Lebanon arrests 103 Syrians; Pentagon Syrian rebel program crawls along; More details about Fat Leonard; F-35 bests F-15E; and more.
Lebanese authorities arrested 103 Syrians “for illegal entry” after a wave of nine suicide attacks believed to have been carried out by ISIS hit a single village on Monday, killing five and wounding nearly 30 more. Now Lebanon is bracing for even more violence. “The first group of bombers attacked before dawn and the second later at night, two of them blowing themselves up near a church,” Reuters reports. Most of the bombers came from Syria rather than refugee camps that host more than 1 million Syrians inside Lebanon, Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk said this morning. “In reference to the number of attackers, the Lebanese government said the attack and the ‘unfamiliar way’ it was carried out represented a new phase of ‘confrontation between the Lebanese state and evil terrorism.’”
About the region struck Monday: “Qaa and the nearby Ras Baalbek are the only two villages with a Christian majority in the predominantly Shiite Hermel region, where the Shiite Hezbollah group holds sway,” AP reports. “The group has sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to bolster President Bashar Assad's forces against the predominantly Sunni rebels trying to topple him.”
The Lebanese army said this morning it conducted “raids in six areas in the Baalbek region, which has many informal Syrian refugee settlements. It said nine motorcycles and two vehicles were confiscated and two Lebanese were arrested with illegal weapons.” More from AP here.
And Turkey has now removed some hurdles preventing its NATO pals from conducting ISR flights along its border with Syria, Reuters quotes an unnamed Turkish official as saying this morning: “Some NATO countries, especially Britain, complained that they could not perform enough patrol flights on Turkey's Syrian border as the engagement rules were too strict,” the official said. More, though really not a lot, here.
Syrian troops have reportedly captured a key smack of turf in the northeastern edge of Aleppo. The Associated Press again with a shorty: “The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government forces now control half the Mallah farms on the northeastern edge of Aleppo, Syria's largest city and once commercial center. The Beirut-based Pan Arab TV Al-Mayadeen says with Tuesday's capture of large parts of Mallah farms, troops now can fire upon and close the Castello road that links rebel-held parts of Aleppo with the rest of the country. State media aired footage from the area, showing Syrian army tanks and artillery pounding Mallah farms.” That, here.
Speaking of Syria, the Pentagon’s Syrian rebel training program is back up; but in the crawl-walk-run cycle—it’s pretty much stuck in crawl after six months of revamped operations and planning, the Washington Post’s Missy Ryan reports. Brief backgrounder: “After repeated setbacks to that program, which aimed to create an army of Syrian fighters from scratch, officials settled on a different approach, one that would train only small numbers of leaders or other key personnel from local units who could act as a liaison with U.S. and allied forces attacking the Islamic State from the air.”
The latest numbers: “Since the original program was revised, U.S. military personnel have trained fewer than 100 additional fighters, mostly outside of Syria, officials said. Those trained are specialized fighters whom military officials describe as ‘spotters’ rather than ordinary infantry troops.”
The official caveat: “[O]fficials said the relatively small numbers in the current program is not a reflection of renewed difficulties, but of a more targeted approach that is designed to assist existing units fighting the Islamic State.”
The view from 30,000 feet: “With about 300 Special Operations troops on the ground, the Pentagon is now overseeing a patchwork of activities in support of various friendly Syrian factions across the country. Those include fighters from northwest and southern Syria trained in the original Pentagon program; Kurdish troops battling the Islamic State in northern and eastern Syria; and Arab tribal forces who military officials hope will eventually prove capable of encircling militants in their de facto capital of Raqqa.”
What’s next? U.S. officials are “now looking at options to expand current training activities, potentially within or outside Syria. ‘We’ve had a couple of trials and we’re going to look to continue to develop off of those,’” one unnamed official said. Read the rest, here.
