Marine Corps Marathon cancelled; Congress vs. Trump on Confederate base names; Escalation in the Himalayas; Wagner in Libya; Spaceport in Michigan; And a bit more.

It’s been three days in a row now with 1,000-plus Americans dead from the coronavirus. That last happened in May, and it has pushed the U.S. death toll past 144,000, according to the New York Times tracker today. 

The race to a vaccine. Quartz has a chart showing where a few dozen vaccine efforts around the world are on the progression from idea to proven protection.

Air Force Academy: we’re on. All 4,000-plus cadets will report to the campus this fall, the service school announced Thursday. (Air Force Times)

Marine Corps Marathon: Stay home. The Washington-area event has been cancelled for the first time in its 45-year history. (Marine Times

There were two fairly big Covid-related reversals from President Donald Trump on Thursday. The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold summarized the first reversal on Twitter thusly: “Trump now concedes that governors and districts and locales can decide about opening schools safely, a reversal from his demand weeks ago that all schools simply open or else.” 

NPR’s lede: “Public schools should delay reopening in coronavirus hotspots, but should open fully if they want to receive tens of billions of dollars in new federal aid, President Trump said in a White House briefing.”

The second reversal:Trump cancels Republican convention activities in Jacksonville,” was CNN’s headline. “Trump explains decision to cancel Jacksonville part of GOP convention: 'Setting an example',” was Fox News’s headline.

Defying Trump on Confederate base names, both chambers of Congress passed the annual defense policy bill this week in a veto-proof majority. “The Senate approved the annual policy measure, 86-14, a margin that suggests more than enough support to override a potential Trump veto,” the Associated Press reported shortly after the Senate voted on Thursday afternoon. 

Reminder: “The House approved its version on Tuesday by a veto-proof margin of 295-125.” Next up? Conference committee, where "The differences have to be ironed out," Politico's Connor O'Brien writes today on Twitter, "but [it's] highly unlikely that provision isn't in a final bill." 

President Trump’s response to all that this morning: To tweet the following

  • “I spoke to highly respected (Chairman) Senator @JimInhofe, who has informed me that he WILL NOT be changing the names of our great Military Bases and Forts, places from which we won two World Wars (and more!). Like me, Jim is not a believer in ‘Cancel Culture’.”

And in case you were curious: “Both bills authorize $741 billion for the military, including a 3% pay raise for the troops.” More from AP, here.

From Defense One

With Cold War Language, Pompeo Defines Trump’s Plan for ‘Totalitarian’ China // Katie Bo Williams: In the fourth major China policy speech by administration leaders in the past month, Pompeo says the US can’t go back to the era of engagement.

Russia Tests a Satellite That Rams Other Satellites, US Says // Patrick Tucker: It’s the latest Russian weapon being developed to attack American spacecraft, Space Force leader says.

New Intelligence-Community AI Principles Seek to Make Tools Useful — and Law-Abiding // Patrick Tucker: Over the last five years, AI has grown considerably, as has public concern about its use, particularly for national security purposes.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Lockheed CEO debut; NDAA passes House, Lego axes V-22 and a bit more.

What a Shift in Britain's Foreign Policy Means for the US // Thomas Wright, The Atlantic: Britain seems to be rejoining the fray, thinking strategically again.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with 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 1969, Apollo 11 splashed down safely (though upside-down for the first 10 minutes) in the Pacific Ocean before its crew was picked up by divers with the USS Hornet.

Happening today: Space Force’s Gen. John Raymond hops online for a virtual “fireside chat” at 1 p.m. ET with the Center for a New American Security. Details and registration here.

China and India are escalating that violent confrontation in the Himalayas. On the other hand, there are more reinforcements being sent from both sides — possibly as many as 10,000 troops from each side, according to a U.S. military official who spoke to Reuters’ Idrees Ali this morning.
Here’s a dramatic, animated-3D explainer about what’s going on and where in the world’s highest mountain range, from the New York Times.

