DISASTER RESPONSE: Washington is in damage control mode in two places after the twin devastations of Hurricanes Irma and Maria: First, in Puerto Rico and nearby islands where the actual damage occurred; and second in Washington amid growing criticism that the White House was slow to send in military help.
“FEMA & First Responders are doing a GREAT job in Puerto Rico,” President Trump tweeted last night. “Massive food & water delivered. Docks & electric grid dead. Locals trying really hard to help but many have lost their homes. Military is now on site and I will be there Tuesday. Wish press would treat fairly!
He followed up: “Puerto Rico is devastated. Phone system, electric grid many roads, gone. FEMA and First Responders are amazing. Governor said ‘great job!’ ”
THREE-STAR ON THE WAY: The military has intensified its effort in recent days, and yesterday said it is sending a three-star general to Puerto Rico to coordinate relief efforts. The decision comes just a day after Northern Command sent a one-star, Brig. Gen. Richard Kim, to the island to set up a headquarters and work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Puerto Rican authorities on rescuing residents, delivering food and water, and restoring power. Now, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commander of U.S. Army North and Kim's boss, will take over coordinating those operations as more military cargo flights arrived on the island Thursday and the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort was preparing to start its voyage there today.
The arrival of Army generals also indicates the military's shift from an initial relief effort from the sea to a longer-term, land-based recovery operation. The previous highest ranking officer in the area was a Navy rear admiral, according to Northern Command.
CRITICISM GROWING: But Democrats have not been satisfied with the response, and 145 House members sent a letter to Trump this week urging him to send the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and a top general. "Where the hell is the cavalry?" Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the Armed Services Committee, wanted to know on Thursday. "There is a crisis in Puerto Rico where food, fuel, water, and medicine is sitting at the docks and not getting out to the remote parts of the island," Nelson said. "The situation calls for an immediate response by the U.S. military to provide security and distribution to these remote areas."
ADMINISTRATION DEFENDS: At the White House yesterday, reporters pressed homeland security adviser Tom Bossert on why it took eight days to send a three-star general, why the administration waited to waive the Jones Act, which restricted the amount of supplies that could be provided, and why more military assets weren’t deployed sooner.
“I’m not sure if I still understand,” one reporter asked. “Why has it taken eight days to get a three-star general on the ground to start organizing this?”
“Yeah, well, because it didn't require a three-star general eight days ago,” Bossert responded, pointing out that higher authorities have been running the rescue operation, but weren’t physically in Puerto Rico. “In fact, that doesn’t affect the way we stage equipment and the way we handle area command and field operational commands. This is textbook and it's been done well. The unusual step has been to put the three-star general down forward-leaning. So I have every confidence that we'll handle that in the best way possible.”
COMPARISONS TO HAITI: The Washington Post is out with a report comparing the military response between the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and Puerto Rico now, and the numbers are stark. “I think it’s a fair ask why we’re not seeing a similar command and response,” retired Lt. Gen. P.K. “Ken” Keen, who commanded the military relief effort in Haiti. “The morning after, the president said we were going to respond in Port-au-Prince . . . robustly and immediately, and that gave the whole government clarity of purpose.”
Good Friday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense. Jamie will be back on Monday, but until then, National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24) have you covered. 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.
NORTH KOREA FINALLY RESPONDS: Pyongyang has made its first official comments specifically referring to the flight of U.S. B-1B bombers and F-15s off the east coast of the peninsula on Saturday, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
"The independent sortie of a U.S. B-1B Lancer strategic bomber squadron over international waters in the East Sea is an extremely dangerous act, designed to drive the situation of the Korean Peninsula to extremes and an anti-Pyongyang provocation that cannot be overlooked in the least," according to a state-run propaganda outlet. "The U.S. belligerent bravado will only fiercely erupt our will for revenge."
Yonhap points out that Pyongyang may have taken so long to respond — and from an external outlet at that — due to the North’s failure to track and respond to the flight at the time.
