TURKEY AND RUSSIA COMPLICATE THE SYRIA BATTLESPACE: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is in Brussels today, where he plans to meet one-on-one with his Turkish counterpart about the U.S. desire for Turkey to protect its border without undermining the fight against the Islamic State. Mattis and others discussed the situation yesterday with Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli at a meeting of the global coalition against ISIS in Rome. But Mattis has told reporters traveling with him to NATO headquarters that he will have a private session with Canikli at the NATO defense ministerial that begins today, as Turkey’s offensive against Kurds along its border is drawing U.S.-backed forces away from the task of finishing off ISIS.
“He laid out the rationale. We laid out the rationale for working this to a solution that took into account Turkey's legitimate security concerns,” Mattis said of Canikli, who at the meeting vigorously defended Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch” offensive in the Afrin border region, and accused NATO allies of failing Turkey, a loyal alliance member for 66 years. Turkey will “go to any length” to clear its border of terrorists, Canikli said, adding “NATO countries are not giving enough support.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Kuwait for an international conference on rebuilding Iraq, said he will be heading to Ankara this week to further press the case. “As to the situation in Afrin, it has detracted from our fight to defeat ISIS in eastern Syria, as forces have diverted themselves towards Afrin. Tillerson said Turkey is “mindful” of the effects this is having on the war against ISIS in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.
IT’S NOT OVER: “We've kept saying that the fight is not over. I've said that now for two months, and you just have to recognize, the fighting goes on,” Mattis emphasized to the traveling press corps. “Not even the caliphate is completely down. Then we have to work the rhetoric and the message of hatred that they had put out. We have to work against this ideology. We have to work against its financing,” Mattis said, noting that in recent days ISIS has been mounting counterattacks against the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Mattis described the ISIS action as “local tactical counterattacks,” and said while it might be slightly above normal, “it's not any kind of a larger effort.”
RUSSIANS? WHAT RUSSIANS? It is neither in the U.S. nor Russia’s interests to admit there were Russian mercenaries among the pro-regime forces who were decimated by devastating U.S. airstrikes last week. The “battalion-sized” force, 300 or more fighters, launched an ill-advised attack against an SDF headquarters where U.S. troops were located. More than 100, perhaps as many 200, of the attackers were killed in a withering three-hour display of American artillery and airpower that included fire from F-15E fighters, MQ-9 Reaper drones, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and AH-64 helicopters. The U.S. Air Forces Central Command has released a video of a Russian-made tank being hit by a missile from a Reaper.
But reports from Moscow, including interviews with Russians who say they know some of the dead, suggest that despite Russia’s denials, there were in fact Russian contractors in the mix. Mattis told reporters that the Russians, who were consulted throughout attack by way of a deconfliction communications line, have consistently said they had no forces in the fight. “They said, ‘Not our people,’ ” Mattis said, adding that he knows nothing more than what is reported in the media. “We don't have much on it right now outside of what we've seen reported coming out of Moscow. It makes no sense, it does not appear to be anything coordinated by the Russians.”
In Moscow a spokesman for Vladimir Putin, who is facing a presidential election next month, said given the large numbers of “our Russian countrymen” in many countries of the world, “it is very difficult in this case to possess detailed information.”
U.S. SAW IT COMING: “Despite the attack being unprovoked, it was not entirely unexpected,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian said yesterday at a Pentagon briefing piped in from his headquarters at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. “The coalition observed a slow buildup of personnel and equipment the previous week, and we reminded Russian officials of the SDF and coalition presence via the telephone deconfliction line. This was well in advance of the enemy forces' attack,” Harrigian said, adding he would “not speculate on the composition of this force or whose control they were under.”
WORLDWIDE THREATS: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence heard from all the top officials in the U.S. intelligence community yesterday to get their annual assessment of just how dangerous the world has become. Here’s what Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, had to say about the hottest of the hotspots.
