Assad bombs US-backed Kurds in Syria; Missile-stopping lasers; “Napalm-like” bombs in Aleppo; Shabaab’s new leader dead?; Trench warfare in Ukraine; And a bit more.
In another alleged first for Syria’s war, Assad jets bombed YPG facilities in northeastern Syria, Kurdish news and Reuters report this morning from an attack that so far has reportedly killed one civilian and injured two-dozen others. “The bombardment came after clashes broke out in the city on Tuesday between the Syrian Kurdish Security forces (Asayish) and the militias affiliated with the Syrian government,” Kurdistan24 News reports.
A bit of context via Reuters: “The YPG controls wide areas of northeastern Syria, where Kurdish groups have established an autonomous government, exploiting the unraveling of central state authority over the country since the start of the conflict. The Syrian government still has footholds in the cities of Qamishli and Hasaka, both in Hasaka governorate, co-existing largely peacefully with YPG-held swathes of territory.”
A hospital was among the targets hit, Kurdish security forces said. Here’s some video of the aftermath, via Kurdish Rudaw News. More from Syria below the fold.
It’s getting busy in Somalia. Somali and American special forces found themselves in a gunfight eight days ago in the southern part of Somalia, The New York Times reported Wednesday. “The raid took place last Wednesday, when a contingent of elite American troops acting as military advisers accompanied Somali forces in an assault on a Shabab checkpoint in Saakow, a remote outpost in southern Somalia that has become a notorious hide-out for the militants… As the Somali-led force approached the checkpoint, the militants opened fire, setting off a gun battle, said Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for the United States military’s Africa Command. Three Shabab militants died; no Americans were hurt.”
Reports surfaced late last evening on social media that an American troop was killed in a fight (if not that fight), but the Pentagon’s spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis, tells The D Brief, “This claim is not true. We have not had a U.S. casualty in Somalia.”
Adds the Times: “Rumors have been circulating in Nairobi that the Shabab’s leader, Abu Ubaidah, was killed in an American strike in Saakow last week. But Commander Falvo said that the American military was still assessing the results of the operation, and that it was too early to determine whether any senior Shabab commanders had been killed.”
As well, “Somali news media reported that a second raid was conducted in Saakow on Saturday,” The Times writes. But AFRICOM’s Falvo said he wasn’t tracking that one, adding, “if there had been a raid, no American military forces were involved.” All that, here.
ICYMI: “al-Shabab, like the Islamic State militant group, has been able to recruit young men and women from countries beyond its power base,” the Washington Post reported earlier this week on the heels of a new report from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional bloc of eight countries: “Al-Shabab ‘is clearly no longer an exclusively Somali problem, and requires a concerted international response,’ according to the report, titled ‘Al-Shabab as a Transnational Security Threat.’”
The report also suggests speculation that al-Shabaab is waning are straight-up false: “It said the group has a presence in five countries: Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Tanzania and Uganda. It said the group maintains ‘safe houses’ in Kenya ‘within which they can securely meet, plan, and execute operations.’ Al-Shabab is also ‘actively developing new external operations in Ethiopia.’” More from WaPo here, or glimpse the report (dated March 2016) for yourself over here.
And ICYMI: In addition to Somalia, here’s where America’s war on al-Qaeda is taking place across the globe today.
From Defense One
Lasers that can stop North Korean and Iranian missiles? The Pentagon is closer than ever to having them, Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber reports from this week’s annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Ala. “It’s not a hope. This is what we’re doing,” Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said Wednesday. “I view this [as] highly important for the future.” More here.
Keeping America’s principles in the age of terrorism. “One of the principal effects of 9/11 was instilling in Americans a fear that their personal security was at greater risk than ever before,” writes Kathleen Hicks, former Pentagon official and current director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. However, she writes, “The most important legacy of the American experience following 9/11 will not be the novelty of fear, but rather how well the country copes with that fear while adhering to its constitutional framework.” That seemingly timeless take, here.
The alleged hack of NSA cyber espionage tools has an unmistakable political tint to it, writes Kaveh Waddel of The Atlantic in this piece exploring the “Shadow Broker” who posted a trove of files Monday with the stated goal of auctioning the package of exploits, which includes some colorful names like EPICBANANA, EXTRABACON, ELIGIBLEBACHERLOR, and EGREGIOUSBLUNDER. All that, here.
Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. On this day in 2011, President Barack Obama demanded Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “step aside" after five consecutive months of violence that has since grown to 65 months and 3 days. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We turn to Aleppo, Syria, now where The New York Times has a bit more on those “napalm-like” bombs dropped on Aleppo by Assad’s allied forces: “Unlike chemical weapons, incendiary weapons are not entirely banned, but an international agreement signed by 113 nations forbids their use on areas with concentrations of civilians. Russia is a signatory to the agreement, Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons. Syria is not.”
Why it could be difficult to try to stop their use: “Many signatories to the protocol, including the United States, have been accused of improper use of phosphorus weapons, and pinning down such use is difficult because militaries often argue that they are being used on military targets.”
The effect: “Believe it or not,” a local councilman from the southern city of Daraya said, “when people hear barrel bombs falling, they pray for them to be explosives, not napalm. Imagine.” That here.
The UN’s special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, canceled a meeting after eight minutes because “Not one single convoy in one month has reached any of the humanitarian besieged areas — not one single convoy.And why? Because of one thing: Fighting.”
Aleppo’s siege, in numbers: “Some 590,200 people are now living in besieged areas of Syria, according to U.N. figures,” Reuters adds. “Aid convoys have ground to a halt during the month of August, and the only supplies being delivered are by air drops to Deir al-Zor, the government-controlled city of 200,000 in the east under siege by Islamic State.”
And in an ominous note, de Mistura added: “Friday will be the annual World Humanitarian Day.” More from AP, here.
And before we leave the region today, bombings in Turkey’s east killed seven Turkish security forces and wounded a whopping 224 people. “A car bomb ripped through a police station in the city of Elazig at 9:20 a.m. (0620 GMT) as officers arrived for work. Three police officers were killed and 217 people were wounded, 85 of them police officers, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said,” Reuters reports this morning. “Less than four hours later, a roadside bomb believed to have been planted by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants tore through a military vehicle in the Hizan district of Bitlis province… [killing] three soldiers and a member of the state-sponsored village guard militia and wounded another seven soldiers. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings, but Yildirim said there was no doubt they were carried out by the PKK.” More here.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine killed three government soldiers and wounded a half-dozen others, AP reports from Moscow this morning. “In the past 24 hours, separatists have shelled government positions twice as much as the day before, said Olexander Motuzyanyk, the Ukrainian presidential envoy for the operation in the east.”
Martial law could be next for the country, President Petro Poroshenko said. "In case the situation in the east and in Crimea flares up, we will have to introduce martial law and declare a mobilization," AP writes working off a report from Russia’s Interfax news.
And just so we’re thorough: “Separatist officials in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk also reported heavy shelling of their positions in Donetsk and Horlivka Wednesday night, where the shelling cut electricity supply to hundreds of homes and a coal mine.”
The fighting in eastern Ukraine has also given the world some unbelievable photos of 21st-century trench warfare. And they come to us via a Ukrainian military photographer named Dmitriy Muravskiy.
While Russia wraps its third day of airstrikes from its new Iranian base, The Wall Street Journal has more on that $400 million payment’s timing by the Obama administration: “U.S. officials wouldn’t let Iranians take control of the money until a Swiss Air Force plane carrying three freed Americans departed from Tehran on Jan. 17. Once that happened, an Iranian cargo plane was allowed to bring the cash home from a Geneva airport that day.” Expect to hear more about this one in the upcoming presidential debates, no doubt.
New (killer) drones on order. The U.S. Air Force just dropped nearly $371 million on a new fleet of hunter-killer drones, Air Force Times reported Tuesday. The contract goes to General Atomics for 30 MQ-9 Reapers at a total cost of $370.9 million.
And a little trivia for the drone-watchers: “The Air Force now flies 60 combat air patrols—or caps—per day, but in March announced plans to try to up that number to 70. The Army is also flying 10 caps daily, and defense contractors are gearing up to fly another 10, under Air Force supervision, focused only on intelligence and surveillance.”
Lastly today: How does the U.S. maintain a “small footprint” of American troops in Afghanistan? By keeping a 3-1 contractor to soldier ratio, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service and first reported in the paywalled-Politico Pro—though we only noticed it via this Military Times report, which writes, “The latest figures available, for the first few months of 2016, show nearly 29,000 defense contractors still in Afghanistan, with fewer than 9,000 U.S. troops stationed there. About two-thirds of the contractors were foreign nationals, but only about 10 percent were providing security services.”
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