‘Difficult times’ ahead, CDC says; Protecting Syrian oil; AFRICOM: Russian mercs are mining Libya; Nationalize US planemakers?; And a bit more.

CDC director: Brace for a “difficult” fall and winter. “I do think the fall and the winter of 2020 and 2021 are probably going to be one of the most difficult times that we have experienced in American public health because…of the co-occurrence of COVID and influenza,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield told Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, in a livestreamed interview.

Sound familiar? Recall that Redfield also said on April 21, “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through… And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean. We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.” More from the Washington Post’s interview at the time, here.

What to do? Wear masks. If all Americans wore masks outside the home, Redfield said (and wrote in a recent JAMA essay), it would bring the spread of the coronavirus under control in four to eight weeks. “The time is now. The data is clearly there. Masking works,” he said, adding that the president and vice president need to “set an example.”

As the first data emerges from vaccine research, White House officials say they’re “very confident” an effective vaccine can be developed and mass-produced by year’s end. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has that, here.

Speaking of data: The Trump administration is telling hospitals to stop sending COVID-care data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and send it instead to a non-public Department of Health and Human Services database. (New York Times

Update: The administration has withdrawn its effort to expel foreign students whose U.S. universities move to online classes. The plan, released July 6, met swift condemnation and a lawsuit from Harvard and MIT. (Washington Post)

And daily COVID deaths continue to rise acrosss 24 states, the New York Times reports.

From Defense One

White House ‘Very Confident’ on Coronavirus Vaccine By Year’s End. But Supply Questions Remain // Patrick Tucker: Officials say at least one vaccine candidate will soon move to Phase III trials.

US May Need to Nationalize Military Aircraft Industry, USAF Says // Marcus Weisgerber: That’s unless the Air Force can find a way to keep both competition and the few remaining U.S. plane-makers alive, the service’s acquisition chief said.

To Block Trump’s Troop Withdrawals, Congress Turns An Old Tactic Upside Down // Katie Bo Williams: Congress historically has tried to force presidents to bring troops home. But in the last three years, lawmakers have repeatedly tried to make laws to do the opposite.

The Pandemic Shut Down Other DoD Innovation Efforts, So We Took Ours Online // Justin Dunnicliff and Morgan Plummer: Hackathons sponsored by the National Security Innovation Network are going virtual, starting with an urban-warfare challenge.

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 four years ago, an attempted coup swept over Turkey leaving 251 people dead and 2,200 others injured. Tanks, aircraft and helicopters were used, and eventually “tens of thousands of people were arrested for alleged links to the coup,” AP reports today on the fourth anniversary. As well, “More than 130,000 people were fired from public service through emergency decrees, among them teachers and police officers.” More, here.

The U.S. military marked “135 Days Since the Signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreementwith a note to reporters Tuesday (though the 135-day mark was actually on Monday).
In that agreement, “the United States agreed to reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and withdraw from five bases,” Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said in that Tuesday statement. “We have met this obligation. U.S. forces in Afghanistan remain in the mid-8,000s and five bases formerly occupied by U.S. forces have been transferred to our Afghan partners,” he said.
Now what? “All sides should reduce violence and embark on intra-Afghan negotiations capable of achieving a negotiated and lasting peace for Afghanistan,” Hoffman said.
As for the U.S., “We will continue to execute our counterterrorism mission while simultaneously supporting the 38-nation NATO Resolute Support Train, Advise, Assist mission and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) as they work to secure peace in the country.”

In Syria, the U.S. military is still protecting “the oil,” as POTUS45 describes it. But the U.S. military there calls them “Critical Petroleum Infrastructure sites”; and now there are 250 more local Syrian fighters who have been specially trained to protect them, according to the Special Ops Joint Task Force-OIR, which tweeted a photo of the graduation this morning.
Why this is happening: To “keep Daesh from funding its territorial operations,” SOJTF-OIR says.
The last time we can seem to find President Trump talking about it was at a campaign speech on January 14 in Wisconsin. He told the audience at the time: 

“We’re getting the hell out of there [Syria], okay? But the fake news doesn’t tell you the right story. But the fake news doesn’t tell you the right story. Because what I did is I took our soldiers, and you know what I did? I moved them to the oil area, and we now control the oil...You have no idea the things and the decisions I’ve seen. So they say Trump’s in Syria, I didn’t pull out. I did pull out. We have the oil really secure. We’ll see what happens with it, but we can help our friends, the Kurds, because that’s where they got their wealth. And then ultimately it was with ISIS. But right now it’s with the United States military.”

