Today's D Brief: US adds troops in Mideast; Israel hits refugee camp; Iran’s hackers, improving; Chinese-drone ban proposed; And a bit more.
New: The United States military is sending 300 more American troops to the Middle East, Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday. “These additional troops will provide capabilities and explosive ordnance disposal, communications and other support enablers for forces already in the region,” Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon.
In case you’re wondering, those 300 troops “are not going to Israel,” Ryder said. They’re part of the 2,000 troops put on prepare-to-deploy orders in mid-October.
But “several dozen” U.S. Special Operations forces are already on the ground in Israel “actively helping the Israelis...identify hostages, including American hostages,” U.S. officials and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Christopher Maier confirmed this week, according to the New York Times, reporting Tuesday.
The Pentagon said this was a possibility more than two weeks ago. “As the President stated, any presence of military personnel will be to advise and consult on hostage recovery efforts,” spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said on October 16.
Developing: An Israeli airstrike killed dozens of people at a refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. Reuters photographer Anas al-Shareef captured an incredible image of the scene Tuesday at the Jabalia refugee camp. See for yourself, here.
Israel’s military says it killed a Hamas commander named Ibrahim Biari in the airstrike. “Biari was one of the leaders responsible for the murderous terror attack on October 7th,” the IDF said on social media. They also claim to have “eliminated a large number of terrorists who were with Biari,” and “underground terrorist infrastructure collapsed following the strike” as well, according to Israel.
A note on the scene: “Jabalia is a densely populated refugee camp established shortly after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from territory that encompassed the newly established State of Israel, and later denied return,” CNN reports. “The camp is a crowded built-up area with houses, shops and apartment buildings jammed up against one another, the roads between them in many areas barely wide enough for a car to pass.”
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin rang his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant on Tuesday. Austin “emphasized the need to prioritize civilian safety in military operations…and urged continued progress to increase assistance to civilians in Gaza,” the Defense Department said in its post-chat readout.
Developing: Human rights group Amnesty International says Israeli troops used white phosphorus unlawfully in southern Lebanon as cross-border tensions simmered 10 days after the surprise attack by Hamas that began on October 7. In particular, according to Amnesty, “One attack on the town of Dhayra on 16 October must be investigated as a war crime because it was an indiscriminate attack that injured at least nine civilians and damaged civilian objects, and was therefore unlawful.”
Why it matters: “White phosphorus is an incendiary substance mostly used to create a dense smoke screen or mark targets,” AI notes. “People exposed to white phosphorus can suffer respiratory damage, organ failure and other horrific and life-changing injuries, including burns that are extremely difficult to treat and cannot be put out with water.”
Reminder: U.S. troops used white phosphorus in Syria and Iraq when flushing ISIS militants from the cities of Raqqa and Mosul more than six years ago. Human Rights Watch has more on those instances, here.
President Joe Biden rang Jordanian King Abdullah II on Tuesday. The two men spoke about a range of issues central to the treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip—e.g., “the increased, sustained delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance,” “the importance of protecting civilian lives and respecting international humanitarian law,” “ensur[ing] that Palestinians are not forcibly displaced outside of Gaza,” and “set[ting] the conditions for a durable and sustainable peace in the Middle East to include the establishment of a Palestinian state,” according to the White House’s readout.
The view from Amman: Abdullah’s office warned about “the dangerous deterioration of the situation in Gaza,” according to its much shorter readout. Abdullah also insisted “the only solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the two-state solution that leads to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 4 June 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Amman said.
Included in Jordan’s readout, but not included in the White House version (emphasis added): “the importance of a ceasefire and an immediate humanitarian truce in Gaza, to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of humanitarian aid, while stepping up efforts to stop the war and work towards a political horizon.”
King Abdullah traveled to Abu Dhabi Wednesday for talks with United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The two men focused their talks on “stepping up Arab efforts to stop the war on Gaza and protect innocent civilians,” according to Jordan’s generous post-meeting readout.
The leaders also stressed “avoiding a new cycle of violence in the region, while working on finding a clear political horizon for just and comprehensive peace, on the basis of the two-state solution that guarantees stability and security for all,” Abdullah’s office said.
- “Jack Lew confirmed as new US Ambassador to Israel’,” the BBC reported Tuesday from Capitol Hill;
- “In Cyberattacks, Iran Shows Signs of Improved Hacking Capabilities,” the New York Times reported Tuesday;
- Check out “Profiles of 15 Iranian-backed Militias in the Middle East,” via Bill Roggio and Joe Truzman of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies;
- And from Capitol Hill, “SecDef: Pulling Ukraine support would hand Putin a major win,” Defense One’s Lauren Williams and Patrick Tucker reported Tuesday from a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Audrey Decker. If you’re not already subscribed, you can sign up here. On this day in 1952, the U.S. detonated the world’s first thermonuclear device in a test codenamed Ivy Mike.
Saudi military chief Khalid bin Salman is visiting the Pentagon this morning, where he was greeted by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin along with an enhanced honor cordon.
Australia’s defense chief dropped by the Pentagon Tuesday to discuss a whole range of issues affecting security dynamics in the Pacific region. Those include defense coordination with Japan; Black Hawk helicopter sales to Canberra; base construction and expansion at places like Darwin, Tindal, Scherger, and Curtin; and of course the nuclear powered submarine sharing program with the United Kingdom known as AUKUS.
According to Australia’s Defense Minister Richard Marles, “What's playing out in the Middle East, and obviously will continue to play out in Ukraine, highlights the challenging world in which we live at the moment as we also look at the huge military build-up of China,” he said while standing beside Austin on Tuesday. Read more from their brief appearance before the cameras, here.
Chinese-drone ban gains pace: Later today, bipartisan members of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party plan to introduce the American Security Drone Act of 2023, the latest attempt to stop the U.S. government from buying drones built in China and other countries labeled as national security threats. It follows several failed attempts to extend the current ban on DOD purchases of Chinese drones to the rest of the government, including a companion to a Senate bill that was re-introduced in February after failing to pass in 2021.
Here’s a case for such a ban, from former INDOPACOM ops director Mark Montgomery, now with FDD. Essentially, he argues at D1, Chinese-made drones could spy on U.S. citizens and infrastructure.
Here’s a case against it, from drone expert Faine Greenwood, writing at Foreign Policy. The FP piece is paywalled, but she limns it here: “There’s one big, fat problem: there is no non-Chinese consumer drone company that does what DJI does. Much less does it at such a low price-point, which is a vital consideration for the vast swaths of modern drone users who don’t have unlimited cash to throw around. And building a DJI-killer is a lot harder than you might assume: although a number of Western competitors tried to knock DJI off the pedestal over the last decade, they all failed...Eventually, they largely stopped trying. This is also why both Ukrainians and Russians are continuing to chew through vast quantities of DJI drones on the battlefield, despite massive misgivings about their reliance on Chinese tech.”
DOD’s current bans: The Pentagon stopped buying drones from China’s DJI in 2017, and most off-the-shelf drones in 2018; that same year, Congress generally but not totally forbade the military to buy any Chinese-made drones.
In D.C. today, the U.S. Army’s top intelligence official, Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is scheduled to speak at a “virtual fireside chat” hosted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. ET. Details and livestream here.
And lastly: The Pentagon’s office to explore unidentified aerial phenomena may never get to the bottom of some of the most famous sightings, due to a lack of data, officials admitted this week. But, they added, they do have hope that a new reporting mechanism will help.
To overcome that data deficit, defense officials said Tuesday that they’ve opened a secure online reporting mechanism, so former government and military employees with knowledge of previous programs that could be related to UAPs can report them to the office securely and not face retribution. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has more, here.