Turkish warplanes hit Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq, “including the Qandil mountains where the group’s leadership is based” this morning after Sunday’s suicide bombing in Ankara that killed more than three dozen and wounded another 125, Associated Press reports. Turkish officials said Sunday’s bombers (one of which is believed to have been a female) were linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. “Police, meanwhile, carried out raids in the southern city of Adana, detaining suspected 38 suspected PKK rebels,” AP writes, adding, “Fifteen suspected Kurdish militants were also detained in Istanbul.”
What happened: “The early-evening explosion struck near a busy square along Ataturk Boulevard, an area of malls and restaurants that is typically packed with shoppers and commuters,” the Washington Post reports. “It was the second such bombing in Ankara in less than four weeks and occurred less than a mile from the earlier one. The previous attack, on Feb. 17, targeted a bus full of Turkish soldiers, killing 28 of them, and was claimed by an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK...The exact target wasn’t clear, and some Turkish media reports suggested it may have been a group of riot police, a common sight on the streets of Turkish cities, that had gathered nearby. CCTV footage showed a car parked on the busy boulevard exploding in a ball of flame as traffic whizzed past.”
A worrisome turn? “Initial reports suggested at least some of the casualties were civilians waiting at nearby bus stops,” the Post adds, “which would mark another worrying twist in the escalating violence between the Turkish government and the PKK.”
The big picture: Turkey “finds itself entangled in fights on two fronts, against the Kurds in southeastern Turkey and against the Islamic State in Syria. The two wars are becoming ever more closely intertwined, with Turkey firing artillery into Syria to halt advances there by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which is allied with the PKK, against the Islamic State and Syrian rebels.”
Russia says it has evidence Turkish troops are inside Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Sunday. “Turkey has started to declare it has a sovereign right to create some safety zones on Syrian territory,” Lavrov told Russian television channel Ren-TV, Reuters reports. “According to our data, they have already 'dug themselves in' several hundred meters from the border in Syria. ... It's a sort of creeping expansion.” More from Russia below.
The Pentagon is drafting plans to send American troops closer to the front lines in Iraq, The Hill reported this weekend. “The new plan would see small U.S. teams of about 15 troops embedded with Iraqi brigades as they move closer to Mosul and establish headquarters in preparation for the pending battle. It would stop short of combat operations, but would put troops closer to harm’s way.”
Given Iraqi military estimates that the Mosul offensive will take as many as a dozen brigades, that “would mean approximately 180 U.S. troops could take part,” writes The Hill. “The teams would work with Iraqi brigade commanders to order airstrikes, and provide intelligence, logistics, tactics, and fire support.”
The U.S. military has already submitted assault plans for Mosul and Raqqa, The Hill adds, along with at least nine other ways to accelerate the campaign against the Islamic State. Read the rest, here.
And another ISIS detainee is in custody in Iraq—and this time he’s an American. “CBS News, citing two sources with the Kurdish peshmerga military force, said the apparent American defector was trying to return to Turkey. He was identified as Muhammad Jamal Amin, 27, of Virginia, it said, citing Kurdish news organizations. The Pentagon said it could not immediately confirm the incident. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad also could not confirm it, CBS said.”
How that reportedly went down: “Peshmerga forces initially fired warning shots when they saw the man on concerns he was a suicide bomber, but he identified himself as a former member of Islamic State who wanted to turn himself in, according to CBS.” More from the Reuters roll-up, here.
Russia wants to link up with the U.S. in an assault on Raqqa. “We are ready to coordinate our actions with the Americans, because Raqqa is in the eastern part of Syria, and the American coalition is mainly ... acting there,” Reuters reports in a bit more out of Lavrov’s interview with the Ren-TV television channel.
Division of labor in Syria? Continued Lavrov: “Perhaps — this is no secret — if I say that at some stage the Americans suggested performing a ‘division of labor’: the Russian Air Forces should concentrate on the liberation of Palmyra, and the American coalition with Russian support will focus on the liberation of Raqqa.” That, here.
Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Jabhad al-Nusra, swept through northern Syria on Sunday “arresting U.S.-backed fighters and looting weapons stores belonging to the Free Syrian Army,” AP reports. “The FSA’s 13th Division said on Twitter Sunday that Nusra fighters were going door to door in the town of Maarat Numan and arresting its cadres after Nusra, alongside fighters from the Jund al-Aqsa faction, seized Division 13 posts the night before.”
