Mosul exodus intensifies; Trump slams IC, again; Weaponized narrative, the new battlespace; China tests naval weapons; and just a bit more…

After 12 weeks of fighting, there’s now a marked increase in civilians fleeing Mosul as Iraqi troops clawed back two more districts on the eastern side of the city, Reuters reports this morning. “The U.N. refugee agency has said 125,568 people have been displaced from Mosul, a city of about 1.5 million, and more than 13,000 of those have fled in the five days since the U.S.-led coalition renewed an offensive that had stalled for weeks. That represents an increase of nearly 50 percent in the number of people who fled every day from Mosul over the several weeks of relative calm that ended last weekend.”

About those districts: “An elite interior ministry unit had entered the Mithaq district and were clearing it on Wednesday…while counterterrorism forces retook an industrial zone on Tuesday. The militants are using the city terrain to their advantage, concealing car bombs in narrow alleys, posting snipers on tall buildings with civilians on lower floors, and making underground tunnels and surface-level passageways between buildings.” More here.

In Syria, thousands of civilians are returning to the formerly rebel-held eastern half of the city while Russian sappers work to demine the area. Reuters again: “In the last couple of days around 2,200 families have returned to the Hanano housing district… despite freezing weather and destruction ‘beyond imagination’ said Sajjad Malik, country representative in Syria for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).” More here.

Turkey’s new “veiled threat” over Incirlik Air Base. The Associated Press reports that Ankara’s defense minister said this morning “a lack of support from Turkey’s NATO allies in its operation to clear the Islamic State group from a town in northern Syria [al-Bab] is leading many to question the country’s permission for the U.S.-led coalition to use its air base.”

It’s a curious take considering Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook took to the podium Tuesday to say “last week there was a request when some Turkish forces came under fire for air support and there…were flights conducted by the coalition at that time.” An unnamed U.S. defense official said the strikes took place on Thursday. More, but not a lot, here.

The more you know: Ankara’s interior minister said Tuesday that Turkey is experiencing its strongest period in 300 years, CNN Turk reported.

Get a better sense of Turkey’s ongoing insurgency with PKK militants via this bilingual, annotated map.

Trump slams intel community, again. Tweeting yesterday, Donald Trump appeared to take the word of Wikileaks leader Julian Assange over the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia meddled in his election. He also added a jab about a purported delay in his upcoming briefing on the matter from some of the community’s senior-most leaders. IC officials, speaking on background, quickly retorted that the schedule had always called for briefing President Obama on Thursday, then Trump on Friday.

The president-elect also said the U.S. should release no more prisoners from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, calling the remaining inmates “extremely dangerous.” Again, the national-security community disagrees: “When considering a transfer, six national security agencies – the Offices of the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the departments of Defense, State, Justice and Homeland Security — conduct an intelligence review of a detainee and his potential host country. Most detainees have never been charged and some were cleared so long ago they’ve since doubled their time at the prison,” Defense One reported last year.

And finally, Trump said he’ll hold his first press conference since last summer on Jan. 11. (Recall that he reneged on his promise to hold one on Dec. 11 about his many conflicts of interest.)

About those conflicts: a bipartisan group of politicians, ethics advocates and academics, including a swath of conservatives, wrote to Trump Monday, saying, “Respectfully, you cannot serve the country as president and also own a world-wide business enterprise, without seriously damaging the presidency.” Via NPR, here.

ICYMI: here’s a list of Trump’s natsec conflicts.

From Defense One

Weaponized Narrative Is the New Battlespace // Brad Allenby and Joel Garreau: And the U.S. is in the unaccustomed position of being seriously behind its adversaries.

ISIS Ends Its Separate Peace With Turkey // The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood: The politics of the attack and its avowal make the Istanbul massacre much more pivotal than many others.