Korea: “North Korea will be the most volatile and confrontational WMD threat in the coming year. In addition to its ballistic missile tests and growing number of nuclear warheads for these missiles, North Korea will continue its longstanding chemical and biological warfare programs, also.”
Turkey: “Turkey will seek to thwart Kurdish ambitions in the Middle East, and the ongoing Turkish incursion into Northern Syria is complicating ongoing counter-ISIS activities in the region and increases the risk to U.S. forces located in the area.”
Syria: “Syria will face unrest and fighting through 2018, even as Damascus recaptures urban areas and violence decreases in some areas. ... Iran's provocative and assertive behavior, as we saw most recently this past weekend in Northern Israel, increases the potential for escalation.”
Iran: “Iran's implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the JCPOA, has extended the time it would take to develop a nuclear weapon from several months to about a year, provided Iran continues to adhere to the deals of major provisions.
“Iran will remain the most prominent state sponsor of terrorism and an adversary in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Iran will seek to expand its regional influence and will exploit the fight against ISIS to solidify partnerships and translate battlefield gains into political, security and economic agreements.
“The social and the political challenges that gave rise to ISIS remain, and Iran has exploited those challenges to deepen its influence in Iraq's military and security elements and diplomatic and political arms.”
Iraq: “Iraq is likely to face a lengthy period of political turmoil and conflict.”
Afghanistan/Pakistan: “Kabul continues to bear the brunt of the Taliban-led insurgency, as demonstrated by recent attacks in the city. Afghan National Security Forces face unsteady performance, but with coalition support, probably will maintain control of most major population centers.
“Complicating the Afghanistan situation, however, is our assessment that Pakistan-based militant groups continue to take advantage of their safe haven to conduct [operations] in India and Afghanistan.” Coats says while Pakistan’s military operations are trying to “appear more proactive and responsive” to the U.S. demand for stronger action against the Taliban and other terrorist groups, “The actions taken thus far do not reflect a significant escalation of pressure against these groups, and are unlikely to have a lasting effect.
“In the last month, the administration has designated eight militants affiliated with the Taliban, Haqqani Network and other Pakistani militant groups. And we assess that Pakistan will maintain ties to these militants while restricting counterterrorism cooperation with the United States.”
Russia: “Russia will remain the most capable WMD power, and is expanding its nuclear weapon capabilities.”
China: “China will continue to expand its weapons of mass destruction options and diversify its nuclear arsenal. … China will increasingly seek to expand its regional influence and shape events and outcomes globally. It will take a firm stance on its claims to the East China Sea and South China Sea, its relations with Taiwan and its regional economic engagement.”
The Islamic State: “ISIS's claim to having a functioning caliphate that governs populations is all but thwarted. However, ISIS remains a threat and will likely focus on regrouping in Iraq and Syria, particularly in ungoverned portions of those countries, enhancing its global presence, championing its cause, planning international attacks and encouraging members and sympathizers to attack their home countries.”
Europe: “The continent's center of gravity appears to be shifting to France, where President [Emmanuel] Macron has taken a more assertive role in addressing European and global challenges. Results of the recent German election, I think, enforce that assessment.”
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 — PACOM COMMANDER TESTIFIES: We will no doubt hear more about the threat from North Korea this morning when Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, testifies before the House Armed Services Committee at 10. The hearing is also likely to delve into the Navy’s posture in the Asia-Pacific following recent at-sea collisions. Harris’ PACOM headquarters is located in Hawaii, where a false missile alert stoked public fear.
At 3:30 p.m., the committee looks at Air Force readiness with testimony from Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, the deputy chief of staff for operations; Lt. Gen. Scott Rice, director of the Air National Guard; and Maj. Gen. Derek Rydholm, deputy to the chief of the Air Force Reserve.
MILITARY READINESS HEARING: A Senate Armed Services subcommittee holds a hearing at 2:30 p.m. on the readiness of U.S. forces with Gen. James McConville, Army vice chief of staff; Adm. Bill Moran, vice chief of naval operations; Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps; and Gen. Stephen Wilson, Air Force vice chief of staff.
