Developing: Turkey’s president says his military has begun its invasion of Kurdish-held land in northern Syria, and the Syrian military is with Turkey in the operation. That, anyway, is what President Recep Erdogan tweeted at 9:15 a.m. EDT, which is 4:15 p.m. local time where airstrikes were first reported in the vicinity of the central border town of Ras al-Ayn today on social media like this from Turkish NTV. Reuters backs that reporting up, writing from the Turkish border town of Akçakale that airstrikes and artillery are raining down on buildings across Ras al-Ayn.
For the record, the Associated Press reports, “A U.S. official says the Turkish airstrikes in northeastern Syria are not coordinated with the U.S. military and are considered dangerous for the coalition forces and civilians in the area.” Find a succinct, useful explainer (also from AP) on what Turkey wants, what the Kurds are promising, and how this stuff might affect the U.S.-led counter-ISIS coalition, here.
As one might expect in these tense times for the White House, POTUS45 is ALL-CAPS tweeting again today. The Syria-related tweets (2), together: “The United States has spent EIGHT TRILLION DOLLARS fighting and policing in the Middle East. Thousands of our Great Soldiers have died or been badly wounded. Millions of people have died on the other side. GOING INTO THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE WORST DECISION EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY! We went to war under a false & now disproven premise, WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. There were NONE! Now we are slowly & carefully bringing our great soldiers & military home. Our focus is on the BIG PICTURE! THE USA IS GREATER THAN EVER BEFORE!”
Syria-watchers have been waiting since at least Sunday evening for Turkey to begin its offensive. To prep the information space, the Washington Post posted an op-ed Tuesday evening from Erdogan’s comms director Fahrettin Altun warning the operation would begin “shortly,” with stalwarts from the Free Syrian Army crossing the Turkish-Syrian border with Erdogan’s military.
The ostensible goal of Erdogan’s Syrian incursion (now the third since 2015): “neutralize a long-standing threat against Turkish citizens and to liberate the local population from the yoke of armed thugs.” Those “armed thugs,” of course, are the Kurdish and PKK fighters in northern Syria — men and women who have been partnered with the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS since 2014. That partnership was always understood to have been an alliance of convenience that Turkey could not abide forever. And indeed now it appears Erdogan is signaling to the coalition that his patience is spent.
Wrote Altun in his op-ed: “Like the United States, Turkey does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. But when monsters attempt to knock down our doors and harm our citizens, we have to respond.”
It’s worth flagging Altun’s very first sentence in that op-ed, because it would seem to suggest something fundamentally unsettling about the U.S.-led coalition still fighting ISIS in Syria. Here’s that opening line: “During a phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, President Trump agreed to transfer the leadership of the counter-Islamic State campaign to Turkey. The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army, will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly.”
To repeat: “Trump agreed to transfer the leadership of the counter-Islamic State campaign to Turkey,” Altun claims.
To be clear: No U.S. officials have said anything close to that so far this week, to our knowledge. And Altun’s claim, if true, would be momentous news indeed. If false, what a helluva way to begin a military offensive into a disinterested neighboring country... by lying to the world via a WaPo op-ed.
Meantime, Turkey is trying to hit on all cylinders with its messaging during this operation’s initial hours, with Erdogan publicly promising (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin “peace and stability” are coming to the region thanks to this operation to kill the Kurds. (Reminder: this op has a name and a hashtag, #OperationPeaceSpring)
Overnight, the Kurds agreed with Russia’s foreign minister that everybody needs to talk to Syrian officials about this whole thing before it gets out of control, Reuters reported separately.
U.S. and Turkish officials are reportedly talking this morning, so that’s a good thing for a battlefield as crowded as Syria’s remains. And on Tuesday, France’s President Emmanuel Macron met an SDF spox in Paris. The purpose: “to express France’s solidarity with them in [the SDF’s] fight against Islamic State in the region,” Macron’s office said. Unclear how that will develop. Tiny bit more from Reuters on that one, here.
Track the latest in this ongoing operation via AP’s rolling updates page, here.
From Defense One
Harassing Journalists Is ‘Absolutely Unacceptable’: Acting CBP Commissioner // Bradley Peniston: Morgan spoke several days after a passport control officer at Dulles airport held up a Defense One editor until he said he wrote propaganda.
It Didn't Have to Be This Way': Just-Retired CENTCOM General // Joseph Votel and Elizabeth Dent, The Atlantic: Trump's decision threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against ISIS and will severely damage American credibility and reliability, writes Joseph Votel, who until March led America's forces in the Mideast.
