THE WAY AHEAD IN SYRIA: With the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq almost complete, and the caliphate collapsing in Syria, the U.S. says it will continue to back a coalition of Syrian fighters as it pursues ISIS remnants in the Middle Euphrates River Valley in Syria. “We continue to work by, with and through our partners to militarily defeat Daesh [ISIS], and we will continue our efforts until the Daesh threat is permanently removed,” Army Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, commander of the U.S.-led special operations task force, told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday. Jarrard praised what he called the phenomenal success of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a loose coalition that includes Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Yezidis, Armenians and Turkmen. “The coalition will continue our support to the SDF as they liberate the remainder of areas along the Euphrates River to the border with Iraq,” Jarrard said, indicating the U.S. plans to stay in Syria after the shooting stops. “Once we have successfully defeated Daesh, the coalition will continue to have a key role for enduring counter-VEO [violent extremist organization] efforts,” he said.
WHAT NEXT? The United States, unlike Russia, was not invited into Syria, which is still a sovereign nation with a functioning government headed by Bashar Assad. When ISIS is defeated, the U.S. will lack a legal basis to stay, so maneuvering is underway to ensure the Assad regime doesn’t turn its guns on the Syrian fighters who did the heavy lifting on the ground on America’s behalf.
In Senate testimony this week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said diplomatic efforts are underway to create more “de-escalation zones” in areas that have been liberated by the SDF. The idea is to make sure Syrian civil war “does not rear up” again. “In order for that to happen that means that the regime holds its positions and not try to overrun or retake areas that were liberated by others,” Tillerson told the Senate Armed Service Committee Monday night.
“These are not demarcations zones. It is not intended to divide the country,” Tillerson said. “They are merely intended to de-escalate, deconflict and in effect get cease-fires in place so that we then can get representatives to the Geneva process pursuant to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, which has a very prescribed process for how Syria will work its way towards new elections over the next few years.”
UH, HOW MANY TROOPS? There was a moment in yesterday’s Pentagon briefing when it appeared Jarrard was making some big news, announcing a major increase in the number of U.S. ground forces in Syria. “I think it's a little over 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria right now,” he said when asked for the latest troop levels. WHAAAT? The official number, which is thought to be an undercount, was just over 500. When Idrees Ali of Reuters followed up, Jarrard quicky backtracked. “I'm sorry. I misspoke there. There are approximately 500 troops in Syria,” Jarrard said.
Because the Pentagon has not released more accurate numbers, and because it admits it doesn’t count some troops it moves in and out of the country on a “short term” basis, reporters wondered if Jarrard had possibly slipped up and accidentally revealed the real number. But Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon insisted Jarrard was just momentarily confused, and the 4,000 figure doesn’t correlate to any troop count in Syria.
TERROR IN NEW YORK: Unlike the mass shooting in Las Vegas, there is little doubt that the truck attack along a busy bike path in Manhattan was an instance of domestic terrorism perpetrated in the name of ISIS. As of this morning, the attack has claimed the lives of eight people and injured 11 others. The suspect has been identified as Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, a 29-year-old from Uzbekistan who came to the U.S. in 2010. Officials say he shouted “God is great” in Arabic, and that a note found in the truck written in English said he was conducting the attack in the name of ISIS. He was shot by police after waving air pistols, and is now hospitalized and expected to survive.
Police say Saipov, an Uber driver who holds a truck driver’s license, drove a rented pickup down the crowded bike lane, mowing down cyclists and pedestrians, eventually ramming a school bus, injuring two adults and two children. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says for now the attack has all the hallmarks of a “lone wolf,” acting alone and inspired by ISIS’ radical ideology. “The new terrorist tactic, which they've called for publicly, are these lone wolves who commit an act of terror,” Cuomo said. “At this point there is no evidence to suggest a wider plot or a wider scheme.”
Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, explains on Twitter that while ISIS hasn’t claimed responsibility, the methods used in the attack were right out of the group’s playbook.
