US, Russia talk deconfliction; 11 die in Jalalabad; CIA’s big-data chief opens up; Ukraine ceasefire holds; and a bit more...

U.S.-Russian military talks begin. In an hourlong videoconference, Pentagon and Russian defense officials talked about ways their militaries could better keep their warplanes in Syria out of each other’s way. “There was discussion about ensuring that military personnel operating inside of Syria are communicating on internationally recognized channels and all of this is an effort to deconflict our ongoing operations there,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.

The call was “cordial and professional,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said. “The U.S. provided an initial proposal to enhance safety, prevent miscalculation and avoid actions, activities and operations that could escalate tensions,” Cook said. “The Russians outlined some of their own ideas. Both sides agreed to consider the proposals and provide feedback in the coming days.”

Who led the call at the Pentagon? Elissa Slotkin, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. More from Defense One here.

Top U.S. officials continue to say that Russia is not striking Islamic State militants and there have been widespread reports that they are bombing anti-government rebels. “After two days of attacks directed exclusively against insurgents opposed to the Syrian government, there is little question that Russia is determined to re-establish President Bashar al-Assad as Syria’s leader,” The New York Times reports.

How long does Russia plan to conduct these strikes? Three to four months, according to Alexei Pushkov, the head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Wall Street Journal reports. “There is always a risk of being bogged down, but in Moscow, we are talking about an operation of three to four months,” Mr. Pushkov told French radio Europe 1, adding that the intensity of the strikes was important. More here.

Iranian soldiers enter Syria. “Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria to join a major ground offensive in support of President Bashar al-Assad's government, Lebanese sources said on Thursday, a sign the civil war is turning still more regional and global in scope,” Reuters reports. Warren played down Iran’s involvement in the conflict Thursday. “The Iranians have been here in Iraq fighting ISIL for more than a year,” he said.

Europe needs Putin. “After more than a year of seeking to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin, European leaders are finding they need his cooperation to solve the continent’s most pressing crises,” WSJ writes. “From the conflict in Ukraine to a refugee crisis that threatens to worsen as Moscow conducts airstrikes in Syria, the mercurial Russian leader has become unavoidable in efforts to address the turmoil that is jeopardizing Europe’s enclave of security.” More here.

Kunduz is still contested. Many Taliban fighters have retreated to the outskirts of the northern Afghanistan city claimed by the militant group earlier this week. “On Thursday afternoon, the Taliban took back the main square and raised their flag there once again,” the BBC reports. But since then, “Afghan troops recaptured the center of the strategic” city and “had removed the Taliban flag from the central square, replacing it with government colors,” Reuters reports.

“There are military helicopters in the sky and government forces everywhere,” said Abdul Ahad, a doctor in the city told Reuters. “Dead Taliban are on the streets, but there are still [militants] in some government buildings fighting Afghan forces.”

Going door-to-door: Afghan soldiers were searching houses throughout the city where Taliban fighters are believed to be hiding. More here.

The Taliban’s siege of Kunduz reflects its rule over Afghanistan, the New York Times reports. “A range of interviews with residents and officials illuminated how the past four days of Taliban rule in Kunduz carried frightening echoes of some of its harshest abuses from the 1990s. Even as the group’s public announcements were offering assurances of safety for civilians and edicts against looting and executions, almost entirely the opposite was actually happening.” More here.

From Defense One

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The House passed the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill Thursday 270-156. That’s not enough votes to override a veto, if Obama chooses to say no for the first time in seven years. In a statement that reads something like a dare, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said, “The world is getting more dangerous by the day, our allies believe we are missing-in-action, and our enemies are gaining ground across the globe.  The only redline the President is willing to enforce is vetoing the bill that pays our troops. Is that the legacy he really seeks?”

Meet the man reinventing CIA for the Big Data era. In an exclusive interview, the agency’s new director of digital innovation talks about the new Directorate for Digital Innovation — the first directorate the agency has added since 1963. Andrew Hallman “sees the new directorate solving three big problems for CIA. The first is helping agents and operatives hone their hacking and sleuthing skills.” Read the rest, by Technology Editor Patrick Tucker.

Getting the message out. Army Col. Steve Warren was sent to Iraq last month, after having run the Pentagon’s top media office, to help better explain anti-ISIS operations and related matters. On Thursday, Warren offered one of the most detailed assessments of the situation given by a Pentagon official since the U.S. reentered Iraq last year. Defense One reports, here.

DoD’s current infosec strategy is “patch and pray.” But DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar says that her agency is working to make computing “mathematically, provably secure.” Prabhakar, who heads the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, said Wednesday, “We’re under constant attack, as is pretty much all of the Defense Department. How we all deal with it today is...finding vulnerabilities and patching as we can.” NextGov’s Mohindra Ravindranath has the story.

