Trump, Putin & Syria; The Battle for Mosul, explained; AI that teaches itself; White House retaking reins of war?; and just a bit more…

President Trump has a plan to save Syria, and “it relies on Russian troops and a dictator [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] who Trump said in April had to go,” The Daily Beast reported Thursday. “According to [a] senior [U.S.] official, coordinating with the Russians to ensure that these clashes either don’t happen or don’t escalate into great-power conflict is simply a recognition of reality. But all that raises the question of who runs the towns after ISIS is forced out.”

A spokesman for the National Security Council told TDB: “We are prepared to explore numerous options to ensure stability in Syria. However, I don’t want to get ahead of any talks with the Russians.” Story, here.

About those talks with the Russians—POTUS Trump shook hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time publicly this morning in Hamburg. Reuters has a story on those gripping few seconds, here.

I look forward to all meetings today with world leaders, including my meeting with Vladimir Putin. Much to discuss. I will represent our country well and fight for its interests!” Trump tweeted this morning. (And it wouldn’t be a Trump morning without a dig at the “Fake News Media,” which he tweeted two minutes later. Reminder: In January, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia orchestrated a vigorous campaign to influence the 2016 election. Currently, four Congressional committees and the Justice Department are are investigating possible ties between Russia and Trump’s election campaign team.) 

Israel wants the U.S., and not Russia, to supervise a proposed safe zone near the Israeli and Jordanian borders, Haaretz reported Thursday. “Israel would prefer to have American troops enforce the cease-fire in southern Syria. The Trump Administration is considering this idea, but hasn’t yet decided.”

Tel Aviv’s three demands: “First, it wants talks on de-escalation zones along the Israeli and Jordanian borders to be completely separate from the current negotiations in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, in which Iran and Turkey are heavily involved… Second, Israel wants the de-escalation zones in southern Syria to keep Iran, Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias away from the Israeli and Jordanian borders. Finally, staying out of Syria’s civil war is one of Israel’s red lines, so Israel doesn’t want any active role in operating or policing the de-escalation zones near its border.” More here.


From Defense One

Mosul: What the Decade’s Largest Battle Says About the Future of War // Defense One Staff: Here’s how Western-backed Iraqi soldiers helped break the Islamic State’s grip on a city of more than 1 million people — and what we can learn from it.

For Sale: Artificial Intelligence That Teaches Itself // Marcus Weisgerber: An AI startup with dozens of aviation-industry customers sets its sights on the US military.

Former NATO Commander: Alliance Needs to Take Cyber Fight to Russia’s Door // Patrick Tucker: In May, a Former NATO Supreme Commander urged the alliance to plan an offensive cyber policy to combat Russian information influence operations.

Global Business Brief, July 6 edition // Marcus Weisgerber: R2-D2 is coming to the battlefield, sort of; Foreign arms sales, rising; ULA beats SpaceX; and more.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD2005: The 7/7 terror bombings kill 52 and injure some 700 more in London’s Underground. Have something you want to share? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


The fight isn’t quite over in Mosul. On Thursday, ISIS lashed out from their remaining square kilometer of Old City, pushing back the Iraqi-government’s front line a hundred meters of so. AP, here.

The remaining Islamic State militants are fighting from “a slowly shrinking pocket on the Tigris west bank, battling for every meter with snipers, grenades and suicide bombers, which forced Iraqi troops to fight house-to-house in densely-populated blocks.” More from Reuters, here.

As well, ISIS is mounting a “diversionary attack” on a village south of Mosul, killing civilians and journalists in the process, Reuters reports. “Security sources said IS insurgents had infiltrated Imam Gharbi, some 70 km (44 miles) south of Mosul on the western bank of the Tigris river, on Wednesday evening from a pocket of territory still under their control on the eastern bank. Two Iraqi journalists were reported killed and two others wounded as they covered the security forces’ counter-attack to take back the village on Friday. An unknown number of civilians and military were also killed or wounded in the clashes.”

As the world’s largest single military operation since 2004 draws to a bloody close, it’s not too early to retrace how it went down, and what lessons we should take from it. In which purpose Defense One is proud to offer “What the Decade’s Largest Battle Says About the Future of War.” It’s a multimedia look at the Mosul offensive through interactive graphics, airstrike charts, audio, video — even before-and-after satellite imagery.

Come for the animated battle map — 82 seconds that illuminate what happened, where, and when. Stay for the audio interviews with U.S. commanders and trainers. Leave with a fuller, and possibly more sober, understanding of how the Mosul offensive represents a new evolution of warfare. Read it, here.

