5 ways to guard US elections from online assault; Turkey touts anti-ISIS ops; Putin praises DNC hack; Why so many F/A-18s are crashing; and a bit more.

Turkey says its troops and airstrikes have cleared ISIS from a 150-square-mile section of northern Syria, but President Tayyip Erdogan says those pesky YPG Kurds still have not completely withdrawn to the east of the Euphrates River, as promised by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden last week, Reuters writes from Ankara where Erdogan spoke to reporters this morning.

“At the moment, they are saying the YPG has crossed,” Erdogan said. “We are saying, ‘No, they didn’t.’ The proof depends on our own observation… Nobody can expect us to allow a terror corridor on our southern border.”

But despite Turkey’s advances, “It could prove more difficult for [Ankara’s ensemble of] rebels, who number only around 1,500 fighters, to push west and secure the 90 km (56-mile) stretch of Islamic State-held border territory that Ankara has touted as a potential buffer zone,” Reuters adds in a second report, this time from Jarablus.

A bit more on Turkey’s offensive: “On Thursday, the Turkish military said it had taken three more villages around 20 km (12 miles) west of Jarablus and hit 15 militant targets with howitzers and four more in air strikes. It gave no details on the targets, but the villages were in an area still held by Islamic State.”

In the meantime, Turkish officials continue to speak of a buffer zone in northern Syria, but nobody else seems particularly interested in it. More here.

Coming next week: Syrian opposition (assembled under the banner of the High Negotiations Committee) plans to unveil its plan for a political transition during a meeting of ministers in London. Their plan "would include the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers" and a "transition period, a mechanism to ensure fair representation of minorities and plans for the reform and reconstitution of state institutions," HNC member Hind Kabawat said Thursday. One big problem: Assad has said his future is “not up for discussion.” More here.

The U.S. military is itching to take Mosul, possibly before the Nov. 8 elections in the States, The Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef reported this morning. “For the first time, I think Mosul could really happen,” one U.S. defense official explained to The Daily Beast.” Read why, and why pessimists may be more right, here.

With the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State having notched possibly its most high-profile strike on an IS leader this week in spokesman Adnani’s possible death Tuesday, Max Fisher of The New York Times looks at the promise and peril of decapitation strikes like what may have killed Adnani. The skinny: scholars have instead found “ample evidence that it makes little difference.” So how does a group like ISIS survive this tactic? Through local support and a heckuva lot of bureaucracy. Read the rest, here.  

ICYMI: Does anyone in Syria fear international law? Ben Taub of The New Yorker asked Wednesday. “The body of court-ready evidence against top officials within the Syrian government is more complete and damning than any that has ever previously been collected during an active conflict. And yet there is no clear path for prosecuting the highest-level offenders.” Why? Answer here.  

But there is something the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria fear: betrayal by the U.S. (again), the NYT’s Tim Arango reported Thursday from Istanbul: “Many Kurds shuddered when Turkish tanks and soldiers recently rolled into northern Syria, with American support, to push back against Kurdish gains. They saw it, perhaps prematurely, as a replay of a century of betrayal by world powers, going back to the end of World War I, when they were promised, then denied, their own state in the postwar settlement.”

While Arango notes, “There is little sign that the United States has abandoned the Syrian Kurds. American officials have worked to negotiate a truce on the ground between the rebels backed by Turkey and the Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units, and fighting has calmed in recent days,” he adds: “Many Kurds say they now see the writing on the wall and worry that once the Islamic State is driven from its capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the United States will sell them out.” That, here.

Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t know who hacked the DNC. But it’s a public service no matter who did it, he told Bloomberg in an interview that aired this morning. Like Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, Putin said what’s important is what came out of the leaks, not how the information was acquired.

Putin: “There’s no need to distract the public’s attention from the essence of the problem by raising some minor issues connected with the search for who did it. But I want to tell you again, I don’t know anything about it, and on a state level Russia has never done this.”

Says Andrew Weiss, a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment's Russia and Eurasia Program: “Putin’s jocular, occasionally smirking tone on DNC leak is truly jarring. That whole you-know-that-i-know-that-you-know-I’m-lying thing…Putin comments will only magnify the most damaging aspect of DNC leak: clear indication of Kremlin meddling in the U.S. political process.”

From Defense One

5 Steps To Make U.S. Elections Less Hackable // Tech Editor Patrick Tucker

As shadowy actors work to hack U.S. elections, a few simple steps could make electronic voting more secure, says one expert.

Want to Lead? Talk to the Media // Robert T. Hastings, Jr., acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs from 2008 to 2009, says American voters deserve to be informed by their candidates and generals.

Global Business Brief: What to expect when Congress returns; American fighter jets, made in India?; Textron to stop making cluster bombs. // Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber. Welcome to the dogs-days-of-summer-and-seersucker edition.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1945, Imperial Japan surrenders aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)

Four months, five F/A-18s destroyed, two pilots killed. Why? Stripes’ Tara Copp digs deep on this one, talking to pilots, gathering data from the Naval Safety Center, and rounding up recent statements from admirals and generals. Essentially, budget cuts are preventing naval aviators from flying enough to stay sharp, but the whole thing is worth a read, here.