DOD NOMINEES SENT TO SENATE FLOOR: Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee moved another batch of four Pentagon nominees to the chamber floor. The voice vote queues them up for a potential confirmation. Here are the nominations:
OA-X VULNERABILITIES: The Air Force’s future light attack aircraft may be more vulnerable than its existing fighter jet and A-10 Thunderbolt II fleets, but that is no reason to worry, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said yesterday. “No, that doesn’t concern me a lot,” she told reporters during a press conference at the Pentagon. The Air Force wants a smaller, lower-cost aircraft to fight insurgencies and terrorists around the world alongside its A-10s and F-35 joint strike fighters.
The service has whittled finalists for the program to Textron’s AT-6 Wolverine and the A-29 Super Tucano by Sierra Nevada and Embraer, but the winner will not take over the role of the higher-end combat aircraft. “You wouldn’t put a light attack aircraft in the environment that you would put an F-35 or even potentially an A-10. We have different systems for different kinds of missions,” she said. The A-10 has a massive nose cannon and is protected by a titanium “bathtub” of armor. The F-35 is widely considered the most advanced fighter jet in the world with stealth technology that makes it virtually invisible to enemy radar.
GD’S MOVE: When information-technology providers fight for U.S. government contracts, they're finding more and more that size matters. They can either pull back from the business, as military contractors Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman did with sales of IT divisions over the past decade, or expand. That's the response General Dynamics chose with the $9.6 billion takeover of cybersecurity specialist CSRA, a deal that will make the combined company one of the biggest suppliers in the field.
"The strategy may be neatly summed up as 'bigger is better,'" Credit Suisse analyst Robert Spingarn said in a report. "We largely agree with that view." Leidos Holdings' success in integrating the IT business it purchased from Lockheed Martin for $4.6 billion shows the potential payoff for the move, he noted.
The deal positions Falls Church, Va.-based General Dynamics to take advantage of higher military spending under President Trump.
CHAOS AT COLE TRIAL: Prosecutors were ordered Tuesday to draft warrants permitting U.S. Marshals to seize two civilian defense attorneys who left the USS Cole terrorism case and have refused to comply with a subpoena from the judge who is presiding over the case.
The judge, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, said he was prepared to sign the “writs of attachment” on Wednesday and advised the lawyer for civilian attorneys Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears to move quickly in order to prevent warrants from being issued.
Eliades and Spears quit the case in the fall due to an ethical issue concerning intrusion of attorney-client confidentiality and were released by Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, the chief defense counsel.
WHEN YOU ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NEED TO GET IT THERE OVERNIGHT: At yesterday’s Pentagon briefing, Harrigian saluted the ingenuity of his airmen who were tasked with packing up MQ-9 Reaper drones, no longer needed in Iraq, and sending them to Afghanistan. “Some of our really smart folks on my team suggested, ‘Hey, why don't we fly additional MQ-9s there instead of boxing them up and shipping them?’ something that we hadn't previously accomplished,” Harrigian said. “Flying them took less than 10 percent of the time, allowing us to keep these assets committed to both fights for as long as possible.”
