Gunmen attack Mali hotel; Campaigns storm through NH; France pitches ISIS plan to UN; DOD creates Office of People Analytics; and a bit more...

Ongoing siege in the West African Malian capital of Bamako leaves at least three dead after nearly 140 guests and 30 employees were taken hostage by Islamic extremists whose affiliation is so far not yet known, AP reports. Ten gunmen stormed the Radisson Blu hotel at 7 a.m. local (2 a.m. EDT) shouting “Allahu Akbar,” firing on hotel guards, and reportedly lobbing grenades before proceeding “through the building, room by room and floor by floor,” Reuters reports, adding, “Some hostages escaped under their own steam while others were freed after showing they could recite verses from the Koran.” Witnesses also reported the attackers spoke English to one another saying, “Did you load it? Let’s go.”

Some 80 hostages have been freed at this point after AP says, “Malian troops reacted quickly. As people ran for their lives near the hotel along a dirt road, the soldiers in full combat gear pointed the way to safety. Within hours, local TV images showed heavily armed troops in what appeared to be a lobby area.”

CNN: "U.S. special operations forces are assisting with Friday's hostage situation at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital, a U.S. military spokesman said."

Some recent history: “Northern Mali was occupied by Islamist fighters, some with links to al Qaeda, for most of 2012,” Reuters notes. “They were driven out by a French-led military operation, but sporadic violence has continued in Mali's central belt on the southern reaches of the Sahara, and in Bamako.”

Back stateside, the backlash against Syrian refugees has produced the “American SAFE Act,” passed Thursday in the House, 289-137. Democratic senators have vowed to block the bill, which critics say would stop the U.S. from taking in refugees entirely, and the White House said it would veto the measure. Now senators are working on a compromise meant to improve security, not bar refugees.

Hours later and hundreds of miles North, a boy took the microphone at a Jeb Bush town hall at a New Hampshire senior center and asked: “Is the U.S. gonna stop all Islams from coming to the U.S.?” Read what happened next and what it says about the 2016 election, here.

Today Defense One is again in New Hampshire, this time taking to the trail with the last “two amigos” of national security: Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain. They’ll be continuing the tour for the “#GrahamPlan for defeating radical Islam and keeping our nation secure.”

A spike in anxiety over the attacks in Lebanon, France and now Mali provides a favorable political environment for their tough talk, but as both fight for their political lives—Graham in the presidential primary, McCain for re-election back home—their message is struggling to gain traction with voters. We’re tagging along for what’s sure to be a colorful ride through this “first in the nation” primary state.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton laid out the most detailed plan to defeat the Islamic State yet to emerge from the 2016 race, Defense One’s Kevin Baron writes. “Delivered Thursday at New York’s Council on Foreign Relations, Clinton’s detailed plan distinguished herself from her 2016 presidential campaign rivals, whose post-Paris pronouncements have consisted generally of sound bites (or even inaccuracies), and from Obama, whom critics have hammered as too passive.”

Clinton disparaged the Obama administration’s reliance on airstrikes to hit ISIS, just weeks after Pentagon and White House officials reluctantly began to call U.S. operations there actual “combat.” Like other candidates, Baron writes, “she said additional ground forces would be needed to hold territory taken back from ISIS—but stressed it should be done by local forces helped by U.S. troops, not a large-scale American military presence. And she outlined how she’d like the U.S. to lead the international reaction to the Syrian refugees crisis: by calling for a balance of tight security and a global donor conference.”

She also outlined a three-part plan to defeat ISIS, to disrupt and dismantle the networks that finance terrorism, and to harden U.S., European, and allied defenses against external and homegrown threats. Catch the full story—along with a few due-outs Clinton has yet to lay out—here.

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush, who also laid out a muscular, if less detailed, national-security strategy this week, continued to struggle on the politically charged issue of Syrian refugees. “Asked to clarify whether he thinks the screening process needs to be changed or merely explained, he offered, “I think it should — I don’t know what the exact process is, but I do think with this new threat there should be added measures to make sure that, that that people — that we don’t see what happened in France.’” O’Toole, traveling in New Hampshire, has that, here.

And Ben Carson didn’t seem to convince many with his own plan in a Washington Post oped on Wednesday — but it may not matter, The Atlantic’s David A. Graham argues here.

France unveiled its pitch to the UN for increasing the tempo of operations against ISIS. It “circulated a draft resolution to the 15-member council on Thursday that calls on countries ‘to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically’ by the group…The action rivals a Russian bid for U.N. approval of international military action against the militant group,” Reuters reports. “Diplomats said the French draft was modeled on a resolution adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin described the French text as a ‘good draft’ and suggested on Thursday that the two proposals could be adopted separately.”

In particular, the Russian “draft urged countries to coordinate military activities with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and has been dismissed by veto-power Britain and other members.” More here.

Saudi Arabian state TV said Thursday Riyadh will host “host a conference in mid-December aimed at unifying the Syrian opposition.” That, here.

