MATTIS THE DECIDER: President Trump has delegated to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to decide how many more troops will be dispatched to Afghanistan to shore up the NATO training mission designed to get the Afghans to assume sole responsibility for battling the Taliban, a senior Pentagon official confirmed to the Washington Examiner last night. The move transfers to Mattis one of the president’s most difficult burdens: Deciding when to send America’s fighting men and women into harm's way. An announcement was set for last night, but is now expected later today, after coordination with the White House, the official said.
The move mirrors a decision by Trump in April to eliminate Obama-era troop caps (called Force Management Levels, FML in unironic Pentagon parlance) in Iraq and Syria, where so far the U.S. has not sent significant additional forces. But in Afghanistan, Mattis’ military commanders have been calling for 3,000 to 5,000 additional advisers and trainers, to be made up of troops from the U.S. and other NATO countries. The U.S. already has 8,400 troops taking part in the NATO Resolute Support mission.
Yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis admitted the U.S. was not winning in Afghanistan and promised a course correction and a new strategy in a matter of weeks. What the decision means is that Mattis is now free to craft and implement the strategy, without the need for approval from the president, giving unprecedented power to the defense secretary to make life-and-death decisions about the conduct of the war.
WHAT. IS. THE. STRATEGY? Armed Services Chairman Sen. John McCain pronounced himself palpably frustrated that after five months he hasn’t seen any new strategy for Afghanistan, something he says was promised within 30 to 60 days of Trump taking office. McCain perseverated on that sore point throughout the morning, raising his concern at the beginning, middle and end of yesterday’s hearing on the Pentagon’s FY 2018 budget request. “All I can tell you is that unless we get a strategy from you, you're going to get a strategy from us,” McCain fumed at one point. “But the fact is, it's not our job. It's not our job, it's yours,” adding, “It's hard for us to act when you don't give us a strategy.”
Mattis was contrite, telling McCain his criticism was fair, but offered the “it’s complicated,” defense. “Chairman, we have entered a strategy-free time and we are scrambling to put it together, but anyone who thinks a strategy, an integrated, interagency, whole of government strategy, can be done rapidly is probably someone who hasn't dealt with it.” Mattis promised a new strategy by “mid-July.” McCain gave a heavy sigh. You can see video of the exchange here.
BOEING SHEDS 50 EXEC JOBS IN RESTRUCTURING: Boeing Co. has announced what it described as a “simplified, flatter” management structure, which eliminates a layer of executive oversight with the aim of making its Defense, Space and Security unit “more globally competitive.” In a statement yesterday, Boeing said the move would accelerate decision-making and consolidate the power of Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Leanne Caret. As of July 1, the current Boeing Military Aircraft and Network & Space Systems segments will evolve into smaller entities reporting to Caret, the statement said, adding that “about 50 executive positions will be affected this year as a result of the changes.”
Good Wednesday 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: Both Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are back on the Hill today for a third day of budget testimony. Mattis appears before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense at 10:30 a.m. and Tillerson is before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 9 a.m. Mattis is defending a $574.5 billion spending plan, a 3 percent increase over the proposed Obama level, while Tillerson has to explain how he’s going to manage on the proposed $37.6 billion for State Department, an almost 30 percent cut.
What’s clear is that for the Pentagon to get the $52 billion increase over spending caps next year — or even more if some in Congress get their way — is through raising or repealing the spending caps imposed by the despised Budget Control Act of 2011. Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton noted most of his colleagues were not even in Congress when the law passed. “From Senator Fischer all the way down to my right and Senator Donnelly all the way down Senator Peters, not a single one of us was here in the summer 2011 and voted for that bill,” Cotton said. “The Budget Control Act is not the Constitution and the 112th Congress was not a constitutional convention. We should simply repeal it.”
McCain called the 3 percent increase over the Obama administration plan inadequate. “Everybody agrees that that's not enough,” he said. “So if we're going to bust the BCA then why don't we bust it to what we really need, rather than come forward here and complain all about the BCA when what you're asking for is not sufficient?”
Mattis was asked once again yesterday about his famous quote from his days as head of U.S. Central Command: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Mattis said he stands by the theory. “It was probably a -- a rather simplistic way to point out that we have to engage with whole of government,” Mattis told senators yesterday. “I think America has two fundamental powers, sir, the power of inspiration, the power of intimidation. You have to work together and the State Department represents inspiration overseas.”
WASTE OF TIME: At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, Republican Chairman Sen. Bob Corker said it took him just five minutes to review the president’s request for the State Department and pronounce it wholly inadequate. “I took some time out to sit down with my staff and we began going through the budget that you're presenting today,” he told Tillerson. “After about five minutes, I said, ‘This is a total waste of time. I don't want to do this anymore.’ And the reason it was a waste of time is I think you know that the budget that's been presented is not going to be the budget we're going to deal with. It's just not.”
