Deconfliction, take three; Debating Dems pile on Clinton; Ukraine may buy US armor; DHS wants to revive terror alerts; and just a bit more.

Clearing the air over Syria: third time’s the charm, inshallah. The U.S. and Russia today are meeting once again to discuss some kind of formal proposal for safe conduct—or, how to avoid escalating the war in Syria into a showdown between great powers. The two nations’ air forces combined fly hundreds of sorties daily, and the U.S. military in Iraq has flagged at least two episodes of “unprofessional” behavior by Moscow’s pilots.
Where the U.S. stands, via Defense Secretary Ash Carter: “We’re not able at this time to associate ourselves more broadly with Russia’s approach in Syria because it is wrong-headed and strategically short-sighted and that is because it attempts to fight extremism while not also at the same time working to promote the political transition.”
The Putin reax: “Recently, we have offered the Americans: ‘Give us objects that we shouldn’t target.’ Again, no answer. It seems to me that some of our partners have mush for brains.”
The stakes: “Syrian opposition groups are already suspicious that the United States is coordinating with Russia on [airstrikes], a perception the Pentagon does not want to feed,” the New York Times reports.
For what it’s worth: Putin’s words came hours after mortar shells reportedly struck near the Russian embassy in Damascus. There were no immediate casualties, not that that kept Russian officials from highlighting the “terrorism” rampant in the country.
And, oh, by the way: Al-Qaeda’s Syria branch has called for attacks inside Russia. That via the Washington Post.
Meanwhile near Aleppo: Syrian troops, backed by Hezbollah and accompanied by Russian airstrikes, are about to attempt a clearance operation on the outskirts of Aleppo, where government forces, rebel insurgents and the Islamic State each lay claim to portions of the key northwestern city, Reuters reported.
ICYMI: Toutin’ the TOW—Rebels in Syria are enjoying their U.S.-made Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided antitank missiles, the NYT reported Monday: “TOW missiles weave across fields, their red contrails blazing, chasing Russian-made vehicles used by Syrian government forces and blowing them up. At least 34 such videos have been posted in just the last five days from the battlefield in Hama and Idlib Provinces, where TOWs have helped blunt the Syrian government’s first ground offensive backed by Russian air power.” That, here.
But TOW missiles aren't designed to shoot down Russian jets and helicopters, AP reports. “And if Russian air power continues to blast away at CIA-trained rebels, a chilling message will be sent.”
Where are recent U.S. and Russian airstrikes falling in Syria? WaPo has you covered.
Panning out even further, where have “warlords, separatists, drug cartels, or terror groups seized territory within a sovereign nation…leaving the people to fend for themselves”? Bloomberg has a superb, data-packed graphic with all that and more, here.

Dems pile on Clinton at debate. At the first Democratic presidential debate last night, four candidates gladly joined Republicans looking to exploit recent security crises to gain on Hillary Clinton. Hosted by CNN in Las Vegas, they piled on the still-presumptive frontrunner for being too quick to turn to force and intervention, Defense One’s Molly O’Toole writes.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley: “I believe that, as president, I would not be so quick to pull for a military tool…I believe that a no-fly zone in Syria, at this time, actually, Secretary, would be a mistake. You have to enforce no-fly zones, and I believe, especially with the Russian air force in the air, it could lead to an escalation because of an accident that we would deeply regret.”
Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders got the loudest response of the night: “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails,” said Sanders, Clinton’s closest rival. He also slammed her Iraq War vote, invoking the political golden calf of veterans from his time on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “I will do everything that I can to make sure that the United States does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country. We should be putting together a coalition of Arab countries who should be leading the effort. We should be supportive, but I do not support American ground troops in Syria.”
Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb: “I’ve fought and bled for our country in Vietnam as a Marine. I spent years as Assistant Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy—in the Reagan administration.” He listed three strategic failings: “The first was the invasion of Iraq, which destabilized ethnic elements in Iraq and empowered Iran. The second was the Arab Spring, which created huge vacuums in Libya and in Syria that allowed terrorist movements to move in there. And the third was the recent deal allowing Iran to move forward.” All three have Clinton’s fingerprints.
Even former Rhode Island mayor, governor and senator, Republican, Independent and Democrat Lincoln Chafee said he’d stand by his statement that Clinton’s Iraq vote should disqualify her for president. “Any time someone is running to be our leader, and a world leader, which the American president is, credibility is an issue out there with the world...I think we need someone that has the best in ethical standards as our next president.” Clinton, asked if she wanted to respond, said simply, “No.” And the audience applauded. Read O’Toole’s report in full here.
The Wall Street Journal’s graphics team worked up this nifty page on the takeaways from the debate.
On the GOP side—Don’t look now, but Ben Carson just pulled into a tie with The Donald, according to a new Fox News poll.

