New US strike in Somalia; 3 Americans die in Afghanistan; Heavy fighting in the Philippines; The dark architecture of national security; and just a bit more…

The U.S. military carried out its first reported strike in Somalia under the “area of active hostilities” authorization President Trump approved in March. The target: a command and logistics portion of a camp of alleged militants from al Shabab, the Qaeda-linked insurgent group, about 185 miles southwest of Mogadishu. In a statement, AFRICOM said eight fighters were killed in the early-Sunday-morning strike, which the New York Times reported “was carried out by at least one armed Reaper drone flying from a secretive air base in Djibouti.” The drone “dropped multiple Hellfire missiles on the Shabab camp, which American military surveillance aircraft had been monitoring for months.”

Voice of America reported the airstrike “may have targeted a group of about 10 al-Shabab members, including key figures.”

Don’t think the group has been idle, AFRICOM warned. “In the last eight months, al-Shabaab has overrun three African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) Forward Operating Bases by amassing large numbers of fighters and attacking in overwhelming numbers. Al-Shabaab has also increased its combat capability by seizing heavy weaponry, armored vehicles, explosives, small arms, ammunition, and other miscellaneous supplies during its operations overrunning Burundian National Defense Forces FOB Leego, Ugandan People’s Defense Force FOB Janaale, and Kenyan Defense Force FOB Ceel Ad.”

What’s more, “The group has cemented its control southern and central Somalia, they have used this area to plot and direct terror attacks, steal humanitarian aid, and to shelter other radical terrorists.”

The location of the strike is just outside of Sakow, VOA adds, calling it “the heartland of al-Shabab controlled region of Middle Jubba.” The region is so dense with fighters as to rule “out ground troops involved in the attack,” making airpower a less risky option.

So far, the Times writes, the U.S. military has not seen any reports that civilians were killed in the strike.

On the horizon: A U.S. official told the Times “more such strikes should be expected now that American and Somali officials have closely analyzed potential targets that could be attacked using the new authorities that Mr. Trump approved.” Read the rest, here.

For what it’s worth: this makes 89 known strikes in 142 days: 85 in Yemen, three in Pakistan, and Sunday’s strike near Sakow. That’s six times more than in Obama’s last 142 days, noted Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations.


From Defense One

Is America Getting Sucked Into More War in Syria? // Ilan Goldenberg and Nicholas A. Heras: The Trump administration has quietly escalated against Assad and his allies—and risks sparking regional chaos.

US Air Force Grounds F-35s at Arizona Base // Marcus Weisgerber: Base officials halted local flights after five pilots experienced symptoms of oxygen deprivation.

The US Joins the Philippines in a Battle Against ISIS // J. Weston Phippen: The news of the cooperation is significant, because the country’s president had previously threatened to kick out U.S. troops.

Want to Reduce Iran’s and al-Qaeda’s Sway in Yemen? End the War // Daniel DePetris and Kate Kizer: The US-Saudi-UAE-Yemeni-government plan to double down on a military solution is a recipe for disaster.

The Dark Architecture of National Security // Kriston Capps: From the mirrored fortress of the NSA headquarters to the new U.S. Embassy in London, the built environment of the security state reflects our national anxieties.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1775: The first naval engagement of the American Revolution occurred when Jeremiah O’Brien led the crew of the American sloop, Unity, in a victorious, hour-long fight with the men of the HMS Margaretta—which entered Machias Harbor, Mass., to commandeer a load of lumber for the British army. Got tips? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


Russia says the U.S. is colluding with ISIS and has no right to be in Syria. Which means that now Iran, Syria, and Russia all don’t want the U.S. military in Syria, as the Washington Post’s Liz Sly wrote.

Wait; how is the U.S. colluding with the Islamic State? Here’s Col. Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian forces in Syria: “IS made a deal earlier this month with the Kurdish forces to leave two villages southwest of Raqqa and move toward Palmyra,” the Associated Press reported Friday.

Surovikin also took issue with the three coalition strikes on pro-regime troops approaching U.S.-backed rebels in Al Tanf, southern Syria—folding those purportedly defensive measures in with allegations of passive consent to permit an evacuation corridor from Raqqa while other U.S.-backed fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces assault it.  

The Syrian war was already a tangled battle of many competing missions, and the offensive to retake ISIS-held Raqqa is quickly making matters more fraught.

Also this weekend: Reports from SDF-held Manbij, Syria, that rebels (perhaps Turkey-backed, given the close proximity to Turkey and its dissolved Euphrates Shield operation) fired on the city, which includes U.S. troops on intermittent patrols nearby. The coalition has yet to comment to Defense One on the alleged attacks.  

Speaking of disparate Syrian rebels, “Turkish-backed rebels fought each other on Sunday in the Syrian town of al Bab in the first bout of rebel fighting since they seized the town this year from Islamic State militants,” Reuters reports this morning. And, “In the last few days deadly clashes have also broken out in the town of Maarat al Numan in the northwestern province of Idlib between Tahrir al Sham, a merger of jihadist groups spearheaded by a former al-Qaeda offshoot, and a Western-backed Free Syrian Army group.” Story, here.

Raqqa offensive latest: The U.S.-backed SDF have captured two districts in the northwestern quadrant of Raqqa, AP reported Sunday. “The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said SDF fighters now control Romaniah and the eastern neighborhood of Mashlab. The fighters have also entered Raqqa’s western neighborhood of Sabahiya and the industrial district in the east.”

Seen in the skies above Raqqa: What appears to be the use of Willie Pete by coalition forces, the Washington Post reported Friday. Read more about the pros and cons of white phosphorus, here.

