Turkey, Russia joint-patrol Syria; DOD drafts AI rules; N. Korea re-tests ‘super-large’ MLRS; Iraq protests grow; And a bit more.

Turkey and Russia are patrolling northeast Syria together for the first time, one of the products of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. military out of northern Syria about three weeks ago. 

“Turkish armored vehicles on Friday drove through country roads across the border to join their Russian counterparts,” Reuters reports today off of footage it recorded from the Turkish side of the border. “Around four hours later, they returned to Turkey, the footage showed.” The Russian military said the convoy’s patrol plan covered 68 miles in nine different vehicles. A Turkish source said four Russian vehicles and a drone were involved, too.

Worth noting: “The joint patrols did not fly Russian and Turkish flags on their armored vehicles,” AP writes. 

“The patrols will cover two sections, in the west and east of Turkey’s operation zone in Syria, with a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles),” the Associated Press reports from Turkey as well. Agence France-Presse adds that the patrolling "began near the border town of Derbasiyeh, from which Kurdish fighters have already pulled out," and "headed to the east of Derbasiyeh."

By the way: Five U.S. armored vehicles patrolled “a zone north of the town of Qahtaniyah” in northeastern Syria on Thursday, AFP reports. "They want to prevent Russia and the regime from reaching parts of the border that lie east of the city of Qamishli," which is what some have called the capital of Syria's Kurdish minority, said Rami Abdul Rahman, chief of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Turkey now wants to create a refugee city in Syria, maybe a couple of them, President Recep Erdogan said Thursday night. And he met with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres today to discuss that idea, Reuters reports. The initial price tag Erdogan put on the plan: $26 billion, and he’s seeking international donors to put up the money. His eventual plan is to “resettle in Syria up to 2 million of the 3.6 million Syrian war refugees” that Turkey currently hosts.

Turkey handed 18 Syrian-regime soldiers to Russia on Thursday, AP reported separately Thursday. “Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the soldiers were captured during Turkish reconnaissance operations southeast of Ras al-Ayn but didn’t say when... A Syrian Kurdish official said the soldiers were captured Tuesday during an intense battle between Syrian government forces and Turkey-backed fighters. Kurdish fighters were fighting alongside the Syrian troops.” 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad spoke up Thursday, saying some mildly crazy things (doubting the death of the former ISIS leader, for example; h/t WaPo’s Missy Ryan) and some fairly reasonable things, too. On the latter point, he called the Russian-Turkey patrol plan "temporary," and said he expects it to “eventually pave the way for his government to retake Syria's northeast,” AFP reports.  

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it was “repositioning” its forces back in Syria and to the oil field region of Deir-ez Zor. The given reasons why:

  • To “continue partnering [with Syrian Democratic Forces] to defeat ISIS remnants”
  • To “protect critical infrastructure”
  • And to “deny ISIS access to revenue sources.”

What the U.S. military did not say its mission included: Seizing control of or “keeping the oil” in the vicinity of Deir-ez Zor, as President Trump has said repeatedly in the past several days. AP reports the U.S. military “did not say how many soldiers are being added there, but officials have said the eventual force there likely will be about 500, including roughly 200 who had been there even before Trump was persuaded to revise his plan for a near-total withdrawal.”

Said Syrian President Assad of all this: Not much that we could locate, short of “I assure you that the Americans will leave on their own accord.”

Reminder of what Trump said as recently as Sunday: “We may have to fight for the oil. It’s okay. Maybe somebody else wants the oil, in which case they have a hell of a fight.” More from AP, here

In global oil news today, the Wall Street Journal reports “Investors want just one thing from the world’s biggest oil companies: cold, hard cash. But it is becoming harder for the oil giants to deliver… through dividends and share buybacks to keep them from fleeing.” 

What’s more, “Exxon, which remains under pressure to return to its practice of buying back billions of dollars in shares annually, reported net income of $3.17 billion, down about 50% from the same period a year ago.” Chevron, Shell and BP are all reporting reduced revenue this year, too. More behind the paywall, here

ISIS announced a new leader in an audio message released Thursday. He is called Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, which is “a name meant to suggest he's descended from the Prophet,” Oxford University’s Elisabeth Kendall tweeted shortly afterward. The group also says it has a new spokesman, too. His name is Abu Hamza al-Qurashi. 

On “al-Qurashi,” the Wall Street Journal noted, “The name Qurayshi indicates lineage from the Arab tribe of Quraysh, to which the Prophet Muhammad belonged, and according to some understandings of Islamic tradition is a requirement for becoming the caliph.”

ISIS revealed only a tiny bit about this new leader; and that included suggestions he is, according to Kendall:

  • A “luminary & scholar of jihad”
  • “war commander”
  • “foremost in supporting Islam & striking enemies”
  • Has “battlefield experience”
  • “(implies) has fought Americans”
  • And that he allegedly “understands US war & cunning.”

You can see and hear Elisabeth elaborate for about two and a half minutes on this new guy in her brief discussion Thursday with ABC News.

One more thing: alleged al-Qaeda fighters are already talking trash to ISIS on chat boards where people like this hang out. That, also from Kendall, here.

