Assad troops push into Aleppo; Iraqi forces besiege Mosul; Two ways to ease US-Russian tension; Moscow will refurbish 3,000 tanks; and just a bit more...
More than two dozen people were killed today in Aleppo, to go on top of the more than 16,000 displaced and the thousands more who face arbitrary detentions by the Assad regime, the Associated Press reports this morning.
The situation: “In swift and dramatic advances, Syrian government and allied troops pushed their way into northern parts of opposition held eastern Aleppo in the last couple of days, touching off a wave of panic and flight from the besieged enclave. Many of the fleeing civilians headed to government and Kurdish-controlled areas while others were driven deeper into the remaining rebel-held zones.”
Take a stroll through a neighborhood of Aleppo and check the devastation for yourself in this video.
Will Assad find out that winning a war isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be? Very possibly, writes Alissa Rubin of The New York Times. “Mr. Assad’s victory, if he should achieve it, may well be Pyrrhic: He would rule over an economic wasteland hampered by a low-level insurgency with no end in sight, diplomats and experts in the Middle East and elsewhere say.”
Where things stand: “If Aleppo fell, the Syrian government would control the country’s five largest cities and most of its more populous west. That would leave the rebels fighting Mr. Assad with only the northern province of Idlib and a few isolated pockets of territory in Aleppo and Homs Provinces and around the capital, Damascus.”
The growing tally of bad deeds: “From using so-called barrel bombs to deploying chemical weapons in civilian areas to doing business with the Islamic State from time to time by buying its oil, Mr. Assad had breached so many international norms that it was expected he would be forced out under international pressure, making way for a new government that would have slightly less blood on its hands.”
But none of those moves toward any new government have materialized in any significant shape, Rubin writes. Lots more to chew on—though none of the stakes have changed for at least a year; they’re just more intriguing now that a Trump administration is due to take charge of the White House—in Rubin’s report, here.
There’s another battlefront in Syria we haven’t gotten into much yet: The quiet (and crowded) war for al-Bab, north west of Aleppo, where former ISIS chief propagandist, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, had established a base of operations for carrying out external attacks. The Independent reports that at this location, Turkish-backed rebels, U.S.-backed Kurds, and Assad's Russian-backed army are all fighting each other—as well as Isis.
Their bottom line: “What happens in al-Bab will not only have a major bearing on the future of Raqqa, but also events in Aleppo and the aftermath of the operations there as the Assad regime carries out a push to take the rebel held east of the city.” More here.
Adnani’s death by airstrike shows how the U.S. surveillance apparatus waits to get as efficient a kill as it can, the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick writes: “The Aug. 30 missile strike was the culmination of a months-long mission targeting one of the Islamic State’s most prominent — and, U.S. officials say, most dangerous — senior leaders... At least six high-level Islamic State officials have died in U.S. airstrikes in the past four months, along with dozens of deputies and brigadiers, all but erasing entire branches of the group’s leadership chart.”
The result: “the group’s chieftain, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, [is] increasingly isolated, deprived of his most capable lieutenants and limited in his ability to communicate with his embattled followers, U.S. officials say.”
One interesting pull-out from Warrick’s story: Putting a $5 million bounty on Adnani had a real effect on how he moved, according to U.S. officials. How, exactly? “With many roads blocked by hostile forces, communication with front-line fighters became difficult,” forcing Adnani to avoid “not only cellphones but also buildings with satellite dishes.”
But still, “Adnani was compelled to venture from his sanctuary for meetings, and when he did so on Aug. 30, the CIA’s trackers finally had the clear shot they had been waiting for weeks to take.”
Experts still think ISIS will remain a deadly group for some time to come, Warrick writes, citing Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, who reminds us: “Decapitation is one arm of a greater strategy, but it cannot defeat a terrorist group by itself.” More here.
Iraqi officials say the ISIS-held city of Mosul is edging toward a full siege, following last week’s severing of the main supply lines into the city, Reuters reports in a wider piece on the growing humanitarian crisis inside Mosul.
