Creating a ‘safe zone’ in Syria; China’s ‘clearly military’ new islands; Obama’s African journey; SOCOM chiefs discuss women’s roles; And a bit more.

Safe zone, buffer zone, Islamic State-free zone—just don’t call it a “no-fly” zone. The sudden escalation of the Turkish military’s role in the fight against the Islamic State brings with it a plan to clear militants from a patch of land 50 miles wide and 25 miles deep along northern Syria, U.S. and Turkish officials said Sunday.
The deal’s “known knowns”—Officials agreed “in general terms on a plan that envisions American warplanes, Syrian insurgents and Turkish forces working together…to clear Islamic State militants from a heavily contested area roughly between the eastern outskirts of the city of Aleppo and the Euphrates River,” the New York Times reports.
Why? Too many displaced Syrians have crossed into Turkey for relative safety, the Wall Street Journal reports, with U.S. officials staunchly opposed to calling it a “no-fly” zone since “that would require support from the United Nations Security Council, where Russia and China would likely oppose it.”
Friends with benefits: “Turkey can claim that it will lead to the creation of a buffer zone inside Syria that it has long sought. And the U.S. is able to open a new military front in the war to clamp down on a section of the border that serves as the Islamic State’s main lifeline to the world,” WSJ adds.
Who also stands to gain: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, whose beleaguered forces could get a bit of breather from stepped up offensives in Syria’s destabilized northwest, The Atlantic’s Matt Schiavenza writes.
But Ankara will not send ground troops into Syria, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this morning. That via AFP here.
Meantime, Turkish security forces have continued raiding alleged ISIS and Kurdish militants across multiple locations, bringing the total number of suspects detained to well over 800, Reuters reports this morning.
And NATO reps will meet Tuesday at Turkey’s request, citing the alliance’s Article 4, which Bloomberg says allows any member to “request talks whenever its territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.” Tuesday’s meeting will also be only the fifth time in history that Article 4 has been invoked, a NATO spokeswoman told CNN Sunday.

U.S. President Barack Obama is in Ethiopia today to talk regional development and security measures against al-Shebaab in neighboring Somalia (more on that below), the Guardian reports this morning.
Ethiopia is hardly a beacon of human rights on the continent, AP reports, noting Obama “defended his decision to travel to the East African nation, comparing it to U.S. engagement with China, another nation with a poor human rights record. “Nobody questions our need to engage with large countries where we may have differences on these issues,” he said. “That’s true with Africa as well.”
And about al-Shebaab—the militant group rammed a car bomb into a hotel known to host foreigners in the capital city of Mogadishu on Sunday, killing at least 13 (including one Chinese national) and injuring nearly two-dozen others, Reuters reported. A spokesman for the group took responsibility for the bombing, claiming it as retaliation for recent “attacks and helicopter bombing against al Shabaab by AMISOM [the African Union’s force in Somalia] and the Somali government.”
Before we leave Africa: Nigeria’s president squandered his visit to Washington last week by demanding better weapons instead of help improving his military and reducing corruption, writes Quartz’ Hilary Matfess at Defense One. Muhammadu Buhari accused the U.S. of abetting Boko Haram by withholding advanced arms, just one day after a raid recovered five bulletproof cars from the home of a former national security advisor.

China’s new islands are clearly military, the U.S. Pacific Command’s top officer said Friday. “They are building ports that are deep enough to host warships and they’re building a 10,000-foot runway at Fiery Cross Reef,” Adm. Harry Harris said at the Aspen Security Forum. He warned Beijing to immediately cease its “aggressive coercive island building” in the South China Sea, which he said was intended to create forward operating bases to threaten regional neighbors. Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron reports.
Harris added that Beijing is “‘essentially creating false sovereignty’ and decimating a fragile ecosystem by building man-made islands on top of coral reefs and shoals in the South China Sea near the Philippines,” Stars and Stripes’ Wyatt Olson reported.
China is also plans to start up a second cruise liner service to a different set of disputed islands, the Paracels off Vietnam — a move that shows off Beijing’s multidimensional regional strategy, Reuters’ Megha Rajagopalan and Ben Blanchard report from Beijing.
Meanwhile, more than 33,000 U.S. and Australian troops took part in Talisman Sabre, “a biennial exercise that involved 21 ships including the aircraft carrier George Washington and the landing helicopter dock Bonhomme Richard’s expeditionary strike group,” reports the Military Times’ Jeff Schogol.

