Another ceasefire in Syria is set to begin at sunset. Skepticism abounds despite the U.S.-Russia agreement signed early Saturday in Geneva to bring an end to at least some of the fighting in Syria and allow aid to reached besieged cities long cut-off by Syrian-allied forces.
The deal “allows the Syrian government to continue to strike at the Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked militants with the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham group, earlier known as the Nusra Front, until the U.S. and Russia take over the task in one week’s time,” AP reports.
The big ask: “Under the terms of the agreement, the rebels and the Syrian government are expected to stop attacking one another.”
But just note two very recent developments: 1) More than 90 people have been killed in Syrian allied airstrikes since the news was announced late Friday (Washington time); and 2) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made “a rare appearance in a mosque in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, a former rebel stronghold recently captured by government forces, [where] Assad said he was determined to recover every area lost to ‘the terrorists,’” The Telegraph’s Josie Ensor reports this morning from Beirut.
One bright spot: Iran was expected to undermine the ceasefire, according to the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister. But over the weekend, Tehran’s foreign minister endorsed the deal, emphasizing (as Lister has) the need for a monitoring mechanism. But unlike Lister, The Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss, and others, Iran raised no red flags over the lack of consequences should parties fail to abide by the deal.
One enormous question mark: How to disentangle the rebels that have become “marbled” or “coupled” with al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) organizations like the Syria Conquest Front out of survival.
And those are all concerns and conditions that must remain relatively stable before the U.S. and Russia can link up in a Joint Intelligence Group to target al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group in Syria. Here’s some more on what to expect moving forward, via AFP’s “Top three obstacles to US-Russia truce deal on Syria,” here.
One last thing about the prospects for Syrian peace: At least one Russian military expert is reportedly pushing for a gradual withdrawal from Syria since Assad’s army is rife with extortion, near-total incompetence and virtually no coherent planning, according to this report.
Want a nine-point primer on the main armed rebel groups in Syria? The Telegraph’s Josie Ensor (again), has you covered, here.
China says it can’t end North Korea’s nuclear program, and that the U.S. is to blame for “inciting conflict on the Korean peninsula,” AP reports this morning from Beijing. The remarks from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying came in response to U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s warning that “China had an ‘important responsibility’ in North Korea.” Evidently the Chinese disagree despite one American think tanker’s opinion that “Beijing apparently has very little real leverage” over the North. More here.
As the diplomacy piece shakes out this week (and likely well beyond), South Korean officials say Pyongyang is on the verge of testing another nuke in one of its believed-to-be-unused underground tunnels “at its main Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where the five previous atomic explosions took place.” Replied arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis: “Often reports like this are just post-test jitters but no reason they couldn’t.”
The Philippines president wants USSOF off Jolo and Basilan islands, he told reporters this morning in the capital of Manila. Rodrigo Dutertes’ stated reason: “Islamic extremists [from the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf] would constantly try to kill or kidnap them for ransom,” AP reports. Duterte “did not mention any deadline or give other details.”
For a bit of background, Reuters has this: “Some U.S. special forces have been killed in the southern Philippines since 2002, when Washington deployed soldiers to train and advise local units fighting Abu Sayyaf in Operation Enduring Freedom, part of its global anti-terror strategy. At the height of that, some 1,200 Americans were in Zamboanga City and on Jolo and Basilan islands, both strongholds of Abu Sayyaf, which is known for its brutality and for earning huge sums of money from hostage-taking. The U.S. program was discontinued in the Philippines in 2015 but a small troop presence has remained for logistics and technical support.”
The possible relevance of old wounds: “In his speech to officials on Monday, Duterte repeated comments from last week when he accused the United States of committing atrocities against Muslims over a century ago on Jolo island.” More from Reuters, here.
From Defense One
Special Operators Are Getting a New Autonomous Tactical Drone // Tech Editor Patrick Tucker: A prototype microdrone that maps a building’s rooms will change the urban battlefield.
These Swarming Drones Launch from a Fighter Jet’s Flare Dispensers // Defense One’s Caroline Houck: The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office is building — and rapidly improving — them with commercial parts and 3D-printed fuselages.