The converging parties include “Iraqi government and Kurdish forces surround[ing] the city from the north, east and south, while Popular Mobilisation forces—a coalition of Iranian-backed Shi’ite groups—are trying to close in from the west.” Read the rest from Reuters, here.
The Institute for the Study of War offers a Mosul update in map form, along with some brief commentary and analysis of the past seven days of operations.
Iraqi troops aren’t all on the doorstep of Mosul. Some, including the federal police and Shi’a militias, are working to push ISIS from villages some 60 miles south of Mosul, AP reports.
From Defense One
Trump Should Halt US Missile-Defense Plans in Europe // Joe Cirincione and Tytti Erästö: The new president seems determined to woo Russia. Here's one way he can serve American and NATO security goals as well.
Trump’s Big Test in the Middle East // Vali Nasr, the dean of SAIS, via The Atlantic: The president-elect will encounter a region convulsed by change.
Breaking Down US-Russian Distrust With Time, Talk, and Meals // Peter Zwack: A recent session of the long-running Dartmouth Conference shows how non-governmental dialogue can ease tense relations.
Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1929, Adm. Richard Byrd, USN, leads the first overflight of the South Pole. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
Trump could add over $900B to the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade. And that’s good news for the military-industrial complex, says Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic Studies, quoted in this defense budget preview by William Hartung for Salon. Hartung does a good job of sifting clues from the president-elect’s voiced positions on Pentagon spending, which “are, to be polite, a bundle of contradictions.” Then he puts them in context. Read, here.
“Call it the Trump Effect,” writes the NYT. “Around the world, his election is already shaping events — or at least perceived to be shaping them — even though he will not take office for seven more weeks. Companies hoping to profit from Mr. Trump’s economic policies have seen shares soar. Countries fearing his anti-trade stance have seen the value of their currencies plunge against the dollar. Governments are recalibrating policies on trade, defense and immigration.” Read on, here.
The U.S. Navy and Iran exchange accusations about who is being more reckless in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday. “A small Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard vessel pointed its weapon [at] a Navy MH-60 helicopter flew within half a mile (0.8 km) of two Iranian vessels in international waters,” according to U.S. officials. “At no point did the crew of the helicopter feel threatened,” Reuters writes, adding, “It was not immediately clear what type of weapon was pointed at the U.S. aircraft.”
Iran’s reax: You’re the ones who are unprofessional. Or, more literally: “Everybody knows that the main problem in the Persian Gulf is the U.S. presence,” an unidentified official in the Revolutionary Guards was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency. That, here.
Surprise, surprise: The Houthi rebels in Yemen announced that they’ve formed their own government in the country, NYTs reported Monday. “The announcement of the new government, reported by the Houthi-run state television and Saba news agency, said it was formed from 'all walks of the political spectrum who are anti-aggression.' The reference was a swipe at the coalition led by Saudi Arabia that supports Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was driven into Saudi exile in 2014 after the Houthis routed him from Sana, the capital. The Houthis control a large portion of Yemen including Sana.”
Some background: “More than 10,000 people have been killed and more than three million displaced... Despite many announced cease-fires and attempts at negotiation, little progress has been made in resolving the conflict, widely seen as a proxy struggle between Iran and regional rival Saudi Arabia, which has accused the Iranians of backing the Houthis.”
Houthi’s justification: Houthi-run state television and Saba news agency “said that the Supreme Political Council, a body formed in August by Houthi leaders and allied associates of a former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, had decided a new government was needed “basically to arrange the domestic situation and face the aggression economically, militarily and politically.”
The State Department’s reax: The announcement is “clearly not conducive to achieving a lasting and comprehensive settlement to the conflict in Yemen, which will require political negotiation and consensus among all parties,” spokesman John Kirby said Monday. More here.
Lastly today: Russia says it will refurbish 3,000 Cold War-era T-80 tanks from its depots. That on top of the 2,500 T-14 orders President Vladimir Putin has placed, according to this report from German news Stern.