Maryland deploys Guard to ward off feds; PA’s Guard helps w/ nursing home care; Navy picks Italian frigate-builder; US hiding Afghan-war data; Israel bombs targets in Syria; And a bit more.

Maryland deployed its National Guard to protect COVID test kits from the federal government, the governor says. In a Thursday interview with the Washington Post, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan described the extraordinary lengths to which he and the Maryland government went to obtain the tests, and then to protect them from seizure by federal agents, as has happened to similar gear in other states. He cited the experience of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who has said the federal government seized some 3 million masks headed to his state. 

Hogan said Maryland officials worked for “about 22 days and nights” to set up the deal with a South Korean supplier. The supplies arrived on a Korean Air jetliner that was met in mid-April at BWI airport with “a large contingent of Maryland National Guard and state police,” he said. “This was an enormously valuable payload. This was like Fort Knox to us, because it was going to save the lives of thousands of our citizens.” Guardsmen are currently protecting the testing gear at an undisclosed location, Hogan said.

Part of a pattern. Reports of various federal agencies seizing or outmaneuvering state governments and private companies to obtain scarce and vital gear have been appearing for about a month.

  • On April 6, the New York Times cited incidents in Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Colorado. 
  • The following day, the Los Angeles Times added incidents in Florida, Washington, and Texas. 
  • On April 17, an executive of a private Massachusetts-based hospital chain described how he prevented the Department of Homeland Security from seizing a PPE shipment only by getting the state’s Congressional delegation involved. Dr. Andrew Artenstein’s account was published by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. 
  • In other instances, FEMA has simply outbid states at the last minute, the New York Times reported on April 20.

For their part, federal officials have said the seizures are part of “a system for identifying needed supplies from vendors and distributing them equitably,” the Los Angeles Times reported April 7. A FEMA representative told the newspaper that the system was developed in cooperation with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense. 

But no federal official has yet detailed how the system works, when supplies can or will be confiscated, and to whom they are eventually distributed.

The Pennsylvania National Guard is taking care of vulnerable elderly at a Philadelphia-area nursing home, the Wall Street Journal reports today in a piece headlined “Thinly Staffed Nursing Homes Face Challenges in Pandemic.” 

What happened: “Broomall Rehabilitation and Nursing Center drew on 18 military medics and nurses, who worked 24-hour shifts, performing tasks such as taking vitals.”

What’s going on: “Nearly half of elder-care facilities nationwide are experiencing staff attendance problems amid the pandemic, according to a recent survey by Premier Inc., a large group-purchasing organization. The industry needs more coronavirus testing and personal protective equipment to combat the virus, according to the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes.”

Military commissaries limit customers’ meat purchases. In a bid to ease the strain on a COVID-hit supply chain, the Defense Commissary Agency said Thursday that its stores in the 50 states and in Puerto Rico will allow customers to buy just two items of fresh beef, poultry and pork per visit. (

Army leaders defend decision to summon graduating class to West Point for Trump’s speech. “We can’t telecommute to combat,” Gen. James McConville, the chief of staff of the Army, said at the Pentagon Thursday.  Reporters asked the Army chief about the West Point decision, which AP writes “forces cadets spread out across the U.S. to travel, risking exposure on public transportation, and then land in New York, a coronavirus hot spot.” McConville would repeat the phrase multiple times Thursday. More from AP, here.

Speaking of safety bubbles: A Navy aircraft carrier is sailing back and forth off the Atlantic coast, keeping safe from coronavirus. The USS Harry S. Truman, which was supposed to return to its Norfolk homeport in April after a six-month deployment, is instead marking time along the eastern seaboard so that no one aboard can catch the deadly disease. Reuters has interviews with the captain and crew. 

Some two dozen of the Navy’s 299 ships have found cases of COVID-19 among their crews, service officials told Reuters.

One more thing: The coronavirus was probably not produced in a lab, ODNI said Thursday. But it remains possible that a lab’s mishandling of the virus contributed to its spread, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a Thursday statement. The statement, which ODNI said reflects “wide scientific consensus,” sought to end months of speculation and disinformation. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has a bit more, here.

From Defense One

Navy Picks Wisconsin’s Fincantieri Marinette Marine to Build New Frigate // Marcus Weisgerber: Awarded months ahead of schedule, the contract further solidifies the shipbuilder’s U.S. foothold.

US Intel Community Says Coronavirus Was Not Made In a Lab // Patrick Tucker: The statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence comes after months of speculation and disinformation.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Tracking early-payment cash; Some defense firms hiring; Virtual SOF conference; and more…

The US Takes a Small, Insufficient Step To Help Iran Control Its COVID Outbreak // Shervin Ghaffari: A leaked USAF intelligence report highlights growing concern about the impact of sanctions amid the global pandemic.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston and Ben Watson. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 2003, President George W. Bush boarded the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of California to announce “major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” inadvertently imbuing the expression “mission accomplished” with an irony we may not soon forget.

