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Mattis, mortars hit Kabul airport; DPRK asks GOP to explain POTUS; China offers robot ship for export; US military building a giant nervous system; and just a bit more…

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sits. (Jim Mattis/Flickr)

SecDef Mattis is wheels down in Kabul — and just a short time before rockets and mortars came raining down on the airport where he arrived.

Reuters: “Arriving from India, where he sought support for the U.S. administration’s new South Asia security plan, Mattis said the United States was determined not to allow ‘a merciless enemy to kill its way to power.’”

Five civilians were injured in the ISIS rocket attacks, which were claimed by both ISIS and the Taliban, Reuters reports. And some attackers remained holed up in a building resisting Kabul’s security forces at the time Reuters went to press.

Mattis called the attacks a “criminal act by terrorists…[a] classic definition of what the Taliban are up to here now.”

But still: “I want to reinforce to the Taliban that the only path to peace and political legitimacy for them is through a negotiated settlement.”

What he’s paving the way for: An additional 3,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, on top of the roughly 8,400 (or 11,000 total U.S. troop presence) already in country. The U.S. military “will also make greater use of its air power to support Afghan forces and strike the Taliban,” Reuters writes, “a strategy that carries the risk of an increase in civilian casualties.”

In the SecDef’s words: “I don’t want to tell the enemy exactly what we are doing, but the whole point is to make certain we have a compelling battlefield advantage over anything the Taliban tries to mass against your forces.”

ICYMI: No metrics for success. Mattis said Monday the new administration’s Afghanistan strategy was developed without metrics for success, Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations noted Tuesday. That exchange with reporters en route to India: “What are some of the metrics for your success in Afghanistan?”

Mattis: “Yes, I’m not prepared to give those yet, because I need to get to Afghanistan, and I need to sit down in Brussels with the other nations and talk with them together about what the metrics are, and make certain we all put our heads together on this. So, once I have that, I’ll get very specific.  In general terms, you know what the metrics are, but I want to get a lot more specific.”

From Defense One

The US Military is Constructing a Giant, Armed Nervous System // Patrick Tucker: Service chiefs are converging on a single strategy for military dominance: connect everything to everything.

Could North Korea Shoot Down US Warplanes? // Marcus Weisgerber: Some of Pyongyang’s surface-to-air missiles are old, but its newer ones could threaten American aircraft.

Dunford: Six Months From Now, ISIS Will Have ‘Less Credibility’ // Caroline Houck: But they — and four other major threats to the U.S. — aren’t going anywhere, the Joint Chiefs chairman says.

Why Trump Should Be the One Stopping to Take a Knee // Paul Rieckhoff: I support the cause, but I’m a combat veteran, so I won’t kneel. We still need a leader who brings the temperature down, not cranks it up.

McMaster: I’m Here to Serve, Not ‘Control the President’ // Kevin Baron: The national security adviser says his job is to help the commander-in-chief by providing options and executing decisions to advance Trump’s agenda.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Have something you want to share? Email us. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)

North Korean officials have approached Republicans for help in trying to “figure out Trump,” the Washington Post reported. “North Korea’s mission to the United Nations invited Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst who is now the Heritage Foundation’s top expert on North Korea, to visit Pyongyang for meetings.” Klingner told the Post he declined the invite. “North Korean intermediaries also have approached Douglas H. Paal, who served as an Asia expert on the National Security Council under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and is now vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. They wanted Paal to arrange talks between North Korean officials and American experts with Republican ties in a neutral location such as Switzerland. He also declined the North Korean request.”

For a little scene-setting: “Early in Trump’s term, the North Koreans asked broad questions: Is the U.S. president serious about closing American military bases in South Korea and Japan, as he said on the campaign trail? Might he really send U.S. nuclear weapons back to the southern half of the Korean Peninsula? But the questions since then have become more specific. Why, for instance, are Trump’s top officials, notably Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, directly contradicting the president so often?” Read on, here. Reminder: sometimes a little crazy isn’t a bad thing. From Jan. 2016, in an article from The Daily Beast on former CIA Director Robert Gates: “Robert Gates nailed the problem with Obama: He is a hyper-rationalist in what’s still an irrational world. The view, it should be said, is not unique to Gates. As a longtime colleague of his at the CIA observed in private a couple of weeks ago, it may be wise to keep one’s adversaries off balance and guessing just how crazy you might be.”

