Pentagon: Russia killed Syrian troops; The anti-ISIS air campaign, by the numbers; New terror-alert system, coming up; USS Zumwalt puts to sea; and a bit more...

Russian airstrikes killed Syrian soldiers in eastern Syria, the Pentagon said Monday. The finger pointing came Monday amid reports that coalition aircraft were the ones to hit Syrian government forces late Sunday night in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, killing at least three of Assad’s troops and wounding nearly a dozen others. The Pentagon said the episode bolsters its case that Moscow’s warplanes are dangerously indiscriminate and imprecise in their targeting.

“We’re certain it was the Russians who did this today,” a military official said Monday. The assessment is based on radar tracks showing Russian aircraft above Ayyash, a town in Deir Ezzor, at the time of the incident, the official explained Tuesday.

Col. Steve Warren, spokesman in Baghdad for Operation Inherent Resolve, confirmed Monday morning that U.S. warplanes had conducted four strikes in Dayr Az Zawr province, but said they struck oil wells some 55 kilometers southeast of Ayyash, and were not aimed at people or vehicles. “We have no indication any Syrian soldiers were near our strikes,” Warren said in a statement.

Added the Pentagon: Russia did conduct long-range bomber strikes into Syria that same day. More from Defense One’s Molly O’Toole, here.

What the Islamic State wants: to enmesh the U.S. in a ground war, the New York Times reports. “The Islamic State’s propaganda is rife with references to apocalyptic prophecy about the last great battle that sets the stage for the end times. Terrorism experts say it has become a powerful recruiting tool for the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which sells potential fighters on the promise that joining will give them the most direct chance to battle Western interests and will bring ancient Islamic prophecies to fruition.”

The key to breaking the back of ISIS without full-blown war from Washington’s armies: a viable Sunni Arab force. And so far that has proven painfully elusive to the Obama administration and the region. More here and here.

Is the U.S. preparing an airbase in northern Syria? Lebanon’s NOW news relays reports from “a pro-Damascus newspaper and a local Kurdish outlet” describing an “agricultural airport” under construction “in a region of eastern Hasakeh controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units,” or YPG. That story, here.

Business is boomin’—The U.S. Air Force dropped more bombs on ISIS in November than any previous month, Bloomberg reports. “The 3,271 munitions used in November were almost double the 1,683 in June, the low point of this year. They bring to almost 32,000 the weapons — most of them precision-guided — dropped by fighters, B-1B bombers and drones in almost 11,000 combat sorties since August 2014, according to statistics compiled by U.S. Air Forces Central Command.” More here.

And while we’re on statistics: the number of foreign fighters flowing to ISIS “has more than doubled since last year to at least 27,000,” Agence France Presse reports from a study by intelligence consultants at The Soufan Group. AFP has a nifty graphic of the fighter streams here. Or read the full report, here.

And on Monday, the Pentagon said it had confirmed the death of the (former) Libyan chief of ISIS from a U.S. drone strike in mid-November. The U.S. also killed an al-Shabab senior leader in a strike inside Somalia on Dec. 2. But as Long War Journal points out, “While the airstrikes have killed some top leaders in the Islamic State, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other organizations, they have not stopped the spread of jihadist groups across Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. Nor have they denied these groups territory, which is crucial for the group to train fighters, maintain local insurgencies, and plot attacks against the West.”

The White House will soon announce a new terror alert system to address “intermediate” threats, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Monday at a Defense One LIVE event in Washington. The new system would augment the current terrorism threat systems, called the National Threat Advisory System, an alert system that has never been used because it is activated only when there is a credible threat to the U.S.

For what it’s worth, the Obama administration did away with a color-coded terrorism threat-level system put in place by the Bush administration following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“I believe in this environment we need to get beyond that and go to new system that has an intermediate level to it,” Johnson said. “We need a system that adequately informs the public at large, not through news leaks of joint intelligence bulletins to law enforcement, not through leaks from anonymous government officials.” More here.

And watch the entire conversation between Johnson and Defense One’s Kevin Baron here.

In the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, GOP front-runner Donald Trump has climbed back into the headlines with his controversial opinions on the campaign trail—this time calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of all Muslims entering the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reports. Trump’s fellow 2016 hopefuls distanced themselves from his remarks faster than Jeb Bush could say “unhinged.”

Trump did say Muslim adherents in the U.S. military could come home, though. So at least Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren got that out of “The Donald.”

Meanwhile, authorities have learned the San Bernardino shooters had been “radicalized and have been for quite some time,” the Washington Post reports: “Whatever the roots of their beliefs, the couple had prepared carefully for the attack, Bowdich said, visiting local shooting ranges to practice their aim as recently as a few days before the massacre.”


From Defense One

Obama’s break from Bush-era thinking is unsettling the GOP, writes The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart. “Republicans believe defeating ISIS requires some dramatic, if vaguely defined, new military and ideological battle. Obama, by contrast, thinks America simply needs to not screw up. That means not being ‘drawn once more’ into an effort to ‘occupy foreign lands,’ thus allowing the Islamic State to use “our presence to draw new recruits.” Read Beinert’s take, here.

