But how much did you save on car insurance?

SecDef goes full bloodbath on spending cuts.

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1

Exclusive: U.S. halts secretive drone program with Turkey over Syria incursion

The United States has halted a secretive military intelligence cooperation program with Turkey that for years helped Ankara target Kurdish PKK militants, four U.S. officials told Reuters.

The U.S. decision to indefinitely suspend the program, which has not been previously reported, was made in response to Turkey’s cross-border military incursion into Syria in October, the U.S. officials said, revealing the extent of the damage to ties between the NATO allies from the incident.

The halt to U.S. assistance will test the limits of Turkey’s military and intelligence capabilities at a time when its forces are already deployed on multiple fronts in northern Syria and as Ankara mulls deeper engagement in Libya.

Even though the United States has made it seem like it's cool with Turkey moving into Syria like Uncle Eddie parking his RV in the front yard and emptying his shitter into the storm drain, there still have to be consequences for Ankara. Or at least that would be the thinking on this. The Turks want to claim that it's all no big deal, and that this won't really affect their capabilities in tracking PKK. Which it likely won't. But it does fray relations in the region with a key partner for the American, a partner that continues to look toward Moscow to solve its security problems.


  • Turkey demands Syrian army exit rebel areas, threatens force

    Turkey's president threatened Wednesday to use force against Syrian government forces if they don't pull back to an earlier cease-fire line in northern Syria by the end of the month.

    This will likely come to nothing, but underscores the complexity of a post-ISIS Syria/Turkey, and what that means to those who are still hoping this resolves with a certain level of reasonableness.

2

Drones take to China's skies to fight coronavirus outbreak

Drones are being pressed into service as China looks to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 20,000 across the world's most populous nation. In some instances the drones have called out people who were not wearing face masks.

Footage posted by Global Times shows people in rural China publicly shamed by a drone for not wearing a face mask or for venturing outside unnecessarily. It's unclear who created the segments.

"Isn't it comfortable to stay at home, with food and drinks?" a voice asks a farmer out in the fields in Inner Mongolia. "You didn't even wear a mask." The farmer smiles, to which the drone responds that it's not funny, adding, "Don't come outside if not necessary."

Spokesperson said that using drones for the purpose of enforcing public-health practices wasn't ideal: "It definitely will call attention, which is good PR. But for efficiency, it's not as good as spraying."

I'd posted the Global Times tweet on this in a previous newsletter, and video is...Orwellian, at its best. It's literally just the Chinese government chasing people around telling them they need to mask up and/or get back inside, which is odd enough. But then there's the idea of using drones for decontamination, and spraying. And whether Beijing might define "decontamination" a little more broadly than the rest of us. And design something that decontaminates by killing the infected. It is possible I watch too many dystopian things.

  • Defense department withholding money from research labs at Fort Detrick, Aberdeen Proving Ground

    It is unclear as to why the defense department is withholding the $104 million from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Command Chemical Biological Center, although it might be related to the research shutdown of USAMRIID’s biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories over the summer.

    Look. Aberdeen. Just hook us up on the coronavirus, and we'll wire that money right over. It's in the national interest. You don't have any Bidens working for you, do you?

  • CDC Shuts Down Army Lab’s Disease Research

    Research on dangerous pathogens has been suspended at an Army lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found biosafety lapses there, the Frederick News-Post reported August 2. A spokesperson for the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) tells the newspaper that no disease-causing materials have been found outside authorized areas at the site.

    This is from a story in August that relates to the USAMRIID lab closures. Which are alarming enough in the face of a possible pandemic with coronavirus. Now even more alarming that the CDC closure was due to "biosafety lapses." You want a real life Outbreak reboot? That's how you get an Outbreak reboot.


3

US Navy and Boeing use manned jet to control drone Growlers

The Navy’s test wing out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, flew two unmanned E/A-18G Growlers, with a third manned fighter acting as mission control for the drones, according to a Feb. 4 news release from Boeing.

“This demonstration allows Boeing and the Navy the opportunity to analyze the data collected and decide where to make investments in future technologies,” Tom Brandt, Boeing’s manned-unmanned teaming demonstration lead, said in the release. “It could provide synergy with other U.S. Navy unmanned systems in development across the spectrum and in other services.”

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments senior fellow Bryan Clark called for an unmanned combat air vehicle, or UCAV, with a range of up to 3,000 nautical miles without refueling and the ability to perform missions from anti-submarine and electronic warfare to anti-surface and strike.

“There is still going to be a need for manned fighters to do close-air support, but mostly to do command and control of other platforms that are perhaps unmanned inside a comms-denied environment,” Clark said. “So if you send some loitering missiles or you send UCAVs up forward, you would expect them to be managed by someone who is able to maintain comms with them. That would be a human in a fighter that is able to remain close enough to them to stay in comms.”

