Today's D Brief: Afghan withdrawal update; Taliban reax; Escalation in Taiwan, Yemen; SOF under the microscope; And a bit more.

The U.S. will probably remove all of its troops from Afghanistan this year, President Joe Biden declared Thursday in his first press conference since taking office in January. 

But don’t expect that withdrawal by the May 1 deadline outlined in a peace agreement the Trump White House signed with the Taliban 13 months ago in Qatar. “We will leave. The question is when we leave,” Biden said, later citing “tactical reasons” that make it “hard to get those troops out.”

When asked if the U.S. will have troops in Afghanistan in 2022, Biden said, “I can’t picture that being the case.” But much will hinge on what Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have learned in ongoing discussions with NATO allies and the Afghan government. 

“It is not my intention to stay [in Afghanistan] for a long time,” the president said. “But the question is: How and in what circumstances do we meet that agreement that was made by President Trump to leave under a deal that looks like it’s not being able to be worked out to begin with? How is that done? But we are not staying a long time.” Defense One’s Kevin Baron has a bit more here.

By the way: Germany just extended its Afghan mission to 2022, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reports. 

The Taliban spin machine says any delay to the May 1 deadline is seen as “wasting this historic opportunity” because of “flawed advice and incitement by warmongering circles,” according to a statement released this morning. 

“If, God forbid, all foreign troops not withdraw from Afghanistan on the specified date in line with the Doha agreement, undoubtedly it will be considered a violation of the accord by America for which it shall be held liable and which shall also harm its international standing,” the group’s spokesman said, adding with some flare, “All responsibility for the prolongation of war, death and destruction will be on the shoulders of those whom committed this violation.”

Afghanistan’s president just shared a “roadmap for peace” this week, and it involves holding elections in six months’ time. Tolo reports, however, that few in Kabul think it has much of a chance of actually working. More to that, here.

In other Afghan news, sticky bombs are proliferating across Kabul, the Associated Press reports from the capital city. “The primitive devices, sometimes made in mechanics’ workshops for little money, are used by militants, criminals or those trying to settle personal scores. Over the past year, one or more cars have been exploding in Kabul almost every day and residents are terrified.” 

These things cost just about $25 to make, which reminds us of the economics of IEDs from the insurgencies in Iraq and Syria — and this NPR report from 2014, in particular.

From Defense One

'We Will Leave' Afghanistan Likely This Year, Biden Declares // Kevin Baron: But not by May 1. "It's not my intention to stay there for a long time, the question is how and under what circumstance," the president said, at the White House.

Senators Offer to Let NSA to Hunt Cyber Actors Inside the US // Patrick Tucker: After SolarWinds hack, Gen. Nakasone welcomes a fix for the cybersecurity 'blind spot' against Russia, China, but others cite privacy concerns.

Focus on Influence, Not Power, in the Middle East // Commentary by Jon B. Alterman: People talk about U.S. power and influence as if they're the same thing. That's a mistake.

Biden Should Shoot This Acquisition Down // Commentary by Hank Naughton: Lockheed's purchase of Aerojet Rocketdyne would strike a blow to competition and innovation.

These Are the Riskiest 'Smart City' Technologies, Cybersecurity Experts Say // Route Fifty's Bill Lucia: Technology like sensors built into infrastructure and emergency alerts has possible benefits, but in a new study dozens of experts weigh in on where some of the more significant pitfalls may lie.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Kevin Baron. 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 1344, what’s believed to be among the first European battles to use gunpowder, the siege of Algeciras (a key port city just west of the Rock of Gibraltar), came to an end after 21 months. Gunpowder, in use by the losing side in this conflict, only served to delay the inevitable. 

“Dramatic escalation” in Taiwan. At least 20 Chinese military aircraft reportedly entered Taiwan’s air identification zone today, which Reuters calls “the largest incursion yet reported by the island’s defence ministry and marking a dramatic escalation of tension across the Taiwan Strait.”
Involved: “Four nuclear-capable H-6K bombers and 10 J-16 fighter jets.”
A top Chinese official also slammed a recent U.S.-Taiwan Coast Guard agreement, and warned the U.S. to “be cautious with its words and actions on Taiwan-related issues,” AP reports from Beijing. “We urge the U.S. side to... refrain from sending any wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces, and refrain from encouraging and inciting Taiwan to expand its so-called international space,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said today. A bit more here.

The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen reportedly hit Saudi Arabia with 18 armed drones, igniting a fuel tank at an oil facility in southwestern Jizan Thursday around 9:00 p.m. local. “A Houthi military spokesman later claimed a series of attacks on several Saudi military sites and oil facilities, some acknowledged by the kingdom and others not,” AP reports.
“We are prepared to carry out stronger and harsher military attacks in the coming period,” Houthi spox Yahya Sarea said on Twitter.
The Saudi reax: “These attacks confirm the terrorist Houthi militia’s rejection of all political efforts to end the crisis,” said defence ministry spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki.
Meanwhile, America’s top diplomat for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, was scheduled to speak to the Houthis Thursday at an undisclosed location. Read on here

What’s the future of American special operations culture, and why does it matter? House lawmakers from its Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations will take up those questions in a hearing, Friday at 11:00 am ET. No active duty officers are attending this one; but former Army Lt. Gen. Mike Nagata and retired Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano will be there.
For the record, America has nearly 5,000 special operators working in almost 60 countries. And although those operators make up just 3% of America's joint force, they have suffered over half of all U.S. combat casualties over the past few years, Christopher Maier, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told lawmakers at a hearing Thursday.
Details and livestream link here.

Climate change vs. the U.S. military is the focus of another House hearing this afternoon before lawmakers with the Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee. The official title: “Installation Resiliency: Lessons Learned from Winter Storm Uri and Beyond.
You may recall the term “resiliency” from our podcast on the numerous challenges climate change poses to the U.S. military. (TLDR: Compared to the more politically charged “climate change,” resilience is a word that tends to get more attention from lawmakers and uniformed leaders because of its more direct association with readiness.)
The Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force are each sending a general officer for this virtual hearing. During today’s hearing, those “witnesses will also provide an update on the implementation of energy and extreme weather resiliency measures from the last four NDAAs,” according to HASC’s preview. More details and a livestream link, here.

Lastly this week: Untraceable weapons made from online parts. That’s what officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and firearms manufacturers will discuss today, the Wall Street Journal reports. “The challenge for the ATF will be legally drawing the line between a hunk of metal and a part that counts as a firearm.”
Point-Counterpoint: “Law-enforcement officials say [such weapons] appeal to criminals because all the parts can be purchased online and assembled without a background check. Gun-rights advocates say that such concerns are overblown and that homemade firearms are the province of hobbyists.”
One reason it’s in the news: “On Monday, 18 Democratic state attorneys general sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging him to act on ghost guns,” the Journal reports. More behind the paywall here.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll catch you again on Monday!