Civilians flee Idlib as battle nears; DARPA’s telepathy drones; Trump to run UN’s Iran meeting; Yemen peace talks; And a bit more.

“The bloodiest conflict yet in [Syria’s] long and painful civil war” could be just around the corner, ABC News reports from neighboring Turkey. Turkey happens to be right up against Syria’s Idlib province, where some 1 million rebels have been quarantined by Assad regime troops over the last several months. And this week the province has been subject to renewed Russian airstrikes on accused jihadis like Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which had been aligned with al-Qaeda but has been trying to shake free of labels to survive.

Said a first responder from Idlib: “There are no civilians left at all in the targeted villages,” Hasan Younis, a member of the White Helmets emergency medical team based in southern Idlib province, said to ABC News. “They are fleeing to areas near Turkey where they hope to be safe from further aerial bombardment.” A surgeon from a nearby town of Darkoush seconded that account of civilians fleeing toward Turkey.

What one strongman said to the other: “If you have no sympathy for human pain, The name of human you cannot retain.” The speaker was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Tehran. And he was quoting a line from Iranian poet Saadi, Daily Sabah’s Ragip Soylu tweeted this morning from a three-way “summit” on the future of Syria with the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Soylu’s quick verdict on the goings-on in Tehran: “This summit is a mess.  Clearly there is no deal. Erdoğan is arguing with Rouhani and Putin live on television.”

Turkey’s big ask at the summit: a ceasefire.

Not interested in that: Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani.

Definitely not interested in that: Putin, “because Nusra Front and Islamic State militants located there were not part of peace talks.” Reuters has a bit more, here.

Reminder: Turkey is still hosting a large percentage of refugees from the Syrian war — 4.5 million still, Erdogan told Putin and Rouhani.

The U.S. says it has seen “lots of evidence” Syrian regime troops are preparing for a chemical weapons attack on Idlib, Reuters reports separately this morning. The U.S. official here: Jim Jeffrey, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s new special adviser on Syria overseeing talks on a political transition in that country. A bit more, here.

For your ears only: What to expect out of Idlib, and how to more wisely move forward in Syria’s northeast — where U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces hold a majority of the territory east of the Euphrates River. Heiko Wimmen of the International Crisis Group spoke to us for the first half of this week’s Defense One Radio podcast. Listen to that on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Google Play — or wherever you listen to podcasts.

From Defense One

It’s Now Possible To Telepathically Communicate with a Drone Swarm // Patrick Tucker: DARPA’s new research in brain-computer interfaces is allowing a pilot to control multiple simulated aircraft at once.

Inside the Pentagon’s Plan to Make Computers ‘Collaborative Partners’ // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: DARPA’s latest artificial intelligence project aims to bridge the gap between a machine that learns from data and one that adds new insights.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber and Bradley Peniston: Spy chiefs beg for security holes; 1-on-1 with Raytheon’s missile-defense chief; USAF fleet costs rise; and more…

DHS Secretary Urges Hit-Back-Harder Response to Cyber Strikes // Joseph Marks, Nextgov: That muscular response strategy may sow confusion and risk escalation, a cyber law scholar says.

The Woodward Book Comes for James Mattis // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: A veteran Washington journalist describes the defense secretary as avoiding confrontation and showing respect. But the rest of the book may have blown up that strategy.

Welcome to this Friday 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. On this day in 1864, Union Gen. William Sherman ordered the residents of Atlanta, Ga., to evacuate the city because he was about to make history.

SecDef Mattis and Gen. Dunford are in Afghanistan today on an unannounced stop to meet with President Ashraf Ghani. Mattis and Dunford are also in town to meet with the new war commander, Gen. Austin Scott Miller, Reuters reports from Kabul.
Their priority: “beginning the political process and reconciliation,” Dunford said, referring to talks with the Taliban. Read on, here.

President Trump will chair a UN Security Council meeting on Iran later this month. And The New York Times reports his aides are already trying to tweak the agenda to avoid something like an episode of “The Apprentice” with foreign leaders.
Said Nikki Haley, POTUS45’s Ambassador to the UN: “President Trump is very adamant that we have to start making sure that Iran is falling in line with international order. And we continue to see them engage in things that are not helpful, whether it’s in Lebanon, whether it’s in Yemen, whether we’re looking at Syria.”
Hear a bit more from Haley in a recent interview conducted by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ Clifford May, who claims Haley “has brought a precise moral compass and a distinctly American voice to the United Nations.” That 40-minute discussion begins here.

News from the war in Yemen: The first talks in more than two years were slated for this week in Geneva.
The latest problem for the war in Yemen: The Houthis refused to travel to Switzerland for those talks, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash writes on Twitter this morning.
Patrick Tucker spoke to Gargash back in May from Bratislava for our Defense One Radio podcast.

And new today — get caught up with the newest Yemen developments in our nearly 20-minute discussion with Peter Salisbury of the London-based Chatham House. That chat begins at the 18:45 mark, here.  

Trump administration rejected report that said refugees pose a low security risk. That was last November, when a representative from the National Counterterrorism Center brought the report to a senior-level administration meeting on refugees. But Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand dismissed it out of hand, NBC News reports, citing three former senior administration officials.
A DHS spokesman confirmed the episode, and defended the decision, saying “immigration policy in the Trump administration does not rely solely on “historical data about terrorism trends,” but rather “is an all-of-the-above approach…”
A subsequent administration report in January painted a more dire picture — and a less accurate one, according to ongoing court challenges by “several former officials and rights groups who say it inflates the threat posed by people born outside the U.S.” Read on, here.
Reminder: Even before Trump took office, potential refugees have in recent years been subject to intense, multi-level vetting. This Defense One piece from 2016 takes you through the process.

What the Air Force wants to buy this week: a Kraken costume, “which must have between 8-10 tentacles but no clothes,” Rachel Cohen of Inside Defense noticed and shared Thursday on Twitter from the FedBizOps site.
The motto of the unit seeking this costume: “Let’s get kraken.” Oy. Details and more, here.

And finally this week: The top vote-getters from you of the best war films ever: “Saving Private Ryan,” “Das Boot,” and “Patton.”
For the record: One of your D Brief-ers has only seen one of those three — though he was subjected to countless reenactments of the famous speech from the latter film while in uniform, and that kinda felt like more than enough of “Patton.” As for “Saving Private Ryan,” it still has our favorite military exchange on film about complaints and the chain of command. Maybe we’ll carve time for the German U-boat flick one evening this fall. Thanks for the replies, everyone.

Have a safe weekend, and we’ll catch you again on Monday!

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