ISIS launches diversion in Kirkuk; What was stolen from NSA, this time; Carter's Euro swing; USAF developing robot wingmen; and just a bit more...

ISIS “sleeper cell” triggers a distraction operation in Kirkuk. “At least 12 ISIS militants were killed by security and police forces in Kirkuk Friday morning as the group launched a predawn surprise attack on multiple locations across the city, leading to hours of clashes with the security forces,” Kurdish Rudaw news reports this morning from the city located roughly 100 miles southeast of Mosul, the focus of the largest offensive in Iraq since 2003. The attack, writes the AP also reporting from the city, “appeared aimed at diverting Iraqi security forces from a massive offensive against the IS-held city of Mosul. At least 13 workers, including four Iranians, were killed when IS militants stormed a power plant north of Kirkuk (in the town of Dabis) and then blew themselves up.”

Said Kirkuk governor Najmaldin Karim: “It was expected that ISIS sleeper cells would make a move one day in Kirkuk now that the Mosul offensive has started and they want to boost their own morale this way.”

For what it’s worth, Rudaw added that “armed civilians have joined security forces to hunt down ISIS militants who are believed to be roaming in parts of the city.” More details on the attack—which has prompted security officials to decline offers to keep displaced persons in Kirkuk until things are settled—here. And Kurdistan24 news is live-streaming the follow-up activity from Kirkuk, here.

Now to Mosul, where ISIS has moved 550 hostages from surrounding villages as “probable” human shields, according to the UN.

Iraq’s elite police of the Golden Division made it no further on Thursday than the town of Bartella, “15 kilometers (nine miles) from Mosul's outskirts,” Reuters reported. “Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati of Iraq’s elite forces held a press conference Friday a kilometer (half a mile) away from the town and insisted the special forces had ‘full control.’ He said special forces were clearing explosives and contending with some snipers who remained in the town. Gunfire could be heard in the distance.”

The U.S. has lost its first service member in the Mosul offensive. “The servicemember was operating with Iraqi counterterrorism forces northeast of Mosul when the vehicle he was in hit an IED,” a senior defense official told Stars and Stripes. “The vehicle may have rolled over from the blast, the official said. The servicemember was medevaced by helicopter to Irbil but died there as a result of his injuries.”

And we now have the names of two Americans killed in Afghanistan from an apparent “insider attack” on Wednesday: “Army Sgt. Douglas J. Riney, 26, of Fairview, Illinois, and Michael G. Sauro, 40, of McAlester, Oklahoma, died Thursday in Kabul of wounds received from encountering hostile enemy forces,” AP reports, giving a bit more on each man’s recent past. And here’s a tiny bit more on Riney, who leaves behind a wife and two children.

ISIS’s Amaq news agency now claims to have carried out 36 suicide attacks in first four days of offensive. Word of caution: ISIS also claimed to have downed an A-10 on Thursday—which the Pentagon said was untrue.

But good things are emerging from the battle, like women and children running to greet convoys of Iraqi troops. A snapshot of that here, via The Telegraph’s Josie Ensor.

Newsflash: The British military is using “cyberwarfare” against ISIS, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said at a conference in London Thursday, the BBC reports. “He refused to give any further details.” That, here.  

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is in Ankara trying to keep things together—in particular, “respecting Iraqi sovereignty. That’s an important principle of ours,” Reuters reports this morning on location.  

The diplomatic situation in Turkey is somewhat compromised at the moment, you could say: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Thursday his military would shoot down Turkish jets who violated Syrian airspace, vowing to respond “with all available means,” according to state-run media SANA.  

The response from Damascus follows a deadly air raid by Turkish jets on

Wednesday that SANA said killed 150 Kurdish civilians (“terrorist targets” according to Turkey, and they put the number closer to 200).

The Syrian Democratic Forces “contested Turkey’s claim, with spokesman Ahmad Hisso Araj putting the casualties at 15 people, including civilians,” WSJ reported Thursday, with U.S. officials saying the “strikes hit Kurdish positions in and around the northern Syria region of Afrin. The Afrin Kurds are allied with Kurdish forces further east whom the U.S. is arming and advising, but they are not direct U.S. partners, the official said.”

How Ankara “sold” that strike to the public, via Twitter: “Turkey destroyed #Daesh terrorists in northern #Syria whom the coalition forces couldn't wipe off for years. #EuphratesShield #TurkishAngel” And this morning, Turkey’s jets struck new Kurdish positions inside Iraq, claiming to have killed 18. More from Reuters, here. Purported video of those strikes, here.

ICYMI: Russia accused Belgium of killing civilians in Syria on Tuesday, citing “radar data.” Belgium’s defense minister flatly denies the allegations—and is now demanding an apology from Moscow.

Meantime over in Aleppo, Amnesty International says 90 locations in eastern Aleppo were damaged or destroyed in an area roughly the size of Manhattan between 18 September and 1 October. They’ve released imagery backing up their claims, here.

What’s ahead for Aleppo? Western officials say a thrashing by Russia’s inbound carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov. But before that happens, folks all along Europe’s coast have been watching its movement—and not with a great deal of difficulty, thanks to its consistent columns of black smoke visible from miles away. See for yourself here, here, or here.