From Defense One

How many more special operations jobs will be open to women? Six months before the deadline for requesting exceptions to opening all U.S. military jobs to women, special operations leaders talked about women in combat. The leader of U.S. Special Operations Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, spoke Friday at the Aspen Security Forum: “I would just say this about SOCOM: SOCOM needs diversity. We need people of color, we need men, we need women to help us solve the problems that we deal with. In many ways, SOCOM has been at the leading edge of integration of women into critical positions that find them in far-forward locations.” Votel was alluding to the all-female Cultural Support Teams, whose creation was spearheaded by former SOCOM commander Eric Olson, who also spoke at Aspen. Defense One contributor Gayle Tzemmach Lemmon has the story.

A battle won for nuclear nonproliferation, but the war goes on. The Iran deal is good for the interlocking system of international agencies and agreements that has slowed the spread of nuclear weapons to a crawl, says the Council on Foreign Relations’ Adam Mount in Defense One: “Negotiations with Tehran show that the global nuclear order works best as a coherent whole. But each component faces real challenges in order to keep the peace.”

Why have some 4,000 Westerners joined ISIS? “Like past pilgrimages to China and the Soviet Union, the migration of Westerners to the Islamic State group points to the tragic intersection of estrangement and utopian hope,” reports The Atlantic’s Simon Cottee at Defense One.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Brad Peniston. Want to share The D Brief with a friend? Find our subscribe link here. And please tell us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at

“Mass surrender” of Afghan police in the northeast becomes a negotiated release on the part of local elders, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported yesterday. The initial narrative, summarized here by the folks at Long War Journal, told of some 100 police and border guards surrendering to join the Taliban after three days of tense fighting at the Tirgaran base in Badakhshan province. Heavy rains and flooding had prevented Kabul from sending reinforcements as the fighters languished and were overrun late Saturday.
On Sunday, however, the Taliban reportedly freed 142 local and border police, many on the condition they not return to their old police jobs. Kabul’s Ministry of Defense is reportedly sending a team of investigators to figure out just exactly what happened over the weekend, and if, in fact, its troops struck a deal with the Taliban to “let them seize the base,” as Badakhshan Police Chief Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai said Sunday.
Also on Sunday: a local police commander and seven of his men reportedly surrendered to the Taliban in north-central Sari Pul province, AP reports in this piece about a deadly gunfight that broke out at a wedding in nearby Baghlan province, killing 21 and wounding eight others.
Meanwhile, the MoD in Kabul says it is on the verge of launching a large-scale military operation in the northeast to halt the instability, Tolo News reported last night.
And over the weekend we learned that the next round of peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban have a where and when: July 30 in China. That via AP, here.
Enough with the toy guns in Afghanistan. Kabul’s Ministry of Interior has issued an order to its police “to confiscate toy guns, which can lead to physical and psychological damage to people,” AP reports. If you’ve ever been on the streets of Afghanistan and had your convoy swarmed with children, you’ve likely seen these toys pointed your direction. One of your D Brief-ers certainly did, and snapped this picture from Kandahar City when the Taliban were reportedly handing the guns out to children as gifts for the 2010 Eid al-Fitr season.

U.S. plans to close Guantanamo Bay inch forward. The White House’s plans for closing Guantanamo would transfer roughly two dozen detainees to “supermax” or high-security military prison facilities in the U.S., White House Counterterrorism Advisor Lisa Monaco said Saturday at the Aspen Security Forum. “Why hand over this albatross to the president’s successor?” Monaco said. There’s just one—okay, many—problems with that plan: It’s against current U.S. law. For a roll-up of all things Guantanamo, including a robust forecast for what lies ahead, head over here.
Monday’s leadership development food for thought: “The Army’s officer education system is designed to develop the wrong leaders,” argues Maj. Jon Mohundro, a Logistics officer who now teaches at West Point. “At certain points during an officer’s career, he or she leaves the operational force and returns to the institutional force for a period of intellectual development known as the officer education system…The first and second iterations of the officer education system are mandatory, residence courses for all officers regardless of potential or ability…
The third iteration provides the future of the Army quite a dilemma,” Mohundro writes, and explains how he would shake up the way the Army treats its “best officers” versus those in need of “additional ‘crystallized intelligence’” presenting a new “opportunity to reduce family turmoil by eliminating two permanent change of station moves within one calendar year [that] might encourage more to stay.”
And speaking of officers, here’s an overly-complicated diagram (via Reddit) of one alleged Navy officer candidate coming to terms with how to place collar devices on his khaki uniform.

Finally today, here’s the tough journey story of one 32-year-old Airman’s quest to overcome lymphoma and take the Air Force’s basketball team to two NCAA tournament appearances as part of his eventual quest to play basketball in the NBA. His name is Antoine Hood, and he’s the subject of this documentary, “Anatomy of an American Dream.”

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