300 die in Somali terror attack; US allies exchange fire in northern Iraq; Europe denounces Trump’s Iran moves; Pyongyang’s cyber corps; and just a bit more…

One of the world’s worst attacks in years happened Saturday in Mogadishu, Somalia. Reuters describes it as “the deadliest since Islamist militant group al Shabaab began an insurgency in 2007,” and USA Today calls it “the deadliest attack in Somalia’s history and one of the worst in the world” since the July 2016 bombing in the Shi’a-dominant Karrada neighborhood of Baghdad.

What happened: Two car bombs hit traffic on Saturday — the first “in the city’s K5 Junction area which is lined with government offices, hotels, and restaurants - destroyed several buildings and set dozens of vehicles on fire” and the second hit “the city’s Madina district,” according to Reuters.

The latest death toll tops 300, with at least 160 “unrecognizable” bodies.

The culprits? Unknown just yet. Reuters writes there still appears to be “no claim of responsibility, although the Islamist al Shabaab group has carried out regular attacks” in the past. CBS reports “Somalia’s government is blaming the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab extremist group, which has not commented… Earlier this year, it vowed to step up attacks after both the Trump administration and Somalia’s recently elected president announced new military efforts against the group.”

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo “declared three days of national mourning and called for donations of blood and funds to victims of Saturday’s attack,” Reuters adds. Read on, here.


From Defense One

Trump Administration Gambles On Iran Nuclear Deal // Patrick Tucker: White House staffers say the president will decertify the 2015 seven-party agreement, introducing uncertainty and worrying arms control watchers.

The Questions Raised By Trump’s Iran Deal Decision // Krishnadev Calamur: The U.S. will stick to the nuclear agreement—for now.

Donald Trump, Dealbreaker // Uri Friedman: The president’s America First policy is causing the U.S. to withdraw from the world.

The Real Lessons of Vietnam — and Afghanistan // Dartmouth College president emeritus James E. Wright: As the Trump administration reshapes American strategy, they should look to history for guidance, yet understand that it offers no blueprint.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1964, China conducted its first nuclear test. Email us. And if you don’t subscribe already, consider subscribing. It’s free.


Baghdad’s U.S.-equipped forces confronted U.S.-backed Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers in the contentious city of Kirkuk Sunday evening, triggering a mad dash of Middle East analyst finger-wagging at the years-long contradictions of American foreign policy in the region.  

The scenes were shared widely by the Kurdistan Regional Security Council, posting two videos to Twitter (here and here) as the offensive unfolded in the streets up to and on the edges of Kirkuk.

What was supposed to happen, according to Baghdad: Iraqi troops would “return to bases previously held in Kirkuk, coordinate with [the] Pesh, [and] avoid confrontations.”

How the KRSC framed what was happening: “Peshmerga forces attacked by Iraqi forces/PMF in #Kirkuk using US equipment, incl Abrams tanks & Humvees gifted to Iraq for the war on Isis.” Read their statement in full, here.

Involved in the operation for Kirkuk: Iraqi Federal police, the elite Golden Knights counterterrorism forces, the Emergency Response Division, the Iraqi Army — and the Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces, according to the BBC’s Nafiseh Kohnavard, reporting on location.

The U.S. military’s reax this morning:

  • Nobody is attacking anybody here — despite “reports of a limited exchange of fire during predawn hours of darkness Oct. 16,” the U.S.-led coalition said in a statement this morning. “The Coalition is monitoring movements of military vehicles and personnel in the vicinity of Kirkuk. These movements of military vehicles, so far, have been coordinated movements, not attacks.”
  • And this whole thing is just one big misunderstanding. “We believe the engagement this morning was a misunderstanding and not deliberate as two elements attempted to link up under limited visibility conditions. The Coalition strongly urges all sides to avoid escalatory actions.”

What Kirkuk looked like two hours ago: A ghost town. Drive through with the BBC’s Kohnavard, here.

