100,000 Americans have died from COVID; Pompeo threatens China over Hong Kong; Afghanistan drawdown ahead of schedule; Medical delivery by drone; And a bit more.
“We have just reached a very sad milestone with the coronavirus pandemic deaths reaching 100,000,” reads President Donald Trump’s 25th tweet so far today. “To all of the families & friends of those who have passed, I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy & love for everything that these great people stood for & represent. God be with you!”
Concern for the lives of others is an inherently political thing. Mask-wearing has increasingly become so as well, a way to telegraph either concern or disregard for the health of others, writes The Atlantic’s Megan Garber in a dispatch from America’s “culture wars.”
Worth noting: “displays of disregard are not representative of the country as a whole,” Garber writes. “A HuffPost/YouGov survey published last week found Americans saying, 69 percent to 19 percent, that wearing a face mask when in public and near other people is a sign of respectfulness...According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 64 percent of Americans said that everyone should be wearing a mask in public.” Which means “The proudly maskless are outliers.” Read on, here.
We couldn’t help but notice Dr. Anthony Fauci wearing a mask while standing behind Defense Secretary Mark Esper when he told Americans on May 15, “Winning matters, and we will deliver, by the end of this year, a vaccine at scale to treat the American people and our partners abroad.” (Four days later, a draft memo being prepared for Esper said DoD should prepare to operate without an effective vaccine until "at least the summer of 2021," Task & Purpose reported.)
On Wednesday, Fauci told CNN that he wears a mask because “I want to protect myself and protect others, and also because I want to make it be a symbol for people to see that that’s the kind of thing you should be doing.”
Now under consideration inside the U.S. military: Hazard pay for troops helping with COVID-19 response. That’s one of the thoughts Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley relayed to the Defense Department this morning in a nearly hour-long town hall that started at 9:30 a.m. ET.
Another 2 million Americans are unemployed this week, raising total layoffs since the coronavirus struck to nearly 41 million, the Associated Press reports off new Labor Department data.
By the way: If anyone you know needs grocery assistance, you can plug in zip codes here to find your local food bank.
The island country of Cyprus is offering to “cover the holiday costs of anyone who tests positive for coronavirus after travelling there,” the BBC reports today. That includes “accommodation, medicine, food for patients and their families,” which leaves tourists covering just “the cost of their airport transfer and repatriation flight.”
How this works: "Initially, travellers will need proof they have tested negative for the virus with[in] 72 hours of arriving in the country. This requirement will be dropped for people from certain countries later in the month," and "Authorities will update the list of approved countries weekly."
Why? For those tourism bucks, which account for 15% of the country’s GDP. More to all that, here.
From Defense One
A Foreign General Is Helping to Lead US Army Europe. Other Commands Should Take Heed // Elisabeth Braw: The German military sends its best to serve as an American general’s chief of staff, to everyone’s benefit.
A Medical-Delivery Drone Service Gets US Approval Amid Coronavirus // Patrick Tucker: ZipLine, whose drones have delivered more than 100,000 packages in Africa, will begin flights in North Carolina.
How COVID-19 Kicked a USAF Software Team Into High Gear / Aaron Boyd: The programming group that makes tools for the Air Force’s developers is now posting about 10 upgrades per day.
DARPA Funds Earthworm-Inspired Soft Robot to Dig Tunnels // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: As part of the Underminer program, General Electric’s innovation arm is perfecting a soft robot to boost battlefield operations.
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 535 BCE, a war in modern-day western Turkey was halted by a solar eclipse — an event predicted by the mathematician Thales of Miletus, according to Greek historian Herodotus. For that reason, American professor and sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov famously referred to this day as the “birth of science.”
Happening today online:
- Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Heino Klinck participates in an hour-long webinar on “the U.S.-China strategic balance after the COVID-19 pandemic” with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. That starts at 2 p.m. More info here.
- Then National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel (virtually) drops by the Atlantic Council's Commander Series online event at 3:30 p.m. The theme: "War against the invisible: Heroism and sacrifice in the National Guard's response to the coronavirus." More, here.
China’s legislature imposes “national security” laws on Hong Kong. By a vote of 2,878 to 1 (plus six abstentions), the National People’s Congress rubber-stamped a proposal to “establish and enhance the legal framework and enforcement mechanisms for national security” in Hong Kong, as state broadcaster China Central Television put it. (Wall Street Journal)
U.S. response: “U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress yesterday that Hong Kong can no longer be viewed as autonomous from China, a statement which is likely to have significant implications for the special trade relation between the U.S. and the Hong Kong,” the New York Times reported.
Background: review how we got here, and what might come next, in Defense One’s previous news and commentary on Hong Kong.
The first phase of America's drawdown in Afghanistan is ahead of schedule, with the contingent nearly down to the 8,600 promised in the February agreement with the Taliban, Reuters reports.
Esper: full withdrawal by Election Day is unlikely. But a few hours after the New York Times reported that the Pentagon is drawing up various options for removing the rest of the troops — including one that would allow Trump to claim a full withdrawal before U.S. voters go to the polls in November — the defense secretary poured a bit of cold water on that particular option. Asked on Wednesday by reporters whether it could be done in six months, Esper replied, “It’s proven not to move as quickly as we’d prefer.” He spoke while flying back from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. “I don’t put a timeline on it. We have a timeline of May of next year but that timeline was premised on everything moving at a set pace.” Military Times has a bit more, here.
Meanwhile, in the country itself: a reportedly modest escalation in violence. “Skirmishes between Taliban fighters and Afghan security forces recommenced in Afghanistan in the day since a three-day ceasefire expired, but government officials said on Thursday that the incidents were minor and the truce could still hold,” Reuters writes Thursday morning.
U.S. to remove last remaining sanctions waivers from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Previously renewed every 60 days, the waivers allowed Iran to hire foreign companies to work on nuclear power plants and other peaceful uses. Pompeo made the announcement Wednesday, saying that “Iran’s continued nuclear escalation makes clear this cooperation must end.” (The Hill)
Background: International observers had certified that Iran was adhering to the nuclear deal until Trump began withdrawing from it. Since then, Iran has increased its uranium enrichment beyond the amount permitted by the deal.
ICYMI from January: How Quickly Could Iran Get a Nuclear Bomb? by Corey Hinderstein.
Turn it around. The U.S. threatened sanctions against two tankers filled with Iranian gasoline headed to Venezuela, “aiming to support a burgeoning economic alliance between two of the United States’ biggest rivals,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned vessels appear to have changed course to go somewhere else.
That failed Venezuelan coup attempt is getting more weird, with AP reporting today that the “two former Green Beret buddies relied on some unusual help: a chartered flight out of Miami’s Opa Locka executive airport on a plane owned by a Venezuelan businessman so close to the government of the late Hugo Chávez that he spent almost four years in a U.S. prison for trying to cover up clandestine cash payments to its allies.”
And finally today: The USS Theodore Roosevelt report is in. An internal Navy investigation into how the coronavirus sidelined an aircraft carrier and why its skipper was fired has been sent to Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations “It will take time for the investigation’s recommendations to be reviewed and endorsed by Adm. Gilday,” Navy spokesman Capt. Nate Christensen said in a Wednesday statement.
ICYMI: Here’s a timeline covering the Roosevelt’s deployment to the resignation of acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly.