Las Vegas massacre: ‘terrorism’?; China’s stealth jet enters service; DARPA debuts smoke-penetrating radar; a 3rd US military aircraft goes down; and just a bit more…UNLV students hold a moment of silence for the victims of the mass shooting that killed 59 people and injured more than 525 on Oct. 2, 2017 in Las Vegas. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Was the Las Vegas massacre ‘terrorism’? Depends on your definition. Joseph Lombardo, the sheriff of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, took his first swing at it shortly after the attack: “No, not at this point. We believe it was a local individual,” Lombardo told reporters.“We do not know what his belief system was at this time. Right now, we believe it is a sole actor, a lone-wolf-type actor, and we have the place under control.”
But: Nevada law does not require a motivation to be established in order for an attack to be called an “act of terrorism,” Newsweek reported. “The relevant statute reads: ‘Act of terrorism’ means any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.” Federal law, however, defines terrorism more specifically as the “unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
And: “After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, then-President Barack Obama came up with his own designation for the term: ‘Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror,’ he said before the identity of the attackers or their motivation had been established.” Read on, here.
Automatic weapons? Las Vegas police haven’t released a detailed inventory of the 20-plus guns that the shooter carried up to his hotel room. But The Atlantic reports that “ABC News reported that a modified bump stock was recovered from the scene, and that authorities were still examining the weapons to see if any were capable of fully automatic fire. Bump stocks are legal, aftermarket accessories that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire at rates approaching those of fully automatic versions. If the shooter used one or more automatic rifles—or even if it’s confirmed that he used legal accessories like a bump stock or trigger crank to approach their rate of fire, as some experts believe audio recordings suggest—it would mark a significant departure from other recent mass shootings.” Read on, here.
What’s next? Again, The Atlantic: “The federal legislation likeliest to advance in Congress following the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history is not a measure strengthening background checks, banning the sale of assault weapons, or otherwise restricting access to firearms. Instead, the proposals that stand the best chance of passing are ones that would make it easier for gun owners to buy silencers for their weapons, loosen restrictions on the sale of armor-piercing bullets, and force states with tight gun-control laws to recognize the rights of residents from states with lighter regulation.” Read on, here.
From Defense One
Rex Tillerson Must Go // Eliot A. Cohen, former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: If he does remain, it will be yet another sign of the collapse of self-respect among those who are now willing to serve in senior positions in government.
DARPA-Funded Radar Lets Planes See Through Smoke and Clouds // Tech Editor Patrick Tucker: A promising approach to a decades-old quandary: how to get a clear field of view to the ground?
The Folly of Tactical Nuclear Weapons // Stimson Center co-founder Michael Krepon: Some soothsayers say they boost deterrence. But the point of deterrence is to have no mushroom clouds, not new, tailor-made ones.
Soon, DHS Will Have Eyes on Computer Vulnerabilities Across the Government // Nextgov’s Joseph Marks: A governmentwide software dashboard is launching this month.
Welcome to this edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1942: The V-2 rocket flies for the first time. Have something you want to share? Email us. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
Happening: Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford are testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the war — or rather, the “political and military situation” — in Afghanistan. Catch the live-stream, here.
And: President Trump visits Puerto Rico for the first time while most of the island remains in “survival mode,” NBC reports in a preview from devastated San Juan. For your eyes only: Drone footage this weekend captured the harrowing scene in San Juan. You can watch that, here.
The Raqqa offensive in Syria could wrap in “as little as a week once a final assault begins against just a few hundred remaining militants,” Reuters reports on location. “But [ISIS] is holding civilian hostages in the hospital and stadium and using sniper fire, booby traps and tunnels that emerge behind SDF lines to slow the battle.” The situation: “There are many civilians being held. We can’t use heavy weaponry or air strikes around the hospital or stadium, so we’ll encircle them as we advance,” Syrian Democratic Forces commander Haval Gabar told Reuters. “The hospital will be the last point (in Raqqa) to be freed,” he said on Saturday, as bullets coming from the sprawling medical complex whizzed over the base. More here. Found in Raqqa: ISIS drone munitions and electronics. Check it out for yourself, here. Who killed seven Hezbollah fighters with an airstrike in Syria over the weekend? The U.S. military said Monday that it wasn’t them; so it could have been an errant strike by Russia, Reuters reports.
In Iraq, the Hawija offensive is moving along swiftly as “Iraqi forces and Shi‘ite paramilitaries captured an air base from Islamic State” on Monday, Reuters reports from Baghdad. “Iraqi army commanders said the Rashad air base, which is around 30 km (20 miles) south of Hawija, was used by the militants as a training camp and logistic base.” A tiny bit more, here. Some 78,000 civilians may be trapped in and around Hawija, the UN says today. More than 12,000 have managed to escape, and the next 24 to 48 hours could see a lot more. The coalition troop who died from an IED over the weekend was an American, the U.S. military said Monday. “Spc. Alexander W. Missildine, 20, of Tyler, Texas, died Oct. 1 in Ninawa Province, Iraq, as a result of injuries sustained when an [improvised] explosive device detonated near his convoy. The incident is under investigation,” the Defense Department announced. That makes eight Americans killed in Iraq since 2014, the BBC reports.
