BREAKING THIS MORNING: Iraqi forces have retaken the heart of Hawija, the last real town held by the Islamic State in Iraq, according to reports this morning. That would leave only a small strip of desert along the Syrian border under ISIS control. “I want to announce the liberation of the city of Hawija today,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said, calling it a “victory not just for Iraq but for the whole world,” the Associated Press reported. While in Paris, Abadi said the fight now should focus on the areas near the Syrian border. “We should chase this terrorist organization everywhere,” he said. “This is a very dangerous organization that works for spreading instability.”

Yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said ISIS is on the verge of being wiped out. “ISIS's fraudulent caliphate in Iraq and Syria is on the brink of being completely extinguished, thanks to an aggressive new strategy led by the president,” Tillerson said. ISIS still holds territory in Syria.

UNDER THE RADAR, UNDER FIRE: You would be forgiven if you did not realize that the U.S. had troops in Niger, a landlocked country in western Africa. Last night, U.S. officials disclosed that three U.S. Green Berets were killed and two others were wounded when a joint U.S. and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in the southwest part of the country, near the border with Mali. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is suspected in the attack.

A statement from U.S. Africa Command said the U.S. special operations commandos are in Niger to assist the Nigerien military in their efforts to target violent extremist organizations in the region. “One aspect of that is training, advising and assisting the Nigeriens in order to increase their ability to bring stability and security to their people.‎"

The AP reports the two U.S. troops wounded in the ambush were taken to the capital of Niamey, and are said to be in stable condition. The White House said President Trump was notified about the attack aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington from Las Vegas.

‘PEACEFUL PRESSURE’ ON NORTH KOREA CONTINUES: In his brief news conference yesterday, Tillerson insisted his approach to dealing with North Korea is the right one, and that tougher sanctions are starting to bite. “Countries must increasingly decide whether they will do business with North Korea or with the community of peace-loving nations,” Tillerson said. “We've created international unity around our peaceful pressure campaign against North Korea, including influencing China to exert unprecedented economic influence on North Korea.”

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE OIL: In his Senate testimony Tuesday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said oil is the key to getting Kim Jong Un to buckle. “I think, if there was one area that has been identified by many people as maybe being the one that would most profoundly change his behavior, it would be the loss of oil,” Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Dunford said convincing China to completely turn off the spigot could force Kim to change his calculus. “We've seen in the past, when he's had a cut — when the oil has been cut off, there's been a change in Kim Jong Un's behavior. The fact is he needs economic resources external to the country to survive.

And survival — holding onto power — is what Kim’s love affair with nuclear weapons is all about, according to U.S. intelligence assessments. “Kim Jong Un is on the path he's on right now because he believes that's necessary to enhance the survival of his regime,” Dunford testified. “What I think Kim Jong Un needs to realize is he cannot survive with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, because the international community will not allow him to survive.

CARTER: TIME TO TALK: In an op-ed in the Washington Post this morning, former President Jimmy Carter argues that the escalating crisis with North Korea is the most serious existing threat to world peace. “It is imperative that Pyongyang and Washington find some way to ease the escalating tension and reach a lasting, peaceful agreement,” writes Carter, who in 1994 made an unofficial trip to North Korea to broker a deal that ultimately failed to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

“What the officials have always demanded is direct talks with the United States, leading to a permanent peace treaty to replace the still-prevailing 1953 cease-fire that has failed to end the Korean conflict,” Carter said. “They want an end to sanctions, a guarantee that there will be no military attack on a peaceful North Korea, and eventual normal relations between their country and the international community.” Carter says as a next step, the U.S. should offer to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang for peace talks or to support an international conference including North and South Korea, the United States and China, at a mutually acceptable site.

FATE OF THE IRAN DEAL: As an Oct. 15 deadline draws closer, Tillerson is the latest Cabinet member to hint that maybe scrapping the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has called “an embarrassment,” is not the best idea. “We'll have a recommendation for the president. We're going to give him a couple of options on how to move forward to advance the important policy towards Iran,” Tillerson said.

The 2015 accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was signed by the U.S. and six other world powers. “The JCPOA represents only a small part of the many issues that we need to deal with when it comes to the Iranian relationship,” Tillerson said. “It is an important part of that, but it is not the only part. And I've said many times, we cannot let the Iranian relationship be defined solely by that nuclear agreement.”