Tillerson testified that his plan to reduce the size of the State Department staff will come at the expense of civil servants more than overseas diplomats and staff. "It's being managed in a very deliberate way, but being mindful of not diminishing the strength of our foreign service officers," Tillerson said he expects an overall 8 percent cut in State Department employees — about 2,300 jobs, according to other reports — by the fall of 2018.
SAUDI ARMS DEAL MOVES FORWARD: A group of Republican and Democratic senators teamed up on Tuesday to block the United States from completing part of a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia, but fell short of the votes they needed on the Senate floor, Susan Ferrechio writes. Sens. Rand Paul and Chris Murphy introduced a resolution disapproving of Trump's plan to sell Saudi Arabia $510 million of precision-guided munitions, which make up a portion of the $110 billion deal Trump announced during his visit there.
The blocking maneuver failed on a 47-53 vote, although supporters of the measure picked up new support since they last tried to block a similar deal last year. Last September, the Senate voted 26-71 to defeat similar language that opposed a $1.15 billion deal Saudi Arabia reached with the Obama administration. Nevertheless, Paul said the vote puts Saudi Arabia on notice that the Senate is watching its war in Yemen. “This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take a stance against waging an undeclared war and fueling an arms race in the Middle East,” Paul said in statement. “I hope this sends a clear message to Saudi Arabia that the United States will not just stand by as they massacre their unarmed neighbors."
The measure involved three specific arms sales: Boeing joint direct-attack munitions for Royal Saudi Air Force F-15s; Kaman bomb fuzes for MK-80, BLU-109 and BLU-100 warheads; and Raytheon Paveway bombs for Saudi F-15, Tornado and Typhoon aircraft.
RAQQA SURROUNDED, ALMOST: In an interview with NPR this morning, Army Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces have the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa mostly surrounded, and that the offensive to liberate the city is going well. “Our Syrian partners have pretty much entirely encircled the city, and in the few places where they have not, the coalition is hunting there to attack any enemy trying to get in or get out,” Townsend told NPR. Townsend also confirmed the drone that fired a missile on coalition troops in southern Syria last week was Iranian-made, although he said he couldn’t say who was operating it.
RUSSIA MOTIVES IN QATAR: Under Senate questioning, Mattis offered his take Tuesday on a report that Russia may have sparked the Qatar crisis by planting misinformation. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, citing a recent CNN report claiming the FBI suspects the Kremlin is behind a fake report about the Qatar emir praising Iran, asked Mattis what the motive might be. "I think a disruption of the international order is something that Russia in a short-sighted way thinks works to their benefit," Mattis said. “They are trying to break any kind of multilateral alliance ... that is a stabilizing influence in the world.”
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries used the news report as a pretext to blockade Qatar, a U.S. partner and host of Al Udeid air base where Central Command directs the war against the Islamic State. Tillerson and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson appeared to give conflicting assessments of the crisis’ effect on military operations in the Middle East. But Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Senate that operations are unaffected. “We've had good cooperation from all the parties to make sure that we can continue to move freely in and out of Qatar,” he said.
T-45 MYSTERY DEEPENS: A mysterious oxygen system problem is grinding Navy flight training to a halt, Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags, commander of Naval Air Systems Command, told the Senate Tuesday. No student pilots have trained in the T-45 Goshawk aircraft for more than two months as the service does an exhaustive search for the cause of numerous hypoxia incidents among pilots. “The students have not flown at all," Grosklags said. By the end of June, 75 student pilots will have been delayed by the issue. The aircraft were grounded in April after a pilot boycott (which included Vice President Mike Pence’s son).
Grosklags said the Navy has torn training jets completely apart, testing the chain of components from the jet's engine to the pilot's oxygen mask, but has not found what is causing hypoxia among pilots. “To date, we have not been able to identify a smoking gun,” he said. With no cause in sight, the Navy is now working to install about a dozen alert measures that could detect problems before pilots and students are affected by oxygen system problems, which could allow flights to resume within weeks. The news comes as a much larger program, the F-35, grapples with its own oxygen problem. On Friday, the Air Force grounded the batch of planes at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona over similar issues.
SPLIT DECISION: The partisan prism through which all is viewed in Washington these days couldn’t be more evident than in the post-testimony reviews of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ performance before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday. Republicans universally hailed Sessions for his forceful defense and unapologetic denial of any wrongdoing. “The suggestion that I participated in any collusion — that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” Sessions said in his most memorable quote.
But Democrats were more focused on what Sessions didn’t say, accusing him of “stonewalling” by refusing to answer questions about his private conversations with the president, and essentially invoking executive privilege to which he was not entitled. Sessions insisted it was longtime Justice Department policy not to disclose the content of discussion with the president, and that his refusal was design to preserve Trump’s option in the future to invoke privilege. That just infuriated Democrats. “You're not answering questions. You're impeding this investigation,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. “I'm protecting the president's constitutional right by not giving it away before he has a chance to view it and weight it,” Sessions responded.
