US laughs off Russian claim; Japan seeks military-spending hike; How Australia lost its sub secrets; The US Army’s new tech incubator; and a bit more.

A “joke” and “garbage” is what the U.S. military on Wednesday called Russia’s competing claim that it also killed the Islamic State group’s second-in-command, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, in an airstrike in northwest Syria on Tuesday. The Washington Post digs into the back and forth between the two world powers’ militaries, along with a mini-history of Moscow’s apparent statistical exaggerations in its war in Syria, including claims from May that Russia’s military had killed 28,000 Syrian jihadis while notching exactly zero civilian casualties “because Russian warplanes never targeted population centers.”

It’s a pattern of behavior which fits neatly with their late claim of having killed Adnani, which you can read in its over-the-top presentation, here—a claim the Post’s Adam Taylor joked was “subtle.”  

While the U.S. and Turkey continue to work out how to keep Ankara’s rebels from shooting at U.S.-backed Kurds in the Syrian Democratic Forces that retook Manbij from ISIS, The Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim and Dion Nissenbaum filed an excellent report on Kurdish territorial ambitions—a concern Turkey is perhaps more opposed to than ISIS. Their opening line: “Amid the chaos of Syria’s war, the Kurds have carved out a semiautonomous region called Rojava that is home to about four million people, is as big as Belgium and stretches nearly the full length of the 565-mile border between Syria and Turkey.” Worth the click.  

Elsewhere in Syria, there is a rebel offensive and Assad regime counteroffensive underway in Hama. "The attack that began on Tuesday is the biggest coordinated rebel offensive in Hama province since 2014," Reuters reports. Already more than two-dozen people have been killed in Syrian airstrikes in the area, including bombs that are said to have killed six children. More from AP, here.

In case you were wondering, the decay of Assad regime forces is much worse than you think, writes Tobias Schneider for War on the Rocks: “Today, where briefing maps now show solid red across Syria’s western governorates, they ought to distinguish dozens and perhaps even hundreds of small fiefdoms only nominally loyal to Assad. Indeed, in much of the country, loyalist security forces function like a grand racketeering scheme: simultaneously a cause and consequence of state collapse at the local level.” Read his excellent report in full, here.

And while you’re at it, take another look at these two reports from War Is Boring that cover what’s left of the Assad army and the regime’s air force—both takes from May 2016.  

Over in Libya, the U.S. military has now delivered more than 100 airstrikes against ISIS in Sirte, Stars and Stripes reported Wednesday from the pitched battle which has dragged on for nearly three months.

Presidential optics. GOP 2016 contender Donald Trump’s Wednesday trip to visit the president of Mexico revealed a candidate telling two different stories about border security, depending on which side of the border he was on while speaking. The Associated Press called it “a day of political whiplash on immigration.” The source of the whiplash: who will pay for that border wall plan that he stormed through the GOP primaries plugging in colorful language. CNN lays out the dissonance that was immediately on display across Twitter and the TV news networks last night, here.

Democratic contender Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, laid out a few more broad strokes on her foreign policy view in a speech at the American Foreign Legion. “Offering insight into her foreign policy, Clinton said ‘we can’t cozy up to dictators, we have to stand up to them. We can’t contain ISIS, we must defeat them and we will,’” AP reports. “Clinton promised to invest in the military and support veterans, pledging not to privatize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She said the United States must modernize the military and embrace new tactics, noting that the country should “treat cyberattacks just like any other attacks” and respond through economic, diplomatic and military means.

And speaking of the U.S. election, the New York Times published a lengthy investigation into Wikileaks that they say shows how Russia frequently benefits from their releases. The Times’ bottom line: “Whether by conviction, convenience or coincidence, WikiLeaks’ document releases, along with many of Mr. Assange’s statements, have often benefited Russia, at the expense of the West.” That, here.

From Defense One

To Counter Russia’s Cyber Prowess, US Army Launches Rapid-Tech Office // Tech Editor Patrick Tucker: The battle for eastern Ukraine shows how the pace of innovation in electronic warfare is picking up.

When Allies Become Enemies (Before the War is Over): Obama’s ISIS Plan Has Another Problem // Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: The U.S. wanted Turkish and Kurdish fighters to fight, but not each other. Now the administration is scrambling to keep local allies with their own interests focused on America’s goal: defeating ISIS.

Don’t Dismantle VA Reform // Shaun Rieley of the Concerned Veterans of America: The Commission on Care’s recommendations to fix veterans' health care may not be perfect, but they're a good start.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, beginning six years of war. On this day six years ago, the U.S. declared that its war effort in Iraq was over. (Send your friends this link: And let us know your news:

Japan wants another hike in military spending, and it wants to throw its money at an expanded missile defense system “that would test the nation’s commitment to pacifism and escalate a regional arms race with China and North Korea,” the NYT reports.

