Taliban VBIED hits Kabul; ‘Great power competition,’ explained; North Korea’s warning to the US; Russian arms to the Arctic; And a bit more.

The Afghan capital of Kabul has suffered one of its worst attacks of the year after a Taliban suicide attacker detonated his truck bomb at the entrance to a police headquarters in the western part of the city’s PD-6 at about 9 a.m. local time, killing at least 14 people (four of them police) and wounding more than 140 others. 

“The bomb went off when the vehicle carrying the device was stopped at a checkpoint,” Reuters reports from a post-attack briefing by the interior ministry. “Pictures from the scene showed extensive damage with facades blown off buildings and a jumble of rubble and vehicles strewn through the area.”

The attack hit Kabul just days before the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, begins on Sunday, AP reports. It also “comes against the backdrop of another round of U.S.-Taliban talks this week in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, where the insurgents maintain an office.”

Today’s attack also followed a Taliban warning “on Tuesday to keep away from public gatherings ahead of the presidential election planned for September 28,” Agence France-Presse reports. Find a map showing the location of today’s attack, here

Also on Tuesday, Afghan commandos raided “three Islamic State group houses in Kabul… being used as bomb factories,” AFP reports. “Two IS fighters and three Afghan commandos were killed in the raids.”

Big picture: “The [Taliban] militants control more territory than at any point since the United States bombed them out of power in 2001 and many government officials fear their war with the Taliban will not end if U.S. troops leave,” Reuters reminds us in today’s report on that truck bombing.

Meanwhile, “Taliban peace talks appear to have reached a critical final stage,” the Wall Street Journal reports this morning in a story that’s really about how the troubled Kashmir region ties together India, Pakistan and Afghanistan’s future. 

What’s going on there: “India fears that after a settlement in Afghanistan, Pakistan would direct more of the Pakistani-allied jihadist groups, who operate in Afghanistan and Kashmir, against India. Yet the Indian move [this weekend to end the autonomous governing status of Kashmir] also has provided a rallying cry for Pakistani leaders, who said it could force them to focus more effort on their dispute with India than issues in Afghanistan, where the U.S. wants their focus on the Taliban.” More behind the paywall, here

Businesswomen in Kabul are not interested in turning back the clock under any possible future Taliban rule, Reuters reported separately this morning. 

Where that sentiment comes from: “The Taliban have recently been projecting themselves as more moderate, saying Islam gives women rights in areas such as business and ownership, inheritance, education, work, the choice of a husband, security and well-being.” But many women in Kabul aren’t buying it

From Defense One

How ‘Great-Power Competition’ Became Washington’s Favorite Frame // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: In just a few years, GPC went from being an arcane term to approaching a cliché.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 52: RAND’s Ali Wyne on “Great Power Competition” // Ali has been giving it a great deal of thought lately — especially when it comes to China.

China’s Credibility Problem // Jacob Stokes: Beijing’s string of violated agreements is starting to weigh heavily on U.S.-China relations.

Who Needs ICBMs? // William D. Hartung and Jessica Sleight: Spend the money on the other two legs of the nuclear triad, and improve global stability and U.S. security.

Iran Has Hundreds of Naval Mines. The US Has a Handful of Old Minesweepers // Robert Faturechi, Megan Rose and T. Christian Miller: The Navy’s minesweeping fleet may once again be called into action, but their sailors say the ships are too old and broken to do the job.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Marcus Weisgerber. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 461 CE, Roman emperor Julius Valerius Majorianus, or Majorian, was beheaded by a jealous and duplicitous general, Flavius Ricimer, beside the Ira river in northwest Italy. Ricimer would effectively rule for the next 11 years before a hemorrhage killed him. The Western Roman Empire would fall roughly three years later, in 476.