DoD to spend another $100 million to find cyber vulnerabilities. The Pentagon is moving the money “from technology analysis account to a research, test and evaluation account,” officials told Congress Aug. 29, Defense News reports in an article that also serves as a good thumbnail summary of recent concerns about network attacks on American weapons. Last year, the Pentagon’s top tester said that almost all of DoD’s major weapons “were vulnerable to cyber attacks,” the piece says. “The Defense Department is bound by law to evaluate the cyber vulnerabilities of major weapons systems and report to Congress by the end of 2019, with $200 million authorized for the project.” Read, here.

Oh, and why are so many weapons even reachable online? Tech Editor Patrick Tucker explained nearly a year ago: “For Years, the Pentagon Hooked Everything To The Internet. Now It’s a ‘Big, Big Problem.’” Find that, here.

Meanwhile, the military is increasingly training to keep fighting even when their high-tech weapons and gear go kablooie. McClatchy rolls up a sampling of such “back to basics” efforts, including Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller’s quest to ensure “training includes both sophisticated cyberwarfare and the most elemental traditional skills.” Read on, here.

What’s going wrong with the Navy’s LCS? NPR’s Phil Ewing summarizes a tough year for the newish class of littoral combat ships. In the latest incident, engine trouble forced the USS Coronado, just underway from Hawaii, to return to port for repairs. The collective troubles drew a statement from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson on Tuesday: “Some of these were caused by personnel and some were due to design and engineering...These issues are all receiving our full and immediate attention, both individually and in the aggregate.” Read on, here.

SpaceX rocket explodes on Cape Canaveral launch pad. The Falcon 9 rocket was being “prepped for a test firing” Thursday morning for a launch meant to orbit a $285 million Israeli satellite that would have brought Internet access to remote villages in Africa. “Instead, the satellite and rocket were destroyed in several fiery explosions — loud enough to be heard 40 miles away — as wind spread a plume of black smoke so large and thick it showed up on weather radar,” The Los Angeles Times reports.

The defense angle? SpaceX has been fighting tooth and nail to win military business. After years of lobbying, the Air Force in April awarded Elon Musk’s firm an $82 million contract to launch a new GPS satellite in 2018 using a Falcon 9 rocket. Musk has long argued he could launch satellites much cheaper than the Boeing-Lockheed Martin-run United Launch Alliance, which often touts its 100-percent launch success rate. It’s unclear how Thursday’s explosion would affect SpaceX’s scheduled military launch. But, as The Daily Beast notes: “The Thursday accident could compel SpaceX to delay its scheduled launches, potentially undermining its expansion plans.”

A Chinese rocket carrying a satellite also reportedly failed during a launch yesterday. More here.

IG: Army needs to advance or cancel grenade launcher project.  From Stars and Stripes: “The Pentagon’s internal watchdog has asked the Army to move forward or cancel its grenade airburst weapon after lengthy delays and malfunctions have stalled development, according to a report issued this week. The XM25, heralded by its developers as a combat game changer, has experienced a five-year production delay since 2012, the Department of Defense Inspector General report said, adding that an internal Army council needs to make a production document available to move forward if testing that wraps in November shows the weapon has improved in design.” More here.

The report, which was posted on the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s website was heavily redacted, particularly XM25 cost data. Here’s what Military.com’s Brendan McGarry had to say about that: “As a reporter who has covered the Defense Department for years, I’m fairly accustomed to questionable redactions in official reports. But the extent to which black ink stained the Pentagon Inspector General’s recent review of the Army’s XM25 airburst weapon caught even me by surprise.” More here.

Lastly this week: How Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro views his military. Millions of Venezuelans have taken to the streets of Caracas Thursday to protest Maduro’s rule. Before the protests, many citizens viewed the military on on par with the Catholic church, but now distrust is spreading to the middle and upper classes.

Harold Trinkunas, the Director of the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution, spoke with The Cipher Brief to explain: “Maduro has doubled down on [former President Hugo Chávez’s take on the] role for the military, but he is also more reliant on them to remain in power as his popularity dwindles and his government becomes more authoritarian. With the number of incidents of protest rising and increasing reports of looting of scarce consumer goods from stores, the Guardia Nacional Bolivariana (one of four military services in Venezuela) has been called on to repress popular unrest more and more frequently.

What to expect: “Even though Maduro is heavily reliant on the military to remain in power, he is somewhat buffered from being pressured by the armed forces because they lack internal coherence. Instead, individual factions may temporarily gain leverage over Maduro, such as those that support Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López or those associated with Minister of Interior Nestor Reverol, who was recently indicted in the U.S. for drug trafficking.” Read the rest, here. Have a great (extended) weekend, and we’ll see everyone again on Tuesday!