Afghanistan at 100; Iranian launch coming?; Hamas turns to Bitcoin; Turkish convoy bombed in NW Syria; And a bit more.

Afghanistan celebrates its 100th anniversary as an independent country today as a series of at least 10 different bombings hit the eastern city of Jalalabad, wounding more than 80 people, Reuters and Pajhwok reports from the capital of Nangarhar province. 

Today’s Afghan violence follows a series of ISIS bomb attacks at a wedding that killed 63 people and wounded more than 180 others in Kabul on Saturday. And that attack “comes just 10 days after a huge [Taliban-claimed] bomb outside a Kabul police station killed at least 14 people and injured nearly 150,” the BBC reported. The Taliban reportedly condemned Saturday’s ISIS attack. 

President Ghani’s reax today: “Our fight against the Daesh will continue,” he told a crowd today in Kabul. And as peace talks continue between the U.S. and the Taliban, he minced no words for the recent violence, saying, “The Taliban have laid the foundation for such brutal killings.” More on Ghani via AP, here. See also AP’s three-part explainer on the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan, here.

FWIW: An explosion Friday at a mosque in Quetta, Pakistan, may have killed Taliban leader, Mawalawi Haibatullah, the New York Times’ Mujib Mashal reported on Twitter shortly afterward.

President Donald Trump tweeted about a possible deal with the Taliban on Friday after he wrapped a “very good” meeting with his advisors on Afghanistan. 

Said Trump to U.S. reporters Sunday: Afghanistan “can’t be a laboratory for terror,” he said (CNN) on the tarmac before departing from New Jersey as he headed back to Washington. “We’re talking to Afghanistan, both the government and also talking to the Taliban, having very good discussions. We’ll see what happens … We’ll decide whether or not we’ll be staying longer or not.”

More Trump on Afghanistan: Stay tuned, because he said “some things are going to be announced over the next couple of weeks as to what happened, who has been taken out, a lot of people have been taken out that are very bad, both ISIS and al-Qaeda.”

BTW: The U.S. Army’s SFAB units are making their third deployment to Afghanistan, the service announced last week in upcoming assignment news (Military Times). 

And bye, bye, AfPak hands: The “10-year military program aimed at creating cultural experts in Central Asia will shut down next year,” Stars and Stripes reported this weekend. 


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‘One Belt One Road’ Is Just a Marketing Campaign. And Yet… // Eyck Freymann, The Atlantic: China’s giant project is a poorly coordinated branding effort posing as an infrastructure initiative. But it is also a new kind of strategic challenge for the United States.

Trump’s Foreign-Policy Crisis Arrives // Thomas Wright, The Atlantic: Competition between the U.S. and China may be inevitable, but if Trump and Xi mishandle the Hong Kong crisis, they could lose the ability to calibrate.

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The Aging Spacecraft of Deep Space // Marina Koren, The Atlantic: NASA is rationing watts to keep its oldest mission going.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here


The war on ISIS continues in Iraq, just a little bit differently: For at least a short time, the U.S. must seek approval from Iraqi officials for air operations, including “reconnaissance, fighter jets and helicopters and drones of all kinds,” AP reported late last week.
Why? A munitions depot at Camp Falcon/al-Saqr, southwest of Baghdad, erupted in flames last Monday, killing one person and wounding 13 others. It’s not yet known what caused the explosion, but overheating and poor storage seems to be the consensus so far. Another option is an armed off-the-shelf drone strike. And still another popular possibility includes an Israeli airstrike on Iran-backed militias. At any rate, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi “ordered the cancellation of all aviation approvals for flights throughout the country, unless authorized by the commander of the armed forces,” according to AP.
The U.S.-led coalition’s reax: Roger, Wilco. Or, as the Friday statement reads: “As guests within Iraq’s sovereign borders, CJTF-OIR complies with all Iraqi laws and direction from the Government of Iraq. The U.S.-led coalition immediately complied with all directions received from our Iraqi partners as they implemented the Prime Minister’s order. CJTF-OIR forces operate within Iraq at the request, and under the protection, of the Government of Iraq and in partnership with Iraqi Security Forces.”
PM Madhi also ordered military bases and weapons caches moved away from major cities, which would seem to be a very tall order. Read on at AP, here

