Seoul asks to delay joint exercise; AP: Mosul liberation killed far more civilians than ISIS fighters; Afghanistan airstrikes near 2012 surge levels; Ukraine wants POWs home by Christmas; and just a bit more…

South Korea asks U.S. to delay joint military drills until after the Winter Olympics. The American command in Seoul said it was considering the request from President Moon Jae-in. Washington Post: “Delaying the huge exercises would be a considerable olive branch to Pyongyang and underscores Seoul’s concern that North Korea might try to interfere with the Winter Games, which are due to be held just 50 miles south of the border between the two Koreas starting Feb. 9.”

ICYMI: “The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has raised concerns about the safety of American athletes at the Games, although the White House later said that they would attend.” Read on, here.

Can passing a book to the North Koreans help ease tensions on the peninsula? One UN official seemed to hope so when he passed Chris Clark’s 2012 book, “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914,” to North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho during a quiet trip to Pyongyang from December 5 to 9, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported Tuesday evening.

Line of the year? "We are more challenging [to North Korea] if we are less predictable," Adm. John Richardson, chief of U.S. naval operations, said in an interview with Japanese media at the Yokosuka base near Tokyo, Kyodo News reports in a short story.

Meanwhile U.S. soldiers have been testing new technology to clear tunnels in South Korea. The gear includes a radio that “creates a peer-to-peer radio relay, allowing the transmission of text and imagery between troops in the tunnel and to a commander on the surface” and night-vision goggles that “use thermal detection when ambient light wanes.”

Reminder: “South Korea’s defense ministry estimates there are 6,000 to 8,000 underground facilities in the North, ranging from shelters to storage sites for artillery and nuclear weapons. they might enter in North Korea.” All that via Stripes, here.

From Defense One

The Desperate Push To Get Ukrainian POWs Home by Christmas // Patrick Tucker: Kiev wants to send hundreds of captured war prisoners home to Russian-controlled areas. But not everyone wants to go back.

What Does a Government Shutdown Mean for the Department of Defense? // Susanna V. Blume: Four years ago, this staffer for the defense policy undersecretary helped the Pentagon figure out the impacts of a shutdown. Hint: it wasn't pretty.

The National Security Strategy Papers Over a Crisis // Thomas Wright: The NSS is a stunning repudiation of Trump, and Trump's speech was a stunning repudiation of the NSS.

Three Ways to Read Trump's National Security Strategy // Eliot A. Cohen: Is it better approached as a sacred text, or examined like the scat of a shaggy, woodland beast?

Kaspersky Strikes Back After US Government Ban // Joseph Marks: The Russian anti-virus company wasn't given a meaningful opportunity to defend itself, the CEO says in legal suit.

Trump Administration Seeks Outside Help to Hire 26,000 Immigration Officers  // Eric Katz: CBP just awarded a separate $300 million contract for Border Patrol hiring assistance.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Email us. And if you don’t subscribe already, consider subscribing. It’s free. OTD1941: The Flying Tigers see their first combat, turning back Japanese bombers over Kunming, China.

The battle for Mosul likely killed thousands more civilians than ISIS fighters, the Associated Press reports in a new and exhaustive look at the impact of the largest battle on the planet in the past decade.
What they found: A death told between 9,000 and 11,000, “a civilian casualty rate nearly 10 times higher than what has been previously reported… The coalition, which says it lacks the resources to send investigators into Mosul, acknowledges responsibility for only 326 of the deaths.”
What’s more, “Of the nearly 10,000 deaths the AP found, around a third of the casualties died in bombardments by the U.S.-led coalition or Iraqi forces, the AP analysis found. Another third of the dead were killed in the Islamic State group’s final frenzy of violence. And it could not be determined which side was responsible for the deaths of the remainder, who were cowering in neighborhoods battered by airstrikes, IS explosives and mortar rounds from all sides.”
How they found this out: Via tallies being kept by “Mosul’s gravediggers, its morgue workers and the volunteers who retrieve bodies from the city’s rubble.” Read more — including photos and charts packed with supporting data — here.
Listen closer: NPR’s Jane Arraf filed a seven-minute story digging into just these issues on Tuesday’s “All Things Considered.”