A bit more on their reported haul: “The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said Nusra seized anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles, a tank, and other arms from the division, which has received weapons, training, and money from the U.S. government. It said Nusra and Jund al-Aqsa detained 40 fighters from the division.” More here.
Let's be honest: the “Plan B” in Syria is more war, the UN’s envoy for Syrian peace talks says, following Friday’s talk of partitioning the nation as a way out of the five-year war whose anniversary is Tuesday. That as negotiations between the opposition and Damascus are set to resume today. More, here.
Who’s counting chemical weapons attacks in Syria? The Syrian American Medical Society for one, and they say there have been more than 160 uses of CWs inside Syria through the end of 2015. It also put the death toll at 1,491 and says “such attacks are increasing, with a high of at least 69 attacks last year, and 14,581 people have been injured in all.” More here.
From Defense One
The Obama Doctrine. The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg writes a piece that may help define Obama’s legacy. Read it, here.
The hidden costs of Obama’s vision of American power. Grand strategies are judged by their consequences, not by their intentions, and in the Middle East the consequences are not looking pretty. Harvard’s Niall Ferguson plays his typical gadfly role, here.
In defense of the Obama Doctrine. The president is still trying to win Washington over to American power as he sees it: limiting military interventions while convening players for peace. The Atlantic’s Derek Chollet, here.
The “Red Line” that wasn’t: Inside Obama’s last-minute decision not to bomb Syria in 2013. The Atlantic’s Daniel Lombroso and Jeffrey Goldberg explore the decision that became a GOP talking point, here.
Welcome to the Monday edition of the D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day 424 years ago, Pi Day was 3/14/1592. Send your pun-forgiving friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Got news? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yemen’s war just cost two Emirati pilots their lives. Their jet came down over the southern port city of Aden, though exactly how is not yet clear. Fighting around Aden intensified this weekend as “helicopters from the Saudi-led coalition have taken part in military operations by the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi against Islamist militants holed up in al-Mansoura district, also in northern Aden east of Buraiqa, where at least 18 people had died in overnight fighting on Sunday.” More here.
One year after President Obama approved the Pentagon’s assistance to the Saudi-led war in Yemen, “the war has been a humanitarian disaster for Yemen and a study in the perils of the Obama administration’s push to get Middle Eastern countries to take on bigger military roles in their neighborhood,” the New York Times reports. “Thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed, many by Saudi jets flying too high to accurately deliver the bombs to their targets. Peace talks have been stalled for months. American spy agencies have concluded that Yemen’s branch of Al Qaeda has only grown more powerful in the chaos.”
The wide-angle view: “The Obama administration has in the meantime been whipsawed by criticism from all sides,” the Times writes. “Although the United States has provided the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence, airborne fuel tankers and thousands of advanced munitions, Arab allies have at times complained that the support is halfhearted and freighted with too many restrictions.” There’s a raft of bad trends from that conflict, and you can catch them in all their ugliness, here.
The U.S. National Intelligence Council has a very sobering five-year forecast for America’s next president: Expect “a slowing global economy dragged down by sluggish growth in China, and political volatility across the world, spurred by disillusionment with the status quo. Insecurity will deepen rifts among social classes and religious groups. Extremists will consolidate into large-scale networks across Africa, the Arab world and parts of Asia.” But that’s not all: “Competition among the U.S, China and Russia will heat up, raising the risk of future confrontations. Climate change is a problem now. And technological advances will force governments and their citizens to wrestle with securing data, privacy, intellectual property and jobs lost to high-tech innovations.” More here and here.
And finally: your monthly wayward-Hellfire incident. Serbian authorities are investigating after bomb-sniffing dogs at Belgrade airport discovered two of the missiles in shipping crates bound for Portland, Oregon. “The missiles had arrived on an Air Serbia flight from the Lebanese capital Beirut and had been due to be transferred to another plane,” Reuters reports. It’s not yet clear whether the missiles had live or training warheads. AP says FBI agents in Portland are looking into the matter, which follow’s February’s Hellfire-in-Cuba incident.