US forces move to Syrian oil fields; China’s killer-robot UAVs, exported; Naval mines, updated; Record-setting October; And a bit more.

U.S. infantry forces are moving into Syria’s oil fields for a mission with murky legal backing, NBC reported Tuesday from somewhere nearby. 

How the U.S. military is selling this mission: "The enduring defeat of ISIS mission that we have, the oilfields are contained inside of that," Lt. Gen. Pat White told NBC's Courtney Kube. "It denies them revenue, denies them an opportunity to reconstitute." Tiny bit more, here.

AP has a more useful report on this new direction, reporting “Under the new plan, troops would protect a large swath of land controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters that stretches nearly 90 miles (150 kilometers) from Deir el-Zour to al-Hassakeh, but its exact size is still being determined.” The number of forces used are said to number somewhere near 800, but an official number is still not known.

One kinda big adjustment: What happens in a shootout with God knows who in that crowded battlefield? It’s an important question since this guard-the-oil mission “also forces lawyers in the Pentagon to craft orders for the troops that could see them firing on Syrian government or Russian fighters trying to take back oil facilities that sit within the sovereign nation of Syria.”

And the legal footing? Unclear, and still shaky, at best. But legal experts told AP “the U.S. may have grounds to use the [the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force] to prevent the oil from falling into [ISIS] hands” on the grounds that it permits the U.S. to “use all necessary force” to “prevent any future acts of international terrorism.” Which is a remarkably broad mandate, and not every legal expert buys it.

Also worth noting for families back home, as AP’s Lita Baldor makes clear: “Trump’s order also slams the door on any suggestion that the bulk of the more than 1,200 U.S. troops that have been in Syria will be coming home any time soon, as he has repeatedly promised.” Read on, here

From Defense One

SecDef: China Is Exporting Killer Robots to the Mideast // Patrick Tucker: For the first time, a senior Defense official has called our Beijing for selling lethal autonomy.

The Two Things Every Senior Pentagon Leader Is Worried About // Mackenzie Eaglen: Their top concerns don’t include the Mexican border, Iran, or even Syria.

US Reliance on China Is a ‘Hard Problem’ for AI Efforts, Commission Says // Patrick Tucker: But despite concerns, Eric Schmidt and Bob Work warn that decoupling from China 'will hurt the United States.'

Trump Isn’t a Climate Denier. He’s Worse. // Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic: Leaving the Paris Agreement and other efforts to slow the globe's transition from fossil fuels will ultimately undermine U.S. power.

Defense One Wins Two Eddie Awards // Defense One Staff: The Folio: media group recognized the Defense One Radio podcast and an investigative piece on the Pentagon’s JEDI contract.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1917, the Bolshevik revolution ascended to power by deposing the provisional government in modern-day St. Petersberg to become the world’s first Marxist state. 

The U.S. and 49 other nations are finishing up a three-week naval exercise to “protect navigation” about 40 miles off Bahrain’s coast, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday onboard the Cardigan Bay, a British Royal Fleet Auxiliary landing ship. The drills are known somewhat bluntly as the International Maritime Exercise, and they started on October 21. 
Involved: “5,000 personnel, 40 vessels and 17 aircrafts from 50 countries deployed to the strategic waterway that separates Iran from the pro-US Arab Gulf monarchies,” AFP writes. 
You might be wondering about that U.S.-led anti-Iran naval coalition. Last we’d heard (September 19), there were only about seven nations taking part: U.S., UK, UAE, Israel, Australia, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. AFP reports that group has not gotten any larger in the month and a half since. Still, 50 nations exercising together in the region is notable. More here.
Mine warfare is finally getting the robot-powered update it deserves — or so says the head of the Navy’s mine-warfare development command. Think unmanned underwater vehicles deployed by submarines. “The future of mining will be UUVs, clandestinely launched mines. And that’s probably as much as I can say here.” USNI News has more, here

Get better acquainted with some creative uses of artillery from the (ongoing) war on ISIS via a couple articles in the latest U.S. Army Fires magazine, flagged by one of your D Brief-er’s former fires officers, Luke O’Brien, on Twitter Tuesday evening. 
Included: How the French kind of assumed “the role of being long-range shooters, engaging at ranges where US artillery struggled to reach.” There’s also word on “the impact of smaller ISIL [unmanned aerial] systems” and how Iraqi security forces burned through “large amounts of ammo to destroy them degraded their formations long before they came into contact with ISIL ground forces. This consequently made fires crucial.”
And one more thing: “They cleared IEDs with bloody smoke shells!” Read on here for how.

