Key airport seized outside Mosul; Turkish troops move toward al-Bab; Cotton: boost BMD, reassure allies; It’s Defense One Summit day!; and just a bit more…

The Mosul offensive is now one month old, and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units marked the operation’s 31st day—and the second week of their own separate offensive-within-an-offensive—by seizing a key airport some 45 miles west of Mosul in Tal Afar, Kurdish Rudaw news reports. However, a PMU spox told CNN pockets of resistance remain around the airport, and he expects fighting to continue for “the next few hours.”

What this means: The airport in south Tal Afar is now likely to serve as a launchpad for retaking the entire city and the surrounding areas.

On those PMUs: “Fighting towards Tal Afar has so far been the main task for the Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella organisation for pro-government paramilitaries that is dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias,” the Middle East Eye adds. “There has been opposition both inside and outside Iraq to the idea of Shiite militia forces, which have been repeatedly accused of rights violations against Sunnis, being involved in the battle for predominantly Sunni Arab Mosul.”

Stop us if you’re heard this one: “The paramilitary force said Tuesday it has intelligence that [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi is somewhere between al Baaj and Tal Afar. The two cities are about 50 miles (80 kilometers) apart and close to the border with Syria,” CNN added. More here.

Elsewhere near Mosul, heavy cloud cover is slowing Iraqi troops movement this morning, the BBC reports, noting, “although progress is slow, it is steady.”

The Turkish-led Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria enters its 86th day. Troops reportedly recaptured a total of 207 “residential areas” from ISIS, the Turks say as their forces march on ISIS-held al-Bab—once thought to be their staging area for external attacks.

Turkey says it will fully secure the Syria-Turkish border some time early next year, Reuters reports.

The Pentagon said Wednesday that Turkey’s drive on al-Bab is their own little thing, AFP reports. Said coalition spox U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian: “This is something that [Turkey] decided to do independently. What we’d like to do is to continue to work with them to develop a plan where everyone remains focused on [the Islamic State group].”

At one point early in the operation, the U.S. had provided air cover and special operators to Turkish troops. But both have since been nixed, Stars and Stripes reports.

Here are some photos of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces’ offensive on Raqqa, via AFP.

The Turkish interpretation on world events, for an English-speaking audience, is coming to an internet near you. Read all about TRT World news, here.

By the way, Turkish President Erdogan says Turkey is ditching its prime minister post.

Back to Syria: Here’s a word of caution from the UN’s Syrian envoy: Keeping Assad in place will only ensure more Sunni terrorism in the future. The Guardian has an interview with Staffan de Mistura, here.

Was the incident last week in Jordan that led to the deaths of three Green Berets terrorism? The U.S. says yes, but Jordan says no. Story from AP, here.

One last thing from the region: Hezbollah conducted a parade recently showing off U.S.-made armored personnel carriers (thanks, Lebanon?). The Washington Post has more, here.


From Defense One

It’s Defense One Summit day! If you can’t get down to the Washington Marriott Marquis, watch the livestream (registration required, but it’s free). 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. Full agenda here.

War in the Information Age // Gen. Dave Goldfein: The chief of the U.S. Air Force describes a speed-infused future of combined arms — across domains and entire partnerships.

Decision Time: Half of US F-15s Need Overhauls — Or Retirement // Marcus Weisgerber: In a backseat ride over New Hampshire, the Eagle shows why it’s still lethal, yet increasingly expensive.

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day, you should tune into the D1 Summit. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


Trump appears to be getting a National Security Advisor soon: Michael Flynn, NBC News reported Wednesday.  

The conservative Heritage Foundation—broadly seen as having an audience among Trump’s close aides—has offered its annual take on U.S. national defense posture (“weak” and “marginal”), Military Times reported Wednesday.

In another window on Heritage’s report, the Washington Post writes that the Trump camp may have some negotiating to do regarding Russia’s role in global affairs today. WaPo’s skinny: “The threat Moscow poses has increased in the last year and ranges from Central Europe to the Arctic to Syria,” according to Heritage’s report. More here.  

Five days after speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom will get an audience (maybe) on Friday, WaPo also reported Wednesday. That, here.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., calls for Senate investigation into Russian interference in election. The Huffington Post has more, here.

Germany’s top spy is worried about Russian interference in the national elections about 10 months from now. Reuters has that story, here.  

Sen. Tom Cotton: boost BMD, reassure U.S. allies, rebuild the military. Cotton, whose name has been batted around as a possible Trump Administration defense secretary, told the Defense One Summit audience that the U.S.“has the technology” to protect the West Coast from North Korean nuclear missiles, but needs to quickly buy more of it. He also slammed Russia and appeared to back the conventional, non-transactional approach to NATO allies: “The best way to deter [Russian aggression] is to be ironclad in our support of our allies.” But he added, “It would be a good thing if our European allies were spending more than 2% because many have let their military capabilities wither over the past two decades.”

On U.S. nukes: “We need all three legs of the nuclear triad, and to modernize it all. Maybe cut the B-52 and buy enough B-21s to replace it.”

Question for our readers: Any ideas what this aircraft is? Email us with your ideas.

President-elect Trump will inherit a drone program that’s under increasing strain, U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman reports. For example, he writes, consider the recent battle to retake Manbij, Syria, from ISIS in early Summer: “Known in military circles as Remotely Piloted Aircraft or RPA, drones accounted for a third of the air missions during a month-long battle and conducted 663 airstrikes on ground targets, according to U.S. Central Command, the military headquarters that oversees conflicts in the Middle East. And some of their missions endured for 19 hours straight or more, with rotating shifts of pilots commanding the unmanned aircraft from the U.S. and elsewhere.”

The current challenge: U.S. military leaders “are trying to find ways to get more drones into the skies, train more operators and prepare more analysts to process the information they produce.” Full story, here.

The U.S. military has new guidance for airstrikes—or, more properly, the “selection and validation of enemy targets in war”—but the relevant passages are classified. More from the Federation of American Scientists, here.

Lastly today—fake news alert—Big changes coming to the USS Enterprise: “President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would re-purpose the retired aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) into a floating hotel and casino,” the Duffel Blog reported this week.

What’s in store: “Trump’s plans for the decommissioned aircraft carrier include converting the hanger deck into a Lido deck containing multiple beaches, and having twice daily .50-caliber machine-gun firing competitions,” DB writes. “Other amenities include F/A-18 rides on the flight for more adventurous guests, while others can try their hand at operating a nuclear reactor. In addition to receiving first class berthing arrangements, high rollers in the casino will be allowed to fire off a RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missile for a small charge.” More to that whopper, here.

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