TILLERSON IN CHINA: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in China through Saturday on his second official visit on behalf of Washington. The Associated Press has a lineup of his agenda, with North Korea of course being at the top of the list.
Tillerson will not only be pressing Beijing to maintain the press on North Korea after further U.N. Security Council resolutions limiting oil supplies. They also plan to discuss Trump’s trip to China in November.
“The November meeting of the two leaders will be grander and more choreographed than the informal talks in Florida that were most memorable for Trump’s ordering a missile strike on Syria and then informing Xi about it afterward over dinner as they ate chocolate cake,” the AP said.
The sides will also discuss their own issues, to include Beijing’s disputed claims of islands in the South China Sea.
END OF THE YEAR: The Pentagon awarded a pile of contracts yesterday, which is standard practice for the end of the fiscal year (the new one starts Sunday). Notably, the Navy awarded two contracts for the Orca, its extra-large undersea drone. Lockheed Martin and Boeing each received $43 million contracts “for design efforts of the Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle system and delivery of a technical data package,” the Pentagon said.
“This award represents Phase I of a competitive two-phased acquisition approach.”
TROUBLE IN KURDISTAN: Military planners are hard at work in Iraq after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called on Kurdistan to turn over control of all its airports to the government in Baghdad by today. The U.S. military was still running operations out of the Irbil airport in Kurdistan on Thursday but it appeared uncertain how that might be affected by an escalating political crisis between the U.S.-backed central Iraqi government and U.S. partners in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan who voted overwhelming this week for independence. "I don't want to predict anything in the future, but right now current operations continue and we continue to go after ISIS," said Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
The military depends on both the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish peshmerga to fight the Islamic State in Iraq, which is why it is gaming out scenarios. "I don't talk about the ‘what ifs,' but we have planners who try to predict and plan for potentials," Dillon told Pentagon reporters during an update from Iraq. "That's where some of our efforts and our brain power has gone after the referendum has kicked off." The referendum was opposed by the U.S. and Baghdad but 92 percent of about 3 million Kurds supported breaking away, which drove a political wedge through the country and prompted the Iraqi parliament to call for seizure of disputed oil fields in Kirkuk. Dillon said the conflict has sapped energy from the war effort against the Islamic State. "What I will say is that the focus, which used to be like a laser beam on ISIS, is now not a 100 percent there," he said. "There has been an effect on overall mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq as a result of the referendum."
BAGHDADI RESURFACES: The Islamic State group on Thursday released what it said was a new audio recording of its top leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he vows to continue fighting and lavishes praise on his jihadis despite their loss of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the AP reported. Mosul was liberated from ISIS extremists in July after a months-long operation by Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition.
The recording by al-Baghdadi was released by the ISIS-run al-Furqan outlet. The voice in the over 46-minute-long audio sounded much like previous recordings of the reclusive ISIS leader, who has appeared in public only once.
BLACK HAWK SEARCH ENDS: The Army said it has ended a month-long effort to recover the wreckage and remains of five crew members after a Black Hawk crashed into the ocean in Hawaii in Aug. 15. The crew had been conducting night training along the coast of Oahu when the helicopter was lost and the Coast Guard led a search of the ocean for a week before the soldiers were declared dead and recovery efforts kicked in. “Using unmanned underwater vehicles and submersible remotely operated vehicles, Navy salvage divers systematically mapped the ocean floor off of Kaena Point,” the Army 25th Infantry Division said. Divers did find the main Black Hawk debris field, but searched unsuccessfully for remains as they recovered wreckage that will be used to investigate the fatal incident.
TRUMP REVIVES ‘GODDAMNED STEAM’: Trump reprised his criticism this week that the Navy should scrap its new aircraft carrier launchers and return to "goddamned steam" catapults, according to the Washington Post. He privately touted the effort to get rid of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, which the Navy says allows it to launch aircraft more quickly, as a money-saving measure to a gathering of wealthy donors on Tuesday. "It's like when you get a new car and you have to be a computer genius to fix your seat, right?" Trump reportedly said of the launchers. "The seat's moving all over the place, it's unbelievable."
