Today's D Brief: WH mulls troops to E. Europe; New NATO drills begin; German navy chief resigns; Huge USN presence in Pacific; And a bit more.

The U.S. may send thousands of troops from western to eastern Europe as the threat of a new Russian invasion into Ukraine continues to loom over the continent. The numbers pitched at a recent Camp David planning session went as high as 5,000, according to the New York Times, which reported the developments on Sunday. 

Worth noting: Such a “deployment of thousands of additional American troops to NATO’s eastern flank, which includes Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania,” the Times writes, “is exactly the scenario that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has wanted to avoid.” 

Big picture: “We're probably going to see the strongest Russian military presence in Europe since the early 1990s,” said Russia-watcher Rob Lee on Sunday, with apparent supporting open-source video of Russian military movement. 

Meantime, NATO’s nearly two-week long Neptune Strike ‘22 drills in the Mediterranean Sea begin today. The exercise was planned months ago, well before Russia’s renewed threat of a Ukraine invasion, Pentagon officials insisted Friday. Sailors and airmen of the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group are likely to be busy during these drills. “The strike group, along with several other NATO allies, will participate in coordinated maritime maneuvers, anti-submarine warfare training, and long-range strike training,” spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday.  

Britain’s top diplomat is also heading to NATO HQ today, just two days after Britain claimed Russia was prepared to install a post-invasion “puppet” regime in Ukraine. (For the record, Russian officials denied the allegations.) So NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will likely have much to talk about when he hosts Britain Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss later today.

Recent U.S. supplies, like ammunition, began arriving in Ukraine on Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv announced on Twitter.

The State Department ordered family members of embassy officials out of Ukraine on Sunday. It also triggered the “voluntary departure of U.S. direct-hire employees.” The Brits withdrew some of their embassy staff as well, the BBC reports. Reuters has more here.

German leaders faced new pressure over the weekend after they decided not to provide weapons to Ukraine’s military under the present circumstances. Kyiv’s foreign minister was especially upset, and tweeted Saturday that it seemed as if Germany was “undermining NATO” and “encouraging Vladimir Putin.” 

By the way: Germany’s navy chief resigned Saturday after saying at a recent think tank event that Ukraine will probably never get Crimea back from Russia. Those remarks were posted to YouTube on Friday.  

“What [Russian President Vladimir Putin] really wants is respect,” said Vice-Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach. “And my God, giving someone respect is low cost, even no cost,” he added, without elaborating on the actual costs. Still, he continued, “Russia is an old country. Russia is an important country. Even we, India, Germany, we need Russia, because we need Russia against China.” More at CNN, here.

ICYMI: Mike Vickers says Biden has to be ready to support Ukraine militarily since, he argued in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post last week, “Putin doesn’t want a war with us. He does only what he has been led to believe he can get away with.” More here.

From Defense One

US Sends More Military Equipment to Ukraine  // Marcus Weisgerber and Tara Copp: Latest deliveries to arrive today as DOD searches its inventory for more to send.

Court Hits Pause on Vaccine Mandate for DOD, Other Federal Employees  // Eric Katz: A judge said Biden overstepped his authority in imposing the mandate, which has led more than 97% of feds to get fully or partially vaccinated.

FEMA Sees ‘Mass Exit’ of Employees Amid Surge in Disasters // Eric Katz: Even as its temporary workforce grows, its career staff are struggling to handle more than a thousand ongoing responses.

Another Delay Could Scuttle Crucial VA Reform // Anthony Principi: Legislation and election timelines leave precious few months to launch a once-in-a-generation effort to reset the infrastructure that supports veterans’ health care.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Pentagon halts conference travel; Anduril gets $1B SOCOM deal; FBI probes China’s stake in aircraft startup; and more.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson, with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1972, fishermen on the island of Guam discovered Japanese Army Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi hiding near a cave in the jungle, where he had been living, estranged from the rest of the world since the end of World War II.

The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen launched another missile attack at the UAE, which says it was able to shoot down the rockets this time around, Reuters reported Monday from Dubai. The UAE defense ministry said it “destroyed two ballistic missiles with no casualties,” Reuters writes; a Houthi spokesperson said the group had fired at targets including Al Dhafra Air Base, which is used by the U.S. military.
The failed attack came just days after a successful one that included a missile barrage on an oil facility in Abu Dhabi that killed three people and injured six others. During that attack last week, the Emiratis intercepted one ballistic missile in what was the first use of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System—THAAD—in a military operation, Defense News reported over the weekend.
From the region: The U.S. Navy detained a stateless ship carrying 40 tons of fertilizer in the Gulf of Oman last week. The small ship was allegedly headed toward Yemen from Iran on a path “historically used to traffic weapons to the Houthis,” according to the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, which announced the interdiction Sunday.
The same boat was detained and found carrying thousands of rifles off the Somali coast 11 months ago, the U.S. Navy said. “Among the cache of weapons seized during the February 2021 interdiction were thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and crew served weapons,” 5th Fleet said. The boat, its contents, and its five Yemeni crewmen were all handed over to Yemen authorities. A bit more, here.

Alert: The U.S. Navy has an unusually large number of carriers and ships near the South China Sea—more even than was seen during the height of “fire and fury” tensions with North Korea under POTUS45. See for yourself the known roster of vessels in the region, according to tracking data curated weekly by the U.S. Naval Institute News.
The latest from USNI:VIDEO: 2 U.S. Carrier Groups, 2 Amphibious Ready Groups Drill with F-35s, Japanese Ships in the Philippine Sea
Related reading:U.S. carriers in South China Sea, Taiwan reports further Chinese incursion,” via Reuters, reporting from Taipei on Monday.
And one more thing from the region: Recent satellite imagery has revealed sand dredgers off the coast of Cambodia’s Ream Naval base, which was the focus of a “secret agreement between China and Cambodia that U.S. officials reported seeing in 2019,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reported, with supporting imagery, on Friday.
Caveat: “The extent of the planned dredging is unclear, but could mark a significant upgrade in the base’s capabilities,” AMTI cautions. That’s because “The shallow waters around Ream mean it is currently only able to host small patrol vessels. A deep-water port would make it far more useful to both the Cambodian and Chinese navies.” More here

Security scanners across Europe were made by Nuctech, a Chinese company with ties to the military. “In addition to scanning systems for people, baggage, and cargo, the company makes explosives detectors and interconnected devices capable of facial recognition, body temperature measurement and ID card or ticket identification,” AP reported Thursday. The company’s bids often come in 30 to 50 percent below competitors, officials and researchers told AP.
Why this matters: “Critics fear that under China’s national intelligence laws, which require Chinese companies to surrender data requested by state security agencies, Nuctech would be unable to resist calls from Beijing to hand over sensitive data about the cargo, people, and devices that pass through its scanners.” Read on, here.

Taliban officials are on day two of a three-day visit to Norway, and already the group has upset its Norwegian hosts, AP reported Sunday from Oslo. Before those talks began, Norway’s Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt told reporters the three-day talks are “not a legitimation or recognition” of the Taliban. But that’s exactly what Taliban delegate Shafiullah Azam told AP the talks were all about—as well as freeing up any funds the group can after they were frozen during the rapid collapse and evacuation of Kabul back in August.
Reminder: The Taliban “has not [yet] received diplomatic recognition from any foreign government,” AP reports. More here.

And lastly today: Take a video and photo slideshow tour of Afghanistan’s main highway, which gives an illuminating look at a “country in transition,” the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday in a multimedia feature that works particularly well on mobile devices.