Assad goes on the attack; Pakistan buys Chinese subs; Fear rules Syrian-refugee policy; Senate passes NDAA; and a bit more...

‘Wide scale offensive’ in Syria…by the Syrians. The fighting escalated Thursday, but not because the U.S. or U.S.-backed rebels are driving back the Islamic State or Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime. It’s Assad who is on the attack. Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, Syria’s Army chief of staff, said under the cover of Russian air support, Assad’s ground forces were “eliminating the terrorist groups and liberating the areas and towns that have suffered from terrorism and its crime.” More from CNN.  

Russia fired cruise missiles at Syria and YouTubed the whole thing is perhaps one of our favorite clever headlines lately, but U.S. officials are not laughing. Russia sent 26 medium-range cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea--across Iraq and Iran airspace--to its targets. Suddenly, there’s a war in Syria moving the needle, and it looks (publicly, at least) like NATO is doing little but watching Vladimir Putin’s master plan unfold.

Forget about a U.S.-Russia team-up. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said there would be no cooperation with Russia in Syria other than avoiding each other, and even that has trickled to minimal communication. “We are not prepared to cooperate on strategy which, as we explained, is flawed, tragically flawed, on the Russians’ part,” Carter said, in Rome Wednesday. More from the Wall Street Journal, and the U.S. Ambassador to NATO Doug Lute oddly marveling at Putin’s moves.

Carter’s statement-of-the-obvious comes as he heads into Brussels for what portends to be one of the most interesting and newsworthy regular meetings of NATO defense ministers in years. (Those things usually are speechify-fests, but great food.)

How’s that deconflicting going? One senior U.S. commander scoffed at the notion Russian fighter pilots accidentally crossed into Turkish airspace this week. “As somebody who flew a fighter earlier in my career, I find this kind of incursion inexcusable…. It’s either a sign of recklessness or unprofessionalism or intentionality—none of which are good,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, U.S. Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, in a Tuesday interview with Defense News.

But the U.S. already is rerouting aircraft to avoid the Russians. It’s happened at least once this week, though Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis couldn’t say how many more times U.S. aircraft had to change course over Syria. More here.  

Is Putin as strong as you think? Take it for what it is, but Putin opponents insist the ruler is no tsar, and make their case for why his power is shaky, via Reuters.

These guys? A group that once whipped people for missing their prayers now claims they’re “moderates” the U.S. should support. Good luck, NSC. More at the WaPo.

Special report: How fear slammed America’s door on Syrian refugees. The nearly five year-old war in Syria has displaced 12 million people. Four million have fled. The U.S. response? Letting in just under 1,900. Why so few? Officials consistently cite “national security concerns.” But Defense One investigated and found more than two dozen sources and a dozen U.S. security agencies were unable to point to any evidence, data, or intelligence assessment that Syrian refugees are a threat to the United States homeland.

“The security of the United States homeland comes first ... that, frankly, is why it’s not possible for the United States to, overnight, ramp up the number of refugees that are admitted to this country,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest recently said. But a DHS official acknowledged, “There is no particular trend that we have seen in the refugee population, nor has recent history shown” that refugees are sleeper terrorists. Read why even after Obama promised to open America’s doors, the politics of fear is leaving Syrian refugees waiting in the cold.  

From Defense One

Senate passes NDAA. With 70 votes, the Senate passed the defense authorization bill, as expected, on Wednesday. “This is absolutely one of the worst times I can imagine to veto a bill that supports our troops, that gives the president additional tools,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, with a straight face. He knows darn well the bill also includes the OCO war slush fund the Obama administration says simply cheats on the budget caps, and does nothing to close Guantanamo, which Obama insists is are veto-worthy causes.

Thornberry threatens to hold hostage the acquisition reform deal. Say what? “Thornberry noted that parts of the bill passed with strong bipartisan support, such as acquisition reform and changes to the military retirement system. He warned if the president spikes the bill, ‘There is no guarantee that comes back.’” Nice.

Senate will try again on cybersecurity bill after recess. The bill is supposed to let private companies share user data with the government. But there’s already a split among business support for the Cy­ber­threat In­form­a­tion Shar­ing Act, or CISA, and opposition by privacy advocates. “Some people you just can’t sat­is­fy no mat­ter what you do,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Have some fun at AUSA next week and sign up for Defense One LIVE’s Cocktails and Conversation. We’ll talk with U.S. Army Europe commanding general, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges about strategy and challenges in the new era of land warfare, from Russia to ISIS, along with Col. Steven Sliwa, director of the U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force, and CNAS’ Paul Scharre. Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron moderates. Please register and join us on Tues., Oct. 13, 5 p.m. at Busboys & Poets, 1025 5th St., NW, of all places.

