US COVID deaths near 100,000; 3rd servicemember dies; Afghan drawdown accelerates; USAF colonel heads to space; And a bit more.

Nearly 100,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University, which at press time put the precise and dismal number at 98,933 brothers, sisters, parents, churchgoers, neighbors, and friends of friends

“One hundred thousand lives wiped out by a disease unknown to science a half a year ago,” is how the Associated Press describes the truly incomprehensible metric. And on Tuesday, an Army Reservist from Wisconsin joined the list. (His or her name and rank have been withheld pending family notification.)

The unnamed soldier is just the third service member to die from complications related to the coronavirus, which has infected 6,118 members of the military — 3,460 of whom have recovered, according to Pentagon numbers. “Navy Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., a sailor assigned to the virus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt, died in a naval hospital in Guam in April,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday of the other two deceased service members, which includes “Douglas Hickok, a captain in the New Jersey Army National Guard, [who] died in a civilian hospital in March before his unit was mobilized to assist with the pandemic response.”

Why just three deaths among 2.2 million service members? It’s unclear exactly, but the Post’s Alex Horton writes it “could be related to age and health,” as “Epidemiologists have suggested those factors may have contributed to a high percentage of asymptomatic transmission aboard the Theodore Roosevelt.”

Across the entire Defense Department, there have been 35 deaths linked to the virus so far — including the three troops — with 18 civilian employees, nine contractors, and five military dependents who have all passed.

Update: The Defense Department is easing its global travel restrictions, shifting to conditions-based guidelines designed to allow domestic and overseas travel to and from locations that have seen a drop in COVID-19 cases, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported Tuesday. Defense officials outlined similar rules for reopening the Pentagon, which for months has operated at roughly 20 percent of its normal capacity. More to all that, here..

Around the world, more than 350,000 people have died from COVID complications so far. And a surge of new cases in South America has helped definitively shift the epicenter of the virus to this part of the world, the Wall Street Journal reports this morning.

South Korea might have to reimpose social distancing since it just notched its largest single-day increase of cases in nearly 50 days. And Britain is sending out 25,000 workers tasked with contact tracing. More from AP, here

Travel bans just delay the inevitable spread of the virus, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a report released Tuesday evening, according to Reuters. And “As for screening temperatures on arrival, it said, travellers may already be infectious but without a fever.” 

Think world leaders have been going a little easy on the protective gear? AP rolled up some of the more notable instances of “Hypocrisy gone viral? Officials set bad COVID-19 examples,” here.

“Export bans on future coronavirus vaccines” could lie ahead, the Journal reports separately today as pharmaceutical companies brace for “a high-stakes geopolitical scramble to secure supplies for a scientific breakthrough.”

Stating the obvious, WSJ writes: “A coronavirus vaccine would be a monumental prize for the first country able to manufacture it at scale, a civilizational triumph comparable to the moon landing,” and “would allow the winner to revive its economy months ahead of others and then select which allies get shipments next, centering the global recovery on its medical output.”

The big problem: “there is no precedent for such a swift and global immunization, and fundamental supplies run short, from medical glass to ultracold freezers.”

And for the record, “More than 100 different vaccines are in development, with at least 10 currently being tested on humans. Five of those are in China.” More behind the paywall, here.


From Defense One

Pentagon Sets New Rules for ‘Return to Normal Operations’ Worldwide // Katie Bo Williams: ‘We’ve got a ways to go,’ says official in charge of re-opening, but local commanders given authority to decide.

If Given OK, US Could Conduct a Nuclear Test in a Matter of Months, Pentagon Official Says // Marcus Weisgerber: This comes as senior national security officials are reportedly discussing whether to conduct a test.

How the Pandemic Is Helping The Military Prep For World War III // Patrick Tucker: A local coronavirus response functioned as a crucial test of a new data network concept intended to deter Russia and China.

The Coronavirus Is Boosting Terror Threats in the Developing World // Nisha Bellinger and Kyle Kattelman, The Conversation: The pandemic exacerbates worsen existing food crises, undermining stability.

How Should Biden Handle China? // Thomas Wright, The Atlantic: Look to Europe for lessons.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks agreements in Moscow, which capped ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles to current levels, making SALT-1 the widest-ranging arms control deal in history up to that time. 


The U.S. military is “ahead of schedule” pulling out of Afghanistan, with its troop strength “down to nearly 8,600” and could reach that precise target by June, Reuters reports today, citing U.S. and NATO officials. 
And in terms of “the boss,” it’s not a moment too soon since President Trump took to Twitter this morning to say, "We are acting as a police force, not the fighting force that we are, in Afghanistan. After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own Country. Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!”
On the significance of of 8,600, Reuters reminds us “A key provision of the Feb. 29 agreement between the Taliban and the United States, to which the Afghan government was not a party, involved a U.S. commitment to reduce its military footprint in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July and, conditions permitting, to zero by May 2021.”
The U.S. exit increasingly puts NATO in a bit of bind, officials said, with one of them telling Reuters, “All allies have to maintain a fine balance on troop withdrawal as we cannot forget the fact that the war in Afghanistan is far from over.” Read on, here. Or read the NYT’s coverage of the issue from Tuesday, here.
And don’t miss this big picture take from the NYT’s Mujib Mashal entitled, “How the Taliban Outlasted a Superpower: Tenacity and Carnage.”

In U.S. weapons news, the Navy recently shot down a drone in its first sea-based test of a solid-state laser. The prototype laser was mounted aboard the amphibious transport dock Portland, which conducted the test on May 16, the Navy said in a Friday press release.Watch the video, via Military Times, here.

The DoD’s deputy inspector general just resigned. Glenn Fine will leave on June 1, “several weeks after he was effectively removed as head of a special board to oversee auditing of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic relief package,” reports AP’s Bob Burns. “His departure, effective June 1, is the latest move in a broader shakeup of government watchdog agencies that Democrats call a politically motivated campaign by President Donald Trump to weaken government oversight.” A bit more, here.

President Trump threatened to shut down social media companies today after one of them cited him for sharing misleading information on Tuesday. NPR can catch you up on all that, here.

And lastly today: For the first time ever, a private American company will send astronauts to space. The launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is slated for 4:33 p.m. ET Wednesday at Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A, the same one that hosted Apollo 11. Riding the rocket to the International Space Station will be two veteran NASA astronauts who have served as military test pilots: USAF Col. Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, a retired Marine Corps colonel. More about the mission, which represents the first crewed flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon module, here. 
Watch live on NASA’s feed, here.

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