Kurdish and Russian narratives clash in NE Syria as Turkish forces continue to advance. Russian officials insist everything in Syria is going swimmingly today even as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces allege Turkish-backed forces “are still violating the ceasefire” and have entered three villages “outside the area of the ceasefire process.”
Said Russia's deputy foreign minister on state-run Interfax news agency: “We note with satisfaction that the agreements reached in Sochi are being implemented. Everything is being implemented.” And Moscow says it will be bolstering its troops in the region very soon, as “276 military policemen and 33 units of military hardware” will arrive in Syria from Russia in about a week, a defense ministry official reportedly told state-run RIA news agency.
Says the SDF’s spox Mustafa Bali on Twitter this morning: “Turkish army have been attacking villages of Assadiya, Mishrafa and Manajer with a large number of mercenaries and all kinds of heavy weapons despite the truce. SDF will exercise its right to legitimate self defense and we are not responsible for the violation of the agreement. We urge all parties and especially the US to monitor the implementation of the cease-fire agreement that they brokered and hold violators to account.”
Added SDF commander, Gen. Mazloum Abdi, whom President Trump praised in public remarks on Syria Wednesday: “In spite of the Turks announcement of the END of military operations, they and their jihadists continue to VIOLATE and launch attacks on the eastern front of the Serêkaniyê. The guarantors of the ceasefire must carry out their responsibilities to rein in the Turks.”
Replied one Turkish official (Fahrettin Altun) to Reuters today: Mazloum is not, as the U.S. alleges, a “legitimate political figure.” And that’s at least consistent with Ankara’s thinking and top-down messaging, which views all Syrian Kurds as terrorists who are not to be negotiated with. (Bonus trivia, via Reuters: “Kurds make up some 18% of Turkey’s 82 million people.”)
By the way: CBS News’ Holly Williams is with Turkish troops today near the Syrian border. And that embed is going fairly well for Ankara’s messaging efforts. Here’s how CBS frames their findings: “Turkish soldiers wanted to show us that they're bringing stability to eastern Syria. They're blowing up explosives that Turkey says Kurdish forces left behind and safeguarding markets. Health clinics are open, being run by Turkish medics.”
Said one Turkish medic to Williams: “We are all ok here. The people are happy as well. And there’s no problem actually here right now.”
But in the city of Tal Abyad, a car bomb reportedly detonated today, wounding four people, “outside the headquarters of a militia of Syrian fighters allied to Turkey,” AP reports. So far, no one has claimed responsibility. A bit more to that, here.
Back stateside, Reuters reports, “Republican and Democratic U.S. senators urged the State Department on Wednesday to quickly provide a visa to [SDF General] Mazloum so he can visit the United States to discuss the situation in Syria.”
More on Syria developments below...
From Defense One
Pentagon to Begin Testing 5G at Four Bases // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: A test program will test the next-gen networks' usefulness for augmented and virtual reality, smart warehouses, and spectrum-sharing.
Trump Declares Victory in Syria, Claims Credit for It All // Kevin Baron: “Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand,” the president says, as Congress fumes.
How Climate Change Will Help China And Russia Wage Hybrid War // Elisabeth Braw: Increased refugee flows, weather threats, and declining food security will deepen tensions already being exploited to divide and weaken the U.S. and its allies.
As Secret Pentagon Spending Rises, Defense Firms Cash in // Marcus Weisgerber: Classified spending has edged up faster than overall defense budget requests, and accounts for nearly 11 percent of the $716 billion proposed for 2020.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1946, the first photo of Earth from outer space was taken by a V-2 rocket the U.S. launched from White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
President Trump addressed the situation in Syria (transcript here) just before noon in the White House. The Associated Press’s headline for those remarks: “Declaring victory, Trump strengthens Russia’s hand.” How Defense One’s Kevin Baron framed it: “Trump Declares Victory in Syria, Claims Credit for It All”
And about U.S. President Donald Trump’s desire to take control of Syria’s oil, Newsweek reported Wednesday evening that American officials want to put half of an Army armored brigade combat team in Syria. The plan reportedly involves 30 tanks and troops, and “would have a combined purpose of keeping ISIS, as well as the Syrian government, Iran and their allied militias away from the eastern oil fields.”
When Pentagon officials were asked about this plan, they referred Newsweek to Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s remarks Monday in Afghanistan (Reuters), wherein he told reporters, “We have troops in towns in...northeast Syria that are located next to the oil fields. The troops in those towns are not in the present phase of withdrawal…This withdrawal [of U.S. forces] will take weeks, not days. Until that time, our forces will remain in the towns that are located near the oil fields. The purpose of those forces—a purpose of those forces, working with the SDF, is to deny access to those oil fields by ISIS.”
Grain of salt: Newsweek's “Story doesn't match current reports on Trump admin options,” tweeted Jack Detsch of al-Monitor, after some significant number-crunching on armored BCTs. “But if true,” he added, the Newsweek report “would raise serious logistical & bilateral challenges [and would amount to] putting troop #s back at pre-2019 levels.”
By the way: A senior U.S. official told Detsch on Monday “We have not seized the oil fields.”
The closest to that is probably a U.S.-backed SDF garrison in Deir ez-Zor province, near the town of Khasham. It’s there that in early February 2018, Russian mercenaries and pro-Syrian government forces tried to attack an SDF-held gas field referred to as Conoco or Al Tabiyeh. After multiple warnings from the U.S., approximately 100 of those forces were reportedly killed in a series of defense actions from the U.S. military at that Deir-ez Zor garrison.
U.S. Defense Secretary Esper is in Brussels today for meetings with NATO officials — and to remind America’s European allies that, as Esper tweeted, “every [alliance] member must contribute its fair share to uphold the international rules-based order.” Reuters reports Esper will focus his NATO conversations on "Turkey’s offensive into Syria and the fight against Islamic State... but he has limited options for both issues." More from Brussels, here.
The first of the Air Force’s new B-21 bombers is being assembled at a Northrop Grumman plant in Palmdale, California. That’s what Randall Walden, who runs the service’s Rapid Capabilities Office, told an AFA breakfast Thursday (per Aviation Week’s Steve Trimble).
GOP senators block five election-security bills in two days. Among other things, the bills aimed to “require campaign officials to report contacts with foreign nationals who are trying to make donations or coordinate with the campaign”; subject political advertisements on social media to the stricter rules that govern TV and radio ads; boost funding for the Election Assistance Commission; ban foreign-made and internet-connected voting machines, and more.
The Hill has the details, and notes, “House Democrats have passed several election-related bills, including a sweeping ethics and election reform measure, but they've hit a wall in the GOP-controlled Senate.”
ICYMI: For five hours on Wednesday, GOP House members obstructed a hearing into whether Trump held up anti-Russia military aid to extort Ukraine into undermining a domestic political rival.
Dozens of Republicans forced their way into a SCIF where members of both parties were preparing to hear testimony from Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper. Some brought cellphones, a big no-no in what is supposed to be an eavesdropping-proof space. Former HPSCI staffer Mieke Eoyang explained why in a Twitter thread that has received nearly 25,000 retweets.
First DoD witness: “Cooper was also the first Defense Department witness to defy a directive not to testify, a sign that Trump’s blockade of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry has continued to erode. Several senior State Department officials and a former National Security Council official have already taken the same route,” Politico reports.
Happening now: The Senate Armed Services Committee is considering Navy Vice Adm. Charles Richard’s nomination to be the next commander of U.S. Strategic Command. Catch the livestream here.