The “new guys” in Iraq. “Al Asad, a massive airfield in Anbar province, was a major hub for U.S. Marines throughout the Iraq war. Soon, it will see the arrival of more personnel and the installation of new technology that can support night operations,” Military Times reported Wednesday on the announcement from Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the U.S. is sending an additional roughly 600 troops to Iraq for the Mosul offensive, pushing the total authorized forces to almost 5,000 in the war against the Islamic State.
First steps: “The U.S. will set up a new ‘instrument landing system,’ which will cover the airfield with radio signals that help pilots to land safely in conditions when they cannot see the runway, such as at night or in bad weather,” a defense official told MT.
Message from coalition spokesman Col. John Dorrian: the new troops “will be in support roles NOT an assault force entering Mosul.”
Objectives: “There’s two things really going on,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Wednesday. “One obviously is the retaking of Mosul. But two is helping to ensure the Iraqis’ lasting victory in these places they have already liberated. And even though Mosul is a very large city that [the Islamic State group] holds, there still is a very large swath of territory and that is going to require our assistance as well, in all likelihood.”
In Syria, as U.S.-Russian relations continue their downward slide—with State Secretary John Kerry on Wednesday threatening to pull out of talks with Russia (check their reaction here) over their consent and assistance to the Assad regime’s merciless Aleppo offensive—the Obama administration is now weighing the possibility of sending new weapons to rebels, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The weapons package is an old one; it’s been on the table for months, but was sacked as Washington pursued its February cease-fire.
It’s also being called the White House’s “Plan B,” U.S. officials said, with the plan centering “on whether to authorize the Central Intelligence Agency and its partners in the region to deliver weapons systems that would enable CIA-vetted rebel units to strike Syrian and Russian artillery positions from longer distances.”
Not on offer: MANPADS, or portable air-defense systems, though less portable AD systems remain on the table.
A little help from friends: “In addition to the CIA and its partners providing weapons, the U.S. is considering giving a green light to its regional allies, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, to provide more-powerful weapons systems to the rebels.”
The usual skepticism surrounds this decision, with some officials saying the addition of new weapons is too little, too late; and others proposing “direct military action” against the Assad regime to stop its bloodshed, not just in and around Aleppo. Read the rest, here.
Don’t miss: The New York Times has a lively multimedia product on Syria they call an “Anatomy of an airstrike in Aleppo: How the horror played out minute by minute during one of many attacks [on Tuesday].” Harrowing stuff, here.
Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said to hell with playing it straight on Russia, and issued a scathing statement in response to diplomatic uproar on Wednesday between Washington and Moscow over Syria. Their text (see if you can spot the sarcasm): “Finally, a real power move in American diplomacy. Secretary of State John ‘Not Delusional’ Kerry has made the one threat the Russians feared most – the suspension of U.S.-Russia bilateral talks about Syria. No more lakeside tête-à-têtes at five-star hotels in Geneva. No more joint press conferences in Moscow. We can only imagine that having heard the news, Vladimir Putin has called off his bear hunt and is rushing back to the Kremlin to call off Russian airstrikes on hospitals, schools, and humanitarian aid convoys around Aleppo. After all, butchering the Syrian people to save the Assad regime is an important Russian goal. But not if it comes at the unthinkable price of dialogue with Secretary Kerry.”
More CW claims? Human Rights Watch just unveiled new allegations of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime. Their investigation, from “phone interviews with local residents, medical personnel, and first responders, as well as reviews of photographs and video footage, indicate that Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs with toxic chemicals on two residential neighborhoods in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo city, on August 10 and on September 6, 2016.” More here.
While Assad is focused on Aleppo, rebels (including Jaish al-Fatah) just advanced in a long-talked about Hama offensive. The goal: “opening a path to the city, at relieving pressure on besieged rebel-held areas further south and at cutting the only road that links Aleppo to the rest of government-held western Syria.” More from Reuters, here.
It’s not all doom and gloom—here’s one rather remarkable story out of Syria: It’s the tale of released or escaped German freelance journalist, Janina Findeisen, who was 27 at the time she was kidnapped by Jabhat al-Nusra in October 2015, and whom gave birth while in captivity just two months later in December. She and her baby are now safe and in Turkey. More here and here, though details remain scant about exactly what transpired prior to her release.
