Today's D Brief: Debt-default sticking point; Russia strikes clinic; SEAL training investigation; Oath Keeper chief sentenced; And a bit more.
Defense spending is reportedly a sticking point as the White House works to mollify House Republicans who say they’ll force the United States into an unprecedented default on its debts unless they get budget cuts. President Biden is offering to reduce spending across various agencies, including the Defense Department, but the GOPers want the Pentagon exempted, reports the New York Times, here. The Hill rounds up more reactions from Democrats and Republicans, here.
Just $70 billion apart on a trillion-dollar concession. Except for the disagreement over defense spending, the sides are reportedly near agreement. “Biden’s proposal included more than $1 trillion of spending cuts, freezing spending for the next two years,” wrote Quartz, while Reuters reported that the sides “are edging close to a deal on the U.S. debt ceiling, with the parties just $70 billion apart on discretionary spending, according to a person familiar with the talks.”
ICYMI: On Monday, the U.S. service chiefs—including prospective Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. CQ Brown—laid out the damage that a GOP-forced default might do.
From Defense One
‘No Magic Weapons’: Milley Sets Expectations On F-16s // Patrick Tucker: Joint Chiefs Chairman defends United States’ gradual approach on weapons for Ukraine.
With Ukraine Set to Get Another Weapon from Its Wish List, Democrats Push for More // Sam Skove: Rep. Jason Crow calls for more tanks to Ukraine—and maybe non-combatant military observers.
CQ Brown’s Confirmation Hearing Will Get Nasty // Kevin Baron: The right hated the “woke” Gen. Milley. Wait ’til they meet a general who has fought racism for years.
Biden Picks Changemaking Air Force Chief as Next Top Military Officer // Audrey Decker: Gen. CQ Brown instituted the “agile combat employment” concept and the “Accelerate Change or Lose” doctrine.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson, with Bradley Peniston and Jennifer Hlad. On this day in 2020, protests against the police murder of George Floyd erupted in Minneapolis–Saint Paul, and spread around the country—eventually embroiling the U.S. military after then-President Donald Trump struggled to maintain an image of authority and demanded his Pentagon chief Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley join him for a photo op outside the White House after prison guards attacked protesters with teargas in D.C.’s Lafayette Square. Many of America’s youth have cited the White House response as a key reason for declining enlistment in the years since.
Russia’s military attacked a Ukrainian clinic Friday in the eastern city of Dnipro, killing two people and wounding at least 30 others, Reuters reports from Kyiv, nearly 460 days into Russia’s Ukraine invasion.
“Another Russian missile attack, another crime against humanity as such,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy tweeted Friday with a video from the scene. “Only an evil state can fight against clinics. There can be no military purpose in this,” he added.
Russia launched three dozen Iranian “kamikaze” drones at Ukraine overnight Thursday, and Ukraine’s military said it shot down all of them. However, “Russian milbloggers claimed that some of the drones reached their intended targets through rear areas of Ukraine, including Kyiv Oblast,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote in their Thursday evening assessment.
In perspective: White House officials said recently they believe Russia has purchased 400 of these “Shahed” drones from Iran so far, according to the Associated Press. Ukrainian officials claim to have shot down 357 of them. ISW noted that number is “likely inflated—Ukrainian officials may sometimes count drone crashes due to user error or technical malfunction as official shoot downs, so the actual number is likely to be somewhat lower.”
Developing: Fighting has erupted again across Russia’s border with Ukraine in the Belgorod region. “artillery fire, mortar shells and drones” reportedly struck “four houses, a store, a car, a gas pipeline and a power line” in the Belgorod town of Graivoron, according to AP, reporting Friday from Kyiv. And “One woman was wounded when the nearby village of Novaya Tavolzhanka was shelled,” the region’s governor said Friday.
Two likely Ukrainian drones also reportedly struck a building in Russia’s southern city of Krasnodar on Friday, but no injuries were reported from that incident, the regional governor said on Telegram.
And Ukraine published a video Thursday purporting to show an unmanned boat attack on the Russian navy recon vessel Ivan Khurs in the Black Sea. The Drive unpacked the episode in exhaustive detail, here.
- “Sweden’s NATO Membership Hinges on Extraditing Unknown People,” the Wall Street Journal reported Friday;
- “If a Divided Germany Could Enter NATO, Why Not Ukraine?” Steven Erlanger of the New York Times asked Friday;
- “NATO struggles in the shadows to find new leader,” Reuters reported Friday amid the extended tenure of Jens Stoltenberg, the second-longest serving secretary-general in alliance’s history;
- And “Ukraine foreign minister urges African nations to ditch neutrality in Russia war,” AP reported Wednesday from Ethiopia.
