SecDef: US will guard Syrian oil; Erdogan demands Kurd extradition; Yemen, calming?; Russia tests its own internet; And a bit more.
A "shaky cease-fire" in northern Syria is still being "tested" by Turkish troops and Turkish-backed forces who are conducting ground assaults, artillery strikes and air raids that are "forcing thousands of civilians to flee" from the region, the Wall Street Journal reports today from Beirut.
That follows a lively run of more Syrian developments Thursday, including:
- Pentagon officials telling reporters on background that it is indeed working on a plan to send “additional military assets” into Syria to go seize and gain “control of oil fields in Eastern Syria — a crucial source of revenue for ISIS” in and around the Deir-ez Zor region.
- Update: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper backed up those whispers, saying today at NATO HQs that “some mechanized forces” will be part of that mission in Deir-ez Zor, the Washington Post reports from Brussels. Said Esper of that plan: “We are now taking some actions. I’m not going to get into the details.”
- U.S. President Donald Trump suggesting Syria’s Kurds “start heading to the Oil Region!” as he put it on Twitter. (Trump’s former ISIS war czar, Brett McGurk, was appalled by the notion, and replied on Twitter that it shows a “Shocking ignorance of history, geography, law, American values, human decency, and honor.)
- Turkish President Recep Erdogan insisted the U.S. extradite “terrorist” Gen. Mazloum Abdi, the leader of the YPG and a man whom Trump praised in that above tweet, to Turkey. Said Erdogan on state-run TV Thursday: “With the U.S., we have an extradition agreement. The US should hand this man to us.” The WSJ writes that Erdogan has since “instructed his justice minister to take the necessary steps for an extradition.”
- Syrian state news accused Turkey of killing regime troops “outside the town of Tal Tamr” on Thursday.
Today, Russia’s 300 or so military police from Chechnya “have arrived in Syria to patrol the northeastern areas along the border with Turkey and oversee the pullout of Syrian Kurdish fighters,” the Associated Press reports from Moscow.
Also today: SecDef Esper met with his Turkish counterpart at NATO HQs in Brussels. ABC News’ Elizabeth McLaughlin, traveling with Esper, reports the press was “not allowed to take photos of Secretary Esper’s handshake with Turkish defense minister Akar ahead of their meeting.” That’s somewhat notable, she adds, because “press took photos of the handshakes the secretary shared before every other bilateral engagement here at the NATO defense ministerial.”
Turkey is already forcibly sending Syrian refugees back to Syria, the human rights group Amnesty International alleged in a new report released Thursday. In short: "The Turkish government claims that all those who return to Syria do so voluntarily, but Amnesty International’s research showed that many had been coerced or misled when signing so-called 'voluntary return” documents.'" Details here.
By the way: Erdogan’s “war will likely fail because he doesn’t know what he wants,” the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook wrote in FP on Wednesday. The title of that essay: “Erdogan Has No Idea What He’s Doing in Syria”
As for the regional effects of Turkey’s offensive, AP writes “The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said that so far more than 10,100 Syrian refugees, mostly women and children, have crossed into Iraq seeking safety. It also estimated that some 180,000 people have been internally displaced across Syria’s north-east.” A bit more, here.
From Defense One
Russia Will Test Its Ability to Disconnect from the Internet // Patrick Tucker: The nascent RuNet is meant to allow the country to survive an attack — and Putin to monitor and control his subjects.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Raytheon CFO one-on-one; Earnings-call highlights; Drones that guard stadiums, and more.
Trump’s STRATCOM Pick Declines to Endorse Open-Skies Withdrawal // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: The Trump administration is weighing pulling out of the 1992 surveillance agreement amid complaints that Russia is out of compliance.
US Army Will Study 'Metamaterials' Collected by UFO Study Group // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The service has pledged to spend $750,000 to examine futuristic materials and technologies collected or studied by a group run by Blink-182's frontman.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1962, day 10 of the Cuban Missile Crisis played out largely in the UN Security Council as U.S. “Ambassador Adlai Stevenson aggressively confronted his Soviet U.N. counterpart Valerian Zorin with photographic evidence of the missiles in Cuba.”
Army War College: Climate change could undermine Army’s effectiveness within two decades. “The study called on the Pentagon to urgently prepare for the possibility that domestic power, water, and food systems might collapse due to the impacts of climate change as we near mid-century,” says a Vice article limning the report.
The report was written by senior US government officials from the Army, Defense Intelligence Agency, NASA, and elsewhere.
“The two most prominent scenarios in the report focus on the risk of a collapse of the power grid within ‘the next 20 years,’ and the danger of disease epidemics,” Vice writes, noting that 2.5 million Californians were deliberated deprived of electrical power this month because the state utility worried that its rickety infrastructure would add to the 30,000 acres scorched by the nine wildfires currently burning in the state.