From AUSA, where Defense One is largely camping out this week, some highlights from the show’s second day:
In a groundbreaking deal, Ukraine may purchase an upgrade kit for dozens of its Humvees, a move that would equip the vehicles better than the old “up-armored” ones of yesteryear. Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber has more.
Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, stressed readiness — his top priority — in his first major address to the force at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference. Milley also went to great lengths to compliment the Air Force and Navy, specifically for the cover they provide his soldiers. Read more about Milley’s priorities here.
Multi-million dollar paint project. The Army is sending more troops to temporarily deploy to Europe, for training and exercises to deter Russia from further aggressive on the continent. With the troops comes their gear, such as armored trucks, many which have been used in Afghanistan and Iraq. There's just one problem, everything is painted tan for the desert environment. How do you fix that? A $20 million project to paint everything green, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the head of U.S. Army Europe said at a Defense One LIVE event.
Army eyes drones for electronic warfare. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that in the future, unmanned systems will have other roles than ISR” — or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said Col. Thomas von Eschenbach at AUSA. The service’s wishlist includes better assured position navigation and timing; better downlink and uplink encryption; and improvements in size, space, weight, and power, particularly for computer assets. Of course, for a real sense of how drones are changing the ground game, just look to the battlefields of Ukraine. That glimpse, here.
In Chattanooga’s wake, DHS wants to revive terrorism alert system. With terrorist-inspired attacks on the rise, the federal government may revise the unused successor to the Bush-era color alerts, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said at AUSA. Executive Editor Kevin Baron reports.

From Defense One

Turkish society is now made up of mutually distrustful — and sometimes violent — camps. And here’s a brief roll-up of those internal conflicts from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook: The Justice and Development Party vs. the Republican People’s Party; the AKP vs. the Nationalist Movement Party; the AKP vs. the Peoples’ Democratic Party; the AKP vs. the Gulenists; the HDP vs. the PKK; everyone vs. the PKK; the MHP vs. the HDP; everyone vs. the self-proclaimed Islamic State; and Alevi Muslims vs. orthodox Sunni Muslims. More on all that, here.

Time for a U.S. maritime security strategy for Europe. Congress should require DOD to develop one along the lines of the recent Asia Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, argue the Atlantic Council’s Magnus Nordenman and Steven Horrell.

Women are on front lines of every battle zone, but not in the way you think. Through four years of horrendous civil war, women have negotiated local ceasefires, documented human rights abuses, opened temporary schools, and exposed local officials who failed to hand out donated food and medical supplies. But more must be done to foster their efforts, writes Evelyn Thornton, chief executive of the Institute for Inclusive Security.

Coming in less than three weeks—the Defense One Summit 2015: The Age of Everything. On Monday, Nov. 2, top national security leaders from military, government, and politics will gather to discuss how they are confronting today’s threats: from terrorism to cyberattacks, Russia, Iran, and in space, at sea, even in Chattanooga. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will appear in a live keynote interview. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will talk about setting his service’s priorities to face ground threats. Join us! Register here.

