10,000 flee Aleppo; Trump is inheriting a growing global counterterror operation—will he escalate or withdraw?; Russia’s air force troubles; Unity thrives in Iraq; And a bit more.

The first American combat death in Syria occurred on Thanksgiving Day in the northern part of the country, the Pentagon said this weekend. His name: Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Dayton, 42, of Woodbridge, Va. He was an explosive ordnance technician and he died from an IED blast near Ayn Issa, presumably as part of the Euphrates Wrath operation to isolate the ISIS-held city of Raqqa.

As a reminder, ISIS is under intense pressure in its two main strongholds in both Mosul, Iraq, and the region directly north of Raqqa. They’re also losing fighters involved in their online messaging at a rapid clip, The New York Times reported this weekend on word the FBI has dramatically escalated its involvement in global counterterror operations. “One by one, American and allied forces have killed the most important of roughly a dozen members of the cell, which the F.B.I. calls ‘the Legion,’ as part of a secretive campaign that has largely silenced a powerful voice that led to a surge of counterterrorism activity across the United States in 2015 as young men and women came under the influence of its propaganda… While American and British forces conducted a series of drone strikes on members of the group, the F.B.I. sifted through thousands of the Legion’s followers on social media to figure out who had actually been inspired to take action. In the last two years, it has arrested nearly 100 people in cases involving the terrorist group.” Story here.  

One more reminder: ISIS is angry, and looking to spread violence to whomever wants to try their hand at it absent firearms. The group released a video urging lone wolf attacks using knives or kitchen items fashioned into explosives. SITE Intel Group’s Rita Katz fills in the rest on that video, here.

We move back to Syria now, where government air raids and affiliated ground troops have cut rebel territory in the northern part of east Aleppo by a third, the BBC and Washington Post report this morning.

More than 10,000 civilians fled the rebel-held eastern part of the city this weekend, Agence France Presse reported Sunday.  

Here’s a look at a map of Aleppo. Expect relatively stronger resistance as Assad troops push south; but the rebels’ defeat is “inevitable,” Middle East scholar Charles Lister says.

Get to better know what remains of all 80 vetted groups of the Free Syrian Army via this deep dive from Lister, before the Trump administration pursues its promised cozying up with Russia to fight the Islamic State in Syria.

By the way, Qatar will continue to help (read: arm) Syrian rebels even if Trump pulls the plug on Washington’s work in that capacity. Reuters has more, here.  

Before we leave the topic: The CIA bought arms for Syrian rebels—but they were diverted in Turkey to ISIS, the BBC reported a week ago. That, here.

Is Moscow’s air force not terribly effective after all? Russian jets are forced to carry lighter payloads and less fuel in their air campaign over Syria due to a shortage of experienced pilots. The deficit throws “into sharp relief the limits of Moscow’s conventional military,” The Wall Street Journal reports this morning.

ICYMI: How Russia has Europe spooked, in four maps. Hint: missiles are involved. That, via WaPo, here.

Russia and Hezbollah are “officially” cooperating in Syria, the Times of Israel reported this weekend.

Iran says it wants naval bases in Yemen and Syria, the Associated Press reported Saturday off Iranian Tasnim news. Adds AP: “The country has dozens of warships and light and Kilo-class submarines. It has hundreds of speed boats too, four of which harassed a U.S. warship earlier this year. Iran is currently helping the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Syrian government in their fights against the extremist Islamic State group.” More here.

Oh by the way, Israel clashed with ISIS (in the southern Golan Heights) for the first time this weekend, killing four fighters in a series of airstrikes.

We turn to Iraq now, where the Shi’a-dominant Popular Mobilization Units were just granted legal status, and will report directly to the prime minister (Shi’a Haider al-Abadi; recall that Iraq still has no defense minister—he was booted by the parliament in August—a post intended for a Sunni). Now Sunni lawmakers want to challenge that decision, WSJ reports.

Nearly a quarter of Mosul’s eastern side has been retaken from ISIS, Reuters reports.

And close to 1,000 ISIS fighters have been killed in the Mosul offensive so far, an Iraqi special forces commander said this morning.

Iraqi troops managed to locate a facility in Mosul where ISIS was developing armed drones. Photos here.

And for what it’s worth, now some 40 days into the Mosul operation, sectarian dynamics on the battlefield “are getting better not worse on a macro political level,” Middle East scholar Hassan Hassan wrote this weekend after reports of Shi’a and Kurdish forces cooperating west of Mosul. That via Rudaw news, here.

But ISIS is still very deadly: The group detonated a truck filled with explosives in the city of Hilla, south of Baghdad, on Thanksgiving Day. More than 70 people were killed.

From Defense One

As Trump Waits, So Do U.S. War Fighters, Planners // Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: The truth is nobody from the Pentagon to Baghdad knows yet if Trump will escalate or withdraw from America’s ongoing fights around the world.

Boeing Defense CEO Weighs Spending More Time in DC // Marcus Weisgerber: The shift would follow a raft of larger organizational and personnel changes at the aerospace giant.

Why Trump Is Wrong About His Conflicts of Interest // The Council on Foreign Relations’s Matt Ford has a conversation with Norman Eisen, former White House ethics czar, about the legal challenges facing the president-elect.

