Raqqa offensive moves to Phase 2; 28 hours of terror in Mosul; NATO on higher alert; US cyber-warns Russia ahead of Election Day; And a bit more.

The Raqqa offensive has a name—“Anger of the Euphrates” — and it’s on. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced Sunday that not only had the offensive begun some 30 miles north of the IS stronghold, but they’re already onto Phase Two: isolating the city of 250,000 to “cut off the resupply of arms, supplies and fighters,” U.S. military officials told The New York Times on Sunday.

At least 30,000 troops are in the SDF, U.S. officials say, with roughly two-thirds of that force composed of Kurdish fighters from the YPG—a composition that has alarmed some of the Arab activists in Raqqa for months, who worry that the Kurds just want to carve out a state for themselves someday down the road. The SDF’s announcement did not assuage those fears.

Reminder: Eight months elapsed from this phase in the Mosul operation until the actual battle for the city began, Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio wrote from northern Iraq.

Here’s how the NYT sees the stages of retaking Raqqa: “Phase 1 is what the American-led coalition has been doing for months: conducting scores of preparatory airstrikes in and around Raqqa to knock out command-and-control and fighting positions and other assets of the Islamic State…Phase 2, which the Syrian Democratic Forces announced on Sunday, is the campaign to isolate Raqqa…Phase 3 will be a fight for Raqqa itself, which American officials say they hope will be conducted mostly by Syrian Arabs, given that the city is majority Sunni Arab.”

The actual battle for the city is still a long way off, Reuters reports. In fact, they write, don’t expect Raqqa to retaken until well after President Barack Obama leaves office.

The reasons: “U.S. special operations forces in northern Syria have yet to recruit enough Arabs to take and hold the Arab-dominated city,” Reuters reports, citing anonymous U.S. officials.

“Another problem is fighting that pits the YPG against U.S.-backed Syrian Arab rebels supported by air power, artillery, armor and special forces from neighboring NATO ally Turkey.” The key for the U.S., said one official, “is for the Turks to exercise enough restraint (and) get them to resist the temptation to do anything that would spark a conflict that might get out of control.”

To that end, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford stopped by Ankara on Sunday to meet with Turkish officials.

His word of caution: “We always advertised that the isolation phase is going to take months.”

Oh, and he also announced a new officer (and staff) opening in Ankara to work with the Turkish general staff. “That officer will report to U.S. Central Command commander Army Gen. Joe Votel,” the Defense Department wrote in a release Sunday. “The officer will act as a point of contact for the Combined Joint Task Force operating against ISIL. ‘We want to be totally transparent about this with our Turkish ally,’ Dunford said.” That, here.

And by the way: Turkey’s President Erdogan is not letting up on the Kurdish crackdown that he kicked into high gear on Friday. More here.

The ISIS response to “Anger of the Euphrates”—what else? Car bombs, five of them this morning so far, Reuters writes. The attack “so far appears focused on areas north of Raqqa near the town of Ain Issa, 50 km (30 miles) away.”

Also in Syria: Rebels evacuated by the Assad regime are being clustered together in the far northwestern province of Idlib, AP reports. “Already a stronghold of Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, the province is now home to thousands of Islamic militants — with varying degrees of extremist ideology — who have converged along with their families from the central city of Homs and the suburbs of Damascus, after capitulating to government forces… a forced exile that many see as a calculated attempt to gather the fighters far from the capital, at a location where they can later be eliminated.”

AP has more on the feared implications of the forced move, here.

Despite newly recorded “surreal and horrific” videos emerging from Aleppo, the Assad regime maintains that it has killed zero civilians in its months-long bombardment of the rebel-held eastern half, The Telegraph’s Josie Ensor reported Sunday. She accompanied “government minders” with Syrian troops fighting street-to-street in the government-held western half of Aleppo—where more than 20 al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups launched a new offensive on October 27.

And on Aleppo, Russia says it’s holding back from launching a new bombardment on the city “so long as militants do not attack,” which—with the conflict well into its sixth year—seems highly unlikely. More here.

NATO puts hundreds of thousands of troops on higher alert. This is not the alliance’s existing response force, which can be deployed to a war zone within days. Rather, it is the attempt to get a 300,000-member follow-on force, which would be drawn from various member countries, to deploy on two months’ notice rather than six, the Times of London reports, citing Adam Thomson, Britain’s outgoing permanent representative to the alliance. In an earlier interview, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the Times that the move was part of the alliance’s ongoing response to “a more assertive Russia implementing a substantial military build-up over many years; tripling defence spending since 2000 in real terms; developing new military capabilities; exercising their forces and using military force against neighbours…We have also seen Russia using propaganda in Europe among NATO allies and that is exactly the reason why NATO is responding. We are responding with the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.”

