DOD updates ISIS body count; Putin admits intervening for Assad; Army worries about Congress; Laser truck unveiled at AUSA; and a bit more…

Updated ISIS body count. The U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has killed an estimated 20,000 fighters, up from the 15,000 reported in July by the Defense Department, USA Today reports. Still, recruiting continues apace: “The overall force, the first official said, remains about where it was when the bombing started: 20,000 to 30,000 fighters.”

Oh, so that’s clear, then. Russian President Vladimir Putin this weekend appeared to confirm allegations that his main goal in intervening in Syria was to prop up embattled leader Bashar Assad. “Our task is to stabilize the legitimate government and to create conditions for a political military means, of course,” Putin said in an interview with Russian state television, according to a translation from CNN. The Hill has the story.

ICYMI: Train-and-equip, cancelled. On Friday, Obama administration officials announced that they would end the $500 million effort to find and prepare moderate fighters to resist ISIS in Syria.

But other efforts continue. On Monday, “U.S. forces airdropped small-arms ammunition and other supplies to Syrian Arab rebels” in the northern part of the country, Reuters reported. U.S. officials would not say whom the arms were meant to reach, but the Kurdish militia group YPG is known to operate in the area.

Back home, Obama defended his Syria policy. In a confrontational interview on 60 Minutes, the president fired back at critics of his response to Russian moves in Syria. In the interview, aired Sunday night, “Obama tried to explain how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s shows of strength in Syria and Ukraine actually reflected weakness. In doing so, Obama also warned against the United States making the same mistake.” The Atlantic has the story.

So what next? Even the White House doesn’t know. The program’s failure “leaves the administration facing options it doesn’t care for in a war it doesn’t want to enter in a world that has made American inaction almost as hard to imagine as American intervention.” Get an inside view of the policy debate from current and former administration officials, as reported by Defense One’s Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, here.

Meanwhile: how dangerous are Syrian immigrants? Even as the FBI director and others urge caution, “Thirteen senators and 71 members of Congress are calling for urgent action to address ‘duplication and delay’ in the security clearing process that has hamstrung the U.S. response to the Syrian refugee crisis.” Politics Reporter Molly O’Toole reports.

The Army’s biggest concern right now is Congress. Like the rest of the U.S. military, the land service says it’s harder to prepare its troops to fight when Congress can’t give them a regular budget. On Monday, Army Secretary John McHugh criticized his former fellow lawmakers for not providing clear and predictable funding for the U.S. military. McHugh also had strong words for Beltway types who favor a smaller force with a smaller budget. “If the last 18 to 20 months haven’t proven the necessity of a viable land force, I’m not sure what will,” McHugh said, at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention in Washington, the largest annual gathering of Army leaders. Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron reports.

Iran’s parliament approves nuke deal. After contentious debate that left tempers smoldering, lawmakers in Tehran voted 161-59 (with 13 abstentions) to accept the deal their government negotiated with the U.S. and other world powers, AFP reports.

Meanwhile, Iranian state media says the country test-fired a new long-range ballistic surface-to-surface missile. Israeli missile expert Uzi Rubin told Reuters, “The Emad represents a major leap in terms of accuracy. It has an advanced guidance and control system in its nose cone.”

From Defense One

From AUSA, where Defense One is largely camping out this week, some highlights from the show’s first day:

With Russia in mind, BAE revives light tank from the ’90s. U.S. military brass say Russia is the top threat, so companies are pitching arms for a new European battlefield…even if there is no money to buy them, Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber reports.

Laser trucks are coming. As onboard power capabilities for small vehicles continue to improve, defense manufacturers are looking for fancier features. On Monday, Northrop Grumman announced that they’re looking to integrate a 10-kilowatt solid-state fiber laser onto their newest tactical dune buggy, the 6-passenger Hellhound. Lasers anyone? Technology Editor Patrick Tucker has the story.

