AFGHAN STRATEGY OVERDUE: “Welcome to strategy,” is how Defense Secretary Jim Mattis explained the delay in completing his overhaul of the new plan for Afghanistan, which he promised to deliver by mid-July. “Seriously, this is hard, and there's a reason we've gotten into some wars in our nation's history and didn't know how to end them,” Mattis said in a late Friday, off-camera, but on-the-record, meeting with Pentagon reporters. “This is hard work, and anyone who says otherwise is someone who has not had to either deal with it, or deal with the consequences of the decisions they made.”
Despite reports that Mattis is ready to recommend almost 4,000 additional U.S. troops be sent to reinforce the 8,400 already there, he says he hasn’t settled on a number. “It's not finalized yet,” Mattis said. “I know everyone's batted around numbers, and they may turn out to be right. But I'm not giving it any credence right now.”
Among those expressing frustration with how long it’s taking to draft the strategy is Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, who before he was sidelined with surgery to remove a blood clot, was threatening to write his own strategy and insert it into the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act. “He’s made his point about the need for the strategy,” Mattis said. “I'm in agreement with it, and we're working hard.” Mattis indicated it’s the State Department piece of the plan that’s not ready. “We'll have the interagency piece, I think, together very shortly.” Asked if he shared McCain’s frustration, Mattis, in typical Mattis-style said, “I'm not paid for frustration. I'm paid to get the job done.”
McCAIN’S CONDITION: McCain is not just the pre-eminent Republican voice in the Senate on defense and national security, he is also a key vote on any issue that cuts strictly along partisan lines, including healthcare. A statement from his office Friday said the 80-year-old senator underwent a “minimally invasive craniotomy” (an opening of the skull) to remove a two-inch blood clot from above his left eye. The statement indicated McCain would spend this week recovering at home in Arizona, which has forced the delay in the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Some medical experts suggest McCain’ recovery could be much longer. The New York Times talked to doctors who were not involved in McCain’s care, who said a blood clot in that area of the brain would be a very concerning issue. “The recovery time from a craniotomy is usually a few weeks,” said Dr. Nrupen Baxi, an assistant professor of neurosurgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
THE SYRIAN CEASE-FIRE: In his two separate Friday confabs with reporters, Mattis also tacitly admitted that the Syrian cease-fire trumpeted by President Trump as a major achievement in his G-20 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin has nothing to do with the United States. In the morning, Mattis said “We have no operations in southwest Syria right now, so, you know, we don't have any equities there other than to make certain we're staying abreast of it, which we are, at the top level.” Mattis said the “deconfliction line” the U.S. has declared along the Euphrates River is holding, keeping regime-backed forces away from the U.S.-backed fighters laying siege to the Islamic State in Raqqa. “That's our concentration of effort right now in Syria,” Mattis said. Later in the afternoon, Mattis said a second de-escalation zone could be announced soon, but once again may have no U.S. participation. “We'll have to see depending on where it is and, you know, who — what groups are in the area, a whole lot of things.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not a fan of the U.S.-Russian cease-fire, telling reporters in France that it empowers Iran. Netanyahu was in Paris for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and to attend a ceremony marking the 75 years since Jews were expelled from Paris. Mattis said he understands Israel’s concern because some number of the Iranian-backed fighters in southwest Syria are Lebanese Hezbollah, which he said “Israel would not be comfortable with for very good reason.”
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Mattis also tried to tamp down expectations that the defeat of ISIS in its Syrian stronghold in Raqqa may be easier and come more quickly than it did in Mosul, Iraq. “Granted, we've made more progress than some of you forecast months ago,” Mattis told reporters. But, he said, “Urban fighting, unless the enemy absolutely caves in, lends itself to the defenders. So, it's going to be a tough fight.”
WHAT WAR IN KOREA WOULD LOOK LIKE: Speaking of tough fights, even as the Pentagon considers the prospect of a second Korean war as unthinkable, it’s been doing a lot of thinking about what it would take to win with the fewest number of civilian casualties. In our magazine story this week, we talk to military strategists about how the U.S. might try a shock-and-awe bombing campaign along the DMZ to try to knock out the North’s artillery and rocket launchers that are poised to rain destruction on Seoul. Think about what a concentration of 20,000-pound MOABs, the infamous “Mother of All Bombs,” would do to the dug-in guns, says one former top Pentagon planner. “I would just pound the livin' bejesus out of the artillery until there is none left,” said retired Air Force Gen. Chuck Wald, the former deputy commander of U.S. European Command.
