Three of 11 carriers have COVID; Coronavirus ceasefire in Yemen; Iraq names a new PM, again; Pentagon shifts budget deadlines; And a bit more.
UPDATE: The coronavirus is aboard 3 of the U.S. Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers. “A small number” of sailors aboard the USS Nimitz have tested positive, as have a dozen-plus on Ronald Reagan, and, as of this morning, 416 on Theodore Roosevelt. But a Tuesday report of a case aboard USS Nimitz appears now to have been a false positive, Politico's Dave Brown tweeted just after D Brief went to press: "The Navy now says that the one positive case is now inconclusive, and the other sailor who has not been aboard the ship has recovered. No positive cases aboard Nimitz."
One Theodore Roosevelt sailor is in the ICU. The sailor was found unresponsive in their room on Guam, and brought to Naval Hospital Guam, a Navy statement said. The sailor first tested positive for COVID-19 on March 30, when there were roughly a dozen known cases aboard the aircraft carrier.
There are 416 as of Thursday morning, and 97 percent of the almost 4,900-person crew has been tested, NBC News reports.
- Find a timeline of the Roosevelt outbreak, here.
Costly flight. Former Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly’s decision to fly to Guam to address Roosevelt sailors cost the taxpayers at least $243,000, according to a Navy estimate. That’s 35 flight hours at almost $7,000 apiece aboard a Navy C-37B, a military version of the Gulfstream 550 bizjet. Modly resigned amid the outcry that followed his speech, and he’s now in 14-day quarantine because of his potential exposure to COVID aboard the carrier, USA Today reports.
ICYMI, Navy leaders have axed Modly’s attempt to name the Navy’s new class of guided-missile frigates and the second Columbia-class nuclear ballistic-missile submarine, USNI News reports. In an announcement drafted in recent days but not released, Modly called for naming the first FFG(X) frigate – and hence the class — USS Agility (FFG-80). “It is my desire that future ships of the Agility (FFG-80) Class will also be named after those many other unique human qualities that help define what it means to be an American sailor and Marine,” Modly wrote.
So what should the Navy name the FFG(X) class? HASC member Rep. Mike Gallagher is looking for suggestions. One of your D Briefers humbly suggests “Roberts,” after Coxswain Samuel B. Roberts, who won the Navy Cross evacuating Marines from Guadalcanal, and three Navy warships that bore the name; DE 413, which helped drive off on Japanese ships ten times its size; DD 823, which participated in the Vietnam War and the Cuban missile blockade; and FFG 58, whose crew saved their ship after it was nearly sunk by an Iranian mine. Read a fuller argument, here.
Hospital ships update:
- USNS Comfort wasn’t intended to take COVID cases, but now will allocate up to half of its 1,000 beds for them. (New York Times)
- A USNS Mercy crew member has tested positive. (ABC News)
In focus: A patient was transported onto the hospital ship USNS Mercy, in Los Angeles, and U.S. Navy PO2 Ryan Breeden captured the moment in a superb photograph, here.
Around the U.S., “Some 94% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the respiratory virus, which had infected about 430,000 people in the United States and killed more than 14,700 as of Wednesday night,” Reuters reports.
For the after-action report: an intelligence report warned of coronavirus crisis as early as November. ABC News has the story, here.
Coming up: a second White House coronavirus task force. This one will focus on how and when to reopen the economy. ABC News has more, here.
And some local officials across the country “are disappointed the federal government will end funding for coronavirus testing sites this Friday,” NPR reported Wednesday. It’s especially frustrating for some because “in a few places those sites will close as a result.”
For some positive developments:
- An anonymous donor bought food for senior citizens in Atlanta.
- And this: "At the Mount Sinai hospital in South Nassau, Long Island, every time a COVID-19 patient recovers enough to leave, they play “Here Comes the Sun” over the PA system. Across all Mount Sinai hospitals, more than 1,100 patients have been discharged so far."
From Defense One
Pentagon Delays Budget Deadline to Help Staff Work from Home // Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams: Service officials had complained that a June 1 deadline was preventing them from implementing coronavirus-related social-distancing guidelines.
US Military Can Do More to Help with Coronavirus, House Armed Services Chief Says // Marcus Weisgerber: The House Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat says the Pentagon needs to “get creative” in its response.
Putin Takes Another Step in Bid to Control Russia’s Internet // Samuel Bendett and Justin Sherman: One center of resistance to the Kremlin’s attempt to bring the country’s internet access under central control is being brought to heel.
Where is Trump’s Missing War Powers Report? // Scott R. Anderson: The administration is ignoring its legal requirement to explain how it would use military force, and undermining Congress in the process.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1918, the German army crushed the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps in the Battle of the Lys in northeastern France. The battle was part of Germany’s so-called “spring offensive,” which was intended to cut the Allies to pieces before the U.S. could send its eventual four-million-man Army to France.
