Sarajevo. Grozny. Guernica. Now Aleppo? “Aleppo is to Syria what Sarajevo was to Bosnia, or what Guernica was to the Spanish war,” Francois Delattre, France’s ambassador to the UN said this weekend. Moscow is alleged by Delattre’s UK counterpart, Matthew Rycroft, of using not only incendiary and cluster bombs in Aleppo, but bunker-busters, too—a war crime when unleashed on civilian targets—“in an unusually blunt session [at the UN Security Council], as hopes of any form of ceasefire were flattened by the scale and ferocity of the Syrian regime’s assault on eastern Aleppo,” The Guardian reported Sunday.
In recent days, death tolls in Aleppo alone have reportedly climbed to well over 200, and possibly more than 400—though it’s impossible to know who might still be buried under the rubble of those apparent bunker-busters, which level entire buildings in a single strike and send shock-waves far from the point of impact, The Wall Street Journal reports. Assad’s recent vow to retake all of Aleppo, they write, shows “that he aims to win the war militarily despite repeated efforts by the U.S. and Russia to reach a lasting cease-fire and a diplomatic solution.”
“This week will go down in history as the one in which diplomacy failed and barbarism triumphed,” Delattre said.
Delattre echoed the words of his U.S. counterpart, Samantha Power, who said of Moscow’s help in the Syrian regime’s Friday-announced offensive: “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter terrorism, it is barbarism.”
Said one council member of opposition-held Aleppo to Reuters: “The planes are not leaving the skies at all…Life in the city is paralyzed. Everyone is cooped up in their homes, sitting in the basements. These missiles are even targeting the basements and shelters that we’d set up to protect people.”
But despite all this, don’t count Moscow as a cease-fire spoiler, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this morning.
Quick word on war crimes: Can the history of genocide (as a legal construct) teach us anything about the trajectory of Syria’s war? It does help bring brutal dictators to justice—but it often takes decades. Witness Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, former Liberian president Charles Taylor, and “Kang Kek Iew, Nuon Chea, and Khieu Samphan, three leaders of the Khmer Rouge, [who] may never have faced justice,” writes Michael Byers, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia, writing in Foreign Affairs. His take was part of a review of a recent book on international law.
Over the weekend, China’s UN ambassador declared Beijing’s support for Assad’s Aleppo offensive and its goal of eliminating all “terrorists” from the region.
The situation isn’t just locally bad, it’s geostrategically bad: “While there are many reasons for the declining relations between the West and Russia, Syria is now arguably the primary factor,” write analysts at the Soufan Group in their Monday morning intel brief.
Worth revisiting: “Here’s Why the UN Sat on Its Hands During 5 Years of War in Syria,” from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stewart Patrick, writing in Defense One back in January. Patrick limns years of discontent with the UNSC veto, reminding readers: “The Security Council is effective at protecting and advancing the interests of the P5. But, intended to provide order over justice, it fails those caught in the middle of great power conflict. That’s not just a failure of performance. It’s a failure by design.”
Food for thought: Does GDP matter? Perhaps not, says Max Fisher of The New York Times, who notes that Russia’s is now lower than Spain’s. Also: Fisher has penned a superb primer for the most basic questions about the Syrian conflict, which you can find here.
Over in Iraq, the Mosul offensive has quickly become a mess of many motives, AP reported Sunday. “The most immediate question will be whether Shiite militias and Kurdish forces will join the assault into mainly Sunni Arab Mosul. It’s a sensitive issue. Shiite militias have been accused of abuses against Sunnis in other areas they have retaken from the Islamic State group. If Kurds capture parts of the city, it gives them a strong card in future negotiations over the territory they hold. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said all forces will participate in the Mosul operation, a nod to Kurdish and Shiite militia demands.”
The catch: “At a news conference last week, [Abadi] also said Iraqi military decisions must respect the delicate ethnic balance in Nineveh province, where most of the population is Sunni Arab, with pockets of Kurds, Shiites, Christians, Yazidis and other minority groups.” More here.
ICYMI: Defense One’s Kevin Baron has an eye-opening interview with the chief of the Kurds’ Peshmerga forces, conducted at an Iraqi base where multinational forces are marshaling for the drive on Mosul. Read that, here.
A 20-year-old immigrant from Turkey opened fire on people at a Macy’s make-up counter in a mall north of Seattle on Friday, triggering a manhunt after he departed the scene without being apprehended by authorities. By Sunday, the man—Arcan Cetin—was in custody, and federal investigators are not ruling out terrorism as a motive.
One line of inquiry that may be getting more attention in terrorism investigations: history of domestic violence, as Cetin’s court history is suggesting. Dive a little deeper into the subject with WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, which broached the subject late last week, here.
From Defense One
Lisa Monaco is speaking at the 2016 Defense One Summit; you should come. The White House’s homeland security advisor will share the agenda with Army Secretary Eric Fanning, USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, and many other national-security leaders on Thurs., Nov. 17, in Washington, D.C. Register here.
Maritime Tensions Grow Between Rising China and Rearming Japan // Quartz’ Steve Mollman: The most dangerous flashpoint in the South China Sea could be a Japanese warship, not a disputed isle.
