Another drone downed in Syria; Trump’s Pyongyang-pressure plan fails; Russian fighter buzzes US spy plane; Attacker thwarted in Brussels; and just a bit more…

Drone shootdown #2 in Syria. American F-15Es are now 2-for-2 against Iranian-made Shahed-129 drones in southern Syria, CNN reported Tuesday. “The drone was downed just outside the 55 kilometer de-confliction zone, according to the officials. It was an Iranian-made Shahed 129 and was thought to be armed and in firing range of US troops.”

The New York Times: “The episode, over southeast Syria, was a fresh indication that the air war between forces supporting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the American military is likely to continue, and perhaps escalate, even though the United States has sought to keep its focus on defeating the Islamic State militants operating in Syria and Iraq.”

The Russian reax: This is yet another illustration that the U.S. is in cahoots with ISIS. “Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister, complained that the downing of the drone merely ‘helps those terrorists whom the United States fights,’” the Times reported.

The U.S. says it killed a top ISIS cleric near the Iraq-Syria border on May 31. His name: Turki al-Binali, a “Bahraini cleric wrote religious justifications for the enslavement of thousands of women from Iraq’s Yazidi minority and helped establish the ISIS branch in Libya. He rose to be one of the extremist group’s leading ideologues,” AP reported from Beirut.

The Long War Journal has a fairly thorough bio of al-Binali you can read over, here.

So the U.S. military has been striking pro-Syrian regime forces in Syria for a series of weeks now. Is that even legal? At least one U.S. legal scholar is skeptical, according to Lawfare blog’s John Bellinger, former White House official from the Bush 2.0 years and into Obama’s first year in office.

His short statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the matter Tuesday: “It’s hard for me to see that Congress, by authorizing the use of force against organizations and nations and groups that committed the 9/11 attacks, authorized the use of force against Syria.​”

The New York Times’ Charlie Savage dives a bit deeper into the matter, here.


From Defense One

The Trump Administration Is Working to Hold Russia Accountable for Ukraine — Whether Trump Likes It Or Not // Patrick Tucker: The president has been all over the map on Ukraine. The people around him have been much more consistent.

Business Experience Bites Trump’s Pentagon Nominee // Caroline Houck: Congress might hold up the president’s pick for deputy defense secretary over his three-decade career with Boeing, among other things.

As ISIS Shrinks in Syria, the US and Iran Draw Closer to Conflict // Mohamad Bazzi: Even if the Pentagon may not want to directly engage Syrian forces or their Russian and Iranian-backed allies, there’s a danger of accidental escalation.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1942: A Japanese submarine shells Fort Stevens, Oregon. Got tips? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


Trump: China’s effort to “help with North Korea…has not worked out,” the president said on Twitter Tuesday in “an extraordinary admission of failure in his strategy for dealing with the rogue regime of Kim Jong-un,” the NYT wrote. So now what? Even White House aides don’t know: “On Tuesday afternoon, senior officials said they were still trying to gauge the meaning of the president’s tweet” which came “on the eve of a high-level meeting of Chinese and American officials in Washington” at which “Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and other American officials had been planning to press their Chinese counterparts on North Korea.” Read on, here.

In the meantime: 1) Reuters: South Korea has decided to call the crash of a North Korean drone south of the DMV a “grave provocation.”

2) CNN’s Barbara Starr: “Spy satellites detect new activity at DPRK nuclear test site.”

3) Japan is about to test its PAC-3 anti-missile system, The Hill reports.

This all leaves the U.S. with the same four unpalatable options, reports Mark Bowden in The Atlantic. Here’s his #longform take, or you could watch this boiled-down video.

Finally, there’s no better time to refresh your grasp on the forces at play, so here’s a backgrounder on “North Korea’s Military Capabilities” by the Council on Foreign Relations’ Eleanor Albert.

Terrorism returns to Brussels. A 36-year-old Moroccan citizen was shot dead Tuesday by Belgian authorities while trying to attack Brussels’ Central Station. The BBC calls him a “would-be suicide bomber” who detonated a “suitcase bomb packed with nails and gas bottles,” according to Reuters.

Belgian prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt said he walked up to a group of passengers at the station and began shouting before a “partial explosion” occurred around 8:45 p.m. local time.

