Russia, in a hurry in Syria; Trump’s VP pick strays on foreign policy; How Army leaders envision future war; Drone-export pact in the works; and just a bit more…

Putin is “in a hurry” in Syria, eager to lock in the (slim) gains made against rebels—but more importantly, he seems anxious to show the West it cannot depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad without risking major confrontation with Moscow’s military, The New York Times reports.

Russia sent two cruise-missile-equipped corvettes to the Med, padding its flotilla of at least six warships and three or four support vessels off Syria’s coast. Moscow’s only aircraft carrier, the Adm. Kuznetsov is also due to arrive in mid-October.

The UN wants you to see Aleppo, so it released imagery this morning to illustrate the devastation in the rebel-held east. It’s not pretty.

See also this east-west Aleppo comparison, via the Washington Post, filmed by drones.

The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reported Tuesday on a “secret” plan to bomb Assad’s air force that, of course, is not so secret anymore. But when you look at the details, it seemingly hardly stood a chance. Rogin writes that new, still-classified options under consideration at the White House “include bombing Syrian air force runways using cruise missiles and other long-range weapons fired from coalition planes and ships…covertly and without public acknowledgment.”

The fact that such plans are under the microscope now was evident in Tuesday’s press conference at the Pentagon with spokesman Peter Cook, who confirmed, bluntly: “They have air defense systems in Syria. We’ve seen them.”

For what it’s worth, here’s a look at where some of those systems were in the months before the uprising began in 2011.

One lingering question from Cook’s presser: Isn’t Russia’s new SA-23 anti-missile system a threat to the U.S. military in Syria? “Well, it depends on how the Russians plan to use it,” Cook replied dryly.

Meantime, U.S. special forces are en route to Azaz, Syria, slowly closing in on al-Bab and Dabiq. Reuters snapped a few pictures of the guys, which you can find here.

GOP presidential contender Donald Trump shared his read on Aleppo with a crowd in Arizona last night. It was surprising for two reasons: (1) Trump blamed Russia for (presumably) breaking the cessation of hostilities agreement reached around Sept. 22, but which quickly faltered as Assad renewed his offensive on Aleppo. And the second reason Trump’s take was notable, if not surprising, was his cavalier manner about the present situation.

Trump: “Russia broke the deal, and now they’re shooting, they’re bombing, something like that,” Reuters reports Trump told a rally in Prescott Valley, Arizona. “It should end and it should end fast.”

And oh, by the way, the Russian ambassador to the UK offered this window on why the Russian air force bombs hospitals in Aleppo.

Little-known fact: we happen to be in the middle of the biggest lull in ISIS original-video-propaganda releases since 2014, terrorism scholar Charlie Winter noted this morning. It seems a mildly safe assumption that taking out the group’s chief propagandist, Adnani, in late August contributed to the gap.

Here are some recent pictures of ISIS with U.S.-made weapons in Iraq—via C.J. Chivers of The New York Timeshere, here and here.

The Pence-Trump foreign policy dissonance. Mike Pence, Republican governor of Indiana and Donald Trump’s vice-presidential pick, brought a polished TV-ready game to the one and only VP debate of the election season Tuesday night. He just may not have brought the same set of foreign policy notes that his presidential running mate works with. He parted from Trump on a number of key issues, including a notably aggressive stance toward the Russian military in Syria, as well as advocating for military strikes against the Assad regime.

CNN: Pence’s answers “seemingly put him at odds with running mate Donald Trump, who has largely advocated a pullback from foreign conflicts and requiring US allies to take on more of their own defense. It also lines him up more closely with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and his debate opponent, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, both of whom have advocated a Syrian no-fly zone.”

“Pence has a 180 degree different foreign policy to Russia than Trump has. They need to debate each other,” tweeted Laura Rozen of al-Monitor.

“When it comes to foreign policy, Pence is not a Trump guy, pure and simple,” said Kathleen Hicks of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Washington Post has more on how Pence went “far, far beyond Trump on Syria,” here.

The Daily Beast’s forward-leaning headline: “Pence Ditches Trump, Launches His Own 2020 Run.”

ISIS claimed responsibility for the IED attack Tuesday in eastern Nangarhar province that killed one U.S. service member, Reuters reports this morning. To the north, residents are reportedly fleeing Kunduz City after the Taliban re-emerged there early this week. The U.S.-led coalition may have been a little presumptuous shortly after fighters re-entered KC, releasing a statement on Tuesday that claimed the city was back under Afghan security forces’ control. The Long War Journal has a bit more on that quick push-back in the IO domain, here.


