Mosul offensive takes a knee; ISIS ignites massive sulfur and oil fires; Context for China’s stealthy jet; DoD’s new top-secret phone; and just a bit more…

Poor weather and visibility have temporarily halted Iraqi special forces from advancing beyond the “neighborhood of Gogjali, which is inside city limits but just outside more urban districts,” AP reports this morning from the neighborhood, where “the guns went largely silent on Wednesday, though sporadic rifle cracks could be heard as well as some army artillery fire on IS positions.”

Get to better know Mosul with this “multi-sector” district map of the city and its outskirts from the UN.

Accounts continue to pour in of ISIS fighters gathering up civilians, going “door to door in villages south of Mosul, ordering hundreds of people at gunpoint to march north into the city, where urban fighting is expected to be heaviest and the presence of civilians will slow the army’s advance as it tries to avoid killing innocents,” AP adds.

The fight to Mosul’s heart is about to turn into street-to-street combat among “cobblestone pathways and clusters of shops, homes and Muslim shrines,” LA Times’ Bill Hennigan reports from Baghdad. In the hopes of avoiding the worst of that, “the Iraqis have left a 50-mile-wide opening west of Mosul so the militants can flee into the desert wastelands that lead to Syria,” Hennigan writes.

From a military perspective, coalition “air power will be restricted in Mosul, there’s no doubt about that,” said David Deptula, a retired Air Force officer who is dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Arlington, Va. “However, it shouldn’t be negated. If you hold back too much, you’re handing the enemy exactly what it wants.” Read on for how the U.S. intends to use “tactical restraint” to limit the devastation that’s still to come as Baghdad’s allied troops close in on the center of Mosul, here.

Then take a look at some of the heavy artillery France has brought to the Mosul fight, via this report from Agence France-Presse, on Task Force Wagram—consisting of five French truck-mounted 155mm howitzers (with prior use in Afghanistan and Mali) now chipping away at Mosul from Qayyarah.

Some 45 miles north of Qayyarah, Iraqi troops have advanced to the city of Hammam al-Alil (located 9 miles south of Mosul), where ISIS had reportedly been rounding up the city’s 25,000 residents for use as human shields. Reuters has more on that movement from a different axis from the CT police in Mosul’s eastern limits, here.

ISIS is using the environment as a weapon of war, Vox reported Tuesday, supplemented by NASA imagery of Iraq zeroing in on sulphur and oil plumes drifting southeast toward Baghdad. “To put this in perspective: The same sulfur plant was set on fire by an arsonist back in 2003, and that conflagration lasted months, releasing some 21,000 tons of sulfur-dioxide per day. That’s four times as much as the largest man-made pollution source on Earth — a smelter in Noril’sk, Russia. It’s the sort of sulfur eruption usually only associated with volcanoes…It’s not clear that the worst is over yet.” More here.  

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad expects to rule until 2021, he told a specially assembled crowd of western journalists at his French-Ottoman palace in Damascus Monday night. The New York Times’ Anne Barnard was among the invitees, and reports on the unsurprisingly surreal picture Bashar painted of what’s happened to his country, writing Assad “was on a mission to convince the West that their governments had made a mistake in backing his opponents and that he was secure in his position as the custodian of Syrian sovereignty.”

Assad: “I’m just a headline — the bad president, the bad guy, who is killing the good guys. You know this narrative. The real reason is toppling the government. This government doesn’t fit the criteria of the United States.”

One particularly odd moment from the president: “Let’s suppose that these allegations [that the Syrian air force has indiscriminately bombed civilians] are correct and this president has killed his own people, and the free world and the West are helping the Syrian people—After five years and a half, who supported me? How can I be a president and my people don’t support me?”

Adds Barnard: “He gave a small giggle and added, ‘This is not realistic story.’” Read the rest, here.

Newsflash: The U.S. public dislikes ISIS more than they dislike Russia or Assad, the Washington Post reports off a new University of Maryland Critical Issues poll. “This public emphasis on the Islamic State threat beats other concerns, including worries about Russia’s assertiveness. It also supersedes public worries about Assad…Some 60 percent — including two-thirds of Republicans and a majority of Democrats — preferred to put aside differences with Russia to focus on confronting the Islamic State.”

Why? Impossible to know for sure; but, they add, “It is, of course, possible that the U.S. public, distracted by its presidential campaign, has not been sufficiently paying attention to reports of Russian and Syrian government bombings that have killed many civilians and destroyed hospitals. It is also unlikely that much of the public has been exposed to arguments that Assad has had an interest in the rise of the Islamic State as a way of diverting global and domestic energies that could have otherwise focused on confronting him. But the Syria story has been around for years, and U.S. media reports focused on atrocities and refugees long before the campaign started.” More here.