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The D Brief, from Kevin Baron, who’s noticing the sun rises later these days, and Defense One. Ben Watson will return Tuesday (not Monday, which is a holiday.) Tell your friends to subscribe here: Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know:

ISIS executes three Christian hostages in Syria, in a new video emerging overnight. The fighters want $100,000 each for roughly 200 Assyrian men it captured, or they say they will execute them all.

Another reason to accept the Iran deal: Iran’s supreme leader just banned any further negotiations with the U.S. So…there. But wait, doesn’t this quote sound a bit tooooo...ya know? Read: “Negotiations with the United States open gates to their economic, cultural, political and security influence. Even during the nuclear negotiations they tried to harm our national interests...Our negotiators were vigilant but the Americans took advantage of a few chances.” How about that, Donald Trump?

Pakistani-China submarine deal. Thanks, friends. Yes, America’s oh-so-important South Asian ally in the war on terrorism is buying eight new submarines from China for a meager $5 billion. Now comes news from the Pakistani Dawn (via The Diplomat) that four of the subs will be built in Karachi. Pakistan may, in theory, be allied with the U.S. against terrorism, but when it comes to global geopolitics, Islamabad and Beijing are BFFs.

It’s Beijing’s largest foreign defense deal to date. The type of boats are designated S20s, but they are “modified Type 41 Yuan-class diesel-electric attack submarines.” It also gives China’s attack boats a place to port.

“For Beijing, selling S20s to Pakistan is more than a commercial arrangement with an ally–it’s another way to buttress the PLAN’s ability to operate in far-flung waters in the western Indian Ocean, where China regularly conducts anti-piracy operations.”  

Another C-130J contractor victim identified. The Pentagon frustratingly won’t release names of private military contractors killed in while operating in their name—and yours—in war zones. (There are up to 35,000 civilian contractors in Afghanistan, according to the AP.) But local press reports have begun to trickle out revealing the five contractors (to which agencies, we don’t know) killed in the Jalalabad crash along with the known six U.S. Air Force personnel. The latest: former Marine Christopher Ruiz, 29, a contractor from Lemoore, Calif. KFSN-TV in Fresno has this nice report on his life and how three weeks before he died he reached back to an old high school counselor about getting into law enforcement. Ruiz leaves a wife and three kids. Other contractors identified include construction worker Kevin Mason, of Clovis, Ariz., and Carlos Carrasco, of Tombstone, Ariz.

Happy belated birthday, Afghanistan War. Your D Briefer missed that Wed., Oct 7, was the 14th anniversary of the start of the Afghanistan War. (We were busy still reporting on it, 14 years after it began.) There are few remembrances out there, including this photo essay on warzone life in Business Insider’s Military & Defense pages. Or this profile of a group of war protesters in Teaneck, NJ, who still hold signs on a sidewalk every Wednesday. “Support our troops, bring them home now! Alive!” said Henry Shoiket. He’s 97 years old. His wife is even madder. She’s 100.

And finally, the Great “Cubby” Caper has been solved! Yesterday, the Pentagon’s main press relations shop went to DEFCON 1 after Politico’s Phil Ewing tweeted that someone had swiped the gag-portrait of former press secretary John Kirby. Pentagon reporters — ok, the Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous — had the portrait made upon Kirby’s retirement earlier this year. It has a little brass plaque noting the date Kirby was lost at sea. Well, it vanished. Here’s the edited tick-tock, provided by a well-placed source to the D Brief:

1. The portrait was last seen yesterday, 6 Oct, which ruled out any of the press corps or staff traveling in Europe with Carter.

2. Pentagon staff investigated. While there appears to be video surveillance of the area, the cameras in the area were not taping and therefore of no use in identifying the person who stole it.

3. Because the outer door is locked, the perp most likely has swipe access to the press briefing room.

4. At just before 2pm, Wednesday, the portrait had been restored to its place. Unclear who took it and why.

So, the mystery remains…Who Stole Kirby?! Thankfully, Kirby’s face once again greets every reporter that walks into the Pentagon briefing room. Forever.