Syrian rebels want ceasefire in Aleppo; Obama’s wartime legacy, in his words; Trump’s AF1 tweet rattles industry; Cyber cyber cyber; and just a bit more…

Syrian rebels want a five-day ceasefire to evacuate the wounded from Aleppo, a city they’ve held major portions of since 2012. The plan, from an ensemble calling itself the Aleppo Leadership Council, follows Syrian advances in the eastern “Old City” of Aleppo, as well as an earlier report Tuesday from the Washington Post that rebels had met with U.S. officials to discuss a possible withdrawal from the city. Much of the tension in those discussions in Brussels hinged on Russian threats to exterminate what remains of rebels in the eastern half of the city: “Those who refuse to leave of their own accord will be wiped out,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow. “There is no other solution.”

About the plan: In addition to evacuating the “critically wounded,” the rebels are also calling for “negotiations about the future of the city and for medical and civilian evacuations, in a humanitarian plan” that’s been reportedly sent to “international parties,” though none have so far responded, Reuters writes. The rebels also requested that civilians who wish to flee the city be allowed UN-supervised escort to regions north of Aleppo, rather than to the western Idlib province, where the Assad regime has been routing evacuees from rebel-held turf in recent months.

While it’s tempting to think these developments in Aleppo could portend a coming end to a long, deadly war, the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister says it could actually signal a new brutal, phase of the wider conflict.

Adds AP: “The proposal made no mention of a rebel surrender or pullout.”
Russia’s reax to the plan: We’re not talking about that right now, but we might later. “All these rebels are terrorists,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmetry Peskov.

Adding to Russia’s fury is word from its defense ministry that it lost another soldier to shelling in Aleppo, this time a colonel.

For what it’s worth, famous Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov says he’s taking his troops to Syria to serve as military police, according to this report that surfaced Tuesday.

On top of all this, Syrian state media SANA alleges Israel carried out another airstrike outside of Damascus this morning, AP reports with little detail on targets or casualties.

Obama’s counterterrorism legacy, in his own words: “On January 20th, I will become the first president of the United States to serve two full terms during a time of war,” the president said from MacDill Air Force Base on Tuesday. In that time, he said, “No foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and, executed an attack on our homeland, and it is not because they didn’t try,” which is true if one doesn’t count attacks (San Bernardino, Orlando) allegedly inspired by the Islamic State group.

Obama continued: “Plots have been disrupted. Terrorists have been taken off the battlefield. And we’ve done this even as we’ve drawn down nearly 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, calling large battalions of U.S. troops deployed abroad “unwise and unsustainable,” instead emphasizing his reliance on special operation forces to fight and train with Iraqi, Syrian and Afghan forces. He also hinted at the budgetary restraint his administration has shown toward the conduct of war, noting “that he has spent $10 billion over the last two years fighting the Islamic State — the same amount of money President George W. Bush spent in just one month fighting the Iraq War,” The New York Times writes.  

The overarching concern: “The timing of Obama’s speech, which came only hours before Trump introduced retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis as his choice for defense secretary, raised questions about how much of Obama’s approach will survive his successor,” the Washington Post wrote.

And Obama’s speech was largely about Trump, Slate’s Fred Kaplan wrote. “It was toward the end of his 40-minute address, while outlining seven principles for the future fight against terrorism, that Obama, in effect, unloaded on Trump. The terrorists’ goal, Obama said, is ‘to scare us into changing who we are and the nature of our democracy,’ adding, ‘they cannot destroy our way of life, but we can do it for them if we lose sight of who we are.’”

Kaplan goes down the list of Obama points—including abandoning torture, the better job civilian courts have done as opposed to military tribunals for trying terrorism suspects, the importance of civil liberties, inclusion in American society (re: the floated Muslim registry), and climate change—in more detail, here.

Obama, naturally, had some detractors after the visit to MacDill, like this long knock from Arizona Republican Senator John McCain: “President Obama’s speech was nothing more than a feeble attempt to evade the harsh judgment of history. But to the American people, our emboldened enemies, and our dispirited allies, his legacy on counterterrorism is unmistakably clear: a disastrous withdrawal from Iraq, the terrorist rampage of ISIL, an indecisive approach to the war in Afghanistan that has empowered the Taliban, and an indifferent approach to the carnage in Syria on which our terrorist enemies have thrived. No rhetorical conceit will alter history’s verdict.” You can read the president’s speech in full, here.


From Defense One

Trump’s Air Force One Tweet Rattles the Defense Industry // Marcus Weisgerber: Was the president-elect trying to drive down a price tag — or slap back at a CEO’s policy suggestions?

Rand Paul Is Already Planning to Disrupt Trump’s Foreign Policy // National Journal’s Adam Wollner: Some see the president-elect’s inexperience as an open door for the Kentucky senator and oth­er mem­bers of Con­gress to re­as­sert them­selves against more intervention abroad.

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Seventy-five years ago today, Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, killing more than 3,500 Americans. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


Iraq’s 9th Armored Division launched a new offensive toward Mosul’s city center on Tuesday, less than a mile from the Tigris river. The advance quickly drew a counterattack from ISIS that killed 40 when a series of car bombs detonated outside of a newly-liberated hospital this morning, Reuters reports.

The goal: “A colonel in the armored division said Tuesday’s assault, launched at 6 a.m., aimed to ultimately reach Mosul’s Fourth Bridge, the southernmost of five bridges spanning the river. The bridge, like three others, has been hit by U.S.-led air strikes to prevent Islamic State sending reinforcements and suicide car bombs across the city to the eastern front.”

