ISIS last days in Mosul?; IDF strikes Syria twice; Navy quietly adds to its ranks; Army helicopters get laser beams; And a bit more.

Israel carried out airstrikes in Syria twice this weekend “after several projectiles from neighboring Syria landed in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights for a second day,” the Associated Press reported on Sunday.  

The Sunday strikes hit “a Syrian army ammunition truck and two artillery guns in the Syrian Golan,” Haaretz reported, along with a link to Israeli Defense Forces video of the strike.  

Saturday’s IDF strikes hit “various positions, destroying two tanks, in response to more than 10 projectiles that landed in its territory, the military said. Syrian state media said a number of people were killed and, citing the Syrian military command, said five soldiers were wounded,” AP wrote. More from that response, via CNN, here.

Inching forward in Raqqa. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have retaken the western Raqqa district of Qadisia, Reuters reported Sunday. Not a lot more from that offensive, but you can read the rest from Reuters, here.

ICYMI: The CIA reportedly set up a “secret back channel” with Syria in an attempt to free kidnapped former U.S. Marine-turned-journalist, Austin Tice, The New York Times reported Friday. Where the effort apparently went off the rails: Once the Assad regime allegedly attacked Syrians with chemical weapons in early April. Story, here.

Remember that U.S. special forces “Expeditionary Targeting Force” former SecDef Ash Carter brought to the ISIS war? They’ve been busy these past few months, making multiple trips to Deir ez-Zour, Syria, to hit high-level ISIS leaders. The New York Times has a few details from those raids, which have swept up cell phones and laptops of ISIS fighters fleeing the group’s two large cities of Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq. Story, here.

We seem to have our first headline about Mosul residents living “without ISIS,” even though there are a few remaining blocks in the west that the group’s holdouts are still fighting from, Reuters reports. “About 350 Islamic State fighters, most of them non-Iraqis, are defending their remaining stronghold in Mosul's densely populated Old City, an Iraqi general said on Sunday. He expected the battle for the city to end in days.” More on that last line, here.

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Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. Have something you want to share? Email us at (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)

The U.S. Navy is quietly adding sailors to meet the demands associated with President Trump’s 355-ship navy, Navy Times print edition reports. “Internally, the Navy is targeting a force as large as 350,000 sailors - up more than 10 percent from today's end strength of approximately 322,000, according to several Navy officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

In the near-term, the uptick would represent about 5,500 sailors.

As well, “on June 21, the Navy announced a big change to the ‘up-or-out’ rules, a policy formally known as ‘high-year tenure,’ which forces underperforming sailors to leave the active-duty force if they fail to earn promotions on rigid timelines. The new policy will raise those limits by two years for all sailors in pay grades E-4 through E-6, allowing the Navy to retain thousands of additional experienced sailors during the next several years.” That change will take effect on August 1.

Writes Navy Times: “Raising the high-year tenure caps for petty officers is expected to keep nearly 3,000 more sailors in the ranks in the near term. Specifically, the changes include:

• Increasing E-4 high-year tenure limits to 10 years, up from 8 years.
• Increasing E-5 high-year tenure limits to 16 years, up from 14 years.
• Increasing E-6 high-year tenure limits to 22 years, up from 20 years.”

Check out your nearest commissary for the latest print edition of Navy Times to read more.

SecState Rex Tillerson is playing a growing role in the Middle East’s Qatar diplomatic crisis—and he’s becoming increasingly outspoken as a key deadline nears. Tillerson called some of the 13 demands put upon Doha by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi “very difficult,” adding, “A lowering of rhetoric would also help ease the tension,” the Washington Post reports.

Adds the WSJ: “The list to Qatar from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, delivered Thursday, includes demands that Qatar shutter state broadcaster Al Jazeera, curb ties with Iran and end Turkey’s military presence on its soil, among others.”

The situation currently: “The Saudis, acting with Egypt, the U.A.E. and others have blockaded Qatar for the past three weeks, closing borders and canceling airline flights while accusing Doha of supporting extremist movements and cultivating ties to Iran.”

Turkey’s President Erdogan, friend of Qatar, called the demands unlawful. "This approach of 13 demands is against international law because you cannot attack or intervene in the sovereignty of a country."

Erdogan also said he has not intention of closing that Turkish base in Qatar, either. More from Reuters, here.

Iran’s reax: "The siege of Qatar is unacceptable to us... The airspace, land and sea of our country will always be open to Qatar as a brotherly and neighboring country," President Hassan Rouhani reportedly told Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in a telephone call Saturday.

Continued reading: Just Security dives into the topic to advocate “The Trump administration must move quickly and decisively to clarify its policy toward Iran, both to the American people and to the international community.”

Making things a bit difficult: Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who told Politico this weekend, “The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran.”

Just Security’s recommendation: “As the process moves forward in Washington, the United States should take care not to stumble inadvertently into a regime change policy toward Iran. That would benefit neither American short-term nor long-term interests.” Read on, here.