Personnel in VP Pence’s office redirected foreign aid to Christian groups — and reportedly fired at least one career policy analyst who tried to explain why that was hurting U.S. interests, ProPublica reports this morning in a move diplomats worried could be unconstitutional. Career USAID officials “worried the agency risked violating constitutional prohibitions on favoring one religion over another,” which could possibly “worsen Iraq’s sectarian divides,” ProPublica reports after obtaining “internal emails and conduct[ing] interviews with nearly 40 current and former U.S. officials and aid professionals.” There are lots of layers to this onion of a story, which you can read in full here.

South Korea’s military could have 100,000 fewer soldiers by 2022, the Wall Street Journal reports off new stats about the declining birthrate for the southern half of the peninsula.
What's going on: South Korea "has the lowest fertility rate among developed countries. Women are giving birth to fewer than one child on average, according to South Korean government estimates, far below the 2.1 newborns necessary to keep population steady." And while its national-service conscription, "which lasts between 18 to 22 months, is viewed as a rite of passage for South Korean men... the pool of able-bodied draftees is projected to shrink by nearly half over the next two decades, according to South Korea’s defense ministry." A bit more behind the paywall, here.

This week in your data, dozens of developers had much more access to Facebook user data than they were supposed to and for at least a couple of months, which the company referred to in its announcement Tuesday as “longer than we intended” and “longer than should have happened,” CNN reports.
How many users? The company won’t say. Read a bit more at The Verge, here. Meantime, Reuters reminds us this morning “Facebook faces multiple investigations into possible antitrust violations by regulators around the world.” Read a bit more about a few of those challenges to the social media giant, here.
BTW: Catch up on how social media “has become a conduit for surveillance and electoral manipulation.” That’s according to a new report published this week by Freedom House, and it sounds a loud alarm bell for “digital authoritarianism” taking hold across the internet and the globe.
Some of what you’ll learn (emphasis added): 

  • “Cross-border influence operations, which first drew widespread attention as a result of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential contest, are also an increasingly common problem. Authorities in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and a growing list of other countries have expanded their efforts to manipulate the online environment and influence foreign political outcomes over the past year.”
  • “While authoritarian powers like China and Russia have played an enormous role in dimming the prospects for technology to deliver greater human rights, the world’s leading social media platforms are based in the United States, and their exploitation by antidemocratic forces is in large part a product of American neglect.”
  • “The victory of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s October 2018 presidential election proved a watershed moment for digital election interference in the country. Unidentified actors mounted cyberattacks against journalists, government entities, and politically engaged users, even as social media manipulation reached new heights.”
  • “China confirmed its status as the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for the fourth consecutive year.”
  • “Internet freedom declined in the United States" where "Law enforcement and immigration agencies expanded their surveillance of the public, eschewing oversight, transparency, and accountability mechanisms that might restrain their actions.”

The report’s parting warning: “We now face a stark reality: the future of internet freedom rests on our ability to fix social media.” And some of the recommendations to that end include considering regulations with a great deal more fairness than seem to exist today. Read the full report, here.

Get smart on how to better protect yourself and your online identity in our three-part podcast series on cyberwarfare’s past, present and future.

And finally today: Last month was the warmest October on record, the EU’s climate center reported Tuesday. And it happened despite the absence of an El Niño, which drove temps in the previous record-holding October, in 2017. Arctic sea ice was also the lowest for any October on record, which is of concern because ice reflects sunlight and its heat back into space; less ice contributes to a feedback loop that increases the heat trapped in Earth’s atmosphere. 
Globally, “monthly temperatures during the past 12 months have averaged about 2.1 degrees, or 1.2 Celsius, above the preindustrial level,” writes the Washington Post. The Paris accord that the U.S. is withdrawing from seeks to keep average temperature rise “well below” 3.6 degrees, and ideally just 2.7 degrees. “Scientists say it’s technically feasible to meet the 2-degree target, but extremely difficult practically, given the present course of greenhouse gas emissions, political difficulties surrounding the issue — such as the impending U.S. departure from the Paris agreement — and the sheer magnitude of near-term emissions cuts it would require.” Read on, here
Isolating America. Trump’s rollbacks of various measures meant to slow U.S. greenhouse emissions aren’t just accelerating climate change. They are isolating America on the world stage, eroding its standing as a world leader, and reducing its ability to compete in a global economy that will increasingly be driven by the move away from carbon emissions, writes The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer.

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