Massacre in Somalia; Carter (and Bono) at Davos; U.S, Russian militaries advance in Syria; Senate leader’s surprise move; And a bit more.

Gunmen from al-Shebab killed nearly 20 people at a beachside restaurant in Mogadishu, Somalia. “Five gunmen detonated a bomb before storming the busy restaurant and spraying gunfire at terrified customers late on Thursday,” Agence France-Presse reports. Security forces managed to kill four of the gunmen and detain one other, but not before an early sweep of the area revealed 19 dead bodies, including women and children. More here.

And in Egypt, security forces were clearing explosives out of a suspect apartment in Giza when a bomb detonated, killing three police, one civilian walking by on the street and one unidentified additional victim. The Islamic State group quickly took claim for the attack, which Egyptian officials said “occurred after a joint police force raid at an apartment where members of the ‘terrorist Muslim Brotherhood’ group made and stored explosives and IEDs.” More from CNN, here.

SecDef in Davos. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is in Switzerland, where he’ll take center stage Friday afternoon at the World Economic Forum. Well, he and Bono. The Davos meeting has grown into a forum for far more than economics, and already world leaders from business, government, academia, entertainment/activism, and media have talked about everything from oil prices to gay rights and Iran.

Carter follows Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Zurich on his way into the Alps, and in Davos Thursday defended the Iran deal, saying the world was “absolutely safer” now that Iran has rolled back its nuclear program. Carter is slated for a 1-on-1 interview, then will sit on a panel with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Also appearing on Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haïdar Al Abadi, talking about his region; the presidents of Mexico and Argentina; U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; and House of Cards actor Kevin Spacey talking about “the theatricality of American politics in this election year.” Oh yeah, and Bono (on global AIDS and the 10th anniversary of the Red campaign).

Carter penned an op-ed in Politico this morning to bullhorn his call to ramp up coalition operations against ISIS. He lays out three chief U.S. objectives in the fight against the group: “One, destroy the ISIL parent tumor in Iraq and Syria by collapsing its two power centers in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqah, Syria… Two, combat the emerging metastases of the ISIL tumor worldwide wherever it appears. Three, our most important mission: Protect the homeland.” But it was that second one that’s been garnering more attention in recent days—particularly after the Wall Street Journal report earlier this week on new U.S. military authorization to go after ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan (known as ISIL-K).  

Writes Carter: “We must also recognize that ISIL is metastasizing in areas such as North Africa, Afghanistan and Yemen… We have organized U.S. military personnel at key locations stretching from Southern Europe and East Africa across the Middle East to Afghanistan as a network to counter transnational and transregional threats like ISIL… We are now prepared to step up pressure on ISIL in Afghanistan to check their ambitions there as well.” Read the rest, here.

Carter also knocked out a lightning round of TV interviews this morning from Davos, including CNBC, CNN and Bloomberg. So far, links are available only for CNBC.

While the on-again, off-again Syrian peace process drags on, the U.S. and Russian militaries are both apparently making gains in the country—which, of course, is ratcheting up the stakes for the entire process, the New York Times reports.

About Russia’s gains and ambitions: “Witnesses in Syria and American officials confirmed that the Russian military had taken up positions at an air base near the northeastern city of Qamishli. One fighter said the military had recently reached out to Sunni opposition fighters from Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour province: the same groups the Pentagon recruited for its failed train-and-equip program.”

About the alleged U.S. gains: A Syrian witness told the Times “two jets loaded with light munitions had landed recently at the [northeastern] Hasaka base, near the town of Ramaylan, on a small airstrip previously used for crop-dusting planes. He said there were about 150 United States military personnel there, guarded by Kurds who prevent anyone from approaching. The same account was provided by the Local Coordination Committees and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British monitoring group with contacts on the ground.”

The Pentagon reax: “Clearly, I won’t talk about what our Special Forces are doing,” said Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. Another U.S. military official said of the claims: “Simply not true,” despite a growing number of reports, including this one from Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman on Thursday.

