US airstrikes causing panic; The Taliban’s map of Afghanistan; How AI will shape the next war; The 240-rocket semitruck; And just a bit more…

U.S. airstrikes are causing panic in Iraq and Syria. “A sharp rise in the number of civilians reported killed in U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria is spreading panic, deepening mistrust and triggering accusations that the United States and its partners may be acting without sufficient regard for lives of noncombatants,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday from Mosul, Iraq.

The situation: “In front-line neighborhoods in western Mosul, families described cowering in basements for weeks as bombs rained down around them and the Islamic State battled from their rooftops. Across the border in Raqqa, residents desperately trying to flee before an offensive begins are being blocked by the militants, who frequently use civilians as human shields.”

The U.S. military’s response: “The death of innocent civilians in war is a terrible tragedy that weighs heavily on all of us,” said Col. Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, adding that the United States works within the laws of armed conflict. “We set the highest standards for protecting civilians, and our dedication, diligence and discipline in prosecuting our combat operations, while protecting civilians, is without precedence in the history of warfare.”

Possible contributing factor: “In Iraq and Syria, residents and activists say there has also been a discernible shift in the kinds of targets being hit — with infrastructure such as hospitals and schools coming under fire,” the Post writes. “The U.S.-led coalition contends that militants are increasingly using such protected buildings as bases for attack, knowing that there are restrictions on bombing them under U.S. rules of engagement.” Read the rest, here.

In Mosul today, Iraqi special forces are in “close-quarters fighting” with ISIS in West Mosul, near the al Nuri mosque, Reuters reports. “Rapid Response elite interior ministry troops were advancing on the edge of the Old City, clambering over garden walls. Islamic State responded with rocket fire, streaking the sky with white smoke plumes…Helicopters circling west Mosul strafed Islamic State positions beyond the city train station, the site of heavy back-and-forth fighting in recent days, and thick black smoke rose into the sky…Heavy sustained gunfire could be heard from the Old City area, where militants are hiding among residents and using the alleyways, traditional family homes and snaking narrow roads to their advantage, fleeing residents say.” More here.

In Syria, east of ISIS-held Raqqa at the Tabqa dam, ISIS shelled the dam today while engineers tried to ease the water pressure. The fighting forces the engineers to temporarily halt their efforts, Reuters reports on location, where “U.S.-led coalition aircraft could be heard overhead as SDF forces manned positions on the dam. Coalition forces in armored vehicles were also seen in the area…Islamic State fired from the southern end of the dam, which it controls, and at least two explosions were heard.”

Their mission: “[T]ry to open the two spillways, one of which is half open and the other is completely shut. The [Syrian Democratic Forces] and U.S.-led coalition have said the dam is not in danger after the Syrian government on Sunday said it had been damaged by U.S. air strikes and could collapse, with the risk of catastrophic flooding. Islamic State has also said the dam’s operating systems were not working properly and it was vulnerable to collapse.” More here.

Separately, Reuters reported Tuesday ISIS may have “sent 900 fighters from Raqqa to confront the SDF as it advances on the city on several fronts. It was not clear where they had been sent to.”

Also in that story: “the head of the Kurdish YPG militia said 16,000-17,000 Arab and Kurdish fighters would take part in the assault on Raqqa. YPG commander Sipan Hemo also said U.S. Apache attack helicopters ‘will participate in providing air support to our forces.’ Hemo told Reuters earlier this month that the operation to storm Raqqa would start in early April and last no more than a number of weeks. Echoing that assessment, he told [London-based Arab newspaper al-Hayat] ‘we will liberate Raqqa in weeks or one month, not more.’” That, here.

An American servicemember has died in Syria “from suspected natural causes in Northern Syria, March 29, 2017,” CENTCOM announced this morning. Very little additional information on that at the moment. More from AP, here.

And in Syria, a bomb planted on a “taxi van” detonated in the the central city of Homs, killing five people this morning, AP writes from the capital of Damascus. “Initial reports indicate a man placed a plastic bag under one of the van’s seats and exited the vehicle before the bomb went off. Footage aired on al-Ikhbariya state TV shows the skeleton of the van after the explosion, with the roof blown off and the back-side shattered.” More here and here.

From Defense One

The Next Big War Will Turn on AI, Says US Secret-Weapons Czar // Patrick Tucker: William Roper says the military must get better at feeding the voracious learning algorithms that will fight future battles.

The US and Russia Should Never Have Stopped Cooperating to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism // Byron Dorgan: The former U.S. Senator says our two countries still work together on a few things. Securing dangerous nuclear materials should be one of them.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Bradley Peniston, Caroline Houck, and Kevin Baron. #OTD1975: The last U.S. combat soldiers leave Vietnam. Need our subscribe link? Find that here. Got a tip? Let us know by clicking this link to email us:

The Afghan Taliban released a turf control list for the country, and it’s “actually a rather conservative estimate, painting a dire but realistic picture of the security situation in Afghanistan,” the Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio reported Tuesday. “While the report may be seen as propaganda to bolster its claims of controlling territory, it does not inflate or exaggerate the Taliban’s control of districts centers and contested areas throughout the country, compared to data compiled by [the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy’s] Long War Journal.”