BBC: Winter Olympics: Kim Jong-un calls for further reconciliation
Reuters: U.S. Intelligence Chief Says North Korea 'Decision Time' Is Near
Washington Post: Tillerson says investment in Iraq is critical to avoid Islamic State’s return
New York Times: War-Weary Iraq Asked Its Allies for $88 Billion. They Pledged $4 Billion
Defense One: Trump Said He Cut $1B from Air Force One’s Price. His New Budget Says He Hasn't
National Review: Don’t Retire Our Stealth Bombers
Reuters: U.S. defense spending bonanza puts niche acquisitions in play
Washington Post: He tried to woo a woman by chartering a helicopter for a fake military mission, officials say
New York Times: U.S. and Russia Revive Cold-War Game of Provocative Street Names
USA Today: State Department's answer to Russian meddling is about to be funded
AP: Reports of Russian deaths underscore dangers of Syria's war
Navy Times: Terrorism challenges in Africa take back seat in U.S. to other threats
War on the Rocks: Mission Accomplished? What’s Next for Iran’s Afghan Fighters in Syria
USNI News: Foggo: U.S. Needs More Forward Presence in Mediterranean Sea
Defense News: U.S. Army could get laser for Short Range Air Defense in under five years
Foreign Policy: Iran Is Playing With Fire in Syria
Wall Street Journal: Europe Balks at Taking Back ISIS Fighters
WEDNESDAY | FEB. 14
7 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defense Roundtable Breakfast. ndia.org
8 a.m. 3111 Fairview Park Dr. AFCEA NOVA's 16th Annual Air, Space, and Cyber IT Day. nova.afceachapters.org
8:45 a.m. Senate Visitor Center 203-02. Budgeting for Biodefense: Are We Prepared? With Sen. Richard Burr and former Sen. Tom Daschle. bipartisanpolicy.org
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Surface Warfare Challenge: A Retrospective on Culture, Readiness, Maintenance, and Standards. csis.org
10 a.m. Rayburn 2118. The Military and Security Challenges and Posture in the Indo-Pacific Region with Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command. armedservices.house.gov
10:30 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Big Small Companies: How Size Matters in Defense Contracting. atlanticcouncil.org
1 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. U.S. National Security and the Korean Peninsula: Perspectives from a Defector, a Russian, and an Analyst. wilsoncenter.org
1:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Book discussion of “Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement” with author Alexander Thurston. csis.org
2:30 p.m. Russell 222. Subcommittee Hearing on Current Readiness of U.S. Forces with Gen. James McConville, Army Vice Chief Of Staff; Adm. Bill Moran, Vice Chief Of Naval Operations; Gen. Glenn Walters, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps; and Gen. Stephen Wilson, Vice Chief Of Staff of the Air Force. armed-services.senate.gov
3 p.m. Russell 232-A. Military and Civilian Personnel Programs and Military Family Readiness with Robert Wilkie, Under Secretary Of Defense For Personnel And Readiness. armed-services.senate.gov
3:30 p.m. Rayburn 2212. Air Force Readiness Posture with Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations; Lt. Gen. Scott Rice, Director of the Air National Guard; and Maj. Gen. Derek Rydholm, Deputy to the Chief of the Air Force Reserve. armedservices.house.gov
THURSDAY | FEB. 15
8 a.m. Rayburn 2168. Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition hosts a congressional forum. amphibiouswarship.org
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. United States Northern Command and United States Southern Command with Gen. Lori Robinson, commander of U.S. Northern Command, and Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. Rayburn 2118. Strategic Competition with China. armedservices.house.gov
10 a.m. Dirksen 419. Nominations hearing for Andrea Thompson to be undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and others. foreign.senate.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2212. Evolution, Transformation, and Sustainment: A Review and Assessment of the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request for U.S. Special Operations Forces and Command with Gen. Raymond Thomas, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, and Owen West, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict. armedservices.house.gov
FRIDAY | FEB. 16
8 a.m. Fort Lesley J. McNair. Half-day seminar on the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review with a keynote address by Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, and comments by David Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. einvitations.efit.edu
8:30 a.m. 1777 F St. NW. The Russia Probe and U.S. National Security: A Conversation With Rep. Adam Schiff. cfr.org
9:30 a.m. 740 15th St. NW. Can Economic Interventions Reduce Violence? New Evidence from Kandahar. newamerica.org
9:30 a.m. 300 First St. SE. The Mitchell Space Breakfast Series Presents: Space as a Warfighting Domain, A Discussion with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. mitchellaerospacepower.org
TUESDAY | FEB. 20
9 a.m. Washington, D.C. Iran’s Missile Program in Perspective. atlanticcouncil.org
9:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Coping with Surprise in Great Power Conflicts. csis.org
WEDNESDAY | FEB. 21
1300 Wilson Blvd. PSA Industry Roundtable Luncheon at Orbital ATK. ndia.org