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Russia kicks off giant exercise; Mattis says he likes ICBMs now; US SOF leaders say support for Syrian Kurds is key; Macedonia’s fake-news exports soar; and just a bit more…

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Nikolsky Alexei/TASS/Zuma Press/TNS)

Zapad-17 officially begins today, though related combat exercises and military maneuvers have been going on for weeks. A rough total of 100,000 Russian (and Belarusian) troops will ultimately be involved in the Sept. 14-20 drills. Get started with the Washington Post’s Zapad preview, here.

Moscow has “No invasions of neighboring countries planned,” a senior Russian defense leader reassures German news Deutsche Welle. “I want to state absolutely responsibly that no intrusions in the territory of neighboring countries are planned, the main goal of the exercises is to develop appropriate methods and use the armed forces to fight terrorism,” said Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin in an interview with DW. Read, here.

“Western nations conduct war games, too, of course,” The New York Times adds in their own Zapad preview. “This summer, the United States led an allied force of 25,000 in exercises in Eastern Europe. But the West follows the rules in the Vienna Document… which commits Russia and Western nations to report all exercises with more than 13,000 troops or 300 tanks and to allow foreign observers to monitor those that do… and allows Russian observers to keep a watch.”

#ThrowbackThursday trivia: “A declassified CIA report on Soviet military exercises prepared in the 1980s said that deception was always a central feature of Moscow’s training program, with Soviet forces deploying elaborate ruses to camouflage the real number of troops and purpose of their major exercises,” the Times wrote. “Measures taken to deceive NATO, the C.I.A. report said, included leaking fake information on Soviet radio frequencies monitored by the West and planting disinformation through human agents. In some cases, the Soviet military deployed special ‘camouflage forces’ that operated ‘in totally different regions’ from those taking part in a real exercise ‘so as to mislead NATO intelligence.’ It also generated phony radio traffic ‘in a manner intended to deceive foreign intelligence to the type of the exercise, its aim, conduct etc.’” More here.

Want a window into Russian military exercises across the globe? A new project just launched geolocating military activity from Russian defense ministry press releases, and you can find that, here.

From Defense One

At US Nuclear Weapons Base, Mattis Signals Support for Triad // Marcus Weisgerber: But the U.S. defense secretary stopped short of endorsing all types of new nuclear weapons in development.

Trump Administration Orders US Government To Delete All Kaspersky Software // Joseph Marks and Patrick Tucker: The move follows months of warnings about the Moscow-based cybersecurity firm and speculation about its possible connections to the Kremlin.

‘I Want to Finish This’: US Special Ops Leaders Urge Washington to Stick by the Syrian Kurds // Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: Commanders inside Syria say rebels are doing all they hoped for — and are the best shot to break the region’s cycle of terrorism.

It’s Time to Move US Forces Back to Europe // Daniel J. Kochis and Thomas W. Spoehr: Basing troops abroad will increase their deterrence, make them readier to fight, and even save money.

How Trump Is Ending the American Era // Eliot A. Cohen: For all the visible damage the president has done to the nation’s global standing, things are much worse below the surface.

Energy Dept Spends $33M to Harden Grid Against Network, Kinetic Attack // Joseph Marks: The grants focus on improving grid resiliency during a cyberattack and speeding recovery.

NSA Quietly Awards a Classified $2.4B IT Contract, With More to Come // Frank Konkel: CSRA wins part one of NSA’s three-part Groundbreaker deal to modernize portions of the intelligence community’s infrastructure.

Swarmed With Mosquitoes After Harvey, Texas Calls in the Air Force // Zoë Schlanger: The Air Force is spraying a controversial insecticide across 6 million acres to kill mosquitoes brought in by Hurricane Harvey.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston.

OTD1959: The first manmade object hits the moon: the Soviet Union’s Luna 2. Have something you want to share? Email us at [email protected]. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)

#LongRead: Veles, Macedonia, is a “fake news machine,” CNN reports in a special feature posted this week. Their opener: “This sleepy riverside town in Macedonia is home to dozens of website operators who churn out bogus stories designed to attract the attention of Americans. Each click adds cash to their bank accounts. The scale is industrial: Over 100 websites were tracked here during the final weeks of the 2016 U.S. election campaign, producing fake news that mostly favored Republican candidate for President Donald Trump.” Lots to explore in this one, over here.

North Korean nuclear update: That bomb Pyongyang tested on Sept. 3? “Original estimates had put its yield in the 100 kiloton range,” the Washington Post reports, “but updated seismic data analyzed by experts this week put it closer to a whopping 250 kilotons, or nearly 17 times more powerful than the bomb that flattened Hiroshima.” Story, here. Imagery analysis, via @armscontrolwonk Jeffrey Lewis, here.