The Pentagon wants more development programs for Africa to go along with its military missions in the developing continent, The New York Times reported this weekend. “Pentagon officials are themselves concerned that shifting to a military-heavy presence in Africa will hurt American interests in the long term by failing to stimulate development. An absence of schools and jobs, they say, creates more openings for militant groups.”

The background: “If Congress passes Mr. Trump’s proposed Pentagon budget for the 2018 fiscal year — it calls for an additional $52 billion on top of the current $575 billion base budget — the United States will spend more money on military affairs in Africa but reduce humanitarian and development assistance across the continent. The Trump budget proposes cutting aid to Africa to $5.2 billion in the 2018 fiscal year from $8 billion now, a stark drop.” More, here.

Since we at Defense One like to keep an eye on future developments, we draw attention to a new UN report suggesting Nigeria will overtake the U.S. to become the third most populous country in the world by 2050.

CNN’s headline: “Half of world's population growth is likely to occur in Africa.”

Contributing factors for Nigeria: “High fertility rates, high infant mortality rates and the cultural value of large families have all been cited as factors driving Nigeria's population boom. Home to four of the world's fastest-growing cities, it has been described as an economic powerhouse. However, there are fears that such an increase in population could cripple Nigeria's already inadequate infrastructure.” Read on from CNN, here; or check out the UN’s report, over here.

What Europe perhaps ought to fear this summer: “Less Organized Assaults Carried Out With Less Sophisticated Weapons,” The Wall Street Journal reported after two recent “botched” attacks in Brussels and Paris.

Said one Western security official to the Journal: “We may be entering an era not of lone wolf, but stray dog attacks.”

What gives? “The changing nature of the attacks also reflects improved security in Europe, where the European Union and national governments have stepped up surveillance, tightened borders and deployed more police and soldiers. Military campaigns against Islamic State in the Mideast have also made it more difficult for terror leaders to organize and carry out attacks.”

But, not so fast: “officials warn it would be reckless to underestimate the continuing threat of extremist groups even if they may be conducting operations that are more frequently smaller-scale.” Read on, here.

Ohio Governor John Kasich’s website was hacked by apparent ISIS sympathizers this weekend. AP: “The message, left by 'Team System Dz,' also ended, 'I love the Islamic state.' The same message also infiltrated government websites in the town of Brookhaven, New York, as well as the website for Howard County, Maryland. In the past, the group also claimed responsibility for similar hacks in the past in Richland County, Wisconsin, and in places such as Aberdeen, Scotland, and Sweden.” More, here.

The Taliban reportedly killed 10 Afghan police in western Herat province late Saturday night, AP reported from Kabul.  

The U.S. military in Korea has added “more than 10 long-range, precision-guided missiles capable of hitting major facilities in Pyongyang even when fired south of the inter-Korean border,” South Korea’s Yonhap news reports this morning.

Helicopters with laser beams. An Army AH-64 Apache fired a laser weapon for the first time, defense firm Raytheon, the company working on the project, said in a statement released this morning. “The test achieved all primary and secondary goals, providing solid experimental evidence for the feasibility of high resolution, multi-band targeting sensor performance and beam propagation supportive of High Energy Laser capability for the rotary-wing attack mission,” the company said. More here.

“Doomsday” planes damaged in Tornado. Two E-4B National Airborne Operations Center Boeing 747s were among 10 planes damaged in a July 16 tornado at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, the Air Force disclosed on Friday. That leaves only two Doomsday planes in flyable condition. The E-4B is a mobile command center that would be used by the president and defense secretary in a nuclear war. “There is no impact to the E-4B's primary mission, so it remains capable of completing its National Airborne Operations Center.”

Also damaged, eight RC-135 Rivet Joint surveillance planes. Six have been fixed and returned into service, the Air Force said. The tornado caused some damage to the base, but nothing severe, the service said.

Marines injured in fire. Two Marines are being treated for severe burns caused by a “ground flash fire” that broke out when they were working on a F/A-18 Hornet at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, just outside of San Diego. The Marines are from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 112, a reserve unit that is based in Fort Worth, Texas. The incident is under investigation, the Marines said in a statement.

Lastly this morning: If we had ever gone AWOL from the U.S. Army, there are all kinds of places we might go—but not a single one of them is South Sudan, roiling from its fourth consecutive year of civil war. That’s apparently what 20-year-old E-3 Alex Zwiefelhofer attempted to do after fleeing the 82nd Airborne Division.

“Zwiefelhofer, 20, was detained along with Army veteran Craig Austin Lang and former Marine William Wright-Martinovich,” Army Times reported late last week. “The three are reportedly in Kenyan national police custody while the State Department and FBI investigate.”

And about Zwiefelhofer, he took the oath in 2015, then “went AWOL last October. Activity on his Facebook page indicates he was in Ukraine that month.” Read on, here.