ISIS operations are back on; US engages Libya’s Haftar; Russia’s robot playbook; More on SecNav’s firing; And a bit more.

U.S. and Syrian Kurdish forces have resumed “large-scale” counterterrorism operations against what remains of the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria, the New York Times reported Monday after a lull that began when President Trump appeared to order the U.S. withdraw from northern Syria on October 6. Recall that the U.S. had about 1,000 troops in Syria on October 5. Today, it has about 500, the Times reports.

Where this update comes from: CENTCOM’s Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., who recently spoke to reporters in Bahrain, including the Times’ Eric Schmitt. “Over the next days and weeks, the pace will pick back up against remnants of ISIS,” McKenzie said at the Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain on Saturday. 

The first known new operation began this past Friday in Syria’s Deir-ez Zor region, where U.S. troops relocated on the president’s orders to “secure” Syria’s oil. That Friday op was reportedly a “kill and capture mission,” Schmitt writes, “and resulted in the capture of more than a dozen others.”

“We don’t have an end date,” McKenzie twice told reporters who asked how long the U.S. forces intend to keep up the pressure on ISIS from positions inside Syria like Deir-ez Zor and al-Tanf, to the southwest. ISIS fighters in Syria, McKenzie said, “still have the power to injure, still have the power to cause violence.”

Otherwise in the war on ISIS, Denmark just offered to lead NATO’s training mission in Iraq, beginning around this time next year, Reuters reports from Copenhagen. Canada is leading that mission in the months before the Danes take over. 

And the government in Copenhagen has “withdrawn the Danish passports of two men who joined the Islamic State group — the first such cases since a new law was passed last month,” the Associated Press reports today from the capital. 

Update: Qatar and Kuwait will join the counter-Iran naval coalition that the U.S. started in the waters around the Persian Gulf and the Hormuz Strait, Reuters reported Monday from Bahrain. The two nations will be providing “personnel and patrol boats,” if current plans are executed. Also possibly joining soon: Canada. 

The list of coalition members currently includes the UAE, the UK, Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Albania, and Israel providing some assistance. 

Worth noting: “France is spearheading a European-led mission independent of the U.S-led maritime initiative,” which is known as the International Maritime Security Construct. More here


From Defense One

The US Navy Needs Offensive Undersea Drones / Cmdr. Erich Frandrup: The maritime domain has yet to see the kind of explosive innovation that UAVs have brought to land warfare.

Russia’s Military Is Writing an Armed-Robot Playbook  / Samuel Bendett: The new tactics and operating concepts will draw on three years of Syrian operations.

How Trump Turned the Military Against Itself // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: The president’s repeated interference in a Navy SEAL’s case shows that he cares about only one kind of military discipline: obedience to Trump.

Loosening Firearms Exports Will Tear at a Larger Arms-Control Fabric // Susan Waltz, University of Michigan: But Congress still has time to block the Trump administration’s proposed changes.

As the Rich Get Richer, the Ambassadors Get Worse // Dennis Jett, The Atlantic: Gordon Sondland embodies an age-old problem—one that the flood of donor money into American politics is only exacerbating.

At DHS, an Exodus of Tech and Cyber Leaders // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The rotating cast of officials in top tech and cyber jobs could hinder the department’s ability to develop and execute a consistent digital strategy.

Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1941, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt officially designated the fourth Thursday in November Thanksgiving Day.


