The Raqqa offensive is on shaky footing now that a key Arab element—Thuwar ar-Raqqa—has withdrawn from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, “declaring Kurdish forces had broken an agreement to allow them to lead the charge” on the Islamic State group’s de facto HQ in Syria.
In case you’re just tuning in, U.S. military officials recently said the SDF is working with between 30,000 to 40,000 troops—about one-third from Arab rebel units and two-thirds YPG Kurds. That Arab component was integral to the offensive’s “phase three,” an advance on Sunni-dominant Raqqa after the SDF surround and isolate the city. Few expected that to occur with quickness, but now it may take even longer.
“The agreement was that the SDF would only provide logistical support for the operation,” Mahmoud Hadi, a Thuwar ar-Raqqa official, told the Middle East Eye Thursday. “Everything had been agreed beforehand, we even agreed which flags would be raised…and that the brigade would be in charge of the administrative and security management of the city afterwards. But what happened on the ground has unfortunately been the complete opposite to what we had agreed.”
Elsewhere in Syria, President Barack Obama just authorized an expansion of U.S. drone strikes against al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhab al-Nusra)—a move he initially rejected as too “resource intensive,” the Washington Post reported Thursday. “Obama’s new order gives the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, wider authority and additional intelligence-collection resources to go after al-Nusra’s broader leadership, not just al-Qaeda veterans or those directly involved in external plotting,” the Post’s Adam Entous writes.
For the homeland, friends and allies: “The decision to deploy more drones and intelligence assets…reflects Obama’s concern that it is turning parts of Syria into a new base of operations for al-Qaeda on Europe’s southern doorstep.”
U.S. strikes against JFS began in October “and have so far killed at least four high-value targets, including al-Nusra’s senior external planner. The Pentagon has disclosed two of the strikes so far. One of the most significant strikes — targeting a gathering of al-Nusra leaders on Nov. 2 — has yet to be disclosed, officials said.”
A handover to Trump in the works? The change of emphasis on JFS “is likely to accelerate once President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Trump has said he will be even more aggressive in going after militants than Obama, a stance that could lead to the expansion of the campaign against al-Nusra, possibly in direct cooperation with Moscow.”
However, “U.S. intelligence officials say they aren’t sure what Trump’s approach to U.S.-backed rebel units will be once he gets briefed on the extent of the covert CIA program. Trump has voiced strong skepticism about arming Syrian rebels in the past, suggesting that U.S. intelligence agencies don’t have enough knowledge about rebel intentions to pick reliable allies.” Read the rest, here.
Entous’s reporting may shed some light on an announcement Thursday from the State Department amending Nusra’s designation as a terrorist group to also include “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.” State also added four new alleged members of JFS to its list of globally designated terrorists—one of which, according to the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister, hasn’t claimed an affiliation to any group. That guy is Dr. Abdallah Muhammad Bin Sulayman al Muhaysini, and he’s “probably a senior al Qaeda sharia official” with “numerous connections to al Qaeda’s international network,” The Long War Journal’s Thomas Jocelyn reported Thursday. Read more on those four additions via Jocelyn’s quadruple-profile, here.
Elsewhere in Syria—northeast of Damascus, to be precise—U.S.-backed rebels are quietly taking the fight to ISIS in the mountains, Syria Direct reported Thursday. “The rebels have now broken a months-long siege, imposed by both the Islamic State and regime forces, of the opposition-held city of al-Dumayr, located at the western end of the East Qalamoun mountains. Rebel fighters are currently advancing north from the highway in order to push IS fighters deeper into the mountains, but rebels have not solidified control of the recently acquired territory.”
Who are these rebels? “Last week, fighters with the Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo Brigade and Jaish Usud a-Sharqia, two Free Syrian Army units which almost exclusively fight IS, launched a westward military offensive from positions in eastern Homs to capture the Damascus-Baghdad (M2) highway. The M2 runs through the sparsely populated East Qalamoun mountains, IS’s gateway to southern Syria from its strongholds in the country’s northeast, currently under attack by a US-backed military campaign.” More here.
