RUSSIA CLAIMS BAGHDADI KILL: The Russian Defense Ministry claims that Islamic State leader Ibrahim Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian airstrike almost three weeks ago in Syria. In a posting on the ministry’s Facebook page, Russia said the strike was conducted May 28, after intelligence indicated that ISIS leaders were meeting in Raqqa to plan exit routes out of the city in advance of the impending assault by U.S.-backed fighters. “As a result of the attack, senior commanders of the terrorist group were eliminated, which were part of the so-called military council of ISIS, and about 30 field commanders and up to 300 militants of their personal security,” the ministry statement said. “According to information which is verified through various channels, the meeting was also attended by the leader of ISIS, Ibrahim Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was also killed during the airstrike.”
The chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Army Col. Ryan Dillon, confirmed to the Washington Examiner that the U.S. is not able to provide confirmation of the Russian report. It should noted that Baghdadi has been reported killed before, but those reports turned out not to be true, and in recent months his location has been unknown.
4,000 MORE TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN: While the Pentagon says Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has yet to make a formal decision, a Trump administration official has told the AP that 4,000 additional American troops will be heading to Afghanistan as part of Mattis’ revised strategy to turn the tide of battle against the Taliban. The official says the announcement could come as early as next week.
At a House subcommittee yesterday, Mattis said he has not yet presented his plan to the president and pushed back on the idea that he could act unilaterally in directing the war without President Trump’s approval. “He has not fully delegated all authority to me. He maintains strategic oversight,” Mattis testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. “He has delegated the details of forces that will be allocated to support what he approves finally as a strategy, but I assure you this is not a carte blanche for me to come up with numbers that are going into this.”
THE BUDGET BATTLE: Mattis’s appearance yesterday wrapped up four days of pleading with with Congress to lift the budget caps imposed in 2011, in order to approve the $52 billion above the cap the Pentagon says it desperately needs as a down payment on a longer-term plan to fulfill Trump’s promise of a massive military buildup. There seemed to be a growing acceptance among some Republicans on the appropriations committee that the only way to get that done would be to do a deal with Democrats to also increase discretionary non-defense spending. “So I want to encourage you to talk with the White House people, especially OMB and see if we can negotiate a number,” GOP Rep. Hal Rogers told Mattis. “Otherwise we're headed straight into a [continuing resolution] with all that that contains.”
"At the end of the day, there's only one or two outcomes this year," agreed GOP Rep. Tom Cole. "We're either going to have a continuing resolution, or we are going to have a negotiated bipartisan agreement. If we don't get to a good number in the non-defense area we will inevitably end up doing something that nobody on either side of the aisle wants to do.”
Mattis testified that a continuing resolution would put significant limitations on what the Pentagon can do to adapt to a fast-changing world with new threats from drones, hypersonic weapons and cyberattacks, noting that under a CR he cannot start any new program that doesn't already exist and is currently funded. "Under a continuing resolution I can do zero about new starts to address the changing character of war," Mattis said.
Committee Chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger urged Mattis to expend some of his personal capital converting other members of Congress to his cause. "Any way you can reach out. You have such presence. People respect you. They look to you for the answers," Granger said. "If you will reach out to those who are not on the four committees making these decisions it would make our possibilities much better."
HE’S PROBABLY WISHING HE’D NEVER SAID THAT: At all four Pentagon budget hearings this week, someone read back to Mattis his now famous 2013 quote from when he was head of U.S. Central Command. "If you don't fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.” He stands by the statement, but when questioned how he can support a 30 percent cut in the State Department budget, Mattis said he hadn’t reviewed the State budget, because he had his hands full with the Pentagon’s budget. At Wednesday’s hearing, Mattis said he first learned of the deep cuts by reading a newspaper account, and called Secretary of State Rex Tillerson right away. “We'll set the priorities together, so that we get the best possible use of the dollars allocated to each of the departments working in concert,” Mattis said.
THE ‘McKAINE’ SCRUTINY: Former Republican presidential nominee John McCain and former Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine joined forces to write an opinion piece, which of course mentioned the same Mattis quote about fully funding the State Department. The two senators, writing in Politico, decried the deep cuts in the diplomatic budget as “a penny-wise and pound-foolish error that will shift even more of the burden for stabilizing the world to our overburdened armed services.”
