Today's D Brief: Three shot in Austin; 150K Russians near Ukraine; Mixed readiness metrics; Welcome back, interagency; And just a bit more.
A former Texas sheriff’s deputy is in custody today after two women and a man were killed Sunday in Austin, the Associated Press reports from the Lone Star state.
The shooting was one of several over the weekend across America, including separate gun-related deaths in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Nebraska and Louisiana.
At least 50 mass shootings have been reported in the United States since March 16, “when eight people were killed and one wounded in shootings at three Atlanta-area spas,” CNN reports. The news organization defines a mass shooting as a shooting with four or more casualties — dead or wounded — excluding the shooter. “[T]ogether, they underscored the fact the United States faces not just the Covid-19 pandemic, but a gun violence epidemic, as well” Read on, here.
"This has to end. It's a national embarrassment," Biden said at a White House press conference on Friday — one day after nine people were shot in Indianapolis but before the Austin shootings. Reuters: “Biden said Congress should ban military-style "assault" weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines. Biden authored a similar ban in the U.S. Senate that expired in 2004.”
From Defense One
Advocates Hope First Female Army Secretary Brings Change // Tara Copp: Nominee Christine Wormuth has led strategy and policy at the highest levels. Can she lead cultural change as well?
Trump-era Efforts to Boost Military Readiness Produced Mixed Results, GAO Finds // Elizabeth Howe: New report adds fuel to debate over how to conceive of and measure readiness.
No F-35s for UAE, Please // A. Trevor Thrall and Jordan Cohen : The sale is likely to deepen existing conflicts and further enmesh the U.S. in the region.
Can the US and Russia Agree to Disagree? // Daniel DePetris: The relationship is cold, but there are still some areas of mutual interest.
Welcome to this Monday 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 1975, India put its first satellite into orbit, where it functioned for about five days before a power failure turned it into basically a hunk of metal just floating around the planet. And that’s what it did for about 18 years before burning up on reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere in February 1992.
POTUS46 has ushered in a return of “interagency” decision-making. According to the Washington Post, “Three months after taking office, President Biden has reestablished the formal decision process, which his predecessor seemed determined to destroy, that has guided U.S. administrations through foreign policymaking since the Second World War.”
What to do in Afghanistan “was among the first major issues on which the process, organized and directed by the National Security Council, became fully operational. Dozens of high-level meetings were held, including four separate sessions with the president in the Situation Room. Military, intelligence and diplomatic assessments were compiled, and consultations were held with allies and lawmakers.”
This, too, marks a return to common practice: In his Wednesday announcement, Biden said the withdrawal deal “is perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself, but it was an agreement made by the United States government, and that means something,” Read on, here.
The future of Afghanistan is the focus of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is going behind closed doors this evening to talk it over with America’s chief Afghan negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Pentagon's Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, David Helvey. That’s slated for 6 p.m. ET.
- What are your questions about the future of Afghanistan? We’ll be looking into the matter in an upcoming podcast episode, so we’d love to get your thoughts. Send those via email here.
Russia now has about 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders and inside Crimea, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said today, according to Agence France-Presse.
BTW: The EU wants a more active role in the future of Pacific security and diplomacy, releasing a new 10-page strategy document for the region, according to Reuters. Excerpts of note include this statement from the 27-member bloc: “The EU will further develop partnerships and strengthen synergies with likeminded partners and relevant organisations in security and defence. This will include responding to challenges to international security, including maritime security.”
A longer, more comprehensive document is expected in September. Tiny bit more at Reuters, here.
Rockets hit an Iraqi base where U.S. contractors work. It happened Sunday when two Iraqi soldiers were wounded after at least five rockets hit the Iraqi military air base at Balad north of Baghdad. Reuters has more here.
For the first time in Coast Guard history, the president is about to nominate a female four-star admiral — Vice Adm. Linda Fagan — to lead the service, according to Defense News.
One reason why this matters: It comes just about “two years after a major report detailed service challenges to keep women officers long-term,” DN’s Aaron Mehta writes. More here.
New rules for ICE and CBP officials: Terms like “alien” and “illegal” are out, and words like “migrant” and “undocumented” are now authorized, according to a memo making the rounds today for department chiefs at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, the Washington Post reports.
Cuba’s future just became a bit more uncertain with Friday’s news that Raúl Castro is preparing to retire, potentially ending a run of Castro leadership that stretched back to 1959.
So who will follow Castro as Cuban Community Party chief? Quite possibly the party’s current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, according to the New York Times. Díaz-Canel is about to turn 61, but he’s “part of a younger generation that wants a gradual opening of the country, though no change to Cuba’s system of one-party rule.”
Lastly today: NASA just marked a new technological first when it flew an aircraft today on the surface of Mars. It was actually the aircraft itself doing the flying, according to CNN, which reports the “autonomous” flight happened today for just 39 seconds at 3:30 a.m. ET. “We've been talking about our Wright Brothers moment on another planet for so long. And now, here it is,” said one of the project managers.
It’s known as NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter, and the New York Times calls it “the first machine from Earth ever to fly like an airplane or a helicopter on another world.”
It cost $85 million, weighs about 4 pounds, and it’s expected to take at least four more test flights over the next 30 days, the Wall Street Journal reports.
One curious detail: “Ground controllers had to wait more than three excruciating hours before learning whether the pre-programmed flight had succeeded more than 170 million miles (287 million kilometers) away” on that surface of Mars, AP reports. The Washington Post has more, here.