Today's D Brief: Majority of Americans 'stand with Ukraine' in new survey; 6 letter bombs in Spain; ISIS leader killed; US gun violence near 3-decade high; And a bit more.

New: American’s trust and confidence in the military increased slightly over the past year—but it’s still close to a five-year low, according to a new survey of about 2,500 people polled by the Ronald Reagan Institute. Conducted in early November after the U.S. midterm elections, the polling found that 48 percent of Amercians have trust and confidence in the military, compared to 45 percent last year, our colleague Marcus Weisgerber reports. 

And it’s notably down from 2018—after a year of the Trump administration’s “fire and fury” rhetoric threatening nuclear war with North Korea—when 70 percent of those surveyed said they had trust and confidence in the military.

Why the decline? Just over 60 percent of those surveyed blamed over-politicization of Pentagon leadership as the top reason driving their lack of confidence; 59 percent also cited “the performance and competence of presidents.”

When it comes to global security threats, 57 percent surveyed said the U.S. “must continue to stand with Ukraine and oppose Russian aggression,”  while just a third said that “America has enough problems at home and cannot afford to spend more on the conflict.” Some 76 percent of those surveyed said they view Ukraine as an ally, up from 49 percent one year ago. And 82 percent view Russia as an enemy, up from 65 percent last year. (Recall in 2019, one in four surveyed viewed Russia as an ally of the United States.)

The partisan picture: Overall, Democrats surveyed (73 percent) favored continued support for Ukraine compared to Republicans surveyed (51 percent). 

Nearly eight in 10 said they were concerned that Russia might use a nuclear weapon, while 74 percent said they were concerned the war in Ukraine might spill over into Eastern Europe, forcing the U.S. to get involved. And some 70 percent said they were concerned that the war in Ukraine is distracting U.S. policymakers “from the threat posed” by China.

“The way I read it, despite these very real concerns, and the survey makes the respondents aware of those concerns, there's still this continued support for Ukraine,” said Roger Zakheim, Washington director for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. 

New: The White House is debating a plan to train Ukrainian forces in Germany with an estimated 2,500 American troops, anonymous U.S. officials told CNN on Wednesday.

Developing: Half a dozen possible letter bombs were sent to locations across Spain in recent days. “The campaign began with a package sent to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Nov. 24,” Reuters reports from Madrid. But “Since Wednesday, similar devices have also been sent to the defense ministry, an air force base, a weapons manufacturer, and the Ukrainian embassy—where a security officer was slightly injured.”

Spain’s military chief was in Ukraine on Thursday, and vowed not to be intimidated by any such apparent bombing campaigns. “What must be very clear is that none of these deliveries or any other violent action will change the clear and firm commitment of Spain, NATO countries, and the European Union to support Ukraine,” Defence Minister Margharita Robles said after a meeting with her Ukrainian counterpart in Odesa.  

The Brits just sanctioned two more Russian officials for recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine with the Wagner mercenary group. That includes Arkady Gostev, who directs Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service; and Wagner recruiting chief Dmitry Bezrukikh. “Both are helping to fill the ranks of the Wagner mercenary gang with criminals, including murderers and sex offenders,” the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office announced Wednesday. 

Related reading: 

From Defense One

Russia-Ukraine War Has Influenced How BAE Systems Designed Army Bradley Replacement // Marcus Weisgerber: The company is including optional armor and making it easy to add counter-drone technology.

Let's Put the Pentagon's China Report in Context // William D. Hartung: What do the relative sizes of the U.S. and Chinese nuclear arsenals really suggest?

GOP Senators Agitate for Vote To Repeal Vaccine Mandate // Caitlin M. Kenney: Sen. Paul said 20 senators have pledged to vote against moving the defense policy bill forward unless their amendment is brought to the floor.

Learn from Ukraine, DIA Chief Tells New China Mission Group // Patrick Tucker: Defense Intelligence Agency unit takes aim at "warning problem of our lifetime."