Six Steps to Starting Over After a Civil War // Luiz Romero, via Quartz: How do you dismantle the animosities of a half-century war and create peace in a country known for its absence?
Nuclear Test No. 5: How North Korea’s Compares to Other Countries’ // The Council on Foreign Relations’ Jeffrey Lewis (aka the Arms Control Wonk): Here’s what other nuclear powers achieved, and what that reveals about Kim Jong Un’s progress.
North Korea Is Not Afraid of the International Community // CFR’ Scott Snyder: With sanctions having no effect, few options remain short of regime change and acquiescence to Pyongyang as a permanent nuclear power.
The US Hires Its First Cybersecurity Director // NextGov’s Mohana Ravindranath: A retired Air Force one-star will be the first to hold the job, which was created in the wake of the OPM hack.
Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 2001, NATO’s members invoked Article 5 of its treaty for the first, and so far only, time. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
The role of the U.S. National Guard is changing, CNAS’ Wendy Anderson wrote in CNN Sunday while the annual conference of the National Guard Association of the United States gets underway in Baltimore where GOP 2016 contender Donald Trump is set to speak this afternoon.
So how has that role changed, exactly? The Global War on Terror has turned a light on the growing population of citizen soldiers wearing dual hats, which form “the connective tissue bridging the civil-military divide,” Anderson writes. “Integral members of communities across America assume the mantle of service through the Guard; from your child’s teacher to your next-door neighbor, the Guard provides new perspectives and unique skills gained through a diversity of experiences that complement the active force. The sacrifices paid by the reserve component echo throughout America’s communities, illustrating the duty and service assumed by the nation’s oldest fighting force.”
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James agreed in her remarks at the conference Saturday: “There’s no single institution that has been transformed in the last 15 years as much, I think, as the National Guard has been transformed,” she said. “During the Cold War, the Guard was a strategic reserve; but, of course, today you are fully an operational force by design, moving toward even more seamless integration with the active component.”
But presently, James said, “Our active duty force today is the smallest it has ever been since we became a separate service in the year 1947… Our active duty end strength is 200,000 people fewer than it was back in the 1990s.” More on James’ remarks Saturday, via Air Force Times, here.
The U.S. Army is trying to kick out a decorated Green Beret who paralyzed himself attempting to save “a drowning girl in stormy seas a short distance from his boat” in Florida while (at the time) mildly intoxicated with alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines, The Daily Beast’s Kim Dozier reports. The problem, she writes, is the long-tabber tried reaching out to him command “to find a different way to cope with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury,” but was rebuffed when the unit “den[ied] Brumit had any serious psychological, neurological, or substance abuse problems at all.” Catch the full story, here.
On the bright side of the injured veterans coin, U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman reports from Rio of former West Point cadet Jennifer Schuble’s long journey back to the track, this time as a “member of the U.S. Paralympic road and track cyclist racing team.”
Her detoured path: “By her junior year she had made a formal commitment to the Army and, motivated by close family members serving in the military, decided she wanted to fly helicopters as close to the front lines as possible.”
But, Shinkman writes, “All of that was ripped away from her that year, when she suffered one traumatic brain injury, or TBI, during training at West Point and another in a car crash that crushed her right arm. A few years later she would be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which severely impaired her stamina, motor functions and memory. Schuble was eventually medically discharged from the military and told her diminished mental and physical faculties would forever change her life and prevent her from participating in competitive sports.” Long read, but worth the click, here.
Lastly today: We go back 40 years for a bit of military tech history with the story of Russian pilot Viktor Belenko’s defection on September 6, 1976, when he delivered a secretive and little-understood MiG-25 to a concrete-and-asphalt runway in the Japanese city of Hakodate. The episode proved to be a cause for relief, at least for U.S. military planners, when the MiG-25 was analyzed more closely than previous satellite imagery permitted at the time. Up until that day, the Pentagon thought Moscow had a jet that could outrun and outmaneuver its best missiles. American military officials “knew it would be very fast, and also thought it would be very manoeuvrable,” said Stephen Trimble, the US editor of Flightglobal. “They were right about the first one, but not so right about the second one.” Read on at the BBC, here.