The U.S. military is “repositioning” its forces in Syria after that Russian threat on Monday to shoot down American jets, The Daily Beast reported. It’s the latest in a series of turns following this weekend’s first air-to-air shootdown in 18 years when an American F/A-18 shot down a Syrian jet that had bombed U.S.-backed Syrian forces south of Raqqa.
“We’re taking prudent measures to reposition over Syria,” Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White told The Daily Beast. “We always take proper measures depending on the situation on the ground, but we’re still operating…throughout Syria,” she said.
But don’t think the U.S. military is actually changing the way it conducts its air war over Syria, TDB writes, citing unnamed and tight-lipped Pentagon officials.
CJCS Dunford says that comms line to Russia is still open—in a way, Defense News reported Monday. “However, Dunford said Monday that he had not talked to his Russian counterpart since Sunday’s incident.”
But Australia is playing it safe, suspending its air missions over Syria amid the tensions, The Guardian reports this morning. In case you’re curious, “Australia has six fighter jets based in the United Arab Emirates that strike targets in Syria and Iraq.”
Unchanged: British air missions over Syria. Full story, here.
Russia walks back that claim it killed the leader of ISIS, Reuters reports citing state-run Interfax news.
Why is the U.S. killing so many civilians in Syria and Iraq? CFR’s Micah Zenko inquired in the NYT on Monday. Coalition officials says it’s killed just under 500 civilians in the war against ISIS; the watchdogs of Airwars say the figure is actually closer to 4,000.
Zenko’s answer: “The civilian death toll has risen mainly because the battle has moved deeper into major cities. But even as the civilian death toll ticks upward, the American military has relaxed oversight, investigation and accountability on civilian casualties.”
His recommendation: “Congress could exercise its oversight role by mandating Pentagon reporting about what steps it has taken to mitigate civilian harm, funding additional awareness training for American and other coalition officers, and holding public hearings with senior civilian and military officials.” Read on, here.
Extra reading: Dive into the wider matter of civilian deaths in Iraq’s nearly 15 consecutive years of conflict via this report from LiveStories, “based on data gathered and distributed by Iraq Body Count.”
From Defense One
European Allies Want Used F-16s, But Are There Enough to Go Around? // Marcus Weisgerber: The venerable U.S. fighter jet is getting a closer look as NATO members seek to build their defenses.
The United States and Russia Are Increasingly at Odds in Syria // Uri Friedman: Amid disagreements about what might come after ISIS, Moscow says its missiles will track some US aircraft as targets.
An Attack From the ISIS Playbook // David A. Graham: The London attack seems to fit with a pattern of growing attacks on Muslims—both in Europe and in the United States.
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1944: A German V-2 rocket reaches an altitude of 176 kilometers, becoming the first manmade object in space. Got tips? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
SecState Tillerson writes a 3-part plan for dealing with Russia. Laid out in a classified document described by (mostly) anonymous officials to Buzzfeed, the plan says the U.S. should 1) tell Russia that aggressive actions in the global arena would be counterproductive for both sides, 2) engage on strategic issues such as Syria, North Korea, and cybersecurity/espionage; and 3) promote “strategic stability.”
Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and a scholar at the Brookings Institution, reviewed a summary of the plan and declared it “similar to a four-point strategy for dealing with Russia that the Obama administration created in 2015, after the Ukraine crisis upended efforts to ‘reset’ relations with the Kremlin.” But there’s no telling whether Trump might adhere to the plan — or drop it in pursuit of a grand bargain that accepts a Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. “We’re talking about a Tillerson document,” Pifer said. “If we’ve learned anything over the last four months, it’s that the president could throw it out at any moment.”
Still, Buzzfeed reports, the document’s provenance appears to show that the State Department is retaking the lead on foreign policy, a change from the Obama administration’s more centralized White House/National Security Council grip. More, here.
