Today's D Brief: 5 die in helo crash; More US strikes in Syria; Israel warns Hezbollah; B-21’s first flight; And a bit more.

Five American special operations soldiers were killed Friday when their helicopter crashed into the Mediterranean Sea during a training exercise. The soldiers were conducting a “routine air refueling mission” when their MH-60 Blackhawk “experienced an in-flight emergency, resulting in the crash,” U.S. defense officials said in a statement Monday. The New York Times reported Sunday that the crash occurred near the coast of Cyprus.

All five soldiers were with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)’s 1st Battalion, based out of Kentucky’s Fort Campbell. They include

  • Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen Dwyer, 38, of Clarksville, Tennessee;
  • Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shane Barnes, 34, of Sacramento, California;
  • Staff Sgt. Tanner Grone, 26, of Gorham, New Hampshire;
  • Sgt. Andrew Southard, 27, of Apache Junction, Arizona;
  • And Sgt. Cade Wolfe, 24, of Mankato, Minnesota.

“This is devastating news that reverberates across the entire Special Operations community,” Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga, who leads Army Special Operations Command, said in a statement. “Like the Special Operations community always does, we will wrap our arms around them, grieve with them, and promise to never forget them,” he said. ABC News has images of each soldier, here

For the record, “There are no indications the crash was caused by enemy [or] hostile actions,” Pentagon officials said. But the soldiers were in the region as “part of special operations forces recently sent there to be in place if needed to help evacuate American citizens from the region amid the unfolding Israel-Hamas war,” according to ABC News. 

POTUS: “Our service members put their lives on the line for our country every day,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Sunday. “They willingly take risks to keep the American people safe and secure. And their daily bravery and selflessness is an enduring testament to what is best in our nation…We pray for the families of all our fallen warriors today and every day,” he added. 

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can sign up here. On this day in 2015, Islamic State terrorists carried out the deadliest attack in Paris since World War II when they killed 130 people in series of suicide bombings and mass shootings.

The U.S. military carried out more airstrikes this weekend, against alleged Iranian-backed group facilities in eastern Syria, near the cities of Abu Kamal and Mayadin. The strikes were conducted on Sunday “against a training facility and a safe house...used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran-affiliated groups,” SecDef Austin said in a statement. Defense One’s Lauren C. Williams, traveling with Austin in Asia, has a bit more.

“Initial assessments suggest 6+ fatalities,” according to Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, writing on social media. “At one site, secondary munition detonations lasted 1-2hrs,” he added. 

The airstrikes follow nearly four dozen attacks on U.S. personnel at bases in Iraq and Syria over the last several weeks. Most of those attacks, often featuring drones or rockets, were unsuccessful; but the successful attacks have caused injuries—ranging from minor to traumatic brain injuries—to at least 56 U.S. personnel, according to the Pentagon. They also follow a similar two-plane strike on Nov. 8 against an alleged IRGC arms dump in eastern Syria.

Spillover watch: Israel’s military is threatening to widen its war with Hamas to include southern Lebanon after Palestinian militants launched an attack Sunday that killed at least 10 Israeli civilians and wounded seven soldiers, according to the Israeli Defense Forces

“What we can do in Gaza, we can also do in Beirut,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Saturday, directly warning Iranian-linked Hezbollah militants against widening the regional conflict further. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah earlier Saturday claimed his fighters recently attacked Israel using a missile with a 500-kg payload that he called the “Burkan.” 

Update: Israeli missile defenses have intercepted more than 9,500 rockets, the Israeli military said last week. The Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies has a bit more, here

ICYMI: Amid growing international pressure, Israel agreed to daily four-hour pauses in fighting Hamas inside Gaza in order to facilitate the flow of people out and the flow of humanitarian aid in, White House officials said Thursday. 

“Israel has an obligation to fully comply with international law,” John Kirby of the National Security Council told reporters, “and we believe these pauses are a step in the right direction, particularly to help ensure that civilians have an opportunity to reach safer areas away from the active fighting.”

Iran’s president and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince both threw their support behind a ceasefire in Gaza this weekend. President Ebrahim Raisi visited the Saudis on Saturday in what the New York Times reported was “the first [such trip] by an Iranian president to the kingdom in more than a decade.” Both Raisi and his host, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, took separate verbal swipes at the international community. Read more at the Times.

In conversation: Former CENTCOM chief retired Army Gen. Joseph Votel joined us for our latest Defense One Radio podcast, posted Friday. Votel helped unpack the daunting task of clearing Gaza City of Hamas; and Barak Mendelsohn of Haverford College in Philadelphia assessed Israel's seemingly ambitious goal of crushing the terrorist group once and for all. 

  • Listen on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.

The European Union has far outpaced its annual goal for training Ukrainian soldiers, initially planning on 15,000. Now, however, the bloc says it can train 35,000 by the end of December, the Associated Press reported Monday from France. 

“One can clearly see in Ukraine that the front line is relatively frozen, with two belligerents who employ very similar doctrines,” France’s top training officer said. “So today, one of the keys being sought in an attempt to break this inertia is to try to develop maneuvering schemes that can bother and even shake up the adversary.” Continue reading, here

Reminder: “Most of America's assistance to Ukraine is spent within the United States,” the American Enterprise Institute reports in their fairly exhaustive overview of more than $100 billion in Ukraine assistance from Washington alone. 

New: The U.S. wants to sell Romania 54 Abrams for about $2.5 billion. The deal will “improve the security of a NATO Ally which is an important force for political and economic stability in Europe,” the Pentagon’s arms export branch, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, announced Thursday. 

Also new: Germany says it will double its military aid to Ukraine in 2024, rising to about $8.5 billion, according to public broadcaster Deutsche Welle. “This is a strong signal to Ukraine, showing we are not giving up on it,” Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Sunday. The funds still have to be approved by parliament, but observers don’t anticipate any significant obstacles, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, “A European Union plan to spend up to 20 billion euros ($21 billion) on military aid for Ukraine is meeting with resistance from EU countries,” according to the wire service. 

Developing: Ukraine says it has altered its Soviet-era Buk-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems to fire U.S.-made rockets, Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat said Sunday. The Kyiv Independent has a bit more, here

Additional reading: 

And lastly: The U.S. Air Force’s B-21 Raider flew for the first time on Friday. There were signals that the bomber’s first flight was imminent after photos of the aircraft taxiing in Palmdale started circulating on social media last month, Defense One’s Audrey Decker reports

“The B-21 Raider is in flight testing,” which includes ground testing, taxiing, and flying operations, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said in a statement. “Flight testing is a critical step in the test campaign managed by the Air Force Test Center and 412th Test Wing’s B-21 Combined Test Force to provide survivable, long-range, penetrating strike capabilities to deter aggression and strategic attacks against the United States, allies, and partners.”

The B-21 that flew on Friday is one of six test aircraft being produced. The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 to replace its B-1 and B-2 fleets. Read more, here.