Today's D Brief: Biden to visit Pentagon; Explosions across Kabul; Macron touts ‘strategic autonomy’; Houthis drone Saudi airport; And a bit more.

President Joe Biden will visit the Pentagon today for the first time since taking office in January. The trip to new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s department is planned for 2 p.m. ET. And if it all stays on schedule, Biden will speak with Austin and other defense officials in private for about an hour before speaking publicly with Pentagon personnel.

SecDef Austin will then join Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for a walk through the Pentagon’s African Americans in Service Corridor. 

One more thing about Austin: He called his Philippines counterpart, Delfin Lorenzana, on Tuesday. The two discussed the U.S.-Philippines defense agreement, which almost officially collapsed under POTUS45; and they discussed the South China Sea, “counterterrorism, and maritime security, and [they] affirmed the importance of upholding international rules and norms, to include the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling,” according to the Pentagon’s readout

ICYMI: The U.S. Navy has an extremism problem, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday wants to put a stop to it. America’s sailors, Gilday wrote in a message to the service on Tuesday, “cannot be under any illusions that extremist behaviors do not exist in our Navy.” 

Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino abruptly flew from his Hawaii HQ to San Diego after hate speech was discovered Sunday on a bathroom wall aboard the carrier Carl Vinson. That followed a late-January incident in which a sailor put a noose in a Black shipmate’s bunk aboard the cruiser Lake Champlain. On Monday and Tuesday, Aquilino held meetings with senior leaders and spoke to sailors aboard two ships about racism. The Associated Press has more. 


From Defense One

Leaders Should Prioritize Troops Over Weapons Amid Defense Spending Cuts, Former Officials Say // Marcus Weisgerber: There’s no “easy button” for finding items to cut the budget.

America’s Stockpiles Are Hardly Strategic  // Tristan Abbey: Before we assemble new reserves of critical commodities, we need a hard look at the existing ones.

What Are Biden’s Options For Pulling Troops From Afghanistan? // Max Boot, Council on Foreign Relations: A quick review.

What If We Never Reach Herd Immunity? // Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic: Hitting the threshold might actually be impossible. But vaccines can still help end the pandemic.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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


There have been more than a dozen explosions across Kabul since Saturday, including three today — and one of those killed a police chief and two of his bodyguards, according to Afghanistan’s Tolo News. No groups have yet taken credit for the attacks.
The Taliban have taken credit for killing nine Afghan security forces in Nimruz province on Tuesday.
And Afghan security forces found a Taliban aerial drone in northern Balkh province this week, Afghanistan’s Bilal Sarwary reported Tuesday on Twitter.
Peace talks latest: NSTR, aside from the fact that it has been now 23 consecutive days that Kabul and Taliban officials have not spoken to one another, according to Kabul’s chief negotiator, Abdullah Abduallah.  

The Houthis just claimed another drone attack on a Saudi airport, this time in Abha, about 75 miles north of the Yemeni border. The group says it used four drones, and sent them to the Saudi airport in response to the Saudi’s “continued aerial bombardment and the brutal siege on our country,” according to a Houthi spokesman.
The attack reportedly hit a civilian plane at Abha and set the plane on fire, Agence France-Presse reports. No one seems to have been hurt in the attack. Tiny bit more from Reuters, here

From the region: Iran would need about two years to get a nuclear bomb, if it wanted one, according to an Israeli intelligence estimate obtained by the New York Times.
See also this explanation of “breakout time from January 2020.

Macron: Europe needs “strategic autonomy,” which is to say the 27 member states of the European Union ought to be “much more in charge of our neighborhood,” French President Emmanuel Macron argued last week in a speech at the Atlantic Council. (The New York Times’s headline from that event: “Macron Tells Biden That Cooperation With U.S. Cannot Be Dependence”.)
Where this is coming from: “[M]y willingness from the very first days of my mandate has been to try to reinvent or restore an actual European sovereignty,” Macron explained. “During the past decades, basically, we leave the flow to a nationalistic approach, pushing for more sovereignty at the national level. But our actual sovereignty, which means deciding for yourself and being able to decide your own rules and regulation and to be in charge of your own choices, is relevant at the European scale. This is why we decided to have a common agenda on tech, defense, currency, economic and fiscal answer to the crisis, and so on and so on. And this is how we’ve progressively framed this concept of strategic autonomy.”
Macron rattled off a list of near-term security dilemmas animating both NATO and French security dialogue, and those include his desire to “Fix the Libyan situation. Get rid of Turkish troops from Libya. Get rid of thousands of jihadists exported from Syria to Libya by Turkey itself, in complete breach of the Berlin conference. Fixing the Syrian approach with the rest of the coalition, and I hope fixing the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and decreasing the pressure in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.”
And when it comes to Russia, Macron repeatedly cited the need to maintain a dialogue with Moscow on virtually all matters since, as the French president sees it, “the history of President Putin and a lot of leaders, is completely a European one. They have common values, history, literature, culture, mindset. And we have to take that into consideration.”
China, meanwhile, is “the elephant in the room,” Macron said, calling China “a partner, a competitor, and a systemic rival.” The big challenge for Paris “is how to precisely team up on some critical issues and try to be the useful player to push China not to divert anymore. I don’t know what will happen in the coming years,” Macron said. Read over his full remarks, here

Myanmar latest: U.S. officials promise “significant consequences” for the coup’s plotters. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that officials are reviewing the situation and to expect more announcements in coming days. More from Reuters.
Protests in the country entered their fifth day on Wednesday, Reuters reports separately.

Canada’s spy chief admitted publicly that China poses a “serious strategic threat” to Ottawa through intimidation and theft of trade secrets, Reuters reported Tuesday from the capital city of the Great White North.
Now may be a good time to point you toward the Authoritarian Interference Tracker from researchers and analysts at the Alliance for Security Democracy.
The tracker sorts 20-plus years of “Russian and Chinese governments’ activities to undermine democracy in more than 40 transatlantic countries.” And the tracker does this via five metrics, or tools: 

  • information manipulation, 
  • cyber operations, 
  • malign finance, 
  • civil society subversion, 
  • and economic coercion.

Later updates will expand to cover North America and Europe, “as well as add instances of authoritarian interference by other regimes that adopt similar tactics to undermine democracies.”

And lastly today: Meet the French nun who has survived the 1918 flu, two world wars, and “Now she’s beaten covid-19 days before she turns 117,” the Washington Post reports. Her name is Sister André, and Reuters first reported on her incredible longevity. She was born on Feb. 11, 1904; but she’s not the world’s oldest living person. That distinction goes to Japan’s Kane Tanaka, who just turned 118 in early January.
By the way: “The world’s 20 oldest people,” Reuters reports, “are all female.” More here.

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