Obama wants another $11.6 billion from Congress to fight the ISIS and Afghanistan wars, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports. The request brings the expected 2017 price tag for both wars to $85.3 billion.
Some $5.6 billion would go toward military operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. has been carrying out the bulk of the coalition airstrikes, and has been training and advising Iraqi security forces. Some of the funding would also help support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. Another $5.8 billion would go to the State Department and USAID. Find out why, here.
One analyst’s verdict on the request: “It’s a fantasy,” Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio. “As a candidate, Trump called for defense initiatives that analysts such as Eaglen say would add $55 billion to $80 billion annually to a spending request that totals $583 billion this year,” Capaccio writes.
“I tried several times to disabuse them of the notion that this could ever pay for even a fraction of Trump’s buildup costs,” Eaglen said. Read the rest, here.
In Iraq, Baghdad’s federal police are marching north along the Tigris to the Mosul airport, Reuters reported Thursday. “Lieutenant-Colonel Dhiya Mizhir said the target was an area overlooking Mosul airport, which has been rendered unusable by Islamic State to prevent attackers using it as a staging post for their offensive…Satellite pictures released by intelligence firm Stratfor also showed they had dug deep trenches in the runways and destroyed buildings to ensure clear lines of sight for defenders and to prevent advancing forces from using hangars or other facilities.”
Check out that satellite imagery, here.
Meantime, Iraq’s special forces are advancing inch-by-inch inside Mosul’s eastern side, holding tight to six villages recaptured from ISIS in the last 10 days.
“On the eastern front, special forces pushed into the Qadisiya al-Thaniya district, on the northern edge of the small pocket of neighborhoods they control so far, Sabah al-Numani, spokesman for the Counter Terrorism Service, told Reuters.”
And in the air, “A Reuters correspondent in Kokjali, on the eastern edge of the city, saw U.S. Apache helicopters overhead. Explosions, either from air strikes or suicide car bombs which the jihadists have deployed in the hundreds since the campaign started on Oct. 17, could be heard against a backdrop of artillery fire.”
Also on Mosul’s eastern flank Thursday, “Iraqi soldiers advancing on the eastern side of the Tigris targeted two villages close to the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, a military statement said. Troops from the Ninth Armoured Division took control of one of them, the village of Abbas Rajab, four km east of Nimrud, and raised the Iraqi flag.”
And before we leave the war on ISIS, Libya’s strongman—rogue general Khalifa Haftar—loves the idea of a President Donald Trump. And that “could boost pro-Haftar factions with strong ties to Egypt and increasingly to Russia, while diluting Western support for a U.N.-backed government in Tripoli that Haftar and his allies have opposed,” analysts told Reuters Thursday after Haftar’s statement.
To review, briefly: “The leaders of a U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) arrived in Tripoli in March. But they have failed to fully displace the previous administration in Tripoli or win endorsement from power-brokers in the east,” like Haftar, whose “Libyan National Army (LNA) have been fighting a two-year military campaign against Islamists and other opponents in Benghazi and elsewhere in the east. Many suspect he seeks national power.” More here.
From Defense One
Six days to the Defense One Summit. Now, more than ever, you’ll want to come hear USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Army Secretary Eric Fanning, White House counterterrorism advisor Lisa Monaco, DARPA chief Arati Prabhakar, and many other national-security leaders. Washington D.C., Thurs., Nov. 17, in Washington, D.C Register here.
Five Foreign-Policy Challenges for President-Elect Trump \ Rutgers professor Simon Reich, via Quartz: America and the world are inevitably in for a rocky ride—at odds with the simple solutions espoused by politicians on the campaign trail.
Global Business Brief, Nov. 10 // Weisgerber, again: Trump looks good for defense business; New faces at the Pentagon; Want to buy an Army Humvee?
Welcome to the Veterans Day edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1918, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, World War I came to an end. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.
Congrats from Manila to Trump, on one condition. Philippine President Rody Duterte likes the idea of a Trump presidency, but he still wants all U.S. troops off his island by 2020, Reuters reported Thursday. Duterte told reporters in Manila, “We will maintain our cooperation [with the U.S.]… and respect is there, and in all matters between the two countries, especially the treaties we signed with them, so many agreements, we will honor all of these things.”
