Russian helo shot down; Kerry’s dilemma in US-Russia talks; Moving on Manbij; Pentagon asks for bids on controversial nuke programs; and a bit more.

Russian bird down near Aleppo, all five on board declared dead. Social media was abuzz this morning with imagery purporting to be of a Russian Mi-8 helicopter that was shot down by rebels in the northwestern Idlib governorate. This is “the single deadliest incident for Moscow since it intervened in the war” and it brings the number of declared Russian forces killed in Syria to 18, AFP writes .

Russia’s defense ministry confirmed the crash and the deaths in a statement early this morning, adding that the helicopter carried two pilots and three crew members during a “humanitarian mission” to the city of Aleppo—a claim many in the OSINT game called into question after spotting empty rocket pods in footage of the downed helo.

For what it’s worth: Middle East analyst Charles Lister said this morning the helicopter was in fact a “Mi-8AMTSh—classified as an ‘armored assault transport helicopter’” and “nicknamed ‘Terminator.’”

Aleppo saw a great deal of fighting over the weekend and into this morning as a coalition of rebels—including the insurgents formerly known as the Nusra Front—from Latakia, Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo joined forces to assault the southwestern, government-held portion of the city. The offensive, which aims to cut regime supply lines to Aleppo city, has allegedly been in the works for “several weeks.” More here.

Get a look at Nusra through the eyes of its suicide bombers, from The Intercept here.

Forget the international community; residents of Aleppo have built their own no-fly zone over the city—using burnt tires to ward off Russian and Syrian jets and helicopters.

In the shadow of new allegations Russia hacked the Clinton campaign, and with U.S.-Russian talks—led by State Secretary John Kerry—set to take place in the coming days, the White House finds itself in a tight spot on Putin’s chessboard, Reuters reported this weekend.

The problem with fingering Moscow: “Several U.S. officials said the Obama administration has avoided publicly attributing the attacks to Russia as that might undermine Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to win Russian cooperation in the war on Islamic State in Syria.”

The consequences: “The officials said the administration fears Russian President Vladimir Putin might respond to a public move by escalating cyber attacks on U.S. targets, increasing military harassment of U.S. and allied aircraft and warships in the Baltic and Black Seas, and making more aggressive moves in Eastern Europe.”

And the price of inaction: “Some officials question the approach, arguing that responding more forcefully to Russia would be more effective than remaining silent.”

Dig into all that and more—well more on the tight diplomatic spot, anyway—via this New York Times write-up over the weekend from David Sanger.

Oh by the way, Russia said this weekend it, too, was recently hacked by a professional entity—though the Federal Security Service stopped short of explicitly naming the U.S., according to this report from the BBC.

And Russia has now drawn more attention from ISIS as Reuters reports the group on Sunday put out calls for jihadi attacks on the country during a nine-minute video posted to YouTube. Adds Reuters: “It was not immediately clear why Russia would be a target, but Russia and the U.S. are talking about boosting military and intelligence cooperation against Islamic State and al Qaeda in Syria.” More here.

Also in Syria: U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces say they’ve gone from controlling about 40 percent to almost 70 percent of the ISIS-held northern Syrian foreign fighter hub of Manbij in the past two days. The SDF claim to have “pushed back the ultra hardline Sunni militants into the old quarter after seizing most of the western, eastern and southern sectors of the city, Sharfan Darwish of the SDF-allied Manbij military council told Reuters in Beirut by telephone. ‘They are now mainly in the old quarter of the city and parts of the north-eastern part of the city,’ Darwish added.”

And the Assad regime signaled Sunday that it won’t be letting its fingers off the trigger until closer to late August, when it plans to sit down with UN, rebels.

To the southeast, in Iraq, a handful of gunmen on bikes were able to penetrate and disable two energy facilities one day in Kirkuk, The Wall Street Journal reports: “Four suicide bombers hit the Bai Hassan oil field, prompting an hourslong standoff with local forces, said a colonel with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces that control the area. The field is one of the largest in the region of Kirkuk, producing more than 175,000 barrels a day, according to oil officials...In another attack claimed by Islamic State earlier in the day, a group of militants stormed the AB2 gas compressor station some 20 miles from Bai Hassan, killing four employees of the state-owned North Oil Co. and lacing the site with explosives, company officials said.”

Reporters from Iraq Oil Report said the attackers came from a “suspected sleeper cell” in the area, and their attack cut the Kurdistan Regional Government’s oil exports by more than one-third, and will possibly “disrupt Kirkuk’s energy network for several weeks.”

From Defense One

Despite objections, Pentagon takes step toward buying new nuclear weapons. The U.S. Air Force has asked defense firms to bid to supply new ICBMs and controversial nuclear cruise missiles. Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber has the story, here.

NATO spending, in two charts: 2016 edition. Who’s hitting the 2% guideline? By Editorial Fellow Caroline Houck, here.

How Trump turned the U.S. foreign-policy consensus upside-down. The Republican nominee doesn't just disagree with Democrats—his ideas represent a break with a long list of policies that have won bipartisan support for decades. The Atlantic’s David A. Graham ticks them off, here.

Until we reduce cybercrime, expect more Russian meddling. A strong U.S. response to the DNC theft might discourage state-sponsored attacks, analysts and industry leaders say, but it won't stop them. Houck again, here.

Maybe the Secret Service should start protecting candidates’ email as well. Some private cyber investigators say it’s time the agency expand its reach beyond mere physical security. Via NextGov, here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1914, Germany declared war on Russia as the War to End All Wars picked up steam. Send your friends this link: And let us know your news:

A large truck bomb detonated in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul overnight, cutting power to much of the city. The Taliban claimed credit for the bombing, which “exploded outside a protected hotel compound used by foreign service contractors… outside the Northgate Hotel, a secure residential compound for foreign military and civilian organizations.”

The toll: “The guests and staff of the Northgate hotel escaped unharmed. But one policeman was killed after the truck bomber paved the way for two other armed insurgents to enter the heavily guarded facility near Kabul airport,” AFP reports.

Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported “British special forces assisted Afghan elite commandos in the operation,” including some precision sniper fire from a rooftop that killed at least two fighters. More here.

Before we leave Afghanistan, the Taliban have reportedly launched a large-scale attack in the southern province of Helmand, 15 kms from the capital of Lashkar Gah. One Afghan official claimed 25 members of the Afghan National Army and 22 members of the police surrendered to the Taliban in the district of Nad-E Ali after running out of ammunition. Tolo News has a tiny bit more, here.

Weeks after the attempted coup, Turks and outsiders have dramatically different ways of looking at the situation — and the tension may tear U.S.-Turkish relations apart, writes Istanbul-based journalist William Armstrong. Read his detailed exploration at War on the Rocks, here.

And how did the Pentagon learn about the coup? A late-night phone call to CJCS Gen. Joe Dunford’s office “from the number of his Turkish counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar, the leader of Turkey’s military and a critical ally in the fight against ISIS. But when Dunford’s office staff answered, it wasn’t Akar’s voice on the other end of the line — it was his kidnappers’, who, hours before, had started waging a bloody coup in the streets of Turkey.” This from Buzzfeed, here.

Lastly today, and apropos of nothing—former Pentagon and CIA spokesman George Little has publicly challenged Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to a foreign policy debate. It could even morph into a charity fundraiser for veterans. But will it happen? Our bet is no, with the caveat that anything is possible this election season. We’ll keep you posted if we catch word that the offer is getting off the ground.