Sounds like Bryan here never saw Stealth. Because UCAV is a thing in that Jamie Foxx vehicle, and it ends poorly for all concerned. Still, this is notable for how far along the "loyal wingman" concept is for at least the US Navy. Because it resolves a couple of issues for military aviation: asses in seats (they need more of those) and developing airframes for autonomous operations. Granted, the point of an autonomous aircraft is that if/when it gets shot down, it costs less, both in terms of manpower and in replacement of the airframe. But until you get those new airframes on line, you get to go to war with the planes you have, not the planes you want.


4

Not a break, but fissures in US-Iraqi military alliance

U.S. forces in Iraq have been on guard for retaliation by Iran or its Shiite militias allies since the U.S. killed Iran’s top general in Iraq with an airstrike in Baghdad last month. The Jan. 3 strike also fueled a wave of outrage among Iraq’s Shiite leadership and intensified demands that American troops leave the country.

Since then, Iraqi leaders have scaled back the saber-rattling rhetoric. But behind closed doors, the bitterness has poisoned the partnership. The government told the Iraqi military not to seek U.S. help in operations fighting the Islamic State group, two senior Iraqi military officials told The Associated Press — a sign that authorities are serious about rethinking the strategic relationship.

At stake are vital U.S.-provided weapons, military technologies and aircraft that have been key in countering the threat of Islamic State group militants trying to make a comeback in northern and western Iraq. The prospect of losing that help is one reason why Iraqi politicians have cooled their demands for American forces to go immediately. Senior Iraqi military officials oppose a withdrawal.

“To us the American presence is like the electricity network in a house,” said a brigadier general stationed in western Iraq, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media. “If the light is turned off the whole place goes dark.”

That electricity line is pretty ironic, considering what a shit job the Americans did in restoring power to the country once they came in and went full Liberating Hulk on the place in 2003. The problem Iraq has? If not the Americans, then who? Would the Russians be keen to get in on that arms market? Of course they would. But Moscow's just as interested in the US taking this one on the chin, since they're not as interested in holding the thin red line as the Americans are, having enough issues of their own elsewhere in the Muddled East.

  • The Iraq War has cost the US nearly $2 trillion

    Even if the U.S. administration decided to leave — or was evicted from — Iraq immediately, the bill of war to the U.S. to date would be an estimated $1.922 trillion in current dollars. This figure includes not only funding appropriated to the Pentagon explicitly for the war, but spending on Iraq by the State Department, the care of Iraq War veterans and interest on debt incurred to fund 16 years of U.S. military involvement in the country.

    Seems like a good enough reason to call it quits. Or your efforts are too big to fail.

  • Trump suspends Global Entry, traveler programs for New York residents

    The Trump administration will no longer allow New York state residents to enroll in Global Entry or other Trusted Traveler programs, citing new sanctuary policies that limit federal access to state driver's license data, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said on Fox News late Wednesday.

    This is only tangentially tied to Iraq, but more directly to the war on terror. As Trump's vetting programs and issues with sanctuary cities seem to be coming to a head nicely for the Empire State. The administration's saying that because Homeland can't see all the data they'd like to for New York residents, then no one from New York gets to benefit from any "Trusted Traveler" programs. It's another not-so-subtle grab for federal powers as the march toward centralization continues. And don't for a minute think that the next president after Trump won't take hella advantage of things like that.


5

NATO Eyes Troop Reductions in Afghanistan as U.S. Draws Down

Some members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are considering withdrawing thousands of their forces from Afghanistan once the United States begins to officially cut its own presence in the country, according to American and European officials.

The Trump administration’s decision to eventually reduce its own forces from roughly 12,000 troops to around 8,500 has triggered a debate within the 29-country alliance, as well as with other nations contributing troops to the international force deployed to Afghanistan. While some countries believe they need to reduce their forces, others, including Germany and Italy, believe their forces could remain under certain conditions.

The alliance has frequently said that its efforts were inexorably linked to the United States, often under the mantra “in together, out together.”

But as American negotiators look to finalize a new peace deal with the Taliban, some in the alliance view NATO’s future in Afghanistan as tenuous as the war enters, once more, a new phase. More than a thousand troops from NATO and other allied nations have died in the 18-year-old war. Allies such as Britain and Canada fought bloody campaigns in the country’s south during the height of the conflict.

This isn't just about Afghanistan, it's about the fracturing of the NATO alliance, and the role Trump and his team have played in that. Because you can only beat people about the head so much for not paying what you think they owe for so long before they stop and ask why the actual fuck they should put up with your bullshit war plans anyway? Afghanistan has always been an American-led operation, and now that the White House and the Pentagon continue to unilaterally run the peace negotiations with the Taliban, an even further reduced NATO presence is even more likely.

  • Worry-Free Warlord Fugitive Afghan Militia Leader Is Hiding -- In Plain View

    Qaisari's case has highlighted the struggle of the weak central government in Kabul -- which exerts little power outside the capital -- to rein in powerful and politically connected warlords who often act with impunity.

    Who's got two thumbs and got in a gunfight with Afghan security forces and the showed up at the buzkashi match? That guy. And it also highlights the ethnic divides in a country that only sees itself as "Afghan" when it's convenient.

