Today's D Brief: Ukraine's counteroffensive begins; Trump indicted; Where the US fights; Murder rates are falling; And a bit more.
Ukraine-watchers seem to all agree that the long anticipated spring counteroffensive has finally and officially begun—less than two weeks before the start of summer. “Activity throughout Ukraine is consistent with a variety of indicators that Ukrainian counteroffensive operations are underway across the theater,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War announced Thursday followed by several news outlets around the globe insisting as much by the afternoon and evening.
“Ukraine will lose much more before this is over,” said Jennifer Cafarella of ISW, writing Thursday on Twitter. “May those losses not be in vain,” she added.
“This isn't something you judge based on a few days of fighting,” said Michael Kofman of CNA, based in northern Virginia. “Footage of combat losses, which are to be expected, can have an anchoring effect,” he said, and some that footage (here and here, e.g.) appears to have begun rolling in this week on social media. Kofman also reminded his Twitter followers on Friday, “The offensive will play out over weeks, and likely months.”
There are at least three main sectors that Ukrainian forces appear to be pressuring, according to ISW. That includes western Zaporizhia Oblast, western Donetsk Oblast, and around the destroyed city of Bakhmut.
Keep up with the latest from the offensive by following ISW on Twitter, here. Russia-watcher Rob Lee is also maintaining a Twitter thread full of apparent early and ongoing indications that the offensive is well underway, here.
Also new: The U.S. military just announced another $2 billion in weapons headed to Ukraine. That includes more Patriot air defense missiles, more HAWK air defense systems and missiles, more artillery, Puma drones, laser-guided rocket system munitions, and more.
Declassified: Trace the path Iran allegedly sends its “kamikaze” drones as they travel first to Russia then on to Ukraine, via a special report published Friday by the Financial Times, and supported by U.S. government satellite imagery and a nifty map. The White House shared the intelligence with several outlets, including Reuters, the New York Times, NBC News, the Wall Street Journal, Voice of America, the Associated Press, and more.
“The drones are built in Iran, shipped across the Caspian Sea, from Amirabad, Iran, to Makhachkala, Russia, and then used operationally by Russian forces against Ukraine,” John Kirby of the White House’s National Security Council said in a statement Friday after declassifying the related intelligence.
“We are also concerned that Russia is working with Iran to produce Iranian UAVs from inside Russia,” Kirby said, and included the presumed location for just such cooperation—a manufacturing plant in Russia’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone, north of Kazakhstan. “We are continuing to use all the tools at our disposal to expose and disrupt these activities including by sharing this with the public, and we are prepared to do more,” Kirby added.
U.S. businesses have a new advisory related to Iran’s drone program thanks to an alert posted Friday by the Justice Department. The goal is to “to ensure compliance with legal requirements across the entire supply chain and to avoid unintentionally contributing to Iran’s UAV programs,” officials said. Details, here.
New: Sweden isn’t yet in NATO, but the Nordic country will let the alliance stage troops on its soil, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Defence Minister Pal Jonson said in a joint op-ed published Friday in the Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter. Reuters has a tiny bit more, here.
Get to know Russia’s convict-mercenary force Wagner a bit more thanks to a new 40-minute documentary published Friday by the Wall Street Journal. It’s called “Shadow Men: Inside Wagner, Russia’s Secret War Company,” and you don’t have to have a subscription to watch.
One last (nerdy) thing: If you wanna dive into or catch up on Ukraine’s deep history, Yale historian Tim Snyder’s 23-lecture series can be seen on YouTube for free. Thousands upon thousands of folks around the world have already known about this project for a while (the first lecture posted nine months ago); but here at The D Brief, we’re only just now making the time for it—and feel it’s something we should have begun nine months ago. We’re currently on lecture No. 5, just after the Vikings helped get the ball rolling with their tribute-seeking voyages down the Dnipro river; and we can’t recommend the series highly enough.
- “U.S. Official Says Spy Satellites Detected Explosion Just Before Dam Collapse,” the New York Times reported Friday;
- “Putin personally ordered the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam, Ukrainian intelligence says,” the New Voice of Ukraine reported Thursday;
- “Putin reveals when nuclear weapons will be deployed to Belarus,” and that is in about a month, The Independent reported Friday;
- “Chinese-Built Armored Trucks Make Appearance in Chechnya,” the Wall Street Journal reported Friday as Ukraine’s allies wait to see if the equipment eventually finds its way to Russia’s occupation forces;
- And “India not planning to invite Ukraine to G20 summit in September,” the Associated Press reported Thursday from New Delhi.
