4-day battle for key Afghan city; Army’s newest AI; Info-sharing, California style; Suicide scramble; and just a bit more...

At least 100 Afghan troops have been killed in an ongoing four-day battle with the Taliban in Ghazni City. Reporting from the capital 75 miles away, the Associated Press writes that the Taliban’s “multi-pronged assault overwhelmed [Ghazni’s] defenses and allowed insurgents to capture several parts of it” since Friday.

Bigger picture: “The fall of Ghazni, a city of 270,000 people, would mark an important victory for the Taliban,” AP writes. “It would also cut off a key highway linking Kabul to the southern provinces, the Taliban’s traditional heartland.”

Dozens of U.S. airstrikes are believed to have killed some 95 militants, Agence France-Presse reports off morning remarks from Afghan Defence Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami.

Adds AP: “Bahrami said about 1,000 additional troops have been sent to Ghazni and helped prevent the city from falling into Taliban hands. He also said 194 insurgents, including 12 leaders, were killed — with Pakistani, Chechen and Arabs foreign fighters among the dead.”

Afghan special forces have also been sent to Ghazni City, Reuters reports this morning.  

U.S. “advisers” are on the scene as well, according to Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

How did it come to this? The New York Times' Rod Nordland, Fahim Abed and Mujib Mashal filed this superb report on Sunday laying much of it all out. One thing you’ll learn (or be reminded of): “the [Afghan] army uses American ammunition, while the police use Russian ammunition.” That was especially salient point when the army linked up with some besieged police to reinforce them, only to discover they could not.

Said one Afghan LT to the Times: “The Taliban are just on the other side of the wall,” the lieutenant said, weeping. “This may be the last time we speak.” Read on, here.

Meanwhile, the Taliban are pretty excited about their diplomatic momentum, calling last month’s first formal talks with the U.S. “very helpful,” The Guardian reports from that front.

And ICYMI: The Taliban visited Uzbekistan. That is, the group’s political chief, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, met with Uzbek officials on Saturday, AP reports. There seems to have been far more symbolism than substance out of all that. But you can read on, here.

From Defense One

California Is Automating Cyber-Threat Information Sharing // Dave Nyczepir, Route Fifty: The state wants to add every city and county government to its automated threat feed program in the next three to four years.

Why NSA Has Its Eye on ‘Girls Who Code’ // Charles S. Clark, Government Executive: ‘The future workforce needs to be representative of our nation,’ says the spy agency’s new director.

How Artificial Intelligence Could Keep US Army Vehicles Ready for Action // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: A yearlong pilot program will see if AI can predict when components on Bradley Fighting Vehicles will break.

Trump’s Secret War on Terror // The Atlantic’s Daniel Rosenthal and CNAS’ Loren DeJonge Schulman: Drone strikes continue and spread—away from public scrutiny or Congressional oversight.

Why the Space Force Is Just Like Trump University // David A. Graham, The Atlantic: The gap between the hype and reality of the proposed new branch of the military makes the project almost entirely an exercise in misleading branding.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief  by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1945, Japanese Emperor Hirohito decided to record audio for national broadcast of Japan’s surrender to the Allies. And 100 years ago today, Opha M. Johnson became the first female (of 305 that day) to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Iran to White House: We will not go to war with you, but we will not talk with you either. Iran’s leader has ruled out any military confrontation with the U.S., Reuters reports. And in the same morning remarks, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also rejected any hopes of negotiation that the Trump administration may have had for the future, AFP reports.  
On the other hand: Iran's defence minister just unveiled the “next generation” of Tehran's Fateh Mobin short-range ballistic missile, AFP reports separately this morning off Iranian Tasnim news. “The new missile's range was not given, but previous versions had a range of around 200 to 300 kilometres, according to the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.” A bit more, here.

Leaders of the two Koreas leaders will meet for the third time in September, the Associated Press reports off “a three-sentence joint statement” from the two countries this morning. North Korea’s delegation would not share the date for the meeting, with one official saying he wanted to “keep reporters wondering.” Reuters has a bit more if you’re playing catch-up on the whole peninsular peace process.

For what it’s worth: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reversed himself on the Space Force, the Associated Press’s Bob Burns reminded us Sunday evening while traveling with Mattis in Brazil.
And now here’s Mattis explaining that change of heart: "I was not against setting up a Space Force. What I was against was rushing to do that before we could define the problem” that needed solving, Burns reports. Tiny bit more, here.
Mattis’s next stops: Argentina — a first for a U.S. defense secretary since 2005 — then Chile and Colombia.

CNO: Russia, China boosting their Atlantic naval presence. “Even five years ago, we wouldn't have seen anything like” the Chinese warships from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told Voice of America.
China’s global navy: Richardson said the Chinese navy is now “ready and capable" of operating around the world. “They’re certainly a pacing competition for us in terms of the naval threat.”
Russia, also: Richardson also repeated a warning that Russian warships are operating in the Atlantic at a tempo unseen since the Cold War: “We're talking about more than we've seen in 25 years.”
Submarine threats: The Atlantic Council’s Magnus Nordemann has written about the increased flow of Russian submarines through the GIUK Gap — the passages through which they must pass into the North Atlantic — and their increased presence around the undersea cables that connect North America to Europe.
Context: “The Navy has not been very open about this in the past,” Bryan Clark, a retired submariner who now serves as a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told Navy Times in an email. “Although the Russian and Chinese naval presence is not robust or continuous, it is a potential threat in an area the Navy had considered to be a safe backyard.”
Meanwhile, in the South China Sea: Today’s measure of Beijing’s assertiveness about its artificial islands built on disputed reefs: On Friday, a U.S. Navy P-8A maritime patrol aircraft flew over Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Johnson Reef and Mischief Reef. “During the flight the crew received six separate warnings from the Chinese military, telling them they were inside Chinese territory and urging them to leave,” reported CNN, which had a news crew on the flight. “‘Leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding,’ a voice said.”

This week in curious information operations news, here’s an interesting report from the Columbus Dispatch at how Russian online trolls — often using fake accounts of young women — tried to influence Ohio voters on Twitter during and after the 2016 election.  

Saturday scramble: Two F-15Cs from the Air National Guard’s 142nd Fighter Wing were scrambled from Portland, Oregon, on Saturday after a twin-engine passenger jet was stolen from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The Eagles went supersonic to intercept the 76-seat Bombardier Q-400, which turned out to be empty except for its pilot, a suicidal employee of a regional airline.
How it ended: “NORAD fighters were working to redirect the aircraft out over the Pacific Ocean when it crashed on the southern tip of Ketron Island in the southern end of Puget Sound,” according to a North American Aerospace Defense Command statement. “NORAD fighters did not fire upon the aircraft. The event was subsequently passed to local rescue and law enforcement.” Here’s a bit more from Navy Times and The Drive.