Afghan ceasefire; POTUS, winging the summit?; Stopping ISIS in Trinidad; Congress seeks tariff review; and just a bit more…

It’s game-off for the war against the Afghan Taliban, beginning next week for eight days. That’s because Afghanistan President this morning announced a ceasefire with the Afghan Taliban from 11 to 19 June — or more properly, from the 27th of Ramadan until the fifth day of Eid-ul-Fitr — due to a “historic fatwa issued by the Afghan Ulema council in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence.”

Said President Ashraf Ghani: “Afghanistan’s national defense and security forces will only stop offensive maneuvers against Afghan armed Taliban,” but the combat operations against “Daesh and other foreign backed terrorist organizations and their affiliates” will continue.

But for those 15,000-plus American troops in Afghanistan, “The ceasefire does not include U.S. counterterrorism efforts against IS-K, Al-Qaeda, and other regional and international terrorist groups,” U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Public Affairs announced this morning in a statement.

Said the commander of the Afghan war, Gen. John Nicholson: “We will adhere to the wishes of Afghanistan for the country to enjoy a peaceful end to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and support the search for an end to the conflict.”

NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the announcement this morning, too, calling it “a positive step forward on the path to peace.”

Also from the ‘Stan: Is Iran “backing and advising the Taliban” in western Farah province? The Washington Post reports from the provincial capital, where regional Afghan military commander, Gen. Noorullah Qaderi, is “100 percent certain” Iran is working with the Taliban as a buffer against ISIS affiliates in the country — largely isolated to the east. That, here.


From Defense One

What a Small ISIS Cell in Trinidad is Teaching SOUTHCOM // Caroline Houck: Just because a country is relatively small doesn’t diminish the threat, or the difficulty of mustering a counter-effort.

Drone Strikes Expand, Hustling the US Down a Risky Path // Stimson Center’s Rachel Stohl: It’s time to rethink the tradeoffs between tactical efficiency and strategic risk. A new report lays them out.

An Alliance Too Far: The Case Against a Cyber NATO // Stefan Soesanto: Should such an organization even get off the ground, it would soon fall apart. But there are other paths to take.

Trump Is Choosing Eastern Europe // Thomas Wright, The Atlantic: That is the subtext of the mini-crises sparked by his ambassador to Germany and of a recent speech by the assistant secretary of state for Europe.

How Sanctions Feed Authoritarianism // Peter Beinart, The Atlantic: Past experience shows that economic pressure does change societies—but it mostly facilitates hardliners. Iran’s regime may be next.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. OTD1938: Chinese Nationalist troops breach a Yellow River dam to stop invading Japanese forces, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians.


North Korea “razed” a key missile test site. 38North’s satellite-imagery aficionados say the missile test stand is coming down at Iha-ri Driver Training and Test Facility north of the city of Kusong. North Korea’s only facility for land-based, canister-launched ballistic missile ejection tests, it helped produce the solid-fuel Pukguksong-2 (KN-15) medium-range ballistic missiles and its descendants the Pukguksong-3, etc.).
Natural caveat: “It is unclear whether the destruction of the stand is an indication that the North is suspending this portion of its missile program or that Pyongyang plans to erect other similar facilities in the future.” Read more, here.
Winging it: Politico reports that President Trump has eschewed discussions with his Cabinet and National Security Council in the run-up to the North Korean summit, “a striking break from past practice that suggests the Trump White House is largely improvising its approach to the unprecedented nuclear talks.” Read, here.
Japan’s Abe meets Trump in Washington today, where the agenda is expected to include the Japanese leader begging the U.S. president not to bargain away the U.S. troop presence in South Korea. BBC, here.

A draft UN plan for peace in Yemen includes a lot of big asks and open questions, so many it likely will remain unworkable, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Among the big asks: A ceasefire that includes “heavy and medium weapons including ballistic missiles [being] handed over by non-state military actors in an orderly and planned fashion,” according to a draft obtained by Reuters.
As well, “No armed groups shall be exempt from disarmament,” the document reads. It also involves plans to form a transitional government, with “political components shall be adequately represented,” a reference to the Houthis, Reuters writes, “who would be unlikely to cede [their control over Yemen’s capital of] Sanaa without participation in a future government.”
Among the open questions: Who will the weapons be given over to?
What to do about Hodeidah? While the negotiations above continue, the UAE and its local forces in Yemen are a mere six miles away from the strategic western port city of Hodeidah — and the White House National Security Council is warning the UAE not to advance based on fear it “could precipitate a new humanitarian crisis.” That, also via Reuters from Tuesday, here.
Related: CENTCOM passed The Long War Journal “the dates and locations of the last five months of [air]strikes in Yemen.” Find those mapped and charted, here.

