Reprieve for Aleppo, at least temporarily. The U.S. and Russia agreed to extend Syria’s partial truce to include the embattled city of Aleppo, the State Department said on Wednesday. So far this morning, the new agreement appears to be largely holding in Aleppo proper, with the only “intense fighting” reported in the countryside south of the city where al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra are “dug in close to where Iranian backed militias maintain a stronghold,” a rebel told Reuters. “Rebels also said Syrian helicopters dropped barrel bombs on rebel held Dahyat al-Rashdeen al Junobi, situated northwest of the city and near Jamiyat al Zahraa area that saw a major rebel ground assault Wednesday that failed after their positions were pounded by warplanes.”
Cause for concern in that new truce: Its details and duration, as well as “whether it imposed new conditions on the Syrian government, insurgents or their international backers — remained murky,” The New York Times reported, adding, “The parties that negotiated it did not even agree on the precise timing. The State Department said the truce had begun at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, and Syrian state television said it would take effect at 1 a.m. on Thursday.”
Also not clear: What rebel groups “are fair game for government and Russian airstrikes.” And al-Qaeda’s Nusra fighters are making that more difficult, the Times writes, since they are “intermingled in parts of insurgent-held territory” with rebel groups that have agreed to the partial truce.
“We could see 400,000 people moving toward the Turkish border,” Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.’s special envoy for Syria, warned Wednesday should this latest truce fail around Aleppo, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Worth asking, since it’s his country and all: What does Assad want out of all of this diplomatic maneuvering? Nothing less than “final victory” not only in Aleppo, but across the entire country, he told Russia in a “telegram,” Syrian state news reported.
In case you’re curious: Russia’s air base in Syria still “humming,” the Washington Post reports after “Russia’s military flew in dozens of foreign journalists this week for a carefully guided (and guarded) tour of the facilities.” The message Moscow seeming intended to send: “First, Russia’s military is increasingly confident that its overseas operation can stand up to scrutiny. Second, the base is not going anywhere anytime soon.” More from that trip, including a dozen “mannequin-like soldiers” sitting motionless watching the news, here.
Act fast if you want tickets—and we mean really fast—because Russia says it will hold a concert in Palmyra today. Moscow is reportedly carting in “renowned Russian conductor” Valery Gergiev, “who supported Vladimir Putin’s presidential run in 2012,” the BBC reports. Gergiev is slated to perform at Palmyra’s Roman Theatre with the concert to be broadcast later today on Russian TV. More from the land of premature celebrations, here.
In eastern Syria, Islamic State fighters made their first big gains this morning since losing Palmyra in late March. ISIS seized “the main Shaer gas field” about 90 miles northwest of the ancient city in a three-day assault that has reportedly withstood heavy aerial bombing from the Assad regime and its allies.
The Shaer field “has changed hands multiple times since mid-2014,” including two big offensives from ISIS back in July and October 2014, Long War Journal adds.
Saudi Arabia just carried out its (at least) second assault on alleged ISIS fighters inside its borders. This morning’s operation is said to have killed four gunmen in Mecca; and it comes on the heels of a two-day op that ended Sunday when two ISIS fighters were killed and another wounded in the southwest. More here.
The Stuttgart takeaway. It’s tempting to blame the massive wall that is OPSEC when the takeaway from Ash Carter’s counter-ISIS defense ministerial in Germany is the same that it’s been for months: “U.S., allies agree to do more to combat Islamic State,” Reuters writes from the occasion.
For what it’s worth: “Norwegian Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told Reuters that the ministers discussed ways to escalate the military fight against Islamic State and deal with concurrent humanitarian crises but that it was clear more hard work remained.”
Carter said that “allowing ISIL safe haven would carry greater risk for us all…We also agreed that all of our friends and allies across the counter-ISIL coalition can and must do more as well, both to confront ISIL in Iraq and Syria and its metastases elsewhere.”
The land the Pesh take is land the Pesh will stay on, Kurds say. As Peshmerga troops continue to duke it out along the margins of Mosul, it’s not like Baghdad flipped a switch and it can suddenly hold that turf, some of which involve villages of ethnic Turkmen. More from Kurdish Rudaw News, here.
Before we leave the Pesh, they and their coalition advisers killed more than 150 ISIS fighters in the area around where U.S. Navy SEAL Charlie Keating IV was killed Tuesday, Rudaw reports this morning.
A U.S. strike killed Aussie’s top ISIS recruiter in Mosul about a week ago, Neil Prakash, “who was linked to several Australia-based attack plans and calls for lone-wolf attacks against the United States.” A second Aussie was also killed about a week earlier, Reuters adds, naming the deceased as “Shadi Jabar Khalil Mohammad, [who] was killed on April 22 in a U.S. air strike near Al Bab in Syria.”
