Big aircraft crashes in Afghanistan; US soldier killed in Syria; Anti-Taliban air strikes rise; Space Force logo; And a bit more.

An apparent U.S. aircraft has crashed in Taliban-held territory somewhere in Afghanistan’s eastern-central Ghazni province, about 100 miles south of Kabul. No one appears to have survived the crash. 

Imagery and video footage of the downed plane surfaced on social media this morning, and points to a possible U.S. Air Force E-11A BACN, or Battlefield Airborne Communications Node. 

What is an E-11A BACN? “Essentially a relay and translator between otherwise incompatible airborne and ground radios,” Aviation Week’s Stephen Trimble tweeted this morning with a close eye on the developments. The Wall Street Journal’s Kabul-based Ehsanullah Amiri reports an unspecified “coalition forces contractor” owned the plane, which contained four “foreigners,” and all of them have died. “Nationalities of victims [are] unclear now,” Amiri tweeted.

The Taliban claim to have shot down the plane, which the group says belonged to the CIA. That claim was made public five hours after the crash, according to Afghanistan’s Pajhwok news.

Notes Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London: “No confirmation of fatalities but the loss of a #USAF E-11A aircraft could represent the single largest loss of #US military personnel in #Afghanistan for at least five years.”

A U.S. defense official tells Military Times’ Howard Altman: “We are aware of the reports and are investigating. At this point, we cannot confirm it is a DOD asset.” 

Said a CENTCOM spox to Altman: “U.S. Central Command is aware of the reports of a U.S. aircraft crash in Afghanistan. We are currently monitoring the situation and will provide additional information when possible.” The BBC is following the latest updates in this developing story, here; and the Washington Post is as well, here.

By the way: U.S. aircraft bombed the Taliban more in 2019 than they have in almost 10 years, Military Times reports separately this morning. “According to U.S. Air Forces Central Command, U.S. aircraft dropped 7,423 munitions in 2019 — that’s the highest number of bombs released in nearly a decade.” Tiny bit more, here.

View a map of Taliban control across Afghanistan here, via the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Bill Roggio and Alexandra Gutowski of the Long War Journal.

From Defense One

34 Injured in Iran Attack, Pentagon Now Says; Launches a Review of Reporting Procedures // Katie Bo Williams: SecDef Mark Esper ordered a review of “processes for tracking and reporting injuries” after criticism in the wake of the Iranian missile attack.

Why Does the U.S. Spend So Much on Defense? // Patrick Collins: It is well to remember that the real bill includes not just DOD spending but VA, intelligence, and more. But those who would cut spending must also propose a new strategy.

The Case for Repealing, and Not Replacing, the Iraq War Authorization // Elizabeth Beavers: It should be a top priority for Congress to correct its historic blunder of passing the buck when it comes to war and peace.

America Has Come Full Circle in the Middle East // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: “We are opening a Pandora’s Box,” Dwight Eisenhower warned when he ordered the first U.S. combat mission in the region. Little did he know how right he would be.

State Department Still Has Poor Cybersecurity, Audit Finds // Mariam Baksh, Nextgov: Spending more money didn't fix problems auditors have been reporting for more than a decade, State's IG found.

How the Pentagon’s JAIC Picks Its Artificial Intelligence-Driven Projects // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: The organization is looking for developed technology it can deploy right now.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1939, President FDR announced the sale of U.S. military planes to France.  

On Friday, U.S. Army Spc. Antonio I. Moore, died in Deir ez Zor Province, Syria, “during a rollover accident while conducting route clearing operations,” the U.S. military announced this weekend. 
Moore was 22 years old, born in Wilmington, N.C., and was assigned to 363rd Engineer Battalion, 411th Engineer Brigade, Knightdale, N.C. Moore is survived by his mother, stepfather, three brothers and one sister.
Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all state and U.S. flags to be flown at half-mast today through Sunday, Feb. 2, Charlotte’s WBTV reports. A bit more, here.

Rockets exploded near the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad, the third such attack this month. 
Meanwhile, anti-government protests raged on Iraq’s capital on Sunday. Security forces wounded at least 28 protestors in the morning, and “One protestor was killed and six wounded after security forces fired live rounds in nearby Wathba Square later in the evening,” AP reports.

France is really hoping the U.S. military does not draw down in Africa, Reuters reports today from Paris. That followed news last week that France’s own counterterrorism coalition for Africa is growing — with plans for “the new international Task Force Takuba [to] be fully operational by the autumn,” Defense Post reported Wednesday.
French Defence Minister Florence Parly is in D.C. today for talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
For the record, "The U.S. currently has 6,000 military personnel in Africa," Reuters reports. As for the French, Defense Post reports "Roughly 4,500 French troops are deployed [across the Sahel], and they focus activity in insurgent-hit Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso."

Trump’s former national security adviser says the president withheld U.S. aid to force Ukraine to smear a political rival. That’s what John Bolton wrote in a forthcoming book, the New York Times reported Sunday, citing “multiple people” who have seen the manuscript. Four other takeaways, here.
That echoes the House’s case for impeachment and contradicts what Trump’s lawyers said at his impeachment trial on Saturday. It may also lead Senate GOPers to relent and allow witnesses and new evidence in the trial, Politico reports
Bolton also wrote that he discussed Yovanovitch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who “privately acknowledged to him last spring that [Trump’s private lawyer Rudy] Giuliani’s “claims about Marie L. Yovanovitch, then the American ambassador to Ukraine, had no basis,” the Times reported. “Mr. Pompeo suggested to Mr. Bolton that Mr. Giuliani may have wanted Ms. Yovanovitch out because she might have been targeting his business clients in her anti-corruption efforts. Yet Mr. Pompeo still went through with Mr. Trump’s order to recall Ms. Yovanovitch last May.”
Pompeo blew up at NPR national-security reporter Mary Louise Kelly after she questioned him about Yovanovitch’s recall on Friday. “Kelly said afterward Pompeo berated her using profanity and challenged her to locate Ukraine on an unmarked map, which Kelly said she did,” the Washington Post reported
Pompeo then released an extraordinary statement complaining about Kelly that appears to lie about the reporter’s behavior, what is meant by “off the record,” and even whether she correctly identified Ukraine. Read on, here.

And lastly today, the Space Force seal doesn’t exactly boldly go where no one has gone before. In fact, the logo, unveiled by Trump in a Friday tweet, closely resembles that of Star Trek’s Starfleet. Creative Bloq goes a bit deeper, tracing various precursors to both, here.