From Defense One

Army Warns that Future War with Russia or China Would Be ‘Extremely Lethal and Fast’ // Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston: Leaders say warfare in the coming decades will be fundamentally different from the past 25 years.

Pentagon Fronts Bomb Buys For Allies Fighting ISIS // Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber: A special budget account is being used to boost weapons production ahead of allies’ formal orders.

In Colombia’s Hope, Afghanistan’s Future // Alex Thier and Scott Worden: Donors meeting in Brussels should remember Colombia in the 1990s looked a lot like Afghanistan today.

UK Is Crowdsourcing Its Swarming Drone Attacks // Quartz’ Mike Murphy: It’s looking for ways to allow a single soldier to control up to 20 drones at once.

Private Companies Shouldn’t Be The Ones Crying ‘State-Sponsored Hack!’ // Via NextGov, Kristen Eichensehr: If the U.S. government doesn’t start officially attributing cyberattacks, it risks losing control of the narrative and evolving legal norms.

Syria Is the Thread That Russia Is Pulling to Unravel International Order // Thanassis Cambanis, via The Atlantic: The U.S. must act soon, or see its post-WWII work come apart.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1905, Wilbur Wright flew the Wright Flyer III 24 miles, a distance longer than all the previous two years’ flights combined. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


The White House wants rules on the export of armed drones, and it’s “working with as many as 40 nations to develop principles for the export of armed drones—and unarmed versions configured to carry weapons—in recognition of the booming demand worldwide for pilotless aircraft,” Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reports this morning ahead of a pending announcement from the State Department.

Signatories to the agreement include the U.K., Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

Notable nations not currently listed as signatories: Russia, China and Israel.

An administration official tells The D Brief: “The Declaration is a political commitment by its signatories that underscores growing international consensus that UAVs are subject to international law and stresses the need for transparency about exports, and represents an important first step towards comprehensive international standards for the transfer and subsequent use of UAVs. This Joint Declaration will serve as the basis for discussions on a more detailed set of international standards for the export and subsequent use of armed or strike-enabled UAVs, which the United States and its partners will convene in Spring 2017.” More from Bloomberg, here.

Russia is deploying new sensors and submarines with new capabilities in the Arctic, The Wall Street Journal reports. What feeds the worry? Russia’s naval activity near Syria, when, “late last year, it fired 26 medium-range cruise missiles at targets in Syria from four warships in the Caspian Sea. Two months later, a Russian advanced Kilo-class stealth submarine shot cruise missiles at targets in Syria from the Mediterranean Sea.”

In response, the Journal writes, Norway will “need better surveillance to monitor Russia’s increasingly quiet submarines, as well as its planes and ships” while also “looking to replace Norway’s fleet of six Ula class submarines with four higher-tech submarines and invest in new maritime-patrol aircraft with a view to retiring an aging fleet of P-3s.”

The U.S. response includes investments “in so-called acoustic-superiority technology for its submarines to make them harder to detect.” More here.

And while we’re on Russia, U.S. diplomats have been having a tough go of their work inside the borders of their formal Cold War foe. And now we have a new, if unsurprising, example from November, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday.

The highlights: “The U.S. government official told RFE/RL that U.S. investigators concluded that the two Americans—a man and a woman—were slipped a so-called date rape drug, most likely at a bar in the St. Petersburg hotel where they were staying. One of the Americans was incapacitated and brought to a Western medical clinic in the city for treatment, and to have blood and tissue samples taken in order to determine precisely what caused the sudden illness. However, while the person was at the clinic, the electricity suddenly went out and the staff was unable to obtain the necessary tissue samples.” More here.

Lastly today: From royalty to mental health advocate. “Prince Harry says he wants to dedicate the rest of his life to working with ex-servicemen fighting mental health problems, as he reveals he feels lucky to have escaped Afghanistan alive,” The Telegraph reported ahead of a thousand-mile walk across Britain with fellow soldiers.

Mental health is a sensitive subject but it doesn’t need to be,” he said. “We need to talk about it more, get rid of the stigma. What better people to bring that to the forefront than these guys? They are mentally strong and they are willing to talk about it.” More here.

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