Today's D Brief: Ukraine strikes inside Russia, which hits Kyiv; Maui response; Gabon coup; Whistleblower’s big payday; And a bit more.

Ukrainian drones disabled four Russian military transport planes as part of an apparent widespread attack that spanned half a dozen regions inside Russia, including Pskov, Bryansk, Kaluga, Orlov, Ryazan and Moscow, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Most of the drones were reportedly shot down; but the strikes in Pskov, near Latvia and Estonia, are what knocked out the four Il-76 cargo planes.  

Russian strikes on Kyiv killed at least two people on Wednesday as well. Ukraine intercepted missiles fired at Kyiv in four different locations around the city; debris from the shoot downs are reportedly what caused the deaths, according to Reuters. The BBC has footage of one of the intercepted missile strikes on Kyiv, here

“Kyiv has not experienced such a powerful attack since spring,” one city official wrote on Telegram. “The enemy launched a massive, combined attack using drones and missiles,” said Serhiy Popko. 

New: The United States will send another $250 million worth of military equipment to Ukraine, the Pentagon announced Tuesday. The package includes AIM-9M Sidewinder missiles for air defense; additional HIMARS ammunition; 155mm and 105mm artillery rounds; mine-clearing equipment; tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided missiles (aka TOW missiles); Javelin “and other anti-armor systems and rockets”; Hydra-70 rockets; small arms ammunition; armored medical treatment vehicles; demolition munitions, and more.

Get a more nuanced grasp of Ukraine’s incremental advances into Russian-held territory thanks to an analysis by a Ukrainian soldier writing Tuesday on Elon Musk’s X platform. We bring it up because on several instances we’ve shared satellite imagery analysis—e.g., the consistent work of AEI’s Brady Africk—that illustrates Russian military obstacles and defensive fortifications like trenches and dragon’s teeth to slow down Ukraine’s counteroffensive. 

Satellite images understandably miss a considerable amount of detail that’s much more apparent on the ground, writes @Tatarigami_UA. Noting that “virtually every tree line has been fortified to some extent,” the Ukrainian warns, “These fortifications range from concealed positions for [anti-tank guided missiles] and machine-gunner teams to [discrete] well-protected individual positions.” 

He argues: “Ultimately, the destruction of enemy forces and assets positioned within these tree lines carries greater significance than obstacles like dragon's teeth and AT ditches, which can be circumvented in under 20 minutes when the enemy is suppressed or lacks the resources to resist,” he says. Read on, here

“Ukraine is gradually gaining ground,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday, and “NATO Allies are providing major support—including F-16 jets and training from Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and the U.S.,” he wrote on social media. 

Event alert: One of our sister organizations, Forecast International, is hosting a webinar this afternoon on U.S. “munition stockpile strategies, mobile artillery advancements, and the evolving landscape of loitering munition systems.” Four panelists will break down how they view the future of artillery production, how radar systems are evolving, and how the U.S. is planning to restock its munitions supplies amid Russia’s Ukraine invasion and beyond. The webinar is free, though you will have to register here to access the discussion, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET. 

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Bradley Peniston. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do that here. On this day in 2021, the last U.S. soldier to leave Afghanistan, Army Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, departed on a C-17 cargo plane from Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Three weeks after a wildfire swept through the Hawaiian town of Lahaina, the U.S. military has begun distributing water on Lahaina’s island of Maui. The fires on the island destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and killed at least 115 people.

Two Army “hippo” 2,000-gallon water tanks are now on Maui, along with two sailors from the Pacific Fleet’s Navy Environmental Preventative Medicine Unit Six. The new assistance comes after the publication of a Honolulu Magazine article that addressed the question on many minds in Hawaii, “What’s With the Underwhelming Military Response in Maui?” When asked that question Aug. 25 by Defense One’s Jennifer Hlad, JTF-50 Deputy Commander Col. David Fielder said the military had, in fact, responded quickly, and stood “ready to respond to anything that the mayor had asked for.” 

As of Tuesday morning, 580 National Guardsmen, 133 other Defense Department personnel, and 119 Coast Guardsmen were “actively engaged” in the response to the Lahaina fire, according to the Pentagon. Their work includes inter-island transportation, stand-by aerial fire suppression, strategic transportation, mortuary affairs support, and fuel distribution support. 

A team of 21 Navy divers has completed their survey and search of Lahaina Harbor. Two of them spoke to Hlad on Tuesday about their experience. “Getting in the water and first seeing the boats, they’re toppled on top of each other,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Sephten Clevenger said. 

About 20 partially intact vessels between 10 and 35 feet long had sunk in the harbor, said Clevenger. “I know going through a couple of the boats, it’s quite tragic to see what had happened to them.” Continue reading, here

Meanwhile in Florida, the state’s National Guard was “fully activated” Tuesday for Hurricane Idalia recovery efforts after the storm made landfall early Wednesday. That means more than 3,000 troops are on call, Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Tuesday. MacDill Air Force Base is still under evacuation orders for at least another day, base officials said on social media Wednesday morning. Tyndall Air Force Base will resume normal operations Wednesday, officials said on Facebook. 

