Taliban return to war; Super Tuesday warning; Busy day on the Hill; Ratcliffe re-tapped for DNI; And a bit more.

The Taliban have returned to war in Afghanistan, but with orders not to attack U.S. forces. The group’s various fighters are believed to have carried out 33 different attacks across 16 provinces over the past 24 hours, the Afghan Ministry of Interior says today, according to Reuters. So far, the recent surge in violence has reportedly killed six people and wounded 14 others, according to the New York TimesMujib Mashal in Kabul. Reuters reports five Afghan police died in a single attack in Logar province; it’s unclear if the five police were included in the MoI’s numbers. 

Today’s spike is “a multi-fold increase from the 7-day ‘reduction of violence,’ where attacks had come down to under a dozen/day,” Mashal wrote on Twitter, adding, “it’s on [the] U.S. now — to explain how much vulnerability of their Afghan allies they will take.”

Afghan President Ghani now says he might have some demands for the Taliban, since the Taliban are demanding Ghani release some 5,000 of the group’s prisoners. Afghanistan’s Tolo News reports today that the president visited eastern Nangarhar province to tell residents “There are two sides” to negotiating some sort of way forward with the Taliban. And that “they have conditions and we have conditions.” For example, he asked, “When are the Taliban going to leave Pakistan?”

Three days removed from the U.S.-Taliban deal, Ghani asked the Taliban rhetorically from Nangarhar: “You have made peace with the foreigners so what does your jihad mean now? Killing Afghans is a crime.” 

SecDef Esper: The U.S. military withdrawal will begin in 10 days, and the Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley expects the Taliban to conduct at least some attacks all the while, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported Monday.   

“This is going to be a long, windy, bumpy road,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. “What we’ll do is, is we’re going to go to 8,600 and we’re going to stop and we’ll assess the situation, not just tactically on the ground but also are all the parties living up to their obligations and commitments.”

Esper also emphasized that U.S. commitments under the deal were “conditions-based” and that a U.S. withdrawal could be “paused” at any moment. “But we are going to show good faith and begin to withdraw our troops,” he said. 

There will be violence, Milley warns.“I would caution everybody to think that there’s going to be an absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan — that is probably not going to happen. It’s probably not going to go to zero.” Still, he said, the agreement signed Saturday is “a significant step forward.”

“There will be ups and downs,” Esper predicted. “We’ll stop and start. That’s going to be the nature of this, over the next days, weeks, and months.” More, here

AP’s headline today:US peace deal leaves Afghans to determine post-war landscape.”

From Defense One

The President Is Winning His War on American Institutions // George Packer, The Atlantic: How Trump is destroying the civil service and bending the government to his will.

US' Afghanistan Drawdown Will Continue Amid Taliban Violence, Pentagon Says  // Katie Bo Williams: “I would caution everybody to think that there’s going to be an absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan — that is probably not going to happen,” Milley said.

Judge: Acting Immigration Services Director Was Unlawfully Appointed // Courtney Bublé, Government Executive: Ken Cuccinelli — also acting DHS secretary — was named acting head of USCIS without having first served in a subordinate position.

Epidemics Reveal the Truth of the Societies They Hit // Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic: A nation’s response to disaster speaks to its strengths—and to its dysfunctions.

Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1938, a U.S. company that would eventually become Chevron became the first to discover oil in Saudi Arabia.  

It’s a very busy day on Capitol Hill as uniformed and civilian military officials are testifying about (in order) the Air Force, the Army, the Space Force, America’s nuclear forces, the arctic, cyber operations (behind closed doors), and U.S. National Guard and Reserve forces. 
The U.S. Air Force has four main goals, according to leaders’ opening remarks (full PDF here): 

  1. “Connect the Joint Force so we can more seamlessly integrate as a Joint team”;
  2. “Dominate Space through support of our sister service, the United States Space Force”;
  3. “Generate Combat Power to blunt any attack against the U.S. or our allies,” and
  4. “Conduct Logistics Under Attack to sustain high-tempo operations as long as needed.”

