The Assad regime’s soldiers are siding with the Kurds in northwest Syria, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. “The announcement followed weeks-long negotiations between Kurdish and Syrian government representatives over the future of the Afrin district. Those talks proceeded as Turkish troops and thousands of their Syrian rebel allies advanced through the surrounding mountains.”
The direct implications: This new move “could thwart a Turkish offensive there — or draw Turkey and Syria into direct confrontation.” Read a bit more via The New York Times, here.
Update on the death toll in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta district, outside of Damascus: 24 more civilians were reportedly killed in regime shelling, “bringing [the] toll since Sunday to close to 300. More than 500 have been killed this month in two bouts of fierce bombing,” Agence France-Presse’s Maya Gebeily reports this morning. More from AFP, here.
BTW, here’s a tidy, two-sentence summary of the many foreign interventions in Syria, via Middle East scholar Hassan Hassan: “ISIS caused the U.S. to intervene in Syria in 2014, while ISIS’s former affiliate caused Russia to intervene the following year (2015). The year after that, in 2016, Turkey intervened to check the expansion of the YPG, itself a byproduct of the U.S. intervention in 2014 that was itself a byproduct of the policies of Turkey whose intervention in 2016 was made possible through an alliance with Russia, an alliance designed to counter the U.S. policies in Syria.”
From Defense One
How to Grow the Military Without Buying More Ships, Planes, Tanks // Marcus Weisgerber: Pentagon leaders want to shorten the time spent on overhauls, keeping the weapons more available to fight.
It Could Get Harder to Track US War Spending // Caroline Houck: The administration plans to push “enduring” costs from the Overseas Contingency Operations war fund back into the base budget in future years.
Global Elites Cannot Save a World In Turmoil // Eliot A. Cohen: Last weekend’s security conference in Munich was a stark reminder that this class has nothing of substance to offer a world in turmoil.
Bigger, Faster, Stronger: China’s Ever-Evolving Military Tech // Steve Mollman: China’s progress hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Justice Launches Cyber Task Force // Joseph Marks: The task force will examine cyber efforts to undermine elections and critical infrastructure.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. On this day in 1986, Larry Wu-tai Chin, the first American found guilty of spying for China, suffocated himself with a trash bag in his Virginia jail cell — almost exactly three months after he was arrested, and 12 days after he was indicted on multiple counts of espionage and tax evasion spanning more than three decades of work with the CIA.
The U.S. Army has awarded three Parkland High School students the Medal of Heroism, “the highest medal given to Junior Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets,” NPR reported Tuesday.
The heroes: Peter Wang, 15, and Martin Duque and Alaina Petty — both 14 years old.
Known knowns: “Wang was reportedly wearing his gray Junior ROTC shirt when he was killed while holding the door open so others could escape” last week’s gunman, who killed 17 people. More from Army Times, here.
Take a virtual visit to one high school in Indiana where “the classroom doors are bullet-resistant, cameras are everywhere, and the Sheriff’s department — only 10 miles away — can track an intruder in real-time.” That, via NBC News, here.
Wrote The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein: “Just your average high school experience, I suppose.”
One quiet victory for preventing mass shootings. These items were found by police recently in the home of a Maryland high school student who allegedly brought a handgun to class last week, according to Kevin Lewis of Washington’s ABC7 News:
- An AR-15 style rifle
- Multiple inert grenades (no explosives inside)
- Detonator for land mines
- Tactical vest
- List of grievances about his students and school.
Here’s how Americans approve (or don’t) of many issues today, according to a new Quinnipiac Poll:
- Congress: 20%
- President Trump: 37%
- Assault weapons ban: 67%
- Cats: 72%
- Dogs: 88%
- Universal gun background checks: 97% (yes, you read that right: 97%). Replied Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., of that 97%: “Apple pie doesn’t poll this well.”
Surprise! President Trump’s generals were blindsided by his desired transgender ban, Buzzfeed News reported Tuesday after a little FOIA work. Perhaps the clearest example is an email from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford to the service chiefs on July 27, a day after the president’s tweet telling the world of his desire to ban transgender troops from the U.S. military: “Chiefs, I know yesterday’s announcement was unexpected,” Dunford wrote.
According to Buzzfeed, he then sent “another message at 10:57 a.m. that day: ‘P.S. When asked, I will state that I was not consulted. … expect that question will come NLT [no later than] my September hearing.’”
Why that story matters today: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to make his recommendation on transgenders serving in the military to the president, Pentagon spox Maj. David Eastburn told reporters Tuesday.
Trump just green-lighted a Congressionally mandated review of Russia’s RS-26 Rubezh intermediate-range ballistic missile, the White House announced in a statement Tuesday. Read the announcement, via Defense News’ Joe Gould, here.
This week in Russian allegations: Moscow says the U.S. military is using “mystery helicopters” to arm ISIS in Afghanistan, The Drive reported Tuesday — writing up top that “Russia is advancing this conspiracy theory to distract from questions about its own connections to Afghan militants, including the Taliban.”
Wait — “mystery helicopter?” The Drive runs through the options on what that might have (or might not have) been, here.
Also in Afghanistan: The Taliban reportedly used night vision goggles to overrun three checkpoints in Farah province overnight, NYTs reports this morning. “The number of casualties on the government side was in dispute. Mr. Qani said 22 had died in the attack, a provincial governor put the figure at eight and a Taliban spokesman gave a figure of 26.” Tiny bit more, here.
Ally watch. If the U.S. and China go to war, the Philippines “will not take part in any conflict” between the two world powers, the Philippine Inquirer reported Tuesday.
ICYMI: America says bye-bye to its MQ-1 Predator drones. On March 9, the “iconic, groundbreaking and controversial” drone fleet will be retired and replaced by MQ-9 Reapers, Air Force Times reported last week.
What to do with the excess? Unclear just yet. “Some could be transferred to Air Force museums, and the Air Force is exploring the possibility of transferring some to the Navy,” AF Times reported.
What likely will not happen: selling them to private organizations. Nor do service officials “expect to sell or give them to allied nations through the Excess Defense Article Program for Security Cooperation.” Read on, here.
Want to better understand the roots the Saudi-Iran tensions? PBS Frontline just aired a two-part documentary last night that breaks down the history of “bitter rivalry” between the two nations. The first part clocks in at just under two hours, and you can start watching here. Part two airs next Tuesday.
And finally today: A hearty congrats to freelance journalist Iona Craig, who has lived and worked in Yemen for years. “On Tuesday, Craig won one of the most prestigious awards in journalism,” the George Polk Award, for her reporting on the aftermath of the U.S. Navy SEAL raid on an alleged al-Qaeda position in Yemen on January 29, 2017, the Poynter Institute wrote.
Here’s a great interview with Craig, via Poynter from last March.
And in case you missed it, Craig is one of five experts who spoke with Defense One as part of our special report on how Yemen became a chaos state. Read more here; or you can hear Craig and all the others in a podcast on the war in Yemen, here.