Today's D Brief: Afghan talks begin; Wildfires rage; Anti-ISIS airstrikes in Syria, Iraq; Fighter jet battle; And a bit more.

President Trump pivots to West Coast wildfires today following an unsafe indoor rally in Nevada. President Donald Trump spoke to a packed crowd Sunday evening in the city of Henderson, just southeast of Las Vegas. And the company that owns the warehouse hosting that event received a letter from Henderson city’s leadership that it was “in direct violation of the governor's COVID-19 emergency directives” and could face “a fine of up to $500 per violation as well as suspend or revoke the business license.” (Nevada state authorities are currently limiting public gatherings to just 50 people.) “Not since a [June] rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was blamed for a surge of coronavirus infections, has [Trump] gathered supporters indoors,” the Associated Press reports from Las Vegas. 

About that venue: “The original locations chosen by the campaign for their Nevada rallies, which were expected to be at airport hangars with a mixture of the event being both in the open air enclosure and outside, pulled out because they were going to exceed the 50-person state limit,” CNN reports.

All about the optics. “Few in the crowd Sunday night wore masks,” AP writes, “with one clear exception: Those in the stands directly behind Trump, whose images would end up on TV, were mandated to wear face coverings.”

More than 194,000 Americans have now died from coronavirus complications, and that includes 1,452 people in Nevada and more than 14,000 across California, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. 

“The President appears to have forgotten that this country is still in the middle of a global pandemic,” Nevada’s Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement Sunday evening. “Now he’s decided he doesn’t have to respect our State’s laws. As usual, he doesn’t believe the rules apply to him… I want to thank the local governments — like the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority and the City of Henderson — who have done all they could to ensure businesses and visitors follow the state COVID-19 directives.” Read the full statement, here.

Trump certainly didn’t forget about the coronavirus, telling his supporters in Henderson, “We are not shutting the country again. A shutdown would destroy the lives and dreams of millions [of] Americans...We will very easy [sic] defeat the China virus.”

As for his campaign speech, AP reports that “Trump mused on mandatory prison sentences for flag burning, praised various UFC fighters in attendance and appeared to endorse extrajudicial killings for those who target police officers.” More from Nevada, here.

Next on the schedule: Trump visits with elements of the California National Guard around noon PT today at McClellan Park, Calif. Then he’ll spend the afternoon campaigning in Phoenix, Ariz., before departing for the White House around 5 p.m. local. 

  • About 1,200 California Guard members have been mobilized to help fight the West Coast wildfires, a spokeswoman said Friday. 
  • Thirty Arizona National Guard troops deployed to California to help out on Friday. 
  • And the Wisconsin Guard sent two Black Hawks and 15 soldiers to California on Friday, too.

At least 35 people have died so far from still-burning wildfires that have torched a million acres across California, Oregon and Washington, the AP and Reuters report. Two dozen Californians have died; one person in Washington; and 10 have perished from the fires in Oregon. Dozens of other Oregonians are still missing across three counties, Gov. Kate Brown said on Sunday. 

Some 4,000 homes in California have been destroyed so far while some 17,000 firefighters work to suppress 29 major wildfires in that state alone, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Because everything is politicized, “Trump has blamed poor forest management for the flames,” whereas “the governors of California, Oregon and Washington state have said the fires are a consequence of climate change,” AP reports. 

Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden is speaking today in Delaware, where he’s expected to talk about climate change and the West Coast wildfires. “Biden has included climate change in his list of major crises facing the United States, along with the coronavirus pandemic that has… pushed the country into an economic recession,” Reuters reports in a preview of today’s bicoastal campaigning. 

From Defense One

Lockheed-Boeing Battle Heats Up as USAF Looks to Buy F-15EX // Marcus Weisgerber: The F-35 maker is fighting to keep its monopoly on the Air Force’s fighter-jet shopping list.

The Air Force’s ‘Connect Everything’ Project Just Had a Big Success // Patrick Tucker: The simulated cruise missile intercept harnessed widely dispersed systems — all supervised by tablets in a flight-line hangar.

What Abe Leaves Behind // Jeffrey W. Hornung: The security issues facing Japan remain unchanged. Abe's likely successor, Yoshihide Suga, may be forced to confront them on his very first day.

Trump Tries to Hide the Problem // David A. Graham, The Atlantic: From the coronavirus to Russian electoral interference, the president keeps trying to paper over problems instead of addressing them.

