Turkey bombs US partner group; Afghanistan’s ISIS is losing recruits; Shows-of-force in Korea; F-35s in Estonia; and just a bit more…

Turkish ops test U.S.-Kurd partnership in Iraq and Syria. U.S. military officials and their Syrian partners visited the scene of pre-dawn Turkish airstrikes that killed 18 members of the allegedly PKK-linked Kurdish YPG forces overnight—many of whom are also fighting alongside the U.S. military under the Syrian Democratic Forces banner in the war against ISIS.

The Telegraph sums up the long-simmering tensions: “The US is in the awkward political position of considering the PKK a terrorist group while strongly supporting the YPG, even though there appears to be crossover between the two.”

Accompanying the U.S. military at that inspection site this morning (Reuters has photos here): the Syrian Democratic Forces’ commander of the Raqqa operation, Rojda Felat. More on her here and here.

What happened, according to Ankara: “A Turkish military statement said the pre-dawn strikes hit targets on the Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq and also in a mountainous region in Syria,” AP reports. “It said the operations were conducted to prevent infiltration of Kurdish rebels, weapons, ammunition and explosives from those areas into Turkey. A Turkish security official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with Turkish government protocol, said the airstrikes are believed to have killed around 200 PKK militants, including some senior commanders. The claim could not be independently confirmed.”

Among the targets hit in Iraq: five Peshmerga troops and one intelligence officer from the Kurdistan Regional Government, The Telegraph reports. Nine others were wounded, AP reports.

Among the targets hit in Syria, according to the SDF: “a media center, a local radio station, a communication headquarters and some military posts, killing an undetermined number of fighters in Syria’s northeastern Hassakeh province,” AP writes.

The YPG reax: “A people that is fighting terrorism is being stabbed in the back. Coalition forces must not remain silent against this. No one should accept these attacks,” said the group’s political leader, Salih Muslim.

The attacks in Sinjar, Iraq, drew a sharp rebuke from Baghdad: “Any operation that is carried out by Turkish government without any coordination with the Iraqi government is totally rejected,” Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Ahmad Jamal, told AP.

In case you wanna review, here’s a “Grid of Grievances” spanning some of the Middle East’s many players—beyond just Turkey vs the Kurds of Iraq and Syria—via The Economist. It’s from 2016, but the relationships have hardly changed. (While you’re at it, check out this interactive graphic of many of the MidEast’s overlapping and antagonistic relationships. It lacks the Kurds, but it’s still fairly robust.)

From Defense One

ISIS-in-Afghanistan Is Losing Recruits to Other Groups, US Officials Say // Kevin Baron: SecDef Mattis says he’s made no decision on adding troops, but warns of a confrontation if Russia continues to arm the Taliban.

South Sudan Needs UN Help. Will Trump’s Ambassador Lead the Way? // Council on Foreign Relations’ Kate Almquist Knopf: The magnitude of the war’s human cost now dwarfs nearly every other global conflict, with the exception of Syria.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD404BC: Sparta triumphs over Athens in the Peloponnesian War. Got tips? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)

North Korea. Early on Tuesday, a U.S. guided missile sub put in to South Korea’s Busan for what officials called “a regularly scheduled port visit,” while further to the north, Pyongyang fired off a ton of artillery shells in an exercise that, if nothing else, reminds your D Briefers of what former Air Force chief Gen. Merrill McPeak has called “the world’s toughest military problem”: the thousands of artillery barrels dug into bunkers and pointed at Seoul. Stripes, here.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Donald Trump will host the entire Senate at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a Wednesday briefing on the situation by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. Washington Post: “The White House setting perplexed lawmakers who have grown accustomed to such briefings taking place in a secure location on Capitol Hill, where there is more room to handle such a large group.” More, here.

Here’s what Nonproliferation Review editor Joshua Pollack has to say about the entire situation: “Today’s news continues, or perhaps renews, the weird sense of self-imposed crisis surrounding U.S. North Korea policy.” In a useful post at Armscontrolwonk.com, Pollock reminds us how we got here.

