Bomb blasts in Thailand; Kurd-Arab assault on Manbij; ROE for SOF in Syria; Don’t box retired generals out of politics; And a bit more.

Blasts in Thailand. Four days after Thai voters adopted a new constitution, effectively “enshrining [the] army’s influence over future governments,” as The Wall Street Journal wrote, “a series of blasts hit three of the most popular tourist resorts as well as towns in southern Thailand on Thursday and Friday, killing four people and wounding dozens,” Reuters reports this morning. “Four bombs exploded in the upscale resort of Hua Hin, about 200 km (125 miles) south of Bangkok on Thursday evening and Friday morning, killing two people and wounding at least 24. Other blasts hit the tourist island of Phuket, a resort town in Phang Nga province, and Surat Thani, a city that is the gateway to islands such as Koh Samui in Thailand’s Gulf.”

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombings—at least two of which were believed to be set in plant pots and detonated via cell phone, police said—and Thai officials “ruled out any links to international terrorism, as did Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, which said in a statement on Friday: ‘The incident is not linked to terrorism but is an act of stirring up public disturbance.’”

However, the bombings were “absolutely conducted by the same network,” said Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, a deputy prime minister in Thailand’s military-run government, The New York Times reports.

Where suspicions point: “Such twin blasts are common in the three Muslim-majority southernmost provinces of Thailand, where a long-running insurgency intensified in 2004, with more than 6,500 people killed since then,” Reuters writes. “The three provinces near the border with Muslim-majority Malaysia soundly rejected the referendum on the new military-backed constitution, which passed convincingly in most of the rest of the country in Sunday’s vote.”

“Final assault” of Manbij now underway. The U.S.-backed, Kurdish-Arab mix of Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria said this morning they have launched “the last operation and the last assault” on the Islamic State-held city believed to be a key hub for ISIS foreign fighters. A spokesman for the group said “roughly 100 Islamic State fighters were left in the center of the city, and that they were using civilians as human shields [and] several civilians were killed trying to flee,” Reuters reports.

You may wonder what those American special operators are doing around Manbij. Bloomberg’s Eli Lake has an answer: Not getting shot. “The rules [of engagement that are] in place, known as ‘last cover and concealment,’ are highly restrictive compared to special operations missions in the war on terror before 2014. Those rules of engagement allowed for U.S. special operators to fight alongside the local forces they trained. The rules of engagement for Syria, according to one military officer, amount to: ‘don’t get shot.’”

Of course, they can do a little bit more—but not a lot: “Other U.S. defense officials told me, however,” Lake writes, “that U.S. special operators in Syria were allowed to defend themselves if they came under fire. But they confirmed that the troops were not engaging in offensive missions.”

The thing is, some members of Congress want those rules relaxed, One of them is House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. More here.

In Iraq, a recent joint U.S.-Peshmerga raid killed a key ISIS oil man in the north: “Sami Jassim al-Jabouri, also known as Haji Hamad, and his aide were killed ‘in the vicinity of Qaim,’ an Iraqi town near the Syrian border,” the Kurdistan Region Security Council said in a statement Thursday.

The Mosul offensive is ramping up, and a separate offensive on ISIS’ de facto HQ in Raqqa, Syria, may happen at the same time, USA Today reported Thursday. “If we’re able to do simultaneous operations in and synchronize the Mosul piece and the Raqqa piece, think about the problem that generates for (the Islamic State),” Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian said in his first interview since assuming command of air operations in the Middle East.

Iran may have a larger role in the push to take back Mosul than you’d think, Long War Journal reports off a quiet announcement that’s nearly a week old. “The spokesman of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Front (PMF) announced on August 6 that Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, will play a major role in the upcoming operations to take the city of Mosul from the Islamic State.”

In Syria, the UN says it is investigating recent alleged chemical weapons attacks in the north. Voice of America has more, here.

In case you were curious: “1,491 people in Syria are known to have been killed in gas attacks,” The Guardian reports this morning in a wider piece about how experts warn CW attacks in Syria may “normalize” war crimes.