After Tuesday’s trade war worries, China’s yuan weakened a bit more today as investors still worry U.S.-China tensions “will chill global growth,” AP reports from Beijing. 
For what it’s worth, the U.S. Treasury has collected $63 billion from 12 months of tariffs on China through the end of June, the WSJ reports
The downside? “For every dollar brought in by the new tariffs, a dollar has been authorized to fund rescue programs for farmers who have been harmed by retaliation from China and other countries. The U.S. authorized $12 billion in farm rescue funds in 2018 and an additional $16 billion this year, for a total of $28 billion.”
Indeed, just before this harvest season starts for U.S. farmers, China says it will stop buying U.S. agriculture products like crops and livestock, the Journal reported separately this morning. 
For the record, “China, once the U.S.’s largest trading partner, has fallen behind Mexico and Canada so far this year. If that trend continues, there will be a lower volume of imports on which to assess the tariffs” which have yielded that $63 billion for the U.S. over the past year.

NATO had better find ways to address China’s rise, warns the alliance’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, during an interview with Reuters in Sydney, Australia. “This is not about moving NATO into the Pacific, but this is about responding to the fact that China is coming closer to us,” he explained. 
Some of the ways NATO could respond include “working closely with our partners in this region — Australia, New Zealand, but also Japan and South Korea,” as well as “Investing heavily in critical infrastructure in Europe, increased presence in the Arctic and also increased presence in Africa, and in cyberspace.” Read on for Stoltenberg’s thoughts on 5G infrastructure and his understanding of U.S. plans to deploy INF-range missiles in the Pacific.

By the way: Samoa could be the next site for expanded Chinese development, Reuters reports today from the island’s city of Asau. 
Quick read: “The World War II site in Asau, which also hosts a 1960s-era concrete wharf in its well-protected natural harbor, is being considered for a new port to be developed by China, according to the Samoan government.” Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi “told Reuters he would not allow geopolitical fears to stifle development of much-needed infrastructure,” telling Reuters Samoa would “follow our own line of thought,” rather than the United States and its allies.

The Trump administration has relaunched talks with South Korea “aimed at getting the country to pay more for the cost of maintaining U.S. troops in the region” as a bulwark against North Korea, the president announced today on Twitter. 
Background: “South Korean and U.S. officials signed an agreement in February, under which Seoul would raise its contribution to just under 1.04 trillion won ($927 million), an increase of about $70.3 million,” Reuters reports. “The interim agreement was due to expire in a year.”
Tweeted Trump: “South Korea has agreed to pay substantially more money to the United States in order to defend itself from North Korea. Over the past many decades, the U.S. has been paid very little by South Korea, but last year, at the request of President Trump, South Korea paid $990,000,000…..Talks have begun to further increase payments to the United States. South Korea is a very wealthy nation that now feels an obligation to contribute to the military defense provided by the United States of America. The relationship between the two countries is a very good one!”
However, “A South Korean foreign ministry official [told Reuters today] negotiations have not officially started.” A bit more, here

ICYMI, North Korea’s Kim said his recent missile launches are “an occasion to send an adequate warning to the joint military drill now underway by the U.S. and South Korean authorities,” according to state-run KCNA. The launches Tuesday — the fourth test in less than two weeks — “clearly verified the reliability, security and actual war capacity,” KCNA said. 
Check out imagery of the most recent targeting via The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda, here.   
Warned MIT’s Vipin Narang off that test: “the KN-23 accurately hitting its target 430km away, combined with the fact that it’s solid-fuel (ie responsive, launched from various locations),and has inflight maneuvering and a low apogee to defeat missile defenses sends an unmistakable message.” More from AP, here
Bolton’s warning to North Korea: You said you wouldn’t launch ICBMs; so you’d better not launch ICBMs. Short-range missiles, however, well… those aren’t ICBMs. More from NSA Bolton’s messaging in South America this week, here
BTW: Like the Aussies, South Korea is not interested in hosting future INF-range missiles from the U.S. Said South Korean defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo on Tuesday: “Our government did not have any official discussions with the U.S. on the possible introduction of intermediate missiles..We have not internally reviewed the issue and have no plan to do so.” More from RoK’s Yonhap News Agency, here.   

