Carter warns against ISIS war buildup; B-2s bomb Libya; Assad teases reconciliation; Most ISIS commanders in Mosul are dead; Private air force for sale; And a bit more.

U.S. airstrikes resumed in Libya, CNN reports this morning less than a month after AFRICOM announced an end to attacks on the ISIS-held town of Sirte. Drones and B-2 bombers hit two ISIS camps, killing “several dozen” ISIS fighters roughly 45 km southwest of Sirte overnight in an operation coordinated with the UN-backed Government of National Accord, a U.S. defense official said this morning. Many of those targeted were believed to have fled from Sirte.

And just so we’re clear, “The militants were seen immediately beforehand carrying weapons, wearing tactical vests, carrying mortars, and standing in formation,” the official said, adding initial indications suggested no civilians were killed in the strikes.  

Thousands more U.S. troops will not save Iraq or Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in an exit interview the Associated Press. His remarks follow Wednesday’s reports that the Pentagon is working up more aggressive ISIS war plans for President-elect Donald Trump to consider, including the addition of thousands of American troops in multiple brigades to isolate and retake Raqqa, the group’s defacto HQs in Syria.

Carter: “If we were to take over the war in Iraq and Syria entirely ourselves, first of all, in the near term it would be entirely by ourselves, because there is no one else volunteering to do that. We could get past that. But secondly, we would risk turning people who are currently inclined to resist ISIL" or to join ranks with the coalition, "potentially into resisting us, and that would increase the strength of the enemy."

What’s more, “Taking over the war also would amount to ‘fighting on the enemy's terms, which is infantry fighting in towns in a foreign country,’” Carter told AP. “While U.S. troops can do that, it would not leverage the U.S. military's biggest strengths, which are special operation forces, mobility, air power and intelligence-gathering technologies — ‘exquisite capabilities that no one else has,’ he said — to enable local troops to do the fighting and own the outcome.”

His final caution: “‘We have not been, and we should not be, shy about asking for more’ authority or resources from the president to push the military campaign harder. ‘I asked President Obama for more. I would encourage Jim Mattis, if he sees opportunities to accelerate, to ask for more.’” Read the rest, here.

For much more, see Defense One’s special report this week, in which U.S. military commanders from Tampa to Baghdad fall in line with Carter’s warnings and strongly advocate fighting ISIS “by, with, through” local forces.  

In Syria, ISIS fighters are violently tearing through Palmyra—that problematic smack of turf between Mosul and Raqqa—shooting and beheading at least a dozen captives taken from the city, AP reports Thursday.

And to the northwest, Syrian rebels are fighting each other again—this time with the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fateh al-Sham “attack[ing] checkpoints and positions of the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham rebel group in Syria's Idlib province” this morning… [as] Fateh al-Sham seized a border crossing into Turkey,” Reuters reports. Middle East analyst Charles Lister has been following the recent developments between Ahrar and JFS, and you can find his breakdown here.  

A Jordanian military official says the country is beefing up its security forces along its Iraqi and Syrian borders. AP has that one, with little elaboration, here.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says Monday’s peace talks in Kazakhstan will involve reconciliation with the country’s “terrorist groups,” AFP reports off a recent interview Assad gave to Japanese television channel TBS. The first priority of the talks will involve preserving the recent Russian and Turkish-brokered ceasefire.

For what it’s worth, Ahrar al-Sham “which counts thousands of fighters in central and northern Syria, said on Wednesday that it would not attend due to ‘the lack of implementation of the ceasefire.’ But it said it would support decisions taken by other rebel groups represented at the talks if they were ‘in the interest of the nation.’” More here and here.

And the Trump administration has been invited to the Astana talks, too. But no one seems to be clear on who exactly will attend, al-Monitor reported Wednesday.

Meantime in Iraq, most ISIS commanders inside Mosul have been killed, Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abdul Ghani al-Assadi told Reuters this morning. "On Thursday, regular Iraqi army troops captured the Nineveh Oberoy hotel, the so-called "palaces" area on the eastern bank of the Tigris, and Tel Kef, a small town just to the north according to military statements in Baghdad. The army is still battling militants in al-Arabi, the last district which remains under their control east of the river, said one of the statements. 'God willing, there will be an announcement in the next few days that all the eastern bank is under control,' Assadi said." More here.

Show me your war face: Here’s a snapshot of one of Assadi’s special forces operating in Mosul, taken by AFP photog Al-Rubaye Ahmad.


