Dozens dead in Kabul attack; Uneasy ceasefire in Syria; DOD’s AI ventures; COVID-19 passes 100K cases; And a bit more.
More than two dozen people were killed in western Kabul today during an attack on a predominantly Shiite gathering in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood. Police eventually shot dead the two gunmen, but not before they killed at least 29 people and wounded nearly 60 others, AP reports from the capital.
The Taliban say they’re not responsible for the violence, which Reuters calls “the first major attack” in Kabul since last Saturday’s U.S.-Taliban deal. That would seem to leave "Afghanistan’s upstart Islamic State affiliate," AP writes, which "has declared war on the country’s minority Shiites."
Hear the heavy, rapid sounds of gunfire as the crowd puts together what’s happening in the initial moments of the attack, which was caught on camera and posted to Twitter by Afghanistan’s Tolo News, here. (Seen in that video: Karim Khalili, the chief of Afghanistan’s high peace council. Fortunately "He was not hurt," AP reports, and he "later went on TV to denounce the violence.")
As for the U.S. military’s future plans in the country? They involve WhatsApp. But that’s just one small detail in a bigger story from Thursday about how America's Special Operations forces will serve as a sort of “security backbone” before and during the U.S. withdrawal, the Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe reported from Kabul.
“U.S. officials did not reveal how many people the network includes, but the senior military official said it is built to function with a few thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan or fewer.” And that’s key because under the deal struck last Saturday with the Taliban, the U.S. will reduce its Afghanistan-deployed numbers from about 12,000 to 8,600 over 135 days.
The network's designer is U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, who "incorporated lessons learned in Syria, where he oversaw forces fighting the Islamic State, and other operations involving JSOC," Lamothe writes. "The force includes 'regional targeting teams' primarily comprising Special Operations troops in locations where the United States plans to maintain a presence. At the center of the network is the Combined Situational Awareness Room, or CSAR, on a base in Kabul." Read the rest, including the WhatsApp link, here.
From Defense One
US, UK Agree to ‘Further’ Restrict Huawei, Defense Secretary Says // Patrick Tucker: But it’s not clear whether any actual changes emerged from Thursday’s meeting between the top U.S. and British defense leaders.
The Pentagon’s AI Shop Takes A Venture Capital Approach to Funding Tech // Patrick Tucker: The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center will take a Series A, B, approach to building tech for customers, with product managers and mission teams.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: New hypersonics player; Wanted: anti-missile interceptor; 5G fighting; and more.
Russian and Chinese Satellites Are Helping US Pilots Spy on Russia and China // Marcus Weisgerber: U-2 pilots are wearing watches that connect to foreign satellites, giving them backup navigation when GPS is jammed.
Don’t Let On-Site Inspections Go Extinct // Roland Lajoie and Greg Govan: In-person visits to foreign military bases and weapons facilities improve national security in more ways than meet the eye.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1836 and following a 13-day siege, nearly 1,800 Mexican troops stormed the Alamo in an assault that would lead to the deaths of almost everyone inside.
COVID-19 cases pass 100,000 worldwide. According to the AP, “The virus, which has killed nearly 3,400 people, edged into more and more U.S. states, popped up in at least four new countries and even breached the halls of the Vatican. It forced mosques in Iran and beyond to halt weekly Muslim prayers. It brought Israeli and Palestinian authorities together to block pilgrims from Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem. And it upended Japan’s plans for the Olympic torch parade.” More, here.
President Trump signs $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus spending package. “The bill provides $7.76 billion to federal, state and local agencies to combat the coronavirus and authorizes an additional $500 million in waivers for Medicare telehealth restrictions,” The Hill reports.
POTUS cancels visit to CDC HQ: “President Donald Trump's visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has been called off because of concerns that a staff member may have been infected by the coronavirus.” (ABC News)
Coast Guard helicopters deliver test kits to a cruise ship held off the coast of California. Back on land, “public health officials on land were investigating a cluster of coronavirus cases among the roughly 2,500 people who had taken an earlier cruise on the same ship.” (Washington Post)
The right questions to be asking about COVID-19. ProPublic reporter Caroline Chen, who grew up in Hong Kong and survived the SARS epidemic, has a good explainer about many of the numbers being thrown about — and how to understand what they do and don’t mean.
