WELCOME HOME JIM: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis returns to Washington today after a five-day trip to find a host of festering problems waiting for him. Mattis’ last stop was Pakistan, where he pressed civilian and military leaders to “redouble its efforts to confront militants and terrorists operating within the country,” according to a Pentagon statement. Mattis also traveled to Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait.
SYRIA: At the beginning of his trip, Mattis confirmed to reporters traveling with him that the U.S. is in fact planning to stop arming its Kurdish allies in Syria, including the YPG militia that Turkey considers a terrorist group. That was something President Trump promised Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call last week. “We're going to go exactly along the lines of what the president announced,” Mattis said. “The YPG is armed, and as the coalition stops offensive ops, then, obviously, you don't need that, you need security — you need police forces. That's local forces.” Mattis says with the Islamic State now “collapsing,” the U.S. no longer needs the troops who were the most effective against ISIS. “That fighting is now dropping off, in terms of the need for offensive capability. Consistent with that, we're changing the composition of our forces to something that supports the diplomats and the Geneva process.”
That has apparently emboldened Erdogan, who vowed today to “very soon completely destroy” those in Syria linked to Kurdish militants, according to Reuters. The question for Mattis is, will the U.S. stand by while its NATO ally tries to wipe out the fighters who provided the U.S. with its victory over ISIS? Our magazine this week asks the question: Can the US-Turkey marriage be saved?
NORTH KOREA: The U.S. military says its massive air exercise now underway with South Korea, which involves 230 combat aircraft and some 12,000 U.S troops, is not aimed at any particular world event, even as it follows North Korea’s latest and greatest ICBM test. Vigilant Ace is an annual exercise, but this year’s is the biggest ever.
That has North Korea spewing more bellicose invective, as reported by Rodong Sinmun. The state-run newspaper calls the weeklong U.S.- South Korea exercise “a trite method employed by aggressors to mount a sudden preemptive attack while pretending to conduct war drills,” and proves that effort to bring down the DPRK by force “has gone beyond the danger line.” The paper says that the “reckless moves of the U.S. and the puppet forces” only convinces North Korea it was quite right “when it decided to bolster the powerful war deterrence in every way.”
BUDGET: This Friday is when the continuing resolution funding the government, including the Pentagon, runs out. While the smart money is on another two-week extension that would push a vote on the full budget until the Friday before Christmas, at this point nothing is a sure thing. The Pentagon's top leaders, in and out of uniform, have gone hoarse shouting the warnings about the damage unstable budgets have wrought. But the main obstacle remains the spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which requires compromise with the Democrats in Congress to lift or amend.
“Anyone who thinks we’re close to a deal on the appropriations bills is not paying attention,” said Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee at the Reagan National Defense Forum over the weekend. Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan was the latest to lend his voice to the chorus of doom, also speaking at the Reagan forum. “Operating without a budget is not normal. Doing so every year for nine years is really not normal,” said Shanahan, who has been on the job for just four and a half months. “Part of my job as a leader is guarding against the normalization of abnormal behaviors.”
Good Tuesday 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 House Rules Committee is scheduled to consider the CR this afternoon, possibly teeing up a floor vote tomorrow. Trump has set another budget meeting for Thursday with the “big four,” and Democrats Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi say they will show up this time. “We need to reach a budget agreement that equally boosts funds for our military and key priorities here at home including the opioid crisis, pension plans and rural infrastructure,” they said in a joint statement. “We’re glad the White House has reached out and asked for a second meeting. We hope the President will go into this meeting with an open mind, rather than deciding that an agreement can’t be reached beforehand.”
COST OF THE TRUMP BUILDUP: As the debate over this year’s modest down payment on Trump’s pledge to rebuild the military remains unresolved, the Congressional Budget Office is out with an estimate of how much the Trump promise will add to defense spending over the next 10 years. The CBO prediction: $683 billion, not including contingency funding for wars.
“If the new Administration’s goals for increasing the readiness, size, and capabilities of the military were pursued, cumulative costs would be $683 billion (or 12 percent) higher from 2018 through 2027 than costs of the Obama Administration’s final budget plan for those same years,” according to CBO report released yesterday.
