Trump invokes Defense Production Act; US pauses Afghanistan deployments; Troops pull back in Iraq; Contractors await stay-at-home guidance; And a bit more.

U.S. President Donald Trump invoked the wartime Defense Production Act on Wednesday, directing Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to consult with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the heads of other agencies to determine “the proper nationwide priorities and allocation of all health and medical resources, including controlling the distribution of such materials.” Passed during the Korean War, the law gives the president several carrots and sticks to bend American manufacturers toward national priorities.

NPR has a useful explainer, which notes: “The U.S. government is able to make contracts with industry under the law prioritizing the production of goods in scarce supply. It can also provide loan guarantees or lend money directly to targeted industries, and it can shield them from anti-trust actions resulting from firms cooperating and planning with one another. And if those incentives prove insufficient, administration officials can also use what's called an ‘allocation authority’ — namely, telling firms that the government has the right to purchase their products above anyone else.” More, here.

Defense contractors are still awaiting DOD guidance on their ability to send workers home for social distancing. Politico reported on Tuesday that the Defense Department “has delegated decision-making authority to individual contracting officers, according to a March 10 memo obtained by POLITICO. Without an overarching policy, industry officials are worried that contracting officers could be handling issues — such as guidance on working from home or when business will get paid — differently.” Read on, here

ICE: We’re only doing “mission critical” arrests during the pandemic. According to the Washington Post, “U.S. immigration authorities will temporarily halt enforcement across the United States, except for efforts to deport foreign nationals who have committed crimes or who pose a threat to public safety.”

On Friday, TSA relaxed the limits on bringing liquids labeled “hand sanitizer” onto airplanes. Slate noted that pandemic-related policy changes are revealing the arbitrariness of some security rules.

The U.S. Navy’s hospital ships will sail to New York and an unannounced West Coast port to take on non-coronavirus patients to free up shore-based hospital beds for an anticipated surge of COVID-19 cases. 

Closing the other border: U.S. and Canadian leaders agreed on Wednesday to temporarily close their shared border to nonessential travel — trade, but no tourists or families, the Associated Press reports.

U.S. military hospitals ramp up efforts to test for and treat COVID-19, Reuters reports from Fort Belvoir, Va.

Israel's spies are snagging kits from abroad, including “Gulf Arab states that do not formally recognize Israel but which have pursued low-level coordination on regional security challenges such as Iran,” Reuters reports today from Jerusalem. “Israel has 529 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far, 279 of whom have been hospitalized. There have [been] no reported deaths.”

The UK’s military is considering mobilizing 20,000 troops for COVID-19, Deborah Haynes of Sky News reported Wednesday evening. Additionally, “all holiday leave has been cancelled for troops deployed on operations overseas, while training exercises in Canada and Kenya have been postponed,” Haynes writes. 

Here’s the British defense ministry on what its troops could be doing soon to help control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Germany’s defense minister has called up reservists “to help treat patients, resolve transport bottlenecks and provide support to police and local authorities as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus soar.”

Italian soldiers have been tasked with moving corpses “from a northern town [Bergamo] whose cemetery has been overwhelmed by the scale of the coronavirus outbreak,” Reuters reports from Milan.  

Russia is using the pandemic to accelerate its growing surveillance state apparatus, with "facial recognition cameras [that have so far] identified more than 200 people breaking quarantine orders," the New York Times reports off state-run Tass state news agency. "An additional 9,000 cameras are to be set up this year in addition to the 178,000 already operating." 

And back in the States, “gun sales are surging,” the LA Times reports

From Defense One

Why US Troops are Pulling Back All Over Iraq // Katie Bo Williams: American forces have begun consolidating at better-protected bases as a new Iraqi prime minister-designate tries to form a government.

US Air Force Flew Half a Million Coronavirus Test Swabs From Italy to Tennessee // Marcus Weisgerber: Similar missions to distribute COVID-19 test kits are expected in coming days.