A reminder: U.S. troops are among the 100,000-strong coalition force of local volunteers, regular soldiers, elite Iraqi and Western special forces that is retaking Iraq’s second-largest city. We don’t know how many, thanks to the Trump administration’s decision to stop telling the public about troop deployments to Iraq and Syria. The last best estimate of the U.S. presence in Iraq, in March, was somewhere north of 6,000 troops. Which leads us to:

A next-of-kin notification policy change in Afghanistan. The U.S. military will no longer issue initial statements on American troops who are wounded fighting in the 16-year war that is Afghanistan. “Neither the Pentagon nor the US command in Afghanistan announced the change,” Buzzfeed News’ Nancy Youssef reported Thursday. “It instead became apparent on Wednesday, when the Pentagon announced that Army Pfc. Hansen B. Kirkpatrick, 19, of Wasilla, Alaska, had died from indirect fire on July 3 in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.”

Writes Youssef: “Why the change is coming now remains unclear, however. US deaths in Afghanistan have been rising — nine members of the military have been killed so far this year, compared to seven in the whole of 2016. A two-day delay would eliminate real-time coverage of US operations in Afghanistan, just as the Trump administration considers sending more troops there to blunt Taliban advances around the country, particularly in urban centers.”

Perhaps more puzzling, “Pentagon spokesperson Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said the decision not to make an initial announcement was [Afghanistan war commander, Gen. John] Nicholson’s, though a spokesperson at Nicholson’s headquarters in Kabul, who answered the phone but refused to give his name when reached by BuzzFeed News, called it “a DoD policy.” Read on, here.

New this morning: The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria now claims responsibility for an additional 119 civilian deaths in its air war stretching back to August 2014. Of the 27 new cases assessed in the month of June, 14 were from Mosul. The admitted total now rises to 603 overall.

For what it’s worth: the monitoring group, Airwars, claims the total is more likely closer to the 900 - 1,200 range.

Happening today: SecDef Jim Mattis welcomes his British counterpart, Michael Fallon, to the Pentagon this morning at 10 a.m. EDT. Fallon will later deliver a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. That’s slated for 1 p.m. Details, here.

Taking off the reins, only to sorta put them back again. Just days President Trump gave military commanders “unilateral authority” to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan on June 14, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster sent a memo “to a small group of administration officials, [which] said that the president would let Defense Secretary Jim Mattis send no more than 3,900 troops to Afghanistan without coming back to confer with the White House,” The Wall Street Journal‘s Gordon Lubold reported Thursday, citing “people familiar with the document.”

Said Pentagon spox, Dana White, to Lubold: “A number doesn’t really tell you anything,” she said. “It requires a greater context, and if you are sending sons and daughters to Afghanistan, you owe it to them to lay out what’s the way forward, not just a number.” The full story is worth the click, here.

10 Egyptian soldiers were killed this morning “when two suicide car bombers hit army checkpoints in northern Sinai on Friday,” Reuters reports. “The two cars exploded as they passed through two checkpoints close to each other on a road outside the border city of Rafah, the sources said. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks. The army said later on Friday the attacks had killed and injured a total of 26 soldiers, but did not provide a breakdown of the figure. It said security forces had killed 40 militants and destroyed six of their vehicles following the attack.” Story, here.

AUSA gets former Undersecretary of the Army Patrick Murphy. His new position: senior fellow with AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare. From AUSA: “The 43-year-old former Army Ranger is a third-generation veteran who deployed to Bosnia in 2002 and to Iraq in 2003 as part of the 82nd Airborne Division. Murphy was also a U.S. Military Academy constitutional law professor. He served for five months in 2016 as acting secretary of the Army.”

Murphy was also a two-term congressman who “served on the armed services, appropriations and intelligence committees and was instrumental in enacting the Hire Our Heroes Act, the Post-9/11 GI Bill and repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Welcome to the new nuclear-North Korean reality. Now that Pyongyang has (or is about to have) an intercontinental nuclear-strike capability, here are some sobering explorations of our new national-security environment from NYT’s Max Fisher (“North Korea and Its Weapons Programs Are Now a Fact of Life”) and CNAS’ Richard Fontaine (“Time to Lose Your Illusions on North Korea”).

Lastly this week: Defense contractors are turning civilian airplanes into new attack aircraft, the Washington Post reported this week. “For Orbital ATK, a Dulles-based company better known for building rockets and satellites, it’s part of a broader strategy to help U.S. and foreign militaries re-outfit 20th-century military hardware with 21st-century capabilities. Cash-strapped foreign governments see the [the Cessna 208 Caravan aircraft], for instance, as a low-flying alternative to costlier fighter jets.”

One obvious downside: “these aircraft are vulnerable even to small-arms fire, which military aircraft have more protection against,” said said Dave Deptula, a retired U.S. Air Force general who is now dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

There are more gadgets and gizmos Orbital ATK is working on, too—including an attempt to “overhaul” U.S. Army mortars. Catch the full story, here.

Have a great weekend, gang. We’ll see you again on Monday!

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