The latest on ISIS’s end strength: “The United States estimates less than 3,000 ISIS fighters remain in Syria and Iraq, with the vast majority confined to small chunks of land that the group still occupies along the Euphrates River, south of Raqqa in eastern Syria,” Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday off remarks from coalition spox U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon.
In Syria, some of the fiercest fighting has taken place in “the village of Abu Hamam about 30 miles from the country’s border with Iraq along the Euphrates,” Dillon explained. “This specific area is not just a pocket of two or three or five to seven [ISIS fighters]; it is much more formidable.”
And in Iraq, where the prime minister declared his country’s war against ISIS over on Dec. 9, “roughly 5,200 troops in Iraq have shifted their mission somewhat in recent weeks,” Stripes writes. What they’re doing now is “train[ing] Iraqi security forces at dedicated facilities throughout the nation, but they have largely ceased advise and assist operation with combat units.”

So what about the rest of America’s counterterrorism operations in 2017? Under President Trump, airstrikes doubled in Somalia and tripled in Yemen, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported Tuesday.
Sidenote on Yemen: The Saudi-led coalition is believed to have killed 136 Yemeni civilians in the 11 days that ended December 16, UN spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights told reporters Tuesday.
“The airstrikes, which also injured 87 people, hit Yemen's rebel-run TV channel, a hospital in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, and a wedding party — a strike that killed one woman and nine children, the rights office said. Seven strikes on a police compound in Sanaa on Dec. 13 killed at least 43 people when the compound's prison grounds were hit, the office said. All those victims were reportedly detainees loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is supported by the coalition.” More here.
And in Afghanistan, "the number of weapons dropped [by U.S. warplanes] is now approaching levels last seen during the 2009-2012 surge,” the BIJ continued in their year-in-review report. “Meanwhile, there are signs that the drone war may be returning to Pakistan, where attacks were also up, compared with 2016." Read on, and review a few charts to support their case, here.

Defense Secretary Mattis now has an official special operations adviser. “The U.S. Senate on Monday confirmed Owen West as the assistant secretary of defense for special operations in a 74-23 vote,” Defense News reported Tuesday. “West, a retired Marine, published author and Goldman Sachs executive, cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 20, but had been stuck in limbo ever since.” A tiny bit more, here.

Is the Trump administration asking for trouble by lifting arms sales restrictions to troubled states across the globe? Thomas Buergenthal of the George Washington University Law School, suggests this could very well foreshadow a proliferation problem in the years to come, writing this morning in Just Security.
Advancing his argument, Buergenthal writes, “In the first 11 months of 2017, the Trump administration notified Congress of arms transfers valued at $80.7 billion, which is almost double the amount the Obama administration sold in the same period in 2016 ($58.6b)... Military aircraft and bombs have been sold to air forces that face credible allegations of unnecessarily bombing civilians, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Nigeria. The Trump administration has also proposed to or has already sold guns to countries with problematic human rights records including Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Turkey, the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.” Read on for his prescriptions, here.   

Lockheed Martin missed F-35 delivery deadlines for a fourth straight year. That’s from the Pentagon’s Defense Contract Management Agency, which says that some of the 66 planes delivered in 2017 missed their monthly deadlines. Still, all of the jets will arrive by year’s end, allowing Lockheed officials to say that the company has met its “2017 delivery commitment.” DCMA noted in February that Lockheed “did not meet contract requirements in 2014, 2015 or 2016.” From Bloomberg, here.

And lastly today, we turn to Europe where German newspaper Bild says Russia simulated a war against NATO with its Zapad 2017 exercises.
What Moscow and its Belarusian counterparts reportedly simulated: “the capture of the Baltic states (and Belarus) as well as a “shock campaign” against Western European NATO nations such as Germany and the Netherlands, but also against Poland, Norway and the non-aligned states of Sweden and Finland.”
How, and according to whom? Entering the Suwalki gap and "creating the artificial state of 'Veyshnoria' at the exact location of the 40-kilometre land bridge between Poland and Lithuania.” That’s according to “two [unnamed] leading analysts from a western intelligence service.” Much more to chew on, and you can continue reading it all over here.