Assad set to rule at least 4 more years; Finally, a US ambassador tapped for Seoul; China runs ‘encircling drills’ around Taiwan; EU launches joint defense projects; and just a bit more...

President Trump to consent to Assad’s rule for four more years. The White House “is now prepared to accept President Bashar al-Assad’s continued rule until Syria’s next scheduled Presidential election, in 2021,” The New Yorker’s Robin Wright reported Monday, citing “U.S. and European officials.”

Why? Not that this is a big surprise — but it appears to be happening, at least in part, because of the crowded field in Syria, which greatly limit America’s options. “Syria now controls the majority of territory—including cities such as Damascus, Hama, Homs, Latakia, and Aleppo, which was once the opposition’s crown jewel—that U.S. analysts refer to as ‘useful Syria,’” Wright reports. As well, “The regime and its foreign allies—Russia, Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah—have consolidated what were, a year ago, unconnected patches of territory. And Assad’s rule has been restored over the majority of the Syrian population.”

On top of this, the U.S. is getting trounced at the diplomacy game, such as it is, having now been “marginalized by the powerful troika of Russia, Iran, and Turkey, which now dominates the peace process.” Read on, here.

About that Syrian conflict... according to Putin, “Russia will withdraw half its personnel and 2/3 of equipment from Syria. That includes 2 dozen aircraft, special forces, military police, sappers, field hospital,” NPR’s Lucian Kim tweeted this morning after reading over this Russian news report.

Extra reading: In wars of the future, America’s soldiers and Marines will be very closely watched. And now they’re beginning to train with that in mind — according to a new joint Urban Operations technique publication (ATP 3-06 / MCTP 12-10B), released last week and brought to our attention by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

An excerpt: “Soldiers/Marines are likely to have their activities recorded in real time and shared instantly both locally and globally. In sum, friendly forces must have an expectation of observation for many of their activities and must employ information operations to deal with this reality effectively…Under media scrutiny, the action of one Soldier/Marine has significant strategic implications.”

Also noteworthy: “Currently more than 50 percent of the world population lives in urban areas and is likely to increase to 70 percent by 2050, making military operations in cities both inevitable and the norm.”

Throwback Tuesday: Though smartphones and social media have certainly put the phenomenon on steroids, it all sounds a lot like the “strategic corporal” and “three-block war” described back in 1999 by then-USMC Commandant Gen. Chuck Krulak.

From Defense One

China May Be Preparing Refugee Sites in Case of a Korean War // Patrick Tucker: A leaked document from a Chinese telecommunications company hints that Beijing is anticipating an influx of war refugees.

Did the Saudis Shoot Down a Houthi Missile on Nov. 4? It Doesn't Much Matter // Rebeccah Heinrichs; The Patriot has proven itself with dozens of successful intercepts. Moreover, it's just one part of a solid anti-missile defense strategy.

NGA Launches Bold Recruitment Plan to Hire Silicon Valley's Best // Frank Konkel: The intelligence agency is hacking hiring rules to fill three new digital teams in its quest for data dominance.

Pentagon Unleashes 2,400 Auditors for Unprecedented Financial Review // Eric Katz: After decades of false starts, the Defense Department aims to issue its first audit report in November 2018.

One Chart Showing Every Military and Civilian Pay Raise Since 1984 // Ross Gianfortune: Since 2000, military pay raises have been either higher than or equal to civilian ones.

Welcome to this Tuesday 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. OTD1862: USS Cairo becomes the first ship sunk by controlled mine.

Another joint exercise over the Korean peninsula happened today. This one involving “Japanese F-15 fighters on Tuesday held drills with U.S. B1-B bombers, F-35 stealth aircraft and F-18s,” Reuters reports from Tokyo. The drills occurred above “the East China Sea, south of the Korean peninsula,” and was “the largest in a series aimed at pressuring North Korea following its ballistic missile tests.”

For the sake of diplomacy. The dynamics could be a little different in the months ahead since — after leaving the post vacant for nearly a year — President Trump has now selected Georgetown Professor and Korean expert Victor Cha as the next U.S. Ambassador to South Korea.
And it’s just in time since The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib thinks now is as good a time as any for diplomatic discussions with North Korea — citing historical North Korean missile launch data compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Speaking of diplomacy: SecState Rex Tillerson is scheduled to keynote the Atlantic Council’s Korea Foundation Forum today in Washington at 3:30 p.m. EDT. The day’s event starts at 10 a.m., and you can get more info or watch a livestream, here.
And National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is scheduled for a noon keynote in Washington at an event hosted by the Policy Exchange, called “US-UK Relations in a Changing World.” Details here.  

And back to the region: China’s leader, Xi Jinping, meets South Korean President for the third time this year on Thursday in Beijing.

Don’t look now, but China and Russia just began a new anti-ballistic missile exercise in Beijing on Monday using a “computer-simulated command post,” The Diplomat reports this morning. More context than details, here.
China’s air force has gotten Taiwan’s attention with an increasing number of “island encirclement patrols” using “H-6K bombers, Su-30 and J-11 fighter jets, and surveillance, alert and refueling aircraft… over the Miyako Strait in Japan’s south and the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines” in a test of combat capabilities, Reuters reported Monday. However, Taiwan’s defense minister said “the drills were not unusual and people should not be alarmed.”

The European Union has begun a few joint defense projects, and they include “submarine drones and cyber attack rapid response teams as [the EU] launched a landmark pact on boosting military cooperation,” Agence France-Presse reported Monday. The EU’s formal name for this military bloc: “permanent structured cooperation on defence,” or PESCO.
AFP: “The first batch of 17 schemes includes a Belgian-led project to develop submarine drones to tackle mines at sea. It also involves the creation of ‘cyber rapid response teams’, led by Lithuania.” A tiny bit more, here.

Considering it’s been more than 16 years, the war in Afghanistan is largely going pretty poorly. But if you break off the conflict into terrorist groups and their territory, America’s war against ISIS in Afghanistan is reportedly going pretty well, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday from the Achin district of eastern Nangarhar province.
The situation: “Afghan and U.S. special-operations troops this year have pushed back Islamic State in a monthslong offense largely overshadowed by high-profile battles to retake militant-held cities in Syria and Iraq... The enemy is now holed up in unforgiving mountains. Islamic State fighters, isolated from civilians, are vulnerable to American airstrikes. On the ground, Green Berets are paired with some of the best Afghan units, elite commando companies.”

A big clearing operation against ISIS in the northern Jowzjan and Faryab provinces is expected to begin soon, Stars and Stripes adds, reporting from Kabul this morning. "Earlier this year, ISIS-K was thought to have only a few hundred fighters, down from a high of up to 3,000, but officials now say around 1,100 fighters are operating throughout the country. About 300 are believed to be operating in Kunar and Jowzjan provinces." Read on, here.

And lastly, two footnotes from Korea: Charles Jenkins, the American soldier who defected to North Korea and spent decades there, has died in Japan, aged 77. In 1965, drunk and terrified of being sent to the Vietnam War, Jenkins walked across the DMZ. He eventually found love under an authoritarian regime, and in 2004 was allowed to move to Japan. Via Japan Today, here.

NK defector soldier given free Choco pies for life. Oh Chung-sung, who defected to South Korea in November, will be receive a lifetime supply of the popular snack by its manufacturer. The confection, which is popular in the South, is described as “a snack cake covered with chocolate and filled with marshmallow.” Korea Herald, here.