“Smart intelligence operations are essential to our security. So is adroit diplomacy and U.S. assistance — including humanitarian relief, democracy promotion and economic development — to further our goals,” write McCain and Kaine. “Such cuts will make it harder to make America safer. They will deprive the world of the full array of American political and moral leadership when it has never been more needed.”
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: Trump travels to Miami to announce changes to President Obama’s policy that opened up relations with Cuba’s communist government. White House officials said yesterday that Trump won’t completely ditch the Obama Cuba policy, but will revise it in significant ways. Trump is expected to order a halt to the flow of U.S. dollars to the Cuban military, while continuing diplomatic relations and still allowing U.S. airlines and cruise ships to continue service to the island.
VIVA LA SUPER HORNET: The glory days of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter might have seemed on the wane as it makes way for the Lockheed Martin F-35, but the Navy underscored Thursday that the jet won’t be disappearing anytime soon. The service said it is still planning to buy at least 80 Super Hornets over the next five years, and that number could grow. "Stuff happens and the world gets a vote," Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Right now, the Super Hornet is a very capable strike fighter aircraft. It is doing terrific work for us right now.”
The Navy’s fiscal 2018 defense budget request for 14 Super Hornets caused disappointment and concern among some in Congress. Sen. Claire McCaskill said she expected more. “I need to understand how that 24 number got to 14," she asked (the planes are built in her home state of Missouri). Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley blamed “budget constraints” in the coming fiscal year and said the service would lean on foreign military sales of the fighter to keep the industrial base humming for its planned future purchases.
QATAR QUESTIONS: Rep. Ted Lieu is questioning the U.S. deal to sell F-15 fighter jets to Qatar days after Trump accused the Persian Gulf country of supporting terrorism and then cheered the blockade against it. During a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing with U.S. officials overseeing foreign military sales, the California Democrat asked Tina Kaidanow, acting assistant secretary for the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, whether reports were true that the U.S. has agreed to sell Boeing F-15s to Qatar for $12 billion. She said the contract had just been signed.
"I don't mean to be facetious about this, but does the president know that?" Lieu asked. "I believe so," Kaidanow answered. When asked how the administration could square that with Trump’s statements about Qatar’s support for terrorism, she answered that while Qatar's actions are a concern, the bigger issue involves building up allies in the Gulf to defend against Iran.
NEW RUSSIA/IRAN SANCTIONS: The Senate voted Thursday to impose new sanctions against Russia for its efforts to disrupt last year's presidential election through cyberattacks against the Democratic party and state election rolls, Susan Ferrechio writes. The Russia sanctions are part of an underlying bill that would sanction Iran over its ballistic missile program and its support of regional terrorism. The amendment adding the Russia sanctions easily passed 97-2 on Wednesday. The Senate passed the entire bill in a 98-2 vote. The only votes against it came from Sens. Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders. The bill also included provisions aimed at punishing Iran for its ballistic missile tests and the provocative actions of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
But the bill also passed with an amendment that would allow NASA to continue using Russian-made rocket engines, despite an impassioned protest by McCain. “Have no doubt about what this amendment is. It is a giveaway to the Russian military industrial complex,” McCain said on the floor of the Senate before the amendment passed 94-6. “The door will once again fly open for taxpayer dollars to be used to subsidize purchases of Russian rocket engines, purchases which line the pockets of Vladimir Putin’s cronies.”
MADE IN RUSSIA: A House Republican lawmaker said Thursday that some members of the NATO alliance are still dependent on Russia for military equipment for their air and ground forces, which makes it harder for the U.S. to count on them as allies, Joel Gehrke writes. "We have not weaned them off," Rep. Paul Cook, a retired Marine Corps colonel, said of those countries during a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing.
The California Republican said the use of "Soviet-style" equipment is a complicating factor for U.S. policy. It leaves the eastern European NATO allies vulnerable to Russian aggression, in addition to complicating their efforts to fulfill Trump's demand that they increase military spending. Cook urged the Trump administration to sell eastern European allies American military equipment that can replace the Russian weapons systems. "It doesn't seem like a big priority, and yet, countries there, they've been with us and everything else, but we expect them to come to the fight when and if the Russians come across," he said.
