Big battle south of Aleppo; Taliban, al Qaeda linking up; What war in Libya might look like; China’s coming to RIMPAC; and a bit more.

More than 70 are dead after heavy overnight fighting south of Aleppo that pitched al Qaeda-linked rebels against Syrian regime troops in the village of Khan Toumant. Rebels reportedly seized the village at 7 a.m. local after fighting killed some 40 rebels and another 30 government troops, AP reports.

AQ leads the charge: “The offensive was commanded by the Jaish al-Fatah, or Army of Conquest, coalition, an ultraconservative group led by al-Qaida’s Syria affiliate, the Nusra Front, and the jihadist militias Jund al-Aqsa and Ahrar al-Sham.” But that offensive also included “non-jihadist” rebels as well, underlining the tricky — not to say impossible — task of determining what rebels are exempt from the latest ceasefire, which excludes AQ and Islamic State fighters.  

To that end: “Groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, which have mostly supported diplomatic efforts in Syria, were not taking part in the attack,” a fighter from one Aleppo-based FSA group told Reuters.

Regime airstrikes killed about 30 people at a refugee camp in NW Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. “The dead were ‘mostly in shreds, they can’t be considered bodies,’” one nearby resident said, adding, “the first early evening strike hit the edge of the camp and caused the most damage, setting about a quarter of it on fire and causing most of the fatalities.” A medical official from Idlib governorate, where the strikes occurred, said most of those killed were women and children.

In case you’re wondering: AQ is dug-in in Idlib, which the Journal writes continues “to be a site of regular regime bombardment due to al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front’s large presence in most of the province.”

“Tasteless” is what the UK’s foreign minister dubbed Russia’s Bach concert in Palmyra on Thursday. Reports the BBC: The conductor “led the orchestra through pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Sergei Prokofiev and Rodion Shchedrin, in front of a crowd of Russian soldiers, government ministers and journalists. Pictures of the concert, broadcast on Russian state television, were occasionally interrupted by footage of military action — showing Russian military backing for Syrian government forces as they liberated Palmyra from IS militants.”

And Putin was even there—though only by VTC.

Replied UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond: The concert was “a tasteless attempt to distract attention from the continued suffering of millions of Syrians. It shows that there are no depths to which the regime will not sink.” More—along with photos of the performance—here.

The U.S. military killed a Sudanese ISIS “planner” and his Australian wife in an airstrike over Syria in late April, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook announced Thursday. Their names: Abu S'ad al-Sudani and spouse Shadi Jabar Khalil Mohammad.

“Al-Sudani was involved in planning attacks against the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Both al-Sudani and his wife were active in recruiting foreign fighters in efforts to inspire attacks against Western interests,” said Cook. But when reporters asked if these two ISIS fighters were planning attacks stateside, Cook clammed up: “I’m just not going to get into specifics,” he said. The Hill has (just a tiny bit) more here.

U.S. lawmakers to the White House: Don’t send MANPADS to Syrian rebels—and tell your friends not to either. That’s the message from a bipartisan group of 27 House lawmakers who say the proliferation of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles would pose “a serious threat to civilian airliners in the region—including Israeli airliners—and across the world.” More here.

Before we leave the world of itinerant weapons, check out this (fake) news report from The Onion on an assault rifle with one heckuva spotty past.

What a war with ISIS in Libya would look like. With three competing governments, some of which hate each other more than the Islamic State, things would get tricky fast. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker explains, here.

From Defense One

Petty Officer Keating died 2 miles from the Syrian front. How far away are you? Defense One contributor Gayle Tzemach Lemmon asks: “The war came to him. What will it take for it to reach the rest of us?” Read this moving piece, here.

How DIUx should pick its next branch office. The Defense Secretary's tech-outreach effort is looking to expand. Here’s how to do it, say D1 contributors Leigh Ann Killian, Lauren Rhode and Kenny Sholes. Read their ideas, here.

Soldier takes Obama to court over war on ISIS. A U.S. Army officer stationed in Kuwait argues the president has violated the War Powers Resolution in a case that carries major constitutional implications for the White House. Via The Atlantic, here.

Welcome to the Friday edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Oh, the humanity! The Hindenburg burned on this day in 1937. Send your friends this link: And let us know your news:

A group of petroleum saboteurs have bombed a Chevron oil and gas platform off the Nigerian coast, forcing production to halt as security forces respond to the scene. “A new group called the Niger Delta Avengers said it bombed Chevron’s Okan platform on Wednesday and warned international companies that ‘the Nigerian military can't protect your facilities…This is what we promised the Nigeria government (sic). Since they have refused to listen to us, we are going to bring the country’s economy to zero,’” AP reports. The group threatened more attacks, in the cities of Abuja and Lagos.

The U.S. wants to help Nigeria, and it wants Nigeria to help itself by buying as many as a dozen A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft. “Washington also is dedicating more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to the campaign against the Islamist militants in the region and plans to provide additional training to Nigerian infantry forces,” Reuters reports this morning.

U.S. military census in Africa: “there now are 6,200 U.S. troops—most of them Special Operations Forces—operating from 26 locations on the continent,” U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Michael Franken said recently.

Global Tucano census: More than 200 Super Tucanos are operated by 10 nations and they cost about $10 million each, according to its manufacturer, Embraer. Lots more detail on that aircraft from Reuters, here.

Afghanistan’s A-29s, meanwhile, dropped their first weapons last month. The country’s first four A-29s arrived in January; 16 more are to follow.

Speaking of Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters are reportedly linking up. “According to U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, al-Qaeda is providing more ‘capabilities and skills’ to the 30,000-strong insurgent group than they have in the past,” the Washington Post reported Thursday. “Cleveland did not specify what type of skills al-Qaeda is providing to the Taliban; in the past, the terror group has provided bomb-makers and suicide bombers to its allies. According to Cleveland, there are roughly 300 al-Qaeda fighters still in Afghanistan spread out across a number of provinces such as Kunar, Kandahar and Ghazni… According to Cleveland, fighting around Helmand has been especially light this past month as the Taliban has been concentrated on the annual harvest. But, he added, ‘We think that’ll be the next big Taliban push… We think it will come in Helmand.’” More here.

Looks like China will be at RIMPAC after all. The U.S. had considered disinviting the PLAN from Rim of the Pacific, the world’s largest recurring international maritime exercise, which is held every two years in Hawaii in June and July. But “China on Thursday confirmed it would send warships to join a major U.S.-hosted naval drill this summer, even as tension between the world’s two largest economies mounts over the South China Sea,” Reuters reports, here.

This will come as good news to Defense and Navy leaders who argue (as did the Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Newson did last year) that a commitment to military-to-military engagement builds understanding that can help keep a tense peace from becoming war.

Your wonky weekend read: “U.S. Military Forces in FY2017,” a new report from Mark Cancian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It’s a doorstopper that comes as U.S. military planners begin talking more of expansion to the forces than cuts. So Cancian takes a look at all four branches, as well as civilians and contractors. Get started here.

Lastly today: If you’re in the DC region this weekend, pencil in a trip to the Library of Congress to trace the history of how U.S. artists helped America at war 100 years ago in an exhibition titled, “World War I: American Artists View the Great War.” It begins a year-long run with an opening Saturday. Details and directions, here. And, if you’re the drinking type, do yourself a favor and have a bourbon on us this Derby weekend.