Donald Is No Dove // Adam Serwer, The Atlantic: The president’s criticism of military contractors is belied by his commitment to fattening their pockets.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson. 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 1812, Napoleon’s European army of some 600,000 men entered Moscow during his ill-fated invasion of Russia. The Russians, however, viewed Napoleon as the “anti-Christ” and burned much of the city in a tactical retreat that — along with the onset of winter — left the massive Grande Armée and its horses very little to eat. After more than a month of waiting in vain for the Russians to surrender, Napoleon deliberately engaged them one last time in the Battle of Maloyaroslavets in late October, before finally retreating westward in the disastrous exit from Russia that’s today remembered as one of the biggest military blunders in history. 

Historic intra-Afghan peace talks started with an opening ceremony in Qatar on Saturday. Here’s the event from the POV of AP photos. So how’d that go? It was just day one, for starters, so everyone’s previously dug-in positions remain. Which is to say, “While the Afghan government insists on an early cease-fire and protection of the constitution and human rights, the Taliban have said only that they seek to establish an Islamic system in Afghanistan,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. “So far, neither side has shown any sign of how they will bridge that divide.” 
And despite the ceremony, Taliban fighters attacked across 18 different provinces
on the same day that talks began, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported this weekend. However, “the Taliban in a statement said that as part of a goodwill gesture, the group on Saturday released 22 Afghan soldiers in Helmand province.”
Worth noting: “No foreigners are allowed in the negotiation room,” Afghanistan's Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the government delegation, said. The Journal reminds us "The Taliban accuse the Kabul government of being American puppets," while "The Afghan government says the insurgents are supported and sheltered by Pakistan."
The U.S. military’s POV? “The start of Afghanistan peace negotiations marks an historic moment in the Afghan peace process and is an important step in advancing the President’s South Asia Strategy,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement Saturday. “It is crucial for both sides to take advantage of this opportunity to make a truly Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process a success.  On this day, we remember the great sacrifices of the men and women of the United States Armed forces (military and civilian), who have sacrificed in some cases with their lives alongside our NATO and Afghan partners to make this day possible.”
BTW: A two-day “U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue” begins today in Doha, the WSJ reports separately. 

The U.S. military conducted 17 airstrikes against ISIS across Iraq and Syria in August, Central Command officials announced Monday morning. That includes 11 strikes in Iraq, which CENTCOM says “resulted in nine enemy killed, eight caves denied, eight tunnels neutralized, and four successful terrain denial operations.”
And the U.S.-led coalition targeted ISIS with six strikes in Syria, strikes which CENTCOM called "terrain denial operations.”

How Americans feel about the world, updated. Ian Bremmer’s Eurasia Group Foundation just released its third annual survey of U.S. voter views on foreign policy and the U.S. role in the world. Some of the notable findings include: 

  • “Twice as many Americans want to decrease the defense budget as increase it,” with most folks citing “a desire to redirect resources domestically”;
  • “More than 70 percent of respondents indicated the U.S. should reenter the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accords,” and two-thirds of respondents said the U.S. should reenter the so-called Iran nuclear deal;
  • Just around 20 percent “think the U.S. should act unilaterally and militarily to stop human rights abuses overseas,” which you may recall was the ostensible reason the U.S. entered the war on ISIS (to protect the minority Christian Yazidi population in northern Iraq);
  • “More than half of 18-29 year olds believe America “is not an exceptional nation” while only a quarter of Americans over the age of 60 believe this.”

Big picture: “Foreign policy commentators are right to claim that Americans are ‘rejecting retreat’ from the world, but shouldn’t pose the issue as a stark choice between engagement and isolationism,” the authors write. “Americans strongly support the many kinds of global engagement beyond military primacy, while questioning the need for the U.S. to serve as the world’s ‘liberal leviathan.’”
Reminder: Here’s a short list of some of the biggest international security issues facing the U.S. after the November election: “the rise of China, threats from North Korea, the persistence of the Taliban, and an Iranian nuclear program.” Read over the full report, here.

And lastly: AFA 2020 begins today! That is, the Air Force Association’s 2020 Virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference. This year the three-day conference is all online, and it already kicked off just after 9 a.m. ET with remarks from Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, Jr., then took the podium to deliver his own remarks at 10 a.m. ET. 
Register for the livestream, or review the agenda and list of speakers here.