Afghanistan’s competing ‘presidents’; COVID-19 accelerates in US; Army tests supergun; North Korea tests missiles; And a bit more.
Afghanistan’s new big problem. Afghan President Ghani and the man he bested in the most recent election, Abdullah Abdullah, both held presidential inauguration ceremonies today. The events were held “just a few minutes and a thin wall apart,” the New York Times reports today from the Afghan capital of Kabul.
What’s more, “As both men were delivering their speeches broadcast on split-screens across the country, a barrage of rockets landed in the capital near the site of the ceremonies,” the Times reports, writing about how the “Sirens blared in the diplomatic area near the presidential palace” on this historic day for Afghanistan. Reuters reports from President Ghani’s ceremony that “there was no word of any casualties [from the rockets] and he continued his speech.”
Worth noting: U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller attended Ghani’s ceremony. U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was also there, along with U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson, and ambassadors from the EU, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Germany and Norway.
Ghani has reportedly offered 40% of his cabinet to Abdullah’s people, but Abdullah appears to want a different sort of power-sharing deal, Tolo News reports today. Get to better know Abdullah in this Reuters explainer.
Which means Khalilzad is still scrambling ahead of possible Tuesday intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban. Reuters writes Khalilzad is spending today on “a last-minute deal between the longtime political foes, but there was no immediate word of a breakthrough."
President Ghani is giving the Taliban until next Sunday to stop their attacks on Afghan security forces, Acting Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid said Sunday in a statement. “Afghan forces will remain in defense mode until the end of this week under the guidance of President Ashraf Ghani because of the peace agreement, but if the Taliban do not stop their attacks by the end of the week, our troops will target the enemy everywhere.” A bit more from Pajhwok, here.
By the way: Afghanistan’s ISIS branch claimed responsibility for last week’s shooting in Kabul that killed 32 people. NPR has more, here.
Afghanistan’s old big problem: NBC News reported Friday that the U.S. says it has “persuasive” intelligence that the Taliban doesn't plan to abide by the peace deal signed on Feb. 29 in Qatar. And President Trump even acknowledged the complications in remarks Friday, NBC reports. "Countries have to take care of themselves," Trump told reporters at the White House. "You can only hold someone's hand for so long." Asked if the Taliban could eventually seize power, Trump said it's "not supposed to happen that way, but it possibly will."
From Defense One
Special Report: Barred from Combat, These Women Rose to the Top of Military Intelligence // Katie Bo Williams: In candid interviews, five senior officers reveal the challenges and opportunities they've faced, from sexism to mentoring today's rising leaders.
Q&A with Senior Women in Military Intelligence // Katie Bo Williams: Excerpts from our interviews with the women who hold five of the U.S. military's top intelligence jobs.
The Army Just Tested Its New Supergun // Patrick Tucker: It's the latest weapon meant to intimidate China and Russia: a giant cannon that can fire shells about three times farther than a standard howitzer.
The Strongest Evidence Yet That America Is Botching Coronavirus Testing // Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic: “I don’t know what went wrong,” a former CDC chief told The Atlantic.
No One Has Tried This Kind of US-Taliban Deal // Madhav Joshi, The Conversation: A study of nearly 200 modern peace accords shows what has worked. The list doesn't include "negotiate withdrawal, then negotiate peace."
We Can Still Avoid the Worst-Case Coronavirus Scenario // Lawrence Gostin, The Atlantic: The spread of COVID-19 may be inevitable, but the choices we make now will determine how bad the outbreak will get.
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.
COVID-19 spread accelerates in U.S. Each of the past six days has seen more new cases than the one before, the New York Times writes.
U.S. Army stops movement in Italy, South Korea: The U.S. Army has ordered troops and their families in those countries — or with orders to deploy there — to stay put for at least 60 days, Stripes reported Sunday.
Read: USFK statement. Watch: U.S. Army Garrison Italy’s video message.
WH continues to send mixed messages, some right, some wrong. NYT took stock on Saturday, here.
Health officials, overruled: “The White House overruled health officials who wanted to recommend that elderly and physically fragile Americans be advised not to fly on commercial airlines because of the new coronavirus, a federal official told The Associated Press.” Read, here.
POTUS’ concern with “the numbers.” Asked whether Americans should be allowed off a cruise ship quarantined off California, Donald Trump said, “I would rather” have them stay on the ship “because I like the numbers being where they are...I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn't our fault.” (Washington Post)
Defense-industry case: An employee at Lockheed Martin’s 2,000-person Sunnyvale plant has tested positive for the virus, KRON reported late last week.
