What the US is giving Syrian Kurds; Putin hits US missile defense; Making simulators to train robots; What’s wrong with the McMaster oped; and just a bit more…

Another high-ranking ISIS propagandist was reportedly killed in an airstrike “in the city of al-Mayadin in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor,” Newsweek reported. His name: Rayan Meshaal, and he’s allegedly the founder of the Islamic State’s Amaq news agency. SITE Intelligence Group’s Rita Katz also reported on Meshaal’s death Wednesday.

Adds the Associated Press: “Mayadeen has become a refuge for IS leaders as the group comes under attack in Mosul in Iraq and their de-facto capital Raqqa in Syria. Some Syria watchers said the group’s media operations have moved to Mayadeen as the coalition and allied Syrian Kurdish-led forces close in on Raqqa.” More here.

Also in Syria, Iranian-backed soldiers are ratcheting up the pressure on U.S.-backed rebels in the south, the Associated Press reports. The backstory: “Forces backing the Syrian government haven’t left a protected area near Syria’s southern border with Jordan despite repeated warnings from the U.S.-led coalition,” AP writes. “The warnings were included in 90,000 brightly-colored leaflets the U.S. dropped in the area over the weekend.”

What was on the leaflet? “One warns that any movement toward Tanf, a military camp near the Jordanian border where U.S. special operations forces are working with Syrian rebels, ‘will be seen as hostile intent and we will defend our forces.’ It directs the pro-Syrian troops to move back to another checkpoint, outlined in green on the paper. The second leaflet says: ‘You are within an established de-confliction zone, leave the area immediately.’ It also directs them to the checkpoint.”

Reminder: “The U.S. bombed pro-Syrian forces in the region earlier this month, after saying they refused to comply with similar warnings,” AP adds. More here.

Status report on the U.S. military arming the Syrian Kurds: heavy machine guns, and antitank weapons “will be doled out incrementally as objectives are reached,” The New York Times reported Wednesday after coalition spokesman Col. Ryan S. Dillon briefed the media.

Turkey’s reax to the plan: “If we are looking for stability in Syria, we should row back from those mistakes,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday in Ankara. More on that angle from AFP, here.

Status report on the Raqqa offensive: “Thousands of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters have pushed to within about two miles of the city, where American military officials and humanitarian groups are bracing for a bloody, monthslong battle — similar to the fight Iraqi forces have carried out in Mosul,” the Times writes.

“At the same time, the Kurdish and Arab militias, which American Special Operations forces are advising, have been tightening a rough cordon around most of the city, capturing dozens of small towns and villages as they go. The fighters have surrounded Raqqa from the north, the west and the east. The extremists still have an exit from the south, even though the American-led coalition destroyed two southern bridges over the Euphrates River.” More here.

By the way: That U.S.-backed offensive in Syria has pushed some 200,000 citizens from their homes since November, “160,000 in the last two months alone,” The Daily Beast reports.

Mosul offensive latest:ISIL fighters have closed the streets around Mosul’s Grand al-Nuri Mosque,” residents told al-Jazeera, “apparently in preparation for a final showdown in the battle against Iraqi forces over their last major stronghold in the country.” That, here.

A window into the offensive: This recent shot of a booby-trapped row of cars blocking streets in West Mosul looks more than a bit intimidating.


From Defense One

Pentagon: Anti-Missile Weapons Can Keep US Safe Until 2020 // Marcus Weisgerber and Patrick Tucker: The three-star who ran the May 30 test says it proves that U.S. defenses are at least three years ahead of North Korea’s ICBMs.

Everything That’s Wrong With That McMaster Op-Ed // David Frum: In an op-ed, the Trump administration’s ‘adults in the room’ portray America as selfish, isolated, brutish, domineering, and driven by immediate appetites rather than ideals or even longer-term interests.

Tomorrow’s Robots Will Train in Simulators, Just Like Today’s Troops // Dave Gershgorn: Several firms are working on training environments like Star Trek’s Holodeck, but for machines.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1813: “Don’t give up the ship!” orders the dying Capt. James Lawrence of the USS Chesapeake. Got tips? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


Today: White House climate agreement announcement. U.S. allies, rivals, and everyone in between will be watching as President Donald Trump announces his decision on whether to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris accord. Here’s what George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State, had to say about that: “[G]lobal statecraft relies on trust, reputation and credibility, which can be all too easily squandered.…If America fails to honor a global agreement that it helped forge, the repercussions will undercut our diplomatic priorities across the globe.”