Oct. 15 is the deadline to certify whether Iran is complying with the terms of the agreement. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress that Iran was “fundamentally” in compliance with the accord. “If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly, we should stay with it,” Mattis said. “I believe, at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.”

Good Thursday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.



HAPPENING TODAY: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry kicks off the Heritage Foundation's release of its 2018 Index of U.S. Military Strength, with a keynote address at the think tank’s Capitol Hill headquarters. Thornberry has been ringing the alarm in Congress over what he says is a dangerously degraded military and pushing for a major hike in defense spending in the coming year.

That message dovetails with findings in Heritage’s fourth installment of its annual index that again rated the military’s overall strength as “moderate” trending toward “weak.” The Air Force is short 1,000 fighter pilots and only four of its 32 combat-coded fighter squadrons are fully combat-ready. Only three of the Army’s 31 Brigade Combat Teams are ready to deploy immediately to a conflict, and the Marine Corps’ overall strength rating was downgraded from “marginal” last year to “weak” due to the poor state of its aviation fleet and an overly high tempo of deployments.

Thornberry’s speech will at 9 a.m., to be followed up by a panel discussion at 10:15 a.m. You can view the whole event here.

THE FINAL FRONTIER: The first meeting of the National Space Council is being chaired by Vice President Mike Pence this morning at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. Among the participants: Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan and acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, as well as a number of Trump administration Cabinet members and senior officials, and aerospace industry leaders. Trump signed an executive order reestablishing the National Space Council on June 30. “We expect to come out of this meeting with a reinvigorated focus for America’s space exploration goals that engages all the innovation of NASA and our partners, moves us toward national priorities, and excites people around the world,” said Lightfoot, in a NASA press release. The event will be broadcast on NASA TV, and streamed live at 10 a.m. on the agency’s website.

ALLEN TO HELM BROOKINGS: The Brookings Institution has chosen retired Marine Gen. John Allen to take over as its new president in November. Allen commanded U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan as a Marine Corps general under President Barack Obama and is a foreign policy fellow at the think tank who has focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the fight against the Islamic State. The retired general delivered a thunderous speech at last summer's Democratic National Convention in support of nominee Hillary Clinton. "We trust her judgment. We believe in her vision for a united America. With her as our commander in chief, America will continue to lead in this volatile world,” Allen said at the time.

Allen take the reins from Strobe Talbott, a long-time Washington hand who served at the State Department and worked as a Time magazine journalist. Talbott, who served at Brookings for 15 years, will stay on as foreign policy senior fellow. "Brookings is home to some of the brightest minds addressing the most pressing issues we face today, including economic and domestic challenges, as well as foreign policy and national security matters, and I am looking forward to working with them to advance the mission of the Brookings Institution," Allen said in a statement. He called Talbott an "American icon."

MISSILES TO JAPAN: U.S. ally Japan could buy up to 56 of Raytheon’s AMRAAMs, or advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, under a deal just green-lit by the State Department. The AIM-120C-7 version of the defense giant’s missile can be carried by Japan’s F-15 Eagles and the 42 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighters it plans to acquire. Tokyo bought four U.S.-built F-35As last year and rolled its first domestically built fighter off a Mitsubishi assembly line in Nagoya over the summer. The Raytheon missile sale comes after months of tension over North Korea’s defiant missile testing, including launches over northern Japan, and just two days after the Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced a potential $815 million sale of 3,900 GBU-53/B small diameter bombs to Australia, another key ally in the region. The bombs, also built by Raytheon, can be carried by F-35A fighters that Australia and the U.S. are developing.

RUBIO WANTS ‘ANTI-AMERICAN’ SOLDIER GONE: Sen. Marco Rubio wants the Army to remove an officer who posted pictures of himself on social media promoting pro-communist messages, and is asking the United States Military Academy to consider rescinding his degree. Rubio sent a letter to acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy Tuesday to complain about 2nd Lt. Spenser Rapone's conduct, and to ask whether West Point's administrators or faculty knew about his pro-communist views. Rapone is now an infantry officer in the Army.

