Coalition takes Mosul airport; McRaven lectures Trump on the ‘enemy’; Turkey’s rebels ‘liberate’ Al-Bab; McCain to Syria; And a bit more.

Iraqis (and Americans) take Mosul airport. Iraqi forces fought Islamic State militants from two directions along a “sprawling military base outside of Mosul and onto the grounds of the city’s airport, taking control of the runway amid fierce exchanges of fire,” AP reports in the latest from the months-long offensive on the city. “By early afternoon, federal police commander, Maj. Gen. Raid Shakir Jawdat told the Iraqi state TV that his troops have control of ‘more than half’ of the airport complex.”

Within the past hour, reports have come in that Iraqis had won, but the dust is still settling.

Kurdish Rudaw news reports four Iraqi soldiers, including a special forces captain, were killed and three others injured in an ISIS attack at the airport using Katyusha rockets.

They’re also using homemade drones with — is that a badminton shuttlecock? See for yourself, via AFP’s Sarah Hussein.

In case you were curious: American troops are involved in the assault, with AFP noticing U.S. forces “on the front lines” Thursday morning. Adds Reuters: “U.S. special forces in armoured vehicles on Thursday positioned near Mosul airport looked on as Iraqi troops advanced and a helicopter strafed suspected Islamic State positions.”

Reporting on location, Reuters writes, “Federal police and an elite interior ministry unit known as Rapid Response had battled their way into the airport as Islamic State fighters fought back using suicide car bombs, a Reuters correspondent in the area south of Mosul airport said. Police officers said the militants had also deployed bomb-carrying drones against the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Forces advancing from the southwestern side of the city.”

Adds AFP: “Backed by jets, gunships and drones, forces blitzed their way across open areas south of Mosul and entered the airport compound, apparently meeting limited resistance but strafing the area for suspected snipers. The interior ministry’s Rapid Response units, followed by federal police forces, entered the airport compound from the southwest after pushing north from the village of Al-Buseif.”

The airport may not be a viable option too terribly soon, AFP writes after the morning’s fierce shelling by Iraqi troops: “Little was left standing inside the [airport’s] perimeter and what used to be the runway was littered with dirt and rubble.”

Iraqi forces began their move on the airport four days ago, AFP reports, adding, “It is unclear how many jihadists are defending the airport but US officials said Monday that only around 2,000 remain in Mosul. There are an estimated 750,000 civilians trapped on the city’s west bank, which is a bit smaller than the east side but more densely populated.”

What the coalition stands to gain: “Control of the base and airport would set government forces up to enter Mosul neighbourhoods on the west bank of the Tigris, a month after declaring full control of the east bank,” AFP reports. “All of the city’s bridges across the river have been blown up.”

And with front-line combat comes injuries, as CNN reported Wednesday—not that U.S. defense officials are willing to release numbers, for the messaging benefit that might grant ISIS.

And that’s all just from fighting near the airport. “Separately, Iraqi special forces entered the Ghazlani military base next to the airport on the southern edge of the city,” AP reports.

Adds Reuters from that front: “Elite Counter Terrorism forces advanced from the southwestern side and entered the Ghozlani army base along with the southwestern districts of Tal al-Rumman and al-Mamoun.”

For more reporting from the front lines, be sure to follow the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, AFP’s Sara Hussein, and Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio on Twitter.

Worth the click: A U.S. airstrike on an ISIS drone cell reveals some clever analysis by one particular Airman,’s Oriana Pawlyk reported Wednesday.

We have an uncomfortable glimpse into life in Iraq after the fall of Mosul, via this report from the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris, writing from Ramadi on Wednesday: “The Islamic State is nearing defeat on the battlefield, but away from the front lines its members are seeping back into areas the group once controlled, taking advantage of rampant corruption in Iraq’s security forces and institutions. Police officers, judges and local officials describe an uneven hand of justice that allows some Islamic State collaborators to walk, dimming Iraq’s chances of escaping the cycle of violence that has plagued the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.” Story here.  

The Maverick goes to Kobani. “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) secretly traveled to northern Syria last weekend to speak with American military officials and Kurdish fighters,” The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. McCain has visited Syria before, visiting rebels in late May 2013, as well. “The short visit came in the middle of a regional trip that took Mr. McCain from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, where he discussed evolving plans to counter Islamic State in the Middle East” at the same time that “the Trump administration is debating plans for an accelerated military campaign against Islamic State,” writes the Journal.

If you’re just catching up, “President Donald Trump has asked the U.S. military to present him with a new plan to destroy Islamic State, and the report is supposed to be finished by the end of the month.”

McCain later met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. The dynamic there: “Mr. Erdogan is pushing the Trump administration to sideline the Kurdish fighters that U.S. military leaders view as a vital ally in the fight against Islamic State…Central to the debate is whether or not to rely on Kurdish forces to take Raqqa, a city with a Sunni majority that is likely to be wary of Kurdish control.” Read the rest, here.

