Today's D Brief: McCarthy’s Ukraine aid journey; Wartime innovations; Army SF vs. China; Turkey vs. ISIS; And a bit more.
The two sides of Kevin McCarthy: House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., forcefully defended U.S. monetary and military support for Ukraine in an exchange with a reporter from Russian state-run media on Monday in Jerusalem. The reporter, from RIA Novosti, said, “We know that you don’t support the current unlimited and uncontrolled supplies of weaponry and aid to Ukraine,” and asked whether the speaker would reduce them.
“I vote for aid for Ukraine. I support aid for Ukraine,” said McCarthy, who was making his first trip abroad in his new leadership role. “I do not support what your country has done to Ukraine; I do not support your killing of the children either. You should pull out,” the speaker responded. “And we will continue to support, because the rest of the world sees it just as it is.”
That is not the message McCarthy has been sending while in the States, where he’s been dealing with “pressure from far-right Republican lawmakers to audit U.S. support for Kyiv and cut off American funding for the conflict,” the New York Times wrote Monday. In March, the speaker declined an invitation to visit Ukraine and reiterated his campaign promise not to send the country a “blank check,” though he also slammed the Biden administration for not moving quickly enough to help. McCarthy and the rest of Congress are soon expected to consider another “major” aid package for Ukraine, but just when is not yet clear, the Associated Press added.
This week in battlefield innovations, the Ukrainian military has apparently been using a videogame controller to direct a machine-gun turret from about 500 feet away. PCMag reported the development late last week, and it involves what’s called the Steam Deck, which is used to play Windows games via the online platform Steam. “It's unlikely [manufacturer] Valve will be on board with the Ukrainian Army using the Steam Deck for this purpose,” PCMag’s Matthew Humphries wrote. “However, there's little the company could do to stop it because the Deck hardware is a pretty open platform when it comes to running software,” he added.
This week in civilian innovations: A Ukrainian farmer “kitted out his tractor with protective panels stripped from Russian tanks and operates it by remote control” to clear mines from his farm fields, according to Reuters, reporting Tuesday from southeast of Kharkiv. “We started doing this just because the crop-sowing time has come and we can’t do anything because the rescue services are very busy,” the farmer told Reuters. Story and video, here.
Russian troops continue digging into occupied Ukrainian territory and Russian lands alike, according to the British military. It’s a trend tracked closely by satellite imagery observers like Brady Africk from the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute. On Monday, the Brits took to Twitter to declare, “Russia has constructed some of the most extensive systems of military defensive works seen anywhere in the world for many decades.”
Russia forces appear to have “made a particular effort to fortify the northern border of occupied Crimea, including with a multi-layered defensive zone near the village of Medvedevka,” the Defense Ministry said Monday. However, “Russia has also dug hundreds of miles of trenches well inside internationally recognised Russian territory including in the Belgorod and Kursk regions,” which the Brits posit “highlight[s] Russian leaders’ deep concern that Ukraine could achieve a major breakthrough” with its counteroffensive operations, which are expected to begin any day now.
But digging inside Russia’s own borders could serve a different purpose as well, the British military said, including “promot[ing] the official narrative that Russia is ‘threatened’ by Ukraine and NATO.”
- By the way: Here’s another Russian “journalist” who filmed himself loading artillery to fire at Ukrainians. “This is mine,” he says as he helps load the round with another soldier. (h/t Kyiv Post)
Latest from the Discord leaks saga: The Gray Lady and the Wall Street Journal both reported a bit of background this weekend on why the Air Force intelligence unit in Massachusetts had its hands full of top secret reports. The New York Times’s John Ismay published first, shining light on “a little-known Air Force mission that began in the 1990s and grew rapidly, eventually spreading to the base on Cape Cod.” It has to do with a program known as the Distributed Common Ground System, which is “a vast computer network that handles the immense amounts of data generated by surveillance drones, spy satellites and other sensors.” The Journal has similar coverage, published Monday, here.