Microsoft, Other Defense Firms Team Up for Modeling & Simulation Work // Edward Graham: Lockheed, BAE Systems, and other firms are using the Seattle giant's Azure cloud platform to develop training and what-if tools.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Marcus Weisgerber and Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1991, more than 90% of Ukrainian voters approved a declaration of independence from the crumbling Soviet Union. 

The latest leader of the ISIS terrorist group was killed in battle about six weeks ago during an operation carried out by the Free Syrian Army in Dar’a province in Syria, according to U.S. military officials from the Tampa-based Central Command.
Deceased: Abu al-Hassan al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, who took command just last March. The terrorists’ spokesman announced his death in an audio message Wednesday on Telegram, saying very little other than al-Quraishi allegedly perished during an assault (and not a retreat) against “enemies of God.”
The new No. 1 for ISIS is Abu al-Husayn al-Husayni, the group’s spokesman said. And already, online pledges Wednesday “started flooding ISIS-aligned groups” on Telegram “and channel names are being dedicated to the new announcement,” according to Rita Katz of the extremism monitoring group SITE Intelligence Group.
From CENTCOM’s perspective, “ISIS remains a threat to the region,” and officials at the regional command “remain focused on the enduring defeat of ISIS,” the U.S. military said in its statement Wednesday. 

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin called for Turkey to halt its newest long-teased invasion of northern Syria in an operation meant to kill Kurdish militants, including some backed by the U.S. and allied militaries in the ongoing war against ISIS insurgents in the Middle East. Defense Secretary Austin conveyed his caution in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar on Wednesday.
ICYMI:Turkish Airstrikes Have Slowed the Fight Against ISIS, Officials Say,” Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reported earlier this week.
From the region: 

Nine sailors were injured in a fire on the USS Abraham Lincoln on Tuesday morning, but all of those injuries were apparently minor and the fire was “quickly identified and extinguished,”  Navy Times reported Wednesday. The ship was doing operations off the coast of southern California when the fire began, and will not curtail those operations because of the blaze.

When it comes to national security, it’s difficult to (in good conscience) overlook the very American tragedy of gun violence, which is now approaching a three-decade high, according to a new study of federal data going back to at least 1990. The analysis was published Tuesday in the American Medical Association’s journal JAMA Network Open.
Among the findings: Steep increases in homicides among Black men in their 20s, as well as suicides among elderly white men. For the latter, “These findings suggest that suicide prevention efforts in the U.S. may be most beneficial if they target older men,” the authors of the study write.
When it comes to the rising homicides among young Black men, “There is increasing evidence suggesting the association of structural racism, individual and community poverty, and the environment with disparities in health outcomes in the US, which may provide a partial explanation of our findings,” the researchers write, and suggest “intervention is required to reduce this concerning recent trend.”
But firearm deaths among women increased 70% since 2010 as well. “The trend of increasing firearm fatalities unfortunately crosses all sexes,” one of the researchers told the Wall Street Journal. Read the full report over at JAMA, here.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, the police will soon have robots with explosives—but not guns, law enforcement officials said Wednesday after the vote passed 8-3 over the objections of civil liberties groups. The explosives-holding robots would theoretically be used “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient [a] violent, armed, or dangerous suspect” only “in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives,” a San Francisco Police Department spokesman said in a statement.
Caveat: “Only a limited number of high-ranking officers could authorize use of robots as a deadly force option,” and only after “alternative force or de-escalation tactics” have been exhausted, according to the Associated Press. Continue reading, here

This week in #LongReads: Learn how a powerful Sudanese militia acquired some of the world’s most sophisticated cell phone surveillance software, via Israeli and Greek journalists reporting Wednesday behind the paywall at Haaretz (hat tip to former CIA-er Cameron Hudson). 

And lastly: After seven years, the Pentagon finally has a Senate-confirmed IG. His name is Robert Storch, and he was confirmed Wednesday in a 92-3 vote, Defense News reports. Storch, a lawyer, previously served as inspector general for the National Security Agency. He has also worked as the deputy IG for the Department of Justice, and was that agency’s first “whistleblower ombudsperson,” according to his official biography. The last permanent DOD inspector general, Jon Rymer, left the job in January 2016.