The Army connection: “Relief efforts aggravated by seasonal climatological effects would potentially accelerate the criticality of the developing situation,” the report says. “The cascading effects of power loss… would rapidly challenge the military’s ability to continue operations.”
The authors end with an unusual plea: this is real. “It is useful to remind ourselves regularly of the capacity of human beings to persist in stupid beliefs in the face of significant, contradictory evidence. Mitigation of new large-scale stresses requires a commitment to learning, systematically, about what is happening.” Read it. Here.
One of Yemen’s many simultaneous civil wars may have just calmed down significantly. Separatists in southern Yemen “have struck a power-sharing deal” with the country’s official but exiled president, thanks to talks mediated by Saudi officials in the southern city of Jeddah, Agence France-Presse reports today. (FWIW: The Wall Street Journal reports that this new deal was signed in Riyadh.)
The essence of the deal reportedly involves "the secessionist Southern Transitional Council [being] handed a number of ministries, and the government return to the southern city of Aden," AFP writes. Next up, "Both Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and STC leader Aidarous al-Zoubeidi are expected to attend a ceremony in Riyadh."
This would seem to be a small but significant victory for Saudi Arabia's "new foreign minister whose complicated portfolio also includes efforts to strike a broader Yemen peace deal." And about that broader deal, there could be some traction soon; but also perhaps not since, as AFP reports, "The Huthis have offered to halt all attacks on Saudi Arabia as part of a peace initiative to end the devastating conflict, later repeating their proposal despite continued air strikes from the Saudi-led coalition." More here.
A Russian spy walks free today. Marina Butina, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent, sought to influence U.S. conservative activists and infiltrate the National Rifle Association. She is to be released to U.S. immigration officials today after serving most of her 18-month sentence (minus time off for good behavior) and is expected to be deported to Russia. Reuters, here.
The Trump administration also withheld trade privileges to Ukraine while the U.S. president was pressing Kyiv to help discredit a political rival and the Mueller investigation, the Washington Post reported, citing interviews with 10 unnamed sources. This “represents the first indication that the administration’s suspension of assistance to Ukraine extended beyond the congressionally authorized military aid and security assistance to other government programs.” Read on, here.
Protests began again in Baghdad today and have spread south to Basra following a three-week hiatus. And like Lebanon protests this week, AP reports, Iraq’s are “economically-driven, largely leaderless and spontaneous” set “against a sectarian-based system and a corrupt political class that has ruled for decades.” Indeed, “The demonstrators, mostly young, unemployed men, carried Iraqi flags and chanted anti-government protests, demanding jobs, water and electricity.”
ICYMI: 149 civilians were killed by Iraqi security forces in the last round of protests, according to a report released earlier this week. Those forces, “used excessive force and live fire to quell protests,” Reuters reported Tuesday. And that excessive force included shooting protesters in the head and chest.
Already today two protesters have been killed, AFP reports, and dozens have been injured by the police, who began using only rubber bullets when thousands of protesters moved from Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square and, AP reports, “crossed the Jumhuriyya Bridge leading to Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices... After they tried to remove concrete barriers near the entrance of the Green Zone, [police] fired live rounds to push the protesters back.”
For what it's worth, "The current round of protests has been endorsed by Iraq’s nationalist Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, who has a popular Shiite support base and the largest number of seats in parliament." Meanwhile, AP writes, "powerful Iran-backed Shiite militias have stood by the government and suggested the demonstrations were a 'conspiracy' from the outside." Read on, here.
The more you know: Facebook news edition. You may have already known that about half of all U.S. adults get their news from Facebook, which researchers at Pew wrote in early October is “far and away the social media site Americans use most commonly for news.” You may not have known Facebook is today launching its own news section “with a limited test audience of 200,000 users,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Among the news outlets featured in FB’s new news section: The Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, the Washington Post, ABC News, NBC News, Fox News, Condé Nast, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Media, USA Today, the New York Post, MarketWatch and Barron’s.
Why the change? "Through deals with national and local publishers, Facebook executives say the tech giant’s aim is to make it easier for users to locate the day’s major headlines, as well as stories geared toward particular topics or locales," the Washington Post reports. "The move could also raise Facebook’s competitive edge against news distribution services offered by Google and Apple, even as Facebook has come under sharp and sustained scrutiny for the way it has responded to disinformation and accusations of fake news on its platform."
BTW: Google officials said Thursday “advanced machine learning and mathematical modeling” have given the company a new and improved way to deliver “better answers to complex search queries and questions that often confound its current algorithm,” WSJ reported separately this morning. And because why not, one executive added that “The new algorithm will also be used on advertising.” And lest you get too excited, other Google officials said Thursday “The new system isn’t perfect.” More behind the paywall, here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!