ISIS-K chief, dead?; NK meeting, cancelled; New Niger drone base; How to trim America’s Mideast forces; and just a bit more...

An American airstrike killed the alleged ISIS affiliate chief in Afghanistan this weekend. “Saad Arhabi, the leader of ISIS Khorasan (ISIS-K), the affiliate named after an ancient province, was killed alongside 10 other fighters in strikes on the Khogyani district on Saturday night,” Afghan spy agency officials told The National on Sunday.

Said the U.S.-led Resolute Support coalition: "I can confirm that US forces conducted a counterterrorism strike, August 25, in Khugyani district, Nangarhar province, which targeted a senior leader of a designated terrorist organisation."

You may be thinking: Wasn’t the ISIS-K leader already killed? Yes, back in April 2017 Abdul Haseeb Logari was the unlucky ISIS leader in Afghanistan. The National has a bit more about what may come next, here.

An alleged Taliban shadow district chief was also killed this weekend. His district: Alasai, in central Kapisa province. He’s reported to have died along with two of his bodyguards during a Afghan security forces clearance operation in the Nizamkhel region of Kapisa. A bit more, here.

Danger close on the northern border. A Tajik or Russian aircraft may have carried out an airstrike in northern Afghanistan on Sunday “after a clash between gunmen and Tajik border guards.” That anyway is the story according to Afghan officials, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty this morning.

The Ruskies and Tajiks say the airstrike was not from either of their planes. An Afghan official said the unidentified aircraft (or possibly a helicopter, as this report suggests) attacked following a clash between alleged drug smugglers and Tajik border guards — an account backed up by a Taliban spokesman.  

Rising tensions in the area. “Crossborder clashes are rare on Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan, compared with fighting along Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan,” RFE/RL adds. “But security in Takhar has deteriorated over the past few months and regular clashes have broken out between Afghan security forces and militant groups, including the Taliban.” Read on, here or here for a bit wider context and recent history.

Reminder: Russia still plans on holding its own Taliban “peace talks” on September 4 in Moscow — a meeting which Kabul officials have declined to attend.  

Unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed two Afghan air force troops today in Kabul, local Pajhwok Afghan News reports this a.m. A pilot and an engineer were killed in the attack, and the culprits are believed to have escaped without being caught.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has a new national security adviser, and you’ve probably already heard his voice.

The new guy: Hamdullah Mohib. And you can hear him speaking to Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron just one month ago in episode 13 of Defense One Radio.

ICYMI: It’s been a year since President Trump announced his administration’s Afghanistan strategy. On this week’s Defense One Radio podcast, we’ll talk to two experts — Graeme Smith of the International Crisis Group, and Professor Tanisha Fazal of the University of Minnesota — about why the Afghan conflict has gone on for as long as it has, and how America has changed its understanding and experience of war and peace as a result.

Then we take a look at the effect of passing U.S. military gear onto American police departments — with Jonathan Mummolo of Princeton University — 12 months after President Trump reopened the transfer of that equipment from the so-called 1033 program.

Listen on iTunes, Overcast, Google Play or wherever you listen to podcasts.

From Defense One

Toward A Smaller, Smarter Force Posture in the Middle East // Melissa G. Dalton and Mara E. Karlin: The National Defense Strategy’s turn toward Russia and China requires the U.S. military to alter its Gulf assets.

The Death of Political Courage // Richard Fontaine, The Atlantic: Commitment to principle, despite its costs, is what America has lost with John McCain’s passing.

Donald Trump Sorrowfully Cancels Another North Korea Meeting // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: For the first time since his summit with Kim Jong Un, the president acknowledged that nuclear talks aren’t going well.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 17 // Defense One Staff: Why the Afghan war has lasted so long; Rethinking 'militarized policing' and more.

The Pentagon Wants AI to Take Over the Scientific Process // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The project is part of DARPA’s newly launched Artificial Intelligence Exploration program, which aims to develop next-generation artificial intelligence applications.

Trump’s Untested Authority to Revoke Security Clearances // Russell Berman, The Atlantic: Can the president restrict a person’s access to classified material for any reason he wants? It may take a lawsuit from former CIA Director John Brennan to find out.

Putin Makes a Move for Peace Through Force // Krishnadev Calamur, The Atlantic: Russia is involved in many of the world’s greatest crises—but there are signs public support for overseas ventures is waning.

DC Airport First In Nation to Catch Suspected Imposter Using Facial Biometrics // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: After three days of operation, Washington Dulles International Airport’s biometric cameras identified a man allegedly attempting to use someone else’s passport to enter the U.S.

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 90 years ago, the U.S., France and Germany signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, outlawing war and calling for settling disputes through arbitration. Many exceptions were written into the pact — including wars for self-defense. And just 11 years later, the Second World War began.

John McCain dies at 81. The former POW, presidential candidate, and fixture in the national-security firmament shaped “law and policy, our institutions and even the way in which Americans think of themselves and their role in the world,” writes his former-aide-turned-CNAS president Richard Fontaine.
A perennial advocate for bigger defense budgets, McCain, R-Arizona, rallied fellow members of Congress to a greater interest in foreign policy. He was quick to cry for war when problems loomed, but he also fought off the Bush administration’s attempt to weaken the Geneva Conventions, arguing that that treating America’s detainees humanely is “not about them, it’s about us.” (Eliot Cohen, here.)
McCain was a man of many mistakes, as he himself often said, but at his best he “venerated above all the notions of duty, loyalty to country that transcended partisan attachments, the cleansing of politics from the influence of special interests, and a pragmatic problem-solving ethos centered on building bipartisan consensus.” (Ronald Brownstein, here.)

The U.S. thinks the Assad regime may be preparing for a chemical weapons attack on rebels in the northwestern governorate of Idlib, Bloomberg reported this weekend. That’s reportedly what White House National Security Adviser John Bolton told his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, during a five-hour meeting in Geneva on Thursday.
Also at those talks: An unnamed person “floated” the possibility of joint military patrols between the U.S. and Russia at the al-Tanf (U.S. and allied Syrian rebel) base on the Syrian border with Iraq, Bloomberg writes — apparently unaware that such a plan would violate a federal statute that Ryan Goodman of Just Security wrote in July is “consistently renewed on an annual basis.”

#LongRead: Time to cut America’s Middle East forces. CSIS’ Melissa Dalton and SAIS’ Mara Karlin (the latter a former DASD for strategy and force development) have wrapped up their three-part series exploring why the U.S. must trim its Middle East force structure (hint: Russia, China) with a concluding piece on how to go about it. Don’t miss this important work: Parts One, Two, and Three.

And finally today: The Pentagon’s drone base in Niger has a price tag, and The Intercept reported last week it will cost $280 million by 2024.
For the record, The Intercept writes that “The facility, which is part of the expanded U.S. military footprint in Africa, is now the largest base-building effort ever undertaken by troops in the history of the U.S. Air Force, according to Richard Komurek, a spokesperson for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa.” Lots more details to dig into — including now-standard deployed base fare, food and amenities — here.