Khorasan leader killed in Syria; Assad, Iran, Hezbollah, Russia team gains ground; CJCS Dunford’s first trip overseas; Woods Hole, hacked; and a bit more...

The “highest-ranking leader” of the Khorasan group was killed Thursday by a U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria, the Pentagon said Sunday. “The target of the strike near Aleppo was Abdul Mohsen Adballah Ibrahim al Charekh, also known as Sanafi al Nasr, a Saudi national and the highest ranking leader of the so-called Khorasan Group, a network of veteran al Qaeda operatives working closely with Syria’s al Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
The death of Nasr makes him now “the fifth Khorasan leader to have been killed by the U.S. military or its allies in the past four months,” the Washington Post adds. “Nasr was described by the Pentagon as a financial specialist who funneled money from donors in the Persian Gulf to al-Qaeda networks in Iraq, Pakistan and Syria. He also organized routes for new recruits to travel from Pakistan to Syria, military officials said.”

Meanwhile near Aleppo, Iranian forces, Hezbollah, and Russian warplanes are poised help Syrian President Bashar Assad “regain large parts of the city and the surrounding countryside,” WSJ reported. “Since Friday, the regime has netted a number of villages on the southern outskirts of the city and thousands of civilians are fleeing fighting in the area. On Sunday, the regime captured one additional village and U.S.-backed rebels destroyed two regime tanks using American-supplied weapons as they tried to stem the regime’s progress. The regime appears to be advancing westward toward the strategic highway linking Aleppo with the capital Damascus, rebels said.” More here.
Also in Aleppo: Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, posing with the Iraqi Shiite militia Harakat al Nujaba. Long War Journal has more on Soleimani’s recent travels inside Syria, here.
What’s the strategic importance of Aleppo anyway? Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy explains in this conversation that just aired on NPR.
ICYMI: What does it look like when Russian Mi-24P Hinds attack a Syrian city? Watch this—reportedly from Homs—to find out.
Meantime: the Kremlin has essentially weaponized globalization, rendering old Western models of Soviet containment irrelevant, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Brian Whitmore writes in Defense One. “This is because unlike the Cold War, when the world was divided into two hermetically sealed systems, today’s conflict between Moscow and the West comes at a time when Russia is very much embedded in the West and has proven adept at exploiting its transparency for nontransparent ends.” Read the rest, here.

And to Iraq, briefly. Security forces are feeling good about offensives in and around Baiji, Ramadi and Hawijah, although ISIS is still being flushed out of homes and villages around Baiji and Kirkuk and 600 to 1,000 ISIS fighters are believed to remain in Ramadi, AFP reported Sunday night.

Gen. Joseph Dunford’s first overseas trip as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff finds him in Jordan this morning. That after a stop-off in Tel Aviv to shore up relations with Israel, where he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared a noticeably warmer handshake photo-op than the visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter in July when Bibi froze talks on a “10-year military aid package to extend the current U.S. grants to Israel worth $3 billion annually, which are due to expire in 2017,” Reuters’ Phil Stewart reports, traveling with Dunford.
About that aid package? It came up in closed-door talks between Dunford and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, “although not in detail,” Dunford’s spokesman told Reuters. Expect those talks to resume “during Yaalon’s talks in Washington later this month and at the White House meeting between Netanyahu and Obama,” Reuters adds.


From Defense One

Turkish fighter jets appear to have shot down a drone over the Turkey/Syria border on Friday. Photos show a surveillance model that looks a lot like a Russian Orlan-10. Russian Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov denies that his side has lost any drones. Where does the truth lie? It’s hard to say, but the downing may be a new milestone in the conflict and, perhaps, a sign of what could come, writes Technology Editor Patrick Tucker.

The Boko Haram war machine is far from defeated. The group has yet again shown its flexibility and sophistication by shifting tactics and returning to the more asymmetric fighting strategy it had been using for years, as Allen Grane of the Council on Foreign Relations writes.

Governments in Sudan, Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia are the latest to hop on the network surveillance bandwagon by deploying sophisticated eavesdropping tools against their citizens. Quartz has more.

About that delayed Afghan drawdown—it’s time the U.S. starts talking about a long-term troop agreement just like Washington gave Seoul, argues New America’s Ioannis Koskinas.

One of the world’s preeminent marine research groups hacked. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is the latest victim of national security data breaches, and the attack appears to have come from China, the organization’s general counsel said late last week. What might Beijing have sought? WHOI’s “vast cache of research holds data on everything from bowhead whale habitats and plankton to hydrographic surveys and oceanic oxygen levels—as well as classified work WHOI does with the Navy and the US defense department.” More here.

