Afghan war intensifies; US bombs Somali targets; NorK continues nuke work; Ukraine’s armed drone; And a bit more...

This morning from Kabul: Gen. John Nicholson briefs reporters on how things are going on day 6,163 of the conflict in Afghanistan. Gen. “Mick” Nicholson goes live via VTC at 11 a.m. EDT.

BTW: The Afghan war “may be growing more intense than anything since the 1980s,” according to this dataset.

Question for you, dear readers: Why do you think the war in Afghanistan has gone on so long? Send your answers and ideas to us via this email address, or call us at (757) 447-4596 and leave a voicemail.

This week on our podcast, we’ll speak with a professor who argues that part of the reason is that “Popular anger [in America] is absent because the public is no longer directly affected by the war legally, personally, or financially.”

One more thing about the “graveyard of empires”: For the first time since 2013, Syria is no longer the most common country of origin for new asylum-seekers. That title now goes to Afghanistan, according to this report from the UN.

Next in line on that list: Syria, Iraq, Venezuela, then the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Somalia isn’t as high as we’d have guessed on that chart. More on Somalia below.

From Defense One

Ukraine Startup Building Drones with Grenade Launchers // Patrick Tucker: A prototype Ukrainian drone has a grenade launcher. Still unclear:  how it’s going to get through Russian jamming.

Toward a 21st-Century US Navy Mining Force // Capt. Hans Lynch, USN, and Scott Truver: Standoff weapons and other initiatives promise a renaissance in U.S. naval warfare.

US Soldiers May Take Flying Ubers to the Front Lines // John Breeden II, Nextgov: That’s the premise of a new partnership between the U.S. Army, NASA, and the ride-hiring company.

Boko Haram’s Deadly Impact // John Campbell and Asch Harwood, Council on Foreign Relations: A new compilation of data gives insight into the African Islamist insurgency’s reach, tactics, and evolution. It reveals a far higher victim count than previous estimates.

Why Did Paul Allen Build the World’s Largest Aircraft? // Tim Fernholz, Quartz: The six-engine, twin-fuselage Stratolaunch has no commercial customers paying to give their rockets a lift. Are there secret military ones?

Welcome to this Wednesday 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.

There was another U.S. airstrike in Somalia just yesterday, this one believed to have killed two “al-Shabaab militants approximately 46 kilometers northeast of Kismayo,” U.S. Africa Command announced this morning.
Keep up with other U.S. strikes inside Somalia (going back to 2007) via The Long War Journal’s tracker, here.

Moving across the Bab el-Mandeb Strait now — wanna know what the U.S. military is doing in and for Yemen? The Pentagon released this statement Tuesday evening in response to reporter Qs earlier that day:

  • The official answer: “The United States provides limited, non-combat support to the coalition of regional governments led by Saudi Arabia that is supporting the Yemeni Government in their defense against the Houthis insurgency in Yemen.”

What’s that mean? The U.S. military’s “support consists of aerial refueling and intelligence support to assist our partners in securing their borders from cross-border attacks from the Houthis. U.S. military non-combat support focuses on improving coalition processes and procedures, especially regarding compliance with the law of armed conflict and best practices for reducing the risk of civilian casualties.”
That last point has come into sharp focus in recent days, especially since that Saudi bus strike in northern Yemen that killed 40 children and dozens more. And here the Pentagon said it has already been going to lengths to try to reduce Saudi coalition civilian casualties — and plans to do more in the future.

  • Measures already taken “include training and advising the Saudi military to help them improve their targeting processes. U.S. forces are providing training on Law of Armed Conflict and best practices for preventing civilian casualties… The United States has also engaged with the Saudi-led Coalition to encourage the swift implementation of recommendations from investigations of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team.”
  • And what lies ahead: “Future training events for the Royal Saudi Air Force and other Saudi security forces will include further training on the Law of Armed Conflict and air-to-ground targeting processes.”

We also have a bit of a mission statement for the U.S. military as far as how it sees its role in Yemen: “With U.S. support, Saudi Arabia is able to defend itself from missile attacks, protect freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, and regain territory captured by the Iranian-backed Houthis.”

Houthi officials met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut this weekend, The Long War Journal reported Tuesday.
In attendance: Houthi spokesman Mohamad Abdelsalam, as well as group officials known as Abdul Malik Al Ajri and Ibrahim Al Daylami. Read on for a short roll-up of recent Hezbollah-Houthi overlapping interests and activities, here.

Back stateside: Congressman Duncan Hunter to be booted from HASC after corruption indictment. The New York Times reported “Representative Duncan Hunter was indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego on Tuesday after a monthslong criminal investigation into allegations that he spent tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds on family trips to Hawaii and Italy, private school tuition for his children and even a $600 airline ticket for a pet rabbit.”
According to Politico, Hunter has declined to step down from the House Armed Services Committee, and so House leaders are taking steps to forcibly remove him in a Sept. 5 vote.

U.N. nuclear watchdog says North Korea doesn’t appear to be stopping its nuclear work, Reuters writes off a report released late Monday. Read the report for yourself, (PDF) here.
SecState Pompeo to get a list of “secret nuclear test sites”? An unnamed source told the Korea Times "North Korea plans to hand over a list of its secret nuclear test sites as well as information about its nuclear warheads to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he visits Pyongyang this month."

Moscow goes hunting for its lost nuclear-powered missile. CNBC, citing “people with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report,” writes that Russian “Crews will attempt to recover a missile that was test launched in November and landed in the Barents Sea, which is located north of Norway and Russia.”
How might such an unusual search proceed? Hans Kristensen, of the Federation of American Scientists, explained to The Verge, here.

Facebook is still “Taking Down More Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior,” is how they put it in a statement Tuesday. That’s shorthand for removing 652 more political disinformation accounts.
It’s the same sort of disinfo work Russia made famous, and which has now allegedly spread to Iranian agents.
Tweeted Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut: “The Kremlin playbook of meddling now used by Iran. By failing to deter Russia, Trump paved the way for every US adversary to interfere in our democracy.”

And finally today: A 7th Group Green Beret is in some pretty damn hot water after getting caught trying to smuggle 90 pounds of cocaine from Colombia, NBC News reported Tuesday.
The quick read — like, real quick: "Drug Enforcement Administration agents found 40 kilograms of cocaine in two backpacks on a military airplane" after "a service member found the drugs on the plane while it was on the ground in Colombia... bound for Eglin Air Force Base." Read the rest, here.

For the record: 7th Group is a distinguished outfit, and one of your D Brief-ers spent quite a few months with one team in particular in southern Afghanistan. You can read all about that mission in Kevin Maurer’s 2013 book, “Gentlemen Bastards.”

NEXT STORY: Boko Haram’s Deadly Impact