The D Brief: House OKs aid; Likely stateside impact; US to withdraw from Niger; AI-powered dogfight; And a bit more.

Attention turns to the Senate this week after House lawmakers passed a supplemental appropriations package Saturday to send roughly $60 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, $26 billion in military aid to Israel, and $8 billion set aside for “countering China” in the Pacific. 

The Senate advanced similar legislation more than two months ago, leading most congressional observers to anticipate swift passage in the upper chamber. That could happen as early as Tuesday. 

POTUS: “At this critical inflection point, [House lawmakers] came together to answer history’s call, passing urgently-needed national security legislation that I have fought for months to secure,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Saturday, emphasizing his gratitude to “the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the House who voted to put our national security first.”

“This bipartisan legislation will allow the [U.S. military] to surge lifesaving security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia’s aggression, support Israel’s defense from Iran and its proxies, and increase the flow of urgently needed humanitarian aid to suffering Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said in his own statement Saturday. 

Frontline reax: “If they’d passed it [earlier], it would have changed the situation dramatically,” one Ukrainian soldier told Reuters. 

Anticipated timing and impact: “The logistics of transporting U.S. materiel to the frontline in Ukraine will likely mean that new U.S. assistance will not begin to affect the situation on the front line for several weeks,” analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War wrote hours after the bills passed in the House. “The frontline situation will therefore likely continue to deteriorate in that time,” ISW predicted. A Polish analyst told Reuters he expected Ukrainian troops’ positions “to probably continue to deteriorate over the next three months” until the possible new U.S. aid can be put to use.

Developing: Long-range ATACMS missiles could be “in transit [to Ukraine] by the end of the week,” Senate Intel chairman Mark Warner, D-Virginia, told CBS News on Sunday. “The ATACMS—I believe the administration was prepared over the last couple of months to prepare or to provide ATACMS,” said Warner. “It is written into this legislation,” he added. 

According to the Pentagon, “We have a very robust logistics network that enables us to move materiel very quickly,” Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Thursday. “As we’ve done in the past, we can move [military support packages to Ukraine] within days,” he said. 

Also developing: U.S. military officials may send a small contingent of troops to the embassy in Kyiv to help account for the additional aid that could be headed to Ukraine soon. Politico has more on that consideration, reporting Saturday, here. 

Stateside impact: “By providing approximately $50 billion that will flow directly into our defense industrial base, [the House-passed] bill will create good American jobs in more than 30 states even as it reinforces U.S. long-term security,” SecDef Austin said Saturday. (Related reading: “Here are the U.S. congressional districts benefiting from Ukraine aid,” via the Washington Post’s Marc A. Thiessen, writing Thursday.)

  • By the way, on Friday, Austin joined NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s military chief Rustem Umerov, and NATO defense ministers for a virtual meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council. The next Pentagon-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group meets virtually this Friday, April 26.

UK perspective: “We would expect a priority to be artillery (ammunition and barrels) as well as air defence systems and missiles to replenish stocks depleted by recent Russian airstrikes,” said Matthew Savill, military sciences director at the London-based Royal United Services Institute. According to his estimates, “T​his funding can probably only help stabilise the Ukrainian position for this year and begin preparations for operations in 2025,” Savill said. “It’s unlikely this will create immediate parity with the Russian volume of fire, but it will help close the gap,” he added. 

“We need to reinvigorate our industrial base and provide Ukraine and Israel with critically needed security assistance and these bills do exactly that,” said House Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, and Ranking Member Adam Smith, D-Washington. 

“Our alliances are the one thing China and Russia can never replace,” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said in a statement after House lawmakers passed the measures Saturday. “Now more than ever it is crucial that we stand strong with fellow democracies against authoritarianism and terror,” he said. 

For the record, here’s the vote count for each of the four aid packages passed Saturday:

  • Ukraine 311-112 (with 210 Democrats and 101 Republicans in support vs 112 Republicans opposing);
  • Israel/Gaza at 366-58;
  • Pacific package passed 385-34;
  • and the fourth bill of various sanctions, including a ban on Tik Tok passed the House in another overwhelming 360-58 vote. 

Coverage continues below…

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1944, the U.S. military conducted its first combat rescue by helicopter when Army Air Services Lt. Carter Harman, piloting a two-seated Sikorsky YR-4B, ferried four people to safety after their Stinson L-1 Vigilant observation plane was shot down by Japanese forces in Burma.

