THE PLAN FOR IRAN: President Trump will announce his decision regarding the Iran nuclear agreement and lay out the way ahead for dealing with Tehran in remarks scheduled for 12:45 p.m., according to the White House. The president has made no secret of his loathing for the agreement negotiated by the Obama administration, along with Britain, France, Germany, China Russia and the EU. All those other countries say Iran is in compliance with the terms of the deal, which is designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability over the next decade. Trump’s own senior military adviser, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, told Congress last week, “Iran is not in material breach of the agreement, and I do believe the agreement to date has delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran.”
So Trump is expected to declare the deal is not in the interest of U.S. national security. “It was a very bad deal,” Trump told Fox News Wednesday night. “I’m not saying anything different tonight that I haven't been saying for two years. It's a horrible, horrible embarrassment to our country. We did it out of weakness when actually, we have great strength.”
WHAT’S NEXT? Congress will have to decide if it wants to slap unilateral sanctions on Iran, since it’s unlikely the other signatories to the deal will follow Trump’s lead. The president’s new strategy, which he will outline today, will involve cracking down on Iran’s malign activities that fall outside of the nuclear agreement. At a briefing ahead of Trump's announcement, White House officials described the 2015 deal as "myopic.” The new strategy will focus on Iran's ballistic missile testing, destabilizing activities throughout the region, including in Yemen and Syria, and the violence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an arm of the Iranian military, writes our White House correspondent Sarah Westwood.
NEW SANCTIONS PLAN: A pair of Republican senators will unveil a plan Friday to sanction Iran if the regime gets close to constructing a nuclear weapon, as part of a Trump's broader effort to counter Iranian aggression, Joel Gehrke writes.
Under the proposal, Iran would face "automatic" economic sanctions if it builds up its nuclear program to the point of being within one year of having a bomb. The plan was developed by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker and Sen. Tom Cotton, one of the arch critics of the Iran deal. The one-year time frame is designed to ensure that Iran doesn't get so close to having a nuclear weapon that the United States can't take action to prevent it.
The Corker-Cotton bill is an apparent effort to deprive Iran of the leverage it seems to have under the deal as currently written. Critics have long complained that the deal was front-loaded to give the regime a financial windfall, raising the likelihood that Trump's effort to improve the deal would result in Iran pocketing the money they've already received and then continuing to develop a nuclear weapons program.
ISIS ‘CRUSHED’: There was a consistent message coming out of Washington yesterday that, at least as far Iraq is concerned, the Islamic State is in its death throes. Spokespeople from Baghdad to the Pentagon to the White House were writing the terrorist group’s obit, while stopping short of declaring victory. Here’s a sample:
“Clearly we have a war that we're seeing every day being won in Iraq against ISIS … they're getting crushed every day. The caliphate's gone. We see them trying to escape from Iraq and get into Europe and places like that, which should cause Europeans much concern.” — John Kelly, White House chief of staff.
“Daesh [ISIS] is fighting for survival. The physical caliphate has been destroyed. It'll be finished off in another part of the world here shortly and they know they're losing. They can see it coming and they're starting to run away, and they're starting to ask for surrender, which is something you would not have seen a year ago.” — Maj. Gen. Robert White, coalition ground commander, Baghdad
“On ISIS, they are getting desperate. Civilians are running towards the Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces, because they know they are the good guys. Thousands of their fighters are surrendering because they know ISIS can't win.” — Dana White, chief Pentagon spokesperson.
As of this morning, 95 percent of the territory once held by ISIS is now back under control of the Iraqi government, a total of more than 16,000 square miles. That’s more than four million Iraqis freed from ISIS’ brutal rule, six million people liberated if you also count neighboring Syria. While progress across the border is slower, the picture shows an ever-shrinking caliphate. A map put together by the Institute for the Study of War shows the area of ISIS control in Syria as a thin gray line. The map also shows the complexity of the Syrian battlespace, with wide swaths of land controlled by the Kurds, regime opposition fighters, and troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Unlike in Iraq, in Syria the U.S. does not have a government on the ground to work with, and in fact has Russia often working against U.S. interests.
