TALE OF TWO CITIES: In the twin capitals claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, things are coming to a head. In Mosul, it’s the beginning of the end; and in Raqqa, the endgame is about to begin.
MOSUL: In Iraq’s second largest city, the remaining ISIS fighters — numbering somewhere south of 1,000 — are surrounded in a six square mile section of west Mosul’s old city. They are concentrated in three neighborhoods, with no way of escape, as Iraqi Security Forces slowly press ahead through the dense and dangerous urban terrain. “Liberating these final neighborhoods will be among the most difficult fighting the ISF has faced in their campaign to defeat ISIS,” said Col. Ryan Dillon, the new U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.
Unfortunately, between 80,000 and 150,000 Iraqi civilians are also effectively trapped, although about 4,000 a day are able to slip out despite the efforts of ISIS to kill anyone who tries to leave the war zone. “We've heard multiple first-person accounts, daily accounts of ISIS's attempts to prevent citizens from leaving,” Dillon said. “They have been shot by ISIS snipers while trying to evacuate. And we have seen them victims of ISIS-emplaced bombs and booby-traps as they attempt to flee.” No timetable has been set for the final push to annihilate ISIS in Mosul.
RAQQA: In the other self-proclaimed capital of ISIS’ ever-shrinking caliphate, final preparations are underway for the offensive to retake the Syrian city, which Pentagon officials tell the Washington Examiner will begin in days. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are being given fresh arms and ammunition, the civilian population has been told to evacuate, and the U.S.-led coalition has stepped up airstrikes against the dug-in defenses in Raqqa. “The SDF is poised around Raqqa,” Dillon said. “They're within three kilometers (1.8 miles) of Raqqa City from the north and the east, and are about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the city to the west.”
Unlike in Mosul, where the Iraqi government told citizens to essentially shelter in place, the SDF and local Raqqa civilian council have urged Raqqa residents to get out now, before the fighting starts. Screening centers have been set up to catch any ISIS members who try to hide among fleeing civilians, and already almost 200,000 people have left the city and taken up residence in refugee camps or other nearby settlements.
TRAVEL BAN TO SCOTUS: Last night the Trump administration, exasperated by a series of rulings by lower courts that have blocked the president’s temporary entry ban from six countries with links to terrorism, asked the Supreme Court to settle the issue. The president clearly has the authority to limit immigration in the interest of national security, but federal appeals courts have also considered Trump’s past public statements about instituting a “Muslim ban,” to rule his actual motivation is “religious animus.” The Justice Department filing asked the high court to immediately reinstate its ban on travelers in the name of public safety, and argues the latest court ruling made several mistakes. The countries affected would be Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
PARIS, JE NE T’AIME PAS: As expected, President Trump announced yesterday the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, but promised to use his famous deal-making skills to come up with something better. “So we're getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that's fair. And if we can, that's great. And if we can't, that's fine,” Trump said.
While the move was widely decried as an abdication of U.S. leadership on the issue of climate change, the agreement’s provisions were largely voluntary, and Trump insisted the U.S. would not abandon the broader goals. “We'll be the cleanest. We're going to have the cleanest air. We're going to have the cleanest water,” Trump said. “We will be environmentally friendly but we're not going to put our businesses out of work, we're not going to lose our jobs.” A 2014 Pentagon report said “DoD recognizes the reality of climate change and the significant risk it poses to U.S. interests globally.”
Good Friday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.
HAPPENING TODAY: The UN Security Council votes today on a proposal to blacklist more North Korean individuals, who would have their foreign assets frozen and be banned from international travel. The sanctions resolution is jointly backed by both the United States and China, evidence of new cooperation between the two countries following Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in April. Reuters says it has seen a draft of the resolution and reports it sanctions four entities, including the Koryo Bank and Strategic Rocket Force of the Korean People's Army, and 14 people, including Cho Il U, who is believed to head North Korea's overseas spying operations.
RUSSIA SANCTIONS: Trump's Treasury Department imposed sanctions on a Russian-based company Thursday for aiding North Korea's nuclear weapons program, Joel Gehrke writes. "The United States will continue to target individuals and entities responsible for financing and supporting North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and will continue to increase pressure on this hostile regime," said John Smith, director of the department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. "Treasury is working with our allies to counter networks that enable North Korea's destabilizing activities, and we urge our partners to take parallel steps to cut off their funding sources."