Under Trump, Tech Companies Brace for Fight Over Encryption // Nextgov’s Joseph Marks: Supporters of strong encryption are watching closely to see if Trump will force tech firms to cooperate with law enforcement, or if his campaign rhetoric will soften once he’s in the White House.

Trump Promises to Ask the Pentagon for a Plan to Defend the Country from Cyber Attacks // Marks, again: The president-elect included the plan in a list of “executive actions we can take on day one to restore our laws and bring back our jobs.”

America’s Airstrikes Against ISIS, In 3 Charts // Caroline Houck: The U.S.-led air war against the Islamic State in Mosul, Raqqa, and the region, visualized.

Welcome to this Cyber Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1943, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin met in Tehran, Iran, to discuss opening a second front against Hitler. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)

Trump, impending: A four-day break in D Briefing during a presidential transition means lots to cover, so let’s get to it:

The president-elect’s national-security decisions about every region of the globe will be at least colored by and at worst subordinated to his far-flung business interests, and two of America’s largest newspapers are on it. The New York Times, reporting from seven cities around the globe, notes conflicts of interest a-plenty as various Trump projects are suddenly shown official favor by government officials in several countries. Don’t miss a map of Trump-related projects, showing just how ubiquitous those conflicts are.

The Washington Post has its own wrapup, noting that a Trump project in the republic of Georgia got the greenlight soon after the U.S. election.

As of last Thursday, the president-elect had taken just two briefings from the intelligence community, having turned away another dozen daily briefers who stood ready, the Washington Post reports. Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, however, had received a briefing almost every day. (Here’s your reminder that Trump’s VP will be “in charge of domestic and foreign policy,” as Donald Trump Jr. reportedly told another potential Veep pick.)

On Friday, Trump named K.T. McFarland his deputy national security adviser. But the Reagan adminstration official and Fox News commentator may be in for some interesting conversations with her new boss, national security advisor-to-be Michael Flynn. The Washington Examiner reports that  McFarland has criticized the leaders of Russia and Turkey, apparently putting her on the opposite side of the issues from Flynn.

And in an illustration of just how many things a president needs to shut up about, lawyers for ex-POW Bowe Bergdahl intend to argue that his upcoming court-martial has been irretrievably damaged by Trump’s various campaign speeches calling the Army sergeant a traitor. NYT, here.

What will Trump do with Obama’s sprawling Joint Special Operations Command program? That’s just one lingering question from a weekend Washington Post report on the expanded JSOC operation “to track, plan and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe, a move driven by concerns of a dispersed terrorist threat as Islamic State militants are driven from strongholds in Iraq and Syria.”

This new JSOC “entity,” as WaPo refers to it, “is the ‘codification’ of best practices in targeting terrorists outside of conventional conflict zones, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss administration deliberations. It is unclear, however, if the administration of President-elect Donald Trump will keep this and other structures set up by Obama. They include guidelines for counterterrorism operations such as approval by several agencies before a drone strike and ‘near certainty’ that no civilians will be killed.” Story here.

While you were sleeping, Obama expanded America’s war on al-Qaeda in Somalia, NYTs reported Sunday, calling it “a move that will strengthen President-elect Donald J. Trump’s authority to combat thousands of Islamist fighters in the chaotic Horn of Africa nation.”

The impetus: “The administration has decided to deem the Shabab, the Islamist militant group in Somalia, to be part of the armed conflict that Congress authorized against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to senior American officials. The move is intended to shore up the legal basis for an intensifying campaign of airstrikes and other counterterrorism operations, carried out largely in support of African Union and Somali government forces… The Shabab grew up as an Islamist insurgency after 2007, when Ethiopia, with American support, invaded Somalia to overthrow an Islamist council that had briefly taken control of much of the long-chaotic country.” More here.  

Elsewhere in Africa, a recent joint U.S.-French counterterror operation took another shot at the “one-eyed terrorist” Mokhtar Belmokhtar—famously called the insurgent with nine lives—WSJ’s Gordon Lubold and Matthew Dalton reported Sunday. “U.S. officials expressed greater confidence that the latest strike, conducted by French aircraft in southern Libya based in part on intelligence feeds from the U.S. earlier this month, likely was successful.” Story here.

American troops dealt “a stunning rebuke of Obama's key initiatives: women in combat, sex assault, diversity,” according to a new poll from Military Times.

Lastly today: An “underwater drone interstate” is coming, a U.S. Navy official told the Washington Post. “As unmanned aerial drones have become a critical part of modern warfare, the Pentagon is now looking to deploy autonomous robots underwater, patrolling the sea floor on what one top Navy official called an ‘Eisenhower highway network,’ complete with rest stops where the drones could recharge.”

What’s been going on: “The Navy has been testing and fielding several new systems designed to map the ocean floor, seek out mines, search for submarines and even launch attacks. While the unmanned crafts are now able to stay out for days or weeks, the goal is to create an underwater network of service stations that would allow the vehicles to do their jobs for months — and eventually years.”

And the why: “Military officials say there is a sense of urgency because the undersea domain, while often overlooked, could one day be as contested as the surface of the sea, the skies — and even space.” Catch the full story, here.