The U.S.-backed forces in Syria say the Raqqa offensive could end as early as today, Reuters reports.
The things they carried that helped bring victory: batteries and masking tape. We hand this dispatch over to Agence France-Presse: “In a cavernous warehouse just east of Raqa’s Old City, SDF fighters sit cross-legged on a dusty rug piled high with cylinder-shaped three-volt batteries, masking tape, empty cigarette packs and loose wires. The materials are used to make primitive powerbanks to charge the walkie-talkies that SDF commanders rely on to communicate with each other across Raqa’s frontlines. As artillery fire and air strikes echo in the background, the assembly line gets to work. One fighter stacks eight batteries into a brick-like shape while another prepares the tape that will hold them together. A third peels the aluminium foil from white cigarette packs — perfect for a conductor — and begins taping it to the wires he snipped from the walls of the battered building…” Read the rest, here.
Also this weekend in Raqqa, the coalition was reportedly working on a deal to evacuate civilians “under the terms of a deal that could also see local militants boarding the buses,” the Washington Post reported.

Happening today: “Iraq and Syria after the Caliphate: The future of IS” an event from the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, featuring experts Rasha Al Aqeedi and Hassan Hassan at 10 a.m. Details, here.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan: At least 46 Taliban fighters were killed in a spate of government operations over the weekend, according to a Ministry of Defense statement. Read, here.
In Afghan war diplomacy, representatives from the U.S., China, and Afghanistan are scheduled to join Pakistan-led Quadrilateral Coordination Group talks on the future of the Taliban today in Muscat, Oman. Preview, here.

North Korea’s 6,000 hackers emerge as a global threat. “Amid all the attention on Pyongyang’s progress in developing a nuclear weapon capable of striking the continental United States, the North Koreans have also quietly developed a cyberprogram that is stealing hundreds of millions of dollars and proving capable of unleashing global havoc,” the New York Times reports. “Unlike its weapons tests, which have led to international sanctions, the North’s cyberstrikes have faced almost no pushback or punishment, even as the regime is already using its hacking capabilities for actual attacks against its adversaries in the West.” Read on, here.

That wrap follows last week’s revelation that “North Korean hackers stole a large amount of classified military documents, including South Korea-U.S. wartime operational plans to wipe out the North Korean leadership,” Reuters reported Oct. 10.

Kelsey Atherton, writing for Vox: “But wait a second — how did an impoverished country like North Korea end up with such impressive hacking abilities? And are they really that impressive? Or is our information just really easy to steal? It turns out that while we’ve been (understandably) focused on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the country has been quietly developing another powerful tool — a selection of malware and malicious code, a veritable cyberweapon cache.” Read that, here.
Coming up: mass evacuation drill in South Korea. On Oct. 23-37, U.S. officials and military will practice getting thousands of civilians off the peninsula. The United States “has been conducting similar noncombatant evacuation exercises for decades, along with other joint military exercises with South Korea. But when tensions escalate with North Korea, as they have recently, such drills draw outsize attention and ignite fear among South Koreans, some of whom take them as a sign that the United States might be preparing for military action against the North.” NYT, here.

EU, partners denounce Trump’s threat to Iran deal. Reaction from Europe to President Trump’s new tack on Iran was swift and remarkable: the leaders of Britain, France, and Germany issued a joint statement warning against weakening the 2015 agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action: “The JCPoA was unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council in Resolution 2231. The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance with the JCPoA through its long-term verification and monitoring programme. Therefore, we encourage the US Administration and Congress to consider the implications to the security of the US and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the JCPoA, such as re-imposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement.”
The EU’s foreign-policy chief was even more direct: Federica Mogherini said Friday that the United States “had no right to unilaterally terminate the Iran nuclear accord. She called the agreement ‘effective’ and said there had been ‘no violations of any of the commitments’ in the deal,” Politico reported late Friday, adding that “she issued a remarkably stinging description of Trump’s break with the international community that suggested Washington’s credibility as the leader on global security issues was in jeopardy.” Read on, here.

Finally: Eerily detailed Soviet maps of U.S. and Western cities. Find them in The Red Atlas, a new book out from National Geographic. “According to one account, the Russians augmented their maps of Sweden with details obtained by diplomats working at the Soviet embassy, who had a tendency to picnic near sites of strategic interest and strike up friendly conversations with local construction workers.” More, here.

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