Today's D Brief: Counteroffensive latest; Army fentanyl deaths; Floating border wall; Dependents job help; And a bit more.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is visiting the White House today for talks with President Joe Biden. He also planned meetings with State Secretary Antony Blinken and members of the Senate NATO Observer Group, which includes seven Republican and seven Democratic lawmakers.
By the way: NATO is conducting the largest air exercise in its history over the next two weeks during a series of drills known as Air Defender. Twenty-five nations are involved, along with nearly 10,000 personnel and 250 aircraft. “Training missions will primarily take place over the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and Southern Germany,” alliance officials announced in a preview on Monday.
Counteroffensive latest: Ukrainian forces say they’ve retaken at least four villages from Russian occupiers in the eastern Donetsk Oblast, and that latest is located at Storozhov. Three others were allegedly retaken on Sunday; those include Blahodatne, Makarivka, and Neskuchne. That’s according to Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar, writing Monday on Telegram. The Associated Press has a bit more from Kyiv; Reuters has similar coverage.
New: Six bipartisan House lawmakers insist Biden give Ukraine long-range missiles as soon as possible, and the delegation sent the president a letter communicating this message on Friday, according to Rep. Tom Kean, R-N.J., and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe. Keating was joined by fellow Republicans and HFA committee members Michael McCaul of Texas and South Carolina’s Joe Wilson; Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California, Bill Keating from Massachusetts, and Jared Golden from Maine also co-sponsored the bill (PDF).
Involved: Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, which have a range of about 190 miles.
“ATACMS can help Ukraine in its critical counteroffensive, and I hope this bipartisan message can unlock this long overdue policy decision,” Rep. Kean said in a statement. “[I]t is extremely disappointing the administration is sitting on billions in remaining military funding with which it could immediately transfer ATACMS to Ukraine and, in turn, help their Armed Forces make a major difference on the battlefield,” McCaul said in his own statement.
“ATACMS will allow Ukraine to strike high-value Russian military targets that are current[ly] inaccessible in Russian-occupied Ukraine,” Democratic lawmaker Bill Keating said, and also stressed he does “not believe we should be providing systems that cause indiscriminate harm to civilians, such as cluster munitions.” His Democratic colleague Ted Lieu agreed. “I applaud the United Kingdom and France for providing Ukraine with long-range missiles and believe the United States should follow suit,” Lieu said. Read more of that messaging, here.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Kyiv this weekend, where he announced $500 million in military aid to Ukraine. Ottawa has pledged $8 billion in aid to Ukraine so far, according to Politico.
- “Russia’s improved weaponry and tactics pose challenges to Ukraine’s counteroffensive,” AP reported Monday;
- “Ukraine’s Offensive Relies on Army Gear That Doesn’t Shoot,” the Wall Street Journal reported Monday;
- “Chechen force signs contract with Russia's defence ministry that Prigozhin refused,” Reuters reported Monday;
- And “North Korea's Kim vows to 'hold hands' with Putin for strategic cooperation,” Reuters reported separately on Monday from Seoul.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Bradley Peniston. On this day 75 years ago, President Harry Truman signed into law the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, which formally expanded regular military service to women—and not just service as nurses during times of war. “Our nation is stronger, and our people are safer, when we draw on the talents of every qualified patriot who raises their hand to serve our nation,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Monday marking the anniversary. “And, let us renew our commitment to breaking down the remaining barriers to women’s advancement, opportunity, and well-being in the military—recognizing their indispensable place in the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” he added.
New: More U.S. troops died from fentanyl overdoses than combat in the past few years, according to Pentagon figures reported Monday by the Washington Post. “The Army lost 127 soldiers to fentanyl between 2015 and 2022,” which is “more than double the number of Army personnel killed in combat in Afghanistan during that same period,” the Post reports.
At least 27 died from fentanyl in 2021, the most recent year for which full figures were available, and the Army’s deadliest year yet.
Congress wants more data and more action. In May, a bipartisan group of six lawmakers introduced a bill “to compel the Pentagon to publicly release overdose data each year, as well improve treatment for personnel suffering from addiction,” the Post writes.
And then there’s this: “in February, when asked by senators for statistics on fentanyl overdoses, Pentagon officials reported a number that was half of the figure contained in the records obtained by the Post. When asked about the discrepancy, Pentagon spokeswoman Jade Fulce blamed an accounting mistake.” Read on, here.
Greg Abbott’s new (and previously ignored) plan for keeping migrants out of Texas: Install a floating barricade of chain-linked, four-foot wide orange balls in the deeper parts of the Rio Grande river between Mexico and Texas. The buoys also contain a webbing to try to stop people from swimming underneath it. Gov. Abbott announced the new plans on Thursday while seated across from an Air Force two-star general, Maj. Gen. Thomas Suelzer, who is Abbott’s adjutant general and the governor’s top Texas National Guard officer.
The buoy “strategy” was created by Suelzer and Steve McCraw, the state’s Department of Public Safety director, Abbott said Thursday. “Texas is extremely fortunate to have a governor who is absolutely relentless in his actions to protect our state's sovereignty, secure our border, and preserve the rule of law,” the general told reporters dutifully on Thursday.
