B-52 base preps for round-the-clock alert; US-backed Syrians win race to Deir ez-Zor; Extremist attacks killed almost 200 this weekend; Details emerge about Niger incident; and just a bit more...

Exclusive: U.S. Air Force tells its bomber force to get ready for 24-hour ready-to-fly status. At Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, they’re rehabbing runwayside ready rooms unused since 1991, reports Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber.

“This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said in an interview during his six-day tour of Barksdale and other U.S. Air Force bases that support the nuclear mission. “I look at it more as not planning for any specific event, but more for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in and how we ensure we’re prepared going forward.”

If the alert order comes — and Goldfein and other senior defense officials stressed that it has not — Barksdale’s B-52s would return to a posture not seen since the Cold War: laden with nuclear weapons and set to take off at a moment’s notice. (Any such decision would be made by Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, or Gen. Lori Robinson, the head of U.S. Northern Command. STRATCOM is in charge of the military’s nuclear forces and NORTHCOM is in charge of defending North America.)

Think about new ways to use nukes, Goldfein tells airmen. The Air Force’s top general is also asking his force to think about new ways that nuclear weapons could be used for deterrence, or even combat.

“The world is a dangerous place and we’ve got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons,” he said. “It’s no longer a bipolar world where it’s just us and the Soviet Union. We’ve got other players out there who have nuclear capability. It’s never been more important to make sure that we get this mission right.” Read on, here.

Pyongyang pauses testing. If past numbers are any clue, the U.S. has until about February to advance negotiations with the North Koreans before they resume rocket tests at a greater pace. That’s according to analyst Shea Cotton of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California. It all started with Shea noticing it’s been almost 40 days since Pyongyang launched a missile, “the longest gap in tests we’ve seen since DPRK started tests on Feb 12 this year,” he says. But looking back over North Korea’s launches since 2012, there’s a steep decline in the last quarter of every year. “I’m not sure why this happens. I suspect North Korea spends its resources in the fall on the harvest or other winter preparations,” he said. “The point I’m making is that this slow down probably isn’t cuz our DPRK policies are working so much as it’s KJU staying on schedule. And also that if we want to negotiate with DPRK now is a great time to do it since they’re not going to be firing off rockets every week. Assuming this year and last were anything to go by, we got until about February 2018 before they are likely to start up again.” That Twitter thread starts here.

FWIW: Former President Jimmy Carter said he’ll go to North Korea in an attempt to defuse tensions. That via The New York Times, here.

SecDef Mattis is in Manila today for meetings with “with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo during a gathering of defense ministers of Association of Southeast Asian Nations,” The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold reports, traveling with the secretary. “Mr. Mattis has plans to meet with officials from other Asean nations as well, including India, Indonesia and Malaysia. They will discuss “the regional security crisis caused by the reckless DPRK, North Korea provocations” among other issues, Mr. Mattis told reporters on a plane Monday.”

Japan’s DM sounds alarm on North Korea. Odonera took the opportunity Monday to say that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles have arrive at an “unprecedented, critical and imminent” level that requires “different responses” to the threat. Washington Post: The minister said that “this rising threat compels his country to endorse the U.S. view that ‘all options’ must be considered, which President Donald Trump says includes possible military action.”

From Defense One

US Preparing to Put Nuclear Bombers Back on 24-Hour Alert // Marcus Weisgerber: If the order comes, the B-52s will return to a ready-to-fly posture not seen since the Cold War.

A Tale of Two Speeches // Richard Fontaine: Sen. McCain and former President Bush called for Americans to rise to global leadership, and underscored the concrete benefits that have accrued from it. In normal times, this would be unexceptional.

The Contradiction at the Core of Trump's North Korea Strategy // Uri Friedman: The president's national-security advisers say they're running out of time to do something extremely time-consuming.

The Bloody End of the Islamic State's Utopian Dream // Graeme Wood: The fall of Raqqa this week completed the slow-motion demolition of the world's only utopian movement worthy of the name.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you don’t subscribe already, consider subscribing. It’s free. OTD1962: President Kennedy orders U.S. forces to blockade Cuba.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have “won” the race to Syria’s Deir ez-Zor — besting Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian and Hezbollah airpower and troops, The New York Times reported Sunday.
To the victor, as it were (for now, anyway): Syria’s largest oil field — the Conoco gas plant and Al Omar oilfield, “purportedly key to Damascus’s push” into Deir ez-Zor, Middle East analyst Hassan Hassan noted Sunday, reminding followers “A previous claim of Russian control of Conoco was false.”
So, what next? Possibly a new flashpoint in U.S. and Russian proxy forces in the area since they’re still so close to one another, the Times warns.
To that end, the U.S. military says discussions with the Russians are ongoing, the Associated Press reports this morning as “SDF fighters are fighting remaining IS militants in a housing complex adjacent to the oil field.” From there, they plan to “to secure key areas and will attack further into IS-held areas along the border with Iraq and in the oil-rich region of Deir el-Zour.”
And as for Assad’s forces, "Mayadeen isn’t as important for Damascus now," Hassan writes. The Syrian army, then, will now "either focus on consolidating gains between DeZ & Mayadeen or move to Albukamal."
Setback for Assad’s troops. Almost 200 miles from Deir ez-Zor, ISIS returned to the town of Al-Qaratayn to kill at least 128 people, The Independent reports this morning.
The volunteers without orders. Two Americans volunteered to fight ISIS with the SDF. Now they’re both in a sort of limbo, the LA Times reported Sunday.

