss, President Barack Obama) Executive Editor Kevin Baron writes it’s a partisan hit job and the first of many to come. “Republicans have tossed bipartisanship to the wind and made clear they have no intention of treating Biden’s foreign policy with any sheen of American unity.”
Oath Keepers and Proud Boys militia leaders appear to have coordinated planning for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the New York Times reported Wednesday citing documents from federal prosecutors. As for the defense, many of the accused reportedly allege they were “getting ready for potential violence from leftists.” More here.
For the record, no one has yet been charged with sedition, Reuters reports. Instead, “The most serious charges have been assault, conspiracy and obstruction of Congress or law enforcement.”
BTW: A Republican lawmaker seems to have unknowingly brought satire to the floor of the House on Wednesday during a hearing on extremism within the U.S. military. Military.com has the story of Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, here.
Like Trump, Biden wants to sell America’s armed drones “to countries whose human rights records are under scrutiny in the United States and elsewhere,” Reuters reports. The sale of four U.S. drones to Morocco is one such deal on hold. Other nations wanting American armed drones include India, Taiwan and the UAE.
The policy is known as the Missile Technology Control Regime, “and some top Democratic lawmakers feared it would worsen global conflicts” when POTUS45 abruptly changed policy last July. Reuters notes, however, that it’s too soon to know about the impact on conflicts abroad.
The Biden White House is signaling it “wants to negotiate a whole new agreement just for drone exports,” one source said; but no one knows how long that might take.
Want a list of likely affected aircraft from about half a dozen nations? Jeffrey Lewis shares this chart via Twitter. Read on at Reuters, here.
There’s a “kidnap-for-ransom economy” in Nigeria, and it’s probably much bigger than you think. The Wall Street Journal put together the available data going back to 2014 and delivers this look at a disrupting trend in West African security.
And lastly today: The Suez is still blocked — and could remain so for weeks. The 1,312-foot container ship Ever Green is still parked sideways in the narrow canal and is going to be there for some time, reportedly. Forty knot winds in a sand storm pushed the bow on the bank, apparently. The Wall Street Journal has a nice presentation of some stunning pictures and video, here. “Around 19,000 vessels crossed the Suez in 2020, according to the Suez Canal Authority.”