In May, Trump complained to Time magazine that EMALS was too expensive and so complicated "you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out” and said he ordered the Navy to abandon the launch system. The Navy and Defense Department have remained mostly mum since the comment and showed no sign of changing course. The service requested $580 million for EMALS in the fiscal 2018 budget and in June the Navy commissioned the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first carrier to use the system. "I would guess it would be billions of dollars and years of effort" to replace the electromagnetic catapults, Mark Cancian, senior adviser in the international security program at Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in May. "So that is why you are hearing crickets because it is just not doable."
BAD REVIEWS FOR ‘ROCKET MAN’: A new Fox News poll shows 70 percent of voters disagree with Trump's escalating rhetoric on North Korea, saying the president's comments on the rogue regime are not helpful. Twenty-three percent said Trump's comments on North Korea are helpful.
Most voters, 61 percent, believe diplomacy and sanctions are the best ways to curb North Korea's continued missile and nuclear testing, while 27 percent favored the threat of military action.
HUNTSMAN IS MOSCOW-BOUND: Former Gov. Jon Huntsman was confirmed as ambassador to Russia on a unanimous Senate vote, filling a key diplomatic post in Trump's administration.
"That's pretty unheard of for a post as divisive as Russia," Abby Huntsman, a Fox News anchor and daughter of the Utah Republican, tweeted Thursday.
PRICE FLIGHTS INCLUDED MIL AIR: The White House authorized Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who was accompanied by his wife, to use military aircraft during trips to Africa, Europe, and Asia this year, costing taxpayers more than $500,000, according to a report Thursday evening. As a result, taxpayers have had to foot a bill totaling over $1 million for Price's travels since May, Politico reported. An HHS spokeswoman said Price reimbursed the agency for his wife's travel.
Travel on military aircraft is generally granted only to the president, vice president, and Cabinet members who oversee national security issues, such as the secretary of defense and the secretary of state. Price has already promised to reimburse the government for his own seats on private jets for domestic trips, amounting to approximately $52,000 out of the $400,000 total tab. The cost for the military flights is not included in that amount.
STIRRING SPEECH: Following news that racial slurs were written on whiteboards belonging to five black students at the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Colorado this week, academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria addressed the prep school students with a stern warning. He even told the students to “reach for your phones” so they could record what he had to say.
“If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether it’s a man or a woman, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race or with different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out,” Silveria said. See the speech here.
Washington Post: This is the new top general coordinating military operations with FEMA in Puerto Rico
New York Times: Two North Korean spies, a Ukrainian jail and a murky tale
Wall Street Journal: For Kurds of Iraq, what kind of independence -- if any?
Politico: Q&A: Rep. Liz Cheney
Fox News: Dutch, allies drop call for inquiry into Yemen rights abuses
Defense News: Army awards billion-dollar contract for 100-foot landing ships
USNI News: Navy using ‘legally creative’ contract structure to keep ship availabilities on track despite continuing resolutions
Defense One: If North Korea fires an ICBM, the U.S. might have to shoot it down over Russia
Stars and Stripes: Missiles and sunbathers: S. Korea’s DMZ is more tourist mecca than war zone
Navy Times: US troops deliver food, supplies to devastated Puerto Rico during round-the-clock operations
War on the Rocks: A U.N. peacekeeping operation is the only way forward in Ukraine
USA Today: North Korea: Millions sign up for military to fight against U.S.
