Colombia says no to FARC peace deal; Taliban re-enter Kunduz; Moscow plans 40-million-person drill; Army searches for a squadbot; and just a bit more.

Shock in Bogota. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos faces an unexpected crisis the day after voters rejected, by the narrowest of margins, a peace deal with FARC rebels whose insurgency dragged on for more than five decades, killed 220,000 people, and displaced another 6 million.

CNN: “Likened to the fallout from the United Kingdom’s ‘Brexit’ referendum, the vote’s unexpected failure has left the Colombian political classes reeling and unsure how to respond in order to save four years of hard negotiation with the Marxist militia.”

The four things that Colombian voters said “no” to, according to AFP: impunity (some rebels would have been given amnesty under the deal, others would have received reduced sentences for war crimes); communism (“no” party leaders cited Castro and Chavez as reason enough to reject the deal); the president; and voting (turnout was just 37 percent).

The bright side: “Both sides vowed they would not go back to fighting,” The New York Times reported.

The FARC reax: “The FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build toward the future,” Rodrigo Londoño, the FARC leader, said in a statement. “With today’s result, we know that our challenge as a political party is even greater and requires more effort to build a stable and lasting peace.”

So, what’s next? That’s what nearly all the headlines ask this morning. The Times writes that Colombian lawmakers are open to the idea of tightening the reconciliation terms, such as they are. More here.

Taliban re-enter Kunduz, advance in Helmand. “Almost exactly a year after they briefly seized it in their biggest success of the 15-year war,” the Taliban are back in northern Kunduz province, entering Kunduz City in a night offensive and are now moving house-to-house “enriching themselves” on what they find and using residents as human shields, Reuters reports and Stars and Stripes reports.

How it may have happened: “The fighters appear to have slipped through a defensive security line set up around Kunduz, entering the city itself from four directions before clashes broke out,” witnesses said.

Despite helicopters overhead amid the sound of gunfire in the city, “there was little actual fighting as security forces held back from confrontation in the city center,” Reuters writes.

Here’s some footage purporting taken from a local police commander from a Taliban assault on an Afghan security forces position in KC.

Also this morning, the Taliban also advanced one district closer to the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, in the south. The militants managed to kill a district police chief in the process, Afghan officials said.

Both attacks occured “as Afghan officials prepare for a major donor conference in Tuesday and Wednesday in Brussels, where they will set out their vision for reform in hopes of securing continued financial and political backing from the international community,” Stripes reports. “Donors are expected to pledge $3 billion through 2020, on top of the roughly $5 billion a year it receives, mostly from the United States, to cover defense costs.” More here and here.

Moscow warns Washington of “tectonic shifts” in the Middle East if the U.S. military attacks Assad’s forces in Syria. “Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying that a U.S. intervention against the Syrian army ‘will lead to terrible, tectonic consequences not only on the territory of this country but also in the region on the whole,’” AP reported Sunday. “She said regime change in Syria would create a vacuum that would be ‘quickly filled’ by ‘terrorists of all stripes.’”

And more Aleppo hospitals were bombed by Assad allied aircraft over the weekend. AP has the dismal roll-up, here.

Is there any way the international community can stop the Aleppo offensive? Highly doubtful, writes Ryan Goodman at Just Security. But if an outside party, like Saudi Arabia or the U.S., chooses to arm rebels in direct response to the Aleppo offensive, it could trigger an international war crime enforcement mechanism. He breaks down the precedents and opinions for and against such a “trigger,” here.

So what does Putin have to show for his now year-long troop investment in Syria? Quite a lot, actually, the BBC reports. “Ultimately, the Russian goal is to lock in gains for Syria via ceasefires, while slow-rolling the negotiations to the point that true opposition to the Syrian regime expires on the battlefield, leaving no viable alternatives for the West in this conflict come 2017.”

Here’s a plan for winding down Syria, and it’s even simplified down to three key elements: surge, freeze and enforce. The plan concerns how to move forward for at least the next 30 days, and it comes from Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, writing in War on the Rocks.

The skinny: “This entire alternative policy scenario is not aimed at overthrowing Assad from power militarily, but it instead merely seeks to generate an improved context for a potentially more viable negotiation process. In the event that Assad still refused to engage constructively with a political process, the United States and its allied partners would re-energize hard-nosed diplomatic efforts to constrain the regime’s room for maneuver, while sustaining the threat of punitive measures for flagrant war crimes. Over time, it is hard to imagine this increased pressure not having at least induce some recalculation of interests.” Read the rest, here.