LET’S MAKE ONE THING PERFECTLY CLEAR: Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a resolution yesterday reaffirming the United States Senate’s commitment to NATO’s Article 5, which everyone by now knows states an attack on one NATO nation is an attack on all. It passed 100-0. “This is an important founding principle of NATO and the concept of ‘collective defense,’ ” Graham said in statement after the vote. “Today’s overwhelming vote should reassure our allies and give notice to our enemies that America stands firmly in support of NATO and our Article 5 commitment.”
OBSTRUCTION PROBE: Rep. Adam Schiff wants the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election to look at whether Trump obstructed justice. "I think it needs to be part of the investigation," Schiff, who is ranking member on the intelligence panel, told Politico on Thursday. "Congress has to get to the bottom of whether anybody is interfering or obstructing any investigation in any way." Schiff said he's spoken to Rep. Mike Conaway, who is leading their committee's probe, about looking into obstruction of justice.
COATS TESTIFIES: The Senate Intelligence Committee met with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Thursday in a closed committee hearing to discuss issues that had not been addressed during his hearing last week, according to a release. "The Committee today met with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to clear up a number of questions that remained from his appearance in open session last Wednesday," Senate intelligence panel leaders said in a joint statement released Thursday. "He also briefed the Committee on the President's Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the National Intelligence Program."
SUSPECTS, BUT NO SMOKING GUN: While Navy officials talked future Super Hornet buys on the Hill, the service released the findings of its review into a rash of oxygen deprivation incidents among pilots of the T-45 trainer jet and the F/A-18A-F Hornet models. Headed by the Pacific Fleet commander, the high level review sent a team to fighter and training wings across the country to figure out why pilots were getting sick during flights. The review was not exactly conclusive. “We don’t know the root cause,” said Adm. Bill Moran, vice chief of naval operations.
The review did identify top suspects and uncovered shortcomings with two key aircraft systems. Pilots are at risk of breathing contaminated air from the on-board oxygen generation system, called OBOGS, used by the T-45s and F/A-18s. The aircraft are not able to continuously provide the clean, dry air needed to make the system work. Meanwhile, aging parts and inadequate testing have caused failures in a control system responsible for pressurizing cockpits. "When I say we have not found the cause … it may be more than one component or it may be more than one condition that clearly leads to a physiological event,” Moran said.
NOMINEE UPDATE: Last night, the White House announced that the nomination of Lucian Niemeyer to be assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment had been sent to the Senate.
SAILOR NOT IN THE DRINK, BUT IN DEEP TROUBLE: A Navy sailor aboard the USS Shiloh whom Navy officials presumed to be dead was found alive on the guided-missile cruiser. Gas Turbine Systems Technician (Mechanical) 3rd Class Peter Mims had been missing since June 8 when officials believed he fell overboard, but was found Thursday after hiding in one of the engine rooms, sources told Navy Times.
According to the U.S. 7th Fleet, Mims' disappearance prompted a search lasting more than 50 hours and covering 5,500 square miles of the Philippine Sea. Navy aircraft and destroyers, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Japan Coast Guard assets participated in the search, which was suspended June 11. The Shiloh's crew continued to look for Mims aboard the vessel.
Military.com: F-35A hypoxia problems date back to 2011, Air Force reveals
New York Times: As Trump bets on China’s help on North Korea, aides ask: Is it worth it?
