Taliban kill 16, wound 119, as US nears peace deal; More mass shootings; USN for Africa; What Russian chatbots think; And a bit more.

The Taliban killed 16 civilians and wounded 119 others in Kabul Monday evening while America’s envoy for peace talks was on TV describing a possible new U.S. withdrawal plan. The Taliban struck what Reuters calls a “housing complex used by international organizations,” aka the Green Village in Police District 9, which has been a frequent target of the group in the recent past. Some 400 foreigners were evacuated during Monday evening’s attacks.

Said one local to Reuters: “This isn’t once or twice, it’s the fourth or fifth time, all by the Taliban. A lot of my friends, a lot of my family have been wounded or killed… What can we do?”

The Taliban’s violence included a suicide bomber driving a tractor loaded with explosives and at least five other gunmen, according to Kabul’s Interior Ministry. The explosion from the tractor bomb could be heard and felt for miles away. 

Here’s video footage of the aftermath, from Afghanistan’s Tolo News. And here’s an open-source history of the attack as details trickled out on social media (h/t @natsecjeff). 

Said Taliban spox Zabihullah Mujahid to the Associated Press: “We understand that peace talks are going on … but they must also understand that we are not weak and if we enter into talks … we enter from a strong position.”

About that Khalilzad-Taliban peace plan: It reportedly involves removing 5,400 U.S. troops and closing five bases over 135 days “in exchange for Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on the United States and its allies,” according to Reuters. Notably, the Khalilzad deal does not include a ceasefire. 

Said Khalilzad to Tolo News: “In principle, on paper, yes we have reached an agreement — that it is done. But it is not final until the president of the United States also agrees to it.” More on the known-knowns of that deal from the New York Times here

Worth noting as Khalilzad awaits final approval from President Trump: 

  1. “Attacks have surged in recent months,” AP writes, “including Taliban assaults on two provincial capitals [Kunduz and Pul-e Khumri] over the weekend, as the group seeks to strengthen its negotiating position” and—
  2. The Taliban continues to reject any negotiations with Kabul officials, dismissing the official government “as a U.S. puppet.”

In case you’re curious, the Times writes “The Afghan president had asked for time to study the American agreement,” which U.S. officials provided to President Ashraf Ghani, but then reportedly “collected it before the start of a larger meeting with other officials.” Let’s hope Ghani has a photographic memory.

If everything proceeds swiftly past a Trump thumbs-up, the Wall Street Journal reports “The Taliban are then expected to begin separate talks in Norway with an Afghan delegation, including representatives of the government, about a cease-fire and how the country will be ruled.” 

And Ghani is kind of an X factor, having “told aides that he will need far longer than the nine months the U.S. has taken to get a withdrawal agreement to achieve a deal on a cease-fire and future political arrangements in the country.” 

Extra reading: A 2013 report (PDF) on the merits of talking with the Taliban, from Ryan Evans (now of War on the Rocks).  

Another perspective: I Served 10 Tours in Afghanistan. It’s Time for Us to Leave.” That’s from retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, and now a candidate for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire.

And ICYMI on Thursday, America lost its 15th servicemember to combat operations in Afghanistan when a Green Beret died in Zabul province “after disembarking a helicopter at the start of a joint mission with Afghan commandos,” according to the New York Times’ initial report.

RIP: Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Ard, age 31, from Idaho Falls, Idaho, and a comms sergeant with 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) out of Washington state’s Joint Base Lewis–McChord. Dustin leaves behind “a young daughter and a pregnant wife,” Army Times reported this weekend.

From Defense One

Executing the US Africa Strategy, At Sea // Adm. James Foggo III, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe & Africa: By helping African nations improve maritime security ops, we are helping create the conditions that lead to a prosperous, self-reliant future.

What Chatbots Think About Us // Samuel Bendett: A Russian experiment with AI-powered chatbots yields surprisingly sophisticated conversations — and a warning.

DHS Seeks Standards for ‘Smart City’ Sensors, Starting in St. Louis // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: Public-safety IoT devices promise to help cities dispatch and direct first-responders and other municipal agencies — if the devices can talk to each other.

With Suicides at Record Highs, Pentagon Unveils New Plan // Courtney Bublé, Government Executive: DoD and VA leaders have been hampered by turnover and poor management in both departments.

Women Help Prevent Terrorism. Congress Should Encourage the Pentagon to Pay Attention // Jamille Bigio: Here’s a list of related House provisions that should be part of 2020’s final authorization bill.

Why Hong Kong Protesters Are Sawing Down Sensor-Laden Lampposts // Sidney Fussell, The Atlantic: The government confirms that the hardware could spy on citizens, but says protesters’ fears are unfounded.

The Man Who Couldn’t Take It Anymore // Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic: “I had no choice but to leave,” James Mattis says of his decision to resign as President Trump’s secretary of defense.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day 80 years ago, Britain and France declared war on Germany two days after Hitler’s invasion of Poland, marking the start of World War II. Plan your visit to the war’s memorial in Washington, D.C., at the National Parks Service’s site, here

A 150-mile stretch of Florida’s coastline is under a hurricane warning issued at 9 a.m. Tuesday by the National Weather Service. A less-certain hurricane watch has been issued for coastlines up to North Carolina. Hurricane Dorian killed at least five people in the Bahamas, NPR reported.
Army Corps of Engineers is mobilizing forces in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
Six warships set sail from Naval Station Jacksonville as of Monday; others have been ordered to shelter in place. A bit more at WTKR News.

