Taliban targets US troops as peace deal remains elusive

TALIBAN CLAIMS: The Taliban have seized on the Monday crash of a U.S. surveillance plane as the latest rallying cry against the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, as attempts to revive peace talks are showing little signs of progress.

“After 18 years, the war has not only been costly for them on the ground but now, even the skies have turned against them,” said a Taliban statement issued Tuesday, as reported by Middle East Media Research Institute.

“The recent battlefield victories of the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan against the air force of the Americans are a proof that with the passage of time, more losses will be inflicted on the invaders and this time they will no longer be able to use their air supremacy like they have been using it for the past two decades,” the statement said.

NO EVIDENCE THE PLANE WAS SHOT DOWN: The U.S. military is still investigating the crash of the U.S. Air Force Bombardier E-11A aircraft in a Taliban-controlled area of Ghazni Province, but officials are dismissing the Taliban claims as opportunistic propaganda. “There are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” said Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Afghanistan in a tweet.

PILOTS ID’D: The Pentagon has released the names of the Air Force pilots who died in the crash as Lt. Col. Paul Voss, 46, of Yigo, Guam, of Headquarters Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; and Capt. Ryan Phaneuf, 30, of Hudson, New Hampshire, of the 37th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota.

“FIGHT AND TALK’: In its latest report to Congress the Pentagon says the Taliban is employing what it called a fight-and–talk strategy,” stepping up the the scale and violence of its attacks to disrupt the democratic process, pressure the United States and delegitimize the Afghan government.

This week’s statement is an example of the bombastic rhetoric. “One after the other the American generals have come, gone and failed in Afghanistan … the entire world has seen the failures of the two previous American administrations in Afghanistan,” the statement said “If the Trump administration fails to consider a complete withdrawal, he will face a much worsened situation for his occupying forces.”

RECORD AIRSTRIKES: The Taliban are clearly feeling the impact of U.S. airpower, which dropped a record number of bombs on Afghanistan in 2019 according to statistics released by the U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

According to color-coded charts, U.S. aircraft, both manned and drones, dropped or fired 7,423 weapons last year, the most in at least 10 years, an average of more than 600 a month. The total exceeded the 2018 total by 61 bombs or missiles.

HOUSE COMMITTEE SNUBBED: Members of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security complained this week that neither the Pentagon nor the State Department will send anyone to Capitol Hill to explain where the U.S. strategy stands in the 19th year of the war.

“Despite a bipartisan request for a briefing, which Administration officials never scheduled, and a subsequent invitation to testify before the Subcommittee four weeks ago, the Department of State and the Department of Defense refused to appear at this week’s hearing, prompting bipartisan dismay,” said a statement issued by the committee yesterday.

The House members did hear from one witness, John Sopko, the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

““Since my last appearance, not much has changed on the ground in Afghanistan to diminish our concerns,” Sopko testified. “The military situation is still a deadly stalemate, the Afghan economy extremely weak, corruption rampant, narcotics production growing, reintegration of ex-combatants problematic, women’s rights threatened and oversight restricted by widespread insecurity.”

STILL TO COME: Sopko’s next quarterly report on Afghanistan will be released tomorrow.

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HAPPENING TODAY: U.S. Africa Command chief Army Gen. Stephen Townsend testifies this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee, amid growing concern in Congress that the Pentagon is planning a significant pullback from current counterterrorism missions on the continent.

Also appearing will be Adm. Craig Faller, the head of U.S. Southern Command. The 9:30 a.m. hearing will be streamed live at Defense.gov.

TRUMP’S MIXED MESSAGE: In a series of tweets yesterday President Trump first urged members of Congress to “vote their heart” as the House takes up a measure that would limit his authority to employ military force, only later to urge lawmakers to defeat the effort.

“On the Iraq War Resolution being voted on tomorrow in the House of Represenatives, (sic) we are down to 5000 soldiers, and going down, and I want everyone, Republican and Democrat, to vote their HEART!” Trump tweeted in the morning.

By last night he had changed his tune slightly. “Nancy Pelosi wants Congress to take away authority Presidents use to stand up to other countries and defend AMERICANS. Stand with your Commander in Chiefs!” he tweeted. “Democrats want to make it harder for Presidents to defend America, and stand up to, as an example, Iran. Protect our GREAT COUNTRY!

IT AIN’T OVER FOLKS: In a joint statement by the leaders of the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the group warned that the battle against ISIS, also known as Daesh, is far from over.

“Daesh/ISIS no longer controls territory and almost 8 million people have been freed from its control in Iraq and Syria. Nevertheless, Daesh/ISIS is adapting its methods to the situation as it evolves and hopes to use regional instabilities as an opportunity to conduct attacks and reemerge in Iraq and in Syria, as well as where Daesh/ISIS branches and networks exist elsewhere,” said the statement posted on the State Department’s website. “Territorial defeat has been achieved, but all members of the Coalition acknowledge that the job to ensure a lasting defeat of ISIS remains. We will continue our efforts until the job is done.”

HERITAGE ON IRAN: Heritage Foundation analysts Peter Brookes, Brett Schaefer, and James Phillips are out with a new report, Iran Nuclear Deal: Next Steps.

Key takeaway: “The Iranian regime announced in early January that Tehran will no longer be bound by the technical restrictions of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that sought to deter Iran’s nuclear weapons program by restricting its use of centrifuges, limiting its uranium stockpile, and mandating international inspections. While awaiting the resolution of the JCPOA Dispute Resolution Mechanism process, the United States should take additional steps by maintaining a strong military deterrent, re-imposing the conventional arms ban through a new Security Council resolution, continuing the maximum pressure sanctions campaign, dissolving the JCPOA, and seeking a stronger, more restrictive, permanent nuclear agreement with Iran that addresses Iran’s nuclear, missile, and terrorism activities.”

