Fighting in the Mosul offensive has become increasingly urban, and increasingly brutal. So much so that Iraqi officials are now describing the fighting as a “nightmare,” Reuters reports. ISIS fighters in the vicinity of the city are making determined use of snipers, tunnels, and suicide bombers, as they appear to be “able to strike at will, often at night, denying the troops rest and rattling frayed nerves.”
One big contributing factor: Iraqi troops are fighting off suicide bombers that pop out of tunnels in threes, AFP reports.
Making matters worse is the way ISIS fighters can melt into the civilian population fleeing ISIS’s grip. And that means a suicide bomber can strike with little or no warning.
“Our soldiers can’t recognize them until it’s too late, when the attacker either detonates his explosive vest or throws a grenade. It’s becoming a nightmare and it’s nerve-wracking for the soldiers,” one officer from Iraq’s 9th Armored Division said, adding that he lost two T-72 tanks and an armored vehicle in a single day’s fighting on Tuesday. “In Mosul, we have to advance inside residential areas, comb streets, clear houses from terrorists and deal with civilians. I’m afraid this job is too tough for us to handle.”
To further illustrate the point, as Reuters was reporting this, they heard this radio chatter from the Iraqis: “Sir, there are so many civilians, they have these suitcases with them as well. How do I know what’s in them? And they’re coming towards me…”
Another exhausting tactic: “send consecutive waves of small units—about 50 strong—against the troops so they could never let down their guard. The militants call the operation ‘crashing waves.’ Each unit includes suicide bombers, snipers, assault fighters, and what they call infiltrators, as well as logistics and mortar experts.” Read the rest, here.
One thing that hasn’t changed: The ISF are still locating and removing ISIS stockpiles of explosives and rockets as the Mosul march continues.
President-elect Donald Trump has lost no time putting forth a list of 29 “first 100 days” priorities. Among those of particular potential impact on national security are a proposed “Restoring National Security Act” that “rebuilds our military by eliminating the defense sequester and expanding military investment; provides Veterans with the ability to receive public VA treatment or attend the private doctor of their choice; protects our vital infrastructure from cyber-attack…” Trump says he will also “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur” and establish “new screening procedures for immigration to ensure those who are admitted to our country support our people and our values.” (How tight is the current multilayered system? Pretty tight. Read D1’s rundown from last year, here.)
Several items also promise to accelerate climate change by increasing fossil fuel production and halting funds to related UN programs. Lest we forget, the Pentagon “recognizes the reality of climate change and the significant risk it poses to U.S. interests globally,” according to a 2015 report ordered by Congress, and commanders have been ordered to plan for its effects from instability in foreign countries to more frequent flooding and harsher storms at home. (ICYMI: In September, 25 military and national security experts, including outgoing AUSA president Gordon Sullivan and former advisers to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, warned that climate change poses a “‘significant risk to US national security and international security’ that requires more attention from the US federal government.”)
Meanwhile, the national-security establishment waits to see how Trump will square the oft-contradictory promises he made on the campaign trail. Defense One’s Kevin Baron has a rundown of open questions.
Serving U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Ash Carter, have, of course, vowed a smooth transition to the Trump Administration. Intelligence community leaders have already begun giving presidential-level briefings to the next commander-in-chief. But they do so with misgivings, reports the Washington Post: “A palpable sense of dread settled on the intelligence community Wednesday as Hillary Clinton, the candidate many expected to win, conceded the race to a GOP upstart who has dismissed U.S. spy agencies’ views on Russia and Syria, and even threatened to order the CIA to resume the use of interrogation methods condemned as torture.”
As we wait to see who might fill the top slots in Trump’s national-security team, Foreign Policy takes a few guesses, while the Daily Beast says it might be tough to find qualified people. (Doctrine Man!!’s take: “Give it time. Before you know it, people are going to be lining up to fill those jobs.”)
From Defense One
We’re one week away from the Defense One Summit. Now, more than ever, you’ll want to come hear USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Army Secretary Eric Fanning, White House counterterrorism advisor Lisa Monaco, DARPA chief Arati Prabhakar, and many other national-security leaders. Washington D.C., Thurs., Nov. 17, in Washington, D.C Register here.
Now What? Trump’s Long List of National Security Unknowns // Kevin Baron: Nobody knows what the president-elect will do about ISIS, NATO, or the size and shape of the U.S. military and intelligence workforce.
Defense Stocks Soar on News of Trump Victory // Marcus Weisgerber: In early trading, the new commander in chief’s promises to rebuild the American military are helping defense stocks buck the wider market plunge.