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

The Taliban withdraw from Kunduz. The Taliban’s first takeover of an Afghan city in 14 years of war ended on Tuesday when the group announced they had completely withdrawn from the northern location after more than two weeks of fighting.
Turning the tide: “As recently as Monday, Afghan officials were leaving the city at night to take refuge in the military base at the Kunduz airport, the one place in the city that never fell to the insurgents,” NYTs reports. “Although Afghan forces found themselves back in control in Kunduz on Tuesday, it was only after days of assistance from American airstrikes and Special Operations ground forces who were in the center of the fighting, according to Afghan government and military officials.”
Residual effects: “Their success in Kunduz also caused alarm in many other parts of Afghanistan, with people fleeing from Pul-i-Kumri, in Baghlan Province 60 miles to the south, and Faisabad, in Badakhshan Province 150 miles to the east, even though those provincial capitals were not attacked,” the Times added.
But serious questions remain about the U.S. mission in the country, especially in the wake of the tragic Doctors Without Borders bombing, WaPo reports.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan: a U.K. Puma Mk2 helicopter may have collided with a surveillance balloon before it crashed in Kabul on Sunday, killing five of the 10 people on board. Among the dead: Maj. Phyllis J. Pelky, aide-de-camp to the Air Force Academy superintendent; and Master Sgt. Gregory T. Kuhse, 38, of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Two British troops and a French contractor also died in Sunday’s crash, Air Force Times’ Jeff Schogol writes.

The Dutch Safety Board says a Buk missile downed Flight MH17, killing all 298 passengers in July 2014. Buk-maker and Russian state arms producer Almaz-Antey is calling shenanigans on the Board’s investigation, which fingers pro-Russian rebels, and shared its own re-creation of the tragedy. The net result was (naturally) to sow doubt among Russian television viewers, as the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Russian spin? It was an older Buk, of the sort the Russian military no-longer uses, and it came from within Ukrainian territory. "Today we can say for sure that the Malaysian Boeing was shot down by a Buk missile 9M38 from direction Zaroshenskoye," said CEO Yan Novnikov. More from Public Radio International’s “The World,” here.
But will the Board’s report matter? “Given that 94 percent of Russians consider television their main source of news, and that 67 percent consider it a source of useful and objective information, it is no surprise that Russians have a radically different picture of what happened to the plane than their Western counterparts,” NYT’s Julia Ioffe writes. “The West can’t seem to puncture Russian television’s hermetic seal, or understand what Putin has always known: The boob tube is the key to the kingdom.”

The White House has an(other) Iranian missile problem. Tehran reportedly tested its first precision-guided Emad missile over the weekend, and the U.S. says it violated a U.N. resolution, and as such, will be brought up by Washington soon at the U.N. Take that, Iran.
Tehran also just tested a new torpedo, AP reports: “The domestically developed torpedo system dubbed ‘ValFajr,’ or dawn in Farsi, has a 220 kilogram (485 pound) warhead that can be used against heavy vessels. It can travel at high speeds and operate in deep or shallow waters. It was originally unveiled in 2011 and the state TV report said Iran has opened a production line to mass-produce the torpedo.”
By the way: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard just showed off a “secret underground missile base” on state TV, AP reports this morning. What could be seen? “[F]ootage of long tunnels with ready-to-fire missiles on the back of trucks. The broadcast said the facility is one of hundreds of underground missile bases around the country. It didn't disclose the location but said it was 500 meters (1,600 feet) underground.”
And tensions in Israel are rising as hundreds of troops have been deployed “after a series of deadly assaults by Palestinians” that’s added up to a “month-long wave of violence,” CBS reports this morning. More on that here.

Pivoting to China briefly, via Baghdad: Iraq’s defense ministry just released video of a new Chinese drone, the CH-4 UAV, FlightGlobal reports. Worth noting: “As with many Chinese-made medium-altitude, long-endurance UAVs, the CH-4 resembles the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems family of Predator unmanned aircraft.” More here.

Make that Major Representative Gabbard. On Monday, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, was promoted from Captain to Major by the Hawaii Army National Guard. More here.

Lastly today: while nations line up to test their newest weapons in and around Syria, you can the test newest addition to the soft-dart warfare arsenal in “Nerf Nuke”. Dubbed the “thermo-NERF-ular weapon” to end all Nerf gun battles, throw or launch the sucker and it’ll let loose 80 darts simultaneously every direction. Ideal stocking stuffer for your D-Brief-ers. Acquisition warning: these things do not run cheap. But hey, there’s still plenty of time until Christmas.