The Pentagon wants vampire drones that die in the sun. DARPA is funding research to develop aircraft that can “fully vanish within within four hours of payload delivery or within 30 minutes of morning civil twilight (assuming a night drop), whichever is earlier” to make it harder for enemies to get their hands on U.S. technology. Tucker, here.

Here are seven things the Army needs right now, according to AUSA president — and former Army chief of staff — Gordon Sullivan. The list begins, but hardly ends, with a call for halting the service’s drawdown. Read the whole thing here.

When it comes to ISIS’s rapid expansion across the Middle East and elsewhere, “Libya is the province we are most worried about,” Patrick Prior, senior defense intelligence expert for combating terrorism at DIA told the crowd at AUSA on Monday.  “It’s the hub that they use to project themselves across all of North Africa” and into Europe. Take the Tunisia terrorist attack that killed 38 people in June. In a lengthy panel discussion about future threats, Prior noted the terrorist group’s rapid expansion. “They’ve collected 8 affiliates in just 16 months.” He noted “small groups in Indonesia that want to align with ISIL as well.”

This afternoon: join USAREUR and the REF for drinks and ideas at 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 this evening (Oct. 13) at 5 p.m. at Busboys & Poets, 1025 5th Street NW, of all places.

Here’s a national-security lens on tonight’s Democratic presidential debate. O’Toole writes: Hillary Clinton will be center stage — literally — as her four primary rivals take on the still-presumptive nominee in at 8:30 p.m. EDT. The Dems have been far more reluctant than their GOP rivals to attack each other, but look for Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to highlight the former secretary of state’s relative hawkishness, and to attempt to force her to choose between owning her credentials and distancing herself from Obama’s mixed foreign policy record, particularly on Syria, Russia, Libya and Iraq. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb will likely take this tack hardest — a virtual non-entity in the polls, he’s got the least to lose, and is the closest to Clinton for experience, having been President Reagan’s Navy secretary and a Vietnam veteran who adamantly opposed the Iraq War. Lincoln Chafee somewhat unexpectedly focused on national security during the annual Democratic cattle call in Iowa this past summer, but the former Rhode Island mayor, governor, senator, Republican, Independent, and Democrat (yes, he’s been all three) will likely spend much of his energy reminding viewers who he is. If, by some crazy chance, Vice President Joe Biden finally decides to jump in between now and then, CNN said they’d put a podium on for him. (His official schedule has him attending meetings in Washington through the afternoon.)

Here’s a sampling of Defense One’s coverage of the candidates’ national security positions to get you started:

Bernie Sanders Enters 2016 Race as an Alternative to Hawkish Rivals—Including Clinton

Is Jim Webb the Ultimate Democratic Dark Horse?

Meet Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton’s Latest Unlikely National Security Critic

Let the Great Debate Over the Iraq War Begin — Again

Clinton Vows A Tougher, More Active Foreign Policy

Turkey imposes media blackout after suicide bombs kill 98. Following a deadly attack at a peace rally in Ankara on Saturday morning, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government forbade the press to report on it. Social media users also reported signs that their access was also being throttled. Tucker reports.

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The D Brief, from Bradley Peniston and Defense One. Tell your friends to subscribe here: Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know:

U.S. plans patrols near China’s fake islands. “The United States has been briefing its allies in Asia on plans to conduct naval patrols near artificial islands built by China in the disputed South China Sea,” the New York Times reports. “The ‘freedom of navigation’ patrols, which would come within 12 nautical miles of at least one of the islands, are intended to challenge China’s efforts to claim large parts of the strategic waterway.”

Reenlistment is slowing in the Marine Corps. “Fewer first-term Marines are signing on for a second re-enlistment compared to this time last year,” so headquarters is asking everyone to redouble their retention efforts, reports Marine Corps Times.

Lest we forget: the USS Cole bombing was 15 years ago. Shipmates reflect on al Qaeda’s 2001 attack on their destroyer in Yemen’s Aden Harbor, and its aftermath. “The main thing to remember is the sacrifice made by our fellow sailors on Cole,” one sailor told Navy Times. “Those 17 that died that day should not be forgotten.”