Today's D Brief: Violence resurges in Afghanistan; 3rd COVID surge begins; China’s “hostage diplomacy”; Army stops Apache deliveries; And a bit more.

Afghan war goes sideways, again. The U.S. military attacked Taliban fighters with airstrikes across multiple Afghan provinces last week. And now the group is furious at the U.S., and is accusing it of violating an agreement the two sides signed late February in Qatar. 

According to the Taliban, the U.S. “has violated its commitments on numerous occasions, engaging in provocative actions and bombing noncombat zones,” spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said in a statement Saturday. (More on that from the Washington Post, reporting from Kabul.)

The U.S. military “categorically reject[ed] the Taliban's claim the United States has violated the U.S.-Taliban Agreement,” said spokesman for U.S. Forces—Afghanistan, Col. Sonny Leggett, in a tweet Sunday. “U.S. airstrikes in Helmand and Farah have been and continue to be solely in defense of the ANDSF as they are being attacked by the Taliban,” he added.

“Unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric do not advance peace,” America’s top Afghan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, tweeted Sunday evening. 

And peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban? They’re still held up by two significant obstacles, according to Afghanistan’s Tolo News: “The religious basis for the talks and the connection of the US-Taliban agreement with the negotiations.”

Big picture, via Reuters: “Talks between Taliban and Afghan government negotiators began last month in Doha, but the process has only moved slowly, while violence escalated, a factor diplomats and officials have said is sapping the trust needed for negotiations to succeed.”

Related reading: Dan DePetris op-ed: “U.S. national security interests do not depend on the outcome of the peace talks. It’s time to come home.”

From Defense One

Milley Speaks Out — and Trump Stays Mum // Katie Bo Williams: After a controversial summer, the Joint Chiefs chairman is holding his own with a string of public pronouncements.

Army Halts Apache Deliveries After Boeing Finds Improper Record-Keeping At Helicopter Factory // Marcus Weisgerber: It’s the latest quality-control issue for the nation’s largest planemaker.

Thousands of US Troops Will Remain in Afghanistan Past Christmas  // Katie Bo Williams: They won't be home for Christmas. Trump's national security advisor says the president was only expressing a "desire" with that tweet.

Why Donald Trump’s Debt is a National Security Risk // Joe Cirincione: If you owe someone a lot of money, they have leverage over you. To whom, exactly, does the U.S. president owe this money?

'Esper's Lie?' I Don't Think So // Thomas W. Spoehr: After nearly a generation of dominating focus on counterinsurgency operations, the U.S. military is underprepared in 2020 for great power competition.

The Third Coronavirus Surge Has Arrived // The COVID Tracking Project, The Atlantic: This week’s COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations make clear that the U.S. is once again sinking deeper into the pandemic.

Trump Fails the QAnon Test // Russell Berman, The Atlantic: This was not the first time Trump has praised the conspiracy theory, which the FBI has called a domestic terrorism threat.

Welcome to this Monday 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

Bad news for the U.S. Navy: COVID has returned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the New York Times reported Friday.
U.S. enters 3rd surge:  This week’s COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations make clear that the U.S. is once again sinking deeper into the pandemic, writes the COVID Tracking Project, the volunteer effort run by The Atlantic to collect and public data about testing that the federal government is not making easily available. Read on, here.
By the numbers: NYT: At least 368 new coronavirus deaths and 47,601 new cases were reported in the United States on Oct. 18. Over the past week, there have been an average of 56,615 cases per day, an increase of 30 percent from the average two weeks earlier. Tracker, here.
Misinformation alert: Twitter on Sunday blocked a tweet from White House coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas suggesting masks do not help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. More from Politico, here.
Up in the air: More Americans. For the first time in seven months, more than a million Americans are flying each day, The Daily Beast reports off the latest data from the Transportation Security Administration.
Elsewhere, Russia just reported more single-day cases than it’s seen since the pandemic started in March, AP reports.

