Today's D Brief: Afghanistan envoy’s tour; Troops helping vaccinate; 18 killed in Myanmar protests; Iran on nuke talks; And a bit more.

America’s envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, begins his first regional tour since President Biden took office in January. Khalilzad’s traveling to Kabul and Doha, Qatar, “and additional regional capitals” this week for an update on intra-Afghan peace talks, the State Department announced Sunday.

How Biden’s State Department describes Khalilzad’s objectives this week: “He will resume discussions on the way ahead with the Islamic Republic and Afghan leaders, Taliban representatives, and regional countries whose interests are best served by the achievement of a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.” 

Khalilzad has already spoken to Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani today, as well as Abdullah Abdullah of Kabul’s High Council for National Reconciliation, and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s Khaama and Tolo News report this morning. 

What Kabul wants: “an immediate end to violence & the acceleration of the peace talks,” Abdullah tweeted this morning after chatting with Khalilzad. 

According to one key Kabul negotiator, 1,523 civilians have been killed across Afghanistan since the so-called “Doha agreement” was signed in Feb. 2020 between the Taliban and the Trump White House. 

Meanwhile: Kabul sees al-Qaeda in the NE. Kabul’s Ministry of Defense says today its security forces killed at least 30 Taliban and 16 al-Qaeda fighters during a firefight Sunday in the northeastern Kapisa province. Another 33 alleged Taliban were killed on Friday across Kandahar. More from the MoD, here.  

Updated: The U.S. spent $2.4 billion on various buildings in Afghanistan that were abandoned, never used or that were not used for their intended purpose, according to a new report (PDF) from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. 


From Defense One

Hyten: US Must Broaden Its Strategic Deterrence Concept — and Keep Its ICBMs // Patrick Tucker: The Joint Chiefs vice chair said a “new strategic defense review” should take account of communications and sensors.

Air Force General: If US Doesn’t Hurry to Build New Fighter, China Will // Marcus Weisgerber: A test version of the highly classified Next Generation Air Dominance aircraft flew last year.

Khashoggi Report Blames MBS; Biden Skips Sanctions For Crown Prince // Katie Bo Williams: Punishing MBS would put the United States in a “hostile” position with Riyadh, an administration official told reporters.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Leonardo DRS plans IPO; F-35 changes ahead?; Space war rundown; and more.

ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s Sub-Saharan Affiliates Are Poised for Growth in 2021 // Jacob Zenn and Colin P. Clarke: A rundown on jihadi groups’ expansion in the Sahel and Nigeria, the Horn of Africa, and the continent’s southeastern Swahili coast.

Space Force Should Embrace the Natural Inclusivity of Space Nerds // Sarah Mineiro: It would make the nascent service better at many things, including recruiting.

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. On this day in 1953, pajama-clad Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin was found collapsed on his bedroom floor after suffering a stroke. Four days later, he would be dead. But it would take another six months for the USSR to officially appoint a successor, Nikita Khrushchev.


Surprise, surprise: Iran is playing hardball when it comes to a possible return to direct talks with the U.S. about Tehran’s controversial nuclear program. According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran wants a guarantee talks with U.S. officials will lead to “some sanctions relief, which Washington has so far ruled out.”
How Iran wants to proceed, according to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (emphasis added): EU officials will mediate “a step-by-step process in which the U.S. and Iran would each agree to concessions before a possible meeting between Iranian officials and their U.S. counterparts,” Western diplomats told the Journal.
And the White House’s early reax to this possible change of plans: Whatever works. Or, as one unnamed official said, “We are not going to be dogmatic or sticklers for form. We want to make sure that whatever formal process is agreed is one that is going to be effective.” More from the Journal, here.
Another Iran-linked thing: State Secretary Anthony Blinken has called on the Iran-backed Houthis to commit to working toward an end to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. That came during a United Nations meeting today. Tiny bit more from Reuters.
BTW: Dozens of fighters have died in recent and ongoing clashes between the Houthis on one side and Yemeni and Saudi-backed troops on the other in the central province of Marib. Al-Jazeera has more here

On the scene with troops serving at a mass vaccination site in Los Angeles. Senior Airman Samantha Campos is an unmanned aerial vehicle crew chief now staffing a drive-up vaccine lane. “They told me I could be here until September, so we’ll see,” Campos told Military Times’ Meghann Myers, who has more interviews and slices of life, here.
Also: Naval Academy returns to remote-only learning after COVID uptick. Annapolis Capital, writing off a USNA press release: “Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck and other Naval Academy leadership addressed the midshipmen virtually Sunday, announcing a return to a full restriction of movement. All meals will be consumed in dorm rooms, and midshipmen will be permitted a maximum of two hours of outdoor physical activity daily with a maximum of one roommate.” A bit more, here

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will brief the press at the White House, alongside Press Secretary Jen Psaki at noon today.
Afterward, President Biden will meet virtually with his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, around 4 p.m. ET, according to the president’s public schedule.  

The FBI has singled out a suspect in the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick during the failed insurrection of Jan. 6, the New York Times reported Friday. 

In Burma this weekend, 18 people were killed during protests against the military coup that’s now exactly a month old. “The police action on Sunday wasn’t limited to one area or city, beginning early in the morning in many parts of the country and signaling a deliberate effort to use greater force. Myanmar’s military has a history of deadly crackdowns against pro-democracy protesters, including during mass demonstrations in 2007 and 1988,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
White House reax: “We are preparing additional actions to impose further costs on those responsible for this latest outbreak of violence and the recent coup,” President Biden said in a statement Sunday evening. 

And finally today: Indo-Pacific Command’s Navy Adm. Philip Davidson keynotes an afternoon address at the virtual Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association’s TechNet Indo-Pacific 2021 conference. That gets started at 3:30 p.m. ET. Details and registration here.

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