Breaking: SOF hit ISIS prison; F-16s for Pakistan; US, Russia to talk about Syria; Gates offers Obama advice; and a bit more...

BREAKING: U.S. special operators helped raid an ISIS prison in northern Iraq last night, The New York Times is reporting. “Iraqi officials said the raid involved American helicopters, Kurdish and American Special Operations forces, and airstrikes. The officials said the objective had been a prison run by the militants at a village east of Hawija. According to these accounts, American helicopters flew the commandos to the site.” That, here.

Eight fighter jets for Pakistan. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is headed to the White House today where the Obama administration is readying to sell eight him F-16s to show how much Washington cares — “despite persistent concerns about Islamabad’s ties to elements of the Taliban and quickly expanding nuclear arsenal,” NYTs reports. Pakistan currently has “more than 70 F-16s and dozens of French and Chinese attack aircraft.”

But lawmakers may not go along: “In March, the House Foreign Affairs Committee put a hold on about $150 million in foreign military financing,” saying that a proposed sale of Coast Guard cutters was “not essential to fighting militants” like the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

Who’s really running the show in Pakistan? The Wall Street Journal shares a brief bio on Gen. Raheel Sharif, the chief of Pakistan’s army. “A 59-year-old infantry officer and former commandant of Pakistan’s military academy, Gen. Sharif has won widespread approval for moving authoritatively where previous Pakistani leaders, military and civilian, have dithered.” He has “turned himself into a cult hero by battling terrorism and restoring a measure of order in Pakistan’s biggest and most violent city, Karachi. That has bolstered the army’s standing and political power in a country where democracy has struggled to take firm root,” prompting “intense speculation that his term as army chief could be extended.”

Don’t limit our tactical nukes, Pakistani officials are telling Washington, Reuters writes. The country reportedly has 110 to 130 warheads, up from 90-110 four years ago and estimated to rise to 220-250 in a decade, according to a recent report from the Federation of American Scientists. “That would make Pakistan the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power,” NYT notes.

“No one can dictate what kind of weapons we will make or use,” a Pakistani security source, told Reuters. The source said his country’s “India-centric” nuclear program “exists to make war a non-option.”

Vienna. Friday. Bring your friends. U.S. and Russian officials will meet to discuss Syria for the first time since Moscow began dropping bombs for the Assad regime. Also attending Friday’s state secretary-level meeting: Saudi Arabia and Turkey, both vocal opponents of the regime in Damascus. This week has already seen Syrian President Bashar al-Assad make a surprise visit to Moscow—and Turkish officials say the Syrian leader could remain “for six months” if “there will be a guarantee of his departure.”  

Russia’s defense ministry flies Moscow-based reporters to Syrian ops center. “Journalists were shown well-organized operations at the Hemeimeem base, located near the coastal city of Latakia,” AP reports. “The large base is protected by air defense systems, which could be seen deployed around its edges. Security forces armed with assault rifles guard key facilities, and rows of armored personnel carriers are parked nearby...While support crew worked to prepare aircraft for sorties, attaching bombs and missiles, helicopter gunships buzzed around the vicinity of the base to make sure there is no threat of a ground attack.”

Meanwhile, “Russian servicemen, who wear crisp desert-style uniforms, have been barred from talking to the journalists.” More here.

Where are Russian strikes falling inside Syria? There’s a map for that, via AFP.

Back stateside, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates offers some suggestions on Syrian strategy: First, pick one; then tell Vladimir Putin to get out of the way, writes Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber. A former CIA director who has interacted several times over the years with Putin, Gates said the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russian empire weighs on the former KGB officer, who “is all about lost power, lost glory, lost empire.”

And while some have called the former KGB spy unpredictable, Gates said, “He knows exactly what he’s doing...In the short-to-medium term, he’s being successful at it.” Read the rest, here.

To Ukraine, briefly now, where the U.S. is sending two $10 million radar systems—known as AN/TPQ-36 counter-artillery radar—with a range of at least 15 miles, but modified so Kiev can’t use the equipment “to counter fire originating from Russian territory,” WSJ reports.

The goal: “U.S. Army officials said they hope the radar would provide Ukraine with a new capability for stopping artillery and rocket attacks launched by separatists. Other officials said the [mid-November] transfer also would send a message to Kiev that Washington’s support for its security forces remains strong.”

For what it’s worth: American troops will begin training Kiev’s regular army — as opposed to the current national guard training assignment — next month. “The training will include six battalions, including five conventional and one special operations force battalion.” More here.