TURKEY’S DECISION TO BUY RUSSIAN: If you needed another sign that Turkey is tilting away from NATO and toward Moscow, look no further than its decision last week to buy four S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, Russia’s most advanced air defense system. That left Mattis scratching his head over what Turkey is thinking. “The problem is, how do you interoperate in the NATO system with Russians? They'll never interoperate,” Mattis said. “We'll have to see, does it go through? Do they actually employ it, do they employ it only in one area? All that kind of stuff. But you know, we'll have to take a look at it.”
Good Monday 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.
HOUSE PLANS: In the House, lawmakers will consider major spending and budget measures in committees this week, Susan Ferrechio writes. The House Budget Committee is expected to mark up the fiscal 2018 budget, which will serve as the legislative vehicle for a comprehensive tax reform plan Republicans have been writing behind closed doors.
The budget is expected to propose a substantial boost in defense spending along with $200 billion in mandatory cuts, a compromise number aimed at winning the support of conservative and moderate Republicans. The House Appropriations Committee next week is scheduled to complete work on all 12 spending measures that fund the federal government.
NDAA PASSES HOUSE: The House on Friday passed a defense policy bill that calls for more ships, aircraft and soldiers, and authorizes $696 billion in defense spending in fiscal 2018, well above Trump's request.
The House approved the National Defense Authorization Act after days of debate that saw lawmakers block many controversial amendments to the bill, including a proposed ban on transgender medical care for troops and the closure of excess military facilities. The House defeated that in a narrow 209-214 vote.
On Friday morning, the House also shot down a proposal from Rep. Trent Franks that would have required the Defense Department to assess the use of violent Islamic religious doctrine to support terrorism. Lawmakers defeated that amendment in another close vote, 208-217, which was followed by cheers on the floor from some Democrats.
GALAXY QUEST: Rep. Mac Thornberry says his Armed Services Committee isn't done pressing the Defense Department on its handling of space operations after ignoring objections from the Pentagon and the White House last week and passing a plan to create a new Space Corps military service. "I'm going to have a number of committee events in the coming weeks while we are waiting to go to conference with the Senate to look at space issues and different proposals," Thornberry said. Armed Services members believe there are deep structural and management problems in the military's space operations. The “events” Thornberry referred to may or may not be public hearings, according to committee staff.
Mattis remains opposed to the idea of establishing an entirely different military service for space, and last week wrote a letter to congress outlining his objections. Asked about the continued push by some in Congress for a Space Corps, Mattis simply said, “We'll see.”
ARMY PICK COMING: Mattis also said Friday that the administration is still considering multiple candidates for Army secretary following the withdrawal of two of Trump's prior picks.
"We do have, let me say, plural candidates, and I'd rather let that one be announced by the president and the clerk of the Senate rather than getting out in front of them," Mattis said at the Pentagon. "We've done our due diligence, yes."
The Army secretary position is one of the top appointed military positions that has not been filled yet by Trump, and unlike positions such as the Navy secretary and deputy defense secretary, there has been no new candidate publicly announced.
WORK STATUS: Friday was Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work’s last day in office. Work, an Obama administration holdover, agreed to stay on until his successor was confirmed. Originally that was thought to mean he’d keep working through April. With the nomination and confirmation of Patrick Shanahan now stretching deep into the summer, Work is now technically on leave. He’s not planning to come back, but won’t formally resign the position until Shanahan takes over, according to chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White. Shanahan could receive a Senate vote this week. On the Pentagon’s official web page Work is still listed as deputy defense secretary, but with “no public or media events” on his schedule.
ISIS-K LEADER KILLED: A U.S. strike on an Islamic State compound last week killed the group's emir in Afghanistan in another blow to its leadership, the Pentagon announced Friday. Abu Sayed was the third leader of the group's Afghanistan franchise, ISIS-Khorasan, killed by U.S. forces over the past year. Sayed took over after the last emir, Abdul Hasib, was killed in April during an intense firefight that left two Army Rangers dead. The previous emir was killed in July 2016.
