Was San Bernardino shooting terrorism?; UK jets begin hitting ISIS; Russia, Turkey trade insults; What happens if US troops capture ISIS fighters: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; and a bit more…

Authorities are not ruling out terrorism as a possible motive in Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. Fourteen people died and more than dozen others were injured at a county public health department Wednesday when a heavily armed male employee and a female companion opened fire for roughly five minutes at a Christmas party before dying in a gun battle with police hours later.

Possible motives right now include workplace violence or terrorism, authorities said.

The now-dead male suspect, 28-year-old Syed Rizwan Farook, was born in Illinois to parents hailing from Pakistan. He worked at the health department as an environmental inspector for five years before Wednesday’s shooting. Authorities said Farook traveled to Saudi Arabia earlier in the year and returned with a wife, Tashfeen Malik, the second deceased suspect in Wednesday’s rampage.

The couple reportedly had a child together six months ago, and dropped the infant off with the man’s mother before the attack, which the San Bernardino police chief said did not seem to be a “spur-of-the-moment thing,” the New York Times reports.

For what it’s worth, extremists online gave no indication of involvement, according to the terror monitor SITE Intelligence Group, which was unable to find early evidence on jihadist accounts suggesting motivation or inspiration for the attack.

UK jets open fire on ISIS. Just hours after getting the OK from lawmakers, RAF Tornado jets carried out their first strikes on Islamic State targets inside Syria. Four jets took off from a British base in Cyprus (RAF Akrotiri) to hit ISIS oil fields in the east, BBC reported. Eight more aircraft—two Tornados and six Typhoons—are en route to join eight existing jets at Akrotiri, U.K. Defense Minister Michael Fallon said.

In Iraq, Baghdad forces have begun the slow process of clearing some 600 to 1,000 fighters from the ISIS-held city of Ramadi in Anbar province. “They’re essentially surrounding the city on its outskirts, kind of in the suburbs, if you will. But they are not yet into the city center,” Army Col. Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman, said Wednesday. “The isolation phase is complete. We’re now moving into the clearing phase.”

ISIS has held the city “for more than six months [and] have set up a daunting defensive perimeter of mines, shooting positions and improvised explosive devices,” Military Times reports. But the operation is expected to take some time, Warren explained, since isolating Ramadi completely is a tall order. “There’s no possible way to seal a city like that. There are, you know, three river entrances in and out. I mean, it’s a complex city. You’re never going to seal a city the size of Ramadi,” he said.

While Iraq and the White House rectify Baghdad’s reservations toward the Pentagon’s new “specialized expeditionary targeting force,” the New York Times offers this profile of the elite soldiers of U.S. Joint Special Operations Command—a rotating ensemble of the best-of-the-best of America’s special operations troops. The unit has extensive experience hunting down key fighters in Iraq over the last decade, but this time around their mission is largely to capture ISIS leaders. One early problem…

The White House doesn’t know what it’ll do when U.S. troops capture an ISIS leader in Iraq or Syria, Defense One’s Molly O’Toole reports. The clock is ticking: per the defense authorization act President Obama signed last week, he has less than 90 days to give lawmakers a “comprehensive detention strategy” for what happens to both current and future detainees of the unending war on terror. Read O’Toole’s report in full, here.


From Defense One

As US strikes ISIS, Russia’s intel agencies are watching. The U.S. and its allies must weigh their desires to hit Islamic State targets against the risk of revealing to the world heretofore-secret information about their weapons to the world — and be prudent in their choices, says Maj. Jahara Matisek, a combat-tested USAF pilot. Read that, here.

Tomorrow’s weapons of electronic warfare will include drones that draw enemy fire or sneak up close enough to hack their systems (remember this one?), stealthier sensors, and — yes — even EMPs, say Bryan Clark and Mark Gunzinger from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Technology Editor Patrick Tucker reports, here.

NATO must do better at fighting corruption during its military operations, say Transparency International’s Karolina MacLachlan and Hilary Hurd who release their 2015 grades for NATO members and partners today. The surprising, disappointing bottom line: the 32 governments studied received, on average, a D. Read on, here.

US seeks to cut off another route for terrorist entry. Lawmakers want to tighten the visa-waiver program to keep Islamic State militants out of the U.S.—and this time, they have the White House’s backing, writes The Atlantic’s Russell Berman, here.