State Secretary Rex Tillerson is headed to Beijing Thursday, his second trip as the country’s top diplomat, The Wall Street Journal reports. The main focus: North Korea. “We’re going to continue to pursue our diplomatic efforts and hope that that’s the way we’ll solve this,” Tillerson told reporters in Washington Tuesday.

“Iran is honoring the nuclear deal,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. “And Dunford warned that U.S. action to pull out of the deal would have unfortunate ripple effects,” Foreign Policy reported. Dunford: “It makes sense to me that our holding up agreements that we have signed, unless there’s a material breach, would have an impact on others’ willingness to sign agreements… therefore I think we should focus on addressing the other challenges [from Iran]; the missile threat they pose, the maritime threat they pose, the support for proxies and terrorists and the cyber threat they pose” across the Middle East. Shorter Dunford: “Iran is projecting malign influence across the Middle East, threatening freedom of navigation, while supporting terrorist organizations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.” And panning out over the entire globe, Reuters writes “Dunford said that while North Korea currently poses the most urgent threat, Russia presents the biggest threat in terms of overall military capability.” One more thing: President Trump said his input on the transgender ban came from the generals. But that didn’t include Dunford, said Dunford. “I would say that I believe any individual who meets the physical and mental standards and is worldwide deployable and is currently serving should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve,” the chairman told the SASC.

Before we leave U.S. lawmakers, a veteran national security GOP senator has announced his upcoming retirement. “Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection next year,” the Washington Post reported. “Corker’s retirement will touch off what is likely to be a highly contested, ideologically driven primary. It also creates a vacuum among Senate Republicans for leaders on national security issues. For now, Corker isn’t planning on getting involved in either contest.” More here.

More military help for Puerto Rico. On Tuesday, U.S. Northern Command officials said they would put a Land Component Commander – Forward on the battered island within 24 hours, a prelude to the arrival of “a larger sustainment force package,” Military Times reports. The hospital ship Comfort is also to leave Norfolk by Saturday and arrive in Puerto Rico five days later — about two weeks after Hurricane Maria destroyed the island’s power grid. Air traffic trickles in. Military teams also restored radar and air-traffic control facilities, boosting capacity from maybe a half-dozen planes per hour to 10 per hour. Read on, here.

France says Trump’s travel ban on Chad is a bit off. Why? “Paris said was an ally in the fight against terrorist groups, and urged the United States to quickly reverse its decision,” Reuters reports. “Chad is a decisive partner in the fight against terrorism. It has mobilized from the start and paid a heavy price in this battle,” French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne said. Reuters: “France considers its former colony as its main ally in the fight against Islamist militants in West Africa and the headquarters of its 4,000-strong counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane force is in the Chadian capital N‘djamena. The United States also has a base in the city.”

China’s military exercises in Africa for the first time, AFP reported Tuesday. “China has staged military exercises in Djibouti after opening its first overseas military base there last month, official media said. State television CCTV showed armoured vehicles moving on a desert track, groups of soldiers firing automatic weapons and cannon pointing towards the horizon… It was unclear when the drills took place. China opened its base in Djibouti in early August.”

Chinese robot ship, available for exportPopular Science:“The D3000 is a 98-foot-long, stealthy robotic trimaran warship designed to operate autonomously for months. Notably, this system—which appears to be tagged for export—is being offered by the China Aerospace and Science Technology Corporation, a Chinese defense contractor whose primary strength is in missiles and other aerospace technologies. (It’s the company that’s building the T Flight, China’s answer to the Hyperloop.)” Read on, here.

Lastly today: Who’s ready for flying robot taxis? Dubai’s flying taxi drone just made its first public flight, Discover magazine reported Tuesday. “The autonomous Volocopter, an 18-rotor electrically powered drone made in Germany, can fit up to two people and includes safety parachutes — just in case… Originally the city was testing the Ehang-184 passenger drone for its air-taxi service, but later switched to Volocopter for undisclosed reasons.” Enough yammering, though. Where’s the proof? Watch it here.


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