Happy new year, and welcome to the Jan. 4 edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 2002, Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Ross Chapman died at the age of 31 during a shootout with militants near Khost, Afghanistan. He was the first U.S. combat casualty from a war that’s now in its 16th year. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: And let us know your news:

Nuclear caveat. North Korea will continue to pursue nuclear and missile technology, but the State Department said Tuesday it doesn’t think they’re capable of putting a nuclear warhead on those missiles just yet. “’We do not believe that at this point in time he has the capability to tip one of these with a nuclear warhead … but we do know that he continues to want to have those capabilities and the programs continue to march in that direction,’ [spokesman John] Kirby told reporters [on Tuesday]. Asked whether he would agree with President-elect Donald Trump’s assessment that China was not helping to contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, Kirby said: “We would not agree with that assessment.” More here.

Beijing’s navy is testing weapons in the South China Sea via its long carrier, the Liaoning, Reuters reports. “‘The Liaoning aircraft carrier group in the South China Sea is carrying out scientific research and training, in accordance with plans,’ Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing. ‘The purpose is to test the performance of weapons and equipment,’ he said.”

About their course: “The group of warships sailed through waters south of Japan and then rounded east and south of Taiwan late last month on their way to the south China province of Hainan… Taiwan’s defence ministry said the talk about the timing and northward route of the Liaoning was speculation, and it would make preparations based on the situation and ‘maintain its grasp of the movements’ of the ship.” More here.

Beijing’s next carrier is currently being built, and Chinese state media would reportedly like you to forget about this story revealing its construction location at the port of Dalian.

ICYMI: The U.S. Navy has no carriers at sea at the moment, though the USS Carl Vinson is due to leave San Diego for the Western Pacific next week.  

Russia wants to exercise with the Philippine navy, and Moscow is offering arms and “close friendship” to make it happen. AP: Russia’s “Rear Adm. Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, led the five-day visit of vessels including an anti-submarine ship and showcased what his country can offer to a Southeast Asian nation that’s long been a staunch American treaty ally.”

Reuters: “Illustrating the transformation of Philippine foreign relations since Duterte took office in June, two Russian warships are on four-day visit to Manila this week, the first official navy-to-navy contact between the two countries.”

Added Russian Ambassador Igor Anatolyevich Khovaev: “We are ready to supply small arms and light weapons, some aeroplanes, helicopters, submarines and many, many other weapons. Sophisticated weapons. Not the second-hand ones… Your traditional partners should not be concerned about the military ties … If they are concerned, it means they need to get rid of clichés.”

Duterte’s not gonna be happy about this: A prison break in the Philippines has allowed nearly 150 inmates to escape. “Around 100 armed men with links to Muslim rebels stormed a prison in the southern Philippines on Wednesday, killing a guard and freeing more than 150 prisoners, some of them Islamic militants… The gunmen opened fire at guards at the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan, prison warden Peter Bongat said on radio. Of the jail’s 1,511 inmates, 158 managed to escape, he said. Eight prisoners had since been caught, two had surrendered, while six were killed, according to the office of the president.”

About the alleged culprits: “The leader of the attackers, known by the alias Commander Derbie, had links with the BIFF, a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Macasarte said. Some members of the MILF and BIFF were said to be behind the killing of 44 police commandos in a secret mission two years ago to capture a Malaysian bomb maker with a $5 million bounty from the U.S. State Department on his head. In 2014, the government signed a peace deal with the MILF, the biggest Muslim rebel group, but clashes still occur with smaller groups.” More here.

Apropos of nothing: Here’s a stunning photo of five MV-22B Ospreys just flying around Mt. Fuji in Japan. It’s a beautiful shot by Marine Sgt. Maj. Michael Cato.

Lastly today: “How an ex-Navy pilot wound up next to Jyn Erso at the Rebel Alliance base” in the film “Rogue One.” This one comes to us from Hollywood Reporter, which writes, “It was a love of ‘Star Wars’ that led Brit Ben Hartley to become a helicopter pilot and eventually saw him not only appear in ‘Rogue One’ but be written into galactic folklore… Hartley spent 18 years serving in the military, mostly flying on anti-submarine warfare and anti-people smuggling missions. Towards the end of his time on duty he moved towards pilot recruitment, and it was here where he met Andrew Buckley, a former Royal Marine who was leaving the forces to work as a film location manager. One day, Buckley gave him a call.”

The film was “World War Z.” HR picks up the story and connects the dots to the “Star Wars” franchise, here.

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