Latest on Turkey’s Syrian offensive; Anti-ISIS efforts cease; DOD reportedly thought Ukraine-aid hold was illegal; China’s Huawei in rural Oklahoma; And a bit more.

Turkey is increasingly isolated internationally as its military and allied rebels continue their air and ground offensive into northern Syria. Some “20 armored vehicles carrying Turkish-allied Syrian rebels entered Syria” from the Turkish city of Ceylanpinar, Reuters reports today. And “Turkish warplanes and artillery struck around Syria’s Ras al Ain, one of two border towns that have been the focus of the offensive.”

About 75 miles west of Ceylanpinar, the Associated Press reports from the border town of Akçakale that “plumes of black smoke billowed” from the city of Tal Abyad today, which is just across the border from Akçakale. Syrian Kurdish fighters have “fired dozens of mortars into Turkish border towns the past two days, including Akcakale, killing six civilians, including a 9-month-old boy and three girls under 15.”

Other hotspots include "shelling in Qamishli," as well as some "nine villages near Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad" that have been taken by Turkey's troops, according to Reuters. And in the town of al Bab, “some 150 km west of the offensive,” CNN Turk reported Thursday nearly 500 Turkish-backed Syrian fighters lined up in formation for the cameras, and said they were preparing to join the operation. Reuters also reports this morning “Medecins Sans Frontieres said a hospital in Tel Abyad had been forced to shut after most of its staff fled from bombings over the past 24 hours.”

Turkey says it has killed 342 “terrorists” so far, a number AP says it cannot verify. “On the Syrian side, seven civilians and eight Kurdish fighters have been killed since the operation began, according to activists in Syria.”

The Pentagon just released a statement saying it has asked Turkey to stop. That’s the message in Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s Thursday phone call with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar. Said Pentagon spox Jonathan Hoffman of that Thursday conversation: “Secretary Esper made it clear that the United States opposes Turkey's uncoordinated actions as they place at risk the progress made by the Defeat-ISIS Coalition… this incursion risks serious consequences for Turkey,” including possibly “harm[ing] U.S. personnel in Syria. As part of the call, Secretary Esper strongly encouraged Turkey to discontinue actions in northeastern Syria in order to increase the possibility that the United States, Turkey and our partners could find a common way to deescalate the situation before it becomes irreparable.”

U.S. President Donald Trump spent Thursday, in part, tweeting about his lack of good options, writing, “We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!” Said Trump to reporters later on Thursday: “I hope we can mediate.”

Now may not be the best time to point this out, but it would certainly seem to be the case that “Trump has never successfully mediated or negotiated any deal as President,” Third Way’s Mieke Eoyang tweeted Thursday in response to the president’s tweet about his Syrian options.

Trump also told reporters on Thursday “we have no soldiers in Syria,” which CNN’s Daniel Dale reported is not true, adding, “This is extreme, up-is-down deception. It’ll get very little coverage.”

By the way: Trump’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney reportedly warned Thursday that the president was getting “boxed into a complete corner” with this offensive by Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, the Washington Post writes.

Today, Vladimir Putin warned Turkey’s invasion could unleash ISIS in a renewed form, warning in remarks from Turkmenistan, “We have to be aware of this and mobilize the resources of our intelligence to undercut this emerging tangible threat.” 

About ISIS: Take a trip to one of the prisons where ISIS fighters are being held by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, via the BBC’s Quentin Somerville, here. (Speaking of the BBC, check out its four-map explainer of Turkey’s offensive, published Wednesday, here.) 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg dropped by Ankara for the awkward job of synchronizing the alliance’s understanding with Turkey amid all these developments. But Turkey’s foreign minister wanted more from Stoltenberg than just situational awareness, saying to reporters, “It is not enough to say [Ankara’s allies] understand Turkey’s legitimate concerns, we want to see this solidarity in a clear way.”

Warns former DOD-er, Joseph Bosco: “The damage to U.S. honor and credibility has only just begun, and the most terrible consequences are yet to unfold as Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang and Teheran perceive that Erdogan has taken Trump’s measure.” Read his op-ed in The Hill, here

ICYMI: The UN Security Council met Thursday in New York City, but failed to arrive at a consensus statement condemning Turkey’s invasion. The Washington Post has more on that diplomatic angle, here

From Defense One

By, With, Through' Was the Best Hope for Syria — And Ending 'Endless Wars' // Mona Yacoubian: The U.S. acquiescence to Turkey’s invasion abandons an effective Kurdish partner, but also a creative model that was working.

Anti-ISIS Operations In Syria Cease Amid Turkish Assault // Katie Bo Williams: “The SDF is clearly focused on the northern border to protect their forces,” a defense official said.

DHS Opens Civil-Rights Investigation into Harassment of Reporter at Dulles // Bradley Peniston: Watson's account of his interaction with a Customs and Border Protection officer received broad media coverage.

