Today's D Brief: US, NATO to pull out of Afghanistan; IC’s threat assessment; Biden diplomacy; Extremist airman; And a bit more.

At long last: America’s military is leaving Afghanistan in September. That’s the big news we learned Tuesday, and expect to hear more about this afternoon when President Joe Biden addresses the topic in remarks planned for about 2 p.m. ET from the White House’s Treaty Room. 

Also today: We could get a better sense of what America’s NATO allies think of Biden’s decision. His Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and top diplomat Secretary of State Antony Blinken are in Brussels to meet with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, as well as foreign and defense ministers from across the alliance — and Afghanistan is just one of a few interrelated matters the officials are discussing today. Others include NATO support to Ukraine and “the immediate need for Russia to cease its aggressive military buildup along Ukraine’s borders and in occupied Crimea,” according to a statement today from Blinken’s spokesman Ned Price. 

But about Afghanistan: “[T]he NATO Alliance went into Afghanistan together, adjusted to changing circumstances together, and will leave together,” Price said. 

According to the White House: “We will begin an orderly drawdown of the remaining forces before May 1 and plan to have all U.S. troops out of the country before the 20th anniversary of 9/11,” a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday. 

NATO troops will also depart; but exactly how many is unclear. “We have discussed the drawdown with our NATO allies and operational partners,” that administration official said. “We will remain in lockstep with them as we undergo this operation. We went in together, adjusted together, and now we will prepare to leave together.”

Worth noting: “At the moment, of the 9,600 NATO troops officially in Afghanistan, about 2,500 of them are American, though that number can be as many as 1,000 higher,” the New York Times reports today from Brussels. “The second-largest contingent is from Germany, with some 1,300 troops.”

  • Read over the decidedly mixed bag of reactions from Congress — GOP Sen. Ted Cruz approves; GOP Sen. Jim Inhoffe does not, e.g. — and elsewhere via Tara Copp’s reporting in Defense One on Tuesday, here
  • One big question: “The Biden administration says it can fight terrorism in a way that its predecessors called impossible. But can it, really?” asks Defense One’s Executive Editor Kevin Baron. 
  • The long view: “[T]he Biden administration is really the Trump administration but with civilized manners,” writes Eliot A. Cohen of SAIS at Johns Hopkins University in The Atlantic. “This is not the end of the war; it is merely the end of its direct American phase.” Read on, here.

ICYMI: 500 more U.S. troops will be headed to Germany’s “Wiesbaden area” possibly as early as this fall, Austin announced Tuesday from Berlin. The new troops would bring the total U.S. forces in Germany to about 35,500; and it sends a notably different message to NATO than the one from Biden’s predecessor, who sought to reduce troop levels in Germany and add to troop levels in Poland.

“[T]his move will also create more space capabilities, more cyber, and more electronic warfare capabilities in Europe, and it will greatly improve our ability to surge forces at a moment's notice to defend our allies,” Austin said Tuesday. Some 35 local national positions and 750 family members will also be coming to the Wiesbaden areas, U.S. Army-Europe officials said in a separate announcement Tuesday. 

Germany’s reax: “It is great news that not only has the withdrawal of troops...from Germany been halted, but, quite the contrary; we will be able to welcome an additional 500 U.S. troops,” Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said while standing beside Austin in Berlin.

From Defense One

US, NATO Troops to Withdraw from Afghanistan by 9/11, US Official Says // Tara Copp: Decision for a September pullout follows “rigorous policy review.”

Afghanistan’s Situation Didn’t Change. American Politics Did  // Kevin Baron: The Biden administration says it can fight terrorism in a way that its predecessors called impossible. Can it?

HASC Chair: White House Is Slow-Rolling Defense Budget Details // Marcus Weisgerber: “Get us the numbers before May 10,” Rep. Adam Smith said Tuesday.

New ODNI Report Sees Growing Cyber Threats, COVID-Related Instability // Patrick Tucker, Government Executive: Intelligence heads will brief lawmakers on Wednesday about threats from China, Russia, others.

'I Felt Hate More Than Anything': How an Active Duty Airman Tried to Start a Civil War // Gisela Pérez de Acha, Ellie Lightfoot, and Kathryn Hurd, ProPublica: Steven Carrillo’s path to the Boogaloo Bois shows the hate group is far more organized and dangerous than previously known.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., on the same night that a deserter in the Confederacy attacked Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward while he was being treated by an Army nurse in his home. Confederate Gen. Robert Lee had surrendered to the Union Army just four days earlier, but Lincoln and Seward’s attackers thought there was still a chance the South could win the war. Seward somehow survived his attack; Lincoln passed away the following day. The South officially lost the war on May 9.

For the first time in two years, America’s top intelligence officials will testify on global threats to the U.S. That includes CIA Director William Burns; FBI Director Chris Wray; Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines; Army Gen. Paul Nakasone of the National Security Agency; and Defense Intelligence Agency's Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier. That started at 10 a.m. ET. Catch the livestream here.
Some things they’re apt to bring up today: The worldwide effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is “prompting shifts in security priorities for countries around the world,” Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports off the new worldwide threat assessment (PDF) from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was released this week.
In addition to COVID-19, “A large section on cyber this year highlights the risk of supply-chain disruptions from China and particularly Russia.” Read on, here.
What does the future of U.S. cybersecurity look like? That’s what the Senate Armed Services Committee is looking into today during an afternoon hearing with NSA Cybersecurity Director Robert Joyce; the Defense Department's David McKeown and and Navy Rear Adm. William Chase III. That gets underway at 2:30 p.m. ET.

NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM leaders are headed before the House Armed Services Committee today. The ostensible focus of that hearing: “National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activity in North and South America.” That’s scheduled for 11 a.m., and comes an hour after the House Foreign Affairs Committee began its hearing digging into “Root Causes of Migration from Central America.”

Biden talked with Putin on Tuesday. During the leaders’ second phone call, the U.S. president “emphasized the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity," according to a White House readout of the call. The Hill has a bit more.
Russia vows two more weeks of military maneuvers near Ukraine as U.S. warships plan Black Sea sortie, AP reported Tuesday.
Here’s a roundup of Russia’s recent military moves in the region, from Defense One’s Patrick Tucker.

The U.S. has also dispatched an “unofficial delegation” to Taiwan, according to Reuters: “Former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd and former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg headed to Taiwan on Tuesday at President Joe Biden’s request, in what a White House official called a ‘personal signal’ of the president’s commitment to the Chinese-claimed island and its democracy.” Read on, here.
ICYMI: Chinese and U.S. naval forces have been particularly active in the Western Pacific and South China Sea in the past few weeks. More at CNN.

And finally today: A company in Australia knows how to break into encrypted iPhones. That’s why the FBI asked them to help in the case of the San Bernardino shooters back in December 2015… and it’s also why Apple is suing the company, the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Reed Albergotti report after some respectable sleuthing.
Who are these guys? Azimuth Security, which the Post describes as “a publicity-shy company that says it sells its cyber wares only to democratic governments.”
Where this story gets interesting: “Even Apple didn’t know which vendor the FBI used,” Nakashima and Albergotti write. “But without realizing it, Apple’s attorneys came close last year to learning of Azimuth’s role — through a different court case, one that has nothing to do with unlocking a terrorist’s device.” Continue reading here.