The CBO based its projection on a number of assumptions;
- The number of people serving in the armed forces would increase by about 237,000, or about 10 percent
- The Navy would increase its fleet to 355 warships, nearly 30 percent higher than the current fleet
- Purchases of new weapons would increase, as would spending for research on future weapons
- Costs also would rise because growth in expenses for military personnel and for operation and maintenance that would continue to outpace inflation.
WHAT’S MISSING: After the mother of all photo ops featured the carriers Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz steaming through the Western Pacific, the Navy announced yesterday that Reagan has returned to its homeport of Yokosuka, Japan. After the three-carrier exercise, which neatly coincided with Trump’s swing through Asia last month, Roosevelt headed west to 5th Fleet and Nimitz is on its way home on the West Coast.
TURN FOR THE WORSE IN YEMEN: The assassination yesterday of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh by the country’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has thrown the nearly three-year civil war into chaos.
“The murder of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh after his decision to seek compromise with coalition forces and pursue a resolution to the conflict proves that the Houthis and their Iranian sponsors have no interest in peace. His murder is a major blow to moderate forces on both sides of the conflict in Yemen, diminishing any prospect for imminent resolution and likely leading to further violence — to the detriment of the Yemeni people,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain in statement yesterday. “Iran’s unchecked ambition and aggression in the region have led to unprecedented violence and a major humanitarian crisis in Yemen. I hope that Saleh’s supporters and allies will continue his recent efforts to confront the Houthis and seek a peaceful end to this deadly conflict.”
The circumstances of Saleh's death were unclear but Houthi officials said their forces caught up with him as he tried to flee Sanaa. A video circulating online purported to show Saleh's body, his eyes open but glassy, motionless with a gaping head wound, as he was being carried in a blanket by rebel fighters chanting "God is great" who then dump him into a pickup truck. Blood stained his shirt under a dark suit.
It was a grisly end for a figure who was able to rule the impoverished and unstable country for more than three decades and remained a powerhouse even after he was ousted in a 2011 Arab Spring uprising. His death recalled another Arab leader killed in the midst of his own country's uprising, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, whose body was shown in a video being abused by rebels who killed in him 2011.
QUESTIONING SAUDI SHOOTDOWN CLAIM: Missile experts are questioning whether the Patriot missile defense system supplied by the United States to Saudi Arabia actually shot down down a missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebel group last month.
The missile, which experts believe was a Burqan-2, traveled roughly 600 miles from Yemen and detonated near the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. According to a United Nations report, evidence suggests Iran manufactured the missile.
After the missile was fired, Trump and the Saudi defense ministry said the weapon had been successfully intercepted before hitting its target, the airport. “I told you before, as you know, a missile was shot into Saudi Arabia recently, from Yemen, and one of our missile systems knocked it down,” Trump said Nov. 12 in remarks before a bilateral meeting in Vietnam. “Nobody even knew what happened, and the missile exploded in the air; knocked it down like nothing. We make the greatest missiles in the world, greatest planes in the world, greatest commercial aircraft in the world.”
But a team of analysts, led by Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, analyzed photos and videos posted to social media and believe Saudi Arabia’s claim that the missile was shot down may be incorrect. They found evidence indicating the missile’s warhead may have flown past the missile defense unit, according to the New York Times.
WARREN’S NEW JOB: Retired Army Col. Steve Warren, who was popular with reporters when he was a U.S. military and Pentagon spokesman, is in line for a job in the defense industry. Sources say Warren’s new position will be announced this morning. The blunt-spoken colonel has been serving as an on-air military analyst on CNN since he was passed over for the job as primary Pentagon briefer.
TOO LATE! Last week, we told you about the Christmas ornament based on the penis drawn in the sky by naval aviators over Washington in November. As of Monday, the site that made the ornament, PLANEFORM, says the item has sold out. Check out the original ornament here.