Correction: Yesterday’s D Brief misstated the sender of an April 7 letter to Acting Director of Intelligence Richard Grenell. It was sent by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House intelligence committee, and not Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.
Iraq just named its third prime minister in 10 weeks, and it’s intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Reuters reports Iraqi President Barham Salih gave the nod to al-Kadhimi after the last guy, Adnan al-Zurfi, “withdrew his candidacy [today] after failing to secure enough support to pass a government.”
What do we know about al-Kadhimi? According to Iraq-watcher Michael Knights, al-Kadhimi was “Born in 1967 in Baghdad, [and] studied law before being exiled in the UK/US. In 2003-2010, he managed Kanan Makiya’s Iraq Memory Foundation, which documented Baathist crimes. Kadhimi is a writer and intellectual, first known to many people as the columnist and editor of Iraq Pulse, at Al-Monitor.” He’s written at least four books.
Kadhimi was appointed to the intelligence post in 2016 by then-Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. His selection, Knights writes, “was a sign that Iraq sought a broad set of international partnerships, and his nomination as PM is doubling down on this message. Iraq knows it needs help.”
As far as what this means for tensions with Iran, Knights warns that “In March Kataib Hezbollah said Kadhimi's nomination would burn whatever remained of Iraq's stability, linking him to the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. If he is ratified between here and the May 9 deadline, he will have overcome the hardest veto imaginable.” More here.
Afghanistan is releasing Taliban prisoners and the Taliban now call it “unacceptable,” Agence France-Presse reports this morning. The Afghan government in Kabul said it "will release 100 Taliban prisoners today based on their health condition, age and length of remaining sentence as part of our efforts for peace and containment of COVID-19," according to a tweet by Javid Faisal, spokesman for the Office of the National Security Council. Recall that 100 were released Wednesday as well.
"Our stance has been very clear on prisoners swap," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP. The group seems to be trying to get all 5,000 of its prisoners released at once, as it sees the terms of the Feb. 29 deal with the U.S. "Now," Mujahid said, "hundreds hundreds prisoners are released on a daily basis. This is not part of our process and it is unacceptable to us."
If you're Kabul, why keep releasing prisoners? "We need to push the peace process forward," Faisal said. More here.
Also in Afghanistan, Bagram Air Base took five mortar rounds before sunrise today, Stars and Stripes reports. Fortunately no one was injured. “The Taliban quickly denied any involvement in the attack. Hours later, Islamic State–Khorasan claimed responsibility.”
FWIW: There were four similar attacks on Bagram in March, and ISIS-K claimed one of those on March 21. The Taliban denied involvement in all of them, a claim Afghan officials find doubtful. Tiny bit more, here.
Coronavirus ceasefire in Yemen. “The Saudi-led coalition began a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen's long war Thursday, saying it hoped the initiative to prevent coronavirus in the impoverished country would lead to a wider political solution,” AFP reports today from Riyadh.
Two weeks. That’s how long it’s set to last — at least for now, Reuters reports from Yemen. It’s unclear so far if the Houthis will join in the ceasefire, but it’s doubtful since one Houthi official said the Saudis "are dishonest and violate every truce they announce," according to AFP.
The Houthis, meanwhile, have renewed their call for “a withdrawal of foreign troops and the end of the coalition's blockade on Yemen's land, sea and air ports. They also demanded that the coalition pay government salaries for the next decade, and hand over compensation for the rebuilding of the country including homes destroyed in airstrikes.”
And about the coronavirus, AFP reports "Yemen's broken healthcare system has so far recorded no cases of the COVID-19 illness, but aid groups have warned that when it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic." More here.
Back in the states, Google has banned Zoom for its employees, following in the footsteps of SpaceX and Germany’s foreign ministry who ditched Zoom over privacy concerns. Buzzfeed News has more, here.
In a new first, the U.S. is expected to label a white supremacist group a terrorist organization on Monday, the New York Times reported Monday. The group is known as the Russian Imperial Movement, and it’s not considered to be sponsored by Russia, even though it reportedly runs “two facilities in St. Petersburg that offered paramilitary training to neo-Nazis and white supremacists.” Three of its leaders — Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov — are also expected to be labeled “as individual terrorists who will face similar sanctions” as the wider group under the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, according to the Times.
Related: "Federal agencies are concerned that domestic extremists could use the coronavirus pandemic to attack Asians and Jews." Yahoo News has that, here.
And finally today: Here’s a helpful explainer on “how the six services are implementing military face mask guidance,” from Stars and Stripes’ human beard Chad Garland.
Reminder: Almost exactly 102 years ago, the U.S. military began fighting a nasty pandemic that would eventually incapacitate one-quarter of the entire Army. Our next episode of Defense One Radio is all about the U.S. military and the 1918 influenza. Subscribe, stay tuned, and we’ll see you tomorrow…