Developing: Multiple explosions struck a mosque in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 62 people and wounding more than 100 others, Reuters reports from the capital of Kabul. Neither the Taliban nor ISIS has yet claimed responsibility. A bit more from Reuters, here.
On Day 1 of a U.S.-requested “ceasefire” for northern Syria, clashes erupted Friday in the border town of Ras al-Ayn. NBC News is reporting “gunfire, grenades and mortars” heard inside the town. Both the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, and the Turkish military accused the other of breaking the agreement forged Thursday in Ankara, the Associated Press, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal report.
The clashes involve “drone strikes and artillery shelling,” the Journal writes. And those “resumed overnight and increased into Friday morning” in the vicinity of SDF-held Ras al-Ayn. Reuters reported “machine-gun fire and shelling,” and that “the sounds of fighting later subsided by mid-morning.” AP reports columns of smoke that typically follow airstrikes or artillery bombardment stopped rising after noon local time, “and only sporadic gunfire was heard from inside the town” in the four-plus hours since.
About Ras al-Ayn: “Before the deal’s announcement, Turkish-backed forces had encircled the town and were battling fierce resistance from Kurdish fighters inside,” AP writes. Nearby, “fighting continued into the afternoon as Turkish-backed Syrian fighters clashed with Kurdish forces in villages on the outskirts of Ras al-Ayn. The Kurdish-led force said five of its fighters were killed and a number of civilians wounded in a Turkish airstrike on one of the villages.”
But farther out, “no fighting was heard Friday along the stretch of the border that has been the main theater of the Turkish assault, running from Ras al-Ayn about 125 kilometers (75 miles) west to the Turkish-held town of Tal Abyad,” AP writes. One contributing factor there: “Kurdish fighters have already been driven out of much, but not all, of that territory.”
A U.S. official could not yet confirm to AP that any fighting had taken place after the official start of the deal signed Thursday in Turkey’s capital between President Recep Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
But more about that Syria ceasefire, Trump’s tweet: “This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this ‘Deal’ for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!”
The president later told reporters on the tarmac in Texas, “This an amazing outcome. Regardless of how the press would like to tamp it down, this was something they’ve been trying to get for 10 years. You would have lost millions and millions of lives. They couldn’t get it without a little rough love as I call it. ”
Erodgan’s response: He said he wouldn’t “forget the letter sent earlier in the week by Trump ‘which did not go hand in hand with political and diplomatic courtesy,’” NBC reports. Erdogan told reporters he will meet with Russia’s Vladmir Putin in four days, and “God willing, we will bring peace to the area.”
Don’t miss how Russian newspapers portrayed the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria in a three-minute BBC report from Steve Rosenberg. Some excerpts: “An unexpected lottery win — that’s what Trump’s mistake is in Syria.” And “The oversized giant, America, lost its way in broad daylight.” More where that came from, here.
Said Turkey’s foreign minister shortly after it was signed: “Pause in Turkey’s operation in Syria is not a cease-fire, cease-fire can only happen between two legitimate sides.” And Turkey, of course, considers the Kurds terrorists who cannot be negotiated with.
And the SDF’s POV? They didn’t really have a choice but to be seen as going along with the agreement — even though they appear to be reading it differently from the Turks, as the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister tweeted Thursday.
“It’s not a ceasefire.” Said the European Council’s President Donald Tusk: “The so-called ceasefire is not what we expected. In fact, it’s not a ceasefire, it’s a demand of capitulation of the Kurds,” he told reporters in Brussels. For that reason, he continued, “We have to reiterate our call to Turkey to put a permanent end to its military action immediately and withdraw its forces and respect the international humanitarian law.”
Trump at another campaign rally Thursday evening in Dallas, said : “Like two kids in a lot, you have got to let them fight and then you pull them apart.” (Related: The Daily Show gathered Trump’s remarks on the Kurds from 2018 that are very different from his remarks this week, here.)
“This is an obscene and ignorant statement,” replied Trump’s fuming former ISIS envoy, Brett McGurk, “200k innocent people displaced. Hundreds dead. Credible reports of war crimes. ISIS prisoners escaping. US evacuating and bombing its own positions or handing them to Russia. Two kids in a lot?”
UK, France and Germany unite… sort of. French President Emmanuel Macron said today he’ll join his German and British counterparts to confront Erdogan about Turkey’s offensive… in early December at a NATO summit in London. “We need to see where Turkey is going and how to bring it back to a reasonable position which makes it possible to elaborate its internal security with the respect of our agenda and the correct solidarity at the heart of NATO,” said Macron. More from Reuters, here.
Capitol Hill churns: U.S. lawmakers circulated at least four different sanctions packages against Turkey for its offensive in northern Syria. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., are pushing ahead with their sanctions package, initially promised one week ago. WSJ reports that bill “includes language declaring that it is the ‘sense of Congress’ that President Trump’s decision to pull back troops ‘has grave consequences’ for national security and for America’s allies.” A bit more on the GOP’s still-constant discomfort with Trump’s Syria decision, here. Our own Katie Bo Williams has a full report from Congress here.
