Eyes on ISIS after Istanbul attack; Iraqi troops, US-backed rebels on the hunt for ISIS-held airfields; Ike strikes from the Med; And a bit more.

Three suicide bombers hit Turkey’s largest airport at Istanbul Tuesday, killing 41 people and wounding nearly 150 others in the fifth attack in that city this year—and the worst bomb attack in the country since 1986. “The death toll included 23 Turks and 18 foreigners, including at least five from Saudi Arabia and others from nations ranging from Tunisia and China,” the Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham reports on location.

The attackers apparently arrived at the airport in a taxi, and two of them detonated inside the terminal while the third exploded in the parking lot. “One attacker opened fire in the departures hall with an automatic rifle, sending passengers diving for cover and trying to flee, before all three blew themselves up in or around the arrivals hall a floor below,” witnesses and officials told Reuters. “Video footage showed one of the attackers inside the terminal building being shot, apparently by a police officer, before falling to the ground as people scattered. The attacker then blew himself up around 20 seconds later.”

In context: The New York Times produced a series of graphics illustrating not only Tuesday’s attack, but a series of others inside Turkey going back more than a year. And AFP posted a list of attacks going back 30 years over here.

Turkish and U.S. officials say the violence bore strong resemblances to Islamic State suicide attacks in Brussels and Paris, as opposed to bombings by “Kurdish militant groups which have also carried out recent attacks in Turkey, but usually strike at official government targets.”

So far this morning, there is no official confirmation from ISIS that they were responsible; however, as NYT’s Rukmini Callimachi writes, the group has recently averaged about two days or so before telling the world of their involvement.

The attacks occurred exactly one day before the two-year anniversary since ISIS declared the establishment of their “caliphate.”

For what it’s worth: ISIS just released a chart showing areas of “major” and “medium” control (12 nations included there), along with “areas with presence of covert units”—which happens to include Turkey, Callimachi notes.  

Iraqi troops say they’re well on their way to seizing “an airfield [in northern Iraq] which could serve as the staging ground for a future offensive on Mosul,” Reuters reports this morning. “Army and counter-terrorism forces recaptured Telol al-Baj, about 260 km (160 miles) north of Baghdad on the main north-south road on Tuesday… The troops are now around 45 km from the airbase at Qayara, less than two weeks after they set out from the refinery town of Baiji… U.S.-led coalition air strikes have helped repel suicide car bomb attacks, the commander said. Both sides have suffered casualties, but most militants have fled into the desert, he added.”

In a parallel offensive, “Army troops advancing separately on the eastern side of the Tigris river from Qayara have made slower progress, taking a handful of villages since setting out from Makhmour more than three months ago. Iraqi forces shelled Islamic State positions in Haj Ali on Wednesday in preparation for a ground advance that would allow them to reach the river bank, an army source said. They are expected to link up with the forces from the south near the air base, about 10 km west of the river.” More here.

Separately, a third offensive smack in the center of the Iraq-Syria border, near the city of Al Bukamal and involving U.S.-backed Syrian rebels under the banner of the New Syria Army, was repelled by ISIS fighters on Tuesday as they, too, looked to seize a nearby airbase—in this case, Hamdan AB. If Al Bukamal can be retaken from ISIS, Reuters writes, it would mark a major step in restoring the Iraq-Syria border that ISIS effectively nullified when it swept across the region and stormed Mosul almost exactly two years ago.

“One rebel source said Islamic State fighters had encircled the rebels in a surprise ambush. They had suffered heavy casualties and weapons had been seized by the jihadists, the source said. ‘The news is not good. I can say our troops were trapped and suffered many casualties and several fighters were captured and even weapons were taken,’ he said.”  More from AP, here.  

Iraq has just secured a nearly $3 billion loan from the U.S. “to fund ammunition and maintenance of fighter jets, tanks and other military equipment for use in the war against Islamic State.” Equipment covered by the deal: “F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 tanks, armored vehicles and attack helicopters as well as maintain navy ships and systems to protect the Umm Qasr port and southern oil platforms,” according to the U.S. embassy. More on that deal, here.

From Defense One

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GOP criticizes the Pentagon for its slow response to the Benghazi attacks. Two years and $7 million later, House Republicans’ 700-page report into what happened in northern Libya on the night of September 11, 2012, found no evidence of wrongdoing by then-State Secretary Hillary Clinton, but it did knock administration officials for being unprepared to respond more quickly. Notes Doctrine Man this morning: “It's still not clear who screwed the pooch, but it's pretty clear someone did, and did so badly. The cover-up that followed...well, it's sad that national security is so politicized that it's hard to get to the truth.” The Atlantic’s Priscilla Alvarez has the roll-up, here.

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. On this day in 1995, the American space shuttle Atlantis and the Russian space station Mir docked, becoming the largest man-made satellite to orbit the planet. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.

IKE striking ISIS from Mediterranean. Just as the carrier USS Truman did on its way home, the warplanes from the aircraft carrier Dwight Eisenhower began airstrikes against Islamic State militants from the west. Per Navy Times, the Truman set the aircraft carrier record for number of sorties and bombs dropped in the ISIS fight. More here.

Senate advances three key military nominations. The Senate Armed Services Committee OKed Gen. David Goldfein to be the Air Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser to be the head of U.S. Africa Command and Lt. Gen. Joseph Lengyel, to be the National Guard Bureau chief.

Soldiers can roll sleeves … as long as the cammo is facing out. From Army Times: “Sleeve-rolling will be at the commander’s discretion, said Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey. And there will be no time or seasonal limits as long as it’s approved by your commander, he said, citing for example soldiers stationed in Hawaii, where the weather is warm pretty much all year.” More here.

Find the memo to troops about those new rolled sleeves over here.

Apropos of nothing: Take a look back in time at how U.S. troops saw life in war-torn Vietnam, via the photo department at the NYTs. Cue movie “Full Metal Jacket” quotes in 3, 2, 1…. here.

Where will the next U.S. Air Force chief take the service? AEI’s Mackenzie Eaglen has five suggestions she’s pitched in the pages of Breaking Defense, including leading the charge in “the Pentagon’s ‘Third Offset’ strategy to combat declining US military technological supremacy,” generating more support for the new B-21 bomber (at least on par with policymakers’ love of Navy ships, the F-35 and funding Army troops), and three others you’ll find here.  

Army night at the ballpark. Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff, threw out the first pitch and Secretary Eric Fanning delivered the game ball to Washington Nationals rookie pitcher Lucas Giolito last night. After the game, Fanning tweeted” “@Nationals win 5-0 on #ArmyNight behind @LGio27's 4 scoreless innings in his @MLB debut. Maybe a lucky #gameball?” Defense One’s Kevin Baron snapped a photo of some of the soldiers in attendance with Fanning and Milley.