From Defense One

Pay More Attention to the Women of ISIS // Elena Pokalova: Many are victims of the terrorist group. But others have demonstrated their resolve to use violence and seek revenge for the Caliphate.

The Taliban Got Way Deadlier in 2019, Says Pentagon's Afghanistan IG // Katie Bo Williams: The group mounted 3,500 deadly or wounding attacks this summer, even as U.S. airstrikes rose.

The Pentagon’s AI Ethics Draft Is Actually Pretty Good // Patrick Tucker: By seeking reliable, governable, traceable technology, the Defense Department could help set global standards for using artificial intelligence.

Dept. of Interior Grounds Its Chinese-Made Drones // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: Agency leaders green-lit the purchases in July despite warnings from DHS and outside experts that Beijing might collect data from the drones.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: USAF's new architect; L3Harris culture change; former industry spokesman goes viral; and just a bit more…

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

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien heads to Bangkok this weekend, along with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, AP reports from Thailand.
Among the developments that could come from this ASEAN meeting: “the possible announcement of a conclusion to seven years of negotiations for a free-trade pact called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,” AP writes. “China is among those leading the negotiations along with ASEAN members and their dialogue partners Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and New Zealand. The U.S., which prefers bilateral trade deals, is not included.”
There are also whispers of possible progress on a “code of conduct,” (COC) for the South China Sea, where China has built “seven islands on disputed reefs that U.S. officials say could serve as military platforms to intimidate rival claimants.” But the first round of three on the topic isn’t expected to get underway until next July.
China, for its part, just wants everybody to STFU about the sea, alleging remarks from Vietnamese officials asking about the SCS are only for the purposes of “hijack[ing] the COC process.” More from AP, including U.S. support for Vietnam’s pushback against China, here
FWIW: Beijing blocks its citizens from watching YouTube or joining Facebook and Twitter. But YouTube, Facebook and Twitter apparently have no problem letting Chinese state media use their platforms to spread all kinds of propaganda, Quartz reported Thursday.
Idea: reinvigorate America’s information apparatus, à la the Cold War. Joseph Bosco, who served as China country director under the defense secretary from 2005 to 2006, says the U.S. should reverse the past decade’s budget cuts to the agencies charged with “promulgating factual information and varied viewpoints to people trapped in repressive authoritarian societies with messages of truth and hope.” Via The Hill, here
ICYMI: Last year, three active-duty U.S. officers wrote, “No one is in charge of messaging, counter-messaging, and coordinating America’s instruments of information power. Here’s a way to change that.” Read: How to Stop Losing the Information War.

North Korea test-fired its “super-large multiple rocket launcher” a third time. Following August and September tests, Thursday’s launch was “the first since one day of talks between the United States and North Korea in Sweden ended without an agreement on Oct. 5,” Reuters reports, and comes “as North Korea repeatedly emphasizes an end-of-the-year deadline that Kim set for denuclearization talks with Washington.”
U.S. allies, not on same page. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga complained to Pyongyang about the “extremely regrettable” launch of a “missile” that violated United Nations resolutions. But South Korea’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said, “We’re also test-firing missiles, no less than North Korea does.”]
AP has a photo distributed by the North Korean government of the launch, here.

The Pentagon announced the four bases where 5G testing will begin soon. Those bases are: 

  • Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Washington; 
  • Hill Air Force Base, in Utah; 
  • Naval Base San Diego; 
  • and Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, in Georgia.

If you’re just now catching up to this, the Defense Department noted Thursday “a draft request for proposals” in 5G testing and experimentation is expected in November. (Read more on that, here.) Next, “Information gathered from responses to the draft RFP will factor into the creation of a final RFP planned for December, though the timing will depend on passage of a 2020 defense appropriations bill.” A bit more, here.

Iraq is bracing for its largest protests since the days after Saddam Hussein’s fall, Reuters reports. “Thousands have been camped out in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square, with many thousands more joining them by day. Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, was expected to draw the biggest crowds yet, with many taking to the streets after worship.”
And overnight, another 50 or so civilians were wounded “as police use tear gas and live ammunition to battle self-proclaimed ‘revolutionary’ youths in the street.” More here
Related: The U.S. is holding about $105 million in aid for Lebanon, Reuters reports. The holdup isn’t terribly surprising considering Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned from his post on Tuesday, putting the future of the country into uncertainty following weeks of enormous protests against corruption in Lebanon. More here.

And finally this week: Task & Purpose stepped out on Thursday and offered up a name for the U.S. military’s mission (one of them anyway) in Syria. Their suggestion: “Operation Turn the F**k Around and Go Back To Syria” 
That was part of T&P’s writeup of those Bradley fighting vehicles from the National Guard’s 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team that are moving to Syria’s eastern oil fields. Their big-picture take: “In the course of a few weeks, the U.S. military has gone from repositioning a few special operators in Syria to announcing a near total withdrawal from the country to reversing course and dispatching troops to protect the oil fields at the direction of President Donald Trump.” Read on, here

Don’t forget to check out the agenda for our big annual event next week in D.C., the Defense One’s Outlook 2020. We just tacked on a bunch of new experts and panelists. So register for your spot here. And we look forward to seeing you next Thursday!

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