Euphrates Shield update: Turkey just lost 15 or so of its rebels to fighting ISIS in northern Syria. AP: “Turkish military officials said 15 Syrian opposition fighters were killed and about 35 were wounded in the fighting, which seeks to capture seven residential districts south of the town of al-Rai. According to an emailed statement, “intense” clashes had taken place in the regions of Boztepe, Hardanah and Turkmen Bari. The statement said the casualties occurred over the last 24 hours.” More here.

The apocalypse watch continues as Turkey’s offensive marches on to Dabiq, where ISIS tells its supporters the world will end. A rebel leader told Reuters this morning he hopes to enter Dabiq in 48 hours, but a dense array of mines could slow that advance. Retaking Dabiq is seen by U.S. military officials as a potentially very key strike at the Islamic State’s morale ahead of operations to retake their HQs in Raqqa, Syria, as well as their Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. More here.


From Defense One

Beyond Big Dog: The US Army Searches for an Infantry Squadbot // Tech Editor Patrick Tucker: Service officials have a concept of operations and a plan to deploy a cargo-carrying robot with dismounted soldiers in 2019. But can the acquisition system keep up?

Unpredictability Is the Biggest Threat Facing America’s Army // AUSA President Carter Ham: Foes are increasing their reach in unexpected ways, while budget whiplash at home is needlessly draining the force of time and resources.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1942, a German V-2 rocket became the first manmade object to reach space. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


Iran unveiled a new drone based on a captured U.S. RQ-170. “On Oct. 1, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) unveiled a new combat unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) during an expo showcasing the latest UAV projects of IRGC’s Aerospace Division,” The Aviationist reported this weekend. “Belonging to the Simorgh class, the new drone is a long-range unmanned aerial vehicle capable of carrying four precision-guided bombs, modeled on the American RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone captured in 2011.” More on the known specs and a recent history of Iranian-acquired drones, here.

“Strings attached” to U.S. fighter jet deal with Bahrain. With the massive U.S. aid package to Israel cleared, eyes are turning now to additional Middle East aid to neighboring countries like Bahrain—a country without the best human rights record, and also home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet—Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reported: “The Obama administration has told Congress it won’t complete approval for Bahrain to buy as many as 19 F-16 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin Corp. and upgrades for older ones for almost $4 billion until the Gulf ally demonstrates progress on human rights… The declaration of concern, which doesn’t specify what steps Bahrain would have to take, was included in a draft notification of the pending sale that the administration sent to Congress on Wednesday.”

Other proposed sales to the region include “as many as 72 Boeing F-15 jets to Qatar and as many as 32 of the company’s F/A-18 E/F fighters to Kuwait,” though neither country has the strings attached that Bahrain reportedly has. More on all that, here.

Apropos of nothing: Russia is about to begin a big—and we mean big—exercise, if Russian media reports are to be believed. How big? More than 40 million people, including “abnormal emergency rescue teams.” The exercise begins Tuesday and runs through Friday. More here.

And in case you were wondering, Moscow has the ability to put 100 percent of its residents underground. That one—also via state media—from late last week, here.  

Reminder: When it comes to warfare, underground tunnels are very much of a thing of today’s ISIS fight, Military Times reported ahead of the long-anticipated Mosul offensive. Read their fascinating take on how such tunnels complicate ground offensives, and where ISIS tunnels have already been found across Iraq and Syria—here.

(Also, from last year: ISIS is using tunnel bombs in Iraq from Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber.)

Lastly today: From Mosul to the Marines. It’s the story of Amanda Issa, whose “family escaped Mosul because of the rising threat of the Islamic State group. They stayed in a refugee camp in Turkey for almost a year before moving to Michigan in 2011, a move made for the hope of better education and more opportunities for the three children,” the U.S. Marine Corps’ Lance Cpl. Aaron Bolser writes.

Amanda is a PFC now, having recently graduated boot camp at Parris Island. “Now, to be called a Marine is unbelievable,” she said shortly after making the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony. “Yeah, being a U.S. citizen is great, but I came here to be a Marine.” More (but not a lot), here.

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