Breaking the stalemate comes at a price: “Tuesday’s rapid advance marked a change in military tactics after more than a month of grueling fighting in the east of the city, in which the army has sought to capture and clear neighborhoods block by block,” Reuters writes. “But it left the attacking forces exposed, and the Islamic State news agency Amaq said on Wednesday some of them were surrounded. It said a suicide bomber blew himself up near the hospital, killing 20 soldiers. Eight armored personnel carriers were also destroyed in the fighting, Amaq said.”

Iraqi forces know they have numbers on ISIS, and are moving multiple elements into position to pressure the group, including a new infantry regiment to reinforce the four armored regiments already in street-to-street fighting, an officer told Reuters.

Elsewhere in the global fight against ISIS, Somali forces say they’ve retaken the port city of Qandala from ISIS affiliates. “Hundreds of pro-government fighters have been converging on Qandala in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland since it was seized last month by forces led by insurgent leader Abdiqadir Mumin,” a man who “used to be a commander with al Shabaab,” Reuters reports. Said Puntland’s minister for planning: “We now control Qandala port town. The IS fighters ran away into the hills without fighting.” More here.

And in Libya, just one day after ISIS was reportedly flushed out of Sirte, there’s a bloody and somewhat confusing fight taking place near the country’s major oil ports, some 100 miles east of Sirte in the town of Ben Jawad. “One eastern security official said the groups approaching Libya’s Oil Crescent ports were linked to the Benghazi Defence Brigades, which tried this year to launch a counter-attack against forces loyal to eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar,” Reuters writes. “Some of the armed groups’ vehicles had been destroyed in air strikes south of the oil port of Es Sider, security sources said.”

For some context here, “Haftar’s forces seized control of four Oil Crescent ports from a rival faction three months ago, allowing Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) to end blockades at three of the ports and double oil production to about 600,000 barrels per day.”

Iran suspected in cyber attacks. A wave of network attacks that began Nov. 17 “are believed to have affected thousands of computers at the Saudi civil aviation and transportation agencies, harkening back to a devastating Iranian cyberattack in 2012 that nearly crippled the Saudi state oil company, Aramco,” reports McClatchy. “Cybersecurity experts caution that they cannot say for sure that the attacks that began Nov. 17 are from Iranian hackers. But they note a series of similarities to the 2012 cyberattack and say Iranian hackers are especially active.” Read on, here.

Not to be outdone: “North Korea apparently hacked into the South Korean military’s internal cyber network in the first-ever such breach, officials said Tuesday. The incident happened in September, but military officials initially played down reports.” The intruders managed to view some classified military materials, officials said. Why do they think it was Pyongyang’s work? Read on, here.

Oh, but: EU, NATO set to agree on cyber defense cooperation, reports the Wall Street Journal. “The European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization are set to approve an agreement Tuesday aimed at strengthening their cooperation and ability to defend allies from hybrid or cyber attack.” Read on, here.

And: The Kremlin has updated its plan to fend off “what it described as stepped-up cyberattacks and ‘information-psychological’ methods by foreign intelligence agencies bent on influencing its population with online information,” NYT reports. Released Tuesday, the plan “updates a similar information security doctrine put in place by President Vladimir V. Putin in 2000, early in his first term, that staked out a renewed role for post-Soviet government in monitoring information.” More, here.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, federal and local law enforcement increased security on one of the city’s light rail lines after police in a different country received a threatening phone call. “The male caller, speaking in English, had warned authorities in that country of an attack against a Red Line station across the street from the Universal Studios theme park on Tuesday,” LA Police Chief Charlie Beck told reporters Monday. Read more, here.

‘Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government.’ That’s the stark headline on the New York Times’ deep dive into Riyadh’s conflicting and yet coherent approaches to Afghanistan. “Saudi Arabia is critical because of its unique position in the Afghan conflict: It is on both sides,” the Times reports. “The dual tracks allow Saudi officials plausibly to deny official support for the Taliban, even as they have turned a blind eye to private funding of the Taliban and other hard-line Sunni groups.” Read on, here.

(ICYMI, here’s a sampling of American views on Saudi: “Start Preparing for the Collapse of the Saudi Kingdom,” “Saudi Arabia: A Kingdom Coming Undone,” “The US Should Stand with Saudi Arabia in Yemen,” and “It’s Time for America to Distance Itself From Saudi Actions in Yemen.”)

“Suppressed” DoD-waste report downloaded 2,800 times. Yesterday, we linked to a Washington Post story about a Defense Business Board report that said the Defense Department could save roughly $125 billion over five years by cutting staff and other steps. The story further said the Pentagon had “buried” and “suppressed” the results. But a DoD spokesman noted that the report has remained online since it was first posted in January 2015, and has been downloaded more than 2,800 times. NYT has the story, here.

The legacy of Pearl Harbor, in three parts: What we “never learned,” what we did learn about intelligence, and what the Japanese prime minister’s upcoming visit really means. The first comes from US News’ Paul Shinkman, who writes, “Perhaps the most stunning aspect of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941… is that the U.S. knew something was going to happen and failed to anticipate it.” What’s more, he goes on, “it demonstrated the failure of deterrence.” Read on here.

Stars and Stripes has more on the lessons for today’s “readiness-fixated military and global focus on intelligence gathering,” here.

And The New York Times writes that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit—on December 26 and 27—“will be one of a series of efforts by Japan to come to terms with its wartime history, without engaging in direct apologies. He is in a unique position to carry off the trip, as a nationalist who has been outspoken about Japan’s need to move beyond its history and play a greater role in its own defense.” Read the rest, here.

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