Gaming out a pandemic. Last year, CSIS assembled 20 public-health and other experts to “wargame” a scenario much like the current outbreak. On Saturday, two organizers summed up the lessons in Politico: “What we found, overall, was that the world has changed in ways that make it far harder to contain disease—and some of the mistakes that fuel its spread have already happened in the current real-world outbreak.” Read more, here.
Private foundation prepares to offer test kits. The Gates Foundation, perhaps best known for its efforts to fight malaria in developing nations, plans within a few weeks to start distributing home-testing kits to U.S. citizens in Washington state. (Seattle Times)
North Korea fired three more projectiles into the East Sea on Sunday before greenlighting the departure of more than 200 foreign diplomats following a monthlong quarantine of Pyongyang, AP reports today from Seoul.
About the launches: “The projectiles had a maximum flight distance of 200 kilometers (124 miles) and maximum altitude of 50 kilometers (31 miles),” CNN reports, citing data from the South Korean military. “A US official told CNN that North Korea had fired four unidentified projectiles.” If it was indeed four, Ankit Panda suspects North Korea may have just achieved at last “a full-out spent KN25 TEL” in the test. He lays out why, here.
For what it’s worth, “South Korea's Defense Ministry said it detected different types of short-range projectiles fired,” according to CNN.
What may be going on: “The coronavirus is likely exceeding North Korea’s public health capacity, so Kim Jong Un is playing a two-level game,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University, to AP. “At the domestic level, his regime claims to protect the people with drastic quarantine measures and military exercises against external threats. Pyongyang may be seeking international assistance, but remains obsessed with not appearing in an inferior position to Seoul.”
More U.S. troops will be added to the 5,000 troops already at the southern border, the Trump administration announced Friday, saying the additions were needed in case its "Remain in Mexico" policy for asylum seekers is struck down. (AP)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman detained the king’s brother in New York late last week. Why? “for allegedly plotting a coup,” according to Agence France-Presse. The Wall Street Journal reported the detentions happened to clear “away once-formidable rivals to the throne.” And the NYTs described it as “the latest demonstration of the crown prince’s willingness to take extraordinary measures to quash any perceived rival.”
Snatched up: Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a brother of Saudi King Salman — and two days after “a trip abroad for falconry”; Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the king’s nephew known as MBN, was also detained along with his little brother, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef. “The detentions occurred early Friday morning,” the Journal writes, “when guards from the royal court wearing masks and dressed in black arrived at the homes of the two men, took them into custody and searched their homes.”
Where are they now? “being held in private villas and have been allowed to call their families,” the Washington Post reported Sunday evening, with this slightly notable detail: “Ahmed asked relatives to send him his ‘bisht,’ a robe worn for official engagements, prompting the person to speculate that he might soon make a public appearance, perhaps under duress.”
Related: King Salman is not dead. He “made a public appearance on state media yesterday,” the Times of London reports today, quashing rumours he had died and giving implicit backing to his all-powerful son’s latest purge of his rivals.”
Bigger picture: “The detentions come at a time when fears about the impact of the coronavirus have slashed the price of oil, the main source of the kingdom’s revenue,” the NYTs writes, “and the crown prince’s celebrated plans to diversify the Saudi economy have fallen behind his promises.” More at WaPo, here.
One last thing: Heading to the Kingdom soon? “Saudi Arabia said on Monday it will impose a fine of up to 500,000 riyals ($133,000) on people who do not disclose their health-related information and travel details at entry points,” Reuters reports in yet another angle on fears over the spread of the coronavirus.
And lastly: Today in Washington the House takes up the Senate’s bill (PDF) to curb the president’s ability to declare war on Iran war. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet this evening at 5 p.m. ET to prepare the way for House action to follow.
And already this morning, the Defense Department’s F-35 Integration Office Director, Air Force Brig. Gen. David Abba spoke before the Air Force Association in Arlington, Va.
Otherwise, it’s a relatively quiet day for the DoD this budget and posture hearing season. But that all changes Tuesday with about 10 different appearances scheduled, including CENTCOM and AFRICOM commanders as well as Army leadership all testifying before House lawmakers.
Also today: Reps. Rob Wittman, R-Va., and Joe Courtney, D-Conn., will talk about the defense budget at the Hudson Institute at 11:30 a.m. Catch the livestream only — no attending out of Covid-19 fears — here.