About that war on ISIS: The U.S.-led coalition has admitted to killing about 1,300 civilians in the conflict dating back to August 2014. But monitors like the folks at Airwars say the number of likely civilian deaths from the coalition’s air campaign is closer to 29,000. 
So why doesn’t the press devote much time to this discrepancy? That’s why we assessed in this week’s Defense One Radio — featuring journalist Alexa O’Brien and Airwars’ founder Chris Woods. Find that 30-minute discussion here. Or dive into Alexa and Chris’s study of the question, which they published in July, here

Iran appears to be about to launch something into space, and the folks at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies are watching satellite imagery closely. “While Tehran claims the launch is for peaceful purposes, it’s a program that utilizes the same technology that would be needed for an intercontinental ballistic missile — the type that could someday strike the US,” CNN reports. Planet Labs and the Middlebury Institute released the satellite imagery of the launch site late last week. “It looks like they’re getting ready for a launch,” Dave Schmerler, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told CNN.
Iran is still not interested in talking with the U.S. about Tehran’s nuclear program, Foreign Minister Javad Zaraf said today (Reuters) during a meeting with the Finnish counterpart in Helsinki.

Speaking of nuclear programs: At least two Russian radiation monitoring sites “went silent soon after the explosion at a missile test site this month, spurring concerns among observers that the Russian government is trying to restrict evidence of the accident,” the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Gordon reported Sunday.  

Trump seemed to link a U.S.-China trade deal to Xi Jinping not doing “something violent in Hong Kong,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday while traveling with the president. 

A Syrian or Russian aircraft bombed a Turkish convoy, killing at least three civilians and injuring 12 today in northwestern Idlib province, AP reports. “[T]he Turkish convoy was heading toward a Turkish observation post in the Syrian rebel-held stronghold of Idlib,” AP said. “The ministry didn’t provide other details but ‘strongly condemned’ the airstrikes, adding they were contrary to ‘existing agreements as well as our cooperation and dialogue with Russia.’”

Hamas has turned to the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency business since that’s seemingly a decent way to counter law enforcement authorities and frozen accounts, the New York Times reported this weekend.
What’s going on: “Hamas, which controls the Palestinian coastal territory of Gaza, has traditionally survived on hundreds of millions of dollars of donations from foreign governments like Qatar. The Islamic State in Syria subsisted on taxes and fees it collected in the territories it controlled. But both organizations have seen their access to money significantly curtailed.”
For the U.S. part, the Treasury Department “has been promoting international rules that would require cryptocurrency exchanges to do a full identity check on anyone sending digital tokens out of a wallet.” But like a game of whack-a-mole, “terrorists and other criminals who use cryptocurrency are already picking up methods that would make it easier to circumvent the new rules, in part by using cryptocurrencies that provide even more privacy than Bitcoin.” A bit more, here

The White House has been secretly talking with Venezuela, according to a new AP report. “The U.S. has made secret contact with Venezuela’s socialist party boss as close allies of President Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle seek guarantees they won’t face prosecution for alleged abuses and crimes if they cede to growing demands to remove him, according to a senior Trump administration official. Diosdado Cabello, who is considered the most-powerful man in Venezuela after Maduro, met last month in Caracas with someone who is in close contact with the Trump administration, the official told The Associated Press. A second meeting is in the works but has not yet taken place.” More here.

And stateside this weekend, an Ohio white nationalist and anti-Semite was arrested for threatening to shoot up Jewish community center, ABC News reports. “James Reardon Jr., 20, has been charged with telecommunications harassment and aggravated menacing and is being held in the Mahoning County Jail on $250,000 bond with a court hearing planned for Monday morning. On Friday, the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force raided Reardon’s house and seized a cache of weapons and ammunition, including dozens of round of ammo, multiple semi-automatic weapons, a gas mask and bulletproof armor.” More here.

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