From Defense One

We Have 'Very Robust Defenses': An Exit Interview with Obama's Top Cyber Official // Joseph Marks: Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel defended the White House's legacy, pointing to new policies and cyber détente with China.

Welcome to this pre-inauguration edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. On this day in 1986, the first PC virus, (c)Brain, was set loose, "triggering a chain of events that led up to today's computer virus landscape." (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


Tell this woman she can’t fight. First, they made it through Ranger school. Now, one woman has made it into the 75th Ranger Regiment. She’s the first American woman accepted into any of the U.S. military’s elite special operations forces units. Good luck to anyone who wants to try and reverse Obama’s rule changes that opened all combat jobs to women. That possibility lingered on the Republican campaign trail but may already be DOA, from what Gen. James Mattis said in last week’s confirmation hearing. More from Defense One contributor and “Ashley’s War” author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, here.   

It’s nuclear day on the Hill as PEOTUS Trump’s pick to lead the Energy Department, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, goes before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources at 9:30 am EDT.

Perry represents a sharp contrast to the current head of the department, Dr. Ernest Moniz, The New York Times reported Wednesday in a piece that alleges Perry had little idea he would oversee nuclear weapons as well as being something of a global ambassador for oil and gas. That story, here.

Nearly a half-dozen U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies “have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter” told McClatchy news Wednesday. The agencies: the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence.

And what’s being looked at: “Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.”

Worth noting—the whole thing pre-dated that Steele dossier: “The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump.” Read the rest, here.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has another round of transition-themed essays ready to go. Topics include: reviving congressional war powers since “President Barack Obama will leave office having expanded the reach of presidential war powers arguably beyond that of any modern predecessor”; why “a lean, focused, and leader-driven strategic review” is in order; and why the Trump administration’s defense reform efforts can meaningfully differ from outgoing President Barack Obama’s. Catch all those and more going back to early December, here.

Also Monday morning: CSIS will host an event diving into “the prospects for the defense budget in the Trump administration.” More details on that, here.

SecDef Carter says the F-35’s “grotesque [cost] overruns” are a thing of the past, Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reports this morning off an interview Tuesday. "Carter also said the program made significant changes to use fixed-price incentive fee production contracts to put more Lockheed profit at risk. Two hundred of the U.S. program’s planned 2,443 aircraft have been delivered, and as of last year Congress had authorized about $110 billion in spending. 'The things that need to be done' include applying 'continued pressure on production costs,' he said." More here.   

Hawaii’s would-be Charlie Wilson—Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard—is taking more heat for that secret trip to Syria and Lebanon this week, Politico reports. “Gabbard spokeswoman Emily Latimer said the trip wasn’t funded using taxpayer dollars and was approved by the House Ethics Committee but wouldn’t provide further information when pressed by POLITICO. The lawmaker is currently on the trip, though it's not clear exactly when she'll be returning...Congressional leaders were blindsided by Gabbard’s trip to war-ravaged Syria with staffers saying she didn’t give the customary advanced warning to Democratic or Republican leadership offices.” Defense One has reached out to the congresswoman. We may get more details when she returns from her trip, Latimer added. Story here.

Lastly today: Any of our readers shopping for their own air force? You can buy one stacked with 1960s strike aircraft today, The Aviationist reported Tuesday. “Raptor Aviation of Port St. Lucie, Florida in the U.S has listed the sale of 20 jet trainer/light strike aircraft, an entire squadron, with spare parts and sundries. The aircraft are IAI Tzukits, the Israeli version of the Fouga CM.170 Magister. The price? Only 200,000 USD takes the lot according to their advert.”

However… “They’ll need about 20,000-25,000 USD in repairs before they can fly again. They need some restoration,” a company official said.

Key specs and history: “While developed largely as a primary jet trainer, the Israelis used the somewhat lumbering Tzukit in the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War as a strike aircraft. It’s also been flown by the Belgian ‘Red Devils’ and Irish ‘Silver Swallows’ aerobatic teams- and 20 of your own aircraft would make an impressive private jet demo team! Adding to the colorful history of this type, the Tzukit/Magister was flown by mercenaries in Congo-Léopoldville, Central Africa during the siege of Jadotville in early 1961. The hired-gun pilots reportedly destroyed two large, four-engine DC-4s and a smaller twin-engine DC-3 during a ground attack using its 7.62 guns and somewhat cobbled up locally made aerial bombs.”

And one final however… “If you want to start your own air force in the United States, however, the FAA, FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) will need to have a chat with you.” More here.

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