Dispatches from ISIS’ ‘last holdout’; AFRICOM wants more regular troops; Who’s building anti-satellite lasers; Navy plans ‘Naval University’; And a bit more.

ISIS is almost finished in its “last holdout” at the Syrian city of Baghouz, Agence France-Presse’s Maya Gebeily reports on location. (Gebeily’s also on Instagram for this, very possibly the final Syrian Democratic Forces offensive versus ISIS in Syria; find Gebeily’s photos from the field here. See also 53 seconds of captioned b-roll video from AFP’s Fadel Senna, here.)

What to know about this SDF offensive into Baghouz:

  • It’s in its fifth day; ISIS tried to counterattack in day two, but that seems to have fizzled out, CNN’s Ben Wedeman reports on location as well.
  • Aircraft and artillery from the U.S.-led coalition are knocking out called targets during the drive;
  • There were believed to be approximately 500 to 600 ISIS fighters remaining in the city; granted that’s just an estimate, and other SDF estimates about Baghouz (like its assumed population, e.g.) appear to have been wildly inaccurate, Wedeman notes.
  • Residents are leaving the city of Baghouz by the hundreds all night and day;
  • Those residents include Russians and Ukrainians, some of whom claimed to be wives of now-dead ISIS members;
  • And there are some “3,400 suspected jihadists detained by the SDF,” Gebeily writes, citing stats from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Read the rest from AFP, here. Or check out The Telegraph’s Josie Ensor, also reporting on location behind a paywall here.

Also in Syria: Israeli jets are just carried out another airstrike on suspected Iranian military positions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday in a subtle reminder of how Israel has become about these cross-border airstrikes. Voice of America has a bit more a suspected drone strike Netanyahu may have been talking about in Syria’s southern Quneitra province, here.

So there’s a conference on the Middle East held in Poland today. That’s where Netanyahu was dashing off to when he mentioned the airstrike in Syria from Monday. The conference began as a White House-led “Iran-focused meeting,” the Associated Press reports, “but the organizers significantly broadened its scope to include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fight against the Islamic State group, Syria and Yemen.”

Attending: Netanyahu; U.S. Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “and his counterparts from numerous Arab nations,” AP writes.

Not attending: Cabinet-level officials from France and Germany, as well as European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Nor are reps from Russia, China or anyone on behalf of the Palestinians. Unsurprisingly, Iran called the event a “circus.”

Featured speaker: Jared Kushner, who plans to tell the audience “about his as-yet unveiled Middle East peace plan.”

From Defense One

The US Air Force Has Won Control of the Space Force // Marcus Weisgerber: Six months ago, service leaders said they were being cut out of the planning process. Now they’re being put in charge of it.

AFRICOM Commander: SpecOps Cuts Won’t Help China, But We Could Use More Regular Troops // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: “It’s really a misleading narrative to say that optimization is causing us to walk away from Africa,” said AFRICOM’s Gen. Waldhauser, in an exclusive interview.

China, Russia Building Attack Satellites and Space Lasers: Pentagon Report // Patrick Tucker: The DIA says Chinese lasers could be ready to disable U.S. satellites in low Earth orbit by next year.

A 'New INF' with China? No Talks Yet, US Arms Control Chief Says // Katie Bo Williams, Government Executive: State Department’s Andrea Thompson: “Right now, the focus is on Russia.

US Navy to Create Chief Learning Officer, Overhaul Sailor Education // Marcus Weisgerber: The creation of a Naval University and other changes are aimed at better shaping sailors and Marines for tomorrow’s wars.

The Afghan Government Is Missing From Afghanistan's Peace Process // Krishnadev Calamur, The Atlantic: Two sets of negotiations with the Taliban are under way in Afghanistan. Neither includes the country’s democratically elected, internationally recognized administration.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1854, U.S. Navy Adm. Matthew Perry anchored his 10 ships and nearly 1,600 sailors near the Japanese city of Uraga, where officials soon relented to U.S. demands to open its ports to trade. This was Perry’s second landing in Japan — the first was a mere four-ship display of might in July 1853 — at the behest of U.S. President Millard Fillmore, and marked a momentous victory for Fillmore and 19th-century American “gunboat diplomacy.”

The Pentagon is reportedly trying to move bullets, and a lot more, from its base budget into its so-called “slush fund.” In 2017, now-Trump budget chief Mick Mulvaney renounced the use of the OCO fund (né “emergency supplemental”) to pay for things that should be in the regular budget. Apparently, he’s had a change of heart: “The Pentagon in its fiscal year 2020 budget request is planning to ask lawmakers to more than double the size of the Overseas Contingency Operations account, as it is formally called, to a level not seen since the height of the Iraq surge in the late 2000s,” reports Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman, citing five sources (“both U.S. government officials and outside sources close to the discussions”).
Why? To “circumvent mandatory spending limits”: OCO funds are not counted against the 2011 Budget Control Act caps.
Among the items that Mulvaney wants to move off-budget: “Entire programs, such as the U.S. Army’s accounts for ammunition and training, will be moved to this war account, according to multiple sources.” Read on, here.

Looks like a 2nd shutdown will be averted. Los Angeles Times: “Now, after a shutdown estimated to have cost the U.S. economy $11 billion, the spending agreement reached Monday night would give Trump about $200 million and 10 miles less than what he stood to get before he upped his demand to nearly $6 billion late last year.” Trump declared himself “not happy” but also said a shutdown would likely not happen.
Border barriers, by the numbers. 2007: 119 miles of barriers of various types. 2016: 654 miles. 2019: “Two years into his term, not one new mile of a barrier has been erected along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border,” though 25 more miles are planned near El Paso.
Trump tries to take credit: “Even as the president has failed to get the funding he wants for a wall, despite two years with a Republican-controlled Congress, he has shifted to declaring victory and claiming credit for the 654 miles of fencing constructed under his predecessors,” telling supporters at a recent rally to stop chanting “Build the wall” and start chanting “Finish the wall.” He repeated the false claim to reporters at a Cabinet meeting, “It’s very simple: We’re building a wall and now I say we’re finishing a wall.” Read on, here.
The more you know: Congress can rescind a president's emergency declaration, under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. This happens to be something House Democrats are reportedly considering if Trump follows through on his declaration to declare a state of emergency for his promised border wall. NPR’s Tamara Keith has an explainer on all that, here.

Someone in Poland may have gotten their messaging wires crossed. That’s because the Financial Times reported the U.S. ambassador to Poland said Washington will deploy more troops to Poland, but the Pentagon was out quick this morning to pour cold water on that one.
Reports Reuters Idrees Ali: “The Pentagon says ‘any speculation on troop increases or agreements at this point is unfounded.’ It adds that no agreement has been reached and talks continue.”

An insurance company is trying to wriggle out of a claim for damages caused by NotPetya, calling the malware an act of war. Writing at Lawfare, Ariel E. Levite and Wyatt Hoffman explain why the world would be far better off if the insurance industry embraces the huge potential market of cyber damages rather than running from it. Read, here.

And finally this morning: There was a 54-man RICO indictment issued Tuesday out of the Department of Justice’s office in the Eastern District of Arkansas.
The quick read: 54 members of the white supremacist outfit called “New Aryan Empire” were variously charged after much meth had been sold, money and guns were amassed, investigations began, kidnappings occurred, snitches developed, snitches were murdered, and lots more that would fit in an arc or three of  HBO’s “True Detective” (especially at the pace of the current season). Read the full DOJ release from Tuesday, here.