F-35 UNDER FIRE IN THE UK: The F-35 Joint Strike fighter is taking some flak from the British press. The Times of London says its independent review of the program shows the Lockheed Martin fifth generation fighter is “over budget, unreliable, full of software glitches and potentially unsafe,” and says its analysis of British contracts “suggests that the jet’s real costs may be 50 per cent higher than the published figures.”
But the newspaper put much of the blame on the U.K. trying to buy the plane on the cheap, forgoing some of the support system that allows information sharing with other platforms, including older planes, and ships at sea. For example, the Times reports, “Britain is particularly exposed because defence officials have skimped on buying critical support technology. The Ministry of Defence has failed to purchase a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) that allows secure signals from the F-35 to be read by older aircraft.”
Washington Post: UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to U.S. intelligence officials
Wall Street Journal: Iran sentences Princeton grad student on spy charges
Reuters: South Korea's New Government Proposes Military Talks With North Korea
USA Today: U.S. Racing To Quash North Korean Nuke Threat
Reuters: Defiant Erdogan Attacks EU, Backs Restoring Death Penalty
AP: Burns sees Vietnam War as virus, documentary as vaccination
New York Times: Qatar opens its doors to all, to the dismay of some
The Diplomat: Why China Is Trimming Its Army
The Hill: Trump Administration Considers Trading 'Carrots' For 'Sticks' On Pakistan: Report
USA Today: 3 years after MH17 was shot down, the case is moving closer to trial
Stars and Stripes: Thunderbirds, displays wow crowds at RAF Fairford
Daily Beast: Did Brits kill New York City cops to get U.S. into WWII?
MONDAY | JULY 17
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Russia challenge in Europe with Sen. Tom Cotton. csis.org
2 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Panel discussion on Mosul after ISIS and U.S. policy in Iraq with former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. wilsoncenter.org
3:30 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Cyber risk Monday: The darkening Web. atlanticcouncil.org
5 p.m. Dirksen 419. Review of the State Department reauthorization bill for 2018 and reorganization plans with Deputy Secretary John Sullivan. foreign.senate.gov
6 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. A conversation with Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. cfr.org
TUESDAY | JULY 18
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Seventh Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference: Renewing American leadership in the Asia-Pacific with Sen. Cory Gardner. csis.org
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Nomination of Gen. Paul Selva to be re-appointed to vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff. armed-services.senate.gov
10:30 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Central Asia and U.S. foreign policy at a great power crossroads. atlanticcouncil.org
2:30 p.m. Dirksen G-50. Nominations of Matthew Donovan to be Air Force undersecretary; Lucian Niemeyer to be assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment; Ellen Lord to be defense under secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics; and John H. Gibson II to be deputy chief management officer of the Defense Department. armed-services.senate.gov
4 p.m. Russell 222. Options and considerations for achieving a 355-ship Navy from former Reagan administration officials including John Lehman, former Navy secretary. armed-services.senate.gov
WEDNESDAY | JULY 19
1800 Jefferson Davis Hwy. Special topic breakfast series with Joel Szabat, executive director of the U.S. Maritime Administration.
9 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. A 21st century Truman Doctrine? U.S. foreign policy discussion with Sen. Tim Kaine. brookings.edu
9 a.m. Hart 216. Nomination of Susan Gordon to be principal deputy director of national intelligence at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Robert P. Storch to be inspector general of the National Security Agency. intelligence.senate.gov
12:15 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. South Asia’s evolving strategic doctrines. stimson.org
2 p.m. Rayburn 2200. Subcommittee markup of the Counterterrorism Screening and Assistance Act of 2017. foreignaffairs.house.gov
3:30 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Russia sanctions revisited panel discussion with retired ambassadors Daniel Fried and Richard Morningstar. atlanticcouncil.org
4:15 p.m. Dirksen 419. The collapse of the rule of law in Venezuela and what the United States and the international community can do to restore democracy. foreign.senate.gov
THURSDAY | JULY 20
10:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The dangers of the looming constituent assembly in Venezuela and why the international community must act. csis.org
FRIDAY | JULY 21
8:30 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Venezuela on the edge and the time for new international action. atlanticcouncil.org
9:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Examining the geopolitical impact of the 4th Estate. csis.org
MONDAY | JULY 24
2 p.m. 1152 15th St. NW. Release of the report “Higher, Heavier, Farther, and Now Undetectable? Bombers: Long-Range Force Projection in the 21st Century” with Jerry Hendrix. cnas.org