  • Exclusive: U.S. citizen kidnapped by Taliban group in Afghanistan

    Mark R. Frerichs of Lombard, Illinois, was kidnapped last Friday in Khost, a province located in the southeastern part of the country that borders the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, an underdeveloped region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. officials told Newsweek, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details publicly.

    Probably more of a scoop if most of your info on the kidnapped isn't from a deep dive into...LinkedIn? This is why journalism can't have nice things, kids.


6

VA chief Wilkie wants to reexamine alleged sexual assault that he called unsubstantiated

A high-profile case of a congressional staffer claiming she was sexually assaulted at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital could be reexamined after VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said he is unhappy with the results of the investigation into her allegations that he initially called “unsubstantiated.”

“I’m not satisfied with the resolution ... I have to know, Ms. Goldstein has to know, our women veterans have to know our facilities are safe,” Wilkie said Tuesday. “We’re going to make a renewed push to get answers.”

Authorities declined to file charges after Andrea Goldstein, the senior policy adviser for Congress’ Women Veterans Task Force, said she was sexually assaulted at the VA hospital in Washington D.C. This spurred tense exchanges between Goldstein, Wilkie, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and the VA inspector general after the VA secretary questioned the veracity of Goldstein’s allegations.

Pro tip: if a female veteran staff of a veterans task force says she was physically assaulted at one of your facilities, maybe don't use the word "unsubstantiated" to describe those claims. Maybe, just maybe, assume she's being an honest broker, investigate the shit out of it, and more importantly: Shut. The. Fuck. Up. And then fire the guy you blame for that.

  • VA Secretary Wilkie on Firing His Deputy 'Nothing Personal,' Just Business

    "It was a simple business decision" to sack Byrne, who had been the No. 2 at the Department of Veterans Affairs for five months, Wilkie said, adding that there was "nothing personal" in the abrupt move to terminate him "effective immediately" on Monday.

    This is what happens when you watch too many Mafia movies. And is probably tied to the Goldstein debacle.

House passes bill that would stand up VA program for veterans to train service dogs

  • The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act authored by Stivers, an Ohio Army National Guard Brigadier General who served in Iraq, would partner with non-profit service dog training organizations to teach the skills to veterans affected by post-traumatic stress. Veterans who complete the program would be able to adopt their service dog if they want to continue with the therapy.

    In some news that isn't awful about the VA, here's your winner for cutest name of a bill ever.


7

The Pentagon Is Crowdsourcing Names for the Members of Space Force

The Pentagon is crowdsourcing ideas from individuals already assigned to the fledgling service with a very simple question: What would you like to be called?

Thompson's comments come as an internal Space Force email has circulated on the popular, but unaffiliated Air Force Facebook page Amn/Nco/Snco asking its members to submit name ideas. A defense official confirmed the authenticity of the email to Military.com. "What should the enlisted E1-E9 ranks in the Space Force be called? Must be gender neutral," says one bullet point in the email, per the Facebook post.

"What should the collective group of members serving in the Space Force be called? Some names floating around already are Guardians, Sentinels, and Vanguards. Feel free to create a brand new word for those who are linguistically inclined," says another.

Officials are on the hook to get answers to lawmakers: Top Air Force and Space Force officials must brief lawmakers every 60 days until at least March 31, 2023, on the status of the new branch's implementation, according to the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act signed into law in December.

That last line isn't about the name, which Congress doesn't really give a shit about. It's about how well Space Force is doing in terms of getting itself unfucked in time to do whatever the hell it is a Space Force does. Because right now there's one guy assigned to the branch. I still vote for "Cadet," which has apparently already been shot down.


8

SecDef Eyeing Moving Billions By Eliminating Offices, Legacy Systems

Defense Secretary Mark Esper is looking to move billions in this year’s defense budget away from programs that don’t fit his modernization blueprint, and will ask Congress to kill off aging programs and roles he deems redundant or outdated.

The effort was announced in August when Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist signed out a memo signaling he would lead a top-to-bottom review of the Pentagon along with Lisa Hershman, the department’s chief management officer. Esper’s model here is the “night court” process he ran as Secretary of the Army, where he and Gen. Mark Milley — then the Army Chief of Staff, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs — led grueling reviews that cut or canceled over 180 programs to free up $31 billion over the five years of the 2020-2024 budget plan.

The scope of the cuts, set to be unveiled with Monday’s fiscal 2021 budget rollout, amounts to $5.7 billion, all of which will be moved elsewhere in the budget with an emphasis on missile defense, artificial intelligence, and hypersonic research, defense officials told reporters today.

“The Secretary thinks it’s repeatable,” one of the officials laughed, noting that they plan to be more aggressive, and closing entire agencies “is not off the table.”

That was probably an evil laugh, that last one, from someone surrounded by spreadsheets, highlighters, and glee. Being able to repeat that process across all services, unless there's a risk to operational capacities, feels like the right way to go, as there are definitely programs/systems that could be better served by some financial leaning out.


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