Deadly Taliban attack; Seesaw war tilts in Yemen; Trump promises pardons for Wall work; Mattis decries divisiveness; And a bit more.

The Taliban killed 14 Afghans in Herat province as it claims a deal with the U.S. is closer than ever, Reuters reports today from Kabul. Concerning the deaths, “Abdul Ahad Walizada, a spokesman for Herat police, said the 14 were killed after a large number of Taliban fighters stormed security checkpoints in the Chahardara area.” Another nine were wounded before the militants were reportedly pushed back once reinforcements arrived. 
About that peace deal with the U.S., “A senior security official in Kabul said the Taliban and U.S. officials had agreed upon a timeline of about 14 to 24 months for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Details would be shared with the Afghan government before they were made public.” And that sharing is reportedly happening today with Zalmay Khalilzad’s scheduled trip to Kabul to speak with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Tiny bit more, here
Also reportedly in that peace deal: A rebranding effort referring to the Taliban as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” which NBC News reports is “an attempt at a compromise as the Taliban uses its former regime name to refer to the country,” despite strong objections by some officials in Kabul.
Why this matters, according to Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States: “Allowing the Taliban to refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate, even in parentheses, allows them to build the narrative that they forced the U.S. to negotiate an exit from Afghanistan just as the mujahideen had forced the Soviets out.” More here
And don’t miss this Tuesday report on efforts to save Afghanistan’s film industry, which was nearly wiped out under Taliban rule. The Washington Post’s Siobhán O'Grady and Sharif Hassan reported on an ambitious effort to “digitize about a century’s worth of Afghan documentaries and films over the next six months,” here

One of the micro wars in Yemen is seesawing back in the Saudis’ direction now that “Yemen government forces entered the interim capital Aden and recaptured a nearby province,” Agence France-Presse reports today from neighboring Dubai. Witnesses in Aden told Reuters the city's eastern al-Arech and Khor Maksar districts erupted in clashes that swept over and into the airport, which was also retaken by Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s troops.  
On Monday, Hadi’s men recaptured Zinjibar, “the capital of the neighboring Abyan... after securing most of the oil producing province of Shabwa and its liquefied natural gas terminal in Balfaf,” according to Reuters. 
Today, “artillery duels” rocked Aden’s eastern suburbs while locals told the Associated Press the offensive by Hadi’s troops caused the UAE-backed separatists to retreat into nearby Lahij and Dhale provinces. 

AFRICOM’s new commander, Gen. Stephen Townsend, traveled to Tunisia on Monday for, among other things, discussions on “U.S. security interests in neighboring Libya,” Townsend’s combatant command announced in a statement on Tuesday. 
The new U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland, traveled with Townsend to the land formerly known as Carthage. “Townsend and Norland will later meet with Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salame,” AFRICOM said in its statement. With Salame, “Townsend will discuss ways the U.S. military might continue to cooperate with the UN in support of a political settlement in Libya.”
"We fully support the United Nations, U.S. State Department and the Libya External Office's efforts to promote stability and shared prosperity in Libya,” Townsend is quoted in the release.
BTW: Libya is playing host to a “forgotten drone war,” Arthur Holland Michel of the Drone Center tweeted after reading this report from the Middle East Eye on Tuesday. It’s a story with Chinese-made drones, Turkish-made drones, a downed Russian-made MiG-21MF, a downed French Mirage F1AD/ED, bombed runways, smoldering Ilyushin Il-76 cargo aircraft, UAE money and a rogue general commanding 25,000 militiamen against a UN-backed government. 
But above all, it’s a story of how armed drones have allowed “two protagonists to overcome their lack of air power and precision strikes in urban areas” as “something akin to a proxy drone war [plays out] between the UAE and Turkey.” Read on, here.

Happening today: Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford will conduct their first on-camera press conference at 1:30 p.m. at the Pentagon.

From Defense One

Challenges Pile up on U.S.-South Korea Alliance Agenda // Adam Mount, Council on Foreign Relations: Summer 2019 has been a watershed moment for trends that threaten to compromise South Korea’s position in Northeast Asia.

The Pentagon Wants to Bolster DIU’s Cyber Defenses // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The department is looking for penetration testers, red teams, and cyber training to protect its startup incubator from online attacks.

America’s Allies Seem to Be Moving On Without Trump // Peter Nicholas, The Atlantic: At the G7 meeting, leaders seemed to have given up on an agreement with him on trade, climate, and even whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is friend or foe.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1914, the first major naval engagement of WWI, the Battle of Heligoland Bight, saw the British Royal Navy sink three German cruisers and one destroyer in the North Sea. 