RNC contractors expose personal information about nearly all U.S. voters. On Monday, IT-and-security firm Upguard posted this: “In what is the largest known data exposure of its kind, UpGuard’s Cyber Risk Team can now confirm that a misconfigured database containing the sensitive personal details of over 198 million American voters was left exposed to the internet by a firm working on behalf of the Republican National Committee (RNC) in their efforts to elect Donald Trump. The data, which was stored in a publicly accessible cloud server owned by Republican data firm Deep Root Analytics, included 1.1 terabytes of entirely unsecured personal information compiled by DRA and at least two other Republican contractors, TargetPoint Consulting, Inc. and Data Trust. In total, the personal information of potentially near all of America’s 200 million registered voters was exposed, including names, dates of birth, home addresses, phone numbers, and voter registration details, as well as data described as “modeled” voter ethnicities and religions.” Read on, here.
Gizmodo has more on the so-what, including a statement from DRA officials who say they’ve now placed the information behind digital locks. Read, here.
Iran’s missile launches on ISIS positions inside Syria this weekend? The operation was reportedly not entirely a resounding success, according to Israeli intelligence. “Out of six missiles fired by Iran at Deir Ezzor, one hit the target, one near the target, four failed and landed on the way,” according to Israel’s Channel 10 correspondent Alon Ben-David.
The birthplace of the Syrian civil war is under heavy attack again by Assad’s forces. “At least six raids took place in Gharz in east Deraa and in the old quarter of the city, where the army resumed efforts to break rebel lines,” rebels told Reuters. “The witness said that barrel bombs, artillery shells and rockets were used in the bombardment.” More here.
You may have missed on Monday: The Pentagon’s announcement that Brig. Gen. Rob Spalding (a Mandarin speaker and freedom of navigation advocate) was named the head of strategic planning on the White House’s National Security Council, Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations noted.
The Philippines’ war on ISIS in the southern city of Marawi is dragging. “Fighting was intense early on Tuesday as security forces made a push to drive the militants, entrenched in Marawi’s commercial district, south toward a lake on the edge of the city,” Reuters reports. “Planes flew overhead dropping bombs while on the ground, automatic gunfire was sustained with occasional blasts from artillery. Armored vehicles fired volleys of shells while the militants responded with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.” The numbers in Marawi: “As of Tuesday, the military said 258 militants, 65 security personnel and 26 civilians had been killed. Hundreds of people are unaccounted for, with many believed to be hiding in the basements of the city.” More, here.
Or check out this robust, interactive graphic set from Reuters mapping the conflict in Marawi, here.
B1-Bs flyover the Korean peninsula, Stars and Stripes reports from Seoul. “The Guam-based B-1B Lancers were accompanied by South Korean and Japanese fighter jets in what Pacific Air Forces tweeted was a joint mission ‘ensuring solidarity/resolve amongst #allies.’”
For what it’s worth: “It was the second time in about a month that the United States has deployed the Lancers to the divided peninsula this year as North Korea has conducted numerous missile tests despite international condemnation and punishing economic sanctions.” More here.
Reuters says Trump is about to put the pressure on Pakistan, after reviewing SecDef Mattis’s Afghan war strategy. “Potential Trump administration responses being discussed include expanding U.S. drone strikes, redirecting or withholding some aid to Pakistan and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.” Adds Reuters: “Precise actions have yet to be decided.”
A teenage would-be suicide bomber was arrested outside Bagram Air Base this morning, Stars and Stripes reports from Kabul. “The boy was captured on a motorcycle near the first gate of the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan around 9 a.m. with a suicide vest and hand grenades,” Abdul Shakoor Quddusi, governor of Bagram district in Parwan province told Stripes.
But that’s not all. “The arrest came just hours after a group of armed men killed eight Afghan security guards who manned the gates of the Bagram base. The guards were on their way to work on Monday night when their van came under fire in the Shaka area near the base, Quddusi said. Two other Afghan guards were wounded, he added. The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack, describing the guards as spies for the United States who they had been tracking for some time.” Read the rest, here.
Lastly today: The quiet diversity of the U.S. Navy is on clear display when one reviews the names of those who passed last weekend in the collision of the USS Fitzgerald, The New York Times writes a few days after The Atlantic’s James Fallows made a similar point on Twitter.