Trump indicted. The former U.S. commander-in-chief confirmed on Thursday that he has been indicted on multiple federal charges related to the hundreds of classified documents found in his Florida mansion last August. NYT: “A grand jury has charged former President Donald J. Trump with a total of seven counts, according to two people familiar with the indictment. While the precise details of all the charges are not yet clear, the people familiar with the matter said the charges include willfully retaining national defense secrets in violation of the Espionage Act, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and making false statements.”
What now? The Washington Post has an explainer. The new federal charges are just part of Trump’s legal problems; Reuters has a list.
Let’s not forget: A recently retired Air Force lieutenant colonel was just sentenced to three years in prison for taking home top-secret documents. The documents were first discovered in the O-5’s home in 2017; he retired the following year. He reports to his first day of prison next month. The Tampa Bay Times has that story from last Thursday, here.
Good news: homicides are falling in many major American cities. “This spring, I’ve found something that I’ve never seen before and that probably has not happened in decades: strong evidence of a sharp and broad decline in the nation’s murder rate,” The Atlantic’s Jeff Asher wrote. “Murder is down about 12 percent year-to-date in more than 90 cities that have released data for 2023, compared with data as of the same date in 2022.” Read more at the Wall Street Journal, here.
New: Military service is the most common shared characteristic of Americans who plan mass attacks, according to a new study by the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.
“The study found the vast majority of military-affiliated mass casualty plotters were aligned with far-right domestic extremist groups such as anti-government militia groups and white supremacist organizations,” while “Islamist extremists made up the next highest category with about 15% of military-affiliated offenders, with those pledging support for groups including al-Qaida and the Islamic State,” Star and Stripes reports.
For the record: The U.S. military is still fighting or monitoring terrorism in several places around the world, including Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula Region, Somalia and the East Africa region, the Lake Chad Basin and Sahel region, the Philippines, Cuba (think Guantanamo Bay), and Afghanistan. That’s according to a letter and an annual announcement President Biden sent to congressional leaders on Thursday.
And across Iraq and Syria alone, the U.S. military and its partner forces detained 31 alleged ISIS fighters and killed eight others after more than three dozen operations during the month of May. Most of the operations took place in Iraq; but most of the detainees were snatched from Syria, according to the latest update from U.S. officials at the Tampa-based Central Command headquarters on Tuesday.
“Despite their degraded capability, ISIS remains a significant threat within the region,” said CENTCOM commander Army Gen. Michael Kurilla. His subordinate two-star Army Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane added in an explanatory note that the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS “continues to advise, assist, and enable our partners to keep pressure on ISIS and prevent them from re-establishing any type of network or effective military effort.”
Attention veterans: Wanna get out of the house and travel far away into the outdoors…for free? You can go sailing off the coast of Maine, backpack through the alpine mountains of Washington state, canoe, hike, or rock climb in the Blue Ridge Mountains this summer thanks to the veterans program at Outward Bound. The entire thing is fully funded, which means—so long as you are a veteran or active duty service member—all expenses are paid for these week-long excursions in the American wilderness; and that includes airfare from wherever you live.
Review the course selection over at OB’s site, here. And if you missed the cutoff for any of the trips this year, all is not lost: Your D Brief-er missed last year’s deadline for alpine backpacking, but was still able to attend after joining the wait list. (Fair warning: You’ll want to get into decent shape ahead of time; and don’t plan on bringing cell phones or tablets—the point is to get to better understand yourself, the outdoors, and your fellow countrymen and women. You can stare at a cell phone screen later.)
In theaters: There’s also a new film about a veteran who returns from Afghanistan for PTSD treatment in Montana, but finds a whole host of unexpected developments that occur instead. It’s called “Mending the Line,” and it stars Brian Cox (of “Succession,” e.g.) and Sinqua Wells (from “Grey's Anatomy”). The movie began showing in select theaters across the country today. Catch the trailer on YouTube, here.
And lastly this week: There’s a new national security-themed interview podcast available now from veteran journalist Peter Bergen. It’s called “In the Room,” and the production team just released their sixth episode this week, and it features Jen Easterly, the director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
Previous episodes have dealt with the CIA, David Petraeus, the war in Ukraine, UFOs, and “Havana syndrome” (the latter two are not our cup of tea, but we certainly won’t judge you for listening). Find out more on Audible.com, or find “In the Room” wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll be back again on Monday!