That ISIS convoy in Syria has been allowed to reach the eastern Syrian city of Mayadin, NYTs reports this morning. “The convoy reached territory held by the Islamic State, despite vows by the American-led coalition fighting the group that it would not be allowed to do so.” Back story: “The convoy, originally consisting of 17 vehicles — buses and ambulances — and escorts from the Lebanese Hezbollah militia group, had been stuck near Sukhna, on the main highway from Damascus to the city of Deir al-Zour, where the Syrian Army claimed it ended a blockade by the Islamic State last week. The convoy was whittled down to 11 vehicles when six returned to Syrian government territory in western Syria, coalition officials said.” The U.S.-led coalition removed “surveillance aircraft from the vicinity of the convoy [late last week] at the request of the Russian authorities, because Russian warplanes were involved in supporting a Syrian Army advance into Deir al-Zour Province. That advance took the Syrian forces directly past the area where the convoy was stranded, near the town of Sukhna.” Officials are mum about what’s reportedly transpired since the convoy allegedly arrived late last night, the Times reports. “There was no official confirmation of the reports, which were from credible contacts in eastern Syria that were monitored in Damascus, the capital. A spokesman for the coalition, Col. Ryan Dillon, said early Thursday in Baghdad that he had no comment on the matter.” Read on, here.

FWIW: ISIS managed to reduce “the GDP of cities under its control by 23 percent,” according to a new analysis by Rand. “This report is important for those trying to understand the group’s impact on local populations in Iraq and Syria, for those seeking to counter its financing or conduct post-conflict stabilization, and for broader efforts to understand the economic impact of insurgent governance.” Dig in, here.

U.S. Air Force’s to implement unofficial “no captain left behind” rule. The official word from the USAF: “beginning December 2017, the pool of line officers considered for promotion to major will have a 100 percent promotion opportunity,” the service announced Wednesday. “Promotion opportunity rates are typically adjusted as required to meet the needs of the Air Force… the latest move [is designed] to restore the Air Force’s readiness and lethality,” the announcement continues. The background there: “One of the immediate needs senior leaders focused on was the service’s requirement for growing and developing enough field-grade officers to meet mission demands. At 92 percent, the Air Force is currently undermanned in Line of the Air Force field-grade officers, with non-rated field-grade officers manned at 74 percent.” Replied Doctrine Man: “Slow clap, guys. Really nice job.”

And now for something completely different: What not to do after a hurricane? Try to steal power line poles. That’s what a few men from Florida attempted, and failed, when the cops in Jacksonville stepped in. Story, here.

The U.S. Marines want to 3D-print drones for less than the price of an iPhone, Popular Science reported Wednesday. “That’s the vision, at least, behind a new drone program, from NexLog, the Marine Corps next generation logistics team. Last February the team sent corporal Rhet McNeal to a collaborative workspace on a pier in San Francisco to see if modern design tools could build the unmanned scout drone the Corps needs.” The twist: “the Marine Corps already has a hand-tossed drone for scouting missions like this, and it’s had one for years.” This new system, however, costs just $615, said Cpl. Rhet McNeal. “If a wing section breaks now instead of being $8000 it’s like $8. That works out a lot better for us.” Read on, here.

In other drone news: This experimental one “can attach to the wall with spikes that can grip most surfaces.” Video explainer, via Vocativ, here.

Tragedy at Camp Pendleton. Fifteen Marines were injured — five of them critically — after their amphibious assault vehicle caught fire during an exercise in California on Wednesday, the Marine Corps Times reported.  “Eight of the Marines were sent to the Burn Center at University of California San Diego Health, where three are listed in critical condition and five are in serious condition… Four other Marines were taken to the University of California Irvine Medical Center, where two of them are listed in critical condition and the other two are being treated for ‘an unknown medical condition’… [and] Another Marine is listed in stable condition at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, California; and two Marines are being treated for minor injuries at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton.” Notes MCTs: “Wednesday’s incident is the Marine Corps’ third major training accident in as many months: Three Marines were killed on Aug. 5 when an MV-22B Osprey crashed off Australia; and 15 Marines and one sailor were killed on July 10 when their KC-130T crashed in Mississippi.” More here.

Lastly today: An Army vet who lost all four limbs in from a bomb in Afghanistan has named his newborn son after the medics who saved his life, the Associated Press reports from Maine. The soldier: Travis Mills, and he “runs a retreat in Maine for combat-injured veterans,” AP writes. “He says his son’s name, Dax, is a mashup of the medics’ names, Daniel and Alex…Mills on Tuesday announced the arrival of Dax Fieldyn Mills on Facebook. Mills and his wife, Kelsey, already have a daughter, Chloe. Dax was born last month.” Story — it’s a shorty — here. Or check out the Mills’ organization helping vets in Maine, here.


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