Retired Senior Military Officers Unload on Trump // Mark Bowden, The Atlantic: The commander in chief is impulsive, disdains expertise, and gets his intelligence briefings from Fox News. What does this mean for those on the front lines?
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1888, the Washington Monument was first opened to the public.
Commander in chief obstructs House impeachment inquiry. In an 8-page letter sent to House investigators on Tuesday, lawyers for Trump on Tuesday declared that neither the president nor his administration would comply with orders to turn over documents and talk to lawmakers and their staffs about the president’s efforts to persuade foreign governments to help him in the coming election.
Many legal experts lambasted the letter. E.g., Georgetown Law prof Heidi Li Feldman, who said it consisted of: “Totally absurd legal arguments attempting to justify what is clearly contempt of Congress.”
ICYMI: “Obstruction of Congress” is an overview of federal law on the subject, produced in 2010 by the Congressional Research Service. It points to 18 U.S. Code §, which outlaws efforts to “influence, obstruct, or impede...the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress.”
More than 100 Iraqi protestors have apparently died by troops’ bullets in the past week. The protestors are seeking “jobs, electricity and clean water — and an end to corruption,” AP reports. “It’s still unclear why the government chose to exercise such a heavy-handed response to a few hundred unarmed demonstrators who first congregated last week on social media to hold a protest. But analysts say the violence has pushed Iraq toward a dangerous trajectory from which it might be difficult to pull back.” More, here.
Airstrikes in Afghanistan hit near-record decade high. In September, when U.S.-Taliban peace talks collapsed and Trump vowed “to hit our enemy harder” than ever, the United States dropped 948 bombs and other munitions in Afghanistan — more than any other month in nearly a decade, Air Force data released Tuesday showed. “Only two other months have had a higher tally since 2006, when regular figures were first published,” Stripes reports.
HVT taken off Afghan battlefield: “Asim Umar, the emir of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, was killed during a well-publicized Sept. 23 raid in Helmand province. For proof, the NDS released side-by-side photographs of what it claims to be Umar, both dead and alive.” Long War Journal, here.
ICYMI: At least 10 killed and 27 others injured after army recruits targeted by suicide bomb in eastern Afghanistan. (Al Jazeera)
The UN is nearly broke, thanks to the United States and other countries that haven’t paid their dues, Reuters reports.
“We risk ... entering November without enough cash to cover payrolls,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday. “Our work and our reforms are at risk.” More, here.
Secret Russian intelligence unit is trying to destabilize Europe, the New York Times reports, citing Western intelligence officials. “Hidden behind concrete walls at the headquarters of the 161st Special Purpose Specialist Training Center in eastern Moscow, the unit sits within the command hierarchy of the Russian military intelligence agency, widely known as the G.R.U…” Read on, here.
Beijing has asked the U.S. to reverse its decision this week to restrict visas for Chinese officials linked to the repression of Xinjiang Muslims, Agence France-Presse reports.
And China is planning tighter visa restrictions for U.S. nationals with ties to anti-China groups, Reuters reports.
China complains to Apple about iPhone app that tracks Hong Kong police. “Apple became the latest company targeted for Chinese pressure over protests in Hong Kong when the ruling Communist Party’s main newspaper criticized the tech giant Wednesday for a smartphone app that allows activists to report police movements,” AP reports.
Speaking of surveillance: FBI violated Americans’ rights by using foreign-surveillance tool. Newly declassified documents show that the secretive FISA court found last year that the FBI was not complying with a 2018 law limiting the intelligence community’s ability to look at phone and electronic messages without a warrant, the New York Times reports.
FWIW: “The vast majority of illegal firearms in Mexico have been smuggled from the world's largest gun market: the U.S.,” according to the Los Angeles Times, reporting Monday. “Of the 132,823 firearms recovered at crime scenes in Mexico from 2009 to 2018, 70% originated in the U.S.” Story here.
And finally today: lithium-ion batteries are so ubiquitous, we’ve finally given a Nobel Prize to three researchers who invented them. “The work had its roots in the oil crisis in the 1970s, when [SUNY Binghamton professor Stanley] Whittingham was working on efforts to develop fossil fuel-free energy technologies,” AP reports. University of Texas prof John B. Goodenough doubled the new battery’s voltage about 10 years later, and then Japan’s Akira Yoshino introduced a new material that rendered them safe enough to sell. Read on, here.