A rare attack in Jordan; UK operators in Syria; Who will win the race to Raqqa?; RIP David Gilkey; and a bit more.

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

June 6, 2016

Three Jordanian intelligence officers are among five killed during a morning attack at a refugee camp outside of the capital of Amman, The Guardian reports this morning. Early reports suggested the attack — “rare in Jordan” — was carried out by “a lone gunman who opened fire with an automatic weapon before escaping,” Agence France-Presse reports, citing a security source, who added “it was unclear whether the gunman was a camp resident or an outsider.”

The camp, known as Baqaa, is 12 miles from the center of Amman and the largest of the kingdom’s 10 official Palestinian refugee camps, AFP writes. Traditionally, it’s been the locus of chronic poverty and high unemployment as it plays host to some “100,000 of Jordan's 2 million Palestinian refugees,” many of whom have lived there since it opened nearly 50 years ago after the Six-Day War of 1967. Details remain scant, but the BBC has a bit more, here.

Jordan is also where British special operators have been training New Syrian Army rebels; more recently, the Brits have been fighting inside Syria as well, rebel commanders told The Times this weekend.

These British forces “frequently crossed the border to help the New Syrian Army (NSA), comprised of former Syrian special forces, as it defends the south-eastern village of al-Tanf,” The Telegraph adds. “They helped us with logistics, like building defences to make the bunkers safe,” the rebel commander said. The Times again: the rebel unit, made up of former Syrian special forces who defected from President Assad’s army, was retrained by the British and Americans.”

To the north, the ISIS-held HQ city of Raqqa is the (eventual) prize for both Syrian allied troops and U.S.-backed rebels—but who will get there first? “For the [U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)], it could make Raqqa another addition to its presumptive Kurdish state on Syrian soil,” the LA Times reports. “A Syrian army victory, on the other hand, would force Western powers to rethink the pariah status of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government. The two Raqqa offensives, running in parallel and backed by competing international players, represent the often contradictory intersections of loyalties that have arisen during the five-year Syrian crisis.” More here.

Those SDF troops are reportedly within four miles of their immediate target of Manbij, Syria—the last known transit route for ISIS foreign fighters and equipment—and have closed in on the city from three directions, Reuters reports this morning. ISIS is also said to have sent their families out of Manbij, but reports vary as to whether ISIS fighters have fled with their families as well. More on that, here.

The UN warns more than 200,000 could be displaced in that U.S.-backed offensive on Manbij.   

A Kurdish leader who had helped take back Kobane was killed while working with U.S. troops this weekend, Kurdish news Rudaw reported: “Abu Layla was hit by an ISIS sniper in the countryside south of Manbrij, northern Syria. He was brought to hospital in Sulaimaniya”—AP says he was evacuated by U.S. troops “along with three other wounded, on Friday night but died of his wounds on Sunday.” More on the ISIS fight below.

In Afghanistan’s east, “the newly appointed attorney general of Logar Province, just one hour into his job, was among seven people killed on Sunday when two Taliban insurgents attacked as his inauguration ceremony was ending,” NYT reported Sunday. The attackers reportedly hid inside the courthouse the night before, waiting for the moment to strike before being killed by Afghan troops in a 90-minute gunfight. “The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility for the Logar attack. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the attack was revenge for the government’s execution of six Taliban prisoners last month, the first such executions in years.” Last week, six people were also killed during a Taliban attack on a courthouse in Ghazni.


From Defense One

This Friday! Join us at the Newseum or online for Defense One’s first-ever Tech Summit on June 10. Keynoted by SecDef Ash Carter, the agenda includes speakers from Silicon Valley to Crystal City, including DOD, NSA, DARPA, USAF, and more. Get the full schedule, registration page, livestream link, here.

With UN decision looming, China, U.S. need real talks on South China Sea. China is expected to raise tensions this month if a Law of the Seas tribunal rules against their claims in the South China Sea. Time to start talking, say New America’s Sharon Burke, Barry C. Lynn and Zheng Wang. Read, here.

No more Cyber Maginot Lines: We need to hunt down hackers before they strike. We have been too defensive for too long, argues Nate Fick, CEO of Endgame, a cybersecurity company.

Hillary Clinton tears into Trump’s “bizarre” national security. The GOP presidential contender's foreign policy views are “dangerously incoherent. They are not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies,” Clinton said Thursday in California. Via National Journal, here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1944, more than 160,000 allied forces stormed a 50-mile stretch of French coastline in the historic offensive against Nazi Germany that we now call D-Day. Listen to radio news broadcasts from the day here, and send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


In Iraq: Baghdad’s plans to retake Fallujah are FUBAR. That’s according to Hadi al-Amiri, who leads the largest militia, the Badr Organization. He dinged war planners “for moving an armored brigade to the Makhmour area near Mosul—Islamic State’s capital in northern Iraq—while the battle to dislodge the militants from Falluja, their stronghold near Baghdad, is still underway.” Reuters says “Amiri is the second militia official to voice dismay over the Falluja assault,” after “a spokesman for Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Jawad al-Talabawi, said [on Friday] the operations had come to a near standstill and asked Abadi to order the resumption of attacks.” More here.

