Wednesday, April 27, 2016

ISIS foreigners down by 90%; New US-China flashpoint; Fighter pilot tapped to lead USAF; What’s wrong with Obama’s NSC; How US troops got hooked on Rip It; and a bit more...

The D Brief
April 27, 2016   
 
 

The number of foreigners fighting with the Islamic State has declined by 90 percent, Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, deputy commander for operations and intelligence in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, said Tuesday. Attacks on ISIS finances—with damages to oil infrastructure and cash storage sites estimated to run as high as $800 million—and strikes on the group's personnel have reduced the number of foreign fighters joining ISIS from 1,500 to 2,000 per month a year ago to 200 per month today, Gersten said.

"We're actually seeing an increase in now the desertion rates in these fighters," he said. "We're seeing a fracture in their morale. We're seeing their inability to pay. We're watching them try to leave Daesh."

Gersten's "statement was reinforced by newly obtained internal ISIS documents," some of which are dated as recently as last month. "The cache shows the group struggling for funds—some of which are used to pay for sex slaves—and calling on fighters to use less electricity and stop driving official cars for personal use," CNN adds. "The fighters, meanwhile, seem to be suffering low morale, in some case seeking doctors' notes to avoid serving on the frontlines." Not that experts experts envision a widespread revolt against the group. Read the rest, here.

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The U.S. military is using an Israeli tactic to reduce civilian casualties in its airstrikes against ISIS, but it's not always working as planned, Gersten said. It's called "roof knocking": air-bursting a missile above a compound "to give residents time to flee before the real strike," Reuters reported. "The Israeli military used such 'roof knocks' in the 2014 Gaza war, but a United Nations commission found in 2015 that the tactic was not effective, because it often caused confusion and did not give residents enough time to escape." On April 5 near Mosul, the U.S. detonated a Hellfire over a compound believed to house as much as $150 million in cash to avoid killing a woman, "who initially did leave the targeted building—but then ran back inside [and] was killed," Gersten said.

The general said it was "very difficult for us to watch and it was within the final seconds of the actual impact."

 

Iraqi security forces are pressing on toward Mosul from the southeast, recapturing a village near Makhmour behind "heavy" coalition airstrikes, Voice of America reports this morning from Irbil. Also, more than a dozen Iraqi Kurds, "including nine children, two men and two women," were able to escape Mosul and reach Peshmerga troops nearby, Kurdish officials said this morning.

In Syria, ISIS has taken another "five villages from Syrian rebels close to the Turkish border Wednesday, further weakening the rebels' foothold in the Aleppo area," in Aleppo governorate's Azaz district, where more than 100,000 people are believed to be trapped between warring factions, the Associated Press reports. "Those in Azaz are now squeezed between IS to the east and the SDF to the west and south, while Turkey tightly restricts the flow of goods and people through the border." More here.

Meanwhile, Russia says the next round of Syrian peace talks will begin May 10. The UN, however, says not so much.

 

A new U.S.-China flashpoint in Scarborough Shoal. The U.S. military "observed Chinese ships conducting survey work around a clump of rocks, sandbars and coral reefs known as the Scarborough Shoal…possibly in response to a ruling on its territorial claims by an arbitration panel in The Hague, expected this summer," The Wall Street Journal reports.

In response, "the U.S. flew three different air patrols near Scarborough in recent days, including on April 19 and 21, according to U.S. defense officials...Beijing on Monday condemned the U.S. flights, saying the shoal, which it calls Huangyan Island, is China's 'inherent territory.'"

The underlying tension: "Any such work would come close to a red line for the U.S. and the Philippines, given the proximity to the country and to Philippine military bases where U.S. forces were redeployed this month," the WSJ writes. "Washington and its allies also would consider it a major escalation. Beijing seized control of the shoal from Manila in 2012, whereas the artificial islands in the Spratlys were built on rocks and reefs already controlled by China."

Now the U.S. and its allies are mulling "stronger actions," which could include "a buildup of military assets in the area, or taking a more overt position on the legal status of land features in the South China Sea. Another option is to rescind China's invitation to the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific, or Rimpac, joint naval drills in Hawaii in the summer. Disinviting China from the exercise, some U.S. officials and others believe, would amount to a public shaming that would resonate in Beijing." For a look into possible Chinese reactions, read on here.