Yemen Has Become the Graveyard of the Obama Doctrine // Samuel Oakford and Peter Salisbury, via The Atlantic: The human costs of facilitating Saudi Arabia’s proxy war have been enormous, and there’s no end in sight.
Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1983, Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov averted global nuclear war by correctly identifying a report of an inbound nuclear missile as a computer error rather than what it appeared to be: a first strike from Washington. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Speaking of tensions rising between China and Japan: The Japanese military scrambled at least one fighter jet to meet eight incoming Chinese warplanes flying near disputed islands in the East China Sea. Citing Chinese state media, CNN reported that the eight were part of a 40-aircraft exercise, which “included H-6K bombers, Su-30 fighters, and air tankers” that were practicing reconnaissance, anti-ship attacks, and in-flight refueling. Japanese officials said it was the first time Chinese aircraft had ventured into the Miyako Strait, which separates Okinawa and the Miyako islands near Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the U.S and South Korea are pushing allies and friends to apply pressure on North Korea. Reuters: “From kicking out North Korean workers and ending visa-free travel for its citizens, to stripping flags of convenience from its ships, Cold War-era allies from Poland to Mongolia are taking measures to squeeze the isolated country.” But there’s only so much they can do against a country with so few ties to the outside world that it has only a few dozen web sites. Read on, here.
Still, even Beijing is on board, now that Pyongyang has lit off a fifth nuclear test. Reuters, again: “China is investigating executives of a North Korean bank believed to finance the illicit procurement of arms and materials related to the isolated country’s banned nuclear program, South Korea’s JoongAng Daily reported on Monday.”
Back home, the U.S. is prepping another developmental test of its Ground Based Interceptor system. Bloomberg: “The planned test in early 2017 to shoot down a dummy target replicating the threat from an intercontinental ballistic missile will be the first since a successful interception in June 2014. And that, in turn, was the first success since a test in 2008, which was followed by two failures in 2010 and an extensive effort to fix flaws with the interceptor’s warhead.”
The Bibi bump. Ahead of this evening’s first presidential debates, both candidates took time out of their Sunday’s to speak in person with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump went first, meeting Bibi early in the day at Trump Tower in New York; Hillary sat down with Netanyahu in the evening “for less than an hour in Manhattan,” AP reports.
The meeting, of course, afforded both Clinton and Trump an opportunity to “showcase the candidates’ expertise in foreign policy in the shadow of their first debate Monday, six weeks before Election Day. Clinton, a former senator and secretary of state, often says that Trump does not know enough about the world and lacks the temperament to be president. Trump has argued that he has extensive experience with foreign policy through his career as a business executive and blames Clinton for many of the nation’s stumbles in foreign policy.”
In case you’ve been under a rock for a while, this evening’s showdown promises to net “Super-bowl size ratings,” Forbes reported Sunday.
Houthi “special forces” leader reportedly killed. The Saudi-led coalition said this weekend that it killed a Maj. Gen. “Hassan Almalsi, head of Houthi special forces…while attempting to infiltrate” along with a squad of troops across the border and into Najran, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday.
And whaddya know, on Sunday Houthi officials in Yemen offered up a border truce and amnesty “for Yemeni fighters opposing the group if the kingdom stopped air strikes and lifted a near blockade on the country,” Reuters reports, adding, “The move falls short of demands by Yemen’s government and their backers in Saudi Arabia, but offers rare hope for a pause to 18 months of fighting which has killed at least 10,000 people and pushed impoverished Yemen toward famine.”
The fig leaf: In exchange for “stopping the aggression against our country by land, sea and air, stopping the air strikes and lifting the siege imposed on our country, in return (we will) stop combat operations on the border,” said Saleh al-Samad, who leads a Houthi-backed political council.
For what it’s worth: “Two shaky truces accompanied previous efforts mediated by the United Nations to end the conflict, and the leader of the Houthi group warned last week that the conflict would last ‘God knows how long.’”
The Saudi response: “the conflict is an internal Yemeni matter and that it will not negotiate with the Houthis.” More here.
Boko Haram’s loose nut. A “man purporting to be Boko Haram leader taunts Nigerian military in video,” Reuters writes of Abubakar Shekau, who posted a 40-minute video vowing not to die until his time comes.
Nigeria’s military has claimed to have killed or mortally wounded Shekau multiple times, Reuters reports, but—as these whac-a-mole ops tend to go from time to time—those strikes may not have actually finished the job.
Finally today: a serious question—“Why Were Two F-117s Flying Over Nevada?” asks Popular Mechanics of “the stealthy attack aircraft made its name in 1991 during the first Gulf War,” but which was retired by the Air Force in 2008.
Oh, the possibilities… “What exactly were these ‘retired’ attack aircraft doing? It’s impossible to know for sure, although it is known that a handful of the five dozen retired Nighthawks are maintained for research and testing purposes. The stealthy jet could be used to test and develop new ground-based radar systems or surface-to-air tracking systems. The Air Force could also be testing new systems on the aircraft, such as fighter radar or infrared search and track systems. The Aviationist even suggested that one of the spotted F-117s might have been flying without a pilot—conjecture based on the fact that one of the planes appears to not have a communications antenna on its dorsal spine.” Read the rest, here.