TRUMP ORDERS ‘EXTREME VETTING’: President Trump has ordered the Homeland Security Department to ratchet up its "extreme vetting program" following reports that the suspect responsible for the New York City acts of terror on Tuesday is an immigrant. “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this,” Trump tweeted. “We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!”
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: NAVY TO RELEASE COLLISION FINDINGS: The Navy’s top uniformed officer, Adm. John Richardson, met with the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday and provided a classified briefing on the service’s investigation into the separate collisions of the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald destroyers, which killed 17 sailors over the summer.
“In this case, there were judgment mistakes, training mistakes, failure to adhere to procedures, but in general we’re asking too few ships to do too many things,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, the seapower subcommittee chairman. He said the Navy is set to publicly release “very thorough” findings before the end of the week. “The report will indicate a number of opportunities for Congress to be helpful in avoiding these sorts of things,” Wicker said.
However, Sen. John McCain, the committee chairman, said senators still had unanswered questions following the briefing by Richardson and Adm. Philip Davidson, head of Fleet Forces Command. “They will be providing us with additional information as they reach [a] conclusion,” McCain said. Richardson discussed events that led to the separate nighttime collisions, root causes and corrective actions the service is taking, according to a McCain statement released later in the day.
THE TRILLION WITH A ‘T’ TRIAD: The debate over modernizing all three legs the U.S. nuclear triad has generally come with the shorthand estimate that it could cost $1 trillion over 30 years. But now the Congressional Budget Office has crunched the numbers and come up with an updated price tag: $1.2 trillion in 2017 dollars over the 2017-2046 period: more than $800 billion to operate and sustain (that is, incrementally upgrade) nuclear forces and about $400 billion to modernize them.
Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, who requested the CBO report along with fellow Democrat Rep. Pete Visclosky, calls it the “first official independent assessment” of the total cost to upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal. “Armed Services Committee Democrats have consistently fought to require a realistic estimate of these long-term costs from the Defense Department during the [National Defense Authorization Act] process, only to see those efforts blocked,” Smith said in a statement following the CBO release.
Overall, the cost would be a 50 percent increase over maintaining the current weapons, but during peak years of modernization current funding projections would need to double, causing competition with other defense budget priorities, the CBO found. “Congress still doesn’t seem to have any answers as to how we will pay for this effort, or what the trade-offs with other national security efforts will be if we maintain an arsenal of over 4,000 nuclear weapons and expand our capacity to produce more,” Smith said. The Trump administration is wrapping up its Nuclear Posture Review to chart its course and that is expected to be finished by the end of the year. But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has already said he’s committed to keeping all three legs of the triad.
The CBO report analyzes nine options that would reduce those costs or delay some of them.
NO ‘CLICHÉ’ DMZ VISIT: Trump will not visit the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea during his longest overseas trip since taking office, a 12-day swing through five Asian countries. Trump departs Friday for the extensive diplomatic tour, which his administration sees as an opportunity to put additional pressure on North Korea and urge China to abandon what it considers to be unfair trade and industrial practices.
A senior administration official yesterday put an end to the widespread speculation about whether Trump might skip the DMZ so as not to escalate the situation in a time when Pyongyang has, for the moment, gone quiet. But a senior administration said the reason was Trump’s schedule was too busy, and that the spectacle was becoming a “cliché.”
“It's been a minority of American presidents who have visited the DMZ since the end of the Korean War. It's fewer than half,” the official told reporters at the White House, “We just had Secretary Mattis there last week at the DMZ. We had Vice President [Mike] Pence there earlier this year. Secretary Tillerson was there. It's becoming a little bit of a cliche, frankly.”
“It would have had to have been the DMZ or Camp Humphreys. No president has visited Camp Humphreys and we thought that that made more sense in terms of its messaging, in terms of the chance to address families and troops there, and to highlight — really, at President Moon's invitation — South Korea's role in sharing the burden of supporting this critical alliance.”