From Defense One

Will Paul Ryan save the Pentagon from sequestration? Yesterday, the conservative house Republicans who deposed House Speaker Rep. John Boehner got (mostly) behind Ryan as his replacement. The House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, who has worked across the aisle before, may be the only one who can resolve Congress’ budget impasse.

And there’s no better timing for Ryan-Murray 2.0: President Obama will veto the defense authorization bill today, the debt ceiling deadline is fast approaching and Boehner says broader budget talks with the White House unraveled this week. More on what Ryan might do for defense spending here.

“We have met the enemy and he is us,” says Third Way’s Ben Freeman, who lays out the various ways Congress is undermining national security. His prescription is familiar yet vital: Lawmakers should raise the debt limit and break their dependence on continuing resolutions. That, here.

Bye-bye, Biden. Vice President Joe Biden’s long-anticipated decision—he’s not going to run to replace his boss—began a long goodbye to one of Washington’s most experienced national security leaders, but he had a thinly veiled message for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats about distancing themselves from the president’s foreign policy record. Clinton responded to Biden, with whom she worked closely in the Senate and as secretary of state: “It’s a record to be proud of, defend, and build on….And if I know Joe, he will always be on the front-lines, always fighting for all of us.” More on the Biden aftershocks here.

What’s cheaper than escalating war in Syria? Resettling its refugees, writes A. Trevor Thrall, George Mason University professor. “As horrifying as it has been, the refugee crisis offers the outlines of a new strategy—one both morally superior to the current do-little approach and practically superior to additional military intervention.” For example, assuming the U.S. took in 266,000 refugees, as opposed to the 10,000 the Obama administration said it would let in by 2017, it would still cost about as much as the Pentagon’s year-long air war against the Islamic State.” More here.

DHS is none too crazy about CISA. A Senate bill to improve cyber information sharing—known as CISA, or the Cyber Information Sharing Act—would route data through the Department of Homeland Security. One problem with that, however: DHS doesn’t want the power it would be granted. Patrick Tucker has more.

And a quick D Brief correction: Yesterday, we said the district of Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., included Palantir Technologies, a competitor for the U.S. Army’s Distributed Ground Combat System. Palantir is in fact based in Palo Alto, Calif., and not in Hunter's district of East San Diego County.

Welcome to the Thursday 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


It’s Benghazi day on the Hill. Washington reporters are bracing for an epic and charged eight-hour exchange between Hillary Clinton and the GOP-led panel—a committee that AP writes “faces a make-or-break moment” as its “chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, and other Republican investigators know their questioning of Clinton could revive the beleaguered panel's credibility or undermine it even further.” Both Clinton and the panel are viewed poorly by the American public with “54 percent disapprov[ing] of how she’s dealt with questions on the issue” as another “53 percent also think the ongoing investigation mainly reflects Republican efforts to harm her reputation,” according to a new poll from ABC News.

A U.S. Navy admiral who allegedly retaliates against whistleblowers is poised to get his second star, The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reported Thursday. “Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey was investigated five times by the Defense Department’s inspector general after subordinates complained that he had wrongly fired, demoted or punished them during a vengeful but fruitless hunt for the person who had anonymously reported him for a minor travel-policy infraction, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.”

Adds Whitlock: “The Navy, however, dismissed the findings this month and decided not to discipline Losey, a preeminent figure in the military’s secretive Special Operations forces who once commanded SEAL Team 6, the clandestine unit known for killing terrorist targets such as Osama bin Laden. He now leads the Naval Special Warfare Command and has served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Panama, Bosnia, Somalia and other conflict zones.”

Regardless of Losey’s fate, the matter “underscore[s] the weakness of the military’s whistleblower-protection law and how rarely violators are punished,” Whitlock writes. That story, here.

Apropos of nothing: Wonder what the Rockwell Collins F-35 helmet looks like? Defense One’s Tech Editor Patrick Tucker put one on his noggin so you don’t have to. Check that out here.

And lastly today: Condolences to the family of the U.S. Marine pilot whose F/A-18 Hornet crashed Wednesday on a farm about 70 miles north of London. “The aircraft was transiting from Bahrain to Miramar in a flight of six aircraft when it crashed approximately six miles northwest of the [Lakenheath] airfield,” a release said. Home to Europe’s only F-15 fighter wing, Lakenheath is the U.S. Air Force’s largest base in England with 4,500 active-duty troops supported by 2,000 British and U.S. civilians, Reuters writes.

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