This reinforcement includes measures already in the works, such as “the deployment of 4,000 NATO troops to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from next year” and the tripling of a quick-response force to 40,000 troops. Read on, here.


From Defense One

We’re 10 days out from the Defense One Summit! You should come. Join Army Secretary Eric Fanning, USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, White House counterterrorism advisor Lisa Monaco, DARPA chief Arati Prabhakar, and many other national-security leaders on Thurs., Nov. 17, in Washington, D.C. Register here.

Enough, America. Stop Talking About Election Day Revolution // Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: America’s pretend soldiers are threatening to cross the line from dissent to insurrection on Tuesday. America’s military is not.

How Many Zero-Days Does the U.S. Government Hold? Here’s the Best Guess Yet // Joseph Marks: A Columbia University report critiques the process that decides whether cyber vulnerabilities should be fixed or exploited.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 2004, U.S. Marines led the 2nd Battle of Fallujah, leading to “some of the heaviest urban combat U.S. Marines have been involved in since the Battle of Huế City in Vietnam in 1968.” (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


There’s a new normal in Mosul, and it’s terrifying, CNN’s Arwa Damon wrote Sunday in a video report titled “28 hours of the battle in Mosul.”

What she and her cameraman, Brice Laine, witnessed on Friday: An Iraqi special forces convoy slowly creeping into the eastern edge of Mosul, only to be quickly surrounded by a complex attack that split the convoy and sent Iraq’s Golden Division troops (as well as Damon and Laine) into nearby houses for cover and shelter.

The details are really best left to Arwa, herself; so check out her video report, here.

ISIS has definitely dug in for the fight over Mosul, the Washington Post reports off new satellite images revealing “lines of concrete blocks barricading roads into the city and large earthen berms designed to slow the advance of security forces.” Check it out, here.

ISIS says it has sent four suicide attackers at Iraqi forces today around Mosul as of about two hours ago (about 4 pm local), writes terrorism scholar Charlie Winter.

There’s also currently a seeming non-stop stream of civilians coming from the city, Buzzfeed’s Giglio wrote on Twitter, sharing video of the scenes he watched this morning.

Kurdish forces are closing in on the town of Bashiqa this morning, some eight miles northeast of Mosul, AP reports.

And Iraqi Federal Police reportedly retook Hamam al-Alil, “the last town of note on the way to Mosul (about 9 miles out) from the south,” AFP reports this morning.

U.S. airpower is helping the Mosul offensive to the rate of about one strike every eight minutes, Military.com’s Oriana Pawlyk reported this weekend after speaking with Col. Daniel Manning, the deputy director of the Combined Air Operations Center. More, here.  

Troops from Iraq’s 15th Division are using commercial drones to scout for suicide bombers. AFP has that story, here.  

The U.S. has penetrated Russian networks on a broad scale, including their “electric grid, telecommunications networks and the Kremlin’s command systems, making them vulnerable to attack by secret American cyber weapons should the U.S. deem it necessary,” American officials told NBC News on Friday with few details.

The impetus for this apparent leak: “U.S. officials continue to express concern that Russia will use its cyber capabilities to try to disrupt next week’s presidential election. U.S. intelligence officials do not expect Russia to attack critical infrastructure — which many believe would be an act of war — but they do anticipate so-called cyber mischief, including the possible release of fake documents and the proliferation of bogus social media accounts designed to spread misinformation.”

As well, NBC notes, “On Friday the hacker known as ‘Guccifer 2.0’ — which U.S. officials say is a front for Russian intelligence — tweeted a threat to monitor the U.S. elections ‘from inside the system.’” More here.

Three Green Berets were the American servicemembers killed Friday in an attack on a base in Jordan, AP reports this morning. The deceased: “27-year-old Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Lewellen, of Lawrence, Kansas; 30-year-old Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe of Tucson, Arizona; and 27-year-old Staff Sgt. James F. Moriarty of Kerrville, Texas.”

Army Times has a bit more on each soldier’s background, here.

The U.S. Army’s new Strykers have a destination and timeline for first deployment, Stars and Stripes reports. “A prototype of the new Stryker, outfitted with a 30mm cannon, was delivered to the Army last month. The upgraded combat vehicles will arrive in Germany around May 2018.” More here.

Lastly today: An American held by Houthi rebels in Yemen was released on Sunday “after negotiations involving Secretary of State John F. Kerry and the Sultan of Oman,” WaPo reports. “Wallead Yusuf Pitts Luqman had been in captivity since April, 2015, when he was taken off a bus while he and his family were trying to leave Yemen for Saudi Arabia… Luqman’s detention was not widely known until just two weeks ago, when his wife, Jihan Wallead, posted a plea for his release.”

Adds WaPo: “Several other Americans have previously been released by the rebels, and officials believe others are still being held.” That story, here.

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