5k Shi’a fighters converge in Aleppo; Clinton talks nukes; Congress undermines a key US tie; Trump vs. the generals; and just a bit more.

Tomorrow in Aleppo. Some 5,000 Shi’a fighters from Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and Afghanistan are converging on Aleppo to fight alongside “hundreds” of Syrian troops as the allied forces look to deal a decisive blow to the rebel-held eastern region, The Guardian’s Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen reported Thursday from Beirut. “The coming showdown for Aleppo is a culmination of plans made far from the warrooms of Damascus,” they write.

Ancient pep-talk in an ancient city: “One of the most prominent of those [Shi’a] leaders is Akram al-Kaabi,” from a pro-Iranian Shi’a militia called Harakat Nujaba, and “who arrived in Aleppo last weekend…Invoking centuries-old grievances between Sunnis and Shias, he compared Assad’s opponents in Aleppo to figures from the founding days of Islam who killed the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad at the battle of Karbala in 680 AD.”

As that plays out, take a moment to appreciate these numbers: “Together with Syrian planes, Russian jets are believed to have dropped more than 1,700 bombs on east Aleppo since the start of the week. Some of the bombs have been bunker busting explosives that Save The Children said have forced the closure of schools that had been moved underground to protect students from near constant attacks.”

Line of the day: “East Aleppo not at the edge of the precipice, it is well into its terrible descent into the pitiless and merciless abyss,” said Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, on Thursday.

Deputy State Secretary Tony Blinken leveled with lawmakers about the Obama administration’s Syria calculations Thursday on Capitol Hill, sparking this early headline: “Obama asks all U.S. national security agencies to look for options on Syria.”

The un-sexy skinny on Blinken’s testimony: Obama’s goal in Syria is “ending the civil war and getting a political transition.”

But one particular exchange was illuminating, about just how long the Obama administration thinks the five-plus-year war may continue. Blinken: “Civil wars throughout history have ended basically in one of three ways. One side wins, that is not likely to happen any time soon in Syria…The second way these things end is the parties exhaust themselves. Tragically what we see in history at least is that that takes on average 10 years, Syria is in year six…The third way these things end is some kind of outside intervention. Either military or political. Military intervention of the scale necessary to actually end the conflict is technically possible but then whoever does that is going to be left holding a very, very heavy bag with all of the unintended consequences that result from that and I don’t think the United States, nor for that matter Russia or any other actor’s prepared to do that. That leaves in effect, outside powers, the United Nations and others, trying to put in place and as necessary impose some kind of political resolution. That’s what we’ve been working on because we’ve seen that as the best way to try to end this.” More on the wider ISIS fight below the fold.

Pakistan, Hillary, and “suicide nuclear bombers.” Allegedly hacked audio from a Democratic fundraiser in Virginia back in February is shining new light on how America might treat its nuclear arsenal under a Hillary Clinton administration, The New York Times’ David Sanger and William Broad reported Thursday evening. Granted it was a fundraiser, where folks tend to speak more freely, and with more emphasis on “doom and gloom” to whip up donors. That aside, let’s dig in.

For starters, she’s not crazy about the Pentagon’s latest pursuit of a nuclear-capable cruise missile. “The last thing we need,” she told the audience, “are sophisticated cruise missiles that are nuclear-armed.” (For more discussion, see here and here.)

But one of the more interesting exchanges between Clinton and attendees came on the topic of nuclear security in Pakistan and the surrounding region.

“Pakistan is running full speed to develop tactical nukes in their continuing hostility with India…But we live in fear that they’re going to have a coup, that jihadists are going to take over the government, they’re going to get access to nuclear weapons, and you’ll have suicide nuclear bombers. So, this could not be a more threatening scenario.” Read the rest, here.

India’s military said it kept America “in the loop” on Wednesday’s “surgical strike” at the “Line of Control” along the India-Pakistan border, killing an unspecified number of militants. India’s Economic Times, reporting Thursday: “The issue of the Army action against terror groups that India was planning to conduct is learnt to have figured hours ahead in the conversation between national security adviser Ajit Doval and Susan E. Rice, who also discussed additional measures to counter terror in Af-Pak region, people familiar with the matter said.” The raid was part of the response by New Delhi Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a Sept. 18 attack that killed 18 Indian army troops in north Kashmir.

The strikes, according to a military official, were “aimed at preventing attacks being planned by Pakistan-based militants,” the BBC reports this morning.

Pakistan officials, meanwhile, continue to deny the strike even happened—writing it off as “skirmishes” in the contested region. Why deny the strike? Times of India: “Defence minister Khwaja Muhammed Asif, widely quoted as having said that Pakistan would use nuclear weapons if it feels threatened.” More here.


