Iraq takes last ISIS-held town; Why US will stay in Syria; Cyber fight brews; Preconditions for NorK nuke talks, kind of; and just a bit more....

Iraqi security forces have retaken the last ISIS-held town in the country, the Associated Press reports from western Iraq. “At dawn, military units and local tribal fighters pushed into the western neighborhoods of Rawah in western Anbar province, and after just five hours of fighting they retook the town.”

Get your bearings: Rawah lies about 175 miles northwest of Baghdad, “along the Euphrates River Valley near the border town of Qaim that Iraqi forces retook from IS earlier this month,” AP writes.

What’s left? “Patches of rural territory in the country’s vast western desert along the border with Syria.”

NPR’s Jane Arraf says ISIS now holds just 5 percent of the territory it once gained at the height of its caliphate, three years ago. More on what remains inside Syria below. But first...

Don’t miss:The Uncounted,” a disturbing on-the-ground assessment of American airstrikes in the war against ISIS in Iraq, via The New York Times.

One excerpt: The Times' findings are “at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, [the ISIS war] may be the least transparent war in recent American history.” Worth the click, here.

From Defense One

A Fight Is Brewing Between Congress and the Military Over Cyber War // Patrick Tucker: Should in-theatre commanders be allowed to launch attacks that currently require approval from the national command authority?

White House Speeds Up Decisions on Disclosing Dangerous Software Bugs // Patrick Tucker: More agencies will be invited to the table, and more quickly, Trump's cyber coordinator says.

Which Bugs Will Hackers Exploit First? Machine Learning Promises a Better Guess // Patrick Tucker: Most vulnerabilities are known; defenders need a better way to know which ones pose an imminent threat.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Autonomy is the new cyber; Dubai Air Show wrap-up; Raytheon and Saab to collaborate; and more.

Welcome to this Friday 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. OTD1947: Three Bell Labs researchers begin the “Miracle Month” that produces the transistor.

Preventing an “ISIS 2.0” is why the U.S. military is staying in Syria now that ISIS appears to be defeated there, NPR reports this morning in a good review of where the dominant actors in the Syrian conflict now stand in relation to one another. The short story for the U.S. staying put: There is hardly any substantive cohesion between Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iran, the U.S., Israel and others on how exactly to proceed from here. Read here, or listen here.
Where ISIS remains in Syria: “parts of the border town of Boukamal and a patch of territory near the capital, Damascus, and in central Hama province,” AP reports.
Status report on ISIS: “Despite IS’ significant territorial losses, the group’s media arm remains intact, allowing it to still recruit supporters and inspire new attacks,” AP adds. “Iraqi and American officials say IS militants are expected to continue carrying out insurgent-style attacks in Syria, Iraq and beyond.” More at the bottom of this story.

Euphrates Shield redux? Turkey’s Erdogan says his troops must be the ones to clear Syria's northwestern Afrin region of the U.S.-backed YPG militia, Reuters reports. “Erdogan has previously said that Afrin would be on Ankara's agenda after its current operation in Syria's Idlib province, where Turkey and Russia have set up observation points under a ‘de-escalation’ deal agreed by Ankara, Moscow and Tehran to ease the bloodshed in the six-year-old Syrian conflict.” More here.

Like clockwork, Russia vetoed that UN resolution to extend the investigation into alleged chemical weapons use in the Syrian war, NYTs reports. “Eleven of the 15 members of the Security Council voted in favor of the American resolution, with Russia and Bolivia opposed, and China and Egypt abstaining… The Russian veto means the panel, which has found that both the Syrian government and Islamic State militants have used chemical poisons in the war, will be dissolved as of Friday.”
Harsh words from the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley: “The message to anyone listening is clear: In effect, Russia accepts the use of chemical weapons in Syria.” Read on, here.

An ominous weekend for Zimbabwe. The country’s military has invited citizens to demonstrate against President Robert Mugabe on Saturday in the capital of Harare, NPR reports this morning from the city after speaking to journalist Jeffrey Barbee.
But first: Mugabe made his first public appearance since the not-a-coup began earlier this week. Reuters from Harare: “Mugabe, who is 93, opened a graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University in Harare. He wore blue and yellow academic robes and a mortar board hat and appeared to fall asleep in his chair as his eyes closed and his head lolled.”
Now what? “A senior member of the ZANU-PF ruling party said it wanted [Mugabe] gone,” Reuters writes. “If he becomes stubborn, we will arrange for him to be fired on Sunday,” the source said. “When that is done, it’s impeachment on Tuesday.”
Meanwhile, “The army is camped on his doorstep. His wife, Grace, is under house arrest, and her key political allies are in military custody. The police, once a bastion of support, have showed no signs of resistance.”
Also worth noting: Zimbabwe army chief, Gen Constantino Guveya Chiwenga, took a trip to see China’s defense minister last week — the timing of which now appears a little suspect, The Guardian reports.
Some light on why that might have happened: “China, which has backed Mugabe since the anti-colonial struggle of the 1970s, is also now Harare’s largest foreign investor, pumping huge sums into the Zimbabwean economy in exchange for natural resources and agricultural products such as diamonds and tobacco.”

