Today's D Brief: Bye bye, GWOT; CENTCOM at 40; Russian artillery slows in Ukraine; Substation shootings prompt grid review; And a bit more.
Surprise: “The 9/11 era, when foreign terrorist-related threats dominated…appears to be over.” That’s according to the latest annual survey of worldwide threats published each January by the Council on Foreign Relations. More than 500 U.S. government officials, foreign policy experts, and academics contributed to the results, which focused on “30 contingencies deemed both plausible in 2023 and potentially harmful to U.S. interests,” according to CFR’s Paul Stares.
New this year: “A cross strait crisis around Taiwan, escalation of the war in Ukraine, and instability in Russia.”
Not new, but still on the list this year: “Nuclear weapons development by Iran and North Korea.”
Also in the “top-tier risks” category:
- “A highly disruptive cyberattack targeting U.S. critical infrastructure by a state or nonstate entity”;
- “An acute security crisis in Northeast Asia triggered by North Korea’s development and testing of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles”;
- And “Increased violence, political unrest, and worsening economic conditions in Central America and Mexico, aggravated by acute weather events, fuel a surge in migration to the United States.”
About that terrorism note: For the first time in the survey’s 15-year history, “the possibility of a foreign terrorist organization inflicting a mass casualty attack on the United States or a treaty ally was not proposed as a plausible contingency for the coming year,” Stares writes. That would seem to reflect a wider shift toward “great power rivalries,” including the challenges posed by China and Russia. Read the full report, here.
More of a comment than a question: The official last day of the U.S. military’s global war on terrorism seems to have passed without much fanfare. That’s according to a veteran who used Twitter to flag the formal dates for the Defense Department’s National Defense Service Medal, which untold thousands of American troops received automatically upon signing up after 9/11. The last day for that conflict is listed as December 30, 2022.
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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 this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1643, the revolutionary English polymath Isaac Newton was born.
Guess who just turned 40? CENTCOM, the U.S. military’s combatant command that focuses on developments throughout the Middle East. The Tampa-based command is the result of what’s known as the “Carter doctrine,” stemming from POTUS39 Jimmy Carter’s time in the White House. The doctrine itself was a response to the Soviet Union’s Afghanistan invasion in late 1979; but Carter’s directive to focus exclusively on the Middle East was also informed by the global energy shocks of the 1970s, which threw much of the West’s petroleum sources into turmoil and uncertainty, rattling the economies of the U.S. and many of its Israel-supporting allies along the way.
“Let our position be absolutely clear,” Carter said in January 1980; “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
“We have internal threats within the region, such as the Iran-Iraq war at this time,” Army Lt. Gen. Robert Kingston, CENTCOM’s first commander, said upon taking the helm. “And then we also have the threat of external aggression, and we saw it just recently in 1979 with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan…This emphasizes their increased capability and will to enforce Russian interests outside of their current territory.”
And this 40-year-old line may sound familiar: “We have what we call an ‘over-the-horizon’ concept, which my forces and headquarters, of course, would be invited in by a host nation or nations,” Kingston explained in that same archival clip CENTCOM shared on Twitter on Tuesday. “We’d be invited in for specific purposes to assist militarily; when that is accomplished, we will return to the continental United States in as expeditious a manner as possible,” Kingston said.
Meanwhile in Syria: Unknown militants fired two rockets toward U.S.-led coalition troops at Mission Support Site Conoco, in the northeastern part of the country, on Wednesday. It happened at 9 a.m. local time; fortunately, no one was hurt and no property was damaged either, according to CENTCOM officials. Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces allegedly found an unlaunched third rocket at the launch site; but that’s about all CENTCOM said about the incident. Read the rest, here.
And in case you missed this doozy over the break: German researchers dug through eBay and acquired several biometric devices used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Jordan—including at least one such device that still has sensitive data (names, nationalities, photographs, fingerprints, and iris scans) on more than 2,600 people. The New York Times has more, here.
- “Military operations killed more than 600 ISIS fighters in 2022,” Military Times reported on 30 Dec., a day after CENTCOM published the dataset, which you can review separately here;
- “Syria opposition uneasy after Turkish, Syrian defense ministers meet,” Reuters reported Wednesday from Beirut and Ankara;
- “Iran president vows vengeance 3 years after general’s death,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday;
- “Oil facilities in Yemen change hands in $21.6 million deal,” AP reported separately Tuesday from Cairo;
- And more broadly, “Oil falls further as concerns grow over global economy, China's COVID cases,” Reuters reported Wednesday morning from London.
Ukraine latest: Putin’s forces are (at least temporarily) slowing. One Ukrainian military official said Tuesday that Russian forces in eastern Ukraine are now firing artillery at only about a third of the rate that they were back in the summer.
Around Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces built defensive lines “every 10 meters,” and Russian troops are bogged down trying to clear the town “building-by-building,” according to Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of the Wagner Group, whose mercenaries and growing ranks of convicts have been trying to chip away at Bakhmut since May.
Reax: “Prigozhin is likely setting information conditions to blame Wagner Group's failure to take Bakhmut on the Russian Ministry of Defense or the Russian industrial base,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote in their latest assessment.
- “Russia’s Basic Errors Jeopardize Its Ukraine Forces, Military Analysts Say,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday;
- And don’t miss “An unexpected glimpse of disillusionment in Russia’s trenches,” via Russia-watcher Neil Hauer, reporting this week for Military Times from a November visit to southern Ukraine.