Busy skies over Afghanistan; Aid airdrops mulled for Syria; Work thrashes lawmaker over Fanning; Don’t shoot your own helicopter; and just a bit more.

The skies over Afghanistan are busy with drones and A-29 light attack planes, with the former taking out an al-Qaeda commander named Mullah Mohammad Ali (in either Zabul or Kunduz province), and the latter killing 17 AQ militants in eastern Kunar province, Khaama news reports this morning.

For the record: “The Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucano pilots have flown more than 260 sorties since January when they received the first batch of the light attack aircraft from the United States.”

Kabul has signed its portion of a draft peace agreement with one of the many warring factions in the country, this time with “Hezb-e-Islami, whose leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is a veteran of decades of Afghan war and on the U.S. government's designated terrorist list,” Reuters reports. “Mohammad Khan, deputy to government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, said the draft would be signed later on Wednesday by a delegation from Hekmatyar's party and officials from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council but more work would be needed for a final deal.” More here.  

Abdullah’s deputy also said the group “has agreed to have no links with the anti-government armed militant groups, insisting that Hekmatyar’s only demand is to remove his name from the international blacklist,” Khaama adds.

But the Taliban still refuse to come to the table as a fifth round of peace talks gets under way today in Pakistan, al-Jazeera reports. And that means that the parties talking peace are now talking countermeasures, or “serious steps that need to be taken against the Taliban,” said Omar Zakhilwal, the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan who is also heading the delegation.

The Taliban’s reax: "Our conditions are still the same. We demand the implementation of Islamic law in Afghanistan and the departure of all foreign forces." More here.

What is war good for in Kabul? Concrete blast-wall business, The New York Times reports. Not that government officials pay their bills on time. That here.

U.S., Russia float plan to air-drop aid around Assad’s army, if his troops continue to block food and medicine from various cities. “The very fact that they had to threaten the airdrops — which are expensive and often inaccurate — amounted to an admission of how little progress has been made in achieving either the lasting cease-fire or the regular humanitarian relief that European and Arab nations, along with Iran, laid out as the first steps toward a broader peace agreement,” NYT writes.

State Secretary John Kerry’s threat: “If President Assad has come to a conclusion there’s no Plan B,” he said, referring to more coercive action to force him to comply, “then he’s come to a conclusion that is totally without any foundation whatsoever and even dangerous.”

Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, both agreed that escalating the military effort in Syria is not going to help. In fact, Kerry said, it “could destroy Syria altogether and create even greater problems throughout the region,” which would attract “more and more jihadis to Syria.”

But it’s not as if air-drops will stop the fighting either, since they’ll have to be, as Kerry said, “continuous, intensive, and cover all areas in need.”

Further, the Times writes, “airdrops are hugely expensive and inefficient compared with trucking aid into a country, and United Nations officials have long said they should be used only as a last resort. It is particularly hard to know how they might target drops in densely populated areas like Daraya, a rebel stronghold southwest of Damascus.” Read the rest, here.

After more than five years of defections and nearly nonstop fighting, what’s really left of the Syrian army? “Not one of around 20 divisions it used to have has ever managed to deploy more than one-third of its nominal strength on the battlefield. The resulting 20 brigade-size task forces — each between 2,000- and 4,000-strong — were then further hit by several waves of mass defections, but also extensive losses caused by the incompetence of their commanders,” writes Tom Cooper at War Is Boring. “Currently, Homs and Hama appear to be the last two governorates with any kind of significant concentration of the SAA. Actually, merely the HQs of various former SAA units are still wearing their official designations.” So how has Iran and Russia stepped in to fill the gap? Read on to find out, here.

Back stateside, House lawmakers are set to vote on the ISIS war authorization, the Washington Post reports. “Proposed by Rep. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the measure would require the repeal of the 2001 AUMF, which Congress passed to allow operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, within 90 days of the defense policy bill’s enactment. Lee said she wanted ‘to force a debate on this war and repeal the 2001 blank check for endless war that got us into these perpetual wars,’ she said on the floor last week. ‘Let us debate this war, its costs and its consequences.’” The Post rolls up some of the more recent attempts to go down this road, none of which have yielded results.

From Defense One

Can’t make it to the final day of the Sea-Air-Space Expo 2016? Watch it here. In a new media partnership with the Navy League, Defense One has the exclusive livestream of this year’s SAS conference.