Reserve your seat now for Monday’s Defense One Leadership Briefing with Jeh Johnson: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sits for an intimate conversation with Defense One, on Monday, Dec. 7, to discuss how threats are moving from the battlefield to the homefront, and how DHS is working with the military, Defense Department, intelligence community, and other agencies for a whole-of-government defense against terrorism, cyber attacks, and more. Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron moderates the event, 8 a.m. EDT at Washington’s District Architecture Center. Register for your spot here.

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


Whelp: “Only Allah knows why they did it,” said Vladimir Putin of Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet. “And I guess Allah decided to punish the ruling clique in Turkey by stripping it of its sanity.” The Russian president, speaking at his annual state-of-the-union address, followed that up by threatening Ankara. Washington Post, here.

Oh, and: The Russian Defense Ministry is accusing the Turkish president and his family of personally profiting from the oil trade with the Islamic State, a claim Recep Erdogan flatly rejects. The Atlantic’s headline: “Did Russia just shred the last hope for mending ties with Turkey?” Read, here.

Turkey fired back, saying it has proof that Moscow is helping ISIS sell oil (AFP, here).

Halfway around the world, Moscow is hopping on the disputed-island bandwagon: “Russia announced plans this week to construct a series of military garrisons on disputed islands in the western Pacific — a move sure to rile the Japanese, who had been trying to negotiate the return of the territories seized at the end of World War II.s own Pacific Island construction.” Stars & Stripes, here.

China expands its reach into Africa, and now to Australia. Nearly two weeks after AFRICOM chief Gen. David Rodriguez alerted folks to a new Chinese military base being built in Djibouti, the Chinese have now gained access to another location close to U.S. forces: Darwin, Australia. “The Northern Territory government signed a 99-year lease valued at $506 million (USD) that will turn the daily operations of Darwin Port over to China’s Landbridge Group. The deal gives the Chinese firm 100-percent operational control of the port and 80-percent ownership of Darwin Port land, facilities of East Arm wharf (to include a marine supply base), and Fort Hill wharf,” writes Lauren Dickey in War on the Rocks.

What’s at stake: “As home to a rotational force of some 2,000 U.S. Marines (MRF-D), a military component of the Obama administration’s rebalance to Asia, Australia is betting Chinese access to the Darwin Port will not strategically endanger the presence and training of Australian Defense Force (ADF) units and their American counterparts.”

But “the cost-benefit calculations of welcoming Chinese investment just a few miles from U.S. and ADF forces simply do not add up,” she writes.

Her advice: “The United States government should begin to encourage its counterparts in Darwin and Canberra to establish ground rules for the management of its high-risk, low-reward business venture at Darwin port. The continued presence of the U.S. Marines in Darwin should be a non-negotiable criterion for both Canberra and Washington; and, in the case the Landbridge management hints that the American military presence is no longer welcome, or if signs of covert intelligence operations are detected, perhaps it will be time for the people of the Northern Territory to rethink their business decision.” Read her take in full, here.

New House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been thrown into several boiling national security debates almost immediately, is working hard to shape the Republican leaders’ response. Today: “#ConfidentAmerica: Speaker Ryan’s First Major Address” at 12:30 p.m. at the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

His office provided a preview: “We need to build a 21st-century military. And I don’t mean just pour more money into the Pentagon. We have to reform the Pentagon, so it can adapt to new threats. Acquire new capabilities more quickly — whether it’s advanced missile defense or directed energy weapons. And there’s no one better to lead that effort than the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry [R-Texas]…Today, I have laid out our principles. Now we need to turn them into policies. And we are not going to solve all the country’s problems next year. We need a new president. It’s just that simple. But even if we can’t move mountains, we can make moves in the right direction.”

All 14 Republican presidential candidates have flocked to Washington to address the Republican Jewish Coalition’s presidential forum, backed by casino magnate and lavish campaign funder Sheldon Adelson. Tickets are reportedly sold out, but you can watch all the talk on terrorism post-Paris attacks and the Iran nuclear deal here.

Lastly today: helo tragedy in Tennessee. Two Army pilots died when their AH-64D Apache crashed about a dozen miles south of Fort Campbell around 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday night. “We heard two booms, sounded like gunshots. We didn’t think much of it but within probably 30 seconds to a minute started hearing all of these helicopters swarming by,” a resident nearby said.

“The helicopter was found in a river bottom and was on fire when first responders arrived,” AP reported. News of the crash comes nearly two weeks after four soldiers died at Fort Hood, Texas, when their UH-60L Black Hawk helo crashed on a routine training mission. Army Times remembers those who passed in that tragedy, here.

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