PREEMPTIVE STRIKES: A group of Senate Democrats is arguing that Trump has no authority to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea without first getting approval of Congress. “There is no theory of Article 2 power that is commonly acceptable that allows for the president to launch a preemptive attack when the United States is not under imminent threat without congressional approval,” Sen. Chris Murphy told reporters yesterday.
Article 2 of the Constitution names the president as commander in chief of the military, while Article 1 gives Congress the power to declare war. The argument that only Congress can authorize an attack that would amount to a declaration of a major war would be a rollback of modern presidential power if honored. There is little debate among constitutional scholars that the president has the authority to act to protect the nation in the event of an imminent threat, but with many countries possessing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, the question is at what point would North Korea become a such a threat.
“I do not believe that the mere possession of a weapon that can hit the United States constitutes is an imminent threat,” said Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If that were the case, then the president would have full war-making authority against any country that has an ICBM capable of hitting the United States with a nuclear warhead.” Murphy said several prominent Senate Democratic leaders will join him in introducing a resolution reminding Trump of that constraint.
DEADLY TUNNEL COLLAPSE: As many as 200 North Koreans are dead after a tunnel under construction at the nation's Punggye-ri nuclear test site collapsed, according to Japanese news reports. Japan TV's Asahi reported that about 100 people were inside the tunnel when it collapsed, and another 100 may have died trying to rescue the others during a second collapse, according to Yonhap News Agency.
The report did not make it clear when the collapse occurred. On Oct. 17, the website 38 North examiner whether Mount Manhap, where the regime's nuclear tests are conducted, may be suffering from "tired mountain syndrome," due to repeated underground nuclear tests that trigger seismic events.
KEEPING BAD NEWS UNDER WRAPS: The latest quarterly report to Congress by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, contains an unusual disclaimer that the U.S. military command In Afghanistan has now classified metrics that have been routinely reported for years. In what appears to be a change of policy aimed at keeping the Taliban and other potential enemies from gaining insight into the troubled Afghan military, the U.S. command has decided to restrict what information the independent Pentagon watchdog can make public.
The move comes as the report details the latest trends, showing the Afghan government losing its grip on more territory and the pace of combat and civilian casualties rising. “In a significant development this quarter, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan classified or otherwise restricted information SIGAR has until now publicly reported,” the report states. “These include important measures of [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] performance such as casualties, personnel strength, attrition, capability assessments, and operational readiness of equipment.”
Early last month, Mattis said he was clamping down on information that could aid the enemy. “In talking with the American people, we will tell them we are adding the troops. We'll give approximate numbers. We're not hiding this,” Mattis testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the new Afghanistan strategy Oct. 3. “But I'd rather not say the specific capabilities or the specific numbers or the location on the battlefield.”
The metrics will still be provided to Congress, the Pentagon and State Department in a classified annex, which is not available to public or the press. A military spokesman said the request to classify the numbers came from the Afghan president.
NO ONE FIRED AT STATE: Under questioning this week from New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Tillerson took the opportunity to set the record straight on the state of staffing in the diplomatic corps. “I question whether in fact we are leading with diplomacy in putting our best foot forward,” Shaheen said at Monday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “Can you explain to me why this is a good time to let go those personnel to cut back on the budget of the State Department?
“We've let no one go, senator,” Tillerson replied. “Some people have retired, some people have chosen to leave and pursue other interests on their own but there have been no layoffs, there's been no terminations.” Tillerson said while there are some open positions because the Senate has not confirmed many Trump administration nominees, he insisted long time diplomats, with “many, many years of experience” have stepped up to fill the void. “Our diplomacy has not stopped. It is not hampered. It is not slowed,” Tillerson said. “We need some more help, we need some leadership help, but we haven't depleted our ranks of expertise by any stretch of the imagination.”