The substance of the list: “Of the 400 known districts in Afghanistan, 349 are covered by the report…According to the Taliban, it controls or contests nearly all of the districts in the southern provinces of Helmand, Nimroz, Uruzgan, Zabul, and Ghazni, and half of Kandahar. Eastern and northwestern Afghanistan look equally bleak, as do the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan.”

For what it’s worth: “[I]n early Feb., the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction issued a report stating that the Taliban controls, contests, or influences 171 districts. By contrast, the Taliban report, as of March 26, claims that 211 districts are controlled or contested.” Read on, here—or find the TB’s data, mapped by LWJ’s folks, here.  

In video: Afghanistan wants to double its special forces. Reuters filed a 70-second video report on the topic, and you can watch that here.

Just how friendly is Trump to Russia? Politico says the honeymoon’s over: “After months of overtures from President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Trump administration is trading harsh diplomatic words with Moscow, further dimming the prospects for a strategic alliance between the two countries.” On Monday, the White House said the U.S.“strongly condemns” the detention of hundreds of peaceful anti-corruption protestors across Russia. “The statement featured the toughest language Trump’s White House has directed at Putin’s government, surprising some Russia hawks unsure whether Trump—who has repeatedly avoided criticizing Putin—would allow the government to rebuke Moscow’s actions.” Read on, here.

Add to that the news that a Putin critic — Brookings scholar and intel veteran Fiona Hill — will join the White House National Security Council as senior director for Europe and Russia. WaPo, here.

But: USA Today rolled out a 3,600(!)-word piece with this bottom line: “President Trump and his properties have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations and money laundering.” Read that, here.

Meanwhile, the Congressional investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Moscow is…not moving out smartly. Most recently: the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has said that his GOP counterpart must recuse himself from the inquest. The Independent, here.

While we’re on Russia, there’s one person in the new administration who hasn’t been briefed by the top U.S. general for the region: President Trump. European Command Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday that he hasn’t yet had the chance to discuss the Russian threat with the commander-in-chief. The HASC chairman wasn’t concerned, saying Trump’s “getting his information through the secretary of defense and others, and I suspect a number of the combatant commanders have not had an opportunity to personally brief the president,” as The Hill reported. (Defense One asked Scaparrotti’s staff to be crystal clear on whether the general had met with the president at all, or was just referring to discussions on Russia policy. “General Scaparrotti has not met with the President. Thanks,” said Lt. Col. David Faggard, U.S. European Command spokesman, in an email.) The list of generals with whom Trump has met includes the F-35 program manager, among others.

Apropos of nothing: Here’s a short Twitter thread about some of the many questions companies have submitted for President Trump’s border wall contract, from Buzzfeed’s Capitol Hill reporter Emma Loop.

Is a showdown over BAH on the horizon? The Heritage Foundation has a blueprint for “how to curb the $20 trillion federal debt in part by eliminating the annual deficit,” reported Tuesday. Heritage “proposed reforming the Basic Allowance for Housing to more closely match actual spending as part of a report released Tuesday.”

According to the report: “Service members are not entitled to, nor should they have any expectation, that money above what they pay for housing can be retained as ‘extra compensation.’”

The issue is a particularly sensitive one—we’ve already heard NCOs griping about it, and we’ve heard a few in support of it—and you can dig through some of the responses over at Doctrine Man’s Facebook page, here.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: The Chinese special forces built fake Osama bin Laden compound in the northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang—then stormed it on state TV, The New York Times reported Tuesday. Story, here. Video, here.

Who wants to be afraid of North Korea? Beyond the nuclear program, the North may also have some “1,000 drones plus lots of chemical weapons like sarin, anthrax and yes, VX,” writes the Washington Post’s Tokyo bureau chief, Anna Fitfield, of this South Korean Yonhap news story out today.

That’s…a lot to lose track of. About $5.2 billion of the Trump administration’s $30 billion supplemental request is for things that are already covered, Roll Call reports. “Congress has already addressed $5 billion of the requested funds in the pending defense appropriations bill,” Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said at a hearing last week. Read on, here.

Ten Marine fighters squadrons could shut down this summer “if Congress does not pass the 2017 Defense Department budget,” Stars and Stripes’ Tara Copp reported Tuesday off Marine Corps aviation commander, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis’s testimony before the House Committee on Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces. Story here.

Lastly today: Meet a 240-rocket semitruck called the Jobari Defense Systems Multiple Cradle Launcher. “Developed in the United Arab Emirates, MCL can ripple fire more than two hundred rockets at some unfortunate target, saturating an area with tens of thousands of lethal steel balls,” Popular Mechanics reported Tuesday.

The specs: “The MCL consists of an Oshkosh Defense 6×6 Heavy Equipment Transporter—known in the US Army as the M1070 HET. The M1070 is used by the Army to haul Abrams tanks, and towards that end has eight wheels and a 700 horsepower Caterpillar six cylinder turbocharged diesel engine. The rest of the MCL is a 5 x 5 trailer with four rocket launcher cradles, each holding sixty 122-millimeter rockets.”

It’s truly a sight to behold, and you can do just that in a video, here. Or read more from PM, here.

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