Taliban ‘destroy’ ISIS in N Afghanistan; Final fight against ISIS in Syria?; Iran’s naval drills; 2 ways to read intel on North Korea; Terror attacks have become less frequent, deadly; And a bit more.

The Taliban has “destroyed” ISIS in northern Afghanistan, The New York Times reported Wednesday citing “officials on all sides.”

The scene would appear to be very memorable, if the Times’ reporting is true —that “Hundreds of ISIS fighters surrendered to the government” on Wednesday, “with many others killed or taken captive by the Taliban.”

Evidently the Taliban are open to leaving American troops in Afghanistan, The Daily Beast reports from what it calls “the Secret Taliban Talks to End America’s Longest War.”

TDB’s source: “a retired Army colonel and ex-U.S. ambassador,” that is — Chris Kolenda and Robin Raphel. (BTW: Kolenda is an occasional contributor to Defense One.)

Background: “Over nine months, Kolenda and Raphel shuttled back and forth between Washington and Doha three times and, last month, added Kabul to their itinerary. The Daily Beast can reveal the existence of their informal diplomacy now that it’s led to Alice Wells, a senior State Department official holding the South Asia portfolio, meeting with Taliban officials in Doha on July 23 in the first U.S.-Taliban talks for seven years.”

Said Kolenda: “When your adversary is ready to accept your war aims, then I think you’ve got an obligation to pursue a serious way to end the war.” Full story, here.

Careful celebrating too quickly, Task & Purpose’s Adam Weinstein warned on Twitter. Find that warning, here.  

From the region: Three men not from Afghanistan were found dead in a car in Kabul, Agence France-Presse reports this morning from the capital. The men had worked in logistics and were from the countries of India, Macedonia and Malaysia, according to Afghanistan’s MOI. So far, it appears they were kidnapped, moved to a different car, and then shot. A bit more of what’s known, here.

From Defense One

Opposition to a Space Force Simmers in the Senate // Katie Bo Williams: But Republicans who oppose the president’s push appear largely content to hold their fire until next year.

Two Ways to Read the Newest Intelligence on North Korea // The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman: Is Kim Jong Un serious about denuclearizing? Or is he out to trick the United States?

Defense One Radio, Ep.14: // Defense One Staff: Natasha Bertrand of The Atlantic; Space Force moves ahead; Future of the Iran deal? and more.

DHS Creates Cyber Risk Center to Protect High-Value Targets // Joseph Marks, Nextgov: The center will free up NCCIC to work on cyber threat sharing and incident response, officials say.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief  by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. On this day 199 years ago, Charles Guille cut loose his wicker basket from its attached hydrogen balloon at an altitude of about 500 feet over Long Island, N.Y., and landed on the ground moments later — becoming the first American parachutist in history.  

Great news: New data shows terror attacks are becoming less frequent and much less deadly, Quartz reported Wednesday from the recently updated Global Terrorism Database, maintained by researchers at the University of Maryland.
The gist: “Attacks around the world dropped from about 17,000 in 2014 to about 11,000 in 2017. The number of fatal victims fell by almost half in the same period.”
But not so fast, Americans. Writes Quartz, “Despite an improvement at the global level, some specific countries registered more terrorism than before. In the US, the number of lethal attacks almost tripled, with the deadliest case being the Las Vegas shooting in October.”

An Israeli airstrike killed seven alleged ISIS fighters this morning attempting to infiltrate from the Golan Heights, AFP reports from Jerusalem.
BTW: Russian troops are marching with UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights today, the Associated Press reports from Moscow. Moscow’s intent is to build some eight observation posts in the region, Reuters adds.

Spillover violence into Jordan: “The Jordanian army said on Thursday it killed several Islamic State militants who approached its border as they fled a Syrian offensive that drove them out of their enclave in the southwest of the war-torn country,” Reuters reports this morning from Amman.
According to a Jordanian army source, the fighting is said to have “lasted nearly twenty-fours from Tuesday to Wednesday afternoon… The militants had sought to take cover among hundreds of civilians camped near the Jordanian border to escape the bombing of their villages during the offensive against the militants.” A bit more, here.

ICYMI, the “U.S.-led Coalition Set to Launch Final Fight Against ISIS in Syria,” Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman reported Wednesday.
The short read: The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces “has been driving the battle against the Islamic State on the ground and will lead the offensive on Hajin[, Syria]. The United States will mainly provide air support… Experts say the battle of Hajin could mark the end of the coalition’s mission in Syria, if not the elimination of the Islamic State altogether.”
Predicts the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister: “In all likelihood, we will proclaim victory & slowly withdraw soon after… Leaving a still active, but different ISIS behind.”

Hear Lister’s take on what lies ahead for the U.S. military and all the regional players inside and around Syria in episode 12 of Defense One Radio here.

Iran is about to begin an annual exercise that’s an easy way to stoke U.S. fears. Reuters calls it “a major exercise in the Gulf…amid heightened tensions with Washington.” CNN notes that the exercise is taking place earlier in the year than usual and appears to be larger than usual, with some 100 smallish boats gathered for war games that are also expected to include radar, coastal batteries, and “hundreds” of troops.
Background on Iran’s exercises at sea: See p. 37 of the Office of Naval Intelligence’s February 2017 (public) report on Tehran’s twin naval forces, the regular Islamic Republic of Iran Navy and the more asymmetric Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy. A snippet: “Since 2006, the IRGCN has held highly publicized, large-scale, deterrent-themed exercises (named NOBLE PROPHET) in an attempt to dissuade foreign political, economic, or military aggression…” (h/t @grahamwjenkins)
Mattis, last Friday: “Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. They’ve done that previously in years past. They saw the international community put — dozens of nations of the international community put their naval forces in for exercises to clear the straits.”
See also last January’s “Native Fury 2018,” in which U.S. and UAE forces practiced hauling stuff across the peninsula that forms the strait’s southern bank, “proving that they can move large quantities of materiel over land in the event that the strategic Strait of Hormuz is closed due to Iranian action,” as The War Zone put it.
Yet mine warfare remains an under-resourced aspect of naval operations. U.S. Naval Institute blogger Cmdr. Salamander took a look at the DoD IG’s July 8 report on the anti-mine module for the littoral combat ship, and finds lots of warning signs.
Want to go deeper? Read “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The United States Navy and Mine Warfare in the 21st Century,” Timothy Choi’s graduate thesis at the University of Calgary.

And finally today: The AP has the intriguing story of — as Financial Times’ Moscow correspondent puts it — a “nice lady willing to pay top dollar for hacking tools turned out to be (surprise!) a Russian government hacker.”
The story stretches back to April 2011, when a researcher who wants to remain anonymous was first contacted by a person identified as Kate S. Milton, allegedly from the anti-virus firm Kaspersky.
Some trivia: This AP report could be the first use of facial recognition as a journalism tool, FT’s Max Seddon noted after finishing the story — which you can do here.

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