New front in the Syrian war; ASEAN grapples with South China Sea; Decision day for USAF bomber protest; Beijing to search for aliens with new telescope; and a bit more.

A new front in the Syrian war has opened, and it’s pitting Turkey against Russia north of Aleppo at an airbase near the city of Azaz. And if Ankara has its way, U.S. ground troops will take part in a joint operation inside neighboring Syria.

The latest flashpoint emerged when fighters from the Kurdish YPG seized an airfield from Syrian rebels. Their advance quickly made them an urgent target for both Turkey—looking to avoid any march toward independence for the Kurds—and the Moscow-Damascus duo approaching from the south after weeks of pounding rebels into submission around the long-contested city of Aleppo.

Damascus now wants the UN to intervene over Ankara’s shelling of YPG positions inside Syria’s borders, which have continued for three days, calling it a violation of its sovereignty. The Security Council is set to take up the matter in a closed-door session later today (after it talks over the Middle East’s other crisis in Yemen).

“We have been moving scores of screaming children from the hospital,” one medic said in northern Syria after missiles struck multiple hospitals over the weekend and on Monday, killing nearly 50 civilians. Hard to say whose missiles caused the devastation, but a monitoring group blamed Russia for at least one of the hospital strikes, reportedly killing nine people in Idlib province. Moscow denied that on Tuesday.

ICYMI: The Washington Post calls the conflict in northern Syria a “mini-world war.” And reporter Liz Sly traces how the battle for Aleppo has dramatically shifted on-the-ground dynamics in just the past three weeks, here.

Turkey: It’s impossible to accomplish anything in Syria without a coalition ground force. “We want a ground operation,” a Turkish official told Reuters. “If there is a consensus, Turkey will take part. Without a ground operation, it is impossible to stop this war.”

Saudi troops and fighter jets have reportedly already arrived at Turkey’s Incirlik airbase and are preparing for operations in Syria, writes The Daily Beast. What are they up to? “Saudi sources speaking to Arabic media claim that the kingdom will run training exercises with its own forces alongside troops from Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, and other countries in preparation for the fight against ISIS…on the off chance that this is a serious offer—if Saudi Arabia and its partners actually intend to send troops to Syria—it will be an incredibly risky move that will prolong the civil war.” With the traditional Saudi-Iranian feud firmly in place, the Saudi ground troops would quickly complicate an enormously complicated battlefield, writes Alexander Decina of the Council on Foreign Relations. Read the rest of his unpromising forecast, here.

For a quick, non-exhaustive review of the parties involved in Syria’s escalating war, USA Today has this.

Back stateside, was ODNI James Clapper in-the-know when it comes to that problem of skewed U.S. intel on ISIS? That would be a yes, but it’s a whole new set of allegations, write The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef. That here.

On the bright side, the Islamic State’s fiscal crunch has put the kibosh on free Snickers and Red Bulls for their fighters. AP has more on the snacks-in-wartime front, here.

ASEAN summit shifts to South China Sea talk today in California. “After a first day focused on trade and economic issues,” Reuters reports, “Obama and his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will try to arrive at a common position on the South China Sea during a second day of talks at Sunnylands, a California resort.”

Meanwhile: “China’s increased reliance on non-naval ships to assert its claims in the South China Sea is complicating U.S. efforts to avoid a clash in the disputed waters,” says Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, who commands the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet. With warship-to-warship interactions, there is some measure of predictability and accountability; with warship-to-civilian vessels, not so much. Bloomberg, here.

In other Asia-Pacific news, Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice is expecting China to sign off on new sanctions against North Korea after their three-stage rocket launch earlier this month.

South Korea urged what it called “extraordinary” sanctions on Pyongyang.

DPRK reax: More launches are coming. That here.


From Defense One

Washington OKs controversial F-16 sale to Pakistan. The Pentagon says new warplanes will help Islamabad fight al Qaeda, but U.S. lawmakers don’t want taxpayers footing the bill. Global Biz Reporter Marcus Weisgerber reports, here.

A unifying theory—and plan—for defeating ISIS propaganda. Twitter suspensions are not nearly enough, write Charlie Winter and Jordan Bach-Lombardo in The Atlantic, here.

Under the nuclear shadow: a short history of the China-North Korea relationship. While Beijing may be unhappy about Pyongyang’s nuclear games, few expect bold action that could cause sudden collapse, write the Council on Foreign Relations’ Eleanor Albert and Beina Xu, here.

Donald Trump’s big lie on the Iraq War. Trump’s opposition to the invasion is an important part of his claim to sound judgment. “And he is making it up. I would know,” writes The Atlantic’s James Fallows, here.

Sudan is spending up to 70% of its budget on war. A new estimate finds the northeast African nation is throwing $4 million per day at its wars in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile. That’s from Nuba Reports, via Quartz, here.

To survive a war, Yemenis are turning fog into water. Yemen had a serious water shortage even before fighting intensified in 2015. Now, increasingly desperate villages are experimenting with ways to “harvest” moisture from the air. Quartz reports, here.

Why a U.S. Army vet cast a Muslim-American woman to lead his Afghan war movie. An American paratrooper’s experience with an Afghan-American interpreter formed the basis of the upcoming film, “Day One.” Quartz, here.

Coming up: The civilian workforce that supports U.S. warfighters is aging. How will the Pentagon attract and retain the next generation? Leaders from DOD, USAF, and DLA will lay out their plans and outlook on Tues., Feb. 23, in a livestreamed discussion with Defense One Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston. Register to watch today, here.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1945, U.S. forces began the 10-day battle to retake Corregidor. Send your friends this subscription link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


It’s decision day for the Air Force bomber. The Government Accountability Office is supposed to rule whether the Air Force’s new stealth bomber contract was on the up and up. Over the past three months, Air Force leaders have professed confidence in their decision to select B-2 bomber-maker Northrop Grumman. But if Boeing and Lockheed Martin’s protest is upheld, it could lead to anything from minor corrective action to rebidding the whole $80 billion contract. GAO’s ruling will be posted here.

Fighting flares again in Ukraine as Kiev’s military reports the highest daily death toll since November. “Yesterday the situation on the front line escalated,” a military spokesman said. The fighting occurred about 30 miles north of the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk. “In general, every third enemy attack is from a heavy weapon or mortar banned under the Minsk (ceasefire) agreement,” the spokesman said. Meanwhile, Kiev and Moscow are seizing resupply trucks in a tit-for-tat exchange on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Europe’s new eyes in the sky. A launch scheduled for today will orbit the third of a planned dozen satellites that the European Space Agency calls “the most sophisticated Earth observation system ever launched,” AP reports. Two sats are already flying with radar and high-resolution cameras; today’s launch of Sentinel-3A will add sophisticated instruments for measuring sea and surface temperatures — helping to “monitor environmental changes and provide early warning of possible migrant flows.” That, here.

Lastly today—China plans to activate its giant new radio telescope this year, and clear out nearly 10,000 people from nearby villages to give the dish a quiet electromagnetic zone. Chinese officials say the 500-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), “nestled between hills in the southwestern Guizhou province,” will help search for alien life, state new agency Xinhua reports.

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