His suitcase then “caught fire and then exploded a second time more violently as the man ran downstairs to the platforms…He then ran back up to the concourse where commuters had been milling around and rushed toward a soldier shouting ‘Allahu akbar’—God is greatest, in Arabic. The soldier, part of a routine patrol, shot him several times. Bomb disposal experts checked the body and found he was not carrying more explosives.”

Police searched his apartment and reportedly discovered unspecified bomb-making materials.

Adds Reuters: “There was no immediate claim of responsibility and no word on how investigations are progressing into whether the man had acted alone or had help, and into any links to radical groups.”

2018 NDAA, first draft edition: House lawmakers pitched their version of the annual defense authorization bill, Military Times’ Leo Shane III reported Tuesday.

Background: “President Trump had already requested a boost of about 4,000 sailors for the Navy and another 4,100 airmen for the Air Force in his budget request last month. Lawmakers have agreed to aim for those same end strength levels, and to boost the Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard by 1,700 personnel and the Naval Reserve by another 1,000 sailors.”

So what’s new? “The House panel, citing requests in the Army’s unfunded requirements list, will look to fund another 10,000 active-duty soldiers, 4,000 guardsmen and 3,000 Army Reservists.”

The bottom line, presently: “Combined with the higher pay raise, the extra personnel costs are likely to drive the military budget for fiscal 2018 well above the president’s proposed $603 billion level, which already sits well above spending caps mandated by law.” Read the rest, here.

Also on Tuesday, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower & Projection Forces called “for a new carrier every three years rather than the current pace of one every five years, under its version of the annual defense policy bill,” The Hill reported. “The subcommittee would also order the Navy to maintain 12 ships after 2023, aides told reporters. The Navy now has 10 aircraft carriers.”

CIA chief Mike Pompeo continued to brief national security adviser Mike Flynn even after the intelligence community concluded he was vulnerable to Russian blackmail, the New York Times reports. “The episode highlights a remarkable aspect of Mr. Flynn’s tumultuous, 25-day tenure in the White House: He sat atop a national security apparatus that churned ahead despite its own conclusion that he was at risk of being compromised by a hostile foreign power.” Read on, here.

Flattop fans rejoice: “The aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford will be commissioned Saturday at Naval Station Norfolk,” Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday. “The Ford’s addition brings the Navy up to 11 aircraft carriers, which hasn’t been the case since the former USS Enterprise was removed from active service in December 2012. President Donald Trump has said he wants the Navy to eventually have a dozen aircraft carriers.” More here.

More Iranian-made drones behaving badly, this time in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan region, according to Pakistani news. If true, the Tuesday episode marks the first time Pakistan’s JF-17 aircraft notched an air-to-air kill. Where Islamabad’s Daily Pakistan paper takes its jump: This tweet from “Wajahat Khan, a multimedia journalist and a national security expert.” Story, here.  

Also in Pakistan: Islamabad has begun building a wall with Afghanistan, against Kabul’s objections, the AP reported Tuesday. “A Pakistani army statement said the first phase of the project will focus on the Bajur, Mohmand and Khyber tribal regions — all regarded by authorities as areas prone to cross-border infiltration by militants. The military said it will also build new forts and border posts to improve surveillance and defensibility.”

The Pentagon says Afghanistan is working on its own new plan to fight the Taliban, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. More here.

Does it get any closer? A Russian Su-27 flew extremely close to a U.S. RC-135 surveillance aircraft in the Baltics on Monday, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

How close? Depends on your source.

CNN’s Jim Sciutto: Russian aircraft flew “within five feet.”

New York Times: the two aircraft were only “several feet apart.”

Wall Street Journal: the two aircraft flew “within about 30 feet” of each other.

And this sounds frightening: U.S. defense officials told the WSJ the Russian Su-27 barreled in at a “high rate of closure speed and [with] poor control of aircraft.” More from the Journal, here.

Lastly: a tale of heroism and self-sacrifice from the USS Fitzgerald. The Daily Beast quotes “various accounts” in reporting that Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr. saved at least 20 shipmates by pulling them from damaged parts of the Navy destroyer after it collided with a cargo ship off Japan on Saturday. The 37-year-old from Elyria, Ohio, was on his last tour of duty before retirement when the collision crushed several compartments and touched off flooding. “He said, ‘If my kids die, I’m going to die,’” an uncle Stanley Rehm Jr., told TDB. “He could have walked away and been safe.” Read on, here.

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