DefenseTech: Low-tech logjam at San Juan port stymies Puerto Rico relief effort
Military Times: Russia's Putin visits Turkey as ties between the two deepen
FRIDAY | SEPT. 29
8 a.m. 2799 Jefferson Davis Hwy. Integrated Air and Missile Defense Conference with Brig. Gen. Sean Gainey, commanding general of the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command. airmissiledefenseevent.iqpc.com
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Global hotspots and security challenges: A conversation with Sen. Joni Ernst. csis.org
10 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. What the new Russia sanctions law does and how to make it work. atlanticcouncil.org
12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. A conversation with Sen. Jack Reed. cfr.org
2 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Strengthening the federal government's cyber defenses with Rep. Will Hurd and Jeanette Manfra, assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. csis.org
3 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A panel discussion with veterans and experts on Ken Burns' “The Vietnam War.” csis.org
MONDAY | OCT. 2
10 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Public opinion on "America First" with Rep. Mike Gallagher. wilsoncenter.org
12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. A conversation with Alan Peter Cayetano, the secretary of foreign affairs for the Philippines. cfr.org
6 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Realism and democracy: American foreign policy after the Arab Spring. cfr.org
TUESDAY | OCT. 3
9:30 a.m. Dirksen 342. Nomination of John M. Mitnick to be general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security. hsgac.senate.gov
10 a.m. Capitol Visitor Center. Issue brief launch on Ukraine's internally displaced persons holding a key to peace with Rep. Marcy Kaptur. atlanticcouncil.org
10 a.m. House Visitor Center 210. Examining the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity mission. homeland.house.gov
1:30 p.m. 1152 15th St. NW. Consequences of a collapse of the Iran nuclear deal. cnas.org
2 p.m. Rayburn 2154. Innovations in security: Examining the use of canines. oversight.house.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2172. Iraq and Syria genocide emergency relief and accountability with former Rep. Frank Wolf; Shireen, a Yazidi survivor of ISIS enslavement; and Stephen Rasche, the legal counsel of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, Iraq. foreignaffairs.house.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2212. Securing the peace after the fall of the Islamic State with Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Iraq. armedservices.house.gov
6 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. A conversation on the Iran nuclear deal with Sen. Tom Cotton. cfr.org
WEDNESDAY | OCT. 4
10 a.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Countering violent extremism in the Trump era. cato.org
10 a.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Protecting children in armed conflict with Virginia Gamba, special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for children and armed conflict. stimson.org
10 a.m. Rayburn 2172. The Government Accountability Office review of the State Department’s anti-terrorism assistance program with Jason Bair, GAO assistant director. foreignaffairs.house.gov
11 a.m. Dirksen 419. The future of Iraq's minorities after ISIS. foreign.senate.gov
12:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The space race and the origins of the space age with Robert Curbeam, vice president, of Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems. wilsoncenter.org
2 p.m. Rayburn 2172. Iranian backed militias destabilizing the Middle East. foreignaffairs.house.gov
3 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Escalation and deterrence in the second space age. csis.org
THURSDAY | OCT. 5
8 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. Health affairs breakfast with Tyler Bennett, deputy for acquisition at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency, and Kathy Berst, deputy for acquisition at Army Medical Materiel Development Activity. ndia.org
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Russia's military robots: Key trends and developments in Russia's unmanned systems. csis.org
10:30 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Sixteen years and counting in Afghanistan and what’s next for America’s longest war with Hamdullah Mohib, Afghan ambassador to the United States. wilsoncenter.org
1 p.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Middle East crises, conflicts and the way ahead. brookings.edu
1 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Foreign affairs issue launch: Trump, the allies and the view from abroad. cfr.org
1:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Bringing the Air Force into its centennial with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. csis.org
4 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Book launch: “The China Order: Centralia, World Empire, and the Nature of Chinese Power.” csis.org
4 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Japan’s choices and the challenges ahead post-election. wilsoncenter.org
4:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Zbigniew Brzezinski annual prize and lecture with former Vice President Joe Biden. csis.org
6 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Elliott Abrams discusses his new book, “Realism and Democracy: American Foreign Policy after the Arab Spring.” cfr.org