Raqqa falls; Baghdad takes Kirkuk from Kurds; US attacks ISIS in Yemen; Puerto Rican baby born on Navy ship; and just a bit more…

ISIS has been defeated in Raqqa, Syria, Reuters reports from the city once called the terrorist group’s de facto HQs. Though a formal announcement hasn’t been made, it will be soon, “once the city has been cleared of mines and any possible Islamic State sleeper cells,” said Brig. Gen. Talal Silo, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. He said he wants to wait to make a statement that suits “the fall of the capital of terrorism.”

The obligatory image of victory: “Fighters hauled down the black flag of Islamic State, the last still flying over the city, from the National Hospital near the stadium,” Reuters writes. “The flags in the stadium and others waved in the city streets were of the SDF, its strongest militia the Kurdish YPG, and the YPG’s female counterpart, the YPJ.”

Said the U.S.-led coalition: “We do still know there are still IEDs and booby traps in and amongst the areas that ISIS once held, so the SDF will continue to clear deliberately through areas,” Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the coalition said.

Dillon also confirmed something initially noted by the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville: There were no coalition airstrikes on the city of Raqqa at all on Monday. According to Sommerville, reporting on location: “all offensive operations halted. No airstrikes nor shelling. In effect, city retaken.”

Mines are still killing SDF fighters as they push into ISIS’s final holes in Raqqa — a hospital and a stadium, where some 300 fighters are believed to remain.

So, what’s left? “The only populated areas still controlled by the jihadist group in Syria are the towns and villages downstream of Deir al-Zor along the Euphrates valley,” Reuters reports. “They are areas that for the past three years Islamic State ran from Raqqa.”

And what’s next? Providing aid to some 270,000 who have been displaced from the Raqqa offensive, AP reports.


From Defense One

We’re Not Taking Sides,’ Trump Tells Clashing Kurds, Iraqis // Kevin Baron: The Pentagon watches two American allies turn on each other, as Iraq’s fractious politics are laid bare once again.

How the US Air Force Made Its ISR Network Cheaper to Run and Easier to Upgrade // M. Wes Haga: Real-world lessons from a leader of the three-year effort to convert DCGS to open architecture.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1941: First German U-boat attack on a U.S. warship in WWII. Email us. And if you don’t subscribe already, consider subscribing. It’s free.


In Iraq, the city of Kirkuk — and some key oil fields nearby — is now in Baghdad’s hands, The New York Times reports. The overall situation: “Despite the resounding success of the referendum, Iraqi forces were able to take Kirkuk in a single day and with little fight, partly because it is a multiethnic city of Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs, and partly because the Kurds themselves were divided.”

For your eyes only: See the lowering of the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk’s provincial council building on Monday. In attendance: officials from Baghdad’s Counterterrorism Forces, as well as Shi’a officials of the Badr brigades and the Popular Mobilization Forces. Video shared by the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris.

Pentagon on the whole Kirkuk uproar: We’ll turn this bus around if you kids can’t get along. Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Rob Manning “said U.S. commanders in Iraq are working with both Iraqi and Kurdish forces to try to get to return to a dialogue. However if Iraqi forces do not cease the offensive, one possibility could be ceasing the equipment and training support the U.S. has provided,” Military Times reported.
“I’m not going to speculate on that, but I’ll tell you we’re looking at all options,” Manning said. More here.
Happening later today: Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani is scheduled to make a statement on the matter, Kurdish Rudaw news reports.

In case you were curious, the Pentagon said Monday it has roughly 5,200 US personnel in Iraq and another 500 or so in Syria.
Add to that another 400 in Somalia, up from about 40 in the spring, Foreign Policy’s Paul McCleary noted Monday.

The U.S. military says it attacked ISIS in Yemen for the first time on Monday. And this would seem to be the same ISIS that was kicking itself in the nuts (literally) just a week ago. They even shared images of that training session at the time you can find here.
What happened: “Unmanned U.S. drones launched around 12 missiles at militant positions in Yakla and al-Abl in southern al-Bayda province,” locals told Reuters, which added “the number of casualties caused by the attack was not immediately clear because locals were too afraid to approach the site as U.S. aircraft hovered over the area for hours.”
According to the Pentagon,U.S. forces had killed dozens of Islamic State members in a strike on two camps where fighters trained in using machine guns and grenade launchers.”
However, locals told Reuters “the fighters targeted actually hailed from a powerful al Qaeda affiliate who deployed in the area to fight Iran-aligned Houthi militiamen as part of Yemen’s civil war, which began in 2015.” More here.
Mapped: Here’s a quick overview of the territorial holdings in Yemen, via the analysts at Risk Intelligence just a few short days ago.

