We’re also near the end of a three-day nationwide ceasefire, which is just the second time a ceasefire of any kind has happened in Afghanistan’s sordid 21st-century history. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced the ceasefire in a tweet Saturday, saying it was solely for Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim festival marking the end Ramadan.
Which means it’s back to fighting again tomorrow. And that’s why Kabul officials are requesting a ceasefire extension today as they announce the release of 900 prisoners, Reuters reports from the capital.
Reminder: The goal (from that U.S.-brokered deal) is 5,000 released Taliban prisoners, and 1,000 freed Afghan security forces. To date, “the government has released just 1,000 prisoners and the Taliban 105,” an Afghan official told Reuters.
"We welcome the Taliban’s decision to observe a ceasefire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government announcement reciprocating and announcing its own ceasefire," said America's Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in his own Saturday tweet. He then went on to lay out his recommendations for where to go from here, including:
- “the release of remaining prisoners as specified in the US-Taliban agreement by both sides”;
- “no returning to high levels of violence”;
- “and an agreement on a new date for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations. This is a momentous opportunity that should not be missed. The US will do its part to help.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted his support this weekend, too, writing on Sunday: “I welcome the announcements by the Taliban and the Afghan government of a three-day Eid ceasefire. This presents a tremendous opportunity for Afghans to overcome other obstacles and move urgently to intra Afghan negotiations that end the war.”
Now what? Standby, because there’s been no word yet from the Taliban about any extension to the Eid ceasefire. The 900 prisoners could accelerate the group’s interest in those intra-Afghan talks; but it’s still anyone’s guess when those could begin.
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Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1865, the last full general of the Confederate Army — Edmund Kirby Smith — surrendered at Galveston, Texas. He then fled to Cuba to avoid prosecution for treason.
Russia has sent fighter jets to Libya, CENTCOM says. The jets are expected to provide “to provide close air support and offensive fire” to Russia-backed mercenaries fighting for warlord Khalifa Haftar, U.S. Central Command said in a Tuesday release. Haftar’s insurgent forces, which are backed by Russia, UAE, and Egypt, have since last year been advancing from eastern Libya toward Tripoli, seat of Libya’s internationally recognized government. Reuters has more, including a no response from Moscow by press time.
U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, CENTCOM’s commander: "Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor in Libya. Just like I saw them doing in Syria, they are expanding their military footprint in Africa using government-supported mercenary groups like Wagner. For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now. We watched as Russia flew fourth generation jet fighters to Libya — every step of the way."
ICYMI: Learn much more about the Wagner group and other Russian mercenaries in this episode of Defense One Radio.
Brazil’s leader put generals in charge of the coronavirus response back in mid-March. Now the country has “the world’s second-worst outbreak behind the United States, with more than 374,000 confirmed cases” and more than 23,000 deaths from the virus, Reuters reports.
So what went wrong? It’s hard to point the finger anywhere but at President Jair Bolsonaro, whose insistence on “keeping Brazil’s economy running” has led him to fire one health minister and caused another to resign. Which is why the Health Ministry is now being led by another general on an interim basis.
What also hobbled Brasília’s COVID response: “the government’s inability to scale up testing quickly,” coupled with loud protesters from Bolsonaro supporters against stay-at-home considerations and possible orders.
BTW: The U.S. just imposed a 14-day travel ban on Brazil, and anyone trying to enter the U.S. after having come through or from Brazil. "These new restrictions do not apply to the flow of commerce between the United States and Brazil," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Sunday. More from CNN, here. Or continue reading Reuters’ explainer on how Brazil got so bad, here.
AP’s feature story this morning: “Death and denial in Brazil’s Amazon capital”
Trump administration is reportedly considering a new nuclear test, the Washington Post reported Friday.
One response, from former NSC senior director Jon Wolfsthal: The “US has no need to test nuclear weapons. Lab directors have certified we know more about our weapons now than when we used to test them.” Thread, here.
Tensions are rising between China and India’s militaries, as both sides are working to fence off a contested border region in the Himalayas, Reuters reports of “the Galwan Valley in the high-altitude Ladakh region” of India. There, Beijing and New Delhi officials are “accusing each other of trespassing over the disputed border, the trigger of a brief but bloody war in 1962.”
What’s going on: India is building roads and aircraft runways, and China sees those works as cramping its Belt and Road ambitions. One of those new roads connects the Galwan valley to India’s new Daulat Beg Oldi air base, “which was inaugurated last October.” Keep reading, here.
And finally today: You may remember North and South Korea shot at each other over the DMZ on May 3. The UN just concluded an investigation into it, and says very diplomatically today of the incident that “both sides committed Armistice Agreement violations,” AFP reports from Seoul.
For its part, South Korea says the North shot first. North Korea, for its part, didn’t participate in the UN’s investigation; and so the UN can’t determine whether the shots from the North were accidental or intentional.
For the record, “The last time the two sides exchanged fire on the border was in 2014. North Korean soldiers also shot at a defecting soldier in 2017, but the South did not fire back.” More here.