The U.S. won’t let the public know how many times the Taliban have attacked in the month since it signed a withdrawal agreement with the U.S. in Qatar. That’s one key takeaway from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which just released its latest quarterly report to Congress on the war in Afghanistan. 
Why that matters: The data “was one of the last remaining metrics SIGAR was able to use to report publicly on the security situation in Afghanistan,” SIGAR’s John Sopko wrote in the report. 
What the U.S.-led command in Kabul would say about the month of March: During that time, “the Taliban refrained from attacks against Coalition Forces; however they increased attacks against ANDSF to levels above seasonal norms.”
Reminder: Here’s a map of Taliban and Afghan government control across the country, via FDD’s Long War Journal.
Also newly obscured: Casualty data on Afghan security forces. This quarter and moving forward, SIGAR wrote, “USFOR-A classified all ANDSF casualty information because the Afghan government [now] classifies it.”
On the bright side: Civilian casualties across the country declined from January to March in what amounted to a 32% reduction from 2019 violence. 
On the other hand, and consistent with the Taliban’s animosity toward President Ashraf Ghani’s administration in Kabul, “Kabul Province suffered the most civilian casualties (208), and had one of the most substantial increases (151%) since last quarter,” SIGAR writes. 
The bigger picture, in terms of Afghan violence: “2019 marked the sixth consecutive year in which over 10,000 civilian casualties were recorded in Afghanistan,” SIGAR said, citing UN data. Those grim metrics (3,403 deaths and 6,989 injuries) were a modest decline (5 percent) from the year prior, “and the lowest number of civilian casualties since 2013.”
Other things to know about Afghanistan: 

  • The country is especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because of “a weak health-care system, widespread malnutrition, porous borders, massive internal displacement, contiguity with Iran, and ongoing conflict,” all of which “make it likely the country will confront a health disaster in the coming months.” And that would help explain NBC News reporting earlier this week describing President Trump’s growing interest in removing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan sooner than later;  
  • and an estimated 14.3 million Afghans (out of an estimated 37 million overall) are experiencing food insecurity in some form or fashion. Read the full report (PDF), here.  

Israel attacked alleged Iranian-backed militias in southern Syria, Reuters reports today from neighboring Amman, Jordan. But the attacks only seem to have destroyed property. “A regional intelligence source said Israel was stepping up raids in Syria at a time when world attention and the region, including Syria, were distracted by the coronavirus pandemic.”
There have been a few other alleged Israeli strikes in recent weeks. And those include “Two weeks ago, [when] an Israeli drone attack targeted a car carrying forces from Hezbollah in southern Syria along the border with Lebanon without causing casualties,” Reuters writes. “A few days later, Israel struck central Syria near the ancient city of Palmyra, in what regional intelligence sources said were Iranian-backed outposts and a command centre.” More here.
By the way: Germany only recently banned the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia from operating inside its borders. That formality came ahead of a police raid on an alleged Hezbollah-linked mosque Thursday. More to all that here.
Related: 90 percent of House lawmakers are worried about an arms embargo on Iran that’s set to expire in October. And today Reuters reports “In a rare show of bipartisanship, at least 382 of the 429 members of the Democratic-controlled House — Democrats and Republicans — have signed the letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to work with U.S. allies and partners to extend the embargo, as well as U.N. travel restrictions on Iranians involved with arms proliferation.”

What the hell is going on in Libya? It’s a country already hosting Turkish-backed and Russian mercenaries in various ways and places, UAE drones in the sky, and Egyptian support for a man some call a “rogue” general. Reuters reminds us “Turkey backs the GNA, Libya’s internationally recognised government, and has signed a military cooperation agreement to help it repel an Haftar’s offensive.”
Today, the UAE says it wants combatants to stop shooting and to commit to a UN-supervised political process — especially if that benefits UAE-backed antagonist, General Khalifa Haftar. However, Reuters reports from Dubai that “The UAE statement did not comment directly on Haftar’s declaration on Monday that his army would take power, ripping up a 2015 political agreement that has been the basis for all international peacemaking efforts.”
Turkey’s response to the UAE today: The Emiratis should “hide their two-faced politics” since it’s helping “putschists” in Libya. “The UAE’s actions disrupting international peace, security and stability not just in Libya, but all the region, including Yemen, Syria and Africa, are well known to the international community,” Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy. Which would suggest the calamity is still on more or less the same chaotic course it’s kept for several years now. Continue reading, here.
From the region: A bomb exploded inside an armored vehicle in northern Sinai, killing 10 Eygptian soldiers, Reuters reports from Cairo. You might recall “The military and police launched a major campaign against militant groups in 2018, focusing on the Sinai Peninsula as well as southern areas and the border with Libya.” Eyptian President Sisi at the time ordered his military to complete the job in three months; like the U.S. in Iraq, which dropped a few bombs on terrorist cave networks there just this week, the work is still ongoing.

Looking ahead to next week, COVID won’t stop the confirmation process. Next Thursday, socially distancing senators will hold in-person confirmation hearings for three senior defense jobs. The nominees are:

  • Kenneth Braithwaite, current ambassador to Norway, to be Navy Secretary; 
  • Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., who currently commands Pacific Air Forces, to be Air Force Chief of Staff; 
  • and the current Assistant Defense Secretary for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities, James Anderson, now formally up for a job he’s already “performing the duties of”: Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!

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