Dozens trapped in Mosul rubble; Raqqa fight just days away; Why fake news spreads; Top US general in Europe wants more troops; and just a bit more...

In Iraq, between 40 and 130 people were killed and dozens remain buried in rubble in Mosul, “after an air strike against Islamic State triggered a massive explosion last week and rescuers are still recovering bodies,” Reuters reports this morning. “The exact cause of the collapses was not clear, but a local lawmaker and two local residents said air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition targeting Islamic State militants may have detonated a truck filled with explosives, destroying (more than two dozen) buildings in a heavily populated area.”

Here’s video of Iraqi firefighters purportedly working through the rubble to rescue trapped civilians. So far, 40 bodies have been recovered from the scene.

Said one local lawmaker: "You can't kill dozens just to destroy a booby-trapped truck parked near houses.”

How might this have happened? Here’s an idea: ISIS has booby-trapped many buildings left behind in West Mosul, including this one where you can see some of the bomb canisters Iraqi police found today.

The coalition said overnight it’s aware of the reports “and we will provide this information to our civilian casualty team for further investigation,” Reuters writes.

Said Air Force Brig. Gen. Matthew Isler, a former F-15 pilot and current deputy commander for the coalition's air power: “The density of the local fighting for those ground forces has changed” in West Mosul, Isler told U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman on Thursday. “In the last three weeks, we've delivered the most precision-guided munitions in support of the Iraqi security forces in the entire campaign.”

To wit: “Last week, the coalition dropped 550 precision bombs in Mosul, following 605 the week prior, Isler says, and there have already been almost 500 this week,” U.S. News reports. And “the coalition has dropped 8,700 weapons in and around Mosul since the campaign to liberate it began.” More here.

So how difficult is it to hit ISIS targets from the confines of a jet? Lt. Cmdr. William Vuillet explains in an interview with the Associated Press, an evident extension of the U.S. military’s efforts to characterize its air war at a critical phase of the Mosul offensive.

On the bright side, other Mosulis are getting their lives back, as this video reveals.

ICYMI: Iraq needs “U.S. investment to rebuild our housing, hospitals, schools, sanitation facilities, roads, highways and bridges,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wrote Thursday in an op-ed for the Washington Post. Abadi met earlier this week with President Trump to discuss what lies ahead in the war against ISIS in Iraq. Abadi continued: “First, we must finish the job of defeating ISIS militarily. With more than 200,000 Mosul residents displaced, along with more than 3 million other Iraqis, we must restore public services and rebuild our infrastructure...we want what most of the world takes for granted: the opportunity to live in dignity and build better lives for our children. Together with our international partners, we are working to build a new Iraq advancing this age-old dream. Americans have built that kind of country. With your help and goodwill, so will we.” Read his op-ed in full, here.

The battle for ISIS-held Raqqa, Syria, will begin in a matter of days, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said this morning. "Today, one can say that Raqqa is encircled, that the battle for Raqqa will start in the coming days. It will be a very hard battle, but a battle that is going to be of utmost importance," he told CNews television station.

However, AFP reports that "a European diplomat, who did not want to be named, said the situation surrounding the Raqa offensive remained 'blurred.' 'The Americans are still in the review process. Trump did not make a decision (on who will take Raqqa), but it is clear that on the ground it is the SDF option that is developing.'"

Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have reportedly progressed to the Taqba Dam, east of Raqqa. Find pictures of their progress at the dam, here.

Get your bearings: “Tabqa lies 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Raqqa,” AP writes. “The Islamic State group controls the town as well as the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River which supplies electric power to the area and a military airfield nearby.”

Elsewhere in Syria, “government forces are besieging the last Islamic State stronghold in the northern province of Aleppo, weeks after launching an offensive to retake the entire province,” AP reported in the same story Thursday. “The Syrian Central Military Media says Syrian troops launched the Deir Hafer siege late Wednesday after capturing nearby areas. The opposition's Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Syrian troops have now cut the road linking Deir Hafer with Raqqa province.”

And to the south a bit, intense clashes were reported “in the central province of Hama, where insurgent groups spearheaded by al-Qaida's branch in Syria launched a wide offensive capturing dozens of villages and towns over the past two days. The al-Qaida-led Levant Liberation Committee said its fighters captured three more villages Thursday morning. The charity group Save the Children said the Hama fighting has displaced 10,000 people.” More here.


From Defense One

Why Fake News Spreads: A Neurological Explanation // Patrick Tucker: The logical part of your brain really, really likes listening to the social part, which just wants to fit in.

Trump's Unbalanced Homeland Security Budget // Michael Chertoff, Adm. James M. Loy, John Pistole, and Christian Marrone, via The Atlantic: As the former heads of DHS, the Coast Guard, and TSA, we think Trump's border-and-immigration fixation is like double-locking your front door and leaving the window wide open.

The US Should Steer Clear of Russian 'Help' in Syria // Michael Carpenter: Until Moscow decides that working to reduce radicalization is more important than propping up Assad, the anti-ISIS coalition doesn't need its help.

The Idea of ISIS Will Outlive the Caliphate // The Atlantic’s Simon Cottee: Despite claiming responsibility for attacks like the one in London, the group is dying. It will retain the ability to inspire.

Software Used to Predict Crime Can Now Be Scoured for Bias // Quartz’s Dave Gershgorn: Predictive-policing startup CivicScape published its code online, allowing anyone to help ensure that the algorithm doesn’t unfairly target certain groups of people.