On North Korea, the Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: One of the downsides of highly personalized diplomacy is that when the person in question is debilitated, the diplomacy suffers.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: GM's defense visions; Army embraces 3D-printing; Arms exports fall, and more.

Why US Officials Say Trump is Flexing on Foreign Policy // Katie Bo Williams: “Trump has been Trump in foreign policy—but the safety nets are gone,” said one senior national security official, of the president’s Syria decision.

Welcome to this Friday 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 1779, American Revolutionary War Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski died at age 34 by a grapeshot while trying to advance through a temporary breach in British defenses during the failed Battle of Savannah.

The Pentagon thought the withholding of Ukraine aid was illegal, and began preparing a legal challenge to the White House to get the funds released, unnamed congressional aides and a government official tell Yahoo News. 
This happened in mid-July, just before Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival. “The Pentagon went so far as to conduct its own legal analysis of the holds, determining that they were illegal. A government official confirmed that such an analysis took place. So did several Capitol Hill staffers. They all described the conclusion of that analysis in similar terms. ‘This is part of the basis for our investigation and overall impeachment inquiry,’ acknowledged one congressional staffer who was unauthorized to speak to the press.” Read on, here.
Meanwhile: Two businessmen who helped President Trump’s personal lawyer in Ukraine have been indicted on federal charges. Politico: “The Giuliani associates had been working with the former New York mayor on a campaign to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden and investigate alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.” 
Four counts: The indictment charges the two associates of Rudy Giuliani with conspiracy, falsifying records, and lying to the Federal Election Commission about their political donations, including a $325,000 donation to a pro-Trump group. 

The U.S. Air Force says Airmen staying at Trump’s hotels is OK. The March stay by a C-17 crew at Trump’s Turnberry golf resort did not break regulations, service investigators found. "They rolled to Turnberry only because others weren't available," Gen. Maryanne Miller, head of Air Mobility Command, told Wednesday. "Turnberry is not a first option. You end up rolling down [there] as a solution." 
About 6% of USAF aircrews who need to stop overnight in Scotland stay there, Miller said. House investigators are continuing to look into the stays.

The U.S.-China tech war over Huawei equipment has come to a small Oklahoma town, the Washington Post reports from the southeastern city of Broken Bow. 
The gist: "Several years ago, the general manager of the family-owned Pine Telephone Company discovered a secret weapon to speed his expansion — the Chinese equipment supplier Huawei, which charged much less than rivals for wireless network gear and software." 
For $32 million, the deal let the company "expand wireless phone and Internet service to thousands of new users... helping launch new businesses and a vibrant tourism industry in a region suffering from a downturn in the timber industry." Now, however, that general manager says it will take “years and tens of millions of dollars to strip its Huawei equipment off more than 140 cell towers.” Read on, here
BTW: U.S.-China trade talks gain some momentum today with President Trump’s planned visit with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. In anticipation, the Wall Street Journal reports “The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 372 points, or 1.4%, shortly after the opening bell. The S&P 500 surged 1.5% in broad-based gains. The Nasdaq Composite added 1.6%.” More behind the paywall, here

Crude oil prices surged today on news from Iran that one of its tankers has been hit by missiles — despite an apparent lack of evidence to support the claim. 
What’s going on: Iranian state media is claiming that the 81,000-ton Sabiti was damaged by missiles — officials with the shipping company that owns the tanker initially said (Bloomberg) “Saudi missiles,” but appear to have stopped saying that — and that crude oil was leaking into the Gulf. The purported incident is said to have taken place some 60 miles out of the Saudi port of Jeddah in the Persian Gulf. Reuters has more to this developing story, here.

Now for something completely different: CBS is reportedly working on a new comedy about “a Marine combat veteran struggling to readjust to civilian life in Ohio, and Awalmir (Al), the Afghan interpreter who served with his unit and has just arrived to start a new life in America,” entertainment news magazine Variety reported Thursday. 

And finally this week, a developing technology is helping researchers take a more detailed look at the distant past. Airborne laser mapping — aka light detection and ranging, aka lidar — technology is transforming archaeology, allowing one researcher “to identify the ruins of 27 previously unknown Maya ceremonial centers,” the New York Times reported this week.
The quick read: “A process that once required decades-long mapping expeditions, and slogging through jungles with surveying equipment, can now be done in a matter of days from the relative comfort of an airplane.” Some of the 27 newly-identified sites “have a type of ceremonial construction that Dr. [Takeshi] Inomata and his colleagues had never seen before — rectangular platforms that are low to the ground but extremely large, some as long as two-thirds of a mile.” Said Inomata: “If you walk on it, you don’t realize it. It’s so big it just looks like a part of the natural landscape.” Read on, here

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!