Some of Aleppo’s last remaining doctors have appealed directly to President Obama to intervene in the besieged Syrian city, ABC News reported Thursday.

Beyond Syria, after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has taken his country’s diplomacy tour to Iran, AP reports. The two countries pledged greater trade, on the one hand, and greater cooperation in Syria’s war, on the other. More here. And more on Russia below.


From Defense One

15 years after 9/11, is America any safer? The United States has spent $1 trillion to defend against al-Qaeda and ISIL, dirty bombs and lone wolves, bioterror and cyberterror. Has it worked? Writing for The Atlantic, Steven Brill asks one of the biggest questions of our times, here.

The $47 billion U.S. emergency response network that’s already obsolete. FirstNet was envisioned as a way for police and firefighters to communicate with one another in the wake of 9/11. But four years later, it's still not up and running, Brill reports.

This week’s Global Business Brief, by Marcus Weisgerber. A new kind of export deal; ‘Never do that again’; The future of IED clearance; and more from our business editor, here. (Get the GBB in your inbox every Wednesday; subscribe here.)

Don’t box retired generals out of politics. Retired major general Eric T. Olson takes exception to Gen. Dempsey’s prescription, saying it would preclude valuable contributions toward an informed electorate. Read his argument, here.

What to watch after ISIS’s Boko Haram coup. Boko Haram’s former leader has not given up his global jihad, despite being snubbed by ISIS in early August. Read that, from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Jacob Zenn, here.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1914, Great Britain and the countries of the British Empire declared war on Austria-Hungary. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


Eyes on Russia. One day after Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of trying to start a conflict over Russian-held Crimea, Russia’s navy announced war games in the Black Sea “to practice repelling underwater attacks by saboteurs,” Reuters reports from Moscow. According to a statement from the Kremlin, Putin met his top military and intelligence leaders to discuss “scenarios for counter-terrorism security measures along the land border, offshore and in Crimean air space.”

Here’s one way to frame Russia’s actions in/around Crimea, writes NYT’s Max Fisher: By “dangling the threat of renewed conflict,” Putin may be looking to secure “long-held hopes of a grand bargain with the United States that would settle their disputes over Ukraine and Syria — on terms favorable to Moscow, naturally — as well as ending Western sanctions against Russia.”

Before we leave Russia: “U.S. intelligence officials told top congressional leaders a year ago that Russian hackers were attacking the Democratic Party,” three sources told Reuters on Thursday. “The material was marked with additional restrictions and assigned a unique codeword, limiting access to a small number of officials who needed to know that U.S. spy agencies had concluded that two Russian intelligence agencies or their proxies were targeting the Democratic National Committee, the central organizing body of the Democratic Party.”

How they believe it began: “spearphishing.” More here.

By the way: Here’s how DHS tests its employees’ familiarity with “spearphishing.”  

In Yemen, the UN says violence has been escalating across the country over the last four months, “with more than 200 people killed and more than 500 wounded.” AP has more on the Saudi-led war’s toll, here.

Remember that U.S.-Saudi tank deal our own Marcus Weisgerber reported earlier this week? The sale could be put on hold if Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has his way. That from Foreign Policy, here.

Surprise, surprise: That power-sharing agreement in Kabul is not going well, says No. 2 official and national “Chief Executive Officer” Abdullah Abdullah, NYT reports this morning. His beef? He can’t seem to get an audience with President Ashraf Ghani when he wants one. Ergo: Ghani is “unfit to govern.” Read the drama, here.

Your weekend #LongRead: From the Arab Spring to ISIS, a longform investigation by The New York Times, taking up the entirety of its magazine insert. Doctrine Man said of the report: “We could spend all day on this topic.” The Times spent 18 months on it, and we haven’t finished it yet. Join us in a weekend read by going here.

And lastly this week: Relax, everyone, the world is not as violent as you might think, says Harvard’s Steven Pinker—author of the 2011 book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” (carrying the same message). Read his recent interview with the soon-to-be Huffington-less Huffington Post, here. And have a great weekend, everyone!

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