USA Today: Killing of ex-Yemen president will lead to more violence in civil war, analysts say
Defense & Aerospace Report: HASC Chairman Thornberry: ‘We Have Not Rebuilt the Military’
USNI News: SECNAV Spencer Signals Vision for Future Navy and Industry Partnerships
Reuters: Japan Wants Missiles With Enough Range To Strike North Korea: Sources
AP: UAE, Saudi Arabia forming new group, separate from GCC
War on the Rocks: A Guide to Better National Security Decision-Making
CNN: Kushner's Mideast gamble fuels Tillerson feud
Navy Times: Defense contractor sentenced to five years for defrauding more than $15 million
Stars and Stripes: Raptor has problem after landing during joint war games in South Korea
Defense News: F-35 loses aircraft panel during training flight near Okinawa
Defense One: The U.S. Army Knows It’s Vulnerable to Space Attack. Here’s What They Want to Do About It
TUESDAY | DEC. 5
8 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. Security Cooperation Management Industry Course. ndia.org
8:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. PONI 2017 Winter Conference. csis.org
9 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Waging war in the 21st Century. heritage.org
9:30 a.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Military readiness and early childhood: What is the link? aei.org
9:30 a.m. 2301 Constitution Ave. NW. Turmoil across the Middle East: What does it mean? wilsoncenter.org
10 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Press Briefing: Journalists' perspectives on the North Korean nuclear crisis. atlanticcouncil.org
10 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Public perspectives on the North Korean nuclear crisis. Atlanticcouncil.org
12:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW,. Defense Threat Reduction Agency Director Vayl Oxford provides keynote remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Project on Nuclear Issues Winter Conference.
1 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. Gulf crisis and Qatar blockade: Finding solutions and upholding human rights. press.org
2:30 p.m. Dirksen 419. The president, Congress, and shared authority over the international accords. foreign.senate.gov
6:45 p.m. 901 Massachusetts Ave. NW. U.S. Global Leadership Coalition's 2017 Tribute Dinner with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. usglc.org
WEDNESDAY | DEC. 6
9 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. U.S. Army Futures Forum with Maj. Gen. William Hix, deputy chief of staff. atlanticcouncil.org
10 a.m. Dirksen 342. Full committee hearing on adapting to defend the homeland against the evolving international terrorist threat. hsgac.senate.gov
10:30 a.m. 2301 Constitution Ave. NW. Launch of the study The Leverage Paradox: Pakistan and the United States. wilsoncenter.org
11 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Egypt in the wake of terror. wilsoncenter.org
11:15 a.m. 1777 F St. NW. Hacked Elections, Online Influence Operations, and the Threat to Democracy: Building a Foreign Policy Response. cfr.org
12 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. The nuke ban treaty: Now what? stimson.org
12 p.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Is Ukraine on the right course? cato.org
2:30 p.m. Dirksen 419. Beyond ISIS: Countering terrorism, radicalization and promoting stability in North Africa. foreign.senate.gov
THURSDAY | DEC. 7
8:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Finding consensus for a new authorization for the use of military force with Reps. Mike Coffman, Ruben Gallego, Don Bacon and Jimmy Panetta. csis.org
9:30 a.m. Rayburn 2172. Counterterrorism efforts in Africa with John Sullivan, deputy secretary of defense, and Mark Mitchell, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. foreignaffairs.house.gov
10 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Department of Defense acquisition reform efforts with Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics; Army Secretary Mark Esper; Navy Secretary Richard Spencer; and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. House Visitor Center 210. Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Homeland Security’s organization and ability to meet the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. homeland.house.gov
10:30 a.m. Shared threats and a common purpose: U.S.-Romania missile defense cooperation with Romanian Ambassador George Cristian Maior. hudson.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Realism and democracy in American foreign policy after the Arab Spring. heritage.org
3 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. Lessons from the Syria crisis: Old rivalries, new dynamics. press.org
FRIDAY | DEC. 8
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty: Does it have a future? brookings.edu
11:30 a.m. 929 Long Bridge Dr. Missile defense luncheon. ndia.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave NE. The terrorist argument: Modern advocacy and propaganda. heritage.org
12 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Emerging challenges in cybersecurity: A conversation with former NATO Assistant Secretary General Sorin Ducaru. hudson.org
MONDAY | DEC. 11
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. U.S.-Korea defense acquisition and security cooperation. csis.org
5:30 p.m. Book discussion of “Anatomy of Failure: Why America Loses Every War it Starts?” with author Harlan Ullman. atlanticcouncil.org
TUESDAY | DEC. 12
8 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. CTTSO advanced planning briefing for industry. ndia.org
12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Yemen: A country in crisis. cfr.org
2 p.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Revisiting lessons of the Vietnam War. brookings.edu
5 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Book launch of “Anatomy of Failure: Why America Loses Every War It Starts.” csis.org