And John Schindler reminds us that the U.S. is not surfeited with experts on North Korea, even as the situation heats up.

Meanwhile, China’s military released a poster that was meant to celebrate the country’s first aircraft carrier. South China Morning Post: “But online commenters were quick to point out that instead of a Chinese jet crowning the vessel’s deck, the poster showed a Russian MiG-35 fighter aircraft.”

“And we’re relying on PRC to extricate Trump from DPRK escalation?” tweeted Defense News’ Barbara Opall-Rome.

Surprise? The U.S. Air Force’s F-35As have arrived in Estonia. “An undisclosed number of F-35As are heading to Ämari Air Base in Estonia, and, after landing on Tuesday, will be in the country for ‘several weeks’ to conduct training flights with aircraft from the U.S. and allied militaries,” Defense News reported this morning. It was already known that F-35s were headed to Europe as recently as last Friday. But Defense News writes “the F-35’s trip to Estonia would come as a surprise to the public, and possibly to Russia as well…Last week, Air Force officials said there were no plans for the aircraft to be involved in Baltic air policing missions meant to safeguard the skies above Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. However, the service has always maintained that the joint strike fighter is operational and could be called into combat or other operations if needed.”
About the destination: “Ämari Air Base is located in Harjumaa, a county in northwestern Estonia about a three-hour drive from the Russian border. The base has hosted squadrons of aircraft from NATO countries as well as F-22s, which visited the base in 2015 while conducting patrols of the Baltic states’ airspace.” More here.

The Trump administration has announced two new key Pentagon posts: Kari Bingen for Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Intelligence; and Robert Story Karem for Assistant Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs. Karem is a former Jeb Bush foreign policy adviser and Bingen in a former House Armed Services Committee policy director, Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer reminded readers Monday.

About Bingen, from the Center for Strategic Studies’ Tom Karako: “The dictionary’s definition of the defense professional comes with a picture of Kari Bingen,” he told Defense One. Karako used to work for Bingen at HASC. “She’s a pro, plain and simple.”

Also in FP: “The End of Foreign Aid As We Know It.” Three of their writers got their hands on “a detailed 15-page State Department budget document” that proposes folding USAID into State while “slash[ing] aid to developing countries by over one-third.”

Of note from that plan: a 68.8% cut of aid to Ukraine, said Janes’ Zachary Fryer-Biggs. “I wonder what nearby country would like that,” he added.

Ever since Trump’s initial spending outlines called for a bigger Navy, budget watchers have been waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to come back with estimates of its cost. That report dropped on Tuesday. Bottom line: building up to a 355-ship fleet would cost $26.6 billion a year for nearly two decades. Washington Examiner: “The annual shipbuilding cost, which would dramatically increase the service’s current 275-ship fleet, is 40 percent more than what Congress approved in 2016 and dwarfs such annual ship spending over the past three decades.”

Lastly today: The best story of 2017, according to The New Yorker’s jihadist specialist Ben Taub. It’s the story of wild boars that killed three members of ISIS in Kirkuk, Iraq. It comes to us via IraqiNews.com, quoting the not-always trustworthy “local source”: “Three Islamic State militants died late Sunday when wild boars attacked them in southern Kirkuk, a local source was quoted saying. The animals went on a rampage near a farmland in al-Rashad region, an Islamic State pocket 53 kilometers south of Kirkuk. They attacked the militants and left three killed, according to the source.” Surviving members of the group reportedly “took revenge at the pigs,” but the method was unclear.

In all seriousness, IraqiNews adds, “Local officials have repeatedly urged the government to hasten with security efforts to liberate IS-held regions in Kirkuk, but the Iraqi government is currently employing its full military power in the six-month-old campaign to retake Mosul, IS’s biggest stronghold in Iraq. It is expected that the government will launch further offensives against IS havens across Iraq once the campaign in Mosul concludes.” More, here

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