Welcome to the Monday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


The Iran deal is now formally in effect, WSJ reports: “Steps announced Sunday by the U.S. and its negotiating partners to move ahead on what has come to be known as ‘adoption day’ are intended to show a readiness for sanctions relief if Iran begins scaling back its nuclear infrastructure. That relief will only begin on ‘implementation day,’ when the IAEA certifies Iran has lived up to its commitments to curb its nuclear program.” More from WaPo, here.

In Yemen, a boast that there are “three guns for every person.” Reuters reports from the central province of Marib, just east of the capital of Sana’a. “At Marib’s gun market, a Kalashnikov assault rifle sells for a few hundred dollars and a hand grenade for $30, said Yemeni soldiers who accompanied Reuters on a visit to the city last week, and who all bought their weapons locally. Heavier weapons are also available, they said, including rocket propelled grenades, mortars and light artillery — popular items with local tribal leaders long before the war began and used as much to impress followers as for any martial value.” That, here.  

CODEL returns to CONUS. As Congress returns from a brief recess to turn to the debt ceiling, budget negotiations, ​the inevitable testimony of Hillary Clinton before the House Benghazi committee, and officially sending the 581-page defense authorization bill to the White House on parchment paper, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ​likely still will be​ shaking off the jet lag from his return Saturday from a CODEL to Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Afghanistan. Traveling with him, per McConnell’s office:  U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Mike Rounds, R-S.D.;, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; and Rep. Andy Barr, his fellow Kentucky Republican.
What they were up to: “The lawmakers met with U.S. troops, military leaders and political leaders to review regional issues and the counter-ISIL campaign,” McConnell’s statement said. “In addition to visiting with soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines from their respective states, the Members met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, KRG President Masoud Barzani, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.”

The Benghazi Committee is being aided and abetted by the media, argues The Atlantic’s James Fallows. “The recurring theme here is the discomfort of reporters, old and young alike, with recognizing that the United States doesn’t currently have two structurally similar political parties approaching issues on roughly comparable terms. We have one historically familiar-looking party, and another converting itself into something else.”
What’s the next step in dealing with the Benghazi committee? “For readers, it is to view upcoming reports as you would others from partisan organizations with an unreliable track record…And for reporters, it is to recognize the way today’s GOP has played on yesterday’s reflexes within the press. And don’t let it keep happening.” That take in full, here.

Hillary’s State Department was “among the worst agencies in the federal government at protecting its computer networks” from 2009 to 2013,” AP reports this morning, working off “an annual report card compiled by the White House based on audits by agency watchdogs.”

The U.S. Army is struggling to prep for two large-scale operations at once, the New York Times reports from Germany. “I don’t have bridges, I don’t have the trucks that can carry tanks, we don’t have enough helicopters to do what we need to do,” said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the Army’s commanding general in Europe. “The Defense Department faces the challenge of managing a growing mission with a shrinking force, as the Army in Europe must train allies and deter any enemies with a tenth of the soldiers it once had,” the Times writes. “The mission’s still the same,” Hodges said. “So we have to figure out how you make 30,000 feel like 300,000.” That here.
The Army now says there are as many as 600 pounds of depleted uranium buried at Colorado’s Fort Carson—a legacy of a then-secret effort to give soldiers a nuclear-tipped bazooka called the Davy Crockett. Tom Roeder of The Gazette has the story.
And ICYMI: The Army last week introduced its newest supercomputer, Excalibur, the 19th-most powerful computer in the world. Here's the takeaway: “Researchers will use the Excalibur to study underbody blasts on combat vehicles, protection of Soldiers in extreme ballistic environments, tactical networks, cybersecurity network modeling, and real-time data analytics.” A bit (though not a great deal) more on that, here.

“Just when I thought I was out…” Marines want some of their old jarheads back for infantry, intelligence and aircraft maintenance, among other jobs, Marine Corps Times reports. “Recently announced changes to this year’s re-enlistment bonus program for all Marines include broader provisions that significantly expands the Prior Service Enlistment Program...That means active-duty members will be competing with prior-service Marines for the same re-up bonuses, and Corps officials have warned that some of these MOSs could fill quickly.” More here.

Your Monday #LongRead: Here’s the story of a female U.S. drone pilot operating out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. It’s occasionally quite gruesome stuff: “I watched a guy crawl away from the wreckage after one shot with no lower body. He slowly died. You have to watch that. You don’t get to turn away. You can’t be that soft girly traditional feminine and do the job. Those are the people who are going to have the nightmares.” Read the report from author and journalist Kevin Maurer, writing in The Daily Beast, here.

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