Writes Tilghman: “A small team of U.S. troops is setting up a base camp at Rmeilan Air Base in the Syrian Kurdish region near Syria’s Iraqi and Turkish borders, according to local reports. American helicopters operated at the base over the past couple of weeks as local workers expanded the runway, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The airfield was until recently under control of the Syrian Kurdish forces, known as the YPG, but was turned over to the U.S. to help expand American support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is the loose-knit coalition of American-backed militants fighting the Islamic State group.”

Whatever the status of that agricultural airport turns out to be, “Both powers seem to be presuming that the peace effort will fail and digging in for the next phase of war,” the Times writes. “Their separate, and competing, new efforts against the Islamic State are part of a parallel battle over who will lead the fight against the extremist group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, and possibly take credit for defeating it.” Read the rest, including claims Russia is more aggressively courting Kurdish militias and Arab rebels, here.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says he doubts the three U.S. contractors who disappeared from Baghdad last weekend were kidnapped. Right now, he told a crowd at Davos, the Americans are simply “missing.” That, here.

Abadi also repeated his call for Turkey to remove its troops sent to Iraq. The topic is said to be on U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s meeting with the Turkish prime minister later today. More from the Associated Press, here.


From Defense One

Senate Leader surprises lawmakers with new ISIS-related war powers request. Neither Republicans nor Democrats knew the majority leader planned to set up a debate on authorizing the use of force against the Islamic State. National Journal reports, here.

The U.S.-Iran conflict that never happened. Here’s one upside of talking to enemies, writes The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman, here.

Who really lost Iraq? Obama didn’t turn victory into defeat. There was no victory, argues The Atlantic’s Dominic Tierney, here.

The old American warplane that still scares North Korea. The B-52 bomber might be more than 50 years old, but when it flies near the Korean peninsula, Kim Jong-un’s government pays attention. Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber reports, here.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Get your friends off on the right foot in 2016 by telling them to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different this year? Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


450K U.S. Army troops sets off alarm bells on Capitol Hill. A decline in force projections for the years ahead worries Obama’s pick to be the next Army Secretary, Eric Fanning told the Senate Armed Services committee at his confirmation hearing Thursday. “The cuts were driven by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and ongoing fiscal constraints, and senior Army leaders, including Fanning, have expressed concern about cutting too deeply into the Army even as the demand for troops around the world continues to rise,” Army Times reports. “What’s unclear, however, is what Fanning might do — or if any of the cuts that have already been made can be undone.” That here and here.

North Korea detained another American, a student from Cincinnati who had arrived to Pyongyang for a five-day trip over New Year’s Eve, the Washington Post reports. “Otto Frederick Warmbier, 21, was detained on Jan. 2 at Pyongyang airport as he prepared to leave the country… This was four days before North Korea conducted a nuclear test, and makes Warmbier the third Westerner known to be held in North Korea. But his detention was not made public until Friday, when the official Korean Central News Agency said it had detained the student and was questioning him about taking part in ‘anti-state activity.’”

Elsewhere in the region—sort of—the U.S. military has “stepped up discussions on converting its Aegis missile defense test site in Hawaii into a combat-ready facility that would bolster American defenses against ballistic missile attacks,” Reuters reported last night. “Aegis, developed by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) for use on U.S. Navy destroyers, is among the most advanced U.S. missile defense systems, integrating radars, software, displays, weapons launchers and missiles. Setting up its land version—Aegis Ashore—in Hawaii and linking it with Aegis destroyers would add a permanent missile defense site to the Pacific, providing an extra layer of protection for the U.S. islands and the West Coast at a time when North Korea is improving its missile capabilities.” More here.

A U.S. Navy littoral combat ship, USS Fort Worth, “is sidelined in port in Singapore because of damage to gears that propel the vessel,” Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reports. “The incident is the second in little more than a month involving the vessels, which cost on average about $440 million each.” More here.

And lastly: Free movie screening. If you’re currently in the military or are a veteran (and will be in D.C. next Wednesday), War On The Rocks invites you to a screening of the new Academy Award-nominated Danish film “A War.” “The film tells the story of a Danish company commander deployed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. With his soldiers under fire, he makes a decision that results in civilian causalities. When he returns to Denmark, he faces a court martial while struggling to hold his family together.” The screening will be Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. at the Landmark E Street theater downtown. Sign up and get details, here.

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