American troops out front in Iraq; Saudis using US-made Patriots in Yemen’s war; F-35 wins over Navy carrier pilots; The future weapons Trump and Clinton should discuss; And a bit more.

Make no mistake: American troops are in the lead in (some of) Iraq’s war on ISIS. From the bases and front lines in the north, Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio paints a different picture of U.S. troop involvement that most Americans probably do not know about (but could guess pretty easily if asked): U.S. special operations forces are out front in many of the most dangerous missions, like the one last October that freed nearly 70 Kurdish hostages, but led to the death of Delta Force Master Sgt. Josh Wheeler.

“When his death became public,” Giglio reports in his feature-length article, “US officials painted the combat role of the US commandos on the mission as an anomaly… But the Kurdish soldiers who worked with Wheeler tell a different story. They say that Wheeler intended from the start to be up front in the operation — and that elite US troops like him often lead the charge against ISIS on the ground.”

Bottom line up front: “The facts on the ground simply don’t align with the desired storyline” of American troops merely advising and assisting Iraqi forces, according to an unnamed U.S. official. Read the rest of Giglio’s lengthy report, here.

In Syria: the “highway of death” that wasn’t. The U.S. military said Syrian rebels let that convoy of hundreds of ISIS vehicles escape out of Manbij (reportedly for Jarablus) during their “final assault” on Friday because it was loaded with willing and unwilling (hostages) human shields. “Every vehicle had civilians in it or on it,” spokesman U.S. Army Col. Chris Garver said on Tuesday. He assured the coalition is keeping eyes on the convoy, though he declined to reveal their most recent location, short of it being “north of Manbij.” So what that really means is that some of ISIS’ former Manbij crew—Garver said the fight in Manbij isn’t 100 percent over just yet—are basically moving around with a mobile human shield right now across the north Syrian desert.

Your Wednesday #LongRead here is either one of the best explainers on what Washington gets wrong about Sunni sectarianism in Iraq and Syria—or it is “the worst piece ever written about Syria.” It comes from an author working with a pen name (hmm) and writing for War on the Rocks to bust that aforementioned myth. And just reading through some of the discussion the article has aroused (on Twitter and in the comments for the article itself) are worth your time. Begin here.

China also unsettled Syria watchers on Tuesday with news of a military official’s recent trip to Damascus to meet with Syria’s defense minister on Sunday. Discussed: possible “personnel training” and potential “Chinese military-provided humanitarian aid,” according to Reuters—working off a release from China’s state-run Xinhua news.

Reminder: Libya’s port city of Sirte is still an active battleground in the fight against ISIS, as AFRICOM announced Tuesday the airstrike count has risen to 48 since August 1. And CNN reports the battle for Sirte is close to winding down, but it’s still far from over.

U.S., Russia’s tussle over Iran’s growing support role in Syria’s war. The State Department said Tuesday that Russia’s use of an Iranian air base to launch airstrikes in Syria may violate a “U.N. resolution that prohibits the supply, sale and transfer of combat aircraft to Iran unless approved by the Security Council.” Russia countered, saying, essentially: nyet.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this morning: “In the case we’re discussing there has been no supply, sale or transfer of fighter jets to Iran,” AP reports, adding Lavrov also warned the U.S. not to “nitpick about what is happening in terms of the remaining restrictions on trade and ties with Iran.”

For weeks video has been pouring in on social media purporting to show incendiary weapons used across northern Syria by either Assad regime jets or—more likely—Russian aircraft. And a recent report from Human Rights Watch alleges at least 18 times over a nine-week period this summer incendiaries were dropped “despite being illegal under international law.” So what to do from here?

Saudi Arabia’s U.S.-made Patriot missiles are shooting down Houthi rockets in the under-reported war for Yemen, Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber reported Tuesday. The detail came out at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, an annual conference attended by thousands of military and industry missile defense experts at Huntsville, Ala.  

Yemen’s toll: The Saudi-led (and U.S.-backed) war in Yemen has cost the country more than $14 billion in “damage to infrastructure and economic losses,” Reuters reports this morning off a not-for-release “Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment report.”

More than 6,500 are believed to have been killed in fighting so far, Reuters writes before offering a few more data points: “The 16-month civil war has… displaced more than 2.5 million and caused a humanitarian catastrophe in a country with a per capita gross domestic product the World Bank last estimated at only $1,097 in 2013.”


From Defense One

Navy pilots are lovin’ the F-35, including some cruise control features that will allow pilots to coordinate with each other, the ground, and air units to execute smarter attacks, writes Tech Editor Patrick Tucker on location during a recent show-and-tell aboard the USS George Washington off Norfolk, Va.

India’s Modi pokes Pakistan over contested Balochistan Afghan-border region. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making waves for claiming he’s received warmly by folks in Balochistan, which Pakistan struggles to secure. (That’s where Quetta is.) It was more than a tactical counterpunch in response to Pakistan’s raking up of the turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir over the past few weeks, as Quartz‘s Manu Balachandran writes.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. On this day in 1978, the U.S. Air Force accepted its first production-model F-16 Fighting Falcon. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


The U.S. Air Force’s search to replace its Minuteman III missiles just hit a roadblock “over Pentagon concerns the service underestimated the cost by billions of dollars,” a U.S. defense official told Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio.

Who’s interested in talking about the Third Offset? Washington Post’s David Ignatius, for one—writing today the “question of how to deal with Russian and Chinese military advances has gotten almost no attention in the 2016 presidential campaign. But it deserves a careful look.”

Background: “The premise is that as Russia and China modernize their militaries, the United States must exploit its lead in high-tech warfare. In the world envisioned by Pentagon planners, the United States could field an array of drones in the sky, unmanned submarines beneath the seas and advanced systems on the ground that could overwhelm an adversary’s battle-management networks. Like the two previous “offsets,” battlefield nuclear weapons in the 1950s and precise conventional weapons in the 1970s, this one would seek to restore lost U.S. military dominance.”

The way forward, he writes, could include “a dizzying new arsenal that would include a fleet of unmanned subs; an array of undersea sensors; ‘seabed payload pods’ that could hide drones underwater until they were needed in a conflict; electromagnetic rail guns and directed-energy weapons; high-energy lasers that could blind enemy sensors; and a range of other new technologies.” But the bottom line for Ignatius is that “in an unsettled world, this issue deserves broader debate during the presidential campaign.” More here.

For what it’s worth: “Military households” are more keen on Donald Trump as the next POTUS by a 10-point margin over Hillary Clinton, according to a new NBC News poll.

Court documents reveal another man left the U.S. to fight—and die—for ISIS. A man from Maine left his wife and three kids to go fight with ISIS in August 2013. He was killed in fighting almost 18 months later in Lebanon, the Portland Press-Herald reported after getting their hands on a recently-released court affidavit. Story here.

Lastly today: There’s been a raft of recent new books from U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But, as NPR’s Quil Lawrence writes, “Their stories about Iraq and Afghanistan don’t have Hollywood gunfights, and they aren’t action thrillers.” What they do have, however, is stories of people who “did a dirty, nasty, demanding job” and who aren’t entirely comfortable with the moral authority many Americans give veterans just because they served. Some of those veterans tell Lawrence they’re also uncomfortable with the American “worship of military strength” that often goes along with adoring its vets. All that and more here.  

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