The changing face of the ISIS fighter. “As the Islamic State inexorably slides back from a proto-state into an insurgency and then to a terrorist group, the profile of its new members will similarly shift,” analysts with the Soufan Group write this morning. “The nature of the fight will also change; there will be fewer military-style assaults and more terror attacks. The same can be said for the group’s wilayat in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere; locals, motivated by long-standing local issues, will make up their ranks.” More of that, here.
From Defense One
Forget technology. The real military edge comes from promoting smart people. Jeff Eggers, a Navy SEAL-turned-New America thinktanker, says the innovation needed to win our wars can be found only by fostering a military culture that values people – and their intellectual development. Read on, here.
The U.S. Navy’s next-gen comms system is stuck in the Italian courts. After seven years and more than $7 billion, MUOS is ready to go. There’s just one problem with its Sicily station. From Quartz, here.
The Pentagon wants to ‘fingerprint’ the world’s hackers. By creating profiles of their tools and behaviors, DARPA aims to solve one of the thorniest problems of cybersecurity: attribution. From NextGov, here.
China’s military just released a rap video to recruit young soldiers. Displaying rockets and fighter jets, it aims to show how Beijing’s army is “a powerful force as modernized as the United States military.” Via Quartz, here.
Welcome to the Thursday edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1868, the nation’s longest-running annual Memorial Day parade kicked off in Ironton, Ohio. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With Russian subs turning up in unaccustomed waters, the U.S. Navy’s own submariners are resharpening their skills. “We were operating in places where we didn’t have to rely on an adversary being there to challenge us. That’s changing,” Capt. Ollie Lewis told CNN journalists who recently went to sea for two days aboard the Virginia-class attack sub USS Missouri. “So we’re back to the point now where we have to consider there is an adversary ready to challenge us in the undersea domain and that undersea superiority is not guaranteed,” said Lewis, who commands Submarine Squadron 12.
Of particular concern is Russia’s new Yasen class of subs, whose lead boat is now in weapons trials, said the Wilson Center’s Michael Kofman, who called the Yasen “the quietest submarine operated by an opponent” and told CNN, “The Navy is not really sure it can track it.” Read that, and see video shot aboard the Missouri, here.
Al-Qaeda is withdrawing from two coastal cities in Yemen after “tribal-led negotiations” paved the way for their departure from locales east of the port city of Aden, AP reports. The cities: Zinjibar and Jaar, and AQ reportedly has a week to pull out entirely. More here.
NATO’s European missile defense system goes live today “when a base in Romania becomes operational,” NYTs reports. “The next day, Poland is scheduled to break ground on its NATO missile-defense base… Those deployments will be coupled this spring with major military exercises in Poland and the Baltics, with significant American participation and a beefed-up rapid reaction force of up to 5,000 troops.”
Here’s a bit more about that Romanian missile base, via Defense One’s Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber, writing in December.
President Obama is being sued by a soldier “over the legality of the war against the Islamic State,” NYT’s Charlie Savage reported Wednesday, “setting up a test of Mr. Obama’s disputed claim that he needs no new legal authority from Congress to order the military to wage that deepening mission.”
The plaintiff, Capt. Nathan Michael Smith, is “an intelligence officer [who is] stationed in Kuwait, [and who] voiced strong support for fighting the Islamic State but, citing his ‘conscience’ and his vow to uphold the Constitution, he said he believed that the mission lacked proper authorization from Congress.
Wrote Capt. Smith: “To honor my oath, I am asking the court to tell the president that he must get proper authority from Congress, under the War Powers Resolution, to wage the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”
Experts, however, are a bit cautious, citing many “hurdles, including precedents that suggest that when Congress appropriates money for a conflict it has implicitly authorized it.”
One additional possible consequence: “[I]f a court did rule that the conflict was illegal, Congress would authorize the fight to continue – perhaps giving it broader scope than Mr. Obama has wanted.” Read the rest, here.
Finally today: The Navy’s drone ship sets sail in San Diego Bay. The 132-foot-long ship called the Sea Hunter, is able to operate on its own, using modern technology such as radar, sonar, and global positioning systems to navigate. Sea Hunter will be able to cut through the waves at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. The ship cost $120 million to develop, although engineers say each ship would likely cost around $20 million to produce,” reports the Christian Science Monitor. Sea Hunter will be tested for two years by DARPA.
“This is an inflection point,” Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Work told the Associated Press. “This is the first time we’ve ever had a totally robotic, trans-oceanic-capable ship.”
Check the video, via Onenewspage, here.