But, he added, “We do not need any foreigners to train Filipino troops. By themselves they are warriors.”
And in case there was any doubt, Duterte doubled-down on his claim to ditch U.S. defense procurements, turning instead to “China, Israel, Japan and Russia, because U.S.‘gadgets’ were expensive.” All that, here.
The Trump campaign has warned Obama not to make sudden foreign policy moves before DJT takes office, Politico reported Thursday. “On big, transformative issues where President Obama and President-elect Trump are not in alignment, I don’t think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the transition … to try to push through agenda items that are contrary to the president-elect’s positions. It’s not going to be just counterproductive, but it will also send mixed messages,” Politico writes off a nameless national security advisor to Trump.
Notes Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies: The Trump campaign’s warning is “Not how it works,” he wrote on Twitter. “Poppy Bush invaded Somalia without so much as a courtesy call.”
Trump’s foreign policy, according to Walid Phares, a man with a shady past in Lebanon’s bloody sectarian conflict going back to the ‘80s: Trump won’t ask Japan or South Korea to start producing nuclear weapons, “but he will speak with their leaders about how to create a safer and more stable environment in the East Asia theater,” The Daily Caller wrote Thursday after interviewing Phares.
“Because of the dual challenges of ISIS and a legitimized Iran that still has nuclear ambitions, Donald Trump can and will shake up the foreign policy establishment,” Phares said. “At the moment, the top two priorities are how to deal with issues of nuclear proliferation and how to completely destroy Islamic jihadist organizations, including and especially ISIS.” But, he added, “It’s not just ISIS, there is still al-Qaeda as well as more covert actors like the Muslim Brotherhood that President Obama legitimized in Egypt before the Egyptians took their country back.” Read the rest, here.
Trump’s word to Middle Eastern allies: Don’t listen to what I said on the campaign trail, al-Arabiya’s Joyce Karam reported Thursday. “Three months after Trump declared his infamous Muslim ban last December, his campaign according to Arab diplomatic sources, reached out to different Middle East embassies in Washington, DC. The message from the Trump campaign to key Arab diplomats last Spring was a plea to ‘ignore Mr. Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail,’” Karam writes.
The takeaway: “Such messaging from Trump reflects a more calculated approach in reaching different audiences and a readiness to abandon his campaign promises for doing real time politics and business with foreign governments. His scorched-earth tactics on the campaign were meant to rally anxious voters with anti-immigration and populist economic slogans, while behind closed doors he would focus on a more well-crafted message to use with foreign leaders.”
What lies ahead: “This double-tongue narrative will likely continue in a Trump administration with him firing up his base publicly, while being engaged in outreach efforts — with the same people he is bashing — privately.” More here.
ICYMI: A Trump administration is already looking very kind to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Trump advisor retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn wrote in an op-ed at The Hill. “Turkey is really our strongest ally against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as a source of stability in the region… But the Obama administration is keeping Erdoğan’s government at arm’s length — an unwise policy that threatens our long-standing alliance.”
Flynn’s big problem—his “primary bone of contention,” he writes—is “Fethullah Gülen, a shady Islamic mullah residing in Pennsylvania whom former President Clinton once called his ‘friend’ in a well circulated video… To professionals in the intelligence community, the stamp of terror is all over Mullah Gülen’s statements.” Read on, here.
Norway and Britain have signed a deal to increase defense cooperation by bolstering “maritime surveillance and joint exercises on Norwegian soil.” Not many more details to that one—short of a note on Putin’s expansionism fears and concerns over Russian submarine activity off the coasts of northern Europe—but you can read more here.
Lastly today: For the veterans and uniformed personnel—here’s a page with (nearly) all the Veterans Day sales and discounts. From burgers to steaks, more steaks, bagels to buffalo wings—and that’s only scrolling to businesses starting with the letter C in an enormous list you can find here. Have a great weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you all again on Monday!