Speaking of Russia, it has revamped its bases in Crimea for the purposes of dominating the Black Sea, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Some of the facilities include “a chain of radar stations on rocky hilltops around Crimea. These stations offer an ideal vantage point for monitoring the Black Sea, and nearby NATO members Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania… Further around the coast, on the outskirts of the port city of Sevastopol, sits another radar station, called “Dnepr.” Built by Soviet engineers, the station was out of order for years before the Russian annexation. A Reuters reporter saw dozens of soldiers in Russian military uniforms inside the base and guarding the perimeter… [and] At Perevalnoye, a small village at the foot of a mountain not far from Simferopol in the centre of the peninsula, Russia is transforming an abandoned Ukrainian military facility into two new bases.” More here.

And in the capital of Russia, workers from the human rights group Amnesty International woke this morning to find their office in Moscow was shuttered overnight without warning. AP has that story, here.

From Defense One

As China Shows Off J-20 Stealth Fighter, A Bit of Context // Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber and Bradley Peniston: It takes more than a flyby at an airshow to deploy fifth-generation fighter jets in combat.

The NSA Chief Has A Phone For Top-Secret Messaging. Here’s How It Works // Tech Editor Patrick Tucker: The Boeing device is less a phone and more a locked-down portal to a faraway server.

The Long View on Rodrigo Duterte’s Anti-Americanism // Jon Emont, via The Atlantic: Sometimes to maintain a good alliance, it pays to be a little deaf.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1947, the H-4 Hercules — better known as the Spruce Goose — made its one and only flight. (Send your friends this link: And let us know your news:

The Pentagon is about to request an extra $6 billion for ongoing operations — but don’t call it OCO or a supplemental. Why not? The money in this “budget amendment” would actually go, more or less, to the current fight: “troop increases in Iraq, a slower draw-down of troops from Afghanistan and more intense air operations,” Bloomberg reports. That’s because the 2017 spending bill was written by House Republicans “to use $16 billion in war-fighting funds for regular department needs, bringing a veto threat from the White House.” And of course, it’s in contrast to the Bush-era spending bills that did this so often that the “emergency supplemental” bills were renamed “overseas contingency operations,” or OCO.

What else needs more cash? F-35, to the tune of a cool half-billion dollars. “The call for more money comes as the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester has issued a fresh warning that the aircraft, projected to cost $379 billion for a fleet of 2,443 U.S. planes, is far from showing it has full combat capability. In an eight-page memo dated Oct. 14 and obtained by Bloomberg News, Michael Gilmore, the director of operational testing, recommended ‘very strongly that the program be restructured now and provided the additional resources it clearly requires to deliver its long-planned and sorely needed full’ capability.” Read on, here.

“Force of the Future” continues to evolve. The Pentagon’s campaign to reach more of America’s youth—and to keep from “bleeding talent” from an “up or out” promotion system—could see some more big changes, including easing up on fitness standards, tattoo restrictions, and easing up on its bar on recruits with marijuana convictions, Army Times reported Tuesday. It’s all part of the continuing effort by Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s “Force of the Future” personnel reforms, “which are driven by his concerns that the military today is ill-equipped to recruit and retain the top talent needed for future missions.”

What’s more, “Carter also announced a $140 million advertising campaign to improve the military’s brand among young people throughout all regions of the country, and an effort to improve the ROTC program that trains about 40 percent of incoming military officers.”

Said a nameless defense official: Carter “isn’t committed to overturning these standards because each one of them has a reason. We are going to look at them systematically and evaluate them against our needs and make sure we’re as flexible as we need to be so we can get the best possible force in.” More here.

A thought on “bleeding talent” and the “up or out” system, from Doctrine Man!!: “Work ethic and values have to trump every other aspect of career management. You’re not always going to get the job that you want, the assignment of your dreams. Sometimes you’re going to end up working for the village idiot or the boss who just doesn’t appreciate your unique contribution to the force. And every decision you make comes with consequences, both good and bad…It’s up to you to decide whether to wallow in self-pity or dig deep and make the most of a lousy job, a shitty assignment, or a crap boss…If our tremendously flawed system eventually fails you (at some point, we all find ourselves not ‘making the list’), then tackle what’s ahead as if it’s your next great challenge. Because, if you really are as talented as you think, ‘what’s next’ is going to be nothing after what you’ve seen and done.”

The next U.S. president needs to give America’s special operators either more troops or less work, according to feedback from various SOF operators gathered into a new report (PDF) from CNA.

Some more of the findings, according to Military Times: “shifting some special operations forces roles to the other service specialists,” roles like training a foreign military simply how to shoot straight and deploying snipers who aren’t SOF-qualified, easing the burden of true SOF snipers.

Oh, one last thing: “The group also complained of ‘micromanaging’ from Washington, D.C., and petitioned for a larger role in military leadership, to better voice their concerns and priorities. Ideally, that would include placing a special operations forces general officer on the National Security Council Staff as an advocate for the community.” More here.  

ICYMI: The UAE has a forward air base in eastern Libya, and it’s located about 60 miles from Benghazi, IHS Janes reported last week.

Lastly today: For your eyes only: Step inside the rubble of a Yemen airstrike, via NYTs 360-degree video report from Sana’a. Move around and explore the area, which has been labeled with text panes to describe some of what you see in their video/thingy—made all the more haunting when the sound is turned on—here.

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