Suspected U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan overnight killed 31, Reuters reports this morning — following up an initial report from the Associated Press late Monday.  
A Pakistani official told Reuters four drones were involved in each separate attack, which targeted “Taliban hideouts… with all three attacks taking place on the Afghan side. “Residents of the area said the strikes were no more than 300 meters (yards) from the Pakistan side of the border.”
According to the Taliban, “18 members of the Pakistan-based Haqqani militants, allied to the Taliban, were killed in Monday’s strike and six in one of Tuesday’s attacks.”

And in Afghanistan, Taliban attacks killed 61 across the country this morning, Reuters reports. “The attack targeted a police training centre attached to the headquarters in Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, and the death toll was expected to rise… The militant group also attacked a district centre in neighbouring Ghazni province on Tuesday, an offensive that included detonating armoured Humvee vehicles packed with explosives near the provincial governor’s office.” More here.

Philippines security forces killed two ISIS leaders in the city of Marawi, CNN reported Monday. “The two leaders were named as Isnilon Hapilon, who was declared the terror group’s emir for Southeast Asia, and Omar Maute, a leader of a local militant group that had pledged allegiance to ISIS. The pair were killed, along with seven other militants, while attempting to exit a building at street level during a four-hour firefight, Gen. Eduardo Ano of the Philippines Armed Forces said at a news conference. Maute was shot in the head by a sniper.”
Reminder: “The fighting began on May 23 when the military launched an operation targeting Hapilon on the island of Mindanao, where Marawi is located.” And the fighting is still ongoing. Read on, here.

One takeaway from Somalia, three days after the historically deadly bombing in Mogadishu: al-Shabaab is anything but finished. “They are fighting with a bunch of guerrilla fighters who are exceptionally mobile, who are working in a huge territory in which there is no government, so they are able to do what they want at a time of their own choosing,” said Abdi Ismail Samatar, a Somalia analyst and geography professor at the University of Minnesota who also serves on the board of the University of Mogadishu. More from the Washington Post, here.

NATO’s annual nuclear exercise is underway. Called “Steadfast Noon,” the multiday exercise is meant to highlight the alliance’s nuclear deterrent. It’s taking place at two bases —Kleine Brogel in Belgium and Buchel in Germany — where the U.S. military stores nuclear weapons. UPI has a bit more, here.
The nuclear drill is part of a larger, 3-week exercise series that also saw “the first time NATO’s smart defense concept was demonstrated with ships serving as air defense units protecting naval ballistic missile defense units.” The U.S. Navy destroyer Donald Cook intercepted a target ballistic missile, while Spanish and Dutch warships shot down incoming anti-ship cruise missiles.” Read more from the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet, here.

No, GMD doesn’t work “97% of the time.” Speaking of missiles, several analysts have issued warnings in the wake of President Trump’s statement that the missile defenses that protect American territory work “97% of the time.” Laura Grego, writing for the Union of Concerned Scientists (“No, Missile Defense Will Not Work 97% of the Time”): “The problem is that believing missile defense works when it doesn’t can lead you to take actions that make you need it, and then it can’t help you.” Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang, say much the same at War on the Rocks (“Deadly Overconfidence”).
North Korea: No talks until we get an ICBM that can hit New York. CNN:A North Korean official reaffirmed Pyongyang’s commitment to developing a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching ‘all the way to the East coast of the mainland US,’ on Monday, telling CNN that the rogue nation is currently not interested in diplomacy with the US until it achieves that goal. North Korea is not ruling out diplomacy, but ‘before we can engage in diplomacy with the Trump administration, we want to send a clear message that the DPRK has a reliable defensive and offensive capability to counter any aggression from the United States,’ the official said.” Read on, here.

Taking wing. Gen. Dave Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, is at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, this morning, his first stop in his first  weeklong tour of Air Force nuclear bases across the U.S., his first as chief of staff. His trip comes as the service buys new ICBMs, nuclear cruise missiles, and new stealth bombers. (The Navy is also buying new ballistic-missile submarines.) Today, Goldfein tours the the 2nd Bomb Wing and Global Strike Command, which oversees the Air Force’s two legs of the nuclear triad. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber is with Goldfein all week, so make sure you follow him on Twitter: @MarcusReports.

Puerto Rico is still a disaster zone, three weeks after Hurricane Maria, Quartz reminded readers. The death toll on the island is now at 48, Military.com reported Monday. According to the Pentagon’s latest numbers on Monday, 15% of residents have electricity, and about ⅔ have drinking water.

On the bright side: “The Navy’s USNS Comfort was sailing in the vicinity of San Juan, Puerto Rico — providing medical assistance throughout a region devastated by Hurricane Maria — when baby Sara Victoria Llull Rodriguiz made her arrival on board,” ABC News reports in a bit of good news from the region.

Panning out beyond baby Sara, “The USNS Comfort, which currently has 21 people on board, has treated more than 100 patients since Maria made landfall last month, killing at least 48 people and knocking out power for most of the island.” Read on, here.

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