More than 800 years of history is today just rubble and dust in the heart of one of the most dangerous active war zones in decades. The historic al-Nuri mosque in ISIS-held West Mosul’s Old City was demolished in what appears to have been a large explosion carried out by ISIS, the U.S.-led coalition announced Wednesday after their assaulting force got within 50 meters of the structure. ISIS tried to get ahead of the story to claim a U.S. airstrike was to blame.
But alleged footage of the demolition suggests otherwise, as it’s clearly absent the ordinary environmental crater and plumes a jet-dropped bomb leaves on its target area.
Said coalition commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, in a statement shortly afterward: "As our Iraqi Security Force partners closed in on the al-Nuri mosque, ISIS destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq's great treasures...The responsibility of this devastation is laid firmly at the doorstep of ISIS, and we continue to support our Iraqi partners as they bring these terrorists to justice. However, the battle for the liberation of Mosul is not yet complete, and we remain focused on supporting the ISF with that objective in mind."
Reuters with some history: “The mosque was named after Nuruddin al‑Zanki, a noble who fought the early crusaders from a fiefdom that covered territory in modern-day Turkey, Syria and Iraq. It was built in 1172-73, shortly before his death, and housed an Islamic school.”
And how’s this for timing? “ISIS destroyed one of the greatest mosques in Islam on the night the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad,” The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent, Kareem Shaheen, noted on Twitter.
Here’s your periodic reminder that US troops are on location for the battle of Mosul: “Americans are part of a dozens-strong advisory team based in [a] makeshift command post, in a battered neighbourhood pock-marked by shelling less than two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the front line” in Mosul, AFP reported Wednesday from the city. "We live with them on a daily basis, hand in hand," said Lt. Col. Andrew Kaiser, who is advising troops with Iraq’s 16th Division “Using video feeds from surveillance drones, satellite maps and reports from the Iraqi troops on the ground.” Full story, here.
Russia appears to be trying to get everyone’s attention again claiming they did indeed kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They have a “high degree of certainty,” Moscow’s foreign ministry says this morning—again with no proof or any details to write home about.
In the other large offensive against ISIS—this one in Raqqa, Syria—U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces seized “territory on the south bank of the Euphrates River with the aim of encircling the city” in a new flank from the west, Reuters reported Wednesday. “The SDF is now trying to enact a siege of the city by taking the southern bank. The forces are a couple of kilometers from achieving this aim. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said on Wednesday SDF forces had moved along the southern river bank to reach the eastern edge of Kasrat al-Farj, in the area between the new and old bridges into Raqqa.” More, though not a heckuva lot, here.
Airwar update: Australian jets are back in Syria’s skies, days after taking a break due to Russia’s threat to track coalition aircraft. That other short hit from Reuters, here. Find more on another front in the global war against ISIS—the Philippines—below.
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Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1944: FDR signs the GI Bill. Got tips? Email us at email@example.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
The USS Fitzgerald couldn’t get a distress call out for an hour after its collision with the ACX Crystal merchant ship knocked out its radios, according to “two sources familiar with the ongoing Japanese investigation” who talked with USNI News. The sources say the going theory — at least in these early stages of the inquiry — is that the “inattentive or asleep” crew of the cargo ship didn’t even know what shook their ship around 1:30 a.m., and that it took an hour to come about and return to the vicinity of the damaged destroyer, whereupon they radioed a distress call to Japanese authorities. Read on, here.
Meanwhile, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson has visited the Fitzgerald, now in port in Yokosuka, Japan. His statement this morning praises the destroyer’s crew for their damage-control efforts, the tugs and divers who helped bring the ship back to safety, and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force and Coast Guard. “There are multiple U.S. and Japanese investigations underway to determine the facts of the collision. Our goal is to learn all we can to prevent future accidents from occurring. This process will unfold as quickly as possible, but it's important to get this right. We need to protect the integrity of those proceedings. Speculation, rumors, hearsay or second guessing won't be helpful. Let the investigations run their courses.”
“A planned intercept was not achieved,” the Pentagon said of Wednesday’s failed joint U.S.-Japanese test of a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA test off the coast of Hawaii.
The down and dirty details: “At approximately 7:20 p.m., Hawaii Standard Time, June 21 (1:20 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, June 22), a medium-range ballistic target missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii. The USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) detected and tracked the target missile with its onboard AN/SPY-1 radar using the Aegis Baseline 9.C2 weapon system. Upon acquiring and tracking the target, the ship launched an SM-3 Block IIA guided missile, but the missile did not intercept the target.”
For the record: “This was the fourth development flight test using an SM-3 IIA missile, and the second intercept test. The previous intercept test, conducted in February 2017, was successful.” Release, here.
But here’s a recent shot that did hit its intended target: “A sniper with Canada’s elite special forces in Iraq has shattered the world record for the longest confirmed kill shot in military history at a staggering distance of 3,450 metres [2.1 miles],” the Globe and Mail reported Wednesday. “Sources say a member of Joint Task Force 2 killed an Islamic State insurgent with a McMillan TAC-50 sniper rifle while firing from a high-rise during an operation that took place within the last month in Iraq. It took under 10 seconds to hit the target.”
For what it’s worth: “The world record was previously held by British sniper Craig Harrison, who shot a Taliban gunner with a 338 Lapua Magnum rifle from 2,475 metres away in 2009.” Read the full story, here.
ISIS affiliates’ war in the Philippines may be spreading, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday from Manila. “Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group attacked a village near the town of Pigcawayan in central Mindanao island at dawn on Wednesday, occupying a school for hours and holding dozens of local civilians hostage while using them as human shields, the military said. Members of the group have been involved in the prolonged battle against government troops to the north.”
That’s 50 miles to the north, the Journal writes. “The gunmen targeted a patrol base of government-sponsored militiamen and held 31 hostages, including 12 children, at a nearby school, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said. The militants left the area under the cover of dark, leaving the hostages unharmed.” Read the rest, here.
Update from Yemen: It’s not pretty. “Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the ‘grill,’ in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday from Mukalla, Yemen.
“The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials...The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub. Some detainees have been flown to an Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemen Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others.”
And the U.S. role? “Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses.” Story—it’s a long one—here.
Ukraine and those Russian-backed separatists have a new ceasefire. And it’s set to begin on Saturday “to allow residents to begin harvesting crops,” the AP reported Wednesday from Moscow.
Apropos of nothing: Reports one of your D Brief-ers’ parents from the Little Bighorn National Monument in Montana: “Lots of people here and so many campers, RVs and travel trailers. I think they need a bigger parking lot.”
The legendary Maj. Gen. George Custer will have taken his “last stand” against Sitting Bull’s force 141 years ago this Sunday.