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: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wraps up his three-day Florida trip with a stop at the headquarters of U.S. Southern Command, and consultations with Adm. Kurt Tidd. Mattis told reporters traveling with him that these face-to-face meetings help him “close the gap between myself and commanders who have the burden of carrying out policy.” Yesterday, he met with CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel and SOCOM commander Gen. Raymond Thomas. “I get it unfiltered,” Mattis said, “because we have more discussion than just weekly reports in video teleconferences.”
Tidd’s predecessor was a bit unfiltered at yesterday’s briefing at the White House, admitting that much of the problem with drugs crossing America’s southern border is driven by U.S. demand. “Places like Mexico, Central America suffer more from our drug demand and do more in many ways to stop that drug flow than we do in our own country,” said former SOUTHCOM chief and current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. During his tenure at SOUTHCOM from 2012 to 2016, Kelly said he enjoyed “great relationships” with the Mexicans. “Before I took this job and flew into Sinaloa and saw a Mexican military risking their lives pulling out tens of thousands of poppy plants that are eventually turned into heroin and are eventually consumed by Americans.”
WE NEED THE WALL: Kelly also voiced support for one of Trump’s key initiatives, a 2,000 mile long wall along the southern border with Mexico. “We need to reinforce what they're doing down on the border,” Kelly said. “We definitely need more wall or physical barrier. We have about 600 miles of that border now secured by some type of physical barrier.”
HOUSE MOVES TOWARD NDAA CONFERENCE: The House has voted to begin negotiations with the Senate to hammer out a final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which lays out military policy for 2018. The green light to create the joint conference committee must now be approved by the Senate and is a key step toward Congress finalizing what leaders of the armed services committees hope will be a major defense hike. “The world is getting more dangerous and unfortunately through the fault of both parties ... we cut our military too much and we are seeing the effects of that through declining readiness through increasing accidents a whole variety of where the fruits of that neglect is becoming more apparent,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Armed Services chairman.
The House picked 31 members of the Armed Services Committee to lead negotiations and another 42 members from various other committees to deal with specific sections of the more than 1,000-page bill. Both the $696 billion House and $700 billion Senate versions contain more troops, ships, and aircraft than Trump's $639 billion request from this spring, as well as a raft of policy issues such as the contentious proposal to creation of a Space Corps military service.
NEW WAR AUTHORIZATION BILL: In the latest wrinkle of a long-simmering debate on Capitol Hill, House lawmakers have proposed new legislation that takes another shot at replacing the aging 9/11-era war authorizations used as a legal basis by the U.S. to fight terrorist groups around the world. The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan group of four House Armed Services Committee members who are all military veterans, would re-authorize Trump to wage war for five years against the Islamic State, al Qaeda and the Taliban, though not against any nations. "The threats we face today are far different than those we faced over a decade ago, and this legislation reflects Congress's constitutional role in authorizing the use of military force against terrorist organizations," Rep. Mike Coffman said. Other sponsors include Reps. Ruben Gallego, Don Bacon and Jimmy Panetta, the son of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
In recent months, both the House and the Senate have wrangled and wrung their hands over new war authorization legislation as pressure mounts for Congress to weigh in after 16 years of war. Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee behind closed doors in August about its consideration of an AUMF replacement. Members came out of the room still split and there has been no committee action. Sens. Jeff Flake and Tim Kaine introduced an AUMF replacement bill in May and it has also made no progress. Long-time war opponent Rep. Barbara Lee won a surprise victory in June when a House committee voted to add her AUMF repeal legislation into an annual spending bill but it was later stripped at the behest of Speaker Paul Ryan, saving lawmakers from a difficult floor vote.
MILITARY AID TO PUERTO RICO: In the wake Trump’s tweet yesterday that “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” the Pentagon said it had no plans to withdraw military assistance anytime soon. “We'll continue to help and we'll continue to support FEMA as long as we're requested,” said Pentagon spokeswoman White.