"While I strongly believe academic institutions must respect the exchange of ideas and allow students to voice their opinions, members of the military who harbor anti-American views and express their desire to harm our country and its leaders are unfit to serve and defend our nation — and certainly should not enjoy the privilege of attending or graduating from an institution such as West Point, a taxpayer-funded military academy," Rubio wrote. Rapone posted two photos on Twitter last week expressing pro-communist views. In one photo, the West Point graduate opened the buttons of his uniform to reveal a Che Guevara T-shirt underneath.

ASH CARTER REFLECTS: During the reign of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, there was a running rhetorical battle between the Pentagon press corps and various Obama administration spokespeople over their aversion to describing what U.S. troops were doing in Iraq and Afghanistan as “combat.” One of the worst offenders was former Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, who tried various tortured locutions to avoid the c-word.

In an long, reflective essay published by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Carter ruminates on this and other subjects, and perhaps not surprisingly lays some of the blame on the “gotcha” media. Here’s an excerpt:

“The president clearly wanted to reassure the American people that we were not involving ourselves in large-scale ground combat, and the people of the region did not want invasion-sized forces to return, either. But the avoidance of that word — ‘combat’ — risked minimizing the risk and sacrifice of U.S. and coalition forces. With the press and above all with the troops, this hairsplitting didn’t fly. The press, eager to play gotcha, constantly searched for any hint of U.S. troops in ‘combat’ roles or that they had moved closer to the front lines.”

USS MCCAIN REPAIRS: The Navy has determined that the USS John S. McCain can be repaired in Japan where the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer was stationed before a deadly collision at sea on Aug. 21. The service’s assessment of the ship in Singapore, where it has been moored since the incident that killed 10 sailors, found the damage could be repaired “at the lowest estimated cost” at Yokosuka, a port near Tokyo where the Navy has a major base, and then pushed back into service as soon as possible. The cost of repairing the McCain and the USS Fitzgerald, which was damaged in a June collision that killed seven sailors, has been estimated at $600 million. The Fitzgerald repairs are now estimated at $367 million, according to USNI News. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said the Navy will have to request money to cover the repair bills from Congress.

TILLERSON DENIES REXIT RUMORS: Tillerson is denying reports he had contemplated resigning over the summer, disputing reports of deep tension with the president. "The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post," Tillerson said during an impromptu statement to the media Wednesday morning.

That was an attempt to rebut an NBC report of a near-fracture in the administration over the summer. Tillerson reportedly referred to Trump as a "moron" after a meeting with Pentagon officials in late July, then considered resigning days later after Trump's controversial speech to the Boy Scouts.

BUT DID HE CALL TRUMP A MORON? A reporter asked him point blank. "I'm not going to deal with petty stuff like that," he responded. "This is what I don't understand about Washington. Again, I'm not from this place. But the places I come from, we don't deal with that kind of petty nonsense. I'm just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration."

That wasn’t the “no” people were looking for, so State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert made it clear. "He did not say that. The secretary does not use that type of language. The secretary did not use that type of language to speak about the president of the United States. He does not use that language to speak about anyone."

At a press availability in Las Vegas, Trump labeled the whole thing “fake news,” and expressed unqualified support for his secretary of state. “Total confidence in Rex. I have total confidence,” Trump said. “It was a totally phony story... It was made up by NBC. They just made it up.”

TILLERSON-MATTIS-KELLY: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker praised Tillerson yesterday, saying he isn't getting enough support from the Trump administration, and said Tillerson and other national security officials are playing critical roles in the administration.

"I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary [Jim] Mattis, and Chief of Staff [John] Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos, and I support them very much," Corker told reporters Wednesday. "I see what's happening here. I deal with people throughout the administration, and he, from my perspective, it's an incredibly frustrating place. As I watch — OK, I can watch very closely on many occasions — he ends up not being supported in the way that I would hope a secretary of state would be supported."

MAKE THAT TILLERSON-MATTIS-MNUCHIN: Tillerson, Mattis, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly have forged a "suicide pact" in which all three members of Trump's Cabinet would leave if one of them becomes a target of the president. A U.S. official told BuzzFeed that Tillerson would likely remain in the administration because of his agreement with Mnuchin and Mattis.

THE RUNDOWN

Washington Post: Top General In Puerto Rico Details Plan For Relief As More Troops Arrive

Reuters: Putin Says Military Strike Against North Korea Not Sure To Succeed

AP: ISIS Latches On To Global Attacks As It Fights For Survival

Wall Street Journal: Russian spy tactic: Hack smartphones of NATO soldiers

Foreign Policy: Are parking spaces the next casualty of the U.S.-Russian diplomatic spat?

