Russia hosts Afghan talks; SecDef, State host Chinese counterparts; House poised to take natsec lead; Navy’s new submarine aggressor unit; And a bit more.

Russia is hosting talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban today, CNN’s Nathan Hodge reports from Moscow, emphasizing, “To be clear, Friday's discussions are not peace talks.”

In fact, the attending Afghan officials of the “High Peace Council” don’t even officially have the formal stamp of the Afghan government, writes Hodge. Instead, what’s happening today is merely a format “meant to encourage an atmosphere for dialogue between the warring sides in Afghanistan's long-running civil war.”

Also invited: Reps from China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Reuters’ headline this morning: Taliban attends peace talks in Moscow for first time, no progress reported

BTW: The Russian government had previously designated the Taliban a terrorist group, so this is kinda awkward in a way. (Also awkward for Russia today — though more so for Austria: “Austrian colonel spied for Russia for decades, Vienna says,” Reuters reports separately today.)

Hodge’s big-picture take: “Much as in Syria, where Russia has brokered successive rounds of peace talks, Moscow appears intent on shaping outcomes as the warring sides fumble toward a peace process.” Read on, here.

Second listen: President Trump’s Afghanistan war strategy — now 14 months in — “is sound and is working” because it’s bringing the Taliban to the peace table, U.S. Central Command’s Gen. Joseph Votel told us last week on the Defense One Radio podcast.

Today’s episode: You can hear what could happen if the U.S. just pulled all of its troops out of Afghanistan before reaching a settlement with the Taliban.

  • Up first: Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies to talk about his recent commentary, “The U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan: The Perils of Withdrawal.”
  • Then it’s Bill Roggio of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies to tell us, in part, “Things are as bad [now] in Afghanistan as they’ve ever been.”
  • And we’ll end with a conversation from Afghanistan with Abdul Hassan, a country advisor who works for NATO in Kabul.

Subscribe on Google Play, iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

From Defense One

Lower House Poised to Take Upper Hand on National Security // Brent Colburn: Where are Congress’ new foreign-policy leaders? Look to the House’s recently elected veterans and natsec pros.

China Is Beating the US in the Rare-Earths Game // James Kennedy: It’s time for the administration to use its powers to preserve America’s access to vital defense materials.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: How the midterms will shape defense spending; Lockheed gets F-35 upgrade deal; AIA kills media luncheon; and more.

Trump Warns Against New Russia Probes by Congress // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: Incoming House intelligence chair: We “have a compelling interest in making sure that U.S. policy is not driven by leverage that the Russians have over the president.”

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you find this useful, please consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 2007, U.S. Army Spc. Kyle White’s unit of 173rd Airborne Brigade paratroopers was ambushed in a three-pronged attack in eastern Afghanistan’s mountainous Nuristan Province. Kyle suffered multiple concussions as he raced back and forth between gunfire for nearly four hours applying tourniquets and dragging wounded colleagues to safety. For his actions on this day, he received the Medal of Honor.

Happening today: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo host their Chinese counterparts — Gen. Wei Fenghe and Yang Jiechi — today at the State Department at 12:30 p.m. EDT.
An hour later, Mattis will bring Fenghe to the Pentagon for a conversation closed to the press. Catch the Mattis/Pompeo/Fenghe/Jiechi presser live at DVIDS, here.

AI is now protecting kids from guns at a high school in Pennsylvania, Fox29 reports from Warminster, Pa.
What it is: Athena security camera systems — a “box” that’s plugged into a CCTV network to scan for threats.
How it works: A “weapon has to be drawn or at least visible to be detected.” From there, alert messages are sent to security officials including 911 and nearby police.
FWIW: “The school got the program using a grant for Pennsylvania schools that want to beef up security. They've been using it here for about a month.” Tiny bit more, here.

Two car bombs in the capital of Somalia have killed at least 17 people so far, Reuters reports from Mogadishu in a developing story.
And in Australia today, Reuters has the latest on a “A Somali-born man [who] set fire to a pickup truck laden with gas cylinders in the center of the Australian city of Melbourne on Friday and stabbed three people, killing one, before he was shot by police in a rampage they called an act of terrorism.”

The war for Yemen’s port city of Hodeida has officially re-launched, Yemeni officials announced from their exiled HQs in Aden (rather than from the Houthi-held capital city of Sana’a).
ICYMI: The Trump administration is considering calling the Houthis a terrorist group. The Washington Post has that story, here.

Meanwhile at the U.S.-Mexico border: It’s still concertina wire week, NBC News reported Thursday with photos. Otherwise, the White House is still trying to clamp down on asylum-seekers at the border. That story, here.

U.S. Navy creating a submarine aggressor squadron — a unit dedicated to playing the enemy in wargames. But if your thoughts leapt immediately to a squadron of subs with Russian markings (like the Air Force’s 18th Aggressor Squadron or the Navy’s VFC-12), be still your beating bubblehead’s heart. The new unit won’t have subs of its own, but instead will consist of an undetermined determined number active and reserve sailors and civilians who will work with existing sub crews, USNI News reports.
The new group will be “a cadre that does nothing but emulate red in all of our training and certification exercises,” Vice Adm. Charles A. Richard, who leads the Navy’s submarine forces, said earlier this week at a Naval Submarine League event.
The aggressor unit is part of the overall plan to improve the U.S. sub force, as laid out in March’s Commander’s Intent for the United States Submarine Force and Supporting Organizations, which you can read here.

Army seeks all-electric combat vehicles by 2027. That’s the word out of the service’s Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, which is trying to get ready for a future of vehicle-borne lasers, mobile drone bases, and more. Moreover, all-electric drive will reduce logistic dependencies in far-flung operations. That’s on top of today’s needs for blue-force tracking, electronic warfare, and advanced comms, reports Army Times.
“The electrical demands on the Army’s vehicles today are growing far beyond anything we’ve seen before,” said George Hamilton, TARDEC’s lead for Vehicle Electronics Architecture. “Our focus is on developing and providing a modular, flexible and adaptable vehicle architecture that can expand to meet future demands of all kinds.” Read on, here.

And finally this week: It’s not just you. Superheroes really have gotten more violent, according to a new study presented this week at an annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The setup: “Pennsylvania pediatrician Robert Olympia and his colleagues sat through 10 superhero movies released in 2015 and 2016, cataloging each specific act of violence and noting whether it was committed by a protagonist or villain,” Ars Technica reports.
The findings: Researchers “tallied an average of 23 acts of violence per hour associated with the films' protagonists, compared with 18 violent acts per hour for the antagonists,” according to the report. “The researchers also found the films showed male characters in nearly five times as many violent acts (34 per hour, on average), than female characters, who were engaged in an average of 7 violent acts per hour.”
More data: "The most common act of violence associated with protagonists in the films was fighting (1,021 total acts), followed by the use of a lethal weapon (659), destruction of property (199), murder (168), and bullying/intimidation/torture (144). For antagonists, the most common violent act was the use of a lethal weapon (604 total acts), fighting (599), bullying/intimidation/torture (237), destruction of property (191), and murder (93) were also portrayed.” Read on, here.