ICYMI: “The Navy has opened up another front against the Islamic State group, this time launching jets from the Truman carrier strike group in the Mediterranean loaded with bombs to drop on Iraq and Syria,” Navy Times reported this weekend. “The trip through the Mediterranean is the carrier's latest leg on a seven-month deployment — which was recently extended by  a month  — that included 1,407 sorties and 1,110 missiles launched by Carrier Air Wing 7. Truman, which is accompanied by the cruiser Anzio and the destroyers Bulkeley, Gonzalez and Graveley, is operating in the Mediterranean to support strikes against ISIS and demonstrate the strike group’s ability to operate from 6th Fleet.” Read the rest, here.

After the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore this weekend, South China Sea tensions are just as tense as they ever were—and perhaps more so, as Taiwan’s new defense minister said this morning the island would not recognize any air defense zone declared by China over the South China Sea, Reuters reports.

This latest development in the war of words over the South China Sea, where $5 trillion in global trade passes through each year, follows remarks Sunday from U.S. State Secretary John Kerry who said Washington views any new ADIZ proposal from China in the SCS as “provocative and destabilizing.” Just the day prior, U.S. Defense Secretary vowed “any action by China to reclaim land in the Scarborough Shoal, an outcrop in the disputed sea, would have consequences,” Carter said at Singapore.

I hope that this development doesn’t occur, because it will result in actions being taken by the both United States and … by others in the region which would have the effect of not only increasing tensions but isolating China,” Carter said.

The Chinese reax: We are not afraid of your threats. CNN has more here.

Ahead of the upcoming UN ruling on competing Chinese-Philippine claims in the SCS, “China’s claim that it can legally ignore the pending arbitral award is not only wrong, it is legally insupportable,” writes Julian Ku is the Maurice A. Deane Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at Hofstra University School of Law, in Lawfare this morning. Their counter-argument, he says, “doesn’t fly for one very simple reason. It willfully ignores Article 288(4) of the UNCLOS, which states that ‘in the event of a dispute as to whether a court or tribunal has jurisdiction, the matter shall be settled by decision of that court or tribunal.’ This provision means that the arbitral tribunal gets to determine whether or not China’s declaration excludes or limits their jurisdiction over the Philippines’ claims.” Ku goes into much more detail “as a public service to journalists, policy analysts, and other non-lawyers,” right here.    

A French man was arrested with a cache of weapons and explosives on the Polish-Ukrainian border. Allegedly, he had planned to attack multiple targets during the upcoming Euro 2016 games. “The Ukrainian border guard service reported on Saturday that the unnamed 25-year-old had been arrested with an arsenal of weapons and explosives including rocket launchers and Kalashnikov assault rifles in his vehicle. SBU chief Vasyl Hrytsak said the man had made contact with armed groups in Ukraine with the aim of buying weapons and explosives. His intended targets included Jewish and Muslim places of worship and buildings involved with the soccer tournament, Gritsak said. French government administration buildings, including those dealing with tax collection, were also a target.” More here.

Elsewhere in Europe, a rising German military is met with cheers from allies, the NYT reports. The stimulus: Russia’s invasion of Crimea. “Since then, Germany has responded by helping to build a NATO rapid response force in Eastern Europe, leading the diplomacy efforts in Ukraine, and training and arming Kurdish pesh merga battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Now, a new government strategy document, the first such ‘White Book’ in 10 years, is being prepared. It is likely both to bolster Germany’s role on the world stage — beyond its traditional sphere of activity in Europe — and to talk explicitly of military contributions.” Read the rest here.

Rest in peace, David Gilkey—award-winning conflict photographer for NPR News. Gilkey and his Afghan translator, Zabihullah Tamanna, were killed Sunday while traveling in a convoy with the Afghan special forces that was reportedly ambushed by Taliban fighters in the southern province of Helmand, The New York Times reports. “The journalists were in a five-vehicle special forces convoy driving on the main road from Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, to Marja when Taliban insurgents fired at the convoy with heavy weapons, said Shakil Ahmad, the spokesman for the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps in Helmand.”

Gilkey had been traveling in and out of Afghanistan for a decade, and had earned a deep respect from the U.S. military and public affairs community for his professionalism and talent during embeds, including a visit that involved one of your D Brief-ers six years ago in Kandahar. To those who didn’t know Gilkey during that trip, he was often mistaken for a special operator—he was a tall and incredibly fit man who brought to battle only top-notch protective equipment. We can’t quite say enough about the man, so we’ll leave you to this remembrance, from a U.S. Army E-8 who escorted Gilkey on an embed to Maiwand in southern Afghanistan, almost exactly six years ago.


By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston // Ben Watson is news editor for Defense One. He previously worked for NPR's “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now” in Washington, D.C. Watson served for five years in the U.S. Army, where he was an award-winning combat cameraman and media advisor for southern Afghanistan's special operations command during the 2010-11 surge. // Bradley Peniston is deputy editor of Defense One. A national security journalist for two decades, he helped launch Military.com, served as managing editor of Defense News, and was editor of Armed Forces Journal. His books include No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf, now part of the Chief of Naval Operations' Professional Reading Program.

June 6, 2016

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2016/06/the-d-brief-june-06-2016/128826/