USA Today: Investigators say Russia is still trying to interfere in U.S. politics

Defense News: 'One hand tied behind your back': Why DoD's empty policy chair matters

Navy Times: Valve may lead to cabin pressure problems in Super Hornets, Growlers

Daily Beast: The Philippines is destroying the city of Marawi to save it from ISIS

Task and Purpose: What Mattis’ new rules of engagement mean for the war in Afghanistan

Defense One: General Motors wants to disrupt the military truck market

Stars and Stripes: How high-tech Navy went off course on basic seamanship skills

New York Times: U.N. draft blacklist of child killers includes Saudi Arabia

Defense News: Lockheed, Rockwell to develop airborne C2 system for launching ICBMs

Calendar

THURSDAY | OCT. 5

8 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. Health affairs breakfast with Tyler Bennett, deputy for acquisition at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency, and Kathy Berst, deputy for acquisition at Army Medical Materiel Development Activity. ndia.org

9 a.m. Rayburn 2172. The Rohingya crisis and the U.S. response to the tragedy in Burma. foreignaffairs.house.gov

9 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Release of the 2018 Index of U.S. Military Strength with Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Heritage.org

10 a.m. Chantilly, Virginia. Deputy Defense Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan participates in the first meeting of National Space Council, hosted by Vice President Mike Pence, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Streamed live on the NASA website.

10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Russia's military robots: Key trends and developments in Russia's unmanned systems. csis.org

10 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A conversation with Pierre Bouassi, minister of social affairs for Lebanon. wilsoncenter.org

10:30 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Sixteen years and counting in Afghanistan and what’s next for America’s longest war with Hamdullah Mohib, Afghan ambassador to the United States. wilsoncenter.org

1 p.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Middle East crises, conflicts and the way ahead. brookings.edu

1 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Foreign affairs issue launch: Trump, the allies and the view from abroad. cfr.org

1:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Bringing the Air Force into its centennial with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. csis.org

4 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Book launch: “The China Order: Centralia, World Empire, and the Nature of Chinese Power.” csis.org

4 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Japan’s choices and the challenges ahead post-election. wilsoncenter.org

4:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Zbigniew Brzezinski annual prize and lecture with former Vice President Joe Biden. csis.org

6 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Elliott Abrams discusses his new book, “Realism and Democracy: American Foreign Policy after the Arab Spring.” cfr.org

TUESDAY | OCT. 10

8 a.m. 1919 North Lynn St. Quarterly procurement division meeting. ndia.org

9:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Formulating national security strategy with retired Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, the former deputy director of DOD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation; Andrew Hoehn, senior vice president at the Rand Corp.; and Christine Wormuth, former under secretary of defense for policy. csis.org

10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The path forward for dealing with North Korea. brookings.edu

10:30 a.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Afghanistan going forward, whether to surge, negotiate or get out, with Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Stephen Biddle, professor at George Washington University; and Maxwell Pappas, a U.S. Army major with three combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. cato.org

11 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. The Kurdish crisis: Baghdad, Irbil, and institutional reform in Iraq with Stuart Jones, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq. atlanticcouncil.org

2 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Book discussion on “Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State” with author Carter Malkasian. csis.org

3:30 p.m. Cannon 121. The Iran nuclear deal and assessing the impact of de-certification. cato.org

5 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. The National Security Council at 75 and charting the future of America's security with H.R. McMaster, national security advisor, and former national security advisors Henry Kissinger, Stephen Hadley, and retired Gen. James L. Jones. csis.org

WEDNESDAY | OCT. 11

8 a.m. 12777 Fair Lakes Circle. TRI-Association Small Business Advisory Panel (TRIAD) conference. ndia.org

8:30 a.m. 1740 Massachusetts Ave. NW. A discussion with Rep. Rick Larsen and Rep. Don Bacon on U.S. defense needs and priorities. brookings.edu

2 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Drones under Trump. stimson.org

5 p.m. 815 Connecticut Ave. NW. Cyber risk Wednesday: Building a more defensible cyberspace. atlanticcouncil.org

THURSDAY | OCT. 12

11 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Is This the beginning of the end for the Iran nuclear accord? wilsoncenter.org

12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. What’s next for the U.S. Iran policy. heritage.org