The death toll in Wednesday’s deadly attack in Kabul has risen to 90 and wounded have eclipsed 400—including 11 American citizens, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The attack was timed to influence President Trump’s decision on increasing U.S. troops in Afghanstan, the WSJ’s editorial board writes. Trump should not be intimidated, they advise.

One more thing on the ‘stan—actually five—from Blackwater founder Erik Prince, writing in the Journal’s op-ed pages: “First, [President Trump] should consolidate authority in Afghanistan with one person: an American viceroy who would lead all U.S. government and coalition efforts—including command, budget, policy, promotion and contracting—and report directly to the president,” he writes. “Second, Mr. Trump should authorize his viceroy to set rules of engagement in collaboration with the elected Afghan government to make better decisions, faster.” And you can find the other three behind WSJ’s formidable paywall, here.   

The Philippine air force killed nearly a dozen of its own troops in errant airstrikes intended for ISIS-aligned fighters in the southern city of Marawi, NYTs reports. A statement from the military said “the last ordnance round [a converted Marchetti S-211 trainer jet] delivered went wayward for an unknown reason.”

And Manila’s Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana “says 500 extremists fought in the southern city of Marawi and they had a ‘big plan’ to occupy the city,” AP reports this morning. “He estimated that about 50 to 100 of the militants remained holed up in the city. He says authorities are verifying reports that some have left in small groups for towns around Marawi.” That, here.

In southern Yemen, the UAE and allied fighters have taken control of the airport in Aden, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Why that could be problematic: “Tensions have grown between [President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi] and the UAE over control of Aden’s airport, the main gateway to Yemen’s second largest city. UAE-led forces have made several previous unsuccessful attempts to seize the airport. Hadi’s supporters accuse the UAE of aiding groups attempting to create an independent government in the south of Yemen, which would allow the leading economic power in the region to maintain a permanent presence in the south with its strategic ports.”

Elsewhere in the country, “The United Nations envoy for Yemen said on Tuesday that the cholera outbreak in the war-ravaged country has killed over 500 people since the disease reemerged last month.” At latest count, “there are 60 thousand suspected cases of the cholera in its second outbreak in Yemen in six months. The UN envoy said that Yemen’s collapsing medical sector contributed to the rapid outbreak, noting that less than 45 percent of medical facilities are functioning and only half of Yemenis have access to clean water.” Read the rest, here.

How the PLA Navy is shaping global politics. Bloomberg: “China’s ‘blue water’ navy — and how to respond to it — will be on the minds of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and others gathering in Singapore this weekend for Asia’s most high-profile security conference, the Shangri-La Dialogue. From the East China Sea to the Horn of Africa, the growing presence of Chinese warships is already shaping world affairs, a trend that will only accelerate.” Read on, here.

But they can’t yet do this: The Reagan and Vinson battle groups are exercising in the Sea of Japan, “the first time two U.S. carriers have operated in tandem off the Korean Peninsula since the 1990s,” reports USNI News.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s new president is investigating why no one told him that the U.S. was adding four launchers to the THAAD missile-defense battery, initially deployed in March with just two. But President Moon Jae-in also dispatched his top national-security aide to Washington to reassure U.S. officials that he doesn’t intend to block the deployment, despite China’s strong opposition. Reuters, here.

Who else doesn’t like THAAD? Vlad. “Speaking at an economic forum in St Petersburg, [Putin] said Russia could not stand idly by and watch while others increased their military capabilities along its borders in the Far East in the same way as he said had been done in Europe,” Reuters reports. “He said Moscow was particularly alarmed by the deployment of the U.S. THAAD anti-missile system to South Korea to counter a North Korean missile threat and to reported U.S. plans to beef up Fort Greely in Alaska, a launch site for anti-ballistic missiles. ‘This destroys the strategic balance in the world,’” Putin said. Read on, here.

NATO is training on land, sea, and air in central and eastern Europe today, AP reports from Warsaw, Poland. “Some 4,000 U.S. and European troops from 14 nations took part in the annual Baltic Operations navy exercise that opened Thursday in Poland’s Baltic Sea port of Szczecin. The 45th edition of the so-called BALTOPS exercise involves maritime, air and ground forces with some 50 ships and submarines and over 50 aircraft, and will run through June 16.”

Elsewhere, “in Romania, another 2,000 soldiers, 1,000 assistance personnel and 500 vehicles from 11 NATO nations are training within the alliance’s so-called ‘Noble Jump 2017’ drill that opened in Greece Monday.” More here.

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