Why did France turn to the EU instead of NATO after the Paris attacks? France could have triggered NATO’s Article 5. Quartz’s Aamna Mohdin explains why Paris chose the EU's mutual defense clause instead.

It’s past time for Congress to debate the war on ISIS — just look at Korea, says The Atlantic’s Garrett Epps. “The Korean War demonstrates the risks of continued escalation in the Middle East without congressional approval.” Read on, here.

From Defense One

Measure twice, cut once? Of all the military-personnel reforms announced Wednesday by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the most important might be the one that doesn’t immediately change anything for the troops. “A new Office of People Analytics will collect and interpret data about how service members are performing and why they decide to leave. Among other things, the military will start conducting formal exit interviews with troops getting out.” But the 12 initiatives announced this week — billed as a first tranche — omits some highly anticipated fixes. Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston takes a closer look, here.

This tool could sniff out a Paris bomb more than a football field away. That’s the dream, anyway; the military’s anti-IED office is working to refine and improve a multi-sensor device that could one day deploy to detect suicide vests. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker has the story, here.

A suicide bombing likely carried out by Boko Haram has killed nearly three-dozen people and wounded 80 more at a market near the border with Cameroon. “A suicide attacker detonated a bomb in a crowded fruit and vegetable market in Yola,” writes The Atlantic’s Marina Koren. “The explosion, heard across the city, according to witnesses, occurred at about 7:52 p.m. local time Tuesday. More here.

U.S. and Russian military chiefs haven’t met in nearly three years. That’s got to stop, argues Peter B. Zwack, a retired general who attended the chiefs’ last meeting — in Brussels, in January 2014 — and says it is increasingly dangerous in this cyber-fast world for the nuclear-tipped nations to have such a dearth of contact. Read that, here.

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Foreign defense firms want a cut of U.S. business. “The opening years of the 21st century sent American military spending skyward even as defense spending slumped elsewhere and international arms makers have rushed to establish a foothold in the U.S. market,” Defense One’s Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber writes. “Now, as Pentagon spending flattens out, those firms are seeking to solidify their market share. Most are focused on selling products not currently made by U.S. companies, while others are touting commercial—and cheaper—gear adapted for the military.”

But it’s not all $mooth $ailing: “Many defense contracts are kept out of foreign reach by Congress, American companies, and even the military itself. So defense executives and experts say the best way foreign firms can get Pentagon contracts is to figure out what U.S. companies are not providing—particularly specialized equipment that is urgently needed on the battlefield.” Read his report in full, here.

China’s chief naval officer says Beijing’s troops has shown “enormous restraint” when it comes to U.S. aircraft and Navy vessels moving through the South China Sea. “If the United States carries out repeated provocations despite China's opposition, we have the ability to defend our national sovereignty and security,” said Wu Shengli, commander of the People's Liberation Army Navy, according to a report on the defense ministry's website late on Thursday. Wu made the comments in a meeting in Beijing on Thursday with Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the United States' Pacific fleet, the report said.

“Swift was in Shanghai earlier this week where the USS Stethem, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, made a port call,” Reuters reports. “It was the third visit first to China by a U.S. navy vessel this year and the first since a similar guided missile destroyer, the USS Lassen, angered Beijing by sailing near one of China's man-made islands late last month to challenge the 12-nautical-mile territorial limits China claims around the artificial islands.” More here.

Elsewhere in China—to the far western region of Xinjiang—security forces reportedly killed “28 terrorists” on Thursday that the regional government says were instructed by “foreign extremists” when they attacked a coal mine in September, killing more than four-dozen at the time. “The Xinjiang Daily said two people who appeared to have Uighur names were leaders of the unnamed foreign group.” That story over here.

ISIS is trying like hell to get its hands on the “ultimate weapon”—red mercury, writes the New York Times’ C.J. Chivers. “Red mercury — precious and rare, exceptionally dangerous and exorbitantly expensive, its properties unmatched by any compound known to science — was the stuff of doomsday daydreams. According to well-traveled tales of its potency, when detonated in combination with conventional high explosives, red mercury could create the city-flattening blast of a nuclear bomb. In another application, a famous nuclear scientist once suggested it could be used as a component in a neutron bomb small enough to fit in a sandwich-size paper bag.” But there’s just one problem with that plan. Read on to find out in this too-evil-to-be-true story, here.

Your weekend #LongRead number 2: A man claiming to have been a member of ISIS describes the harrowing business of escaping the terror group in this fourth-in-a-series report from The Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss.

Lastly today—some food for thought as the world comes to grips with ISIS: Take a tour of the Iraqi town of Sinjar, which Kurdish forces recently cleared of ISIS fighters and the Iraqi flag is reportedly unwelcome. The place is a wasteland in ruins peppered with mass graves throughout while Yazidi fighters pillage the remaining homes of Sunni Muslims. “It’s not revenge,” one fighter said. “They took our belongings. Now we’re taking theirs. They have left and they are now working with the Islamic State. They will never return.” Video of the carnage can be seen, here.