Two firsts in Syria: (1) pro-Syrian regime forces allegedly fired on the U.S. military, and (2) a U.S. F-15 Eagle shot down an Iranian-made Shahed-129 armed drone, the U.S. Air Force’s first air-to-air engagement over Syria, Stars and Stripes’ Tara Copp wrote Thursday—all while much of America’s eyes were on a certain Senate hearing on Capitol Hill.
CENTCOM’s account: “The pro-regime UAV, similar in size to a U.S. MQ-1 Predator, was shot down by a U.S. aircraft after it dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position occupied by Coalition personnel who are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIS.”
A defense official told CNN that “The munition dropped by the drone was a ‘dud’ and is being perceived right now as a ‘show of force’ by those who fired it.”
The encounter, CENTCOM said, “follows an earlier engagement in the day in which Coalition forces destroyed two pro-regime armed technical vehicles that advanced toward Coalition forces at At Tanf inside the established de-confliction zone [a 55-km ring around the Tanf garrison] threatening Coalition and partner forces.”
There have been now such three “kinetic strikes” by the U.S.-led coalition against “pro-regime forces” near Al Tanf, coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said Thursday. CNN also has a tick-tock of the second kinetic strikes, which occurred Tuesday and followed “a highly unusual move from the coalition where they permitted a pro-regime Syrian aircraft to conduct an airstrike inside a restricted zone in southern Syria where American forces were stationed.” Details, here.
Said Dillon on Twitter Thursday: “The #Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime or pro-regime forces. However, we remain ready to defend ourselves against any threat.”
For your eyes only: Here’s purported footage of an Iranian drone shadowing an alleged U.S. drone over Syria on Wednesday.
Taken together, all the recent episodes in the vicinity of Al Tanf suggest “the importance of controlling that area of the border is critical for Iran and Hezbollah,” said Randa Slim of the Middle East Institute.
Added Nadav Pollak, counter-terrorism analyst with the Anti-Defamation League: “The situation in Tanf is becoming the most crucial point of friction between the US and Iran. The US can't back down. Will Iran?”
Speaking of Hezbollah: The U.S. issued terrorism charges for two of their alleged operatives who lived “double-lives” as they scoped out sensitive locations across the country (and into South America), the Department of Justice announced Thursday.
The accused: Ali Kourani, 32, of the Bronx, New York, and Samer el Debek, 37, of Dearborn, Michigan.
Their business: “Kourani looked for weapons suppliers in the United States to support IJO operations, gathered information about security operations at New York airports and surveilled numerous US military and law enforcement buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn,” CNN reports, summarizing the complaint linked above.
And his colleague: “El Debek traveled to Panama twice for Hezbollah, once in 2011 and again in 2012, officials said. On his first trip, he located the US and Israeli embassies, gathered information about the security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy and located hardware stores where explosive materials could be bought... On the second trip, he focused on the Panama Canal, finding areas of weakness in its construction and trying to figure out how close someone could get to the ships passing through it.” More here.
(ICYMI: Here’s two analysts from the Council on Foreign Relations arguing that more direct conflict with pro-Assad forces isn’t in the U.S. interest, and what Washington should be doing instead.)
From Defense One
The 5 Biggest Unanswered Questions from James Comey's Testimony // Patrick Tucker: Here are the Trump-Russia investigation details that the former FBI director will only discuss behind closed doors
Boeing, Shipbuilder Team Up to Build Giant Underwater Drones // Marcus Weisgerber: The aerospace firm is bringing Huntington Ingalls on to help with its 50-ton Echo Voyager — and that's just for starters.
Don't Label Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a Terror Group // Adam Weinstein: The IRGC is key to the 'US-led' coalition fighting to oust ISIS from Mosul.
Global Business Brief, June 8 // Marcus Weisgerber: Did Trump propose McCain's budget?; Gulf missile defense at risk; Canada plans to invest more in defense; and a lot more.
Lawmakers to Pentagon: Tell Us When You Use Cyber Weapons // Joseph Marks: A proposed law would require congressional notification when DOD conducts external cyber operations — offensive or defensive.
Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1959: Launch of the USS George Washington, the world’s first ballistic-missile submarine. Got tips? Email us at email@example.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
Shabab attack in Somalia leaves nearly 70 dead. "The attack, one of the deadliest to target Somali security forces for several years" occurred Thursday at "the remote Af-Urur camp, in Somalia’s semi-autonomous northern state of Puntland," The Guardian reported. "The extremists, including suicide bombers, reportedly attacked the base from three directions and used a vehicle bomb to open a gap in a perimeter fence...Residents said some civilians were beheaded during the attack." More, here.
For what it’s worth, there have been at least two new attacks by militants across Somalia this morning, with one government official reportedly killed when after "his guards and other security forces exchange[d] gunfire in Karan district." And two IEDs reportedly hit "AMISOM troops near Lanta-Buro in Somalia's Lower Shabelle."
Weekend #LongRead: The BBC goes inside Taliban territory in Helmand, Afghanistan. Worth the click, here.
We appear to have a better window into how ISIS media operations work(ed), at least in terms of how they claimed attacks in places like Europe, The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi reported Thursday.
Her jump? This statement from the federal prosecutor’s office, which says a man identified only as Mohammed G., was arrested on Wednesday. “It says Mohammad G. reached out to a man who had set a Shia community center on fire in Malmo, Sweden, to confirm if he had done it for IS,” Callimachi writes. “If proved, the presence of a member of Amaq in Western Europe would help answer a riddle: How is it that the Islamic State has continued to run a media empire, one that rapidly turns to social media to issue claims of responsibility for attacks, despite its losses of territory in Iraq and Syria?” Read on to find out, here.
Who wants their own country? The Kurds of Iraq have set a date for an independence referendum vote: Sept. 25, 2017, according to Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, who announced the date Thursday.
Meanwhile in Spain, Catalonia, the restive region’s “long-awaited and bitterly controversial referendum on independence from Spain will be finally held on 1 October,” The Guardian reports, following an announcement from the regional government this morning. "But the Spanish government is implacably opposed to secession, arguing that it is a violation of the constitution, and has vowed to use all possible means to stop the referendum from being held. [Catalan president, Carles] Puigdemont said that Madrid had left his government with no choice but to call the vote."
Also in Spain, someday...maybe: The F-35. Spanish news, El Pais: “The Navy will have to gradually decommission its remaining AV-8B Harrier II Plus aircraft, and the only planes available on the market capable of Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing (V/STOL) are the F-35s. Without them, the Navy’s flagship Juan Carlos I would be reduced to the category of helicopter carrier.” Story, here.
What’s in that big Saudi arms package? Defense News, citing a White house document, puts dollar values on some of the biggest items, including: $13.5 billion for seven THAAD batteries, delivery estimated in 2023-26; $6 billion for four Lockheed Martin-built frigates, delivery in 2025-28; and $4.46 billion for 104,000 air-to-ground munitions, including the GBU 31v3, GBU-10, GBU-12, GBU-31v1, and GBU-38. There’s also this: “$18 billion for C4I System and integration, with no further details given on what that means, nor with a delivery date offered.” Read on, here.
BTW: The cholera epidemic is killing Yemenis at a rate of one every hour, the World Health Organization said Thursday. The total number of suspected cholera cases has risen to more than 100,000 since it’s believed to have begun spreading in late April. More from Reuters, here.
Lastly this week: Would you take your kids to Mosul, Iraq, right about now? Americans David and Karen Eubank have, and they’re reportedly making a positive impact on some of the thousands traumatized by war with ISIS, the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris reported Thursday. The children tagging along: Sahale, 16, and Suuzanne, 14, and Peter, 11. “About a mile away at the front line, their father, David, who says he served for a decade in the U.S. military including in the Army’s Special Forces, evacuated families as they came under sniper fire from Islamic State militants. It was just an average day for the Eubanks, who describe their work as a calling from God.”
From a friend of The D Brief, who worked in Erbil last year: "[David] is unbelievable. We sat one day drinking coffee and tea for about three hours talking about the things he and his family would do. Kids, young kids...plugging wounds, marching through jungles at night with no illumination, in the rain, to cross country borders to help the wounded in Asia. I was blown away by what he was doing, his values, and the fact that he is still alive after some of the experiences he has endured."
Indeed, Breitbart has written about them as recently as January. Their headline: “Jesus in Mosul.”
Read the Post’s account, here.
And have a great weekend, everyone!