A gunman killed eight people and wounded 22 more as he drove through West Texas on Saturday, NYT reports.
In the hours before that, he had been fired from his oil-industry job, then called 911 and the FBI tip line to complain about his former employer, the Wall Street Journal reported.
It was the 276th mass shooting of the year, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which defines the term as an event in which four people, not including the shooter, are killed or wounded by gunfire. 
Nos. 277 through 287 have already taken place, with a total of seven dead and 41 wounded in eight states in shootings on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Statistics, here.

From past to present: Naval escorts in the Persian/Arabian Gulf. AP just published an interesting comparison of U.S.-led patrols in the region around the Hormuz Strait today — aka the Sentinel Program — set against the so-called “Tanker War” of the late 1980s.
Related, and also from AP today: “A look at foreign military bases across the Persian Gulf,” including a brief review of American troop-hosting in: 

  • Bahrain (with about 7,000 U.S. troops stationed there); 
  • Iraq (about 5,000 today); 
  • Kuwait (more than 13,000); 
  • Oman (“a few hundred”); 
  • Qatar (about 13,000); 
  • Saudi Arabia (a couple hundred, with “likely more than 500” in the coming weeks and months); 
  • and the UAE (hosting roughly 5,000 U.S. troops).

The U.S. president on Friday tweeted what appears to have formerly been a highly classified surveillance satellite image of the aftermath of Iran’s failed launch last week. And the tweet quickly led open source sleuths to what we now know as “USA 224,” which is “one of America’s multibillion-dollar KH-11 reconnaissance satellites,” NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel reported Monday — keeping up his coverage of Iran’s apparent space launch ambitions. 
About 224: “The satellite was launched by the National Reconnaissance Office in 2011,” Brumfiel writes. And “Almost everything about it remains highly classified.” Until the president of the United States drew attention to it; then it became a race to extrapolate from data us ordinary folks might have missed at first glance. Data such as azimuth and elevation, as well as “semi-major and semi-minor axes of the ellipse.” Read the rest in Brumfiel’s report, here
BTW: This is as good a time as any to remind readers that POTUS can declassify anything he wants, as former Army Ranger Andrew Exum tweeted this weekend. “They’re his secrets, essentially, and he can do with them what he wants. If you want a president who is going to be more careful with the dissemination of classified information, you should vote for someone who will be.”

The U.S., France, and Britain may be complicit in Saudi war crimes in Yemen, according to a new report from the U.N. In short, according to Reuters, “The report accused the anti-Houthi coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE of killing civilians in air strikes and deliberately denying them food in a country facing famine. The Houthis, for their part, have shelled cities, deployed child soldiers and used ;siege-like warfare.’”
Lots of antagonists. The report’s “appendix lists more than 160 ‘main actors’ among Saudi, Emirati and Yemeni government and Houthi officials,” and this list of 160 “main actors” is separate from a different “suspects list.”
Further, “a Joint Incidents Assessment Team set up by Saudi Arabia to review alleged coalition violations had failed to hold anyone accountable for any strike killing civilians.” Read on, here.

Also this weekend: the U.S. military launched airstrikes on suspected al-Qaeda positions in northwest Syria for the first time since June 30, CNN’s Ryan Browne reported
From Syria: How to illegally export phosphates (through Lebanon), via Financial Times, here
Related: Russia reportedly just offered Iran a “sanctions-free oil route” to Turkey and Syria.

And in northern Iraq today, an unnamed American de-mining worker died “in a village near Qayyara, some 60 km (38 miles) south of Mosul,” Reuters reports from Mosul. 

America’s Missile Defense Agency says it has extended the range of its THAAD system with a special “remote” test on Friday. According to Defense News, “THAAD operators from the E-62 Battery conducted radar operations as well as launcher and fire control operations employing a procedure used in combat and were unaware of the target-launch timing. The ability to launch an interceptor remotely achieves a more layered — and ultimately less stove-piped — approach to regional ballistic missile defense and to increase the battlespace.” 
See video of the test, here.
Speaking of missiles, Pakistan’s prime minister on Monday promised not to use nuclear weapons first amid tensions with Islamabad’s “arch-rival” India (Reuters). 

Huawei says the U.S. has been cyberattacking it and “menacing” its employees, the Wall Street Journal reports in the latest from the tech and trade wars playing out between the U.S. and China. 
Among Huawei’s new accusations: the U.S. is “instructing law enforcement to threaten, menace, coerce, entice and incite both current and former Huawei employees to turn against the company and work for them.” The company also alleges U.S. entities have launched “cyberattacks to infiltrate Huawei’s intranet,” but “didn’t provide specific evidence to back up the allegations.” A bit more behind the paywall, here

China told the Philippines it won’t honor the ICC’s ruling on the South China Sea, AP reported this weekend. Now what? Everybody tries to pretend like everything is normal. Or, as a Philippine official told reporters: “Both President Duterte and President Xi agreed that while their variant positions will have to remain, their differences however need not derail nor diminish the amity between the two countries.” 

The more you know: China’s relationship to Islam edition. “Courts in Xinjiang sentenced 230,000 people to prison or other punishments in 2017 and 2018,” NYT’s Christiaan Triebert reported this weekend. “To put that in perspective: Xinjiang accounted for less than 2% of China’s population but 21% of arrests in 2017.” More here.  
Related: Nine Arizona State students from China were detained at the Los Angeles airport and denied admission to U.S. this weekend. USA Today has more, here.  

And finally today: Hats off to two new graduates of the U.S. Army’s Ranger School. They include the Air Force’s first female airman to graduate — First Lt. Chelsey Hibsch — as well as perhaps the tallest Ranger to ever wear the short tab, Second Lt. Marshall Plumlee, a member of Duke University’s 2015 NCAA Championship basketball team and former New York Knicks player. Stars and Stripes has the story, here.

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