The alleged CIVCAS count in Raqqa stands at just over a dozen, AP reported Sunday.

To the south, Hezbollah and Assad regime forces are escalating the fight in the home of the Syrian civil war, Deraa—“a possible prelude to a large-scale campaign to wrest full control of the city,” Reuters reports. “The Syrian army has recently intensified dropping barrel bombs, drums or cylinders packed with shrapnel, and has fired hundreds of so-called elephant rockets on Deraa’s old quarter and a former refugee camp nearby, rebels and residents said… More reinforcements from the army and its allies, the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah and Shi’ite Muslim Iraqi militias, are also being rushed to the city from several locations near the capital, Damascus.”

Spillover in north Jordan on Sunday: “The [Jordanian] army said nine vehicles approached Jordan from Syria in the past three days, and border guards opened fire to hold them back. The army says that in the latest incident, troops fired on a pickup truck and two motorcycles, killing five.” A tiny bit more from AP, here.

Here’s a window into what comes after (or possibly even during) the Raqqa offensive: “The Islamic State is expected to make its last stand not in Raqqa but in an area that encompasses the borders with Iraq and Jordan and much of Syria’s modest oil reserves, making it important in stabilizing Syria and influencing its neighboring countries,” NYTs Anne Barnard reported this weekend.

The region in focus: “the province of Deir al-Zour, where Islamic State forces surround an estimated 200,000 people in a government-held section of the provincial capital of the same name.”

The important Qs: “Will the Syrian government re-establish control of the country all the way to its eastern borders? Will the desert straddling the Syrian-Iraqi border remain a no man’s land ripe for militant control? If not, who will dominate there — forces aligned with Iran, Russia or the United States? Which Syrian factions will wield the most influence?” Read on, here.

Heavy fighting is ongoing in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, “almost three weeks after hundreds of Islamist militants overran the town and hunkered down with civilians as human shields,” Reuters reports from the island some 1,500 kms south of Manila. “Rescue workers, soldiers and firemen sang the national anthem and listened to speeches as three OV-10 attack aircraft darted through the cloudy sky, taking it in turns to drop bombs on areas where fighters are still holed up.”

Running casualty toll: “As of Saturday the number of security forces killed in the battle for Marawi stood at 58. The death toll for civilians was 20 and more than 100 had been killed overall.”

ICYMI: U.S. special forces are now fighting ISIS affiliates in the Philippines, Reuters initially reported this weekend: “At the request of the Philippines government, special operations forces were helping liberate the town… In Marawi, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera confirmed the U.S. assistance, telling a news conference: ‘They are not fighting. They are just providing technical support.’”

There are some U.S. aircraft involved, as well, Defense News reported. “Local media covering the fighting between troops belonging to the Armed Forces of the Philippines or AFP and militants in the city of Marawi on Mindanao Island have photographed an AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma Unmanned Aerial Vehicle being operated by Western personnel near the battle, as well as a Lockheed-Martin P-3C Orion circling the city on separate occasions.” More here.

And about the troops: The Pentagon said it “was providing Philippine forces with security assistance and training in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. It said it had an additional 300 to 500 troops in the country to support regular training and activities, without giving further details.”

Duterte: I didn’t ask for those American troops. That, here.

Bold prediction from Philippine official: “On Friday, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla predicted that the government would retake Marawi by Monday, Philippines Independence Day.” More on that and the broader situation, via NYTs, here.

Wanna read more on the ISIS-linked fighters in Maute? Reuters has you covered.

Apparent insider attack leaves three Americans dead in Afghanistan. NYTs: “The deaths on Saturday of three American Special Operations soldiers — a fourth was wounded and transported out of Afghanistan — were the result of a ‘green on blue’ attack, or insider attack, by an Afghan commando, said Jawed Salim, a spokesman for the Afghan Army Special Forces command.”

Adds the Times: “All six of the American soldiers who have died in combat in Afghanistan this year were Special Operations troops involved in the fight against the Islamic State group in its stronghold in a small eastern area of the country.” More here.

And there’s been another roadside bomb attack this morning—with the Pentagon saying a joint U.S.-Afghan troop convoy “returned fire in self-defense” when it struck a roadside bomb and came under attack by small arms fire. “A provincial official in Nangarhar said as many as three Afghan civilians were killed in the Monday morning incident,” Reuters reports.

Iran says it carried out a cross-border attack to kill the alleged “mastermind” of last week’s ISIS-claimed attacks in Tehran. “While [Mahmoud Alavi, the intelligence minister] did not identify the area where the operation took place, his operatives have concentrated their search on the region around the border with Iraqi Kurdistan. Iran has long had a considerable intelligence presence there, dating to before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and the Iranians cooperate closely with the two dominant political parties that divide power in the Iraqi Kurdish region.” More here.

Mattis week in DC. “In an odd scheduling quirk, the secretary of defense will appear before before congressional committees four consecutive days this week,” Military Times writes previewing a busy week for the SecDef and his Joint Chiefs Chairman, Gen. Joseph Dunford.

On the schedule: House Armed Services Committee today; Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday; the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee; and the House Defense Appropriations Committee.

“The focus of each of the hearings is President Trump’s controversial $603 billion defense budget proposal, which would boost military funding but also bust spending caps put in place by Congress seven years ago,” MilTimes reports. Read the rest, here.

Lastly today: Just how did the U.S. Air Force choose which ICBM to winch out of its Midwestern silo, haul to California, and test-launch on May 3? By flinging a dart at a map. The Los Angeles Times went inside the Vandenberg AFB bunker to bring this inside look at an ICBM launch. Read, here.

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