 
 
 
 
D  From Defense One

What's wrong with Obama's National Security Council? An insider sorts the solid critiques from the amnesiac complaints. Derek Chollet, who served as a member of the 2008 NSC transition team and held positions at the State Department, Pentagon, and White House, writes, "Is Obama's NSC perfect? No. But critics should complain with a little historical humility." Read on, here.

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1805, U.S. Marines (and Berber mercenaries) launch an attack on the shores of Tripoli. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.

 
 

Taliban-turned-ISIS fighters in eastern Afghanistan are now fleeing their new group's brutal tactics, CNN reports after chatting with two defectors in Jalalabad. "The two men are part of a program [run by Afghan intelligence service NDS] called the Popular Uprising Program, intended to harness local militants to fight ISIS. While the program has seen success in many areas, Zaitoun and Arabistan say their village, in Nangahar province, has not benefited, as they have not got adequate protection or financing from the government. In fact, they say, most of the fight against ISIS is now being done by American drones." More here.

Russia wants to help in Afghanistan peace talks with the Taliban—but not the peace talks you're thinking of, Russian envoy on Afganistan Zamir Kabulov this morning. According to Reuters' account of Kabulov's remarks: "Russia considers inefficient the current format of the talks, sponsored by the four-power group of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and China, and does not plan to join in, although Moscow is ready to create a new format." That, here.

To the north in Kunduz, "Afghan army commandos have carried out at least 10 operations against [the Taliban] around the city since mid-March, and more are planned" as "part of a new strategy to go after the enemy rather than wait for militants to strike first," Reuters reports on location. But the same concerns about the durability of new clearance operations continue to plague Kabul's security forces, not just in and around Kunduz.

In the southwestern Taliban stronghold of Helmand, fighting has closed nearly 130 schools as insurgents move in, turning some into checkpoints and supply depots, Afghanistan's Pajhwok News reported.

Obama's nomination to lead the U.S. Air Force is a "decorated fighter pilot who was once shot down" over Serbia, the Washington Post reported Tuesday of Gen. David L. Goldfein. "The move continues a swift ascent for Goldfein, who was promoted to four-star general and became the Air Force's No. 2 officer in August. He previously served from August 2013 to August 2015 as director of the Joint Staff and from August 2011 to August 2013 as commander of Air Forces Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East." Much more on Goldfein and the harrowing "night a surface-to-air missile exploded near his fighter jet over Belgrade," here.

Speaking of pilots, here's some pretty cool footage of an F-22 flying at low altitude through the UK's famous "Mach loop."

Some of America's four-star generals may be on the chopping block. Military Times reports on the proposal "in the House Armed Services Committee draft of the annual defense authorization bill, unveiled Monday." Just one of many personnel reforms being pitched, the measure "includes a requirement to dump at least five of the 38 four-star posts across the armed services in coming years—the Coast Guard commandant would not be included in the list—and ensure that subordinate commanders within combatant commands serve at a grade no higher than three stars."

For what it's worth: "The move appears specifically aimed at situations like the Defense Department's Pacific Command," Shane writes, "which in addition Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the unified command's leader, boasts three other four-star officers who fill service-specific posts." More here.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain wants to see that price tag for the Air Force's new bomberBloomberg reports. "Taxpayers have the right to know what a weapons system they are acquiring with their dollars is going to cost," McCain said in response to the USAF's decision to withhold the dollar figure on the grounds that releasing it would empower America's enemies—a charge McCain called "unbelievable." Get your incredulity fix, here.

Before we leave the Hill, here are 12 amendments to watch out for in this year's defense authorization fight, from Heritage's Justin Johnson.

Trump stumps with policy dump. The Donald, whose campaign is working hard to get their man to look a bit more presidential, will deliver a speech tonight at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. "It's going to be some of my views on foreign policy and defense and lots of other things, and part of it is economics," he told reporters last night.

Lastly today: Read up on the short history of the U.S. military's quiet love affair with an energy drink your extended family has probably never heard of: Rip It. Any deployed Joe knows the stuff and probably has a favorite flavor (one of your D Brief-ers favored Orange while in Kandahar, since Grape had a way of mysteriously rarely making it into the chow hall). Said one soldier: "It's paramount to survival, not only for yourself, but for your peers." That bit of fringe military history, here.