HOW DO YOU TRUST THE TALIBAN? The entire U.S. strategy in Afghanistan hinges on the idea that the Taliban can be compelled to negotiate a political settlement to the 17-year war, and U.S. diplomats have even had some preliminary talks with Taliban representatives and issued cautiously hopeful statements. But yesterday’s brazen attempt to assassinate Gen. Scott Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and its success in killing Abdul Raziq, the powerful police chief of Kandahar, and two other local Afghan officials have cast a shadow over the “peace process,” to put it mildly.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaking to reporters traveling with him in Singapore, called Raziq “a patriot,” and said his death was “a tragic loss for Afghanistan,” but insisted “I don’t see it having a long-term effect.”
“We remain absolutely committed to an Afghan-led Afghan reconciliation,” Mattis said. “We need to find who’s done this, but right now, we are going toward the election and we will continue to defend the Afghan people.”
WHAT HAPPENED: The attack took place at a high-level gathering at the Kandahar Palace where Miller was meeting with local officials, including the governor Zalmai Wesa and intelligence chief Abdul Momin. Both men were killed when a guard wearing an Afghan uniform opened fire before being shot by U.S. troops. One U.S. soldier was wounded, along with an American civilian and a foreign contractor. The Taliban in a statement online and later in an email to reporters claimed responsibility for the attack, and said Miller was among the targets along with Raziq, who was referred to as “the savage commander of Kandahar.”
ELECTIONS POSTPONED: Parliamentary elections are set for tomorrow across Afghanistan, despite the Taliban’s attempt to intimidate Afghans from voting. The exception is in Kandahar province, where voting will be postponed one week due to the deadly attack.
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.
TRUMP’S CONFUSING BUDGET ESTIMATE: President Trump’s surprise announcement of a $700 billion defense budget this week left defense analysts scratching their heads. Beyond his cryptic comments, nobody seems to know or be willing to say whether the top-line figure for fiscal year 2020 represents a major cut to national defense or if it's closer to a rounding error. It appears to conflate two distinct numbers: the Defense Department's budget and the federal government’s total defense spending.
Trump at first appeared to be talking specifically about a $700 billion Defense Department. The department had earlier projected its own budget for the coming year to be $701 billion. So the president’s estimate would be a slight $1 billion reduction. But the two other figures Trump cited as past budget levels for 2018 and 2019 were for total defense spending, a higher figure that includes the Pentagon, the nuclear arsenal, law enforcement and some other expenses.
The administration had estimated $733 billion in total defense spending for the coming fiscal year. That means Trump’s $700 billion budget estimate would cut $33 billion from projections in that case, or about 4.5 percent when inflation is factored, according to analysts. That could be a significant issue for the Pentagon.
ANALYSTS DIVIDED: So, which pot of money was Trump talking about? For now, analysts and the public are left to wonder. Travis Sharp, a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said he believes Trump was referring only to the Defense Department budget because a $32 billion cut to $733 billion in overall defense spending would be so large.
“If that number was going to drop next year to $700 billion, plus the effects of inflation, that would be a big cut. I don’t have decisive evidence to prove this, but I just think there’s no way the administration would just offhandedly reveal that in that setting,” Sharp said. “That would have a significant impact.”
NOT SO FAST: Trump made the comment while ordering his Cabinet to reduce spending by 5 percent for 2020. So the tea leaves point toward the bigger 4.5 percent cut next year for overall defense spending, said Seamus Daniels, a program coordinator and research assistant for defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“I think looking at it in the context of cutting all federal spending across the board, I think he was saying the 5 percent was for all agencies. It sounds like he was kind of stepping back and saying, ‘OK, we are going to draw down the overall defense budget,’” Daniels said. “So, I think the references to $700 billion and $716 billion indicate that he was referring to the total national defense budget.”
HAPPENING TODAY: Trump heads to Luke Air Force base near Phoenix, Ariz., this afternoon for what’s described in the White House schedule as a “defense capability tour,” followed by a “defense roundtable.” Luke is home to the 56th Operations Group, the largest fighter group in the Air Force, with seven squadrons of F-35s and F-16s. There are 70 F-35As at Luke, so you can expect Trump to wax rhapsodic about a fifth-generation plane that he likes to brag is so stealthy the enemy can’t see it.