The U.S. could save up to $5.7 billion annually if DOD civilians took over more military support jobs, says the Congressional Budget Office. “In 2012, approximately 340,000 active-duty service members were in commercial support jobs. Some of the jobs CBO looked at included positions in communications, finance and accounting, health services, and logistics.” GovExec lays out the logic, here.

Did Obama just tip his hand on the encryption debate? In his Sunday post-San-Bernardino speech, the president said, “I will urge high-tech and law-enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.” Does this mean he’s going to side with law enforcement leaders who say federal access to everyone’s secrets will keep everyone safer, or with tech experts who note that broken encryption allows bad guys in, too? National Journal reads the tea leaves, here.

Welcome to the Tuesday 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.


Just look at the USS Zumwalt, heading out to sea for the first time. The radar-deflecting, tumblehome-hulled, minimally crewed destroyer sailed down Maine’s Kennebec River yesterday bearing enough electrical generators to power “railguns and lasers that don’t even exist yet.” Here’s a slideshow of this crazy-advanced ship, courtesy of Business Insider, who rolled up the Navy’s photos here. And here’s a minute of video shot from the riverbank.

Two years ago, when the Zumwalt was still tied up at Bath Iron Works, Defense One accompanied then-SecDef Chuck Hagel on a tour. “It doesn’t look like a ship. It doesn’t even feel like a ship. The hallways are too wide. The ceilings are incredibly high. There’s barely an outdoor deck…” Come along, here.

But don’t look too closely at the U.S. Navy’s new $864 million drone system on board future Littoral Combat Ships, complete with a mine-hunting drone that doesn’t always work, according to the the Defense Department’s Office of Operational Test & Evaluation. “The drones failed 14 times over 300 hours in a five-month round of preliminary trials at sea that ended Aug. 30, according to the data. Crippled drones were towed to port seven times, and the intense combat testing required for increased purchases has been delayed. The Navy plans to spend $864 million buying 54 drones from Lockheed, the biggest U.S. contractor,” Bloomberg reports. “The drone failures add to previous questions about how much value the U.S. will get from what’s now supposed to be a $23 billion program to build 32 Littoral Combat Ships in two versions...Both versions depend on the drones to detect mines from a safe distance.” More here.

Singapore just approved the U.S. use of P-8 surveillance flights to more closely watch China’s island-building in the South China Sea, Foreign Policy’s Dan De Luce reported Monday.

Quick review: the P-8 Poseidon spy plane is “a modified Boeing 737 jet,” De Luce writes, and “is equipped with advanced sensors and radar designed to gather intelligence and hunt down submarines.”

Why the P-8 and why now? “The United States has shared more intelligence, and provided radar and other equipment to Asian partners who are increasingly concerned over China’s growing military power and its tough tactics as it asserts far-reaching territorial claims.”

For the record: “The United States already operates P-8s from Japan and the Philippines, and has also conducted surveillance flights from Singapore's neighbor, Malaysia,” Reuters adds.

The Chinese reaction Tuesday morning: “A stronger U.S. military presence does ‘not conform to the common and long-term interests among the regional countries,’” Beijing’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said. More from AP, here.

China’s about to roll out its big ship. “The Chinese Navy is getting ready to accept the first in a class of fast, giant resupply ships that will refuel, resupply, and rearm its aircraft carriers and destroyers on the high seas,” Popular Science reports. “The Type 901 will offer a great leap in capacity over the current 25,000-ton Type 903A Qiandaohu, of which the PLAN has eight. The Type 901's larger supply carrying capacity means that it can refuel and rearm Chinese warships, including destroyers and carriers, in combat operations far from the Chinese mainland. Also, its larger size gives the Type 901 a greater range than its predecessor, thus reducing the need for foreign facilities to refuel and replenish, both for the Type 901 and the warships it supports.”

The big picture takeaway: “While China’s interest in building long-range carriers, destroyers and submarines and leasing foreign bases (like Djibouti) are getting a lot of attention, Beijing is also clearly at work solving the logistics challenges needed to make the PLAN a true global power.” More here.

No more punishment for P4: Army brass say David H. Petraeus, the retired general and former CIA director should not face further sanction for having an affair with his biographer and feeding her top-secret documents, the Washington Post reports. “Petraeus pleaded guilty in April in federal court in North Carolina to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials. He received two years of probation and a $100,000 fine.” That, here.

This guy, meanwhile, is still an admiral: “Rear Adm. David F. Baucom, the director of strategy and policy at the U.S. Transportation Command, became so intoxicated at an upscale beachfront resort in April that he struck his head on a barstool, wet his pants and needed an escort back to his room,” the Post reports. The Navy found Baucom guilty of disorderly conduct and conduct unbecoming an officer, and reassigned him to the Pentagon. That, here.

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