Today's D Brief: Marines prep for Med float; Putin to Beijing; Avdiivka slog; 2023 recruiting scorecard; And a bit more.

New: A task force of 2,000 U.S. Marines and sailors are reportedly headed to the Middle East to potentially help Israel as it continues fending off its deadliest attack by regional militants in 75 years. The troops are tasked with logistics and medical support and won’t be in a combat role, though some could set foot on Israeli soil as part of those support plans, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday afternoon. 

The Marines and sailors are en route via prepare-to-deploy orders, which doesn’t guarantee they will deploy; but it does accelerate the process should circumstances change. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued the preparation orders on Sunday, CNN reported Monday evening. 

Involved: The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which had been stationed near Kuwait for exercises. “The unit is on board the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship which is currently in the Gulf of Oman,” CNN reported. The Navy is also sending the landing ship USS Carter Hall toward Israel, U.S. officials told CNN.

By the way: The U.S. military’s top officer in the Middle East visited Tel Aviv on Monday for talks with Israeli officials. U.S. Central Command’s chief Army Gen. Michael Kurilla spoke with Israeli chief of defense Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi “to gain a clear understanding of Israel’s defense requirements, outline U.S. support efforts to avoid expansion of the conflict, and reiterate the Department of Defense’s ironclad support for Israel,” CENTCOM said in a statement Monday. 

Also new: President Joe Biden is scheduled to travel to Israel beginning late Tuesday in an acceptance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent invitation, the National Security Council’s John Kirby said Monday evening in a phone call with reporters. The president plans to fly into Tel Aviv for meetings with Netanyahu and possibly others in his war cabinet on Wednesday as Israeli troops prepare for a ground invasion of Hamas-held portions of the Palestinian Gaza strip. 

Biden will also visit Amman, Jordan, for a meeting with King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. For the Jordanian leg of his trip, Biden plans to “reiterate that Hamas does not stand for the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination and discuss the humanitarian needs of civilians in Gaza,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement Monday evening. 

Busy phone lines: Biden discussed the Gaza crisis by phone with Egypt’s President Sisi and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani on Monday. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin also spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, as well as Jordan’s Abdullah by phone on Monday as well. 

Common goals and phrases from those White House and Pentagon readouts: “prevent[ing] the conflict from widening”; “prevent[ing] an expansion of the conflict”; “Israel's right to defend itself”; “expediting security assistance [to Israel] and preventing conflict escalation”; and “ensuring that civilians have access to humanitarian aid.” 

Jordanian King Abdullah’s advice: “No refugees in Jordan, no refugees in Egypt,” he said Tuesday at a news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin. 

Palestinian militants are still launching rockets into Israel, primarily in the south. That includes Hamas’ militant wing, the al Qassem Brigades; Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s militant wing, Saraya al Quds; and the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the National Resistance Brigades, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. Lebanese Hezbollah fighters also claimed six attacks in Israel’s north on Monday. 

Extra reading: 

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can sign up here. On this day in 1962, three days after a high-flying U-2 recorded evidence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, the Navy launched Operation Blue Moon, a series of low-level recon flights that obtained clear proof.

Russian President Vladimir Putin flew into Beijing Tuesday for talks with China’s autocratic leader Xi Jinping. Seven months ago, Xi visited Putin in Moscow. But Putin’s visit comes as his invasion forces inside Ukraine are struggling to advance in a large-scale assault begun last week to seize the small eastern city of Avdiivka. “By most accounts, [the assault] didn’t go well,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday from Kyiv. 

Putin is in China to celebrate 10 years of Beijing’s globe-spanning construction project known as the Belt and Road Initiative. The project is ostensibly pitched as a goodwill effort; however, it “has laden countries such as Zambia and Sri Lanka with heavy debt from contracts with Chinese companies to build roads, airports and other public works they could not otherwise afford,” the Associated Press reports. 

But Putin’s forces have been bogged down for months inside Ukraine as Russia’s invasion entered its 600th day this week. Near Avdiivka, Russian sources said, “Russian forces have increased the intensity of air and artillery strikes on the settlement in order to compensate for slow ground maneuvers, which are complicated by heavy Ukrainian fortifications” around the city, according to the Institute for the Study of War’s Monday evening assessment. Ukraine’s military says it repelled 10 Russian assaults on Avdiivka Monday.

Ukraine says Russia lost 2,000 troops in a single day last week near Avdiivka; at least 800 of those are believed to have been killed, Col. Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskiy told the Journal. It’s impossible to verify his claim. 

Similarly, the commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command recently claimed 17,000 Russians have deserted from Moscow’s military. “That’s 17,000 soldiers you haven’t had to blow up on the battlefield or destroy,” Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga said at the AUSA conference last week. Breaking Defense has a bit more.

Big picture: “[I]n the 20th month of the war, it isn’t clear that either side is able to significantly move the front line, which hasn’t shifted much in nearly a year,” Ian Lovett of the Journal writes. 

And in a new first, Ukrainian troops allegedly used U.S.-provided long-range ATACMS to destroy Russian helicopters in occupied eastern Ukraine, the Financial Times and Politico reported Tuesday.

The Marines are crushing sister services, recruiting-wise. “The Marine Corps ended the recruiting year on Sept. 30 having met 100 percent of its goal, with hundreds of contracts already signed for the next year,” writes the New York Times. “The corps did it while keeping enlistment standards tight and offering next to no perks. When asked earlier this year about whether the Marines would offer extra money to attract recruits, the commandant of the Marine Corps replied: ‘Your bonus is that you get to call yourself a Marine. That’s your bonus.’”

How’d the other services do in fiscal 2023?

  • Army: Sought to recruit 65,000 active duty soldiers, got about 50,000. “It was the third straight year the Army missed its goal, forcing the active duty Army to cut unfilled positions and shrink to 452,000 troops, from 485,000 in 2021.”
  • Navy: Missed its goal by about 7,500 sailers even though it “began offering cash bonuses and a student loan repayment program, raised the maximum enlistment age to 41 from 39, and took in the maximum allowable number of what are called Category IV recruits, who score fairly low on military aptitude tests.”
  • Air Force: Fell about 10 percent short of its goal of 26,877 new airmen. Read on, here.

ICYMI: More details about the Army’s efforts are here, from D1’s Sam Skove. 

Oh, and Space Force? It was doing fine when D1’s Lauren C. Williams inquired last December.