The message was the same from Kelly at the White House. “Our country will stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done,” Kelly said “But the tweet about FEMA and — and DoD — read, military — is exactly accurate: They're not going to be there forever. And the whole point is to start to work yourself out of a job, and then transition to the rebuilding process.”
THE SHADOWY AFRICA MISSION: At yesterday’s Pentagon briefing, Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie revealed that the U.S. has roughly 1,000 troops in what is referred to as the “Chad Basin” in Western Africa. “We work very closely with the French in the Chad Basin,” McKenzie said. “The French have about 5,000 forces up in the Mali area. We have about 1,000 forces distributed over the Chad Basin, most of them in Niger, but not all of them.” McKenzie also confirmed that an ISIS affiliate is the prime suspect in the surprise attack that killed four U.S. soldiers last week. “I think we believe there's probably some form of ISIS affiliation with the group that we're talking about there. We're still looking into the specific details of that.”
McKenzie said it’s not thought that the ISIS fighters were from Syria or other countries, that they were more likely “self-radicalized,” but he said the U.S. would adjust to take “this new factor in the theater,” into account. “If they go to the cold corner of the room that will rapidly become the hot corner of the room, we'll turn the searchlight on them, and they'll have the option of either surrendering or dying in their new franchise.”
PRAISE FOR PAKISTAN: Trump hailed the news of the American woman and her family rescued from terrorists in Pakistan after five years in captivity as a victory for the United States and "a positive moment" for the relationship with Pakistan. That relationship has been strained by disagreements about how to target terrorist groups operating in the country, but the two sides cooperated to rescue Caitlan Coleman, her husband Joshua Boyle, and their three children.
"Today they are free," Trump said. "The Pakistani government's cooperation is a sign that it is honoring America's wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region."
Coleman and Boyle were captured while hiking in Afghanistan in 2012. Coleman was pregnant with their first child at the time. They had been held by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan that is tied to the Taliban and receives "the backing of elements within the Pakistani security establishment," according to the Institute for the Study of War.
RESCUE OP: Pakistan's military announced it carried out the rescue operation "based on actionable intelligence from US authorities" who reported the family had been brought to a certain Pakistani village on Wednesday. "The success underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan's continued commitment towards fighting this menace through cooperation between two forces against a common enemy," Pakistan's army said in a statement.
The State Department confirmed that account. “I can say that the Pakistani military, acting on information that we provided, were able to secure the release of this family. We are tremendously happy to have these folks returning,” said spokeswoman Heather Nauert. “That is one of the things that the president has said at the very beginning of this administration. He gave this assignment to Secretary Tillerson, and others in the national security community, to say let's bring our Americans home.”
PRO-TIP FOR REPORTERS FROM KELLY: “Just develop some better sources,”admonished Kelly during his White House briefing yesterday, explaining the frustration he experiences daily reading news accounts he says are often “misreported.” Kelly avoided the term “fake news,” and stopped short of accusing the media of making things up, but said “I'm a reasonable guy, but when I read in the morning ... when I watch TV in the morning, it's just astounding to me how much is misreported.”
Kelly, who noted he often interacted with the press at DHS and during his long military career, said one of the big things the press has gotten wrong is the false narrative that he’s frustrated that he can't “control” the president or his tweeting. He said was not brought in “to control anything but the flow of information” to the president. Kelly also said it’s not true he limits who has access to the president. “I restrict no one, by the way, from going in to see him. But when we go in to see him now, rather than the onesies and twosies, we go in and help him collectively understand what he needs to understand to make these vital decisions.
“I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you are operating off of contacts, leaks, whatever you call them,” Kelly said. “But I would just offer to you the advice: I'd say, you know, maybe develop some better sources.”
FLAG FAUX PAS: Trump sat and talked through the nightly playing of "Retreat" as the American flag was lowered on a Pennsylvania Air National Guard base during his interview with Sean Hannity Wednesday night. Trump, who has been criticizing NFL players who kneel through the national anthem to protest racism, seemed caught off-guard by loudspeakers playing "Retreat." The song is played every night at military bases to signal the American flag being lowered and the end of the official duty day.