President Trump said he’ll pardon U.S. government employees who break laws while working on border barriers, the Washington Post reports. Anxious to keep a campaign promise of 500 miles of new barriers — his administration has so far replaced about 60 miles of barriers — the president “directed aides to fast-track billions of dollars’ worth of construction contracts, aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules, according to current and former officials involved with the project.”
The president “has waved off worries about contracting procedures and the use of eminent domain, saying ‘take the land,’ according to officials who attended the meetings. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll pardon you,’ he has told officials in meetings about the wall.” The Post piece also serves as a good wrapup of how we got here. Read it.
The White House is moving $271 million in disaster aid and cyber security to pay for “immigration-related facilities,” Reuters reported Tuesday.
That means prisons and courts. “This will allow the administration to continue to house immigrants arriving at the border, part of President Donald Trump’s promise not to allow them to await hearings outside of custody.” 
What’s getting shorted: Coast Guard gear. Upgrades to the National Cybersecurity Protection System. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster-relief fund, just as peak hurricane season begins.
Why now? From March to May, the number of families crossing the border between official crossing locations skyrocketed, a result of the Trump administration’s decision last year to turn away asylum-seekers coming north, PRI reported in June. Since then the number of families apprehended along the U.S. southern border has doubled, to 42,000 in July, Reuters reports.
And the number of detainees is about to rise, thanks to a new Trump administration policy that migrant families can be detained not just 20 days but indefinitely while they wait for a judge to hear their asylum request.

China just denied the U.S. Navy a Sunday port visit at Qingdao, across the Yellow Sea from the Korean peninsula. The decision marks “the second time China has denied a request by the United States this month, having earlier rejected a request for two U.S. Navy ships to visit Hong Kong,” Reuters reports this morning.  
Backdrop: That first denied “visit would have taken place at a time when anti-government protests in Hong Kong are posing the biggest challenge China’s Communist Party rulers since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.” As for why the second requested visit, the one to Qingdao, was denied, the Pentagon directed questions to China, whose foreign ministry deflected Qs to the military — which did not respond. 
For the record: “The last U.S. Navy ship to visit Qingdao was the destroyer Benfold in 2016,” Reuters writes. 
Meanwhile, the “rules of internet connectivity” between the U.S. and China could be rewritten because of an undersea Los Angeles-to-Hong Kong cable project backed by Google, Facebook and Beijing-based Dr. Peng Telecom & Media Group Co., the Wall Street Journal reports today. The involvement of that Beijing investor has drawn the attention of the U.S. Justice Department, which could reject an application to continue work on the cable project — work that had already begun thanks to a temporary permit that expires next month. 
Why build it? "The new link to Hong Kong would give [companies like Google and Facebook] greater bandwidth to a major regional internet hub with links to growing markets in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia as well as mainland China." As well, boosters argue, the need for greater data capacity is so great "that data will just find its way through other cables that aren’t necessarily within the U.S.’s jurisdiction." Also, "most of the 8,000-mile Pacific Light Cable Network" has already been laid down "across the seafloor between the Chinese territory and Los Angeles."
Why not build it? Over fears China could block or tap the traffic amid wider U.S. "distrust of Chinese ambitions," including worries over that Dr. Peng Telecom & Media Group Co., which has a raft of ties to the Chinese Communist government and China’s tech titan, Huawei.
If denied by the DOJ, “it would be the first time it has ever denied an undersea cable license based on national-security grounds, and it could signal regulators are adopting a new, tougher stance on China projects,” the Journal writes. More here
Meanwhile, SecDef Esper says the U.S. needs to build and expand its bases in the Pacific. Speaking at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., on Tuesday, Esper gave no specifics. But Defense News rounded up some experts to talk about a possible wishlist, here.

Mattis breaks his silence to warn America against divisiveness and tribalism. In an exclusive book excerpt for the Wall Street Journal, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis writes that the U.S. must overcome tribal divisions. 
And on his departure from the White House almost nine months ago: "I did as well as I could for as long as I could,” he writes. “When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign.”
On holding out in a contentious WH environment: “Using every skill I had learned during my decades as a Marine, I did as well as I could for as long as I could.”
On an apparently missing sense of unity and community within the country: ”What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness. We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future.”
Speaking of, here’s a line from a Tuesday fundraising email from the Trump-Pence re-election campaign, referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Democrats: “This is our country, not theirs.” 

This week in information operations: the Israel Defense Forces just launched a social media campaign aimed at Farsi speakers with the goal of highlighting how “oppressive [the] Iranian regime is.” IO students can find those campaigns on Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram under the handle/account @IDFFarsi.

A robot ship is about to cross the Atlantic Ocean, David Axe writes for The Daily Beast. It's called Maxlimer, and it's a "36-foot-long, yellow- and white-striped vessel bobbing off the coast of the United Kingdom" right now. Early next year, it’s scheduled to cross the pond in what could be a significant proof-of-concept for what drones can do for industries around the world in the years ahead. Story here.  

ICYMI: SEALs once again must have regulation haircuts and uniform inspections, Navy Times reported over the weekend off a four-page “back to basics” directive from Naval Special Warfare commander Rear Adm. Collin Green. 
Why go back to basics? The scandals, of course. Or, as Green put it, the SEAL force “has drifted from our Navy core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment… due to a lack of action at all levels of Leadership.” 

Finally today: Two men in Montana lied about being veterans. They now have to “hand-write the names of all 6,756 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to qualify for future parole, along with the obituaries of the 40 Montana soldiers in that group,” the Washington Post reported after discovering the two men’s sentences in a court at Great Falls last Friday. 
“I want to make sure that my message is received loud and clear by these two defendants,” the judge said. To that end, the two men were ordered to “stand at the Montana Veterans Memorial in Great Falls for eight hours on each Memorial Day and Veterans Day wearing a placard that says: ‘I am a liar. I am not a veteran. I stole valor. I have dishonored all veterans.’” More from AP, here.