The D Brief: US shifts airstrike HQ; Europe warns of Russian hackers; 30 injured in LCAC mishap; USAF adds EW squadron; And a bit more.

The D Brief: US shifts airstrike HQ; Europe warns of Russian hackers; 30 injured in LCAC mishap; USAF adds EW squadron; And a bit more.

The U.S. military is shifting its Iraq and Yemen airstrike operations out of the UAE and over to Qatar, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. That means moving surveillance planes, jets, and drones out of the Al Dhafra air base in Abu Dhabi to Qatar’s Al Udeid air base, which is home to U.S. Air Forces Central Command. 

What’s going on: “The U.A.E. has grown increasingly nervous that it could be targeted by Iranian proxies in the region if it is seen to be publicly aiding U.S. military operations,” the Journal reports. An Emirati official told the paper the changes “are coming from a place of self-protection.” 

From the region: The U.S. military destroyed another three aerial drones inside Yemen on Thursday afternoon, Central Command officials said in a short statement in the evening. 

Trendspotting: Contractors in the missile defense business could see a boom in sales over the coming months, Reuters reported in a kind of industry explainer Friday, emphasizing the recent “complex, high-stakes combat scenarios in Israel, the Red Sea and Ukraine.” 

But “the impact may be most acute in Asia, where China has invested heavily in conventionally armed ballistic missiles,” experts told the wire service.

China is also working hard on a constellation of sensing satellites that are breaking the U.S. “monopoly” on long-range targeting, the Space Force’s intel chief said Thursday. That’s erasing a key advantage long held by U.S. forces and would help target U.S. troops if they move to defend Taiwan in a conflict, said Maj. Gen. Greg Gagnon, deputy chief of space operations for intelligence. Defense One’s Audrey Decker has more, here. 

Related reading: “Iran’s Attack on Israel Offers Kim Jong Un a Test Case of Western Defenses,” the Wall Street Journal reported separately Friday from Seoul. 

Unease in Niamey: As the U.S. military packs its bags in coup-stricken Niger, Russian forces have entered the air base where American troops are living in the country’s capital city of Niamey. Reuters reported the awkward proximity Thursday, citing a senior U.S. defense official who described the situation as “not great but in the short-term manageable.” 

According to the U.S. official, “Russian forces were not mingling with U.S. troops but were using a separate hangar at Airbase 101, which is next to Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey.” 

“The Russians are in a separate compound and don’t have access to U.S. forces or access to our equipment,” Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said Friday during a trip to Hawaii. He said he’s always concerned about the safety of U.S. forces; however, “right now, I don’t see a significant issue here in terms of our force protection,” Austin said. More here. 

Related reading: “Heatwaves and outages test support for juntas in Chad and Mali,” Reuters reported separately Friday. 

New: U.S. officials confirm May 2023 CIVCAS in NW Syria. U.S. Central Command officials said Thursday that U.S. forces fighting ISIS last May “misidentified” an intended al-Qaeda militant and killed a civilian instead whose name was Lufti Hasan Masto. 

“Many of the facts and other findings of the investigation involve classified information and cannot be shared publicly,” the officials said, and insisted their investigation revealed “the strike was conducted in compliance with the law of armed conflict as well as Department of Defense and CENTCOM policies.” 

“We are committed to learning from this incident and improving our targeting processes to mitigate potential civilian harm,” they added. 

A note on forensics: The investigation was prompted by a Washington Post report published a year ago that “cast doubt on officials’ initial public claim to have slain a senior al-Qaeda figure,” as the Post put it this morning.

Welcome to this Friday 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 1945, British planes attacked two German ocean liners and a cargo ship in the Baltic Sea, unaware the Nazis had moved thousands of concentration camp prisoners onto the vessels to hide their atrocities. An estimated 5,000 people died in the attacks, making it one of the largest single-incident losses of life at sea during the Second World War.

NATO and the EU are sounding alarm bells over Russian hackers and hybrid activities affecting at least seven different nations across Europe. The alleged actions involved Russian-linked assets engaging in various “sabotage, acts of violence, cyber and electronic interference, disinformation campaigns, and other hybrid operations” in Czechia, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the United Kingdom. 

Bottom line: “Russia’s actions will not deter Allies from continuing to support Ukraine,” the alliance’s North Atlantic Council said in a statement Thursday. “We condemn Russia’s behavior,” it said, and added, “We will act individually and collectively to address these actions, and will continue to coordinate closely.” 

On Friday, NATO separately rallied around Germany and Czechia following Russia-linked cyber attacks affecting Germany’s Social Democratic Party and Czech government institutions in 2023. “Germany and Czechia have attributed the responsibility of the malicious cyber activities in their respective countries to the threat actor APT28 sponsored by the Russian Federation, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate,” which is also known as GRU, the alliance said Friday. 

Berlin’s top diplomat Anna Baerbock called it “a state-sponsored Russian cyber attack on Germany,” and said without elaborating that it “will have consequences.” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in her own statement Friday, “Under no circumstances will we allow ourselves to be intimidated by the Russian regime.”

The same APT28 culprits are believed to be behind other recent cyber attacks on “governmental entities, critical infrastructure operators and other entities across the Alliance, including in Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden,” NATO said in its Friday statement. 

The European Union promised a “full spectrum” of responses to the cyber attacks, and said Friday that it “will not tolerate such malicious behaviour, particularly activities that aim to degrade our critical infrastructure, weaken societal cohesion and influence democratic processes.” The bloc also noted “this year’s elections in the EU and in more than 60 countries around the world.” 

London’s POV: “With multiple elections around the world in 2024, raising awareness of the threat to the UK and our international partners remains vitally important for our collective resilience,” a British government spokesman said in a statement of support for Germany and Czechia on Friday. 

And speaking of hackers: North Korean spies are exploiting poorly configured email servers to break into academic institutions, think tanks, journalists, and nonprofit organizations, the NSA and FBI said Thursday. The Kimsuky hacking group has been penetrating systems that neglect to ward off a “Reply-to” exploit. More, here. 

Related reading: 

30 sailors, Marines injured in LCAC “incident” on Wednesday. The air-cushion vehicles were amid pre-deployment training with the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group and 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit off Florida, the Navy said Thursday—providing few more details about the mishap. (USNI News, Navy Times)

And lastly: The U.S. Air Force adds another electronic-warfare squadron. The 388th Electronic Warfare Squadron, activated on Thursday, will home in on spoofing threats. It’s the second squadron recently added to the 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing after the 563rd Electronic Warfare Squadron stood up last month. Defense One’s Lauren C. Williams has more about the units and their missions, here.

The news is likely to be welcomed by those who have urged the Pentagon to rebuild its EW ranks to Cold-War levels. In 2019, for example, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments wrote: “Over the past decade, several government and external assessments found that the U.S. military is falling behind Chinese and Russian forces in elec­tronic warfare (EW) and that U.S. forces will be challenged to achieve EMS superiority in future conflicts. To address these concerns, the U.S. Department of Defense initiated an ongoing series of actions to improve its EW doctrine and capabilities. This study will argue these efforts have been unfocused and are likely to fail at delivering EMS superiority.” Read that, here.

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