Today’s events:

• 9:00 to 10:30 a.m.: Panel: Equipping and Sustaining the Sea Services.

• 12:15 to 1:45 p.m.: Secretary of the Navy Luncheon & SAFETY Awards.

Pentagon testing small robot to help hunt naval mines. The U.S. military has been looking for an underwater bomb disposal robot for years. It finally has one. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker reports from the Sea-Air-Space show, here.

Japan shops futuristic sub-hunter plane. With arms export ban loosened, Tokyo is shopping an indigenous sub-hunting plane for the first time at an American arms show. Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber has the story, here.

Federal background checks will soon involve your life on Facebook.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper signed a policy Thursday allowing investigators to scan public social media posts when deciding whether to issue a security clearance. Via NextGov, here.

U.S. Navy wants to train its own ‘ethical’ hackers. The service wants to certify sailors to think more like a cyber adversary to better defend its networks across the globe. From NextGov, here.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson, Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1388, Chinese Gen. Lan Yu crushed a Mongol horde (is there any other Mongol unit?) at the Battle of Buyur Lake. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.

The U.S. Army has a secretary, at last. Eric Fanning’s nomination was finally approved by the Senate after weeks of delays relating to the Obama administration’s plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, possibly diverting dozens of alleged terrorists to facilities stateside like the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kans.—something Republican Senator Pat Roberts does not support, as NBC News reported in their coverage of Fanning’s confirmation.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter welcomed the news in a short note released late Tuesday. We say “short” because Carter’s deputy, Bob Work, penned a much longer note of both congratulations and explanation over the delay.

Wrote Work: “As I told Senator Roberts, his hold was depriving the Army of leadership at a time of war and was the wrong way to express his opposition to the administration’s plan for responsibly closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. I made clear we need to have an active dialogue with Congress, and that the legislative process would give Senator Roberts a more appropriate platform to express his views…we have not taken any location off the table for relocating Guantanamo detainees.”

Work’s statement came after a Tuesday release from Roberts, who said Work told him the “clock has run out” on closing Guantanamo during Obama’s tenure.

Here’s what you told CSIS about defense reform. Respondents to a questionnaire ranked the acquisition process #1 for reform opportunities, followed by strategy and then budgetary processes. At bottom of that list? Adjusting the independence of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Catch the full results, here.

What has ISIS been doing in Libya since moving into Sirte 15 months ago? About everything you knew the group to be up to: beheadings, looting, and forced marriages, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.  

One interesting pull-out from the report: “U.S. military experts estimated in April that the Islamic State group has up to 6,000 fighters in Libya,” AP writes off the report. “However, Libyan military intelligence officials have told HRW that the affiliate's numbers are up to 1,800 — 70 percent of whom are foreigners.” More from AP, here.

Don’t look now, but ISIS wannabes are reportedly popping up in Tanzania.

With formal affiliates now in nine countries, don’t miss this history of ISIS from PBS Frontline that aired Tuesday night.

The U.S. Army’s many Iraqistans. At least that was the informal name for most of the fictional countries the 82nd Airborne trained “in” during your D Brief-er’s time in uniform not so long ago. But after a FOIA request, War Is Boring has an update to the Army’s international war map, and it includes “Ariana, Atropia, Donovia, Gorgas and Limaria,” all “clustered in a fictional Caucasian landscape that stretches between the real-world borders of Russia and Iran. Together, the five states comprise the so-called ‘Decisive Action Training Environment,’ or DATE.” Trace the fake history of those five countries—along with a recent history of their likely real-world counterparts—here.

Lastly today—How not to train for war: by using live ammo to shoot at an Apache helicopter. “A large training exercise for Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers in Southern California came to a halt Saturday morning when an infantryman shot an Army Apache helicopter with live rounds,” the Tacoma News Tribune reported.

“It’s a really weird accident, but it’s an accident,” said Ken Drylie, a spokesman for the National Training Center in the Mojave Desert. No one was hurt in the incident, but the bullets punctured the helo in four places and prompted a suspension of the exercise, said Drylie.

“The big question is how did it happen, which is why when it happened they immediately stopped training, and they did a 100 percent inspection to ensure there were no further live rounds where they shouldn’t be,” he said. More from that definitely-could-have-been-worse episode, here.