ISIS bombs kill 120+ along Syria’s coast; America’s imperfect alliance in NE Syria; Fallujah offensive begins; US lifts arms embargo on Vietnam; And a bit more.

A deadly wave of Baghdad-like violence has swept across Syria’s coast this morning, killing more than 120 people. The Islamic State has claimed seven bombs, including five suicide attacks and two car bombs, specifically targeting Alawite strongholds in the cities of Latakia, Tartus and Jableh, all of which is “government-controlled territory that hosts Russian military bases,” Reuters reports. “One of the four blasts in Jableh hit near a hospital and another at a bus station, while the Tartous explosions also targeted a bus station.”

The commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Joseph Votel, quietly dropped in on Syria this weekend (reportedly the first trip to Syria by U.S. forces in the daylight) where “he met with U.S. military advisers working with Syrian Arab fighters and consulted with leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group of Kurdish and Arab fighters supported by the U.S.,” AP’s Bob Burns writes traveling with Votel. Burns said Votel “felt a moral obligation to enter a war zone to check on his troops and make his own assessment of progress in organizing local Arab and Kurd fighters for what has been a slow campaign to push the Islamic State out of Syria.”

Votel’s dilemma: “The United States could try to build the Sunni army it would want, ideally, to capture Raqqah, a Sunni city. But that might take years. Or it can go with the army it has, which is dominated by the tough, experienced Kurdish fighters from the YPG militia,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes on location.

What the U.S. has chosen to do: “both, by building a new opposition coalition under the makeshift banner of the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces,’ or SDF, which integrates Sunnis, Christians, Turkmen and other inexperienced fighters with the larger, powerhouse that is the YPG. That’s not ideal politically but it makes military sense.

”The bottom line presently: “Destroy the Islamic State now; worry about the future of Syria later.” More from Ignatius, here.

And news of Votel’s visit to the northeast wasn’t met kindly by Free Syrian Army rebels, Voice of America’s Jamie Dettmer reports from Turkey. They complain “that the FSA is ‘just being kept on life support’ while it is fighting, unlike the SDF. The course of the civil war would have been different if the West had supplied Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles and offered the kind of close air support the YPG has been getting.”

Former FSA chief of staff, Gen. Salim Idriss, told VOA, “The Arab fighters are just camouflage,.. The SDF is the YPG, which collaborates with anyone — Assad, the Russians, the Americans — when it suits its purposes.” Idriss went on to ask, “what the U.S. had in mind for the administration of territory seized by the YPG from IS. ‘Who will control the towns and villages?’ he asked. ‘I raised this question with U.S. officials in the past when they talked about using the YPG but never got a reply. If it is the Kurds, then there will be trouble. I really don’t think the Obama administration has thought this through. Will the Kurds give up Arab towns they capture?’” More here.

For the record, the FSA is fighting no fewer than seven different factions near Aleppo: ISIS, Russia, Iran, the Assad regime, Hezbollah, Shi’ite militias and the YPG, Middle East analyst Charles Lister says.

Dead: Former Taliban leader, Mullah Mansoor. He was killed Saturday in a drone strike in Baluchistan province, on the Pakistan side of the Af-Pak border, the Pentagon announced this weekend. The group confirmed his death shortly afterward and President Barack Obama, who personally signed off on the strike, praised the killing as removing a barrier to peace in the country that’s pretty much only known conflict for the past three and a half decades. Pakistan, on the other hand, was not so welcome to the news, accusing the U.S. of violating its sovereignty (again: UBL) in the strike.

The Taliban reportedly met quickly after Mansoor was killed, but no consensus was reached on how and who to select to lead the group moving forward.

One likely successor for Mansoor “is Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network which is also closely tied to the Taliban,” The Long War Journal reports. “Siraj is one of Mansour’s two deputies and serves as the Taliban’s overall military commander. If Siraj replaced Mansour, he is even more unlikely than his predecessor to negotiate a peace agreement.” More on the leadership dynamics at play, here.


