Is ISIS’ chief dead?; Mopping up in Mosul; Air crash kills 15 Marines and 1 Sailor; Today’s best Mattis interview; and a bit more...

Is the leader of ISIS dead? Rumors of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s demise have floated around for months, but none were ever confirmed. Now this morning, ISIS-watchers are hanging on the words of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group, which says they have “confirmed information from leaders, including one of the first rank,” that says the leader of ISIS has been killed.

Exactly when? The SOHR doesn’t know. Russia’s defense ministry claimed to have killed the leader of ISIS in June — but failed to offer conclusive evidence of their claim.

Adds Reuters, “Iraqi and Kurdish officials did not confirm his death. The U.S. Department of Defence said it had no immediate information corroborate Baghdadi's death.” More here. For another U.S. military response, read this from CBS News’ Cami McCormick.

The sounds of “heavy gunfire” mortars and airstrikes persist in Mosul today, after the coalition congratulated Iraqi security forces for liberating the country’s second-largest city from ISIS on Monday.

“On Monday evening, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi came to Mosul for the second day in a row to declare ‘total victory,’” the Associated Press reported from Mosul. “Flanked by his senior military leadership at a small base on the edge of the Old City, al-Abadi said ‘this great feast day crowned the victories of the fighters and the Iraqis for the past three years.’”

In video: “Make no mistake, this victory alone does not eliminate ISIS, and there’s still a tough fight ahead,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said in a recorded video from Baghdad following al-Abadi’s statement. More from AP, here.

To the south, ISIS is putting up stiff resistance around “Imam Gharbi, a village on the western bank of the Tigris river some 70 km (44 miles) south of Mosul,” Reuters reports.


From Defense One

Government Warms to Continuous Monitoring of Personnel With Clearances // Charles S. Clark: Software that scours public records for potential red flags gains traction as officials wrestle with a serious security clearance backlog.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1979, “unexpectedly high solar activity” disintegrated Skylab, America’s first space station, “dispersing debris across a sparsely populated section of western Australia and the southeastern Indian Ocean” five years after the last manned Skylab mission ended. Have something you want to share? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


U.S. Army E-7 arrested for pledging allegiance to ISIS. It happened in Hawaii when the FBI arrested Sgt. 1st Class Ikaika Kang, a 34-year-old male, after saying he wished to “kill a bunch of people” to undercover investigators. Kang had deployed once each to Iraq and Afghanistan, his father told AP, saying he worries his son may have PTSD from the conflict zones.

The arrest occurred the same day “Kang and an undercover agent allegedly went shopping for a drone to give to Islamic State fighters.”

Adds AP: “Kang, a trained air traffic controller based at Hawaii’s Wheeler Army Airfield, had his military clearance revoked in 2012 for making pro-Islamic State comments while at work and on-post and threatening to hurt or kill fellow service members.” Story, here.

Tragic news out of Mississippi: 15 Marines and one Sailor have died after a KC-130 transport aircraft crashed in rural Leflore County Monday afternoon. “The plane went down just off US 82, about 85 miles north of Jackson, with debris found on both sides of the highway,” CNN reports. “The flight originated from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in eastern North Carolina, the Marines said. The service hasn't commented on the crew's mission, the itinerary or the destination. CNN affiliates WDBD and WHBQ, citing officials they didn't name, reported the plane had stopped in Memphis, Tennessee.”

POTUS Trump called the crash heartbreaking in an early morning tweet. Story from CNN, here.

Donald Trump Jr. knew about the Russian effort to help his father’s election campaign before he met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer whom he believed would provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton, reports the New York Times, citing three unnamed people “with knowledge of the email” sent to inform him.

Who was the lawyer? Natalia Veselnitskaya, once hired by the Russian government to lead an effort to get the United States to lift economic sanctions on 44 Russian businessmen and oligarchs. Veselnitskaya also defended a key figure in an alleged scheme to launder $230 million in Russian tax money by members of the Klyuev Group, “linked to the Russian government through connections in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Tax Ministry, and the courts,” as recounted by Washington Monthly. (The case was brought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, fired by President Trump in March.)

Student journalism FTW. Washington state high school reporter Teddy Fischer called the SecDef’s leaked phone number (thanks WaPo) and landed a fine interview with the man running America’s military. Select wisdom from Mattis:

  • On the importance of history: “I would tell you that no matter what you’re going to go into, whether it be business or politics or international relations or domestic politics, I don’t think you can go wrong if you maintain an avid interest in history. The reason I say that is you’ll find that really, there’s nothing new under the sun, other than some of the technology we use.”
  • How to react in media landscape of “scary news”: “Probably the most important thing is to get involved. You’ll gain courage when you get involved.“
  • How can the U.S. defeat an ideology (like ISIS): “I think ideologies can be countered by showing people a better education and hope for the future by learning how to get along with one another. And for all of our problems in our country, we’re probably still the best example of that in the world.”

The entire interview is worth the click, here.

White House aides tapped Blackwater founder Erik Prince and DynCorp International owner Stephen Feinberg to come up with a plan for Afghanistan, NYTs reported Monday. The request reportedly came from WH aides Stephen Bannon and Jared Kushner.

The Times: “On Saturday morning, Mr. Bannon sought out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon to try to get a hearing for their ideas, an American official said. Mr. Mattis listened politely but declined to include the outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading along with the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.”

The problem: “Soliciting the views of Mr. Prince and Mr. Feinberg certainly qualifies as out-of-the-box thinking in a process dominated by military leaders in the Pentagon and the National Security Council. But it also raises a host of ethical issues, not least that both men could profit from their recommendations.” More here.

Lastly today: No to Sharia — but yes to swords. Shortly after the state of Texas passed an anti-Sharia law bill in late June, the state will now allow the open carry of knives and swords, according to Fox News in Austin. The stipulations: You must be over 18 years of age, and your blades must be… actually you can have long blades — longer than the previous limit of 5.5 inches.

The new law is set to take effect in September, and excludes open-carry of long knives in “bars, schools, churches, airports, government buildings, hospitals, correctional facilities, sporting events and polling locations.” Story, here.

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