“We call on you to give up your weapons or count yourselves dead,” Syrian YPG militia members told Syrian troops in the northeastern city of Hasakah on Sunday—two days after America’s first show of force against the Assad regime when its jets struck positions near the U.S.-backed YPG. “The fighting this week in Hasaka, divided into zones of Kurdish and Syrian government control, marks the most violent confrontation between the Kurdish YPG militia and Damascus in more than five years of civil war,” Reuters reports as “the powerful YPG militia has captured almost all of east Ghwairan, the only major Arab neighborhood still in government hands.”
America has a new ISIS war commander—Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend—and one of his first moves has been to warn Russia and Syria that the U.S. will not shy away from protecting its troops on the ground inside Syria, as evidenced by those American jets the military scrambled after Syrian warplanes bombed U.S.-backed YPG fighters in Hasakah late last week.
“We’ve informed the Russians where we’re at…[They] tell us they’ve informed the Syrians, and I’d just say that we will defend ourselves if we feel threatened,” Townsend told CNN on Saturday.
A bit more on the “new guy,” Lt. Gen. Townsend: He is “by all accounts one of the Army’s most gifted strategists,” Military Times reports, and he “will oversee a shift from conventional warfare to a mission that is far more ambiguous and political.” He’s also the “7th U.S. general commanding war operations since 2003,” LA Times’ Bill Hennigan tweeted Sunday. More from MilTimes, here.
ICYMI: Russia fired cruise missiles into Aleppo province on Friday after telling the world they were just going to be conducted exercises of Syria’s western coast. Catch video of the launches and purported strikes on Nusra Front positions via the Ministry of Defense, here.
For what it’s worth: Russia notified Iran and Iraq of their intent to fire cruise missiles from near the Caspian Sea—a launch they’ve yet to follow through on, so look out for that in the coming days.
While we’re at it: Iran is evidently not happy that Russia told the world about its use of that airbase at Hamadan. AP: “State TV quoted Iran’s defense minister as saying that Russia ‘will use the base for a very short and fixed span.’ The comments by Gen. Hossein Dehghan came after he chastised parliament this weekend for asking questions about Russia using the base.
Responding to a question about why Iran didn’t initially announce Russia’s presence at the airfield, Dehghan appeared prickly on the state TV broadcast.
‘Russians are interested to show they are a superpower to guarantee their share in political future of Syria and, of course, there has been a kind of show-off and ungentlemanly (attitude) in this field,’ he said.
His remarks also suggest Russia and Iran initially agreed to keep Moscow’s use of the air base quiet. Its announcement likely worried Iran’s Sunni-ruled Mideast neighbors, which host American military personnel.” More here.
In Turkey, a boy possibly as young as 12 is believed to have been the suicide bomber who attacked a wedding Saturday night, according to Turkish officials, killing more than 50 and wounding almost 70 in the southern city of Gaziantep. Nearly a dozen of the victims were below the age of 14. No group has yet claimed the attack, though Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ISIS was the likely culprit, with some suggesting the attack may have been retribution for ISIS having recently lost the city of Manbij to U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab rebels in northern Syria. More from CNN, here.
Here’s a chart of the “main attacks” in Turkey since July 2015 (12 and counting), per the Agence France-Presse.
Some 4,800 kms to the northwest, European security and intelligence forces are having an incredibly difficult time finding ISIS on the continent, Buzzfeed’s Mitch Prothero reported Sunday in our Monday #LongRead.
Pull-out fact: To find Salah Abdeslam, Belgians asked the NSA to track the phones of people who attended another Paris attacker’s funeral. His report in full, here.
And elsewhere in Europe, “For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the German government plans to tell citizens to stockpile food and water in case of an attack or catastrophe,” Reuters reports off a Sunday story in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper. That, here.
From Defense One
What you need to know about Aleppo. Because of the city’s importance to all parties in the conflict, fighting between rebels, ISIS and the Russia-Syria-Iran alliance is only expected to escalate. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Zachary Laub explains, here.
There’s a big loophole in the Pentagon’s guide to eavesdropping. The new rules reflect a shift in intel-gathering from phone-tapping to capturing conversations on the internet. Via NextGov, here.