Want an overview of where Iraq’s fight against ISIS stands? The coalition’s deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Robert Sofge, explained in this 9-minute chat with Defense One’s Ben Watson.
Iran just sent a dozen tanks, supported by artillery, to its border with Iraq, a Kurdish official told Reuters Monday. “The deployment at the Parviz Khan border point on Monday was part of joint military drills conducted by the Iranian and the Iraqi armed forces in response to the [Kurdish] referendum, state media in Tehran said.” More here.
Third U.S. aircraft crashed or shot down in three days. The latest: in Tennessee where “Two Navy pilots are dead following a Sunday crash of a jet trainer in the deep woods” of the Cherokee National Forest in Tellico Plains, Tenn., near the border with North Carolina, U.S. Naval Institute News reported Monday. More here. The other crashes: an Osprey crashed (or, as the military prefers to call it, the aircraft experienced a “hard landing”) in Syria on Friday. Two U.S. service members were injured in the crash, which officials told CNN was not the result of enemy (ISIS) actions. And on Sunday, a MQ-9 Reaper drone — apparently unarmed — was shot down by Houthis over the capital of Sana’a. Popular Mechanics rounded up three (unverified, but likely connected) videos posted to the web illustrating the anti-aircraft shot that hit the Reaper, as well as the drone cork-screwing to the ground before exploding; and the final clip shows Yemenis gathered around the exploded Reaper, inspecting a few serial plates that survived. You can find all that, here. The U.S. response to the (alleged) Yemen shootdown: We’re looking into it. More from that official response, via Stars and Stripes, here.
Australia is investing big in air defense. “Nine anti-submarine frigates are set to be fitted with combat systems to aid their integration into a possible future missile shield,” the prime minister said this morning from Sydney. That’s part of a “200 billion Australian dollar (US$156.52 billion) refit and expansion of its naval, land and air capabilities to hedge against a more assertive China and uncertainty over U.S. security policy in the region under President Donald Trump,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Australia also plans to buy French-designed submarines and “100 Lockheed-built stealth warplanes.” On top of all this, the Journal writes that Australia “is poised to be the first Asia-Pacific nation to acquire remotely piloted armed drones.” Read on, here. Or check Reuters’ take, here.
China’s first stealth jet has formally entered service, The Diplomat reports off a press conference from the Chinese Defense Ministry on September 28. “The twin-engine [Chengdu J-20] fighter, built by Chengdu Aerospace Corporation, is a single seat stealth fighter designed for long-range fighter missions such as attacking support aircraft including tankers with PL-12 beyond visual range air-to-air missiles… It is unknown how many J-20A aircraft are currently being flown by the PLAAF’s flight testing units and whether the aircraft have already been assigned to regular fighter squadrons. Some estimated put the number at six to 13. One source indicates eight J-20As prototypes and five low rate initial production fighter jets.” More here.
The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is in Hong Kong — with China’s blessing — for the next three or four days before taking part “in a joint exercise with the South Korean navy around October 15,” the South China Morning Post reports. “The visit by the USS Ronald Reagan, the biggest US warship based in Asia, will be the first by an American carrier in two years – Beijing turned down a Hong Kong port call request from another US aircraft carrier, the USS John C Stennis, in April last year, when Sino-US relations were strained over the South China Sea.” More here.
The U.S. and Philippine militaries are exercising this week in counter-terrorism and disaster response. The exercise, called Kamandag, “replaces PHIBLEX, an annual amphibious-landing exercise that involved 1,500 U.S. troops and 500 Filipino servicemembers last year,” Stars and Stripes reports. “Nine hundred Marines and sailors are participating in this year’s event at training areas and bases on the island of Luzon,” with locations spanning the “Colonel Ernesto Ravina Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Marine Barracks Gregorio Lim, the Naval Education and Training Command and Subic Bay.”
Lastly: A North Korean ship seized near Egypt had a hidden cargo of 30,000 RPG rounds. The real shocker, says the author Joby Warrick of the Washington Post, is who was buying. “A U.N. investigation uncovered a complex arrangement in which Egyptian business executives ordered millions of dollars worth of North Korean rockets for the country’s military while also taking pains to keep the transaction hidden, according to U.S. officials and Western diplomats familiar with the findings.”
According to the UN, it was the “largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
What’s more: There appears to have been a deliberate effort to cover it all up. “Each [crate of RPG materiel] had been stenciled with the name of an Egyptian company, but someone had taken trouble of covering the lettering with a canvas patch.” Full story — it’s a lengthy read — over here.
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