MATTIS IN SHANGRI-LA: While you were sleeping, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis touched down in Singapore, where he is attending the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asia-focused defense summit, attended by ministers and delegates from more than 50 countries. Mattis is scheduled to speak to the conference Saturday, which will be tonight Washington time. (Singapore is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.) He’s also meeting privately with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Mattis told reporters traveling with him that his goal is once again reassuring U.S. allies, even as the Trump administration criticizes South Korea and Japan for not contributing enough to their own defense.
CARRIER DOUBLE DOWN: A picture may be worth 1,000 words, or at least a stern warning to North Korea. The Navy has released photos showing the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups side by side, plying the waters near the Korean peninsula. The carriers finally linked up for joint exercises with the Japanese navy after the Vinson was dispatched to the area following the North’s missile tests.
It was an undeniable show of force, coming just days after North Korea tested yet another ballistic missile and leader Kim Jong Un promised to send a bigger "gift package" to the U.S., but the Navy said it was all in a day's work. “The presence of two carriers is part of a regularly scheduled rotation of assets in the region and is not in response to any political or world events,” said Lt. Loren Terry, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon. Almost exactly a year ago, the U.S. conducted similar dual carrier exercises in the Philippine Sea, with the Reagan and the USS John C. Stennis.
WELCOMING THE USS FORD: As those two Nimitz-class supercarriers patrolled the Asia-Pacific, the Navy received its first next-generation aircraft carrier from the builder. The hulking $13 billion Gerald R. Ford was delivered to the service at Newport News, Va., and is expected to be commissioned this summer, the service said. It could be fully operational in 2020.
The Ford-class carriers, built by Newport News Shipbuilding, can carry more aircraft, weapons and fuel with its larger flight deck and features the newly designed electromagnetic aircraft launch system. Trump recently panned the system, but service officials said they're going ahead with it. Next up will be the John F. Kennedy and the Enterprise, which are slated to be delivered in the next decade.
SINGLE SENATOR SANK GREEN’S NOM: Trump’s ex-pick for Army secretary broke his silence this week, offering a new explanation for withdrawing in May. Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green told a local news site that he made the decision after a single unnamed Democratic senator blocked his nomination. He said the indefinite hold up meant “our soldiers would be left without a secretary who could advocate for them and secure the resources they need.” Last month, he blamed liberals for mischaracterizing his devout Christian beliefs. His past statements on gay marriage, transgender rights and Islam triggered weeks of outcry from Capitol Hill Democrats and civil rights groups leading up to his withdrawal.
PRESSURE ON SESSIONS: Two Senate Democrats say Attorney General Jeff Sessions should resign if it turns out he lied about a reported third meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the presidential campaign, Todd Shepherd writes. "We served with the Attorney General in the Senate and on the Judiciary Committee for many years," Sens. Pat Leahy and Al Franken said in a joint statement Thursday. "We know he would not tolerate dishonesty if he were in our shoes."
"If it is determined that the Attorney General still has not been truthful with Congress and the American people about his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, he needs to resign," they said.
APPOINTMENT TELEVISION: Former FBI Director James Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week, the committee announced Thursday. He will testify first in an open session on Russia's meddling in the 2016 election at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 8, and a closed session will follow. During his testimony, Comey will no doubt be asked about reports that Trump pressured him to ease up on the FBI's investigation into just-fired national security adviser Mike Flynn.
EMBASSY STAYS IN TEL AVIV: Trump signed a waiver yesterday delaying his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Alex Pappas writes. Trump's waiver suspends the move under the Jerusalem Embassy Act for six months. The law, passed in 1995, required the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem by the end of the 20th century, or else the State Department's building budget would be cut in half. However, the law allowed the president to sign six-month waivers if it did not serve the national interest to move the embassy. Every president since the bill became law — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Trump — all signed waivers.
PAYBACK: A Russian official said Moscow might demand compensation from the U.S. government for blocking off access to two diplomatic compounds late last year as part of the sanctions imposed against the country for meddling in the 2016 elections. Russian agents were expelled from the two U.S. locations on Dec. 29, when Obama levied sanctions on Russia. In a statement, Obama said the compounds were "used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes."