Turkey’s allied Syrian rebels say they’ve captured the northwestern Syrian city of Al-Bab from ISIS, AFP reports. “We are announcing Al-Bab completely liberated, and we are now clearing mines from the residential neighbourhoods,” said Ahmad Othman, a rebel commander.

On the diplomatic front, Syrian negotiators arrived in Geneva for “the first U.N.-led peace talks in almost a year,” Reuters reports.  

Not that fighting has ceased in any way from the Syrian regime’s side: “Syrian warplanes carried out air strikes on rebel-held areas in Deraa, Hama and Aleppo provinces and insurgents fired rockets at government targets on Thursday, just as peace talks were set to resume in Geneva after a 10-month hiatus,” Reuters reports this morning. However, “the overall level of violence in western Syria was somewhat lower than in previous days, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.” More here.

Elsewhere in the global ISIS fight, the chief of AFRICOM, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, says Libya’s various factions are going to have to find a way to work together if there’s any hope of the country stabilizing, Voice of America reported from the Munich Security Conference. That, here.  

McRaven: media not “enemy,” Trump’s sentiment is. Former JSOC Commander and current UT System Chancellor, retired Adm. Bill McRaven, says Trump’s “enemy of the American people” sentiment about the news media “may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime,” The Daily Texan reported Wednesday. The background to that: “McRaven’s speech was the first in a series of lectures organized to promote the new communication and leadership program and underscore its purpose.” He’s the latest defense leader to come out against Trump’s media-bashing. Story here.

From Defense One

How Trump’s Immigrant Dragnet Might Catch Your Personal Data, Too // Patrick Tucker: A DHS rule change aimed at undocumented immigrants could invade the personal privacy of fare more people it targets.

Mattis Takes on the Pentagon Bureaucracy // Katherine McIntire Peters: The defense secretary wants to reform the sprawling department’s business functions and reorganize key executive offices.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. On this day in 1945, American Marines raised the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, its highest peak and most strategic position. (Got a tip? Let us know by clicking this link to email us:

So the USS Carl Vinson is in the South China Sea this week, and China says calmly: No big deal. Reuters: “China hopes the U.S. earnestly respects the sovereignty and security concerns of countries in the region, and earnestly respects the efforts of countries in the region to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea,” [Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang] told a regular monthly news briefing. “Of course, we also respect freedom of navigation and overflight for all countries in the South China Sea in accordance with international law,” he added. More here.

In other SCS news, “Chinese President Xi Jinping has promised his Philippine counterpart that China would not build structures” on the Scarborough Shoal, “a rocky outcrop both countries claim in the South China Sea,” Reuters reports from remarks by the Philippines’ foreign minister.

And “China’s Second Aircraft Carrier Is Almost Complete,” The National Interest reported Wednesday. But don’t hold your breath: it’s not expected to become operational until 2020. That, here.

In other regional dispute news, “Japan has protested to Russia over its plan to boost troop strength on disputed islands,” Reuters reports. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga “made the comment after media reports that Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu talked about a plan to deploy a military division to the islands, including areas Japan claims as its territory, this year. The islands in the Western Pacific, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia, were seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War Two when 17,000 Japanese residents were forced to flee. Suga said Russia’s military plan would be on the agenda when defense and foreign ministers from the two countries are due to meet in Tokyo on March 20.” More here.

And speaking of Russia’s Shoigu, AP reports he announced this week that “his nation also has built up its muscle by forming a new branch of the military — information warfare troops.” AP has little further to add, other than Shoigu saying “propaganda needs to be clever, smart and efficient.” That, here.

And not a minute too soon, Russia is also stepping into the anti-fake news game, The New York Times reports. Their chief tool: a big red stamp. Story here.

In case you wondered: 80 percent of Americans view NATO as good for the U.S., according to a recent poll from NBC News. Also, most Democrats believe the U.S. will enter another major war under Trump. Most Republicans do not. Dive into the results, here.

Your Thursday #LongRead: Debating the U.S. Army’s new security force assistance brigades versus using special forces. This piece comes via Green Beret Maj. Tim Ball, writing in War on the Rocks.

The way he frames it: “If Army leadership needs soldiers to serve as the, ‘day-to-day experts combatant commanders need to train, advise, and assist our partners overseas,’ why aren’t they turning to Army Special Forces – a unit specifically designed to train, advise, and assist other military forces? Taking a broad look at Special Forces over the last 15 years provides some possible answers to this question.” Continue reading here.

And lastly today: the Stimson Center is holding a 2 p.m. EDT event in Washington on how to best pursue global standards for the export and use of armed drones. Details here. Need some background? See Defense One Tech Editor Patrick Tucker writing less than three years ago, “Every Country Will Have Armed Drones Within 10 Years,” here.

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