“We're going to have the most powerful military by far that we've ever had,” Trump said at a rally last night in Montana. “And a lot of it's already coming, those brand-new, beautiful planes, those incredible stealth F-35s.”
DON’T FORGET THE ‘SUPER-DUPERS’: On Monday Trump, while touring damage from Hurricane Michael, praised the F-22 Raptor as “one of my all-time favorite planes … the most beautiful fighter jet in the world.” Last night he was sharing the love with another favorite fighter.
“You have the F-18s, the Super Dupers, the Hornets,” Trump said. “We have them all. We've got them coming left and right, and you know the great thing? There's nothing more important than the military, but we build them all right here in the USA.”
A BORDER TWEET, THEN CRICKETS: It has become almost routine. The president tweets or comments about some new policy or military action and the Pentagon, caught unaware, is left scrambling for a response. On Thursday morning, Trump threatened to have the military close the southern U.S. border over a caravan of more than 4,000 migrants from Honduras traveling toward Mexico in an effort to enter the country.
“In addition to stopping all payments to these countries, which seem to have almost no control over their population, I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught - and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!..” Trump tweeted. About eight hours later the Pentagon finally released a one-sentence response.
Beyond National Guard troops already at the Mexico border, “the Department of Defense has not been tasked to provide additional support,” Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. It seemed unclear whether Trump would make good on the threat.
NEVERMIND, CRISIS AVERTED: This spring, Trump convinced state governors to dispatch about 2,100 National Guard troops to help law enforcement tighten the southern border in response to what he called the illegal immigration crisis.
Last night, Trump seemed to indicate an additional military deployment was no longer necessary. “As you know, I am willing to send the military to defend our southern border, if necessary,” he said. “But I just want to thank the Mexican government, because they're stopping it hopefully before it ever gets to Mexico.”
Yesterday, the U.S. and Mexico reached an agreement to deal with the situation. “We welcome the Government of Mexico’s statement that they will seek cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to address immigration issues in the region, including the influx of people arriving in Mexico,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. “The United States stands ready to assist the Government of Mexico and UNHCR in this effort.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Pompeo is scheduled to visit Panama and Mexico today and tomorrow, and immigration will be on the agenda in Mexico, a senior State Department official told reporters this week. “I’m certain that there’ll be conversations with Mexico about how we can work together on this issue … certainly we’re looking for concrete results and for solutions,” the official said.
DEAD RECKONING: Trump seems to have slowly begun to accept that the facts in the case of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi are all pointing one way: that he was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul Oct. 2. “Unless the miracle of all miracles happens, I would acknowledge that he’s dead,” Trump told the New York Times yesterday. “That’s based on everything — intelligence coming from every side.” Trump told the Times it was still “a little bit early” to say who exactly ordered the killing, but insisted the truth would come out.
A short time later, Trump acknowledged to reporters at Joint Base Andrews that he now believes Khashoggi is likely dead. “It certainly looks that way to me. It's very sad. Certainly looks that way,” he said. “We're waiting for some investigations, and waiting for the results. And we'll have them very soon, and I think we'll be making a statement — a very strong statement. But we're waiting for the results of about three different investigations, and we should be able to get to the bottom fairly soon.”
Asked about possible consequences, Trump said, “Well, it'll have to be very severe. I mean, it's bad, bad stuff. But we'll see what happens.”
ZERO TRUST: Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen said he has “zero” trust in whatever the Saudi investigation will turn up. “After all, the Saudis said they knew nothing about what had happened at the consulate in Istanbul. In fact, they had said that Mr. Khashoggi had actually left the consulate when they knew full well what had happened to him,” Van Hollen told CNN. “And so to say to the Saudis, ‘OK, you do an investigation,’ when they've already proven themselves to be untrustworthy on this issue, makes no sense.”
HELO CRASH: Flight operations have resumed on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan after the crash of a helicopter that injured several sailors. “An MH-60R Seahawk assigned to the “Saberhawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77 made an emergency landing and crashed on the ship’s flight deck shortly after takeoff at approximately 9:00 a.m., Oct. 19,” according to a statement from 7th Fleet.
