Syrian militants down Russian jet; Another chem attack in Syria; Israel has been bombing inside Egypt; Seoul kept US in dark about Olympic rapprochement; and just a bit more...
Russia is flying its jets a bit higher over Syria this week after militants shot down one of Moscow’s fighter jets in the northwestern province of Idlib “as it flew low over the opposition-held town of Saraqeb” on Saturday, the Washington Post reports.
The new altitude should be above 5,000 meters (or 16,400 ft), Reuters reports, citing a recent report in the Russian newspaper, Izvestia. The downed jet — an Su-25 — was apparently hit by a surface-to-air missile in the hands of the al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham group (formerly the Nusra Front, formerly al-Qaeda in Syria).
About the downed jet: The pilot ejected, landed, and shot at approaching militants with his pistol before apparently detonating a grenade to end his life more on his terms, reportedly exclaiming “eto vam za patsanov!” (or, “this is for our guys!”) before finally pulling the pin. Various videos of the incident made the rounds on social media this weekend, and aren’t hard to find if you’re keen on seeing them.
Two big questions from the incident: First, Who gave HTS the weapons — or, as some suspect, did the militants improvise batteries to power these often-looted weapons? And second, as the Post notes, how will this alter the relationship between Russia and Turkey, “which is monitoring a ‘de-escalation zone’ in the northern province of Idlib as part of an agreement made during Syrian peace talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana.”
Said U.S. State Department spox Heather Nauert: “The United States has never provided MANPAD missiles to any group in Syria, and we are deeply concerned that such weapons are being used.”
Here’s how some weapons make their way around Syria: by being custom fit into the frame of trucks, as this open-source investigator Eliot Higgins noted on Twitter Sunday.
What the U.S. and Russia are beginning to have in common: More experience in quagmires. Russian military advisers are reportedly acknowledging "that Russia’s Syria role has been marred by troubles similar to those the U.S. encountered after invading Iraq and Afghanistan,” the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister writes after reading this report late last week from Financial Times.
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Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And a huge tip of the hat to the Philadelphia Eagles, who remind us underdogs are not to be written off. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.
Another alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria surfaced during the Super Bowl, the Associated Press reports. The short read: “The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group said Sunday night that three of its rescuers and six others were injured by chlorine gas in Saraqeb, a rebel-held town less than 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the front line with government forces. The Syrian American Medical Society says its hospitals in the area treated 11 patients for chlorine gas poisoning.”
If you’re keeping track at home, that makes three new alleged chlorine gas attacks in Syria in four days.
Egypt’s President Sisi wanted all terrorists removed from Sinai within three months. That was back in November. But in the past two years, Israel has been quietly trying to do just that for Sisi, using “unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets [to carry] out a covert air campaign, conducting more than 100 airstrikes inside Egypt, The New York Times reported this weekend off a new book from David D. Kirkpatrick due out in August.
The brief takeaway: “Once enemies in three wars, then antagonists in an uneasy peace, Egypt and Israel are now secret allies in a covert war against a common foe.”
Why the secrecy? “Both neighbors have sought to conceal Israel’s role in the airstrikes for fear of a backlash inside Egypt, where government officials and the state-controlled media continue to discuss Israel as a nemesis and pledge fidelity to the Palestinian cause.” Read on, here.
Hey, officers and NCOs: You may soon have a solution for all those non-deployable U.S. troops. Whether its for disability or some administrative action, if they’ve been in non-deployable status for a year or more, they could be separated from service — if a new Defense Department plan under “final review” is made official, Military Times’ Tara Copp reports.
How many that would affect if implemented today: “Approximately 11 percent, or 235,000, of the 2.1 million personnel serving on active duty, in the reserves or National Guard,” according to Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, the senior enlisted adviser to Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford.
Nearly half of those non-deployable troops (an estimated 99,000) are in that status for either lapsed immunizations or dental exams. "The other numbers I'm talking about [the 116,000 injuries] ... very few of those are related to combat injuries," said Troxell. But, "If you are going to serve and continue to want to serve, and if you want to make this a career, you're going to have to learn that path of recovery and get back to being healthy. Because we need healthy, fit warriors to defend this nation."
Check out your nearest commissary to read more, or wait a few days for the article to appear online.
DepSecDef travels west. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is wheels up this morning for Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs. There, he'll get several classified briefings at National Space Defense Center at Schriever Air Force Base and meet with Gen. John Raymond, the head of Space Command. The visit comes as the Pentagon looks to better protect its satellites. It also comes as the military and Congress debate the creation of a space corps and other reorganization within the space ranks.
Shanahan will also be at Naval Surface Forces headquarters in San Diego later today. The visit comes after a bad year for Navy surface forces, in which two destroyers were involved in deadly collisions with commercial ships. Defense One's Marcus Weisgerber is with Shanahan, so make sure you follow him in Twitter for the latest.
South Korea didn’t tell the US it was going to allow the North to join the Olympics. Wall Street Journal: “North Korea’s surprise outreach and South Korea’s opening to its northern rival have stirred tensions between Seoul and Washington—despite professed unity in public statements—as the allies work to present a common front in dealing with Pyongyang, according to senior U.S. and South Korean officials.” President Trump did not mention the Olympic rapprochement in last week’s State of the Union, although he spend a good bit of time talking about tensions with North Korea. Read on, via MSN, here.
The Trump administration is (was?) thinking about ending accompanied tours in South Korea. About six months ago, Trump saw someone on Fox News suggest that the military stop allowing troops to bring their families with them on deployments to the peninsula, and then he mentioned it to Pentagon leaders. Bottom line, for now: "I don't believe it's happening, but it's been discussed," a senior administration official told NBC. Read, here.
A bit more on that nearly $13 billion missile-defense deal. Washington Post: Boeing received a sole-source contract from the Missile Defense Agency to complete the “accelerated delivery of a new missile field with 20 additional silos” at Fort Greely, Alaska. “It would also pay for the procurement of 20 additional ground-based interceptor missiles, and bring the total value of the contract to $12.6 billion through 2023.” More, here.
ICYMI: North Korea netted $200 million in banned arms sales to Syria and Myanmar, Reuters reported Friday.
Pyongyang has used its German embassy to procure dual-use items, Spiegel Online reports (in German), here.
Possibly worse than snakes on a plane. "Department of Homeland Security documents critiquing the response to a simulated anthrax attack on Super Bowl" were found by a CNN employee "along with other sensitive DHS material, in the seat-back pocket of a commercial plane," the network reported this morning — waiting until the event had concluded before releasing the story.
Known knowns: “The reports were accompanied by the travel itinerary and boarding pass of the government scientist in charge of BioWatch, the DHS program that conducted the anthrax drills in preparation for Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. The reports were based on exercises designed to evaluate the ability of public health, law enforcement and emergency management officials to engage in a coordinated response were a biological attack to be carried out in Minneapolis on Super Bowl Sunday.”
Unknown: Why or how the docs — marked "For Official Use Only" and "important for national security" — were left in the first place. More here.
For your eyes only: Here’s a kinda cool video of a U-2 spy plane pilot going to work.
Related: Is this the new Lockheed Skunk Works' X-44A flying-wing drone? The Drive says yes, but doesn’t go out of its way to cite any sources, replied FlightGlobal’s Stephen Trimble. His reax: “There's simply no way I can accept this as fact without any sourcing at all in the story, but it's a fascinating read and I'm curious to know more. A lot more.”