Too much intel sharing still happens at the speed of red tape. A new survey finds that bureaucratic delays reduce the value of data exchanged by industry and agencies. “About 57 percent of federal IT employees and 70 percent of state and local personnel say intelligence shared through a government exchange is only somewhat effective or not effective,” NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein reports.

Come hear the acquisition chief: On Tuesday, October 6—join DOD acquisition head Frank Kendall as he keynotes Defense One LIVE’s “The State of Defense Acquisition” in Crystal City, Va. Catch the full agenda and register for your spot right here.

11 die in plane crash at J-Bad. A U.S. Air Force C-130J cargo plane crashed just after midnight local time at Jalalabad Airfield in Eastern Afghanistan, not far from the Pakistan border. Six Air Force crew and five civilian contractors were killed. The airmen were assigned to the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, part of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Airfield, the main Air Force base in Afghanistan.

The Taliban claims to have shot down the plane, “but the group is prone to exaggeration,” the Associated Press reports, citing an anonymous U.S. official “who said there was no indication of hostile fire.” An Air Force spokesman also dismissed the claim. More here.

Army vet injured while charging Oregon-college shooter. Chris Mintz was shot at least five times and suffered two broken legs as he attempted to stop the gunman who killed 10 at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College. The North Carolina native is expected to recover. “Mintz spent most of Thursday in surgery after receiving seven gunshots during the attack. Family members said Mintz was able to talk to loved ones before going into surgery. He told them that he heard gunshots in another classroom and tried to keep the gunman from entering his classroom,” North Carolina’s Fox 8 reports. More from The Daily Beast here.

Navy may move Norfolk ships in hurricane’s path. The Navy might move its aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships from piers in Norfolk, Va., so they are not damaged by powerful Hurricane Joaquin, which is expected to make its way north over the weekend. “Several ships were on their way out of Norfolk as of Thursday afternoon, according to a Fleet Forces release,” Navy Times reports. More here.

DepSec touts new Navy sub program. U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work will back the Navy’s expensive project to replace its nuclear-missile carrying Ohio-class SSBN submarines, according to an advance copy of a speech he will give tonight at a commemoration dinner to honor the 60th Anniversary of Strategic Systems Programs.

“The Department of Defense is absolutely committed to maintaining the Fleet’s strategic weapon system in the Ohio replacement program,” Work is expected to say. “That program is going to be a heavy lift in today’s budgetary environment, but we’re going to make it happen, because the security of our nation depends on a survivable and reliable second-strike capability that only our SSBNs provide.”  Work’s speech will be livestreamed here.

McCain vents on late, overcost aircraft carrier. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., chastised Pentagon officials overseeing the Navy’s Gerald Ford aircraft carrier project, which is at least a staggering $4.7 billion over budget, calling it “one of the most spectacular acquisition debacles in recent memory.” More here and here.

Ukraine might pull small weapons from east. “Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak said on Thursday that Kiev will pull out all small-caliber weapons on Saturday if the ongoing cease-fire holds. A February deal calling for a pullback of large-caliber artillery has been largely observed,” the Associated Press reports. More here.

Russian state TV ditches Ukraine coverage for Syria: “They lack the emotional urgency of the Ukraine broadcasts, but the same correspondents who filed dispatches from the battlefields of east Ukraine are now in Damascus; the same presenters who wrung their hands over Kiev’s conduct are now talking up the threat of the Islamic State,” The Guardian reports. More here.

Norway’s military chief calls for defense spending hike. Oslo needs to boost its defense budget by more than $21 billion over the next two decades to keep pace with Russia’s military build, Adm. Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, said Thursday. “This uncertainty makes it even more important to signal that we are willing and prepared to defend Norway and Norwegian territory if necessary,” Bruun-Hanssen told Reuters. The country’s defense budget this year about $5.2 billion. More here.

Defense industry lobby: Judge firms on performance, not size. The head of the Aerospace Industries Association pushed back against Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall’s comments that company mergers are reducing arms suppliers and competition. “The size of the prime contractor shouldn’t matter in any case, as most of the work flows into the supply chain through subcontracts,” AIA CEO and President David Melcher said in a statement.

Melcher: It’s no surprise that defense firms are consolidating amid as Pentagon spending declines and new projects are delayed. “With fewer programs for which to compete, the stakes for individual companies grow ever higher – loss of a contract competition could mean the end of a company’s ability to compete for defense work,” he said. Melcher’s full statement is here.