- “White House estimates 20K Russians killed in Ukraine war since December,” The Hill reported Monday after a phone call between White House national security council spokesman John Kirby and reporters;
- “Pawn shops and bread queues: poverty grips Ukraine as war drags on,” the Guardian reported Sunday from Irpin;
- “Ukraine's Counteroffensive Will Target Putin's Bridge: Zelensky's Ex-Aide,” Newsweek reported Tuesday;
- “Former US Marine killed in Ukraine,” CNN reported Monday after volunteer Cooper Andrews perished near Bakhmut;
- “Denmark Pledges $250mln In Military Aid To Ukraine,” Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday;
- And “Discreetly, Berlin Confronts Russian Spies Hiding in Plain Sight,” the New York Times reported Tuesday from the German capital.
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Repent Your Abuses of Eavesdropping Law, Lawmakers Tell Intel Agencies // Lauren C. Williams: House pols want change as agencies seek renewal of FISA’s Section 702.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Audrey Decker. On this day in 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed in a daring U.S. special operations raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Your D Brief-er had just finished training his replacement at an airbase in Kandahar when the news broke, bringing with it a welcome—but ultimately inauthentic—sense of closure to that yearlong Afghan deployment. We know now, of course, that 10 more years of U.S. funding and NATO support could not erode the Taliban’s determined influence, and the Kabul government collapsed rapidly over the summer of 2021, bringing with it an ignominious end to the longest war in U.S. history.
Turkey’s president says his military killed the latest leader of ISIS in Syria during a raid Saturday in the northwestern part of the country, according to the BBC, reporting Monday.
Allegedly killed: Abu Hussein al-Qurayshi. And he, like the last two leaders of the terrorist group, reportedly blew himself up with a suicide vest, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday.
Washington’s reax: “We are unable to confirm this,” a U.S. official told Voice of America Monday afternoon when asked about the operation. VOA noted that this isn’t the first time Turkey has claimed to have killed a high-profile ISIS operative. “Last May, Turkish security officials said they had captured Abu al-Hussein’s predecessor during a raid in Istanbul.” However, “U.S. and Western intelligence officials later determined that the claim was overstated, and that the captured IS official was Bashar Hattab Ghazal Al Sumaidai, a senior leader in the organization.”
Worth noting: Erdogan is facing a stiff re-election campaign presently, and some polls show a particularly tight race. Kurdish Rudaw news agency has more on the alleged death of Abu Hussein, here. And Reuters has this.
Back stateside: When a senator asked about a debt-ceiling default, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall responded, “That's probably beyond my expertise to comment on, but obviously I think the damage to us would be” welcomed by China. Kendall was speaking Tuesday morning at a Senate Armed Services Committee posture hearing, where Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman are also testifying.
Context: GOP lawmakers, led by McCarthy, are threatening to force the United States to renege on its debts unless they get what they want. (McCarthy, you may recall, is among the 147 Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn U.S. election results in 2021, despite no supporting evidence.)
Meanwhile Army leaders are testifying this morning to the defense panel of the Senate Appropriations Committee: Secretary Christine Wormuch and Gen. James McConville.
The SASC’ readiness subcommittee will hear from the five vice chiefs at 2:30 p.m.
And space is the focus of a Strategic Forces subcommittee hearing at 4:45 p.m., featuring John Plumb, assistant defense secretary for space policy; Frank Calvelli, assistant Air Force secretary for space acquisition and integration; and Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson.
For your ears only: Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley recently sat down for a half-hour conversation with Daniel Kurtz-Phelan of Foreign Affairs for their podcast. We can’t seem to get the audio feed to work this morning; but FA generously transcribed the chat, and you can read that over here.
And lastly today: RIP retired U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, who passed away Friday at the age of 64. The first Black director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Stewart led the organization from 2015 to 2017, instituting “sweeping changes and modernization efforts” that included a focus shift from counterterrorism to China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, according to the Washington Post. And in a bid to deepen partnerships with U.S. allies, he also created the post of deputy director for commonwealth integration, rotated among America’s Five Eyes intelligence partners.
“His impact as a leader of Marines and the broader intelligence community cannot be understated,” Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger said in a statement Monday. “Words cannot express how much he will be missed…Semper Fidelis and Fair Winds, sir,” he added. Read the rest at WaPo, here; Stars and Stripes has more, here.