2 US KIA in Afghanistan; Israel strikes Iran in Syria; USN sends carrier through Hormuz Strait; US ambassador on Trump: it was a quid pro quo; And a bit more.

Israel airstrikes hit dozens of alleged Iranian and Syrian military positions around Damascus this morning as a response to four rockets launched toward northern Israel’s Golan region on Tuesday. AFP calls the airstrikes “a rare confirmation of [the Israeli military’s] operations in Syria.” Eleven people were reportedly killed in the Israeli strikes, “including seven who were not from Syria,” Reuters reports from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

Targets include “arms depots belonging to the Quds Force in the Damascus suburbs of Kisweh and Qudsaya,” as well as “the Mazzeh airbase in western Damascus where air defense units are stationed,” AP writes off the Observatory’s Rami Abdurrahman.

“We just carried out wide-scale strikes of Iranian Quds Force & Syrian Armed Forces targets in Syria in response to the rockets fired at Israel by an Iranian force in Syria last night,” the Israeli Defense Forces announced on Twitter shortly afterward. “During our strike of Iranian & Syrian terror targets, a Syrian air defense missile was fired despite clear warnings to refrain from such fire. As a result, a number of Syrian aerial defense batteries were destroyed.” 

The most important target “was a control facility at the main international airport in Damascus,” IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus told AFP. “It is the main building that serves the (Iranian) Revolutionary Guards… for coordinating the logistic facilities of transport of military hardware from Iran to Syria and from Syria onwards.”

According to Syrian state media, “two civilians were killed by shrapnel when an Israeli missile hit a house in the town of Saasaa, southwest of Damascus,” AP reports. That state media, SANA news agency, also “said several others were wounded, including a girl in a residential building in the suburb of Qudsaya, also west of the Syrian capital.”

Said Israel’s new Defense Minister, Naftali Bennett: “The rules have changed: whoever fires on Israel during the day will not sleep at night… Our message to the leaders of Iran is simple: you are no longer immune. Any place you dispatch your tentacles, we will chop them off.”

Russia’s reax: The Israeli attack “totally contradicts international law. We are going to examine the circumstances, all this is very bad,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told state-run media, TASS, according to AFP.

Meanwhile, the U.S. sent a carrier strike group through the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, the Navy announced afterward. Carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) made the passage, along with its Destroyer Squadron 2, the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) and Carrier Air Wing 7. “The Strait of Hormuz is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with one-fifth of the world’s energy supply transiting the strait annually,” the Navy said in its statement. “This waterway is critical to ensuring and safeguarding the stability of global commerce.”

By the way, “Iran will likely buy new advanced fighter jets and tanks next year when a U.N. Security Council arms embargo is scheduled to be lifted,” AP reported Tuesday off the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s newly-released assessment of Iran’s military capabilities called the “Iran Military Power” report (PDF here). 

China and Russia are two nations that could sell those tanks and jets to Tehran, a U.S. intelligence official told reporters Tuesday. “Currently, Iran uses 1970s-era Soviet tanks and a number of older fighter aircraft,” AP writes. Read on, here

A new U.S. report says President Trump’s Syria withdrawal has been helpful to ISIS, according to the latest inspector general report (full PDF here) on the war against ISIS. In particular, ISIS “exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops to reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad.” 

Additional takeaways: ISIS will likely have the ‘time and space’ to target the West and provide support to its 19 global branches and networks,” the report reads. And unsurprisingly, “In the longer term, ISIS will probably seek to regain control of some Syrian population centers and expand its global footprint.” Read more in the one page review, here; or check out the entire 116-page report, here.

From Defense One

Volker: I Didn’t Realize White House Was Asking for Biden Dirt // Patrick Tucker: In Tuesday testimony, the special envoy to Ukraine said he was not part of the Giuliani-Perry-Sondland backchannel.

Pentagon Fails Its Second Audit — But Not As Badly // Courtney Bublé, Government Executive: The comptroller’s report said the Defense Department had fixed more than 550 problems — about one-quarter of them — listed in the 2018 audit.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1945, more than 200 accused Nazi war criminals went on trial at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany.