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the Trump administration is considering whether to allow Russian diplomats back into the retreats in Centreville, Md., and Oyster Bay, N.Y. A report from state-sponsored TASS news agency in Russia said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said they haven't received proposals on how to settle the situation. As a result, she said, "This issue is slowly shifting to the field of compensation for the damage."
TERRIBLE, BUT NOT TERROR: What at first looked like a terrorist attack on a casino in the Philippine capital of Manila, now looks more like a botched robbery. A gunman who stormed the casino, shot up the slot machines and set gaming tables ablaze with gasoline, ended up killing himself after failing to get away with $2 million in stolen casino chips. Smoke from the fire killed at least 36 people, according to local police.
AP: In Damascus, a general feeling that the war is winding down
Wall Street Journal: Afghan president orders executions of jailed militants
AP: Russia envoy says Moscow will respond to NATO buildup
Defense One: US Navy sends Congress $5.3B wish list of planes, ships and more
Daily Beast: McMaster Is ‘Being Used’ for His General’s Stars, His Old Military Comrades Say
CNN: Meet Boeing's new covert, flying gas station
Military Times: The military is building a case to block transgender applicants — at least for now
New York Times: Maybe private Russian hackers meddled in election, Putin says
Foreign Policy: Afghanistan blames Pakistan for planning deadly Kabul attack
AP: Turkey plans to build walls along borders with Iraq, Iran
USNI News: NAVSEA: Extending surface ship service lives could speed up 355-ship buildup by 10-15 years
Stars and Stripes: Navy to hire more than 2,000 new federal shipyard workers
War on the Rocks: America Is Navigating Freely To Nowhere In The South China Sea
FRIDAY | JUNE 2
8 a.m. 300 1st St. SE. Nuclear deterrence series with Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs. Mitchellaerospacepower.org
MONDAY | JUNE 5
9 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The stunning inside story of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida in flight. brookings.edu
3:30 p.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. All measures short of war: The contest for the 21st century and the future of American power. brookings.edu
5 p.m. Senate Visitor Center 217. Closed hearing on the Islamic State outside the Middle East. foreign.senate.gov
TUESDAY | JUNE 6
8:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The 6th annual symposium on the European Union's common security and defense policy. csis.org
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Posture of the Air Force with Secretary Heather Wilson and Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The growing threat from cyber weapons and what the United States needs to do to prepare. brookings.edu
10 a.m. Dirksen 342. Department of Homeland Security budget request for 2018. hsgac.senate.gov
12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Are there any steps forward in Syria? cfr.org
2 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A new nuclear review for a new age. csis.org
2:30 p.m. Dirksen 124. Defense budget request for military construction and family housing. appropriations.senate.gov
2:30 p.m. Russell 232-A. Marine Corps ground modernization. armed-services.senate.gov
WEDNESDAY | JUNE 7
8 a.m. 300 1st St. SE. Nuclear deterrence series event on U.S. and allied nuclear and BMD initiatives. mitchellaerospacepower.org
8:30 a.m. 901 17 St. NW. The future of defense and deterrence in Europe with Gen. Philip Breedlove, former supreme allied commander of NATO, and the defense ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. atlanticcouncil.org
8:45 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Energy security in central and eastern Europe. atlanticcouncil.org
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Meeting security challenges in a disordered world. csis.org
10:30 a.m. Dirksen 192. Hearing to review the budget request for the U.S. Army with Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff, and Robert Speer, acting Army secretary. appropriations.senate.gov
10:30 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Regional perspectives on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. atlanticcouncil.org
2:30 p.m. Russell 222. Defense Department nuclear acquisition programs and the nuclear doctrine with Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, and Vice Adm. Terry J. Benedict, director of Strategic Systems Programs. armed-services.senate.gov
6 p.m. 1301 S. Joyce St. Networking Series event with Dana W. White, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs. militaryreporters.org
THURSDAY | JUNE 8
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Posture of the Navy with acting Secretary Sean Stackley, Adm. John Richardson and Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller. armed-services.senate.gov
12:30 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Nuclear weapons and coercive diplomacy. stimson.org
1 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Development as a U.S. national security imperative with retired Adm. Mike Mullen, Gen. James Jones and Gen. Carter Ham. atlanticcouncil.org