Understaffed Veterans Affairs Scrambles to Confront COVID-19 // Aaron Glantz, Reveal: The VA’s patients are disproportionately elderly and many have war-related health conditions that could make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Stop Hiding Vulnerabilities Found By Red Teams, Joint Staff to Tell Military // Mariam Baksh: Eight years after DoD's inspector general found that problems found by red teams often went unfixed, a new instruction seeks to change that.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1945, Adolf Hitler ordered all German infrastructure — industries, military installations, transportation facilities, and communications facilities — destroyed so the Allies couldn’t make use of it. The order was known as the Demolitions on Reich Territory Decree, but later came to be known as the “Nero decree.”

America’s Afghan peace envoy really, really wants Afghanistan to release Taliban prisoners. So he took to Twitter in a seven-tweet thread Wednesday to try and make his case for a coordinated release in these novel coronavirus times. 
Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s recommendations include the following four points: 

  1. “Technical teams from both sides can work together and focus on technical steps to begin prisoner releases as soon as possible. I will participate in the initial meetings.”
  2. “While preferable to meet face-to-face, Coronavirus and the resulting travel restrictions likely requires virtual engagement for now;”
  3. “We call on all sides to avoid provocative media statements;”
  4. “The Taliban commit that released prisoners will abide by the commitments made in the peace agreement and not return to the battlefield. A violation will undermine the peace process­.”

His parting advice to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s administration: “The time has come to move forward on prisoner releases.”
Where President Ghani’s head is at these days: Ensuring there’s enough food for his citizens as they reportedly “rushed to bazaars to stock up on food amid fears of shortages and having to stay at home.”
Said Ghani in a televised address Tuesday: “Our country isn’t facing any type of essential food shortages. Please don’t listen to rumors… For the sake of establishing stability in the market, I’m ordering distribution of 24,000 tons of wheat from government reserves for the vulnerable people of the country.”

The U.S. military has paused its deployments to Afghanistan and it’s isolating new arrivals, the Associated Press’s Lita Baldor reports this morning. “About 1,500 service members, civilians and contractors who have gone to Afghanistan from various countries in the past week are living in screening facilities,” Baldor writes. “So far, 21 U.S. and coalition personnel exhibiting flu-like symptoms are in isolation and receiving medical care.”
Also: American troops already deployed to Afghanistan may be extended “so missions can continue.” Read over the statement announcing this news, from U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller, here.
Otherwise, “NATO’s train-and-advise mission still plans to draw down to around 12,000 personnel from 16,000 over the next 135 days,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said today. One caveat: “this would depend on the Taliban continuing to reduce violence,” Reuters reports.  

And in Iraq, the UK is pulling an unspecified number of its 400 deployed troops since the pace of operations there has slowed considerably, Defense Minister Ben Wallace said today. 
Get to better know Iraq's newest candidate for prime minister, Adnan al-Zurfi, in this Wall Street Journal profile from Ghassan Adnan and Isabel Coles. His selection marks “the second attempt to form a government since Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi resigned at the end of last year amid the biggest groundswell of opposition against the political establishment since the 2003 U.S. invasion.”
The quick read: “Zurfi lived in America during the 1990s after fleeing Iraq when then-President Saddam Hussein crushed an uprising by the country’s Shiite majority. He returned to Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and was installed by American officials as the governor of Najaf… Zurfi now has 30 days to put together a cabinet to be voted on by parliament.” More behind the paywall, here

And finally today: The U.S. Navy just temporarily eased “grooming standards for men’s and women’s hair length,” but only commanders think that it will help “to maintain proper social distancing guidelines and limit Sailor exposure to the coronavirus,” the service announced Wednesday evening. 
What changes, temporarily: “additional hair length and bulk on the sides, top and back of the head.”
What does not change: “existing rules regarding sideburns, hair styles and facial hair shaving requirements.” Read on, here.