Business Insider was the first to notice Trump sitting during the song. Uniformed service members are required to stop what they're doing and salute the flag as it’s lowered during the song, while civilians are required to place their hand over their heart. Trump, who was mid-interview at the time, remained sitting and jokingly wondered if the the song was being played to honor him or Hannity.
People watching the event can be seen standing for the song in the background of Trump's interview, as Trump asks "Are they playing that for you or for me?" He then jokes it’s for Hannity. "They're playing that in honor of his ratings. He's beating everybody."
POKEMON UH-OH: Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election extended even further than originally thought — to Youtube, Tumblr, and even Pokémon Go. According to a new CNN report, one Russian-linked campaign titled "Don't Shoot Us" — as a means to align itself with the Black Lives Matter movement — used used Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Pokémon Go "in an effort to exploit racial tensions and sow discord among Americans."
The campaign, which has links to the Kremlin-linked troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency, also contacted some journalists. The "Don't Shoot Us" campaign was used as a means to motivate African-Americans to protest police brutality, while simultaneously encouraging other Americans to view such activism as a threat to the country.
AP: Votel: More U.S. advisers will help break Afghan war stalemate
SOFREP: Arrests made of suspects involved in deadly ambush on Green Berets in Niger
Politico: America's shadow war in Africa
USA Today: 'White Widow' female terrorist killed in U.S. drone strike: reports
Roll Call: Pelosi wants ‘urgent’ update on president’s nuclear weapons authority
Washington Post: Army: Bowe Bergdahl will plead guilty in connection with his disappearance in Afghanistan
USNI News: Navy to surge USS Monterey, deploy USS O’Kane for BMD operations to cover ships sidelined in collisions
Foreign Policy: Army, defense companies making renewed push for laser weapons
Stars and Stripes: Okinawa Marines order operational pause for Super Stallions after accident
Wall Street Journal: Cyberattack captures data on U.S. weapons in four-month assault
AP: Dangerous sound? What Americans heard in Cuba attacks
Defense News: Interview: Rep. Mike Turner's take on what's to blame for a track record of failure in Army programs
Marine Corps Times: American volunteers trying to leave Syria turned away by US Special Forces
Defense One: If war with Russia breaks out, borders and bureaucracy could slow the West’s response
MONDAY | OCT. 16
11 a.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Terror, propaganda and the birth of the “new man”: Experiences from Cuba, North Korea and the Soviet Union. cato.org
TUESDAY | OCT. 17
7:30 a.m. 300 First St. SE. Breakfast series with Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. afa.org
11:15 a.m. 1700 Army Navy Dr. NDIA Washington, D.C. chapter defense leaders forum luncheon with Vice Adm. Robert Burke, deputy chief of naval operations for manpower, personnel, training and education. ndia.org
12:15 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. The diplomacy of decolonization and United Nations peacekeeping during the Congo Crisis of 1960-1964. stimson.org
2:30 p.m. Hart 216. Open hearing on the nomination of Christopher Sharpley to be the inspector general of the Central Intelligence Agency. intelligence.senate.gov
WEDNESDAY | OCT. 18
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A book talk with Sir Lawrence Freedman about "The Future of War: A History.” csis.org
12 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Kevan Harris on Iran from below and findings from the Iran social survey. atlanticcouncil.org
3 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. The KRG independence referendum and regional realities with Arshad Al-Salihi, the Iraqi Turkmen Front leader and a member of the Iraq Parliament; James F. Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq; and Lukman Faily, former Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. press.org
THURSDAY | OCT. 19
12:15 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. The fait accompli in the 21st century security landscape: From Crimea to Doklam to the Spratly Islands. stimson.org
3 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. A strategy for the trans-Pacific century: Final report of the Atlantic Council’s Asia-Pacific strategy task force. atlanticcouncil.org
3 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. The North Korean nuclear challenge and international response. heritage.org
FRIDAY | OCT. 20
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. How Jihadism ends: Comparing state strategies toward violent extremism in Kenya and Uganda. csis.org
1:30 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. The way forward on Iran policy with a keynote speech by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. press.org