AFRICOM says Russian mercenaries illegally placed landmines around Tripoli in Libya, as part of Russia's effort to support the military campaign of strongman Khalifa Haftar. Find images of the alleged lethal traps, here.
“Our intelligence reflects continued and unhelpful involvement by Russia and the Wagner Group,” AFRICOM’s Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, director of intelligence, said in the statement this morning. “Imagery and intelligence assessments show how Russia continues to interfere in Libyan affairs. Wagner Group’s reckless use of landmines and booby-traps are harming innocent civilians,” she added.
The last time we heard about Wagner in Libya was back in late May, when AFRICOM said “at least 14 Mig-29s had been flown from Russia to Syria, where their Russian markings were painted over to camouflage their Russian origin.” Those “aircraft were then flown into Libya, [which is] a violation of the United Nations arms embargo.”
And according to AFRICOM, “Russian-sponsored PMCs are active in sixteen countries across Africa.”
Reminder: “Russia has something like 30-plus military and technical agreements, most of them are in Africa,” said Candace Rondeaux of Arizona State University and a Senior Fellow with the New America think tank’s Center on the Future of War, in our January podcast on Wagner

When it comes to working with Russia on counterterrorism, the U.S. should have no illusions about at least one core fact: "The Kremlin is more interested in doing damage to the United States than in helping solve the terrorism problem — even if there is some ancillary benefit to them," former CIA men John Sipher, Steven L. Hall, Douglas H. Wise and Marc Polymeropoulos write in a Washington Post op-ed. “Russia may be determined to stamp out radical terrorism inside Russia, but the heirs to the Soviet intelligence services are quite comfortable supporting those terrorist groups at war with the United States. While Islamic terrorism is a mutual enemy, Russia’s top enemy is the United States.” Read on, here.

One more Russia thing: Wherever you are in the world, if you say Crimea is part of Ukraine — which it is — “Then Russia will demand your extradition,” according to the speaker of parliament. (h/t FT’s Max Seddon)

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy dropped by Poland Tuesday to meet with the defense minister and “to discuss expanding defence cooperation between two countries.” See the obligatory handshake photo via Twitter, here.
McCarthy was in the UK on Monday, and there he signed a “Memorandum of Agreement that lays out our plan to develop a bi-lateral modernization plan,” he tweeted afterward. Here’s a bit more from his messaging on Monday, via AUSA.
Also in Big Army, Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville dropped by Singapore last week to meet with his counterpart. A swing through the region makes particular sense in light of the White House’s counter-China messaging blitz that began in late June.
BTW: China is very unhappy with the UK’s decision to drop Huawei from its 5G future, Reuters reports today from London and Beijing. 

An oil tanker was hijacked off the UAE coast on July 5, AP reports today from Dubai. And it’s a tanker that’s moved quite close to Iran after being “sought by the U.S. over allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran.”
Involved: the Dominica-flagged MT Gulf Sky. The Twitter account TankerTrackers.com found the vessel yesterday just west of Iran’s Hormuz Island, here. Apparently now, most of the crew are “safe and now home,” according to an NGO called Human Rights at Sea.
Two crewmembers, however, remain in Iran, AP reports. More to that developing case, here.

And finally today: There is an active “new front” in digital deception. And Reuters calls it a “marriage of deepfakes and disinformation” most clearly illustrated in the case of University of Birmingham student Oliver Taylor.
Long story short: He only exists online. “Reuters was alerted to Taylor by London academic Mazen Masri, who drew international attention in late 2018 when he helped launch an Israeli lawsuit against the surveillance company NSO on behalf of alleged Mexican victims of the company’s phone hacking technology.”
But this appears to be a further instance of what The Daily Beast’s Adam Rawnsley reported in-depth last week under the headline “Right-Wing Media Outlets Duped by a Middle East Propaganda Campaign.”