Sen. Mitt Romney delivered an unusual speech on the floor of the Senate Thursday afternoon, calling Trump’s Syria decision “a bloodstain on the annals of American history.” He also said, “I believe that it’s imperative that public hearings are held to answer these questions, and I hope the Senate is able to conduct those hearings next week.” More from the Washington Post, here.
Podcasting a few hard realities about Syria, and the future of the U.S. military and its allies there on Defense One Radio:
- “Syria’s future is, I hate to say it, is dire,” Charles Lister said in one of three Thursday conversations on the podcast. “Every single root cause for extremism and instability are there. And they are worse today than they were in 2011.”
- “Nobody at this point thinks that the Trump administration is going to put a credible threat of military force on the table for anything,” said Dana Stroul of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
- “What happens in Syria does not stay in Syria. And what happens in Syria directly impacts American security,” Stroul added.
- “There is a very clear consensus now that there is no desire to enter into a working relationship with the U.S. government on any strategic issue,” Lister said, “because there is zero faith that those relationships or agreements could still be standing in six months time.”
- And on Syria and Syrians moving past all this sooner than later… not gonna happen. “When you look at some of the World Bank numbers and talking about just reconstructing destroyed residential buildings, they say with perfect conditions it would take half a century,” Lister explained. “But we don’t have perfect conditions. They don’t have resources, the infrastructure, there’s rife corruption and they have no money. And so the scale of the destruction and the scale of the challenge ahead is literally impossible to imagine.”
From Defense One
US Agrees to Lift Sanctions on Turkey in Syria ‘Ceasefire’ Deal // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: “From what I understand it’s not a ceasefire,” Sen Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters on Capitol Hill. “You have one-hundred-and-X number of hours to get out of here before we kill you.”
US Lawmakers Fear The Damage Is Done On Syria // Katie Bo Williams: “The egg may be scrambled,” said one Armed Services Committee lawmaker amid a welter of efforts to salvage the situation.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Robotanks, attack helicopters at AUSA; Subway tech may ease wargaming; Leonardo’s next acquisition? And more.
Donald Trump Looks More and More Like Oliver North // John Gans: Iran-Contra was also about a foreign policy run from inside the White House and outside the law.
Raytheon’s Next Patriot Radar Will Eliminate a Blind Spot // Marcus Weisgerber: Company officials say the new radar can spot drone swarms, cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons expected on future battlefields.
DISA Wants a Pentagon-Wide Identity Management System // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The Enterprise Identity Service would let Pentagon officials oversee the access credentials and online activity of every user who touches its networks.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson, Bradley Peniston and Kevin Baron. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1767, a dispute over the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland was finally settled thanks to the work of surveyors Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason. (Asks Florida native Kevin Baron: But is Maryland really “the South?”)
Meanwhile, the war in Yemen got a little quieter this week, the UN reported Thursday. And now UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and relief chief Mark Lowcock, believe there’s “cause for optimism” in that conflict, which has been running for more than four and a half years.
“This is a very recent and inevitably fragile gain, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Griffiths said Thursday, citing a late September initiative from the Houthis “to suspend all drones and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, and the reduction of violence that followed the announcement.”
Also worth noting: “Fighting has calmed down between formerly allied Government forces and separatists” in the port city of Aden. However, the economy is still in shambles and famine appears to be worsening across the country ahead of the winter. Read on, here.
McRaven speaks out against Trump (again). Count retired Adm. Bill McRaven, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, among those who see Trump as a threat to the United States. In a Friday New York Times op-ed, the retired four-star writes of U.S. troops and their commander-in-chief. “These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield,” he writes. “If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military? And if they don’t join, who will protect us?”
The kicker: “And if this president doesn’t understand their importance, if this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office — Republican, Democrat or independent — the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.”
Related: Strategist Jim Golby has this decent thread responding to Kevin Baron’s Tuesday column critical of special operations leaders’ silence in the modern era. Golby frequently keeps his eye on mil-civ leader relations, we appreciate his thoughtful addition to the conversation.
Is Trump protecting Navy SEALs from discipline? “A push to strengthen discipline in the SEAL teams has been stymied by one member’s support in the White House,” the New York Times reports this morning from the ongoing saga of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who was “acquitted in July of war crimes charges including shooting civilians, murdering a captive ISIS fighter, and threatening to kill witnesses.”
One telling quote: “People want to hold these guys accountable,” said one Navy officer who was involved in the punishment deliberations. “But they are afraid that if you do anything, minutes later there will be a tweet from the White House, and the officer in charge will get axed.” Story here.
And finally this week: STRATCOM bids farewell to floppy disks. The Strategic Automated Command and Control System, or SACCS, developed decades ago as a sort of backup “instant messenger” system to transmit nuclear-strike orders from the president to the Air Force, finally replaced its floppy disks with a “highly-secure solid state digital storage solution” last June, said Lt. Col. Jason Rossi, commander of the Air Force’s 595th Strategic Communications Squadron.
Unhackable? “I joke with people and say it’s the Air Force’s oldest IT system. But it’s the age that provides that security,” Rossi said in an October interview with C4ISRNet. “You can’t hack something that doesn’t have an IP address. It’s a very unique system — it is old and it is very good.” Read on, here. And have a good weekend.