Two American service members died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan,  U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) announced Tuesday evening, noting “preliminary reports do not indicate [the crash] was caused by enemy fire.” However, AP reports from Kabul, “the Taliban promptly claimed to have shot down the helicopter in eastern Logar province,” in particular, the Pangram area of Sarkh, Logar. More from the Taliban’s claims, here.
For the record, “Wednesday’s crash brought the number of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan this year to 19,” AP writes. “There have also been three non-combat deaths this year. More than 2,400 Americans have died in the nearly 18-year war.”

In Somalia, a U.S. military drone strike killed a senior al-Shabaab militant, a Somali intelligence official told AP today, reporting from Mogadishu. According to U.S. Africa Command, the airstrike targeted an individual with “direct ties to the al-Qaeda terror organization” who was in the southern coastal region near Qunyo Barrow.
In case you missed it, a UN report from one week ago alleges “al-Shabab has been manufacturing home-made explosives since at least July 20, 2017.” 
As far as cash flow, AP reported off that UN panel’s findings, al-Shabaab’s “taxation” of all aspects of Somalia’s economy “is undiminished, and has likely expanded.”
Don’t miss our podcast special on the war against al-Shabaab, here.

NATO foreign ministers today are looking at threats from China and from space, Reuters reports from Brussels. Background for this meeting: “Two weeks before the Western alliance meets for a summit in London to mark 70 years since its foundation, ministers aim to show they are rising to challenges despite tensions over U.S. President Donald Trump’s leadership, alarm at Turkey’s ties with Russia and French doubts about NATO’s viability.”
And about the space component of these talks,NATO will not deploy weapons to space,” Reuters makes clear for its readers. “It will begin work on protecting satellites crucial for modern communications.”
Facets of China that the alliance is watching: “ensur[ing] allied communications networks and infrastructure are safe from any possible foreign interference.”
BTW: In the past five years, China “has added 80 ships and submarines to its navy, the equivalent of the entire British navy,” according to the alliance. A bit more here.

Ambassador Sondland: Trump’s request for “favors” was a quid pro quo — and “everyone was in the loop.” In his testimony to impeachment investigators this morning, Gordon Sondland —  U.S. ambassador to the European Union — said the U.S. president was indeed conditioning his actions toward his Ukrainian counterpart on the latter’s willingness to produce dirt on a domestic political rival. Sondland said “everyone” was in on it, including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Washington Post, New York Times)
Vindman: The requests were “improper” and “inappropriate.” “Frankly, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing” as Trump spoke to the Ukrainian president, Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman told lawmakers on Tuesday. 
In more norm-busting this week, the official White House Twitter account questioned the competence of an official currently working in that White House.
One POV: “This White House appears to be cannibalizing itself,” William C. Inboden, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush, told the New York Times.

With U.S.-South Koren defense talks on the ropes, Defense Secretary Mark Esper wouldn’t rule out a U.S. withdrawal from the peninsula, Yonhap news agency reported Tuesday. “I’m not going to prognosticate or speculate on what we may or may not do,” Esper told reporters when, as Yonhap put it, he was “asked what steps the U.S. would take if no deal is reached before the end of the year, and whether the U.S. would consider reducing forces in the South.”
Said Esper: “The State Department has the lead in these discussions, and I’m sure they are in capable hands. We just take this one step at a time.”
FWIW: The joint Japanese-South Korean intelligence pact expires on Saturday. AP has more on the General Security of Military Intelligence Agreement, or GSOMIA, here.

And finally today: The U.S. Navy is about to eject the SEAL President Trump pardoned for war crimes just last week, the New York Times reported Tuesday. “The move could put the SEAL commander, Rear Adm. Collin Green, in direct conflict with President Trump, who last week cleared the sailor, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, of any judicial punishment in the war crimes case. Military leaders opposed that action as well as Mr. Trump’s pardons of two soldiers involved in other murder cases.”
Where the situation is believed to stand currently: “Admiral Green now has the authorization he needs from the Navy to act against Chief Gallagher, and the formal letter notifying the chief of the action has been drafted by the admiral.” 
And that’s not all: “The Navy also plans to take the Tridents of three SEAL officers who oversaw Chief Gallagher — Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, Lt. Jacob Portier and Lt. Thomas MacNeil — and their letters have been drafted as well.”
In case you were curious, the Times notes “Removing a Trident does not entail a reduction in rank, but it effectively ends a SEAL’s career.” And for the record, “The Navy has removed 154 Tridents since 2011.” More here.

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