BEGINNING OF THE END IN IRAQ?: The outgoing commander of the counter-Islamic State coalition Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland all but predicted certain victory over ISIS in Iraq yesterday, saying the tide turned against the terrorist group when it lost Ramadi last year, and that as soon as Mosul is liberated all that will be left will be “scattered pockets of resistance.” Sounds a bit like “a few dead-enders.” MacFarland violated one of the hard-earned lessons of the Vietnam war when he cited the number of Islamic State fighters killed, estimated at 45,000, as a measure of success. But he said he only cited the body count “to provide a sense to the scale of our support and perhaps explain why enemy resistance is beginning to crumble.” Channeling Winston Churchill, MacFarland said “The liberation of Ramadi was the end of the beginning of the campaign. …The beginning of the end will be the liberation of Mosul.”
MacFarland declined to comment on the conclusions of a report, to be released this morning, by congressional Republicans, on whether higher-ups at U.S. Central Command put a more positive spin on the progress in the war than was warranted by the intelligence. MacFarland did concede that when he took over a year ago, the battle was at a stalemate, something commanders were not publicly admitting at the time.
Meanwhile the Pentagon issued a statement pushing back on yesterday’s Washington Post report that said U.S. special operations forces were providing “direct, on-the-ground support" to Libyan troops fighting the Islamic State in Sirte. Pentagon spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said media reports suggesting that U.S. forces are engaged in "direct action" on the ground are not true. But a careful reading of the Post account and the Pentagon’s statement shows that Trowbridge confirmed the essential elements of the story. The Pentagon statement came about the same time Libyan militia leaders were claiming to have captured the Islamic State’s headquarters in Sirte.
ATTACK THWARTED IN CANADA: Swat teams in Ontario killed a 23-year-old man yesterday who police say had planned to carry out a suicide bombing in a nearby city, according to a report. The suspect Aaron Driver was said to have been on law enforcement’s radar for sympathizing with the Islamic State in his social media posts, but authorities say they believe he acted alone without direction from terrorist groups.
OBAMA “FOUNDER OF ISIS”: Donald Trump demoted Hillary Clinton to co-founder status last night. Speaking at a rally in Florida, Trump bestowed the “founder” title on President Obama, who he said is “honored” by the Islamic State. “In many respects, you know, they honor President Obama,” he said. “He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder. He founded ISIS,” adding “I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.” Watch here.
Good Thursday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Jacqueline Klimas (@jacqklimas) 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 be sure to add you to our list.
I’VE GOT SOME WEX-PLAINING TO DO: Check out my video in which I explore and give background on a national security issue. Working title “WEXplainer,” WEX being our in-house shorthand for Washington EXaminer. In my debut effort, I explain why some of Trump’s recent comments on nuclear weapons may not be as crazy as you think.
AF PILOT SHORTAGE “A CRISIS”: Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein say the Air Force is trying to head off a looming shortage of pilots for both manned and unmanned aircraft, which is threatening to move from a mere challenge to a full blown “crisis.” The problem: Airlines are hiring again, offering better wages, and a better quality of life. To counter, the Air Force is boosting the bonus pay for drone jockeys, and planning to add two new training bases to churn out F-16 pilots at a faster rate.
James, the politically appointed civilian in charge of the Air Force, began her remarks at a Pentagon briefing yesterday afternoon, with another dire warning to Congress about the perils of passing a continuing resolution instead of a budget for fiscal 2017. That would deny the Air Force $1.3 billion, and James offered a laundry list of programs and platforms that would be affected, including upgrades to the MQ-9, C-130, B-2, B-52, as well as purchases of KC-46 tankers and development of the B-21 long-range strike bomber. Not to mention cutting production of Joint Direct Attack Munitions, the stockpile of which has been dwindling because it’s the bomb of choice in the war against the Islamic State.
CARTER CONDEMNS TURKEY ATTACKS: Defense Secretary Ash Carter issued a statement offering condolences to the families of victims of attacks in southeastern Turkey. At least a dozen people were killed and dozens more were wounded in two bomb attacks. Carter said the United States remains committed to cooperating closely with Turkey bilaterally, within the coalition to counter the Islamic State, and within NATO “to defend our nations against common threats.”
CYBER WAR: An Israeli company announced last week that it had hacked into the Islamic State’s communications channels and found a call for attacks on U.S. military bases across the Middle East. Experts say U.S. cyber warriors are undertaking those same types of missions, but also said they could be doing more offensive attacks to cut comms or recruiting.
WHAT AMERICANS FEAR MOST: Voters ranked Trump as the greatest threat to their way of life, just behind Islamic terrorism — but not by much, Gabby Morrongiello reports. Out of six options, 61 percent of registered U.S. voters said they feel most threatened by radical Islamic extremists, followed by 54 percent who said a Trump administration frightens them the most, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday.
THANK YOU, NATO: Trump took credit last night for getting NATO to focus more on terrorism. At a rally in Virginia, Trump said his original criticism of NATO as being obsolete was “because it wasn't covering terrorism.” Trump accused the media of leaving the terrorism part out, and he cited a newspaper report as vindication of his position. “Then, about three months ago, front page here in the Wall Street Journal. NATO to develop terrorism unit. Wow. I said, ‘Thank you.’ That's good.”
STEALTH MODE CONFIRMED: In the 1996 movie “Broken Arrow” starring John Travolta and Christian Slater, there’s a widely-mocked scene in which the pilots of a fictional B-3, (which looks suspiciously like a B-2) put the plane in “stealth mode” by flipping a switch in the cockpit. Stealth is built into the B-2’s design, not something you engage like a Klingon cloaking device. But Goldfein, a fighter jock from the 1991 Persian Gulf war who flew, among other planes, the F-117, a first generation stealth aircraft, confirmed there was indeed a stealth mode switch on his Nighthawk. At yesterday’s Pentagon briefing, the Air Force chief of staff said the stealth technology back then was a little more basic.
“When I took off in the F-117 I actually had a switch creatively named the stealth switch and when I pushed it, all my antennas stowed, all my radios turned off and the last thing I did before crossing the line was lower my seat to become a smaller target.” So maybe Hollywood wasn’t so far off after all. But Trekkers might wonder, “Can you fire your weapons while cloaked?”
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Military.com: Petraeus Argues Military Readiness Crisis Is a 'Myth'
Defense One: Cargo Shorts at the Pentagon: Inside DoD’s Digital Service Team
War on the Rocks: Averting the coming Republican foreign policy brain drain
Associated Press: New report will fuel debate over closing Guantanamo prison
Bloomberg: NATO Says Turkey Is ‘Valued Ally’ After Erdogan Visit to Russia
Associated Press: U.S.-backed Libyan forces take over Islamic State headquarters in Sirte
CNN: New footage shows intense firefight in Syria
Defense One: Why So Many Foreign Fighters Flock to ISIS
Daily Beast: Is Ukraine Just About To Blow?
Defense News: Russia claims it foiled Crimea 'terrorist attacks' by Ukraine
Reuters: Exclusive: Vietnam moves new rocket launchers into disputed South China Sea - sources
Military Times: Missile defense, K-Pop and TV stars: South Korea's fears about deploying U.S. system
Task and Purpose: Only Woman Detained In Iran Incident Recognized For Bravery
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Army Times: Activists protest Chelsea Manning's new charges
THURSDAY | AUGUST 18
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. CSIS hosts Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of U.S. Naval Air Forces in the Pacific Fleet, to discuss the future of naval aviation. csis.org
THURSDAY | AUGUST 25
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, speaks at CSIS about the future of military innovation and joint capabilities. csis.org