For example: Even as VP Pence doubles down on vows to deliver a million tests by week’s end, the more important question is “how many people can be tested?” A single kit might nominally test 1,000 “specimens,” but in practice, that equates to testing perhaps 350 people. Read on, here.
We should expect China to try to attribute more alleged cyber attacks to the U.S., Zak Dorfman warned in Forbes this week. That’s because Chinese security company Qihoo 360 recently "published claims [here] that it has exposed an eleven-year campaign by 'CIA hacking group (APT-C-39),' which, it says, targeted a range of Chinese industries, including aviation, oil and gas and tech, as well as several government agencies."
According to Dorfman, the report is “heavy on speculation and inferences from already public data, and lacking in detailed attribution. What’s more interesting is that the company has elected to do this now in the public domain.” And that’s why he suggests “We can now likely expect further Chinese exposure of alleged U.S. exploits, the potential for individuals to be identified, and a further shift of this cyber tit-for-tat into the public domain.” Read on, here.
Russia, Turkey agree ceasefire deal for Syria's Idlib. But just hours after the ceasefire went into effect at midnight local time on Thursday, Turkish drone strikes reportedly killed 21 Syrian troops “in retaliation for a Syrian attack that killed a Turkish soldier,” UPI reported Friday.
Still, relative calm seems to be prevailing. Northwestern Syrian “skies were completely free of Russian and Syrian government warplanes for the first time in weeks Friday,” AP reported. “The truce halted a terrifying campaign of bombing from above that killed hundreds and sent a million people fleeing toward the Turkish border during the Russian-backed assault by Syrian government forces on the country’s last rebel stronghold.”
But: The deal essentially freezes the Syrian and Turkish front lines, which means that the hundreds of thousands of people displaced during a three-month Syrian offensive have no immediate prospect of returning home.
And: “The deal also lacked specifics or a known mechanism to enforce the truce. It is the latest of many cease-fire agreements for Idlib over the past few years. All have ended up unraveling after a few months.” Read on, here.
Remember the orb that President Trump and Saudi King Salman touched for a photo op during Trump’s stopover in Riyadh back in 2017? The Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum has a sort of “where is it now?” report, with this charming detail: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi "was never meant to be in the shot, U.S. officials say, but he kept close to Mr. Trump and King Salman as they walked into the center, and joined them in the photo. Mr. Sisi’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment." More about the orb behind the paywall (of course), here.
Back stateside, the Trump administration aims to take DNA from migrants crossing the border or held in detention. DHS officials say the sequenced DNA would be placed in a national criminal database, which the New York Times calls “an immense expansion of the use of technology to enforce the nation’s immigration.” Read on, here.
And finally this week: Are all those blacked-out lines in the Mueller report necessary? U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton wants the Department of Justice to give him an unredacted copy of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on President Trump’s connections to Russian interference in the 2016 election so he can better answer the question. “The ruling was in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Buzzfeed and the watchdog group 'EPIC' seeking a full unredacted version of the Mueller report,” ABC News reported Thursday.
Why Walton wants to review the full report, in his own words: "The inconsistencies between Attorney General Barr's statements, made at a time when the public did not have access to the redacted version of the Mueller Report to assess the veracity of his statements, and portions of the redacted version of the Mueller Report that conflict with those statements cause the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary."
In context: “It is highly unusual for a federal judge to publicly question the honesty of the attorney general,” the Washington Post reports, “but Walton’s opinion comes amid growing rancor between the judicial branch of the government and the executive and legislative branches.”
"Attorney General Barr has repeatedly rejected accusations that he misled the public in his initial characterization of Mueller's findings," ABC writes. Still, "Walton said that after reviewing the report himself he will decide whether he agrees with DOJ that the redactions were proper." Read Walton’s ruling for yourself, here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!