The numbers: “If approved, the budget proposal for 5.17 trillion yen, or $50.2 billion, formally submitted on Wednesday, would be the nation’s fifth-straight annual increase in military spending. It is a 2.3 percent rise over last year.”

What’s requested: proposals “to develop and potentially purchase new antiballistic missiles that can be launched from ships or land, and to upgrade and extend the range of the country’s current land-based missile defense systems, a significant expansion of Japan’s missile defense capabilities. The budget also details plans to buy an additional submarine and new fighter aircraft, and to put close to 1,300 soldiers from the Self-Defense Force, Japan’s military, on the southern islands of Kagoshima and Okinawa. These locations are closer to the Senkaku, the chain of islands where both China and Japan claim territorial rights.” More here.

ICYMI: Here’s how submarine secrets surfaced in Australia, The Australian reported this week after documents from India’s new submarine fleet were leaked “from the same French shipbuilder, DCNS, that will design 12 submarines for the Royal Australian Navy in the country’s largest and most expensive defence project.”

What happened: “In late April 2013 a Sydney postman reached into his satchel and pulled out a small envelope containing the secrets of India’s new submarine fleet. He dropped the letter, with a Singapore stamp on it, in a private post office box and moved on. The envelope, containing a small data disc, remained there for days, along with a Telstra bill and junk mail, before being picked up on April 24, 2013, by a man who took it home and pushed the disk into his computer.”

While Australia is furious over the leak, it’s “of far greater urgency to India, which fears that if a foreign spy service has acquired the data its six Scorpene submarines, costing a total of $US3 billion ($A3.93bn), could be dead in the water before they sail. France is also in damage control as it tries to understand and explain how 22,400 of its secret documents on India’s submarines crossed the world to be delivered by a Sydney postie.” Story (paywall warning), here.

Either F-35 is a poor shot or the QF-4 Phantom is a tough bird, The Aviationist reported Wednesday after the U.S. Air Force released imagery and video of the QF-4 drone’s last flight.

What happened: “According to Lt. Col. Ronald King, the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, Detachment 1 commander, the aircraft was shot at by the F-35 Lightning II with two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (advanced medium range air-to-air missiles). We don’t know the exact scope of the weapon test, the RoE (Rules Of Engagement), the scenario and whether the QF-4 was expected to escape the downing. Maybe something went wrong, the missile launch failed or was cancelled, or just missed (because no missile has a probability of kill of 100 percent). However, it’s at least worthy of note that the unmanned Phantom landed back at Holloman Air Force Base completely unharmed in spite of being targeted by the (controversial) 5th generation fighter and shot at with 2 radar-guided air-to-air missiles.”

But the story has attracted some drama in just the last 12 hours, The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti writes, adding this update after posting: “The reason for the QF-4 not being shot down is probably that the test was not a test of the AIM-120 missile’s ability to hit a target (something that has been proved in the past) but on the F-35’s ability to track the target and guide the AMRAAM until this reached the kill envelope.” Read (and watch) the rest, here.  

The U.S. Army is about to destroy a lot of chemical weapons—about 780,000 chemical-filled artillery shells of mustard agent—next week at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in southern Colorado, AP reports. The reason: compliance with the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

How it’s supposed to go down: “Robots will dismantle the shells, and the plant will use water and bacteria to neutralize the mustard agent, which can maim or kill by damaging skin, the eyes and airways. At full capacity, the facility can destroy an average of 500 shells a day operating around the clock.”

How long is that expected to take? Close to four years. Story, here.

Lastly today: How a 58-year-old Bucknell professor became the commander of an Ethiopian rebel army. It’s the story of an Ethiopian exile with a Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, Professor Berhanu Nega. NYT: “On a hot July afternoon in 2015, Nega packed a suitcase, bade his wife farewell and was driven by comrades to John F. Kennedy International Airport. He carried a laissez-passer from the Eritrean government, allowing him a one-time entry into the country. Nega was heading for a new life inside a destitute dictatorship sometimes referred to as the North Korea of Africa; the regime was notorious for having supported the Shabab, an Islamist terrorist group in Somalia…”

But today, “As commander, Nega oversees several hundred rebel fighters in Eritrea as well as an unknown number of armed members inside Ethiopia who carry out occasional attacks in the movement’s name. During his frequent visits to the front lines, he spends his time meeting with fellow commanders, observing training and — ever the professor — leading history and democracy seminars using chalk and a blackboard in a “classroom” in the bush.” His tale is almost a book unto itself. Read on, here.