From Defense One

Robotic Wingmen Are Coming. The Air Force Doesn’t Know How to Test Them. // Tech Editor Patrick Tucker: How do you surprise a drone that can revise its strategy hundreds of times in an eyeblink?

As Mosul Battle Rages, Carter Heads to Europe for Anti-ISIS Talks // Executive Editor Kevin Baron: A long-scheduled gathering becomes a real-time assessment for the complex offensive.

Denying Trump’s Denial, U.S. Intel Chief Says There’s More Evidence of Russian Hacking // Tucker, again: The nation’s top intelligence official says "forensic and other" evidence proves Russian election interference.

Lockheed’s Pitch: Buy Our Training Jet, Save Taxpayers $1 Billion // Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber: Company officials say they can build the jets faster, and that should give them a leg up in the T-X bid evaluation.

The Global Business Brief: October 20 // Weisgerber: New life for old jets; Contractors pour into Iraq; Turkey, Russia, and U.S. arms exports.

Donald Trump Is the First Demagogue of the Terrorism-and-Climate Change Era // The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer: Here’s why he won’t be the last.

How One Intelligence Agency Is Opening Up to Startups // Nextgov’s Mohana Ravindranath: A invitation from the Pentagon’s mapping arm could be the first of more outreach to early-stage private-sector companies.

The Once and Future Insurgency: How ISIS Will Survive the Loss of Its ‘State’ // The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman: Controlling territory is at the core of the group’s ideology, but it isn’t everything.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Happy Trafalgar Day! Unless you’re French. ht @samlagrone. (Send your friends this link: And let us know your news:

As the Yemen ceasefire fell apart Thursday, with reports of rockets fired into Saudi Arabia, the USS San Antonio had already exited the Red Sea for the Mediterranean, The Virginian-Pilot reported yesterday. “The San Antonio was transiting through the southern end of the Red Sea last week along with the Norfolk-based USS Mason when missiles were fired against them from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. Neither ship was harmed.”

The Obama administration is trying a new plan to counter extremist groups’ messaging online: targeted Facebook ads. "The campaign—being run by the Global Engagement Center, a multiagency initiative housed at the State Department—is seen by U.S. officials as one of the most promising new initiatives aimed at dissuading would-be fighters," The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. "The revamped effort uses targeted ads on Facebook linked to videos to reach the young men and women who have given digital hints that they could be thinking of traveling to Syria or Iraq to join extremist movements... But many officials acknowledge that such efforts are tricky since the target audience can be suspicious of the U.S. government’s involvement and that their effectiveness is impossible to know."

Despite reservations, "early results have been encouraging. The center spent $15,000 on a pilot four-week Facebook ad campaign that targeted 13-to-34-year-old unmarried men and women in Morocco, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia who expressed an interest in Iraq, Syria or Islamic State-related topics, as indicated by their Facebook activity... The campaign, which ended Oct. 1, reached 6.9 million people and generated 781,000 visits to external sites.” More here.

Meanwhile, the Washington foreign policy elite are sharpening their knives for a more activist U.S. in Obama’s wake, the Washington Post reports, here.

The NSA, Hal Martin, multiple unregistered firearms and 50 terabytes of records and secrets. That’s the haul from a former National Security Agency contractor who stole "documents bit by bit over two decades, the Justice Department alleged in a court filing submitted Thursday," Reuters’ Dustin Volz and the WSJ reported Thursday.

The Journal: “Mr. Martin, a former Naval officer, was most recently a contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., a job that placed him inside some of the government’s most secretive programs inside the NSA and the Pentagon. The Justice Department said that a search of his home and his automobile uncovered ‘thousands of pages of documents and dozens of computers and other storage devices and media containing, conservatively, fifty terabytes of information.’”

From the filing, via Volz: “Martin is alleged to have spent over two decades stealing from government agencies" and "possessed TS/SCI material regarding 'plans against a known enemy of the United States and its allies'"... Federal prosecutors indicate they intend to charge NSA contractor Harold Martin under the Espionage Act.”

An evolving portrait, via the Journal: “Some former associates had described Mr. Martin as a harmless hoarder who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. The new government filing paints a different picture, raising questions about his motives and suggesting he was capable of sharing U.S. secrets with the nation’s adversaries and potentially putting American lives at risk.” More here.

NSA chief, Adm. Michael Rogers, just put out a fresh warning on Russia hacking the U.S. election. Speaking at a conference in Baltimore, Rogers reiterated that “‘we have acknowledged that the Russians were behind the penetrations,’ referring to hacks carried out against the Democratic National Committee, some of its affiliates and Clinton campaign aides. ‘We need to step back as a nation and think about what are the implications of that? Is that something we are comfortable with?’” The WSJ again with more, here.

Your weekend #LongRead: “How Russia Pulled Off the Biggest Election Hack in U.S. History,” via Esquire.

Lastly this week: Weird Al takes on foreign policy and the U.S. election. It’s Weird Al, so we may not have to go too deep in laying this one out. Probably best just to watch the silliness yourself, here. Have a great weekend, everyone! And we’ll see you again on Monday.