ISIS spokesman reported killed; Ceasefire, or not, in northern Syria; Pentagon eyes new missile-defense satellites; Taliban picks a military chief; and a bit more.

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

August 31, 2016

ISIS loses its voice.” “ISIS’ attack dog has been killed.” However you want to phrase it, it looks like the Islamic State group has lost its chief spokesman and director of foreign attacks, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, in an airstrike in northwest Syria. “He reportedly was killed on the outskirts of the town of al-Bab in Aleppo province where ISIS’s amn al-kharjee, or the foreign intelligence branch for which he was responsible, is headquartered,” The Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss reported last night in the best early biography of the fighter. “In a statement, the ISIS propaganda agency Amaq said he was ‘martyred while surveying the operations to repel the military campaigns in Aleppo,’ in Syria.”

However, Weiss noted, “The Pentagon is being cautious, or perhaps a little coy. A senior defense official said ‘coalition forces conducted an airstrike in al-Bab, Syria,’ and the target was al-Adnani. Although it is ‘still assessing the results of the strike…Al-Adnani’s removal from the battlefield would mark another significant blow to’ the terror franchise, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement this evening.”

But this morning, some 12 hours after the Pentagon released its statement on the possible strike that may have killed Adnani, Russia’s ministry of defense says it targeted him and 40 others in a Su-34 strike on Tuesday. A tiny bit more on that angle from CNN, here.

Extra reading: For the most comprehensive bio on Adnani and his evolution from Syrian-born Sunni to close comrade of al-Qaeda in Iraq founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head over to The Long War Journal, here.

Ceasefire pendulum swings back and forth in northern Syria. The U.S. military said Tuesday Turkey and its rebels had agreed to a ceasefire with Kurdish YPG fighters in north Syria, an urgent and badly needed step to de-escalate tensions as the U.S. tries to get its coalition partners to focus on defeating ISIS. But Turkish officials quickly denied that any agreement had actually been reached, Reuters reports this morning.

CENTCOM chief Gen. Joseph Votel took the podium at the Pentagon Tuesday to review where things stand in his wide area of responsibility. Votel was largely mum on the Turkish-Kurd tensions, yet generous with his praise of the Turkish operation. He also said he expects rifts between Turk-Kurd-Arab fighters “to emerge” as they get closer to defeating ISIS. “What we are trying to do is ensure that we keep all of our partners focused on ISIL at this point. It’s not helpful to [for them to be] in-fighting among themselves. We don’t want that. We’re working to prevent that.”

Votel reserved his strongest words for the recent harassment of a U.S. Navy vessel in the Strait of Hormuz by a mini-swarm of Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats. “The big concern here is miscalculation,” Votel said. “I am concerned about rogue commanders, rogue Iranian Quds force naval commanders who are operating in a provocative manner and are trying to test us… If they continue to test us, we are going to respond, and we are going to protect ourselves and our partners.”

And in perhaps his most serious comment on the topic, Votel warned the IRGC patrol boat activity “can lead to situations where where we may not be able to de-escalate in time before something happens.” More from Stars and Stripes, here.

Speaking of Iran, the Iranian-allied Houthi militiamen in Yemen “will not be allowed to take over Yemen. Period. So the legitimate government will be defended,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Reuters this morning.

And by the way: former estimates on the number of those killed in the Saudi-led war in Yemen were all wrong, the UN said Tuesday as it raised the toll to more than 10,000—up from the previous tally of roughly 6,500.

One more thing on Iran: They want Turkey out of northern Syria, calling their operation “a violation of ally Syria's territorial sovereignty, echoing comments the Syrian foreign ministry made last week.” Voice of America has more, here.

Obama’s ISIS plan has another problem. Defense One contributor Gayle Tzemach Lemmon lays it out: the U.S. wanted Turkish and Kurdish fighters to fight, but not fight each other. Now the administration is scrambling to keep local allies with their own interests focused on its main goal: defeating ISIS. “America’s war planners once again find themselves in a situation that shows how tricky just-in-time policymaking can be when relying on local forces who have their own interests to pursue, not just Washington’s.” Read on, here.


From Defense One

It’s time to register for the 2016 Defense One Summit! Come gather with Army Secretary Eric Fanning, USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, and many other national-security leaders on Thurs., Nov. 17, in Washington, D.C. Register here. (N.B.: Fanning, tweeting today: “Today, I announced the creation of Rapid Capabilities Office to expedite critical tech to counter emerging threats.”)

Pentagon Eyes Missile-Defense Sensors In Space // Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber. Even as the Defense Department begins to build a giant new flight-tracking radar in Alaska, it is already thinking bigger — and much higher.

For F-35’s First Deployment, Marines Plan ‘School of Hard Knocks’ // Editorial Fellow Caroline Houck. Real-world missions will help the Corps chart its future with the plane, says the leader of the Marines' Combat Development Command.

Three Takeaways from Carter’s Recent Meeting with His Indian Counterpart // The Council on Foreign Relations’ Alyssa Ayres. A long-awaited agreement finally clears the way for logistics cooperation. Just don’t call it ‘basing.’

The U.S. Military Will ‘Be Left Behind’ If It Doesn’t Embrace Open-Source Software, Report Says // NextGov’s Frank Konkel. As China and Russia rise, the Pentagon’s slow pace on the software front could cost it tactically for years to come.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1943, the U.S. Navy commissioned the destroyer escort USS Harmon, its first warship named for an African-American. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


Will the Pentagon’s planned nuclear modernization cost $350 to $450 billion…or $1 trillion, two numbers offered during a recent Capitol Hill hearing? “The answer is yes. Let me explain,” offers CSIS’ Todd Harrison, who has been tracking these numbers for years. The answer depends, of course, on just what costs you include, what time period you’re talking about, and how you account for dual-use items. Read on, here.

The Taliban in Afghanistan have appointed a new military chief, “Mullah Ibrahim Sadar, once a close ally of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar,” AP reported. His selection “heralds a commitment to confrontation at a time when multiple governments are trying to coax the Taliban to the negotiating table. Sadar is a battle-hardened commander, who gained prominence among Taliban foot soldiers following the movement's overthrow in 2001 in the U.S.-led invasion.”

Elsewhere nearby, a video emerged publicly this week of “a Canadian man and his American wife [Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman] warning that their Afghan captors will kill them and their children unless the Kabul government ends its executions of Taliban prisoners,” AP reports today on a story initially broken by The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris Tuesday. The AP writes this morning that the State Department is reviewing the video, which a Taliban spokesman said was recorded in 2015.

Some brief background: “The couple set off in the summer of 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan. Her parents, Jim and Lyn Coleman, last heard from their son-in-law on Oct. 8, 2012, from an internet cafe in what Josh described as an ‘unsafe’ part of Afghanistan. In 2013, the couple appeared in two videos asking the U.S. government to free them from the Taliban. The Colemans received a letter last November in which their daughter said she had given birth to a second child in captivity.”

Lastly today: While Russia faces mounting pressure in its war on ISIS, Russian scientists have been pointing to outer space this week to say, “Hey, everyone: look over here!” What they’re pointing to is possibly a signal from nearly 95 light years away, news that has many in the space research community mildly excited—but word of the signal has also drawn a generous amount of skepticism, not least of which came from the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers in Berkeley, Calif., which say the signal “is most probably a natural astrophysical phenomenon, possibly caused by interference and reflections from debris in interstellar space of some other radio source.” Or, as the Lowy Interpreter writes, “Did ET really call? Probably not.”


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.

August 31, 2016

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2016/08/the-d-brief-august-31-2016/131174/