Stars and Stripes: S. Korea Won’t Seek Nuclear Weapons, President Says, Rejecting Opposition Calls
Breaking Defense: 15 Subs Kept Out Of Service: 177 Months Of Drydock Backups
Bloomberg: Northrop Dinged by Both Army and Air Force on Quality Concerns
Los Angeles Times: New Northrop Grumman Drones To Take Over Navy Ocean Surveillance
CNN: Russian bombers escorted away from U.S. aircraft carrier
Fox News: NYC terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov: Who is he?
Foreign Policy: The private air force preparing U.S. pilots for the next war
Reuters: U.S. pursues direct diplomacy with North Korea despite Trump rejection
Military Times: China has practiced bombing runs targeting Guam, U.S. says
Military.com: U.S. and coalition troops could stand between Kurds and Iraqis: General
Defense One: Trump’s policy on terrorism suspects looks like Obama’s
New York Times: Airbus says it misled State Department on arms sales
WEDNESDAY | NOV. 1
8 a.m. 1550 W. Nursery Rd. Cyber DFARS workshop. ndia.org
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The joint force of the Group of Five for the Sahel and an African-led response to insecurity. csis.org
9:30 a.m. Hart 216. Open hearing on social media influence in the 2016 U.S. elections. intelligence.senate.gov
9:30 a.m. 1152 15th St. NW. Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit with Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc. and the chair of the Defense Innovation Advisory Board. cnas.org
10 a.m. Rayburn 2172. An insider’s look at the North Korean regime with Thae Yong-ho, former deputy chief of mission at the North Korean embassy in the United Kingdom. foreignaffairs.house.gov
10 a.m. Rayburn 2154. Overview of 16 years of involvement in Afghanistan. oversight.house.gov
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Press briefing on President Trump's trip to Asia. csis.org
10:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. From enemies to partners: Vietnam, the U.S. and Agent Orange. csis.org
2 p.m. House Visitor Center 210. Russia Investigative task force open hearing with social media companies including Kent Walker, general counsel for Google; Colin Stretch, general counsel for Facebook; and Sean Edgett, general counsel for Twitter. intelligence.house.gov
5:30 p.m. 1152 15th St. NW. Screening event for “The Long Road Home” with Rep. Jim Banks, Rep. Ruben Gallego and retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the former Army vice chief of staff. cnas.org
THURSDAY | NOV. 2
9 a.m. House Visitor Center 304. Testimony of Carter Page. intelligence.house.gov
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Hearing on nominations for Mark Esper, to be Army secretary; Robert Wilkie, to be undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness; Joseph Kernan, to be under secretary of defense for intelligence; and Guy Roberts, to be assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Trump’s vision for Asia: What to expect from the U.S. presidential visit to the Asia-Pacific region with Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. wilsoncenter.org
1 p.m. 1135 16th St. NW. Beyond BRAC: Defining the path forward for our defense infrastructure with Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary of defense for installations, environment and energy. defensecommunities.org
FRIDAY | NOV. 3
2:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. China's 19th party congress and its implications for China and the United States. wilsoncenter.org
MONDAY | NOV. 6
9 a.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. How do you solve a problem like North Korea? cato.org
11 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Allies under the shadow: Thailand, the Philippines, and the state of U.S. alliances in Southeast Asia. csis.org
TUESDAY | NOV. 7
8 a.m. 11790 Sunrise Valley Dr. How Washington Works - Navigating the DOD course. ndia.org
8 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Global Security Forum 2017 with Sen. John McCain; James Clapper, former director of national intelligence; and William Lynn, CEO of Leonardo North America and DRS Technologies. csis.org
WEDNESDAY | NOV. 8
2:30 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW. A strategy for a brighter future in Libya: Redefining America’s role. aei.org
3 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. The civilian elements of the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan with Ahmad Nader Nadery, chairman of Afghanistan’s civil service commission. atlanticcouncil.org
4 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A book talk with Nathalie Nguyen about America's forgotten allies, the soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam. csis.org