With missile defense a questionable path re: North Korea, the U.S. is looking for Plans B and C. “Buried in an emergency funding request to Congress lie hints of new ways to confront Pyongyang, like cyberweapons and armed drones.” The New York Times has that story, here.
Preconditions for talks, SecDef version. “So long as [the North Koreans] stop testing, stop developing, they don’t export their weapons, there would be opportunity for talks,” James Mattis told reporters in Colorado Springs on Thursday. (Reminder: the Trump administration has yet to offer a consistent set of conditions under which Washington will seek talks.)
Pyongyang retorts: negotiating over its nukes ain’t gonna happen “as long as joint U.S-South Korea military exercises continue,” Reuters reports from Geneva. "In an interview with Reuters, Han Tae Song, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, brushed off the new sanctions which the Trump administration has said it is preparing, as well as the possibility of North Korea being added to a U.S. list of states sponsoring terrorism."
Han: “As long as there is continuous hostile policy against my country by the U.S. and as long as there are continued war games at our doorstep, then there will not be negotiations… The DPRK, my country, will continue to build-up its self-defense capability, the pivot of which is nuclear forces and capability for a triumphant...strike as long as U.S. and hostile forces keep up nuclear threat and blackmail... Our country plans ultimate completion of the nuclear force." That, here.

DPRK “rushing” to develop missile sub. 38 North analysts say images taken on Nov. 5 of Sinpo South Shipyard may show a “follow-on to the current SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine.” Via Reuters, here.
Beijing sails ahead in South China Sea. Foreign Policy notes that while everyone’s talking about NorK nukes and trade pacts, China has hardly put on hold its plans to exert control over these strategic and dispute waters. That, here.
Here’s a new way to look at the SCS: places to hide a ballistic-missile submarine.  

Congress just sent a $700B defense bill to the president’s desk. Some highlights, according to CNN:

  • $626.4 billion was approved for the base budget authority and $65.7 billion was approved for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund.
  • Funding for 90 F-35s, "20 more than requested by President Donald Trump's initial budget," CNN writes, as well as funding for "three additional Littoral Combat Ships."
  • There's also another "$4.4 billion above the President's initial budget request to meet critical missile defense needs," which includes as many as "28 additional ground-based Interceptors" and development for "a space-based sensor layer for ballistic missile defense."
  • $5.9 billion is authorized for Virginia-class submarines, and another $5.6 billion is for Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
  • There's $4.4 billion for aircraft carriers, $3.1 billion for Army helicopters and $1.9 billion "for procuring 24 F/A-18 Super Hornets," Stars and Stripes adds.
  • "The plan also increases the military force by adding 7,500 soldiers to the Army and another 1,000 to the Marine Corps," Stripes writes. "It also increases the Army Reserve force by 500 and adds 500 to the Army National Guard" and "reauthorizes 30 types of bonuses and payments linked to recruiting."

The complication ahead: "The bill sets defense spending well above the $549 billion cap under the Budget Control Act and Senate Democrats have vowed to block major increases to defense spending without equal increases for domestic programs. That fight will occur later this year over the defense appropriations bill, which is a separate piece of legislation that allocates spending for the Pentagon." More here.

“Look what you made me do,” continued. The Pentagon is making moves to build a missile banned by the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, The Wall Street Journal reports.  
Background: “This summer, Congress instructed the Pentagon to begin research and development on an intermediate-range, road-mobile, ground-launched missile system in response to Russia’s violations of the treaty. The Pentagon started preliminary research for the missile given the likelihood that it soon would be required by law, U.S. officials said.”
The underlying purpose: “American officials say they don't want to end the Cold War-era accord... but rather bring Russia back into compliance. Washington hopes to show Moscow the kinds of new American weapons Russia’s armed forces would face if they don’t stop violating the INF, U.S. officials say.”
Quote of the day: “The idea here is we need to send a message to the Russians that they will pay a military price for violation of this treaty,” one U.S. official said. “We are posturing ourselves to live in a post-INF world…if that is the world the Russians want.” Read on, (paywall alert) here.

RexT outlines his redesign plans for State in 8 slides, here. But that’s not good enough for Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, who “has voiced concerns about Tillerson’s management of the State Department and his still-fuzzy plans to restructure it.” Politico, here.

Sudan could come off America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. NYT reports from Nairobi off new efforts from Rex T’s State Department.

Three in five U.S. troops “are not willing to recommend military service to their children,” according to a new survey Anthony Kurta, the current undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, spoke about Thursday at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The biggest concern on troops’ minds: Time away from family, Federal News Radio writes. Read on, here.

Army’s about-face. In September, an Army memo said the service would start accepting recruits with certain mental health issues, including self-mutilation. On Sunday, USA Today wrote about it. On Wednesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the policy hadn’t actually changed, and thanks to the news story, the Army had rescinded the memo. Read, here.

Lastly this week: When retweets really do not = endorsements. That was the message from the Pentagon late Thursday after an unnamed staffer with access to the Defense Department’s Twitter account retweeted “an activist’s call for President Donald Trump to step down,” as Politico reports. “Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning issued a statement explaining that an ‘authorized operator’ of the account 'erroneously re-tweeted content that would not be endorsed by the Department of Defense.' He added that 'the operator caught this error and immediately deleted it.'"

Have a safe weekend, gang. And careful with those RTs. We’ll see you again on Monday.