Will Trump Keep Obama’s Top Mideast General? // Ben Watson: As candidate, he vowed to demand a new anti-ISIS war plan in 30 days. Here’s the top commander who could answer the call—or be fired.
Yes, Big Data Did Triumph on Election Day // Patrick Tucker: One computer forecasting system predicted Trump’s victory — the one with the least human input.
Welcome to the Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Happy 241st Birthday, U.S. Marine Corps! (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Syria, the U.S.-led coalition may have killed 20 civilians in an airstrike near the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Kurdish Rudaw news reported Wednesday. “Civilians from the village of al-Hesha told the [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights] of the ‘horrible night’ of the attack and the massive explosions caused by the coalition warplanes. Villagers did not know where to go or what to do amid the confusion and chaos caused by the attack. One entire family was reportedly killed in the attack.”
For what it’s worth: The Observatory also said Wednesday an estimated “132 people, including 46 children and 27 women, were killed by Russian and Syrian airstrikes in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib over the last three weeks.” More here.
In the broader war against ISIS, CENTCOM announced Wednesday it may have killed 64 civilians from 24 separate airstrikes going back to November 20, 2015.
That Raqqa offensive is yielding some relatively positive scenes, like this one from displaced civilians heading into territory liberated by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which reportedly just lost a key Arab contingent, the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister writes this morning.
Russian ships chased away a Dutch sub that had come too close to Moscow’s flotilla off the coast of Syria, the BBC reports off word from the Russian defense ministry—with few details, and even fewer that the Dutch officials would confirm. That, here.
Russia seems to be continuing to hold its fire on Aleppo, The Telegraph’s Josie Ensor reports this morning.
While we’re on Russia, their deputy foreign minister says quite a few Trump people have been staying in touch with Russian reps, the Washington Post reports this morning. “Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with state-run Interfax news. “Those people have always been in the limelight in the United States and have occupied high-ranking positions. I cannot say that all of them but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives. We have just begun to consider ways of building dialogue with the future Donald Trump administration and channels we will be using for those purposes.”
And Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest political advisor Sergey Markov told The Guardian that Russia still denies interfering with the U.S. election, but said “maybe we helped a bit with WikiLeaks.” That, here.
Back stateside, Gitmo and A-10 booster and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte conceded her election in New Hampshire to her Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan, the AP reported Wednesday after a final count gave Hassan a 1,023 vote edge.
What this means for the defense world: “Ayotte was also part of the ‘Three Amigos’ with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who frequently opposed the administration on military matters and foreign policy,” the Washington Examiner’s Jacqueline Klimas wrote Wednesday. “It’s unclear which, if any, new senators may join the committee in the next Congress. Sen.-elect Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who previously served on the House Armed Services Committee, will likely be looking to continue that work in the upper chamber, but analysts said it’s not clear if there will be an open seat for her.”
As well, “Two senior members of the House Armed Services Committee were running for Senate seats and lost those races. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., will not be returning to Washington next year.” More here.
Three former Navy SEALs won elections on Tuesday: Eric Greitens knocked out his Democratic opponent, Missouri’s Attorney General, Chris Koster, to take the state governor’s job, SOFRep wrote Wednesday. “Ryan Zinke, also won re-election as the (only) congressman for Montana in the House of Representatives,” and “Scott Taylor, was also elected to the U.S. House of Representatives on November 8th, from the 2nd congressional district of Virginia.” More on each former SEAL, here.
Happening today: The future of U.S.-Iran relations. The Stimson Center and Trends Research and Advisory are hosting an on-the-record event examining U.S. and regional states’ engagement with Iran in the wake of the nuclear deal—and what the U.S. election means for relations with Tehran. That gets under way at 10:30 am EDT in Washington. Details here.
Lastly today—The U.S. Army’s airborne deterrent is getting a new capability: “an airborne bomb squad that can respond to contingencies around the world as quickly as the 82nd Airborne Division and the Global Response Force,” Army Times reports.
Their jump: “Members of the 767th Ordnance Company, 192nd Ordnance Battalion made history earlier this month by practicing the Army’s first conventional airborne EOD operations with members of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”
The ultimate goal: to have “an EOD battalion that is airborne,” unit commander Capt. Zachary Abood said.
But it’s not all clear skies just yet, since the Army still has to figure “out how to drop a complement of bomb-detecting and disposal equipment from thousands of feet above the ground” in a way that everything still functions as needed. The goal, of course, is to not have a repeat of anything like this now-legendary video from the 173rd wherein a few Humvees burned-in (parachute failure) in Germany back in April.