BTW: The USAF is calling 2020 “the Year of Integrated Base Defense,” which means the service will focus “on training and equipping our Airmen to defend bases as our primary power projection platforms as we guard our nation’s critical installations and infrastructure.”
And the Air Force will put "more 5th-generation aircraft in Alaska [Eielson AFB] than anywhere else in the world." Read the rest of SecAF Barbara Barrett and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein's opening remarks, here.
As for Big Army, the service has “has over 190K Soldiers deployed in 140 countries around the world,” Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville says in his relatively short opening remarks (PDF) before the House Armed Services Committee. Not a lot else in that opener which wasn’t already covered in our very recent State of the Army 2020 coverage. Find Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy’s opening statement for today’s posture hearing (also PDF), here

U.S. security agencies join in unusual Super Tuesday election warning. The heads of the State, Justice, Defense, Homeland Security, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, FBI, NSA, and CISA want Americans to know that “foreign actors continue to try to influence public sentiment and shape voter perceptions. They spread false information and propaganda about political processes and candidates on social media in hopes to cause confusion and create doubt in our system.” 
What to do? “We encourage all voters going to the polls to check your voter registration and know ahead of time when to vote, where to vote, what’s on your ballot, and whether your state requires identification.” Read the statement, here.
The check-your-status advice might be arriving too late for the millions of U.S. citizens removed from voter rolls in recent years (e.g., Ohio, Wisconsin, Georgia), mostly at the behest of GOP politicians and conservative activists.
Check your voting-registration status at Vote.org, here.

America’s ambassador to the UN made an extremely rare visit to rebel-held NW Syria to promote $108 million in U.S. humanitarian aid for groups like the White Helmets. The Washington Post’s Liz Sly noticed the visit from Amb. Kelly Craft’s Twitter feed. Also present: U.S. Envoy to Syria Amb. James Jeffrey; U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield; and UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock.
Another thing: Turkey reportedly shot down a Syrian jet (the third in three days), Syria-watcher Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute noted this morning on Twitter.
The U.S. is willing to sell Turkey ammo as it fights Russia-backed Syrian troops, Amb. Jeffrey said today (Reuters) in Turkey. “We will make sure that the equipment is ready. As a NATO partner we share information intelligence,” he said, adding, “and we are going to ensure that they have what they need there.”
Turkey and Russia’s presidents are supposed to chat about all this on Thursday, Reuters writes in a separate report this morning on the situation from Idlib.
Related reading:The new migration crisis at Europe’s borders,” via AP. 

Coronavirus latest: Discovery of new cases accelerates in the U.S., and slows in China. That is, the total number of COVID-19 cases in the United States passed 100 for the first time on Monday.
Related: If the federal government puts you in quarantine, who pays the hospital? The New York Times reports one family that accepted the U.S. offer to be flown home from China is now facing several thousand dollars in hospital bills. 

And lastly today: A federal judge ruled on Sunday that the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “was unlawfully named to the position and, thus, some of his policies are void,” Govexec reports.
The ruling: Ken Cuccinelli, who now holds the dual titles of deputy secretary for DHS and “senior official performing the duties of the director” of USCIS, “cannot be the interim leader of the immigration services agency because he did not serve in a subordinate role there first, as required by the 1998 Federal Vacancies Reform Act,” Govexec writes.
Cuccinelli laughs it off. Asked about the ruling on Fox & Friends on Monday morning, the Trump appointee laughed and said he had no intention of complying with the order. MSN, here.
Other appointee news:  

  • The White House has withdrawn the nomination of Elaine McCusker to be Pentagon comptroller. Defense News: “In early February, the New York Post reported that McCusker’s nomination was doomed, based on concerns she raised about suspending defense funding to Ukraine in 2019; that delay became the seed of the impeachment case against President Donald Trump. A nomination process would require her to testify in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which could open her up to on-record questions about those concerns.”
  • Trump has renominated John Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence. Ratcliffe’s previous nomination to oversee the sprawling U.S. intelligence community was withdrawn after GOP senators complained that the Trump loyalist had virtually no relevant experience, and had exaggerated his slim counterterrorism work.
  • The nomination of Ken Braithwaite to be Navy Secretary has gone to the Hill, three months after Trump said it would.