A calm, loquacious Obama spoke to soldiers at Fort Lee, Va., fielding a variety of tough questions from service members at CNN’s Town Hall Wednesday night, including CNN’s headline-grabber, “Why I won’t say ‘Islamic terrorism.’”
The short answer there: “Call these folks what they are, which is killers and terrorists.”
On the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which Obama vetoed Tuesday, but which Congress overrode with votes Wednesday: Under JASTA, U.S. soldiers could be subject to “reciprocal laws…for the work we do around the world,” Obama warned.
In more detail: “The problem with that is that if we eliminate this notion of sovereign immunity, then our men and women in uniform around the world could potentially start seeing ourselves subject to reciprocal loss…We’ve set up what are called status of forces agreements so that when we deploy, our people are not vulnerable to these kinds of private lawsuits. And other countries agree to do that but mainly because we reciprocate with them… This is taking that out of our military and our intelligence and the hands of our national security professionals and putting it into the courts. And that’s a mistake.”
Obama’s exchange with troops, moderated by Jake Tapper, is one of the more revealing and in-depth looks at how the president views his tenure. And there’s lots still to unpack from it—including VA reform and what to do about the stigma of seeking help for mental health. But you can read the full transcript, here.
From Defense One
U.S. Army Racing to Catch Up to Russia On Battle Drones // Tech Editor Patrick Tucker: After watching UAVs dominate eastern Ukrainian skies, the service is seeking counter-drone tech and new families of flying robots.
Jets Are Targeting Syria’s Volunteer Rescue Workers // Abdi Latif Dahir, via Quartz: Some of the workers have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Talking to Russia Cannot Save Syria // Frederic C. Hof, via The Atlantic: Putin and Assad make ISIS look hesitant by comparison when it comes to mass homicide.
Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1990, the YF-22 first took flight, just 24 quick years before the F-22 would see combat. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
China to Japan: keep your warships out of our* South China Sea. Tokyo should abandon plans to participate in joint patrols with U.S. forces, and to broaden relations with countries that dispute Beijing’s maritime claims, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, said Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun. “If Japan wants to have joint patrols or drills in waters under Chinese jurisdiction, this really is playing with fire.” (*Not actually Chinese waters.)
ICYMI, six days ago: Maritime Tensions Grow Between Rising China and Rearming Japan.
How much is China spending on its military these days? CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman has some new estimates.
Philippines president continues to unravel U.S. ties. Now Rodrigo Dutaerte says there will be no future versions of the joint amphibious exercise to be held in early October by U.S. and Philippines forces, nor more joint naval patrols. Reuters, here.
And: a North Korean soldier apparently walked south across the DMV and defected, South Korean officials told AP. Via Military Times, here.
Was the U.S. military “duped” into firing on Somali forces? That’s one claim floating around after the AP reported, “The Pentagon says a U.S. airstrike targeted and killed nine al-Shabab militants in Somalia on Wednesday,” in the vicinity of U.S. advisors aiding the Somali troops.
The al-Jazeera take: “An American air strike in northern Somalia killed as many as 22 soldiers, an official from the region alleged, suggesting that the United States had been duped into attacking Somali troops.”
The episode raised another lexical issue for the Pentagon, which said it replied to the attack with a “‘self-defense air strike’ after Somali troops took fire from fighters as they tried to stop an improvised explosive device making network.”
No solid confirmation on exactly what occurred yet from the Pentagon; but Capt. Davis said officials are looking into what happened and will investigate further if they turn up information suggesting civilians or unintended targets were struck. More from Reuters, here.
ICYMI: An “insider attack” by two Afghan soldiers-turned-Taliban-fighters led to the death of a dozen of their former comrades in southern Oruzgan province, WSJ reported Tuesday.
Apropos of nothing: When rap goes wrong in Iran. Iran’s top naval officer is reportedly facing heat over a rap video someone allowed to be filmed on one of their destroyers. The Telegraph has the story here.
Lastly today: The six types of contractors you encounter overseas, via Task & Purpose. The candidates: Action Figure; Poser; Professor on safari—and we’d excerpt more here, but T&P did such a fine job on the details, we’ll leave the rest to them.