Added McCraw: “We don’t want anybody to get hurt...In fact, we want to prevent people from getting hurt, prevent people from drowning.” (This may be why Texas seems to have so far opted against purchasing buoys wrapped with spikes, which manufacturer Cochrane USA also offers.)
The idea is to install a 1,000-foot set of these buoys near Eagle Pass, Texas, which NPR reports “is known for being a busy migration point,” and to have those installed sometime next month. With just a thousand feet of coverage coming in at a cost of about a million dollars, it remains unclear how Abbott plans to address the Lone Star state’s additional 6,620,120 feet of shared border with Mexico.
For those unfamiliar with the terrain, “Some places of the Rio Grande will be shallow enough that this [floating barrier] won't be effective,” said Stephanie Leutert, who directs the Central America and Mexico Policy Initiative at the University of Texas in Austin. What’s more, she predicted, “[S]mugglers moving people across in rafts will quickly figure out how to cut these apart or hoist people over them from raft to raft.”
A second opinion: “I have serious doubts about the effectiveness of this marine barrier and a lot of fears that it will make river crossings more deadly and rescues harder,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council, writing on Twitter Friday. “I bet there’s a good reason the Border Patrol didn’t buy these in 2020 when they got a sales pitch,” he added.
New public-opinion polling from Singapore, South Korea and the Philippines reveals anxiety over a possible China-U.S. confrontation in the future. Why survey only those three countries? Because each one has “significant historical, economic, and diplomatic ties” with both the U.S. and China, analysts at the Eurasia Group Foundation write.
Among some of the more notable findings:
- Nearly a quarter of respondents overall said they're “very worried” about a possible U.S.-China confrontation, and two-thirds said they're “somewhat worried” about that possibility—for a combination of 90% expressing at least some degree of concern over competition spilling over into confrontation in the years ahead;
- 81% of Filipinos think their country’s “national security will be put at risk” by ongoing U.S.-China competition;
- 70% of South Koreans worry their country’s “politics will intensify as political parties pick sides in the US-China rivalry”;
- On the other hand, “More than three in four (76%) think America’s influence has had a positive impact on their country in recent years. Fewer than half (41%) think this of China’s influence”;
- And “More than twice as many respondents have a favorable view of the US (70%) than of China (34%)”; however in Singapore, those numbers tilt Beijing’s direction, with 56% viewing China more favorably than the U.S. (at 48% favorability).
Also notable: Nearly 70% said they’d doubt U.S. leadership in the region if the U.S. military does not step in to “stop the invasion of an ally,” though who the ally might be was not specified in the polling (the most likely nominee in this scenario presently would seem to be Taiwan).
There’s much more data to sift through, including perceptions on U.S. and Chinese soft power as well as the comparatively less anxious views of younger respondents, in the Eurasia Group Foundation’s full report, here.
- “US decides to rejoin UNESCO and pay back dues, to counter Chinese influence,” the Associated Press reported Monday from Paris;
- And “Why the Battle for Supremacy in Asia Begins With China’s Coast Guard,” the New York Times reported Monday.
Lastly: President Biden on Friday signed an executive order intended to improve employment opportunities for military spouses and caregivers. Military spouses struggle with an unemployment rate higher than the general population (as multiple studies have shown), and nearly one in five military families cite difficulties with spouse employment as a reason they’re considering leaving military service.
The new order covers a wide range of issues affecting military spouse employment; and while many of the measures focus on government jobs, others will help spouses whether they’re working in the public or private sector.
In part, the order:
- Increases access to childcare in multiple ways, including directing the creating of dependent care flexible saving accounts for troops and expanding the ability of military spouses to provide childcare at home on military bases;
- Requires the government to create a strategic plan on hiring and retention for military and veteran spouses and survivors, to make sure efforts are coordinated across the federal government. The plan is due in six months;
- Sets standards to improve the domestic employee teleworking overseas program and directs the Office of Personnel Management to put out guidance on telework and remote work flexibility for military spouses and caregivers;
- Encourages federal agencies to give military spouses up to five days of administrative leave when moving from station to station, as well as to place them in other positions if a move makes continuing in their existing position impossible;
- Directs the military services to allow families to get advice from base legal assistance about spouse employment under Status of Forces Agreements and host nation agreements, and encourages the secretary of state and defense secretary to consider non-DOD work options for military spouses when “reevaluating or entering agreements with host nations”—since some of those agreements currently forbid military spouses from doing any non-DOD work;
- Directs the Small Business Administration to create specific resources for military and veteran spouse entrepreneurs;
Biden and his wife, Jill, announced the measure at the newly renamed Fort Liberty, N.C., with Jill Biden also urging “employers everywhere to do their part. Recruit military spouses. Offer flexible work opportunities so that you can retain their talent no matter where in the world they are working. … Spouses bring experience and adaptability that—that really can’t be taught.”
For what it’s worth, this cause is near and dear to the heart of your D Brief-ers, who is a military spouse and has moved seven times in the past decade—including three overseas locations—and dealt with many of the issues the order seeks to address. Now, if only the White House could do something about that “dependa” nickname…