‘I should not have been there’; CENTCOM’s China concerns; Afghanistan withdrawal in jeopardy; SASC rebuffs Trump on base names; And a bit more.

“I should not have been there,” Gen. Mark Milley said in a prerecorded video commencement address to National Defense University, which the New York Times teased this morning, here

He’s referring to his involvement in that Lafayette Square photo op on the evening of June 1 just outside the White House. Video compiled by the Washington Post shows Milley scoping the scene (at 2:27) just before National Guard troops and law enforcement officials advanced against peaceable protesters with chemical irritants and non-lethal projectiles. Milley then joined POTUS, who walked across the square to hold a Bible before cameras. 

“My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics,” Milley says now, after 10 days of criticism from civil-military experts and others. 

Related: National Guardsmen are “struggling” with how they followed orders to attack peaceful protesters, Politico reported Wednesday. “As a military officer, what I saw was more or less really f---ed up,” said one D.C. Guardsman who spoke anonymously to Politico for fear of retribution. “The crowd was loud but peaceful, and at no point did I feel in danger, and I was standing right there in the front of the line.” he said. 

“A lot of us are still struggling to process this,” he continued, “but in a lot of ways, I believe I saw civil rights being violated in order for a photo op. I’m here to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and what I just saw goes against my oath and to see everyone try to cover up what really happened...What I saw was just absolutely wrong.” 

It gets worse. “Some of the Guard troops were just out of basic training, and others had no experience in controlling disturbances in the streets,” the New York Times reported Wednesday. What’s more, “Troops were allowed to drive heavy vehicles on the streets without the usual licensing.”

And on top of that, “when National Guard officials requested written guidance allowing troops without military licenses to drive armored vehicles around Washington, the officer in charge of the task force, Brig. Gen. Robert K. Ryan, said it was a verbal order from the Army’s chief of staff, Gen. James C. McConville.” 

The ugly twist? “Written confirmation never came, and a Defense Department official with direct knowledge of the situation said General McConville never gave such an order.”

Another ugly twist: “2 SC National Guardsmen found glass baked into pizza they ordered while on DC deployment,” according to the South Carolina Post and Courier.

ICYMI: Former DIA Director speaks out against systemic racism. Vincent Stewart, a retired Marine Corps three-star, writes in Task & Purpose: “Please, take your knee off our necks so we can breathe,” which is a slightly extended rewrite of this letter posted to Facebook on June 8.

For the record: Senior military officials and their commander-in-chief are now publicly at odds on three issues, according to CNN’s Jim Sciutto. The issues include: 

  1. Trump’s June 1 church photo op
  2. Deploying active duty military to quell protests 
  3. Renaming bases honoring Confederate generals

Trump’s national security team briefed the press this morning from the State Department. SecDef Mark Esper, SecState Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr, and National Secretary Advisor Robert O’Brien were on hand to explain a new tranche of funds for Ukraine’s defense against Russia, and a new U.S. approach toward the International Criminal Court.

In a possible preview of both of those matters, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley spoke to lawmakers at the Capitol Hill SCIF on a Wednesday trip to the Hill.

Also Wednesday, Rep. Adam Smith sent a letter (PDF) warning Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley that their input for scheduling the a hearing on what exactly happened on the evening of June 1 in Washington, D.C., is strongly encouraged. Esper and Milley had so far declined the offer from Smith’s House Armed Services Committee, which clearly did not sit well with Smith. 

From Defense One

Top US General in Mideast: ‘I Do Worry About China Quite a Bit’ // Katie Bo Williams: Beijing is trying “to establish a beachhead,” says U.S. Central Command’s Gen. Kenneth McKenzie. “I think this is a significant factor we need to confront.”

Trump Vows to Keep Confederates’ Names on US Army Bases // Bradley Peniston: As the military wrestles with racism and its symbols, the commander-in-chief draws a line.

Dear Mr. Secretary, You Can Rename Army Bases Right Now // Mike Jason, John Nagl, and Paul Yingling: If the Army’s civilian leader is serious about starting to address institutional racism, here’s a helping hand.

