Today's D Brief: Today’s D Brief: 3-star leads the Marines; Combat in Gaza tunnels; Update on Iraq/Syria attacks; Multinational ransomware pact; And just a bit more.
U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric Smith was hospitalized Sunday after suffering a heart attack, according to U.S. Naval Institute News, reporting Monday. The service announced Smith’s hospitalization in a press release Monday, but did not specify the cause. “Smith was last seen in public on Sunday afternoon greeting runners at the finish line for the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Va.,” USNI reported.
Given the ongoing obstruction of Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, which leaves the Corps without an assistant commandant, the service’s most senior officer is now Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, deputy commandant for combat development and integration. Heckl will now perform the duties of commandant in accordance with 10 U.S.C. § 8044, the Corps said Monday. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney has been nominated to be the next assistant commandant, but he is one of hundreds of officers whose promotions are being held up by the former college football coach.
Update: 378 general and flag officer nominations have been delayed indefinitely as part of Tuberville’s blanket hold, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Monday.
Rewind: Last month, senators considered and approved the individual nominations to lead the Marines, Army, and Joint Chiefs chairman, as this was the first time in history the Marines, Army, and Navy were simultaneously led by acting service chiefs. But to individually approve each of the 378 remaining nominations would be an uncharacteristically long and arduous ordeal compared to the ordinary Senate process of considering nominations in batches.
“The holds continue, and continue to grow, unfortunately,” Singh said Monday. It’s not just at the Pentagon either, she said. U.S. troops in the Middle East have been affected by the lack of approved senior leaders. So have American forces in Europe. Meanwhile, “We are continuing to be in touch with the Senate on the best way forward, and it's really up to them to decide on how they decide to lift these holds,” she said.
Welcome to this Halloween 2023 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 1941, South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore, built on land illegally taken from the Sioux nation after the Civil War, was finally completed after 14 years of chiseling and sanding.
Israeli officials say their troops freed at least one hostage during its “new phase” of invading Gaza to crush the Hamas group, whose terrorists killed 1,400 Israelis in a surprise attack nearly three weeks ago. Read over the short statement from the Israeli Defense Forces announcing the hostage rescue Monday, here.
What might lie ahead for the remaining 220-plus hostages: “I see no happy ending,” said Gregory Treverton, a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council in the Obama administration, in an interview Monday with The Conversation. “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he said. “As a result, every government, including the United States, says, ‘We never deal with hostage-takers.’ But of course, they all do—and they have to.”
What does Israel’s heavy bombing of Gaza say about the government’s approach to the hostage situation? “It suggests either that [the Israelis] have a pretty good fix on where the hostages are located, which seems unlikely given the network of Hamas tunnels, or that they have decided they must proceed in any case and will try their best to safeguard and free hostages as they go,” Treverton said, but added ominously, “Given the Hamas practice of using civilians as human shields, the outcome is likely to be very ugly.” Read more, here.
The latest: Israel’s military has begun battling Hamas fighters inside the web of tunnels underneath Gaza, including with airstrikes that allegedly hit Hamas “compounds inside underground tunnels,” the Israeli Defense Forces said Tuesday on social media.
Developing: Jordan’s military wants “the American side to help bolster our defense system with Patriot air defense missile systems,” Brigadier General Mustafa Hiyari, Jordan's army spokesperson, said on state-run TV Sunday. When the Pentagon was asked about this request, defense officials refused to engage and referred questions to Amman. Reuters has more.
New: Houthi militants in Yemen say they tried to attack Israel with ballistic missiles and drones on Tuesday, the New York Times reports. Israel also newly claims to have shot down “a surface-to-surface missile in the area of the Red Sea,” in what is “the first operational interception by the Arrow Aerial Defense System since the beginning of the war.”
Update: U.S. and coalition forces have been attacked at least 14 times in Iraq and nine times in Syria from October 17 to October 30, a senior defense officials told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, “through a mix of one-way attack drones and rockets, for a total of 23 attacks to date. Many of these attacks were successfully disrupted by our military. Most failed to reach their target, thanks to our robust defenses.”
The view from Capitol Hill: “This is all one fight,” State Secretary Antony Blinken told Senate appropriators Tuesday in a hearing to review the White House’s new $105 billion supplemental funding request, which combines urgently requested aid for Israel’s military as well as Ukraine’s ongoing defense against a Russian military invasion that’s been happening for more than 600 days. To take the funding request apart, as GOP-led House lawmakers are seeking to do under new House Speaker Rep. Mike Johnson, would be equivalent to playing “whack-a-mole,” which America’s adversaries would read as a kind of isolationism and a green light to act aggressively and against U.S. values abroad.
For what it’s worth: Tuesday’s hearing was delayed by a parade of protesters who loudly interrupted the proceedings before being taken away by Capitol Police. Watch what remains of the livestream via the Senate Appropriations Committee, here.
Another thing: Regional conflicts have given Turkey more room for a “middleman strategy,” writes Ozgur Ozkan, visiting professor at the Fletcher School. But patiences may be running out in both Moscow and Washington. Read on, here.
“Let’s all not pay ransom” is the White House’s new plan to address ransomware, as laid out Monday by Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies. Nearly 50 governments are expected to sign a pledge at this week’s annual meeting of the Counter Ransomware Initiative. The plan includes a “blacklist of wallets” maintained by the U.S. Treasury Department, which will share data with signatories on entities that move money for criminally linked organizations. Countries could then target those service providers and freeze transactions, Neuberger said.
Signatories would also be eligible for help “if they’ve had a major incident that disrupts services needed for daily life, such as transportation, water, energy, and communications,” reports D1’s Lauren C. Williams.
46 percent: That’s the share of “global cyber attacks” aimed at the United States, Neuberger said.
Interview: Neuberger spoke last week with the New York Times’ David Sanger; read a transcript here.
Maine mass shooting, denouement: Three days after the body of Army Reservist Robert Card was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on Friday evening, authorities are sharing more of what they’ve learned of Card’s apparently troubled recent past. Card killed 18 people at two locations in Lewiston, Maine, last week, which was the deadliest U.S. mass shooting in 2023.
Three months before the shooting in Lewiston, Card’s Army unit leaders decided he shouldn't handle or be near a weapon or ammunition due to unspecified “erratic” behavior while training at the U.S. Military Academy in New York, CBS News reported Monday.
Two months before that, Card’s own family members contacted the sheriff’s office out of concern over Robert’s evidently deteriorating mental health. They specifically cited worry over his access to weapons, according to CBS.
The police eventually sent a deputy to look for Card, but couldn’t find him; instead, they reached out to his unit commander as well as his brother. The New York Times reported Monday that as late as September, the Reserves were trying to get Card to retire, and to receive mental health treatment. The Times has a bit more on why various warning signs seem to have been either unused (Maine’s yellow-flag law, e.g.) or were ineffective, here.