There was also a new “precision airstrike” in Libya on Wednesday, U.S. Africa Command announced.
Location: near the northwestern city of Bani Walid.  
Targeted (and presumed dead): “four ISIS-Libya militants.” Not a lot else, but you can read more, here.

This week in national security podcasts: Get to better know Russian influence operations — and how to sow chaos — in a lengthy discussion between former FBI agent Clint Watts and Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution. The two spoke for about an hour on Lawfare’s podcast Monday.
The whole thing is worth a listen, but if you’ve only got a little bit of time, you can begin at the 24:03 mark, where Watts pivots from the Jade Helm conspiracy to how Russia disorients populations with fear and calamitous messaging.
The scope of that messaging spanned “fears of nuclear war, or global warming, crop devastation — that sort of influence was focused on, ‘Hey, if you can scare an audience, then the next thing you deliver them, they’re more likely to believe.’ Because when you’re scared, you will jump to whatever your biases are, and you will take in information that you might normally screen out.” Grab your headphones and begin listening, here.
By the way: Watts was on Lawfare not only talking Russian info operations, but also plugging his new book, “Messing With the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News,” released about 10 days ago.   

Future tariffs announced in the name of “national security” may have to go through Congress first, if a new amendment (PDF) to the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., goes through as written and released Wednesday. Corker filed the bill “along with seven other Republican senators and four Democrats,” The Tennessean reported. If the change becomes official, future “tariffs [citing national security] would be given expedited consideration, and Congress would have 60 days to debate and vote on them.”
The background: “The Trump administration used a national security justification when putting steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from key U.S. allies, prompting fears about a trade war and deteriorating relations with foreign countries,” CNBC writes. “Trump called Corker to urge him to abandon the plan Wednesday morning.” That call didn’t go in Corker’s favor, and so his office released the bill later that day.
Said Corker: The limits placed in the bill are “not any different than [President Trump] meeting with Kim Jong Un and, if they reach a deal, him bringing it to Congress for approval. I’ve explained it’s exactly the same thing.”
And the bill’s forecast? “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday he would not allow the Corker tariff proposal to be brought up as a freestanding bill. But he did not shoot down the idea of attaching it to” this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which “will be debated on the Senate floor later this week and could be put to a vote as early as next week.” More from The Tennessean here.

‘Now why y’all wanna come into my town and start trouble?’ So Beijing really didn’t appreciate that B-52 overfly of the South China Sea on Sunday, the Associated Press reported from the Chinese capital Wednesday.
Said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying to reporters: The U.S. is just “hyping up militarization and stirring up trouble” with the flight of those two Stratofortresses. Hua also called the mission “risky” and added, “China will not be threatened by any military warships.” A bit more out of that, here.

“Widespread shortfalls in basic seamanship” have been discovered in a new U.S. Navy “three-month internal review conducted by senior U.S. surface fleet leaders,” Defense News reported Wednesday.
One quick summary: “The evaluations raise distressing questions about the level of ship handling training junior officers get both prior to their arrival at their first command and when they arrive.” Read on, here.

Finally today: From Twitter to jail. That joyriding LT from the Virginia National Guard was (1) on drugs, and (2) live-streaming his theft of an M577 Armored Personnel Carrier from Fort Pickett Tuesday evening before being arrested by police. Task & Purpose has a timeline of his illegal activities, here.
The gist of what happened, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Joshua Phillip Yabut, a 29-year-old first lieutenant in the Virginia Army National Guard” and “a company commander in the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion, was participating in his annual training at Fort Pickett in Nottoway County when he drove away in an armored personnel carrier just before 8 p.m., said Guard spokesman Maj. Cotton Puryear. The Guard said he has 11 years of service and deployed to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009 with the Illinois National Guard.”
The charges he faces: “one count each of driving under the influence of drugs, felony eluding police and felony unauthorized use of a vehicle… No bond was set when he appeared in court by video link from the city jail, where he is being held.” Read on, here.

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