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy: Thank you. Now let’s move quickly. “I personally thank [House] Speaker Mike Johnson and all American hearts who believe, as we do in Ukraine, that Russian evil must not be winning,” the Ukrainian president said on social media Saturday. “The time between political decisions and actual damage to the enemy on the front lines, between the package’s approval and our warriors’ strengthening, must be as short as possible,” he said in a separate video the following day. “Frontline air defense is just as important as protection for our cities and villages. Our long-range capabilities, artillery, and ability to expand our area of control are all important,” said Zelenskyy. 

Speaker Johnson’s change of heart: The House leader, who declined for months to bring the aid bills to a vote, now faces a backlash from some Republicans who have promised to use an obscure recent rules change to try to force him from the speakership, similar to his predecessor, former California congressman Kevin McCarthy, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports. 

But Johnson finally stood his ground and spoke his mind this week, saying that he believed the intelligence community’s assessment about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s broader imperial ambitions. “I think that Vladimir Putin would continue to march through Europe if he were allowed. I think he might go to the Balkans next. I think he might have a showdown with Poland, or one of our NATO allies,” he said. Quoting John Quincy Adams, he included: “Duty is ours. Results are God’s.” 

Why now? Access to top-secret briefings as well as officials like CIA Director William Burns, for one thing, according to the New York Times. Both the Times and Wall Street Journal published reports this weekend seeking to explain Johnson’s change of heart when it comes to Ukraine aid in particular, and you can find those here and here, respectively. 

What might lie ahead: New and taller expectations. Provided the Senate passes the House’s aid package, “Once U.S. money starts flowing again, the dynamics of the war [in Ukraine] will change,” historian Anne Applebaum warned Sunday in The Atlantic. “Suddenly the Russian military and Russian society are once again faced with the prospect of a very long war,” she writes. “This war will be over only when the Russians no longer want to fight—and they will stop fighting when they realize they cannot win.” Read more, here. 

Additional reading: 

U.S. Army SOF course teaches video game skills for drone strikes. The program, dubbed the Robotics and Unmanned Systems Integration Course (RUSIC), is a six-week course within the Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School here. D1’s Sam Skove reports.

An AI took on a human pilot in a DARPA-sponsored dogfight. Who came out on top? Officials wouldn’t say. But the AI agents “performed well” in a variety of scenarios throughout the tests, said Lt. Col. Ryan Hefron, the program manager for DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution program, called ACE. The test, which took place last September over California, featured an AI-modified F-16 with pilots onboard for safety. D1’s Audrey Decker has a bit more, here.

FISA 702 update: Congress extended a controversial warrantless surveillance law for another two years on Saturday. The bill passed in a 60-34 vote shortly after the deadline had expired for the authorities, which we detailed in a recent podcast episode this past fall. 

The bill reformed some practices by U.S. intelligence agencies, including the FBI. According to The Hill, those reforms include “drastically culling who can approve a query, winnowing that figure from around 10,000 down to just 550,” and enacting “an after-the-fact audit of any queries involving a U.S. person and enhances the civil and criminal penalties for anyone found to be misusing the tool.” Several other reforms were offered, but ultimately rejected by a majority of senators. The Hill and the New York Times have more. 

U.S. to withdraw American troops from Niger. Over the weekend, State Department officials bowed to months of demands by the junta that overthrew the country’s democratically elected government. “The agreement will spell the end of a U.S. troop presence that totaled more than 1,000 and throw into question the status of a $110 million U.S. air base that is only six years old,” the Washington Post reports. The withdrawal is the latest setback for counter-terror operations in the region; read on, here.

Five rockets fired at a U.S. military base in Syria. The rockets, launched from Zummar, Iraq, represent the first attack by an Iranian-backed group at U.S. troops since February. “It comes a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani returned from a visit to the United States, where he met with President Joe Biden at the White House,” Reuters reports.

And lastly: RIP, Terry Anderson, the former Marine and AP journalist who became one of America’s longest-held hostages after he was kidnapped from Beirut by Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in 1985. Anderson was imprisoned for nearly seven years before his release in 1991. 

Rewind: “On March 16, 1985, a day off, he had taken a break to play tennis with former AP photographer Don Mell and was dropping Mell off at his home when gun-toting kidnappers dragged him from his car,” AP reports in his obituary, published Sunday. “In their terms, people who go around asking questions in awkward and dangerous places have to be spies,” Anderson said of his captors in 2018. 

“What followed was nearly seven years of brutality during which he was beaten, chained to a wall, threatened with death, often had guns held to his head and was kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time,” AP reports. He also wrote an autobiography entitled “Den of Lions” shortly after his release. Anderson passed away after complications from heart surgery. He was 76. AP has more, here. 

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