POKING THE BEAR: A new paper from the RAND Corporation seeks to identify what actions trigger a response Russia and what don’t.

“Deterrence presents an inherent dilemma: While it seeks to prevent aggression, a deterrent effort that is too heavy-handed or appears to represent an existential threat to the potential aggressor might prompt that precise response. In the context of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)–Russia relations, deterring without provoking requires an understanding of what Russia considers to be “redlines,” defined as those triggers that Russian leadership claims cannot be crossed without provoking a major or hostile response on their part,” the report says.

“The authors find that predicting Russian reactions to U.S. and NATO movements is a challenging exercise, as some stated redlines have not been met with escalation, while other actions taken by the United States and its allies have triggered unexpectedly strong Russian responses,” the report says.

WHODUNNIT? Connecticut Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy is asking top intelligence officials to investigate whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hacked Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s cellphone.

Murphy has sent a letter to Acting DNI Joseph Maguire and FBI Director Christopher Wray urging them to look deeper at the incident,


Boeing’s financial results have been put in a tail-spin from the 737 Max grounding, posting a loss for the first time since 1997. The aerospace giant reported a loss of $1 billion in the fourth quarter as revenue dropped to $17.9 billion, down 37%. The company lost $636 million for 2019, compared to 2018 when it posted a profit of nearly $10.5 billion.

Despite the company’s travails, investors haven’t completely soured on Boeing’s prospects for 2020. Jim Corriudore, an equity analyst at CFRA Research, is maintaining a “hold” and a $350 12-month price target on Boeing shares, noting that Boeing took on $9 billion in new debt during the quarter to survive the 737 Max grounding and to make necessary compensation to affected customers.

“We still think BA has a strong position in aerospace and defense but think caution is warranted after worse-than-expected execution and uncertainty as to when the Max returns,” Corriudore said.

RELATED Barrons: Boeing Just Reported a Massive Loss. Why Its Stock Is Gaining.

General Dynamics reported fourth quarter earnings of $1 billion on $10.8 billion in revenue, up 12.2% over the fourth quarter of 2018. For the calendar year 2019, the company had earnings $3.5 billion on revenue of $39.4 billion, a 6.8% increase over 2018.

Full-year revenue and operating earnings grew in all five of GD’s segments, including Combat Systems, which saw fourth quarter revenue of $2 billion, up 13.1% over a year ago.

Raytheon reports its fourth quarter and full year earnings at 7 a.m.

xTechSearch: It’s down to 20 small business and technology firms as the U.S Army moves to the next phase of its xTechSearch 4.0 technology prize competition, which is aimed at finding the best in dual-use technology with both defense and commercial applications.

Here are the cutting-edge companies selected to advance to the xTechSearch Phase 3 event in Huntsville, Al., in March.

Battle Sight Technologies of Dayton, Ohio
Bounce Imaging of Buffalo, N.Y.
DroneShield LLC of Warrenton, Va.
FastVDO LLC of Melbourne, Fl.
FLITE Material Sciences US, Inc. of Somerville, Ma.
GeneCapture, Inc. of Huntsville, Al.
Geopipe of New York, N.Y.
Inductive Ventures of Marietta, Ga.
IoTAI, Inc. of Fremont, Ca.
Kericure, Inc. of Wesley Chapel, Fl.
LumiShield Technologies, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pa.
Lynq Technologies, Inc. of Brooklyn, N.Y.
MEI Micro, Inc. of Addison, Texas
Multiscale Systems, Inc. of Worcester, Ma.
NeuroFlow, Inc. of Philadelphia, Pa.
NanoSystems Laboratory (nLab) of Chicago, Il.
Novaa Ltd., of Dublin, Ohio
Passenger, Inc. of Austin, Texas
Primal Space Systems of Raleigh, N.C.
Vita Inclinata Technologies of Broomfield, Co.



7 a.m. — Raytheon Company releases 2019 fourth quarter and full-year results on its website, followed by a conference call at 9 a.m. Jan. 30, 2020. Audiocast www.raytheon.com/ir

9 a.m. G50 Dirkson. — Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Defense Authorization request for Fiscal Year 2021 and the Future Years Defense Program, with Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of U.S. Africa Command; and Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command. https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings


9.a.m. Pentagon Briefing Room — Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment; Kevin Fahey, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition; and Katie Arrington, the special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for acquisition for cyber; brief reporters at the Pentagon on cyber security standards for government acquisition. Streamed live at https://www.defense.gov

10 a.m. Pentagon River Entrance — Defense Secretary Mark Esper welcomes Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini to the Pentagon, with joint press conference to follow in the Pentagon Briefing Room afterward. Streamed live at https://www.defense.gov


12 p.m. 1135 16th St. N.W. — American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security luncheon, with remarks by Jason Klitenic, general counsel, Office of the Director of National Intelligence https://www.americanbar.org


All Day Brussels, Belgium — Defense Secretary Mark Esper attends meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Defense Ministers at the NATO Headquarters, chaired by the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg https://www.nato.int


All Day Brussels, Belgium — Day two of NATO Defense ministerial at NATO Headquarters, with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. https://www.nato.int


“Despite repeated invitations, the Department of State and the Department of Defense refused to make witnesses available testify before the committee today. So we have nobody from State, we have nobody from DoD. That’s very disappointing, because I’m concerned that rather than implementing a coherent Afghanistan strategy, U.S. policy in the region is instead being driven by the latest impulse of the commander in chief.”

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., chairman House Oversight And Reform National Security Subcommittee, expressing frustration over lack of transparency regarding next steps in Afghanistan.