China ordered the U.S. to close its consulate in Chengdu, southwestern China's Sichuan province, possibly because China sees it “as a key U.S. listening post for developments in Tibet,” Bloomberg reported after Beijing announced the closure Thursday.
Of course it was also closed in a tit-for-tat move after the U.S. ordered the closure of China’s own consulate in Houston, Texas, this week — with that closure ordered by 4 p.m. local today. 

The Taliban say they might begin peace talks with Afghan officials possibly as soon as August; or at least after “the Muslim holiday of Eid ul Adha at the end of July,” AP reports today from Islamabad. The last word had been that intra-Afghan talks could begin this month, but ongoing delays in prisoner releases from both Kabul and the Taliban have pushed that date to the right.
The big sticking point: Afghan officials in Kabul insist that “nearly 600 Taliban prisoners whose release is being sought have been convicted of serious crimes,” and there’s hesitancy to release them as a result. “Kabul has offered to free alternative Taliban members they have in custody and who they say have not been convicted of serious crimes. The Taliban have refused,” AP writes. More here

U.S.-Iran tensions reach new heights over southern Syria. Looks like there was some concern among the U.S. military that an Iranian passenger plane flying a course near American troops in Syria might have been more than simply an Iranian passenger plane. U.S. Central Command spox Capt. Bill Urban emailed the following statement to reporters Thursday evening: 

  • “A U.S. F-15 on a routine air mission in the vicinity of the CJTF-OIR At Tanf garrison in Syria conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters from the airliner this evening. The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at At Tanf garrison. Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft. The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards.”

“The statement came after Iranian media reported that two US fighter jets threatened an Iranian passenger plane as it passed through Syrian airspace on a regular flight path en route to Beirut,” FT reported Thursday. “Iranian state television said the pilot of the Mahan Air flight descended sharply, and according to some reports changed the flight route, in order to avoid confrontation. State television said the rapid descent caused huge turbulence and led to the injury of some passengers.”

  • Here’s purported footage of the encounter, from Iranian state TV. 

What to know about the U.S. aircraft: “Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles are forward deployed to Jordan and do routinely patrol the airspace around At Tanf,” The Drive, reported Thursday. “The U.S. government has also sanctioned Mahan Airlines, which it says is a key instrument in Iran's support of proxy forces in Syria, as well as Lebanon and elsewhere.”

The U.S. military just released more imagery of Russia and its Wagner mercenaries in Libya. Today’s release is a continuation of Russia and Wagner messaging from officials at U.S. Africa Command that has picked up in recent months. And, as before, that messaging today concerns U.S. allegations “that Russia [has] supplied Wagner forces operating in Libya with fighter aircraft, military armored vehicles, air defense systems, and supplies, further complicating the situation and increasing the risk for miscalculation leading to continued and needless violence in Libya.”
What’s new today: “Russian air defense equipment, including SA-22s, are present in Libya and operated by Russia, the Wagner Group or their proxies,” AFRICOM says. “Photos also show Wagner utility trucks and Russian mine-resistant, ambush­protected armored vehicles are also present in Libya.”
“The type and volume of equipment demonstrates an intent toward sustained offensive combat action capabilities, not humanitarian relief, and indicates the Russian Ministry of Defense is supporting these operations," said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Gregory Hadfield, AFRICOM deputy director of intelligence, in today’s statement. Find the imagery and more from AFRICOM, here.

Coming soon to Michigan: A spaceport and a drone testing site, according to WLUC out of Marquette County. The Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association announced the project Thursday after a yearlong selection process. “The two launch sites in Marquette and Oscoda, along with a yet-to-be-identified command and control center, will create more than 2,000 jobs,” WLUC reports. “These sites will be instrumental in creating a space ecosystem in the state that is projected to top 40,000 new jobs by 2025,” when operations are expected to begin. Tiny bit more, here

Have a safe weekend, everyone; and we’ll see you again on Monday!