Russia has now sent weapons to its new Arctic garrison, the Barents Observer reported this week off a Russian military announcement that was later picked up by the Moscow Times
What kind of weapons: Unclear. But according to the Russian MoD, it included “more than 170 weapons, military and special equipment,” which will be joining “the new Northern Fleet air defense system, designed to protect Russia’s air border in the Arctic.” 

America’s Ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, “sent President Donald Trump a resignation letter Tuesday and plans to move back to the Beehive State in October,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported Tuesday. “Huntsman, 59, is a former Utah governor who left the post in 2009 to serve as U.S. ambassador to China in the Obama administration, and is now reportedly considering another run for the state’s highest office.”

Russian state-run media has been working hard to quell images of protests in Moscow, the WSJ reports from the capital. 
What’s going on: “Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose approval ratings have been sliding, is keen to stop the protests from piggybacking on discontent among Russians over falling living standards, a pension overhaul and endemic corruption… So far the Kremlin appears to believe it has the upper hand in the protests, which were sparked by accusations that city authorities unfairly disqualified opposition candidates seeking to run in a city council vote in September.”
And so, “Most broadcasters ignored the protests on Saturday. Instead of showing the demonstrations, Russia 24, one of Russia’s top state news channels, aired live segments from a music and food festival, with close-up shots of chicken, beef and vegetable kebabs.” More on Russia’s predictable authoritarian behavior, here

BTW: Microsoft just caught Russian state hackers using IoT devices “as a beachhead to penetrate targeted computer networks,”Ars Technica reported Tuesday. 
The quick read: “Microsoft researchers discovered the attacks in April, when a voice-over-IP phone, an office printer, and a video decoder in multiple customer locations were communicating with servers belonging to ‘Strontium,’ a Russian government hacking group better known as Fancy Bear or APT28. In two cases, the passwords for the devices were the easily guessable default ones they shipped with. In the third instance, the device was running an old firmware version with a known vulnerability.” Read on, here

Don’t miss our three-part podcast series on the past, present and future of cyberwarfare. Catch up with part one (today’s risks), two (tomorrow’s threats) and part three (reviewing some of the most memorable cyberattacks going back to the 1970s). 

Efforts to end the war in Yemen have faltered yet again, WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum reported Tuesday. The latest news includes word that Saudi officials are “considering proposals to set up direct talks with the Houthi fighters,” Nissembaum writes. 
For their part, “Houthi forces have privately offered to suspend drone and missile attacks, say people familiar with the discussions, a move some diplomats welcome as a sign that some of the militant group’s leaders are willing to distance themselves from Iran.” 
However, in a sign that nothing seems to have really changed all that much, “Saudi Arabia is skeptical of the Houthis intentions and of their ability to enforce a cease-fire because of internal divisions over how much to align with Tehran.” More here

President Trump is headed to the two U.S. cities hit by mass shootings this weekend — Dayton, Ohio, (first today) and El Paso, Texas, (in the afternoon). 
Topical reading: On white terrorists and the so-called “doctrine of replacement,” via the New York Times this morning.  

Apropos of nothing: Republican strategists are now looking at climate change as an “electoral timebomb,” the NYTs also reports today. 

Wanna know more about President Trump’s tough new sanctions on Venezuela? AP has an explainer on it all today, here
Said Venezuela’s foreign minister on Tuesday: “Nobody, not even 1,000 Trumps or 500 Boltons … will make us abandon the negotiating table” opposition leader Juan Guaidó as AP writes the two leaders “have been shuttling back and forth to Barbados trying to agree on a common path out of the country’s prolonged political standoff.” 

From the region: $2.5 million in coins were stolen in an armed robbery of a government coin manufacturer in Mexico City on Tuesday, Reuters reports. “The daylight robbery was the latest high-profile crime to hit Mexico City, where crime has increased during record lawlessness plaguing the country.” More here

And finally, forget the business jet, how about a private airship? For those who prefer comfort over speed, a hybrid airship might be just what you’re looking for. The Royal Aeronautical Society’s Bill Reed writes how Hybrid Aid Vehicles is marketing its Airlander hybrid airship in a “a 16-seat customised cabin version for business aviation” as an alternate to the private jet.

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