From Defense One

You are invited to our first-ever Defense One Tech Summit. It’s just over two weeks away, on June 10, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Join Defense Secretary Ash Carter and some of the brightest minds in military and consumer technology to discuss the future of innovation and national security. Reserve your seat here.

With oil revenue down, commercial firms are looking to the defense sector for business, Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber wrote from the sidelines of the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference outside Washington.

Probing the myth of American disengagement. For too many in the foreign policy debate, “engagement” is code for unilateral military intervention. Here’s a more honest way to measure Obama’s record, from former assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, Derek Chollet.

Naysayers are learning the wrong lessons about the LCS, argues Jerry Hendrix of CNAS in this reax to last week’s dive into the issue from Larry Korb of the Center for American Progress. Hendrix’s BLUF: Wherever the US Navy is absent, the stable global maritime system is under assault. That, here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. On this day in 1988, the world’s first production tilt-rotor aircraft, the V-22 Osprey, debuted at Bell Helicopter Textron’s Arlington, Texas, facility. After a rough and dangerous start, things would improve for the aircraft and those flying in it. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


Obama lifts arms embargo with Vietnam. President Obama announced this morning that the U.S. will end a decades-long embargo on the sales of lethal arms to Vietnam. From the NYT: “The United States has long made lifting the embargo contingent on Vietnam’s improving its human rights record, and recently administration officials had hinted that the ban could be removed partly in response to China’s buildup in the South China Sea. But Mr. Obama portrayed the decision as part of the long process of normalizing relations between the two countries after the Vietnam War.” More here.

What type of military equipment does Hanoi need? Maritime patrol and submarine-hunting aircraft, fighter jets and helicopters, Defense News reports.

Baghdad’s troops are locked in clashes on the outskirts of Fallujah this morning after launching an offensive to clear what are believed to be as many as 700 ISIS from the city located just 40 miles from the capital. The operation was announced on television by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi Sunday night, and this morning airstikes and mortars are reportedly hitting the center of the city as Iraqi troops pressure the agricultural margins, Reuters and AP report.

A police commander told the AP “ground fighting was taking place around the town of Garma, east of Fallujah, which is considered the main supply line for the militants. The Islamic State group holds the center of Garma and some areas on its outskirts. Col. Mahmoud al-Mardhi, who is in charge of paramilitary forces, said his troops recaptured at least three agricultural areas outside Garma.”

The agony of victory: As the noose tightens around ISIS, the group is only becoming more violent, U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman writes on the second- and third-order effects of slowly eliminating the group and its fighters from the Iraq and Syria battlefields.

On the road again. Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s latest travels this week take him to Connecticut and Rhode Island where he will commission cadets at Yale’s first ROTC class since the Vietnam War later today. Carter will visit General Dynamics Electric Boat, meet with sailors at Naval Submarine Base New London and tour a Virginia Class sub. He’ll also meet with students at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Defense One Deputy Editor (and Yale grad) Brad Peniston is along for the ride so make sure you follow him on Twitter for the latest.

New Army secretary all over Twitter. Even the most outgoing, social-media sharing people tend to clam up when he or she enters a high-level political job. That hasn’t been the case for Eric Fanning. Since the Senate confirmed him last week, Fanning has been all over Twitter. Doctrine Man has a good summary of Fanning’s social musings here.

Russian and Chinese fly-bys draw ire. The two countries have been increasingly flying warplanes dangerously close to American ships and spy planes. Time’s Mark Thompson looks at the policy dynamics and USA Today’s Tom Vanden Brook talked to Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command.

And lastly today: Speaking of aerial intercepts, the U.S. Navy is a new video pod so its warplanes can record the high-speed encounters. From The Drive: “The idea is that this new pod can record an unsafe intercept in great detail from every angle, and that the footage recorded from it will likely be used for public release as well as intelligence gathering purposes.” More here.

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