President Joe Biden is set to speak on the Maui response, as well as Hurricane Idalia recovery efforts, in the afternoon Wednesday, around 2 p.m. ET. That will follow a meeting with “Cabinet and Agency officials who are supporting long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts” for Maui, the White House said Wednesday morning. 

The arrival of American F-35s in the Middle East seems to have affected Russian behavior over Syria, Air & Space Forces Magazine’s Chris Gordon reports. “We have seen a decrease in the level of aggressiveness of the Russian activities against our MQ-9” Reaper drones, a senior U.S. defense official told Gordon. However, “It’s too early for us to tell if that’s a major change of behavior or just an aberration,” the official said.

Context: Russian fighter jet pilots have been making dangerous head-on passes of U.S. jets over Syria, as Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Aug. 21. Several of these passes brought the Russian aircraft to “well inside 1,000 feet” from U.S. jets, an Air Force official said. 

Rewind: The U.S. has accused Russia of provocative behavior over Syria almost from the start of Russia’s operations in the country. These activities, which have also included harassment of U.S. forces on the ground, have increased since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, an AFCENT spokesperson told Defense One in June. Read more at Air & Space Forces Magazine, here.

Facebook’s parent company says it took down two massive online influence campaigns from China and Russia. The company, Meta, announced the takedowns Tuesday, and called the Chinese operation “the largest known cross-platform covert influence operation in the world.” It included more than 7,700 Facebook accounts, more than 950 Pages, 15 different Facebook Groups, and 15 Instagram accounts. And at least some of those seem to have been run b y “individuals associated with Chinese law enforcement.”  

The China-linked campaigns spanned “more than 50 apps, including Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest, Medium, Blogspot, LiveJournal, VKontakte, Vimeo, and dozens of smaller platforms and forums,” according to Meta. The content involved “positive commentary about China and its province Xinjiang and criticisms of the United States, Western foreign policies, and critics of the Chinese government including journalists and researchers.”  

How did they link it to China? Researchers said they noticed “a clear shift pattern, with bursts of activity in the mid-morning and early afternoon, Beijing time, with breaks for lunch and supper, and then a final burst of activity in the evening.” Content also involved fake stories about Taiwan’s leadership “surrendering” and how the U.S. was “hiding the truth about the origin of the [corona]virus from the outside world.”

The Russians, meanwhile, tried to steer opinion about their Ukraine invasion using fake news reports “mimicking websites of mainstream news outlets and government entities,” Meta said. The spoofed government sources claimed “Western support for Ukraine would lead to higher taxes, greater insecurity, or lower standards of living.” The Russians initially targeted France, Germany and Ukraine, but the campaign has since grown to include U.S. and Israeli audiences. 

“This is the largest and the most aggressively-persistent Russian-origin operation we’ve taken down since 2017,” Meta said Tuesday. It used fake articles pretending to originate at the Washington Post, Fox News, and NATO. On the upside, the Russian “operation stands out for the sheer wastefulness of its large-scale efforts,” said Meta, and noted at least one instance where a seemingly elaborately-faked interview with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy “received no engagement on our platform.” 

Turkey- and Iranian-linked operations were also thwarted by Meta’s security analysts. That content involved “supportive commentary about Iran and Palestine; verbatim statements by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; and critical commentary about Israel, the United States, the Turkish government,” and Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. Read more in Meta’s Q2 Adversarial Threat report (PDF), here

Related reading: 

Gabon army officers declare coup, depose president. Minutes after the Central African state's election body announced that President Ali Bongo had won a third term, military officers said they had placed Bongo under house arrest. If successful, the coup could end 56 years in power for his family. It would also “be the eighth in West and Central Africa since 2020. The latest one, in Niger, was in July. Military officers have also seized power in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad, erasing democratic gains since the 1990s,” reports Reuters (registration req’d). AP, BBC have more.

And lastly, a former Marine officer recently won $40 million after blowing the whistle on “what the Justice Department ultimately declared was a civil fraud scheme under which Booz Allen allegedly was overcharging U.S. taxpayers to subsidize its money-losing private consulting contracts, including with foreign governments such as Saudi Arabia,” NBC News reported Monday after speaking with the former Marine captain. 

Background: “After a yearslong investigation, Booz Allen last month admitted no wrongdoing while paying a $377 million settlement,” NBC reported. 

“I’ve got three kids, and I tell them, ‘Doing the right thing is the right thing, no matter what the outcome is,’” said Sarah Feinberg. “There’s very few times in this life where you’ll actually be rewarded for doing the right thing, but this is one of those unique situations.” Read the rest, here.