Would Better Messaging Help the Military Boost Its Budget? // Caroline Houck: Even if Pentagon leaders clarified their 'readiness' warnings, they'd still face an uphill battle for more funding in 2017.

The Global Business Brief: March 23 // Marcus Weisgerber: Foreign sales, offsets, and Trump; Missile defense pondered for Hawaii; Q&A with Lockheed's top lobbyist; and more.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1944: Allied prisoners begin leaving their German camp in The Great Escape. (Got a tip? Let us know by clicking this link to email us: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


The U.S. military in Europe wants more troops, ships and planes “in every warfare domain,” Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Stars and Stripes reported Thursday. “This may include additional maneuver forces, combat air squadrons, anti-submarine capabilities, a carrier strike group and maritime amphibious capabilities,” he said.

The background: “Since the Cold War, the U.S. military in Europe has dwindled from 300,000 servicemembers to roughly 62,000,” Stripes writes. “With President Donald Trump seeking a larger Pentagon budget, it remains unclear how much of a focus Europe will be in the Pentagon’s plans. Military leaders have singled out Russia as a singular threat, but Trump wants better ties with Moscow.”

Scap: "We have to get our posture correct for deterrence, and that is across all the services...In Europe, I don’t have the carrier or the submarine capacity that would best enable me to do my job in EUCOM." Read the rest, here.

A playbook for Russian meddling. “In the run-up to presidential elections in Bulgaria last year, the country’s opposition Socialist Party received a secret strategy document proposing a road map to victory at the ballot box, according to five current or former Bulgarian officials,” The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. “Among its recommendations: plant fake news and promote exaggerated polling data. The source of the roughly 30-page dossier, intercepted by Bulgaria’s security service, was a think tank connected to the Kremlin, according to the officials. It was delivered by a former Russian spy on a U.S. sanctions list, three of them said.” Story—it’s longer than most—here.

One more thing about Scaparrotti’s day on the Hill: He told lawmakers “Russia and the Taliban are growing increasingly close, suggesting that the Kremlin might even be supplying the insurgent group,” the Washington Post reported.

The general’s words: “I’ve seen the influence of Russia of late, increased influence in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban.”

However, the Post writes that he “did not elaborate to the Senate Armed Services Committee on what type of equipment the Taliban might have received or when.”

Russia’s reax: That’s “a lie,” according to the foreign ministry, per Reuters.

While we’re on Afghanistan, we might as well address the spin Resolute Support officials put on Sangin Thursday when Afghan troops abandoned the district earlier this week. The Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio explains: “Resolute Support tweeted a statement which attempted to salvage the loss of Sangin’s district center,” which read (in part) “The only thing [Afghan troops] left to the Taliban is rubble and dirt.”

Roggio calls that statement “not credible,” and goes on to “look at some of the statements made by Resolute Support to explain how, even with the sunniest possible spin, losing Sangin was nothing short of a disaster.” Read on, here.

Data-viz of the week: “Is America’s Military Big Enough?” asks four reporters for The New York Times. That’s their start point for President Trump’s $54 billion increase in defense spending, what he called “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” They write around 10 charts packed with data on nuclear weapons, the size of naval fleets, Air Force inventories, active duty troop size, current deployments and a lot more, here.

Is $200 million in bonuses enough to help beef up the U.S. Army’s ranks this year? That’s the hope as the service faces the "largest within-year mission increase ever,” according to an announcement from the Defense Department Thursday. More on how the Army wants to “fill active end strength from 62,500 to 68,500” by Sept. 30, here.

The Marines are rushing 50 technologies for testing in nine months, Breaking Defense reported Thursday. Honestly there’s a bit too much to excerpt, but we’ll leave you with the Marines’ preferred “mission names” for the tests: Shield, Spear, Dagger, Cutlass, Broadsword and Battleaxe. Read on, here.

The U.S. Army’s Rapid Capabilities Office wants more money to push out “electronic warfare, precision navigation and timing, and cyber, areas that were neglected in the counterinsurgency operations of the past 15 years,” Defense News reported this week. “The office -- officially created in August -- is designed to zero in on the Army’s biggest requirements with the intent to deliver capabilities within a one- to five-year horizon. It’s part of the service’s aggressive overhaul to its troubled procurement system and pushes even beyond acquisition reform outlined in congressional defense policy.” Story here.

And now for something completely different: exosuits and their impact on gender integration in the military. Lauren Fish of the Center for New American Security shared her thoughts in a tweetstorm Thursday. Some excerpts: “For over 100 years, recommended weight carried was ~1/3 of body weight. British and German interwar research argued for those limits. Early 2000s U.S. military research does as well (consistently ~50 lbs). For reference, the average male Marine weighs ~170 lbs., and females: ~130 lbs. That calculates out to 56 and 43 lbs. Since the mid-20th century, weight carried has exploded. These weights exceeded 80 to 100 lbs. or more in the last 15 years of war.”

She goes on to layout the broad benefits of exosuits for either gender, but suggests the biggest boost they could provide the U.S. military just might be in recruitment. “Exosuits won’t completely level the playing field between men and women, but they allow each soldier to utilize another 10 percent of their strength. As women are competing for the toughest jobs in the military and are stronger than ever, that’s another 10 percent the military should leverage...They could broaden a recruiting pool, keep male or female forces agile and engaged for longer, and improve operational performance. For all those reasons, it’s a technology that should be invested in, pursued, and personalized to various body types." Lots more to debate as folks replied to Fish, encouraging memes and all, beginning here.

And we’ll see everyone again on Monday!

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