Today's D Brief: 3K US troops to E. Europe; Putin's loaded question; Army begins booting vaccine refusals; F-35 recovery; And a bit more.
White House dispatches thousands of U.S. troops to Europe. American President Joe Biden just authorized 3,000 additional U.S. troops to eastern Europe to help defend against an apparently looming Russian invasion of Ukraine. That includes about a thousand moving from Germany to Romania, and about 2,000 or so moving to Germany and Poland from Fort Bragg, N.C., according to CBS News and the Wall Street Journal, and later confirmed by the Defense Department in a fact sheet (PDF).
Ostensibly, “These forward-deployed forces help to deter aggression and if deterrence fails, stand shoulder to shoulder with our Allies to maintain security and stability in Europe,” the Pentagon said in a statement, and added, “These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine. They are not permanent moves. They respond to current conditions.”
And in case you were wondering, the troops are not being sent as part of the larger NATO response force, and will remain under U.S. control, Defense One’s Tara Copp reports. Instead, they’ll add to a buildup that already involves a carrier strike group and additional fighter jet squadrons dispatched in a show of force and in support of NATO allies. Another 8,500 troops are on standby, “ready to move if called to support the NATO Response Force, if it is activated, or as needed for other contingencies as directed by the Secretary or the President,” the Pentagon said.
Why now? “Here’s just a couple of factors: Mr. Putin continues to add forces … even over just the last 24 hours,” and “he has shown no signs of being interested in or willing to de-escalate,” Kirby said in a briefing this morning at the Pentagon. However, he said, “We do not believe conflict is inevitable.”
By the way: The U.S. thinks it might have a blueprint for ending Russia’s manufactured crisis with Ukraine. And according to language in a leaked U.S. document (via Spanish newspaper El Pais) sent to Russia last week, that American plan involves “conditions-based reciprocal transparency measures and reciprocal commitments by both the United States and Russia to refrain from deploying offensive ground-launched missile systems and permanent forces with a combat mission in the territory of Ukraine.”
“We did not make this document public,” Kirby said at the Pentagon Wednesday. “But now that it is…this document makes clear that there is a path forward” to diplomatically end the current tensions.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Putin has a thought experiment about Crimea, the peninsula Russia illegally annexed in 2014, and which he clearly is very nervous about one day having to give back. “Let's imagine Ukraine is a NATO member and starts [an operation to retake Crimea]. Are we supposed to go to war with the NATO bloc? Has anyone given that any thought? Apparently not,” Putin said Tuesday at a press conference with Hungary’s leader. Reuters has more from that messaging, here.
Related reading: “U.S. Sends Top Security Official to Help NATO Brace for Russian Cyberattacks,” via the New York Times reporting Tuesday.
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Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1943, the Battle of Stalingrad came to an end when the Nazis surrendered following several months of fierce combat, often in close quarters.
The U.S. Army will begin booting soldiers who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID, service officials announced Wednesday morning. To be clear, these soldiers will now face “involuntary administrative separation proceedings,” according to a directive from Army Secretary Christine Wormuth released Wednesday.
As for the scope, “The order applies to regular Army soldiers, reserve-component soldiers serving on Title 10 active-duty, and cadets,” an Army official said. However, soldiers due to “complete their separation or retirement, or begin transition leave, on or before July 1, 2022, will be granted a temporary exemption and will be permitted to complete their separations or retirements.”
For the record: “The Army has not yet involuntarily separated any soldiers solely for refusing the lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” the Army said in its messaging over the new directive. More here.
Related reading: “Defense Secretary dismisses Republican governors' objections to National Guard vaccine mandate,” via CNN, reporting Tuesday.
BTW: U.S. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro recently contracted COVID, and is quarantining this week. “I am grateful to be fully vaccinated and to have received the booster shot in October as I know my symptoms could be far worse,” he said in a statement on Monday.
SecNav Del Toro is now at least the fourth leading Pentagon official known to have been infected; others include Secretary Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger.
After a nearly weeklong bloody siege, U.S.-backed troops finally have control of that ISIS prison in northeastern Syria. According to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and New York Times reporting from the scene, an estimated 500 people were killed in the siege and clean-up operations, which featured several U.S. airstrikes.
At least 374 of those killed had alleged links to ISIS, according to the S.D.F. And that death toll “also included about 40 S.D.F. fighters, 77 prison staff and guards, and four civilians,” Jane Arraf of the New York Times reported Monday.
Wider significance: The S.D.F. told Arraf that “the prison assault was part of a larger plot to also attack the giant detention camps in the same region that hold tens of thousands of people, most of them wives and children of ISIS fighters.” Continue reading, here.
The White House used the opportunity to nudge allies to take back ISIS prisoners stuck in Syrian facilities, like the prison in Hasakah. “The barbarity of ISIS’s actions during this attack reaffirms why this group must be denied the ability to regenerate and why nations must work together to address the thousands of ISIS detainees in inadequate detention facilities,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement on Sunday. “ISIS remains a global threat that requires a global solution,” he added. More here.
“Will the U.S. abandon the Middle East?” That’s the question being asked today at a panel discussion during the Institute for National Security Studies’ International Conference. The Pentagon’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dana Stroul will join that panel, slated for 11:30 a.m. ET. Details here.
The White House just authorized $1.2 billion in emergency funds to help relocate Afghan families that evacuated during the collapse of Kabul this past August. The money will come from the State Department’s Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund, and is intended to be used for “unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs to support Operation Allies Welcome and related efforts by the Department of State, including additional relocations of individuals at risk as a result of the situation in Afghanistan,” President Biden wrote in a memo to State Secretary Antony Blinken on Tuesday. Read more, here.
- Related reading: “Scoop: Leaked document reveals Biden’s Afghan failures,” via Axios, reporting Tuesday evening.
Today on Capitol Hill: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and State Secretary Antony Blinken are sitting for a closed-door hearing before the Armed Services Committee. That began at 10 a.m. ET.
Also on the Hill: The House’s Homeland Security Committee is discussing global and domestic terrorism in a hearing that began at 10 a.m. ET.
Present for that one: Our favorite pessimist, Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington. Bill’s message to lawmakers today: “Unfortunately, in Washington, the desire to end the so-called endless wars has driven our policy” in Afghanistan, “and the facts about our enemies were modified to achieve desired policy goals.”
His advice: “Hold leaders in the military and intelligence services accountable,” he writes in his opening remarks. “After 9/11, not a single intelligence official resigned or was fired. Instead, they were rewarded. Fast forward 20 years, and U.S. military and intelligence leaders got a pass for the obvious tactical and strategic failures in Afghanistan. This must change if we are to have a chance to succeed.” Details and livestream available here.
Elsewhere in Washington this afternoon: Transportation Command’s Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost is scheduled to speak in a virtual event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies at 2 p.m. ET. Details here.
And finally: The U.S. Navy is about to try and snag that crashed F-35 from the bottom of the South China Sea, Navy Times reported Monday.
Where that comes from: USNI, also reporting Monday, said the Japanese Coast Guard had issued a navigational warning for salvage operations in the area “until further notice.” Read more, here.