McCAIN GETS HIS MOJO BACK: After McCain’s rambling, and at times confusing questioning of former FBI Director James Comey last week, some were wondering whether the 80-year-old senator was starting to lose his edge. But at yesterday’s hearing, McCain seemed back on his game, skewering Sessions for his lack of interest in what Russian affairs, with a series of questions about what Session did discuss with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. McCain suggested that while Sessions was chair of the Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, he did little. “I don't recall you as being particularly vocal on such issues,” McCain observed.
“Did you raise concerns about Russia's support for President Bashar Assad and his campaign of indiscriminate violence against his own citizens, including his use of chemical weapons?” McCain asked. “I don't recall whether that was discussed or not,” Sessions replied. When Session said he raised concerns about Ukraine, McCain expressed skepticism. “Knowing you on the committee, I can't imagine that.”
HOME FROM NORTH KOREA: North Korea has released University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, an American who had been detained for 17 months. Warmbier, 22, has been medically evacuated from North Korea to Ohio in a coma. According to the Washington Post, Warmbier's parents were told their son had become sick with botulism soon after his trial, had been given a sleeping pill, and then never woke up. Warmbier was charged with "hostile acts against the state" for trying to take down a propaganda poster, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The Wall Street Journal reported the White House secretly sent a diplomatic mission to North Korea this week only to discover that Warmbier was in a life-threatening coma.
Speaking with reporters on Air Force One yesterday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, “Obviously, you know, that's extremely sad, but bringing Otto home was a big priority for the president. He worked very hard and very closely with Secretary of State Tillerson in order to do that. And right now, his thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
USNI News: CNO: Navy ‘Taking A Hard Look’ At Bringing Back Oliver Hazard Perry Frigates, DDG Life Extensions As Options To Build Out 355 Ship Fleet
AP: Tillerson warns against steps that cut off talks with Russia
USA Today: Iran attempts to expand control through Syria as ISIS nears defeat
Fox News: U.S. ambassador to Qatar quits amid diplomatic spat
CNN: US deploys long-range artillery system to southern Syria for first time
USNI News: Navy wants to buy 80 more Super Hornets for $7.1B over the next five years
Seapower: CNO: Precision Era Gives Way to Decision Era
Reuters: Philippines Says U.S. Troops Near Besieged Marawi, But Not Fighting
New York Times: On a tiny Norwegian island, America keeps an eye on Russia
Reuters: In Russia, state TV and the Internet tell a tale of two protests
Foreign Policy: Screw Brad Pitt and the ‘War Machine’ he rode in on
War on the Rocks: What we saw in War Machine
Washington Post: In the Philippines, a Vietnam War-era plane takes center stage fighting ISIS
War on the Rocks: Can fake news lead to war? What the Gulf crisis tells us
WEDNESDAY | JUNE 14
8 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. Mastering business development workshop. ndia.org
9 a.m. Rayburn 2172. The FY 2018 foreign affairs budget with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. foreignaffairs.house.gov
9 a.m. 800 17th St. NW. Manufacturing division meeting. ndia.org
9 a.m. 600 New Hampshire Ave. NW. Boeing Defense Space and Security CEO Leanne Caret talks about shaping the division for strategic growth. defenseone.com
9 a.m. 529 14th St. NW. Documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick preview "The Vietnam War." press.org
10 a.m. Dirksen 342. Understanding the tools, tactics, and techniques of violent extremism. hsgac.senate.gov
10:30 a.m. Dirksen 192. Review of the 2018 budget request for the Defense Department with with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. appropriations.senate.gov
11:30 a.m. 1 Memorial Avenue, Arlington National Cemetery. 2017 Service to the Flag award ceremony. ndia.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Retired Army officer Conrad C. Crane discusses the creation of the counterinsurgency field manual. heritage.org
12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. The link between foreign languages and U.S. national security. cfr.org
2:30 p.m. Dirksen 138. Review of the 2018 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration with retired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, under secretary for nuclear security. appropriations.senate.gov
THURSDAY | JUNE 15
8 a.m. 300 1st St. SE. The next ballistic missile defense review with retired Brig. Gen. Kenneth Todorov, former deputy director of the Missile Defense Agency. michelleaerospacepower.org
9 a.m. Rayburn 2359. Defense Department budget for 2018 with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. appropriations.house.gov
9:30 p.m. Dirksen G-50. Posture of the Navy with Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, and Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps. armed-services.senate.gov
10 A.M. Rayburn 2172. The process and policy of foreign military sales with Tina Kaidanow, acting assistant secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, and Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. foreignaffairs.house.gov
10 a.m. Senate Visitor Center 209-08. Study release on optimizing the potential of remotely piloted aircraft with Sen. John Boozman and retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula. mitchellaerospacepower.org
2 p.m. Rayburn 2172. Russia’s strategic objectives in the Middle East and North Africa. foreignaffairs.house.gov
FRIDAY | JUNE 16
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
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. 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
12:30 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. The origins and evolution of ISIS in Libya. atlanticcouncil.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