Military Times: US and coalition forces blitz Raqqa with 187 airstrikes in first week of operations
Defense News: U.S. lawmakers skeptical of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Lebanon
BuzzFeed: From Russia with blood
Defense One: Mattis’s Afghanistan war plan: Be patient, convince everyone
Reuters: Qatar says fighter jets deal shows deep U.S. support
DoD Buzz: JLTV Photos: Pentagon moves closer to fielding Humvee replacement
Wall Street Journal: Germany, Austria chide U.S. Senate's Russia sanctions bill
Foreign Policy: ‘I want to die in the shadow of the flag of an independent Kurdistan’
Defense News: Troops from 8 nations gather for NATO readiness exercise
Stars and Stripes: McCain vexed by time and cost of Navy's purchase of ships
LA Times: Naval Commander Stresses No Change In U.S. Policy On South China Sea
Military.com: Confirmation Hearing Set For SecNav Nominee Richard Spencer
Washington Post: Otto Warmbier’s Father Denounces North Korea As His Son Is Treated For A ‘Severe Neurological Injury’
AFP: New Trump-Era US-China Dialogue Set For June 21
The Hill: Treasury Acts To Disrupt ISIS Financing Network
FRIDAY | JUNE 16
8:30 a.m. 300 1st St. SE. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson speaks at the Mitchell Institute's National Security Space FY18 Budget Forum, Capitol Hill Club
9:30 a.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. American and Japanese perspectives on a Eurasia security strategy. stimson.org
10 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. New administrations and the challenges and way forward for the U.S.-South Korea alliance with Chung-in Moon, special adviser to the South Korean president for unification and national security affairs. wilsoncenter.org
MONDAY | JUNE 19
7 a.m. 2201 Cooperative Way. The climate for small businesses operating in the national security environment of a Trump presidency. ndia.org
11 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Discussion of the book The Forgotten Flight: Terrorism, Diplomacy and the Pursuit of Justice. wilsoncenter.org
11:30 a.m. 529 14th St. NW. Luncheon with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. press.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Documentary screening of “Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS.” heritage.org
1 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The promise and momentum of U.S.-India defense and security cooperation. csis.org
1 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. How vulnerable is the United States to cybersecurity threats? cfr.org
2 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Book launch for Dean Acheson and the Obligations of Power. wilsoncenter.org
TUESDAY | JUNE 20
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Nomination of Pat Shanahan to be deputy defense secretary. armed-services.senate.gov
9:30 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. China’s emerging role in the world and U.S.-China relations. heritage.org
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Russian military-industrial complex. csis.org
10 a.m. Dirksen 419. Reviewing congressional authorizations for the use of military force. foreign.senate.gov
12:30 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. The origins and evolution of ISIS in Libya. atlanticcouncil.org
12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. A conversation with Michael McCaul about cybersecurity and homeland threats from Eastern Europe. cfr.org
5:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Debate on North Korea's nuclear program. csis.org
WEDNESDAY | JUNE 21
8 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. Insider threat workshop. ndia.org
8:30 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Day 1 of a forum on the United States and Russia in the Arctic. wilsoncenter.org
9 a.m. Russell 232-A. Navy shipbuilding programs. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. Hart 216. Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. intelligence.senate.gov
10 a.m. House Visitor Center 210. Russia Investigative Task Force hearing with former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. intelligence.house.gov
10:30 a.m. Dirksen 192. Review of the 2018 budget request for the Air Force with Secretary Heather Wilson and Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff. appropriations.senate.gov
10:30 a.m. Dirksen 342. Cybersecurity regulation harmonization. hsgac.senate.gov
2:30 p.m. Rayburn 2212. Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities budget markup. armedservices.house.gov
4 p.m. Rayburn 2118. Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces budget markup. armedservices.house.gov
THURSDAY | JUNE 22
8:30 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Day 2 of a forum on the United States and Russia in the Arctic. wilsoncenter.org
9 a.m. Rayburn 2212. Subcommittee on Readiness budget markup. armedservices.house.gov
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Nomination of Richard V. Spencer to be Navy secretary. armed-services.senate.gov
9:30 a.m. 1501 Lee Highway. State of electronic warfare in the DOD with William Conley, deputy director of electronic warfare, office of the under secretary of defense. mitchellaerospacepower.org
10:30 a.m. Rayburn 2118. Subcommittee on Strategic Forces budget markup. armedservices.house.gov
11 a.m. Senate Visitor Center 217. Closed hearing on recent developments in North Korea with Joseph Yun, special representative for North Korea policy and deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea And Japan. foreign.senate.gov
11:30 a.m. Rayburn 2212. Subcommittee on Military Personnel budget markup. armedservices.house.gov
12:30 p.m. Rayburn 2118. Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces budget markup. armedservices.house.gov
1 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A conversation with Vice President Mike Pence. wilsoncenter.org
FRIDAY | JUNE 23
11 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Opportunities and challenges of a nuclear posture review. heritage.org