The injuries were described as “non-life threatening,” ranging from minor abrasions and lacerations to fractures. “The most seriously injured were medically evacuated off the ship to a hospital in the Philippines, while remaining injured are under evaluation by Ronald Reagan medical staff,” the Navy said.
At the time of the mishap, the Ronald Reagan Strike Group was conducting routine operations in the Philippine Sea.
RICIN CHARGES: A former Navy sailor arrested this month faces charges related to ricin-related threats mailed to Trump and other top administration officials. William Clyde Allen III, arrested Oct. 5, was indicted on seven counts by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City Thursday, according to the Justice Department.
The 39-year-old was charged with one count of using a biological agent as a weapon, one count of mailing a threat against the president, and five counts of mailing threatening communications to an officer or an employee of the United States, the news release stated.
RUSSIA’S ADVICE: Russia's top diplomat said in an interview published Thursday that he hopes NATO can avoid a large, global war, but said he's worried that NATO has left Russia out of these sorts of discussions.
Bloomberg: Air Force Head Used Ex-House Perk During Space Corps Fight
Military.com: Key Space Force Directive Missing from White House Meeting Agenda
Navy Times: Navy captain charged with steering defense contracts to her own company
Breaking Defense: Can Trump Rebuild The Military As Deficits Balloon?
Task and Purpose: The CIA Had A Top-Secret Manual To Help U-2 Pilots Avoid Crapping Their Pants At 70,000 Feet
Daily Beast: Obama’s First National Security Adviser Now Works for the Saudis
Defense One: CEO Q: L3's Chris Kubasik and Harris’s Bill Brown
Foreign Policy: All Alone Now, the Saudis Will Entice Trump with Big Contracts
New York Times: The Saudi General Who Could Take the Fall in the Khashoggi Case
FRIDAY | OCT. 19
10 a.m. All Geopolitics is Local: How States are Responding to Cyber Threats in the Digital Age with Col. Kenneth Donnelly, Louisiana National Guard, and Maj. Gen. Michael Stone, Michigan Army National Guard. Wilsoncenter.org
10:30 a.m. 8th & I Sts. SE Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller provides remarks at the honors ceremony honoring Medal of Honor recipient Marine Sgt. Maj. John L. Canley at the Marine Barracks.
MONDAY | OCT. 22
4 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. An Evening of Naval History with Ian Toll and an Award Presentation by Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations. usni.org
TUESDAY | OCT. 23
7 a.m. 11100 Johns Hopkins Rd. Precision Strike Technology Symposium with Vice Adm. Mat Winter, Director of the Joint Strike Fighter Program; Gen. Mike Murray, Commander of Army Futures Command; and Sen. Lisa Murkowski. ndia.org
7:15 a.m. 1700 Army Navy Dr. NDIA Washington, D.C. Chapter Defense Leaders Forum Breakfast. ndia.org
8 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. S&ET Division Executive Breakfast. ndia.org
1 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Who cares? Foreign Policy and the 2018 Midterm Elections. aei.org
5:30 p.m. 2425 Wilson Blvd. ILW Landpower Education Forum. ausa.org
WEDNESDAY | OCT. 24
7 a.m. 11100 Johns Hopkins Rd. Precision Strike Technology Symposium with Steve Walker, Director of DARPA. ndia.org
9 a.m. 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Arab Horizons: Is A New Regional Order Possible? carnegieendowment.org
12:30 p.m. Defense Manufacturing as a Means of Localization in MENA with Tom Kelly is the Vice President of Foreign Policy and National Security Affairs at Raytheon. sais-jhu.edu
1 p.m. 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW. China’s Ballistic Missile Submarines and Strategic Stability. carnegieendowment.org
THURSDAY | OCT. 25
7 a.m. 11100 Johns Hopkins Rd. Precision Strike Technology Symposium. ndia.org
11:30 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. U.S. policy and the war in Yemen. brookings.edu
3:30 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Security in Northern Europe: Deterrence, Defense and Dialogue. atlanticcouncil.org