Attack begins on ISIS’s last bastion in Iraq; White House plans new cybersecurity strategy; Drone strikes may expand to Niger; SecDef, CJSC, PACOM in Seoul today; and just a bit more...

Iraqi forces are attacking the last bastion of ISIS fighters in Iraq, the U.S. military announced this morning — in a bit of welcome news amid the ongoing crisis in Kurdistan. The location: the regions around al-Qaim and Rawa, which border Syria to the west, and are often referred to as the Middle Euphrates River Valley.

CENTCOM: “Al Qaim is Daesh’s final stronghold in Iraq and approximately 1,500 Daesh fighters are estimated to remain in the immediate vicinity... Prior to Daesh’s control of the city, Al Qaim District’s population was around 150,000.”

Reuters reports the Iraqi air force dropped leaflets on the area warning the population to stay away and telling ISIS fighters to surrender.

The U.S. military’s forecast: “Daesh has no chance to win. The outcome is not in doubt,” said Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, in an interview with The New York Times. However, he added, “The real problem is the virtual caliphate that continues to recruit.”

What lies ahead: “only about 1,500 to 2,500 militants remain in western Iraq near the Syrian border, and an additional 2,500 to 5,500 in the Euphrates River valley in eastern Syria,” the Times writes. “The coalition said that the territory controlled by the Islamic State in both countries had dropped from a peak of more than 40,000 square miles in 2014 to about 2,700 square miles today, split roughly between Iraq and Syria.”

Iraq’s prime minister has a message for the U.S.: Don’t bring your problems with Iran into Iraq, The Wall Street Journal reports after a sit-down interview with PM Haider al-Abadi.

FWIW, re: Iran — The U.S. Navy “and Japanese forces joined up this week to save an Iranian [coast guard] fishing boat that was reportedly attacked by pirates off Yemen,” reported Wednesday off a release from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

From Defense One

Trump Administration Plans a New Cybersecurity Strategy // Joseph Marks: The strategy will be based on the main elements of the president's May executive order.

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North Korea keeps using the H-word — and warns its threat of an atmospheric nuclear test should be taken literally, CNN reported Wednesday after speaking with an official from Pyongyang.
North Korean officials also took to the UN Wednesday to protest the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises going on this week, calling them “nuclear war exercises which are the most vicious and ferocious in their scale, style, aim and essence.” AP has more from that angle, here.

Who’s in South Korea today? SecDef Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Dunford, PACOM’s Adm. Harris and U.S. Forces-Korea commander Gen. Vincent Brooks — all of whom are “scheduled to meet with their Korean defense counterparts in Seoul over the next two days for technical discussions on the various military capabilities South Korea is pursuing to better defend itself against North Korea’s evolving ballistic missile program,” Military Times reports from Seoul.

Niger investigator tapped. The Army’s official inquest into the deaths of four U.S. soldiers earlier this month will be led by Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, Jr., chief of staff for U.S. Africa Command. That announcement came from Gen. Joseph Dunford on Thursday. Via Military Times, here.
U.S. moving toward armed drones, lethal force in Niger. The Trump administration appears to be moving toward approving a military plan for drone strikes in Niger, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News. “France has already decided to arm its drones in the region, U.S. documents show, and the move to arm U.S. Reapers has been under consideration for some time — long before this month's ambush of a Green Beret unit that resulted in the deaths of four American soldiers,” NBC reported. The move “would amount to a significant escalation in American counterterrorism operations. There have been occasional U.S. drone strikes reported in Libya and Somalia, but most of Africa has not been part of the U.S. drone war, which has focused on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.” Read that, here.
"Because Drones Win Wars Right?" joked former U.S. special operator Michael Adams. "[M]aybe someday the Pentagon will realize the infinite futility of this strategy."

Speaking of drones: Northrop Grumman has withdrawn from the competition to build unmanned aerial tankers to refuel the U.S. Navy’s carrier-based aircraft. The company, whose stealthy, tailless X-47B proved that large drones could operate from aircraft carriers, dropped out after the Navy decided that it wanted its drone tankers to cost less, arrive sooner, and need not be particularly stealthy. USNI News: “Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Atomics are still in the running for the final [MQ-25A] Stingray design award, expected by the end of Fiscal Year 2018.” Read, here.

The takeaway from SecState Tillerson’s trip to India: Pakistan needs to remove safe havens for terrorists, WSJ reports from New Delhi. As well, “In Wednesday’s talks, Indian and U.S. officials also discussed efforts to boost India’s security role in the Indo-Pacific region by equipping it with advanced military technology and expanding cooperation with U.S. allies in Asia, such as Japan.” More here.
BTW: “Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said the US has handed over to Pakistan a list of names of 75 militants they want action taken against,” Afghanistan’s Tolo News reports this morning off Tillerson’s visit to Islamabad on Tuesday.

One NATO military official on reports Russia has armed the Taliban: “I don’t have and I haven’t seen any hard evidence” of that, Czech Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of NATO’s military committee, told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

Building President Trump’s desired 355-ship Navy will take about 30 years, according to the Navy’s acting undersecretary, Thomas Dee, U.S. Naval Institute News reported Wednesday.

Two things for your eyes only. The first: “the inside story of how Vladimir Putin came to see the United States as an enemy — and why he decided to target an American election,” via PBS Frontline’s two-part series “Putin’s Revenge.” The first episode aired last night; the next one airs next Wednesday.
The second is coming to the big screen, and so you’ve probably already heard something about it — the film “Thank You For Your Service,” which is “based on the book of the same name by journalist David Finkel and tells the story of a group of soldiers struggling to reintegrate into civilian life after returning from tours in Iraq,” CNN writes in review. Read about it here; or watch the trailer, here. It hits theaters tomorrow.