The State Department speaks on the Kurdish icon Ocalan — even as U.S.-backed fighters in Raqqa double-down on their ties to the enemy of Turkey. Reuters: “On Saturday, the U.S. embassy in Turkey issued a statement reiterating its misgivings about Ocalan, in an apparent response to criticism from the Turkish government over the banner” SDF fighters displayed proudly after retaking Raqqa from ISIS last week.
State Department: “The PKK is listed among foreign terror organizations. Ocalan has been jailed in Turkey for his actions related to the PKK. He is not a person to be respected.”
FWIW, according to the U.S. military, “the Ocalan banner was not sanctioned by the SDF leadership,” Reuters reports. “Furthermore, the Coalition does not approve of the display of divisive symbols and imagery at a time in which we remain focused on the defeat of Daesh (IS) in Syria,” Colonel Ryan Dillon, the coalition spokesman, said. More here.
Also noteworthy: Now Iraqi official statements are referring to the PKK as terrorists. That, here.

This weekend in extremist attacks around the world:

  • 13 Nigerien security forces were killed by “gunmen on pickup trucks and motorcycles from Mali” not far from where American troops were attacked on October 4.
  • 15 Afghan cadets were killed in Kabul when a “suicide attacker rammed a car full of explosives into a bus leaving Afghanistan’s top military training center” on Saturday.
  • At least 85 were killed in Kabul mosque bombing that involved grenades and a suicide bomber on Saturday.
  • Egypt gun battle on Friday killed 52 “in a remote area around 135 km southwest of Cairo.”
  • A roadside bomb killed seven farmers outside of Mogadishu on Sunday.
  • And that happened the same day Somali officials raised the death toll from last weekend’s attack to 358.

153 days after it began, the Philippines battle against ISIS affiliates in Marawi is finally over, but six battalions of troops will stay behind for mop-up operations, Reuters reports this morning.
Short and sweet. Here’s SecDef Mattis on the Marawi operation: “The Philippine military has sent a very necessary message to the terrorists.”
And for some context on Marawi, AP has this: “The Philippine military said on Sunday that its troops were battling a final group of about 30 pro-Islamic State group militants as a nearly five-month siege neared its end in Marawai. A gradual withdrawal of forces was underway with the easing of the fighting, which has left at least 1,131 people dead, including 919 militants and 165 soldiers and policemen.” More here.

Happening today: U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl goes before the judge, where AP reports he could face life in prison.
The CIA is expanding their counterterrorism work in Afghanistan, NYTs reported this weekend.
And the Afghan Army’s 207th Corps commander says Russia is arming the Taliban in Farah province with sniper rifles and night-vision scopes. That, via The Guardian, here.
Speaking of sniper rifles, Iranian news is highlighting the sniper rifles of its supported forces during the war in Yemen.

SecState Tillerson to Iran-backed militias in Iraq: “Go home.” That seeming long-shot demand, delivered from Riyadh this morning, comes as part of Tillerson’s mission this week to contain and isolate Iran.
The why: “The United States is concerned that Iran, a Shi‘ite regional power, will take advantage of gains against IS in Iraq and Syria to expand the influence it gained after the U.S. invasion in 2003, something Sunni Arab rivals such as Riyadh also oppose.” More here.
Update: Almost immediately, that "go home" message did not go over well in Baghdad. 

We’re getting an evolving portrayal of what happened in Niger on October 4, including some possibly complicit villagers and virtually non-existent aerial surveillance, according to Voice of America and The Drive, respectively.
And also from the Niger incident: A case study in crisis communications, by way of the White House and the Pentagon. Details, via Roll Call’s John Donnelly, here.  
Food for thought: Are U.S. special operations forces overstretched? The Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko asked the question back in early August. But it would seem just as pertinent today.
See also this headline: “In Congress, Fears Grow About Lack Of Strategy On Multiple Battlefields,” via The Hill.

And finally today: Out of oppression, knowledge in secret. How one Iraqi woman named Amany learned five new languages while hiding from ISIS. Watch her tell the story here.