American servicemember killed in Afghanistan. The combat death of the as-yet-publicly-unidentified servicemember brings the year’s total to 20, the highest since Pentagon officials announced the “end of combat operations” in 2014, the New York Times reports. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing in northern Kunduz that he said killed the American, AP adds.
Why the Taliban keep attacking while negotiating for peace. “Compared to 10 years ago, yes, I believe the world sees us as more legitimate, and all of that is through our violence,” Saied, one of 14 Taliban military commanders responsible for Nangahar province, told Susannah George of the Washington Post. Read George’s remarkable piece, reported after unusual briefings with Saied and other Taliban commanders, here.
From Defense One
Space Force Is Go for Launch, But ‘Thousands’ of Decisions Remain // Patrick Tucker: The 2020 defense authorization act ushers in the first new service branch in 72 years.
Top US General Defends Afghanistan War // Katie Bo Williams, Government Executive: CJCS Mark Milley denied that officials “lied” to the American public about the 18-year conflict.
Put US Post-INF Missiles into Production // Rebeccah L. Heinrichs and Tim Morrison: The U.S. has waited too long to mimic Chinese intermediate-range weapons.
Inside the Collapse of Trump’s Korea Policy // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: When it comes to America’s last-ditch effort to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear power, timing has been everything. Now time’s running out.
NSA, Army Seek Quantum Computers Less Prone to Error // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: Even ordinary computers flip a bit here and there, but their quantum cousins have a lot more ways to go wrong.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. OTD 1947: The transistor — foundation of a digital future — is first demonstrated at Bell Labs in New Jersey.
Iraqi Kurdish and Western intelligence reports say ISIS is once again on the rise in Iraq with roughly 5,000 fighters, the BBC reports today. “[L]ike their predecessors in al-Qaeda before them — the extremists have gone underground, in Iraq’s Hamrin Mountains,” according to Lahur Talabany, a top Kurdish counter-terrorism official who directs the Zanyari Agency, one of two intelligence agencies in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The view from Kurdistan: “Kurdish intelligence officials estimate that IS is 10,000 strong in Iraq with between 4,000 and 5,000 fighters, and a similar number of sleeper cells and sympathisers,” the BBC writes.
However, according to the U.S. military in Iraq, “IS fighters are now hiding out in caves and in the desert ‘in conditions that no one can handle for too long,’ and they can’t move in large formations,” Brigadier General William Seely, Commander of Task Force-Iraq told the BBC.
Haftar forces seize Turkish ship off Libya. Just hours after Turkey’s parliament approved a defense agreement with the Libyan government, forces with rebel military commander Khalifa Haftar after seized a Turkish-crewed ship in the Mediterranean Sea, Bloomberg reports. Haftar’s forces had vowed to detain any ship bearing arms in Libyan waters.
Recap: The nine-month-old war was “launched when Haftar’s Libyan National Army marched on the capital to unseat the internationally-recognized government. The war has drawn foreign intervention, with the United Nations and Turkey backing the Tripoli government and the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russian mercenaries supporting Haftar.” Read on, here.
Related: “A Turkish delegation will travel to Moscow on Monday to discuss Syria and Libya,” Reuters reports, “for talks that President Tayyip Erdogan said would determine Turkey’s course of action in the region.” Story here.
It appears the U.S. military’s R9X “Flying Ginsu” missile killed al-Qaeda veteran Bilal Khuraisat near Idlib, Syria, on Sunday, the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister noted on Twitter. Review the image he located suggesting as much, here.
Saudis join the disinformation game, get booted from Twitter. On Friday, Twitter suspended nearly 6,000 accounts after internal (and external) investigations found “a significant state-backed information operation on Twitter originating in Saudi Arabia,” according to the social media service.
Also jumping into the disinformation game: an operation on Facebook and Instagram that “originated in the country of Georgia and targeted domestic audiences,” Facebook said Friday. That one consisted of 39 Facebook accounts, 344 Pages, 13 Groups and 22 Instagram accounts.
Another disinformation campaign on the same platforms “originated in Vietnam and the US and focused mainly on the US.” That one consisted of 610 accounts, 89 Facebook Pages, 156 Groups and 72 Instagram accounts. Those, too, were shut down as of Friday. Read more on that op, here.
One common thread in those last two disinfo ops: The BL, a U.S.-based media company that was rather large and is now banned from Facebook, NBC News reported Friday. NBC’s headline: “Facebook says a pro-Trump media outlet used artificial intelligence to create fake people and push conspiracies”
According to FB, “Some of these accounts used profile photos generated by artificial intelligence and masqueraded as Americans to join Groups and post the BL content,” Facebook said in its announcement. “The BL-focused network repeatedly violated a number of our policies, including our policies against coordinated inauthentic behavior, spam and misrepresentation, to name just a few. The BL is now banned from Facebook.” Read more at NBC News, here.
Check out how to spot some of these AI-generated images, and how AI could get smarter about these flubs in the future, via Ben Nimmo of the social media monitoring firm Graphika, here.
BTW: ToTok (not TikTok) is a messaging app you may know as a “secure” way to chat by video or text message with friends and family. It may be. But it’s also a spying tool for Emirati intelligence, the NYTs reported this weekend.
From the region: Today Riyadh “sentenced five people to death for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi” more than a year ago, the Wall Street Journal reports. The identities of the people have not been released, but they do not include Saud al-Qahtani, a former top advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. They also do not include MBS himself, whom Western intelligence agencies say ordered the killing, and who both denies it and takes “full responsibility” as a Saudi leader. The Guardian has a bit more, here.
A Chinese company building Cambodia’s newest and largest airport runway, “complete with the kind of tight turning bay favored by fighter jet pilots,” the New York Times reported this weekend. And that’s not all. “Nearby, workers are clearing trees from a national park to make way for a port deep enough to host naval ships.”
The new developments appear to be part of the Chinese military’s “string of pearls” strategy, the Times writes, which is a “construction boom — on disputed islands in the South China Sea, across the Indian Ocean and onward to Beijing’s first military base overseas, in the African Horn nation of Djibouti — [that] has raised alarms about China’s military ambitions at a time when the United States’ presence in the region has waned.”
Why Cambodia? In part because “Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia has turned his back on free elections and rule of law. He excoriates the United States while warmly embracing China, which is now Cambodia’s largest investor and trading partner.” Read on, here.
And finally today: Alarming U.S. domestic terrorism developments in the NW. Matt Shea, a Republican lawmaker in the Washington state legislature, is accused of participating “in an act of domestic terrorism against the United States,” according to a report (PDF) released Thursday and reported on by NPR Friday.
Terrorism how? Shea led something called the Patriot Movement, which “planned, engaged in, and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States government” between 2014 and 2016, the report reads. Shea was found to have been “involved in training young people to fight a ‘holy war.’ He created a pamphlet called Biblical Basis for War and advocated replacing the government with a theocracy and ‘the killing of all males who do not agree.’”
What now? Shea calls the investigation a “sham” and is resisting calls from fellow Republicans to resign. Meantime, he’s been “suspended from the House Republican Caucus — a serious form of discipline. He was also stripped of his position as the ranking member of the House Environment and Energy Committee and will be removed from two committees.” Read on at NPR, here.