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 1775, Maine townsfolk captured a British warship in the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War.

Lawmakers set up base-renaming conflict with Trump. Just hours after the president vowed to retain the names of U.S. Army bases named for Confederate generals, the GOP-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee passed an amendment requiring the Pentagon rename those bases RollCall reported Wednesday. The passage, linked to the annual Pentagon policy bill, "gives the Defense Department three years to remove the names of Confederate generals from U.S. military assets," but "it also goes further and includes everything from ships to streets on Defense Department property."
White House spokesman: Trump “will not be signing legislation that renames America's forts."
FWIW: DuffelBlog, of course, has jokes here and here

In Afghanistan, conditions have not been met for an American withdrawal by next May, CENTCOM’s Gen. Frank McKenzie told an audience Wednesday at a Middle East Institute online event. On the other hand, “the U.S. is ahead of schedule for an initial drawdown by July to 8,600 troops,” with an unnamed defense official telling AP the current U.S. troop count in Afghanistan is “below 9,000, compared with about 12,000 in February.”
So what are the unmet conditions? According to McKenzie, they include an affirmative answer to the question, “Can we be assured that attacks against us will not be generated there? And as of right now...frankly, if asked my opinion, those conditions have not been fully met.”
Lawmakers are starting to get nervous, too. That includes “Four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including the panel’s vice chairman, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, [who] wrote Tuesday to the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, asking that he provide an update on intelligence planning for Afghanistan if a decision is made to pull out by November.” More on all that from AP, here.

Quick update for something that was on the president’s mind once on May 27: “China and India have begun to withdraw forces from their disputed border high in the Himalayan mountains, which has been a source of friction between the two nuclear powers since their 1962 war,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Europe wants monthly fake news reports from Facebook, Google and Twitter, Reuters reported Wednesday. That's according to EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell and the European Commission’s Vice President for values and transparency Vera Jourova. Their chief concerns have expanded beyond Russian-linked influence operations primarily and now to both that and COVID-19 mis- and disinformation.
Also in Europe, that U.S.-Polish Fort Trump project appears to be falling apart before it really even got started, Reuters reported separately Wednesday. Some of the sticking points concern “where the troops should be stationed, and how much of the multi-billion-dollar deployment Warsaw should fund.” For example, “Poland wants to put them close to its eastern border with Russia’s ally Belarus, but on past form this is certain to antagonize Russia, and Washington would prefer to deploy them further west.” In addition, “Washington wants enhanced legal immunity, for example in situations where U.S. troops are accused of crimes on Polish soil, but Poland is balking.” Read on, here.

Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn shouldn’t be getting off so easily, according to former U.S. District Judge John Gleeson's review of the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss criminal charges against Flynn. Recall that  Flynn was charged with "lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential transition period," AP reports.
Wrote Gleeson, “The Government’s ostensible grounds for seeking dismissal are conclusively disproven by its own briefs filed earlier in this very proceeding… They contradict and ignore this Court’s prior orders, which constitute law of the case. They are riddled with inexplicable and elementary errors of law and fact. And they depart from positions that the Government has taken in other cases.”
Up next: An appeals court ruling scheduled for Friday. More from AP, here.

In U.S. weapons news, the military now has a “suicide drone” that travels at hypersonic speed, The Drive reported Wednesday with cartoon graphics to illustrate the technology at work. 

And finally today: We can expect 100,000 more Americans to die of the coronavirus by September, according to remarks from the director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute to CNN on Wednesday. The nearly five-minute segment can be viewed here.
Related reading, from The Daily Beast today: “COVID Is So Bad in Arizona They’re Running Out of Beds
Meanwhile for the military, the coronavirus could be killed in aircraft interiors by essentially turning them into ovens — or heating them to around 140 and 176 degrees Fahrenheit, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory says. 
One significant catch: "since this process involves highly-specialized equipment, the [associated Joint Biological Aircraft Decontamination System] is not widely available enough to be used immediately as a go-to solution for the COVID-19 disinfection across the entire military aviation community,” AFRL said. Read on at FlightGlobal, here.