China contradicts Trump; USAF wants new nukes faster; US strikes soar in Somalia; Inside NATO’s weirdest relationship with Russia; and just a bit more…

China’s solution to the North Korean crisis isn’t what Trump expected. Just days after the U.S. president said he and China’s Xi Jinping “agreed that we would not accept a so-called freeze-for-freeze agreement,” Beijing said it would continue to push for that very thing — asking North Korea to freeze its missile and nuclear tests in return for the suspension of annual U.S.-S. Korean joint military exercises. The Washington Post explains why and gives context. Then it continues: “The apparent Chinese contradiction of Trump’s statement also highlights the lack of coherent policy put forward by the United States to actually usher North Korea along the path of denuclearization.”

A central problem, says the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s James Acton, is that the Trump administration has not clearly said “what actions from North Korea might open the door to negotiations, what an acceptable path was to de-escalation, and even whether its ultimate goal was still regime change. ‘One question is what would the preconditions be for the U.S. to sit down with North Korea to negotiate,’ he said. ‘We’ve had at least three different answers to that question in the past week or two.’” Read on, here.

A big joint exercise kicks off today, involving a U.S. aircraft carrier, destroyers and other ships and a total of 14,000 troops in 10 days of exercises with Japanese troops performing war games in the waters off Okinawa. Daily Mail: It comes just days after North Korean Ambassador Ja Song Nam slammed US drills in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, saying that the current situation around the Korean peninsula was ‘the worst ever’.

Chinese special envoy heads to Pyongyang tomorrow. Song Tao, the head of China’s ruling Communist Party’s international department, will be the high-est ranking Chinese diplomat to visit North Korea since October 2015. AP: “It’s quite possible Xi wants to explore new relations with North Korea as he starts his second term in office.” But Song’s visit is formally unconnected to any nuclear-related talks, and “will more likely be about small steps than big successes.” Read that, here.

South Korea warns Trump against striking the North without Seoul’s consent. “President Trump often emphasizes that he put all options on the table,” the chairwoman of South Korea’s ruling party, Choo Mi-ae told a Washington think-tank. “We want to make sure that this option of another war is not placed on the table. Under no circumstances should the U.S. go ahead and use a military option without the consent of South Korea.” Reuters, here.

From Defense One

US Air Force Wants to Get New Nuclear Weapons Faster // Marcus Weisgerber: Just months into the first development contracts, the service’s top general is looking for ways to speed things up.

US Airstrikes Soar in Somalia // Ben Watson: U.S. Africa Command has released data on 18 strikes this year, more than four times the average over the previous seven years.

Army Chief: The US Needs More Troops in Europe // Caroline Houck: The U.S. is “on track,” but additional armored forces, long-range artillery and bridging capabilities would help deter Russia, Milley says.

Inside the Weirdest Relationship a NATO Ally Has with Russia // Caroline Houck: Nationally, everything’s “on ice” as Norway pushes soldiers north and invests in anti-submarine capabilities. Regionally? It’s a different matter.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you don’t subscribe already, consider subscribing. It’s free.

ISIS bombs Kabul gathering, killing at least nine. Afghan police stopped the suicide bomber from entering “a wedding hall where the political gathering was taking place,” but not before he detonated his vest, CBS News reports. “At least seven police officers and two civilians were among the dead, and 10 others were wounded.”
The possible target: “Parliament member Hafiz Mansoor, who attended the meeting but was not harmed.” More from Reuters, here.
Evergreen headline: It’s been a record year for opium production in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes reports. “In the report released Wednesday, the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime said opium production jumped to 9,000 metric tons (9,900 tons) so far in 2017, up 87 percent from 4,800 metric tons last year.”
What’s more, “Despite eradication efforts in 14 provinces, cultivation of the crop expanded this year to three new provinces — Ghazni, Samangan and Nuristan. A record 328,000 hectares (810,500 acres) was under cultivation, compared with 201,000 hectares in 2016, researchers found.” Read on, here.
Also from Afghanistan: NATO chief says the roughly 20,000 troops there should be enough. That from Stripes again, here.

Did America’s key ally in Syria just lose a key general? This report from the Northern Syria Observer says so, pointing to the recent fate of Brig. Gen. Talal Selo — reportedly formerly of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the chief spokesman, in fact.
Not only that, Selo is alleged to have defected to the Turkish-led Euphrates Shield opposition, having been received by Turkish intelligence in Aleppo, then transported to Turkey. More here.

ICYMI: It was never a “secret,” the coalition’s plan to let hundreds of ISIS fighters walk from Raqqa with their weapons, the U.S. military said Monday. U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon: “The Coalition issued press releases 10 and 14 Oct, spoke with several outlets, to include BBC Radio on 14 Oct. This was a local solution to local issue. Coalition did not fully agree, but respected our partners decision.”

Today in UN resolutions, Russia could pull its 10th veto to block action in Syria, Reuters reports. Up for a vote: extending “The mandate for the joint inquiry by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which found the Syrian government used the banned nerve agent sarin in an April 4 attack, [and which] expires at midnight Thursday.”
Short background there: “While Russia agreed to the 2015 creation of the inquiry, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, it has consistently questioned its findings, which also concluded that the Syrian government used chlorine as a weapon several times.” More here.

Libya’s air force just hit ISIS camps in the north, just south of Sirte. “The site contained a large camp with military vehicles and stocks of petrol and water and had been used as a base for mounting attacks,” Reuters writes off a statement from Sherif al-Awami, an air force commander with the Libyan National Army. That, here.

Zimbabwe update: Mugabe “resisting” pressure to quit. Reuters from the capital of Harare: “A political source who spoke to senior allies holed up with Mugabe and his wife, Grace, in his lavish ‘Blue House’ Harare compound said Mugabe had no plans to resign voluntarily ahead of elections scheduled for next year.”
Said the source: “It’s a sort of stand-off, a stalemate. They are insisting the president must finish his term.”
Otherwise the city is calm, AP reports this morning from Harare. “A joint statement by more than 100 civil society groups urged Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, to peacefully step aside and asked the military to quickly restore order and respect the constitution. A joint statement by churches also appealed for calm.” Read on, here.
For another view of how unusual things are in Zimbabwe, check out the front pages of these two newspapers, shared by the Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff.

Two male and two female suicide bombers killed 14 and wounded another 29 in the northern Nigeria city of Maiduguri — Boko Haram’s old stomping grounds, AP reported Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a radioactive cloud is floating over Europe, The New York Times reports. And the chief suspect behind it is… Russia. Although it may also be Italy, Romania or Ukraine.

Brrrt, in video: The U.S. Air Force whipped up a short highlight film of the A-10 in action. Check it out, here.

Staffing complications at the border. “The Border Patrol Doesn’t Know What To Do With The Thousands Of Agents Trump Wants To Hire,” FiveThirtyEight blog reported Wednesday. “In a memo to the leadership of the Homeland Security Department last week, the department’s inspector general said that it had ‘not established structure or rigorous process to determine needed staff and allocate them accordingly’ and that neither of the agencies covering immigration enforcement and border security ‘could provide complete data to support the operational need or deployment strategies for the 15,000 additional agents and officers they were directed to hire.’” Story, here.

And lastly today: “Army major creates art from spilled coffee,” we learned from western Washington’s King5 NBC News affiliate. Army reservist and West Point grad Jon Norquist looked a little too long into the mess he had been making — long enough to begin to see patterns both he and his wife (also a West Point grad) began turning into abstract art not unlike old sepia-toned maps. Now he has opened a business called Coffee on Canvas, King5 reports, picking up the story — which Jon explains in a video — right here.

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