Today’s D Brief: Deadly Osprey crash; Ukrainian progress; US airstrike in Somalia; Mercs in Libya; And just a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

Three U.S. Marines died this weekend after an MV-22B Osprey crashed on an island in northern Australia. At least eight other Marines were seriously injured from the crashed Osprey, which carried 23 people for a training event during Exercise Predators Run, Marine Rotational Force-Darwin announced Sunday morning. The eight wounded troops were still hospitalized on Monday, the Associated Press reported from Canberra. 

“These Marines served our country with courage and pride, and my thoughts and prayers are with their families today, with the other troops who were injured in the crash, and with the entire USMC family,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement on social media. 

Background: “Before Sunday, there had been five fatal crashes of Marine Ospreys since 2012, causing a total of 16 deaths,” AP reports. “The latest was in June 2022, when five Marines died in a fiery crash in a remote part of California east of San Diego.” 

The tragedy comes just days after the death of Marine F/A-18 pilot Maj. Andrew Mettler in a crash during a training flight near Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. Maj. Gen. Scott Benedict, commander of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, said in a statement that he “had the great honor of flying in an F/A-18D with [Mettler], and will always remember his skill piloting the Hornet and his wry smile. It is with great humility that I offer my deepest condolences to the family, loved ones, and friends of Maj. Andrew Mettler. You remain at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers.” Both crashes are under investigation. 

ICYMI: Right-wing talk network Fox News wrongly reported last month that a Gold Star family had to pay $60,000 to ship the remains of a Marine killed in Afghanistan. The story was not true, and the indignation it inspired drew the attention of the U.S. Marine Corps, which asked for a correction. Instead, Fox’s editors deleted the story, and the network did not apologize to the deceased Marine’s family until Military.com brought attention to the matter with new reporting last Wednesday; a network spokesperson finally apologized on Saturday. CNN has more on the background and Military.com’s laudable update, here. 

POTUS: “We can never repay the incredible sacrifice of any of the 2,461 U.S. service members who lost their lives over two decades of war in Afghanistan, or the 20,744 who were wounded,” President Joe Biden said in a statement on Saturday marking the two-year anniversary of the ISIS attack at Abbey Gate in Kabul. “Today, Jill and I remember and mourn these 13 brave American service members and the more than 100 innocent Afghan civilians who were killed in the horrific terrorist attack at Abbey Gate,” Biden said. “Many more were injured and will carry the impacts of their wounds and the horrors of that day for the rest of their lives.”

SecDef Austin: “Along with the rest of their teammates, these 13 Service members—11 Marines, a Soldier, and a Sailor—tackled their mission with skill, compassion, and extraordinary courage,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in his own statement Saturday. “As we mark this painful milestone, my heart is with the families of these 13 American heroes. Today, the entire Department of Defense stands in sorrow with them—along with all of the families whose loved ones gave their lives during our 20 years in Afghanistan,” he continued. “We will never forget what they gave to serve this country that we love.”

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Jennifer Hlad. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do that here. On this day in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech during the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 

Ukraine’s military is steadily advancing through Russian-occupied territory in the south of the country, defense officials said Monday. Ukrainian forces are “entrenched at the achieved boundaries” of southeastern Robotyna and southern Mala Tokmachka in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on social media. 

Some of Kyiv’s troops entered the city of Robotyna on Wednesday; they were later able to advance through additional portions of the city and to liberate the entirety of it by Monday, Maliar said. More broadly speaking, “The enemy is on the defensive in the Zaporozhye and Kherson directions,” she claimed on Telegram, without supporting evidence. Reuters has a bit more on Robotyna’s value and location, here. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War gets into much more detail on specific advances over the past several days at the top of their latest report Sunday evening, here. 

Zelenskyy: “Ukraine has shown that the liberation of our land during combat operations is no accident,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy wrote Monday on social media. “Everything is deserved,” he added. “It is the heroism of our people and the defense support from our partners. It is the courage of Ukrainians and the solidarity of the world working for such a desirable common result.”

According to the U.S. military’s top officer, Ukrainian troops have “attacked through the first main defensive belt,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley told Jordanian Al-Mamlaka Television in an interview that aired this weekend. “This is a defense in-depth that the Russians had many months to prepare. It’s got minefields. It’s got dragon’s teeth. It’s got tank ditches. It’s a very, very complex set of defensive preparations that the Ukrainians are fighting through.”

Regarding Ukraine’s wider counteroffensive, “I think it’s frankly too early to say whether it succeeded or failed,” said Milley. But: “It clearly has had partial success,” he said. “The speed at which the offensive is being undertaken is slower than the planners had thought. But that is not necessarily uncommon in the conduct of war. It’s the difference between war on paper, and real war. And when real people die and tanks and infantry fighting vehicles get blown up, and you’re running into real dragon’s teeth and real mines, things tend to slow down…But it’s not over yet.” Catch the rest of Al-Mamlaka’s interview, more than half of which understandably focuses on the Middle East, over on YouTube. 

New: Russian authorities said this weekend they’ve confirmed the death of Wagner boss Yvgeny Prigozhin, citing DNA tests of the bodies found at the crash site. “According to its results, the identities of all 10 deceased have been established, and they correspond to the list published in the flight manifest,” Russia’s Investigative Committee said on Sunday.

It’s still far from clear what will happen with Wagner’s operations abroad, including across Africa and in Syria. The BBC has a bit more on that open question, here. 

Related reading: 

The U.S. military in Africa carried out an airstrike Saturday that killed 13 alleged al-Shabaab militants after an attack on Somali troops in southern Somalia. “The collective self-defense airstrike was conducted in the early morning hours,” and “in the vicinity of Seiera, Somalia, approximately 45 kilometers northwest of Kismayo,” AFRICOM said in a statement over the weekend. 

Somali forces captured “a major al-Shabaab base” some 250 miles north of Mogadishu on Friday, Voice of America reported afterward, citing Somali Army chief Gen. Ibrahim Sheikh Muhyadin. The base was located in Elbur, “in the central Somali region of Galgaduud, [which] has been a stronghold for al-Shabab for nearly a decade,” VOA reported. 

Nearly three dozen other alleged Shabaab fighters were killed Friday in the south as well during two separate Somali military operations in the Lower Shabelle region. 

Meanwhile north of Somalia, pro-Somali militias captured a military base in Somaliland on Friday. The base is located outside of the city of Las Anod, in southern Somaliland. “The fighting in Las Anod has displaced thousands of people as regional tensions have been high for several months,” VOA reports. “The town has been under Somaliland control, but currently, the Las-Anod local leaders say they want to rejoin the federal government of Somalia.” Agence France-Presse has a bit more, here.

Related reading: 

Lastly: Review the mercenary dynamics inside Libya with the latest “Guns for Hire” podcast from folks at the Atlantic Council. Host Alia Brahimi spoke with her Council colleague Emadeddin Badi to unpack “the surge of African, Syrian and Russian mercenaries in Libya since 2019, the major value-add of Wagner Group contractors in terms of mortar and sniping capabilities, and how mercenary recruitment networks are used to smuggle migrants to Europe.” The latest episode’s title: “Semtex teddy bear: The mercenary build-up in Libya.”



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