Thirteen French soldiers died in Mali when their two helicopters collided in midair during a counterterrorism operation, the French Ministry of Defence announced today. “The helicopters were flying at low altitude to back up troops on the ground in northern Mali when they accidentally crashed into each other Monday evening, killing everyone aboard,” the Wall Street Journal reports
The Tigre and Cougar helicopters were flying “in the total darkness, which made the operation much more complicated,” according to French Defense Minister Florence Parly. The accident happened over Mali’s “Liptako region, near the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger,” Agence France Presse reports
The collision is “believed to be the biggest single loss of life for the French military since the 1980s,” when France lost almost 60 paratroopers when a suicide truckbomber struck a building housing troops in Lebanon, the BBC adds
For the record, Monday’s accident “It brought to 41 the number of French troops killed in the region since they were first sent to Mali in 2013,” AFP reports. (FWIW, AP puts that number at 44.) “France’s operation in West and Central Africa is its largest overseas military mission and involves 4,500 personnel.” Reuters notes that since the French began their counterterrorism operations in Mali, “Rather than stabilizing, security has progressively worsened.”
Bigger picture: “Mali is becoming a test of whether France and its European allies can step into the role of global cop as the Trump administration shifts its emphasis from counterterrorism toward strategic competition with China and Russia,” the Wall Street Journal writes. 
ICYMI: There’s been “a surge of violence” in Mali recently, AP reports, with “well over 100 local troops [killed] in the past two months, with [ISIS affiliates] often claiming responsibility.”
For the U.S. part in the region, the WSJ writes, “Last fall, the Pentagon ordered a 10% cut in the roughly 7,200 U.S. defense personnel in Africa, effective in two phases.” France, on the other hand, has promised more troops for Mali next year. More from the Journal, here.

U.S. officials met with controversial Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar at an undisclosed location in an effort to end Haftar’s seven-month offensive on the city of Tripoli, the U.S. State Department announced Monday.
Involved: 

  • Deputy National Security Advisor for Middle Eastern and North African Affairs Victoria Coates; 
  • Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland; 
  • Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy Matthew Zais; 
  • and USAFRICOM Deputy Director for Strategy, Engagement, and Programs Brigadier General Steven deMilliano.

You may recall U.S. officials recently met with an official linked to Haftar, as Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams recently reported; but the Americans had reportedly not formally entertained the general himself for these talks until Sunday. A bit more from Reuters, here.

I asked Trump for permission to fire SecNav, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at a short-notice press conference on Monday. (Here’s a DOD transcript.) He said then-Navy Secretary Richard Spencer had gone around his back to the White House, seeking a way to accommodate the president’s desire to reinstate convicted Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher without overt interference in the chain of command. Military Times reports, here.
Spencer: The order, and Esper’s acquiescence, sends a message “that you can get away with things,” Spencer told CBS’ David Martin the day after he was fired.
AP: Esper’s acknowledgement that Trump “ordered him to stop a disciplinary review of a Navy SEAL accused of battlefield misconduct” reveals “an intervention that raised questions about America’s commitment to international standards for battlefield ethics,” writes AP’s Bob Burns.
Two former Navy secretaries: “The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries,” write Richard Danzig and Sean O’Keefe, who served under Clinton and George H.W. Bush, respectively. “Our president should aspire to the same view. His values are not those of our military. It will do grievous damage to our armed services if they become so.” NYT, here.
ICYMI: IISS’s Kori Schake: “Trump’s War-Crime Pardons Undermine the Military.” 

Russia: we showed our new hypersonic missile for U.S. inspectors. AP: The Avangard hypersonic glide weapon was shown off to a U.S. team this week under the auspices of the New START nuclear arms treaty, Defense Ministry officials said Tuesday. They said the new weapon will be put on combat duty in December. A bit more, here.
Avangard facts: Among the half-dozen “next-gen” weapons unveiled in March 2018 by Vladimir Putin, the intercontinental Avangard is believed to be able to make evasive maneuvers as it flies more than 30 times the speed of sound. CSIS has more, here.

2020 candidates, questioned: Military Times asked the Democratic presidential hopefuls about their military personnel and veterans policy plans. Ten responded; read their answers here.

And lastly today: actual police are using Boston Dynamics’ robot dogs. The Massachusetts State Police’s bomb squad borrowed a Spot robot from August until November. A police spokesman acknowledged the test after the ACLU discovered it in official documents, but didn’t say how things went. CNET, here.
The Spot went on sale in September with a flashy and fairly remarkable video.

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