The Pentagon says ISIS hasn't won a battle in a year, the Washington Examiner reported. “There has been no strategic victory for ISIS in over a year now,” said Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis. “We have seen them, in fact, lose significant territory over and over again… Fallujah, Ramadi, Rutbah, Hiit, Sinjar, Baiji on the Iraq side. In Syria we've seen them lose Al Hal, Shaddadi, Tishrin Dam and now the stranglehold on Manbij, and they will soon lose that as well.” Davis added that although Fallujah has been cleared of ISIS, the slow work of disarming booby-traps and improvised mines continues.
ISIS did inflict a great deal of damage in Yemen on Monday, killing nearly four-dozen people in the port city of Mukalla, Voice of America reports.
And in other regional tensions, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps skirmished again with Kurdish rebels on their western border, The New York Times reported Monday.
From Defense One
How the Kurds drove Turkey back to Israel—and two other reason for the thaw in relations after Ankara’s diplomatic blitz on Monday. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook has this robust explainer on what to expect and why.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter is poised to announce an end to the military’s longtime ban on transgender Americans as early as July. The Atlantic's Nora Kelly rolls up reporting from numerous outlets on the planned announcement, here.
To defend its border with China, India's defence ministry approved the purchase of 145 ultra light howitzers from BAE. Quartz’s Manu Balachandran has the details, here.
The OPM hack that agency previously said impacted 21.5 million individuals has also compromised potentially tens of millions of additional people—parents, siblings, other relatives, and close friends—but it’s not believed to include their Social Security numbers. NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein has the updated story, here.
Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. On this day in 1968, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Richard McMahon denounced the body count as a “dubious and dangerous” method of determining the enemy’s combat potential—in this case, of course, the context is the war in Vietnam. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.
Hillary Clinton has a “technology and innovation” agenda and Politico got their hands on 14 pages of it ahead of a speech where HRC is set to lay it all today in Denver. “The draft agenda spans a wide array of tech and telecom policy matters — from suggestions on wonky topics, like how to hang telephone cables on poles, to more pressing questions about the future of cybersecurity. It stands in stark contrast to Donald Trump, who has said little on tech policy — but devoted plenty of rhetoric to slamming Silicon Valley’s top companies and executives... [H]er platform supports the creation of a special commission to study whether law enforcement should have greater access to encrypted devices and communications — a frequent tension point between the FBI and tech giants like Apple. Previously, Clinton has called for a ‘Manhattan-like Project’ to review the issue.” More here.
Had enough “Fat Leonard” stories? Defense News has one more explaining how he “hurt and helped the U.S. Navy.” And it’s a long one. Read it in full, here.
F-15Es fail versus F-35 in video game, er simulated dogfight tests, The Aviationist reports. “Seven F-35s deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, to carry out a series of operational tests which involved local-based 4th Generation F-15E Strike Eagles belonging to the 366th Fighter Wing.”
According to Col. David Chace, the F-35 systems management office chief and lead for F-35 operational requirements at ACC, “During that deployment, crews attained a 100 percent sortie generation rate with 88 of 88 planned sorties and a 94 percent hit rate with 15 of 16 bombs on target.” There’s even a nifty graphic of the results which you can find here—or read the more full write-up, here.
The Obama administration is having a tough time deterring Chinese expansion in the Asia-Pacific, WaPo’s Josh Rogin reported Monday after “obtain[ing] a formal protest letter from the Chinese Embassy in Washington sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week demanding that no U.S. official ever again fly in a straight line from Taipei to Tokyo, which takes you over what the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands and the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands.”
The bigger picture: “The incident was just the latest signal that the Obama administration’s strategy to deter Chinese aggression and encourage China’s good behavior in the South and East China seas is falling short. President Obama has tried to build a policy on diplomacy, quiet warnings and restrained military gestures. It’s not working. China has rebuffed them all, and if it loses and then ignores an arbitration case shortly as expected, then it’s not clear his administration has any new tools in its toolbox.” More on all that, here.
And with an eye to China, Indonesia just upped its defense spending by nearly 10 percent from initial 2016 projections, Reuters reports. Some of the additional funds are expected to go toward upgrading “military facilities in the Natuna Islands, whose nearby waters Beijing says are subject to ‘over-lapping claims.’”