Why is America still saying ‘never again’ about terrorism? Despite an administration change and major shifts in national security, the federal government is still taking a maximalist approach to policy. Stephen Engelberg, the editor of ProPublica, lays it out, here.
The death of hope in Syria. “I don’t think anyone can help us,” one of the last doctors in Aleppo says. The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman reports, here.
Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1849, Austria dropped a bomb on Venice from an unmanned balloon, completing the world’s first air raid. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
China to Japan: don’t ply “our” international waters. In June, the Chinese ambassador warned “a high-level Japanese official” Tokyo against sending Self-Defense Force ships to accompany U.S. Navy freedom-of-navigation patrols past China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea. The ambassador said such action would “cross a red line,” Japan Times is reporting, citing diplomatic sources. Japan has no immediate plans to do so, and more warnings are expected later this month. Read on, here.
That warning was delivered some two weeks before the Chinese were told by an international arbitration court at The Hague to quit making the territorial claims. More from Sputnik, here.
Mapped: China’s favorite ports. The Wall Street Journal charts the places where Chinese firms are building maritime infrastructure and where Chinese warships most often pull in, here. There’s also before-and-after photos of Beijing’s first overseas naval base, at Djibouti. (Sound familiar? Here’s a U.S. analyst warning about it, as well as Djibouti’s foreign minister pushing back on assertions China is elbowing Americans out of its strategic East African footprint.)
You knew it was bad. You didn’t know it was this bad. “U.S. Army fudged its accounts by trillions of dollars, auditor finds,” is the headline on a Reuters story written off a June report by the Defense Department’s Inspector General. It said “the Army made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year. Yet the Army lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up.” Read on, here.
Yemen’s rogue government wants to give Russia use of all military bases. The latest from the war-torn country follows a massive protest of tens of thousands of people in the capital of Sana’a on Saturday who came out to show their support for the Iranian-aligned Houthi rebel government, led by ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom Reuters notes was once upon a time “a former counter-terrorism ally of the U.S. who was toppled by mass protests in 2011.”
Saleh: “In the fight against terrorism we reach out and offer all facilities. Our airports, our ports… We are ready to provide this to the Russian Federation.”
Adds Reuters: “The ex-strongman may lack the clout to implement such an offer… In an apparent response to the Houthi show of force, ambassadors from the G18 group of nations, including Russia, that has backed U.N. peace talks to end Yemen’s civil war issued a statement condemning ‘unconstitutional and unilateral actions in Sanaa.’” That, here.
ICYMI: The U.S. military withdrew a sizable portion of its Yemen contingent in June—but the information only came out late last week. “Fewer than five U.S. service people are now assigned full-time to the ‘Joint Combined Planning Cell,’ which was established last year to coordinate U.S. support, including air-to-air refueling of coalition jets and limited intelligence-sharing, Lieutenant Ian McConnaughey, a U.S. Navy spokesman in Bahrain, told Reuters. That is down from a peak of about 45 staff members who were dedicated to the effort full-time in Riyadh and elsewhere, he said.” Read on for the verbal gymnastics the U.S. put itself through to avoid outright condemnation of the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen that has helped contribute to the deaths of more than 6,500 people so far.
Oh, hey: Is France involved in Yemen? Very possibly, judging by this satellite imagery.
And last but not least in Yemen, here’s why two-thirds of Britain’s arms exports go to the Middle East. The Guardian has the story of how the Saudi kingdom is now “the UK defence sector’s biggest customer.”
And finally today: The Olympics are over, but you can still catch the story of how one U.S. soldier won a silver medal—then had it revoked, only to have it returned to his possession once more. It’s the quickly-twisting saga of U.S. Army Spc. Paul Chelimo, who ran just over 3 miles (5,000 meters) at a blistering 13 minutes and almost four seconds. NPR fills in the rest: “But while being interviewed live by NBC’s Lewis Johnson, Chelimo was informed that he had been disqualified. A visibly shocked and disappointed Chelimo took a step back, but continued the interview. ‘I want to appeal that my intention was not to impede anyone,’ Chelimo said.”
And after reviewing the footage, judges reinstated Chelimo’s medal—which helped give the U.S. an overall medal count victory of 121, leading all categories with 46 gold, 37 silver and 38 bronze medals. At least when it comes to the Olympics, America is certainly winning.