Back stateside: A culture of excessive machismo, inadequate medical cadre, and an enduring disinterest in drug testing was rampant among the staff and students of the Navy’s notoriously difficult and deadly special operations Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL course. That’s according to an internal and partially redacted report released publicly on Thursday by the service’s Naval Education and Training Command. The internal review was prompted by the death of Yale quarterback and SEAL candidate Kyle Mullen, age 24, who died of acute pneumonia in February 2022 while attending the BUD/S course in San Diego. Mullen’s death was reported publicly last August by Dave Phillips of the New York Times. Phillips updated that reporting with a summary of the Navy’s latest findings, here.
What happened: A new leadership team took over the course in the fall of 2020, and the first class immediately afterward performed particularly poorly compared to historical averages, according to the report. Attrition quickly began rising, and “Soon, fewer than 10 percent of students in some classes were making it through the course,” the Times reports.
When the leader of the Navy’s SEAL program was warned about the rising failure rates, Rear Adm. Hugh Howard replied, “Zero is an okay number; hold the standard.” The BUD/S course commander, Capt. Bradley Geary, was of a similar mind, and in the face of rising dropouts, said he “believed the primary reason for attrition issue was the current generation had less mental toughness,” according to the report.
On the drug-testing point: “When Seaman Mullen died, Navy personnel found performance-enhancing drugs, including testosterone and human growth hormone, in his car,” the Times reports. “An investigation then revealed wider drug use among SEAL candidates, and several students were expelled from the course,” it added. However, (emphasis added) “The report reveals that performance-enhancing drugs have been a recurring problem for more than 10 years at the course, but the Navy has never set up a testing system to detect the drugs, and it lacks effective testing even now.”
But perhaps more than anything, “poorly organized, poorly integrated and poorly led” medical staff at the BUD/S course “put candidates at significant risk,” the report found. Over just a short period of time under the new leadership, “repeated exposure to these conditions caused both instructors and medical personnel to underreact to their seriousness,” Navy officials said. Despite the fact that “training through discomfort and some degraded physical condition was seen as a positive trait by instructors,” the bottom line is that what began taking place in San Diego at the start of 2021 was notably different from years past.
So, what now? New leaders are now in charge, and graduation rates are back to around the 30% rate that Navy officials say is much closer to the historical norm. Meanwhile, “Navy Capt. Brian Drechsler, who was commander of the Naval Special Warfare Center, received a [non-punitive] letter [of reprimand] and was pulled out of the job this month,” the Associated Press reported Thursday evening. Capt. Brad Geary “and an unnamed senior medical officer also got letters.” Read more at the Times; or dig into the 200-plus page investigation (PDF), here.
Three-year Army veteran Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Thursday for his role in organizing an attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in a failed attempt to block the certification of President Joe Biden.
Stewart, age 58, is the founder of the far-right extremist group Oath Keepers. In November, he was convicted of seditious conspiracy for his role organizing the Jan. 6 attack. In the months since, several others have been convicted of the same charge, including former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio. But no one involved in the violence that day faces a prison term as long as Rhodes’s.
“You, sir, present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country, to the Republic and the very fabric of our democracy,” the judge told Rhodes during his sentencing Thursday. “The moment you are released, whenever that may be, you will be ready to take up arms against your government,” he added.
Rhodes replied, “I’m a political prisoner and like President Trump my only crime is opposing those who are destroying our country.”
“You are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes,” the judge responded. Read more at the Associated Press, Reuters, or the New York Times.
And lastly: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin heads to Asia and Europe next week. It will be Austin’s seventh trip to the Pacific region since becoming Pentagon chief nearly two and a half years ago.
On the Asian itinerary: A meeting in Japan with the defense minister, then a speech in Singapore at the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue, where Austin will also “meet with key leaders to advance U.S. defense partnerships across the region in support of our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, anchored in ASEAN centrality,” his office said in a statement.
Then it’s on to India, where Austin and Indian defense leaders will explore ways to “accelerate new defense innovation and industrial cooperation initiatives and drive ongoing efforts to expand operational cooperation between the U.S. and Indian militaries,” his office said.
Austin will conclude his trip in France, meeting British and French defense officials and marking the 79th anniversary of D-Day.
Have a safe Memorial Day weekend, everyone! And we’ll be back again on Tuesday.