Travel alert: Americans could be detained in China, the Chinese government warned American officials this summer in response to a U.S. government crackdown on alleged Chinese military officials infiltrating U.S. universities.
The message from Beijing “has been blunt: The U.S. should drop prosecutions of the Chinese scholars in American courts, or Americans in China might find themselves in violation of Chinese law,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. For the record, China’s foreign ministry denies the allegations. 
“Hostage diplomacy” is how some describe this. And Chinese officials have reportedly used it against “Canadian, Australian and Swedish citizens on what officials from those governments have said are bogus allegations,” the Journal writes.
U.S.-China tensions have been rising for years, of course. But these particular tensions heated up in July when the FBI “arrested three Chinese nationals for allegedly concealing memberships in the Peoples Liberation Army when applying for visas to conduct research at U.S. academic institutions," Reuters reports.
Then in September, the U.S. “revoked visas for more than 1,000 Chinese nationals under a presidential measure denying entry to students and researchers deemed security risks.” Here’s how a State Department spox described the U.S. action on September 10: “We continue to welcome legitimate students and scholars from China who do not further the Chinese Communist Party’s goals of military dominance.” Four days later, the U.S. issued a travel warning about “arbitrary enforcement of local laws” aimed at any Americans hoping to visit China or Hong Kong.
The State Department’s reax to China’s latest announcement: “We warn U.S. citizens that business disputes, court orders to pay a settlement, or government investigations into both criminal and civil issues may result in an exit ban which will prohibit your departure from China until the issue is resolved,” an unnamed spox told the Journal.
China’s reax to the WSJ’s Sunday report: “The U.S. claim that foreign nationals in China are under threat of arbitrary detention is playing the victim and confusing black and white,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday at a daily news briefing in Beijing. More from Reuters, here.

In the Himalayas, a Chinese soldier is set to be released from Indian military captivity after allegedly wandering across a de facto border separating the two nuclear-armed nations, Reuters reports from India.
Catching up? “The nuclear-armed neighbours have been locked in a months-long border confrontation in the Ladakh region, with troops killing each other in hand-to-hand combat and firing shots in the air. Both sides have held several rounds of military and diplomatic talks, but have made little headway.” More here.

In quietly encouraging news, “A top White House official recently traveled to Syria for secret talks with the Assad regime, marking the first time such a high-level U.S. official has met in Syria with the isolated government in more than a decade,” the Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Jared Malsin reported Sunday evening. It happened some time earlier this year, and it involved Kash Patel, who is the counterterrorism official at the White House.
About the Americans believed to be held in Syria: “U.S. officials are hoping a deal with Mr. Assad would lead to freedom for Austin Tice, a freelance journalist and former Marine officer who disappeared while reporting in Syria in 2012, and Majd Kamalmaz, a Syrian-American therapist who disappeared after being stopped at a Syrian government checkpoint in 2017,” the Journal reports. Otherwise, “At least four other Americans are believed to be held by the Syrian government, but little is known about those cases.”
Perhaps predictably, “Talks with the Assad regime haven’t gotten very far,” the Journal reports, since “The Assad regime has repeatedly demanded that the U.S. withdraw all its forces from Syria.” Read on, here.
Related: How a secretive U.S. mission to rescue U.A.E. soldiers built “a reservoir of trust” with the Emiratis. That, also from Dion Nissenbaum, here

From the region: A decade-long UN arms embargo on Iran expired on Sunday, the Associated Press reported from Tehran. Now what? Iran "can now in theory purchase weapons to upgrade military armaments dating back to before its 1979 Islamic Revolution and sell its own locally produced gear abroad. In practice, however, Iran’s economy remains crippled by broad-reaching U.S. sanctions, and other nations may avoid arms deals with Tehran for fear of American financial retaliation.” 
And the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict continues to smolder this week as a Saturday ceasefire brokered by Russia appears to have unraveled today, Reuters reports from Baku.

ISIS attacks are “surging” across Africa, the Washington Post reported Sunday from Senegal. The topline read: “Less than two years after the fall of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the terrorist group is attempting a comeback in Africa, with far-reaching implications for a region already beset by poverty, corruption and the novel coronavirus.” Full story, here.

An 18-year-old was shot dead by French police Friday after he beheaded a 47-year-old history teacher for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a class for teenaagers on freedom of expression. The teenager was a Chechen man whose family arrived in France 12 years ago, Agence France-Presse reports.
Today, French police raided “Islamic associations and foreigners suspected of extremist religious beliefs” in response to the attack Friday, Reuters reports from Paris. “Individuals targeted in the police operation were known to the police for radical preachings or hate speech on social media,” according to AFP. More here.

And lastly: President Trump is campaigning in Arizona today, with a noon rally planned at Prescott Regional Airport. Three hours later, he does it again at Tucson International Airport before heading back to the White House in the evening.
POTUS45 spent Sunday in Nevada where AP reports he visited a church in Las Vegas and told citizens in Carson City “the Christmas season will be cancelled” if he loses re-election.