From Defense One

Trump vs. the Generals // News Editor Ben Watson: As president, the GOP nominee says he would create a Syrian safe zone and swiftly draft a plan to defeat ISIS ‘fast.’ Here are the flag officers who say: not so fast.

The Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: U.S. Army compares its planned helos to F-35; Cheaper missile-defense radars?; Mideast fighter deals, at least; and more…

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1915, Serbian artillery shot down the first plane to be felled by ground fire. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


JASTA and its (rapidly growing) discontents. U.S. lawmakers are coming to realize that they passed a law (then overrode its veto) without a thought for its implications on American foreign policy. That was one of the emerging storylines Thursday after President Obama told troops at Fort Lee, Va., the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act—written to allow Americans to sue the Saudi government for possible involvement in the 9/11 attacks—would also allow the rest of the world to sue the U.S. government for any number of reasons that had been previously off the table during U.S. military operations abroad. Obama’s term for this dynamic: reciprocal laws. ABC News has more on a “bipartisan group of 28 senators led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., [who] wrote to the top supporters of the bill, Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and John Cornyn, R-TX, [on Thursday] warning about ‘potential unintended consequences’ of its passage.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan lashed out at…President Obama for failing to explain lawmakers’ own bill to them. (Apparently, the veto wasn’t a strong enough hint.) Bloomberg, here. Their task now: revise the bill and try again. More on the stateside dynamics from ABC News, here.

As for the OCONUS effect, the Saudi government responded Thursday in a statement, “The erosion of sovereign immunity will have a negative impact on all nations, including the United States.”

Said Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political sociologist and writer: “Jasta is a wake up call for the Saudis, that it is time to revisit the concept of the alliance with the United States.” The New York Times has more from that angle, here.

(And if you’re left wondering “How could a Congress plagued by gridlock pass legislation with overwhelming majorities and then immediately voice regret about the problems the new law might cause?” the Atlantic has some thoughts for you, here.)

In Iraq, this is what the brutality of revenge looks like: Wahida Mohamed, aka Um Hanadi, age 39. She told CNN she’s been fighting al-Qaeda (and now ISIS) since 2004. “Along the way, her first husband was killed in action. She remarried, but ISIS killed her second husband earlier this year. ISIS also killed her father and three brothers. They also killed, she added, her sheep, her dogs and her birds.” She now “leads a force of around 70 men in the area of Shirqat, a town 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Mosul, Iraq.”

And about that brutality: “After listing all the attacks against her”—in the years 2006, 2009, 2010, three car bombs in 2013 and in 2014—“and all the loved ones lost to ISIS, Um Hanadi said: ‘I fought them. I beheaded them. I cooked their heads, I burned their bodies.’ She made no excuses, nor attempted to rationalize this. It was delivered as a boast, not a confession.

‘This is all documented,’ she said. ‘You can see it on my Facebook page.’”

So CNN did. And sure enough… well read the rest, here.

By the way, in Iraq, ISIS on Thursday posted pictures of its child suicide bombers in the vicinity of Shirqat—the recent town “re-taken” by Baghdad’s forces about a week ago—showing plainly “how insane the situation is there,” SITE Intelligence Group’s Rita Katz tweeted.

Don’t look now, but the Philippines’ Rody Duterte just likened himself to Hitler. “During a press conference in his home city of Davao, the former prosecutor told reporters that he had been compared to a ‘cousin of Hitler’ by his critics,” The Guardian reports.

Duterte: “If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have…,” he said, pausing and pointing to himself. “Hitler massacred three million Jews … there’s three million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” That, here.

Meantime, the chief of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, would like you to know talks between the U.S. and Philippine military are doing just fine, posting pictures of Harris’s recent arrival at the U.S.-ASEAN defense ministerial, shaking hands with Manila’s Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana, in Hawaii.

The U.S. Marine Corps wants every squad to have a drone. Quadcopters, specifically. MCTimes has more on some of the candidates for that push, here.

Lastly this week: American foreign aid, visualized. This nifty graphic series from the Washington Post lets you see proportionally how the U.S. reaches out across the global neighborhood. They break down the data to show “two broad categories: economic assistance, which we commonly refer to as humanitarian aid, and military assistance, which the government refers to euphemistically as ‘overseas contingency operations.’”

On the first category: “seven African countries feature among the top-10 recipients of economic assistance, and most of the money is funneled toward health initiatives, particularly HIV/AIDS treatment and research. The biggest recipient is Afghanistan.”

On the second: “About three-quarters of all direct military aid goes to just two countries: Israel and Egypt.”

Check out the maps and graphs for yourself, here. And have a great weekend, everyone!

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