Today's D Brief: Afghanistan withdrawal takes shape; DoD clarifies Yemen role; China warns US; Indonesian sub declared lost; And a bit more.

Two BUFFs and a flattop for America’s Afghanistan exit. The United States military announced Friday that it deployed B-52 bombers and extended an aircraft carrier’s deployment to the Middle East in order to bolster overall security as the U.S. withdraws several thousand of its troops from Afghanistan by the Sept. 11 deadline set by President Joe Biden nearly two weeks ago.

“I now have a set of orders,” America’s top officer in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Scott Miller told reporters Sunday in Kabul. “And what that means to me is I have some very clear objectives. First and foremost, it’s my objective to ensure that the Afghan security forces are in the best possible security posture, also that we will conduct an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan. And that means transitioning bases and equipment to the Afghan security forces, and [I’m] also charged with ensuring it is as safe as possible, meaning we will protect the force as we depart from Afghanistan. With that, we have the military means and capability to fully protect our force during retrograde as well as support the Afghan security forces.”

  • In case you missed that messaging, Miller’s support staff saved it in video form and posted it to social media Sunday evening. Watch it on Twitter here

The view from the Pentagon: “It would be foolhardy and imprudent not to assume that there could be resistance and opposition to the drawdown by the Taliban, given their staunch rhetoric,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday. 

Two of those B-52s arrived at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar Friday; you can see a few pictures of those here. “As many as six” could be headed to the region for this tasking, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. 

About the carrier: That’d be the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), which along with its entourage of ships has been in the region since February. Their deployment has now been extended to help provide security cover for the 3,500 or so Americans and the 7,000 or so other NATO troops exiting soon. 

Troops are just a part of the 30,000 total personnel who will be leaving Afghanistan in the next four months or so, according to the Journal. “That includes all American military forces, U.S. contractors, contractors from other countries, known as ‘third country nationals,’ and NATO forces.”

A couple hundred Army Rangers are on standby, too, in case the U.S. and its allies come under attack during the drawdown. And these three different elements could be just the first of many to arrive in the region to help with the pullout, Kirby said Friday. “I think it’s reasonable to assume that there could be temporary additional force protection measures and enablers that we require to make sure again that this drawdown goes smoothly and safely for our men and women,” said Kirby.

“The only reasonable way forward is a political path to peace,” Gen. Miller said Sunday in Kabul. “To do otherwise will take this into a place where the violence is senseless. And I've had the opportunity to talk to Taliban members with the Taliban Political Commission, and I've told them a return to violence, an effort to force a military decision would be a tragedy for Afghanistan and the Afghan people.”

Developing: The Taliban may be getting what they want from Kabul and the U.S. in terms of prisoner releases. Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai tweeted over the weekend “soon the Taliban leaders name will be removed from blacklist. And 7,000 Taliban prisoners will be released." Both of those were reportedly demands the group had before it would let the U.S. extend its May 1 withdraw deadline, as the group believed the terms of the 2020 Doha deal spelled out. However, “Stanikazai made no mention of a cease fire and there was no immediate comment from the reconciliation council headed by Abdullah Abdullah,” the Associated Press reported Sunday from Kabul.

Read over how the Taliban view the future amid a wider pitch for their take on an Islamic political system for the country in a Tolo review of a Friday essay from the group, here

One U.S. expert’s forecast: “I believe the Taliban will continue their ‘strangle the cities to generate leverage & extract concessions’ approach that has frankly been working well for them so far,” CNA’s Jonathan Schroden tweeted Sunday. “Of course, battlefield developments (such as the collapse of the #ANDSF checkpoint structure around Kandahar this year) may prove to be too tempting to pass up, but on the whole I’d expect the #Taliban to continue w/a more calibrated use of force in 2021-22.”

By the way: Much of the front page for Afghanistan’s Tolo News this morning concerns bouts of recent violence across the country, including: 

The view from Beijing: Now is the time for Chinese to invest in Afghanistan. Or, to quote China’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Wang Yu, speaking Sunday, “China encourages Chinese companies to activate, participate in the economic construction of Afghanistan so that the achievement of China-Afghanistan cooperation in building one Belt and One Road will benefit the people of both countries.” More at Tolo here

What’s on your mind? We asked you last week, and here are a few of the replies:

  • “I believe total withdrawal from Afghanistan is asking for trouble in what would become an unmonitored power vacuum. We have learned painful lessons about what occurs in such situations. At a minimum, an intelligence force should be left in place to gather intel on what transpires in the aftermath of removal of combat capability.”
  • “What is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming another Vietnam?”
  • “What does the phrase, 'terrorist haven', mean in the age of the internet?”
  • “What happens to [Guantanamo Bay] if we make peace with Taliban/end engagement in Afghanistan?”
  • “The problem of tribal splintering in Afghanistan appears to be a major stumbling block in achieving a meaningful solution to that country’s problems.”

And stay tuned to our Defense One Radio podcast a bit later today to hear what a Green Beret thinks about his time in Afghanistan and what could lie ahead. In the second half, one of our favorite informed pessimists, Bill Roggio of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, joins us to share his thoughts on the past, present and future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Subscribe to Defense One Radio wherever you listen to podcasts.   

From Defense One

China to US: Back Off and Calm Down // Kevin Baron: Foreign Minister Wang Yi just delivered a raw, propaganda-tainted rebuke of Washington’s leaders for stoking “fears” of China’s rise.

Pentagon Panel Recommends Removing Sexual Assault Cases From Chain of Command // Tara Copp: Moving cases to an independent prosecutor is a change long-sought by victims and families failed by the current system.

A Better Way to Spot Deep-Faked Satellite Images // Patrick Tucker: Training AIs to look at 26 subtle features may help thwart attempts to peddle fraudulent imagery.

Biden Must Press Armenia to Hand Over Minefield Maps // Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to the U.S.: Mines in Nagorno-Karabakh are killing civilians and troops.

JADC2 Strategy Nearing Completion, Official Says // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall said the strategy has been briefed to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the deputy secretary of defense.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster began at the power plant near Pripyat, in Soviet Ukraine.

A clearer picture of diminished U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s Yemen war. The Pentagon on Friday provided some clarity on exactly how much the U.S. military is continuing to help its Saudi allies in their nearly six-year war on the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. “As the President directed, U.S. support for Saudi-led Coalition offensive operations in Yemen ended in February, including relevant arms sales,” Pentagon spox John Kirby said in a message to reporters Saturday evening. “This includes suspending the sales of certain air to ground munitions and munition components.” In-air refueling has also stopped, Kirby said.
What has not changed: The U.S. military’s radars and early warning systems are still helping inform the Saudis about air attacks on the Kingdom — attacks that originate outside its borders, most typically via Houthi attacks from any number of locations across Yemen, but frequently from the north.
The U.S. is also still helping fix and repair Saudi jets, more formally known as “provid[ing] maintenance support to Saudi Arabia’s Air Force,” Kirby said. 

America has a new envoy for the Horn of Africa, and he’s a veteran diplomat with a lot of mileage. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman is his name, and the White House announced his new job Friday, flagging, in particular, “the urgent crises in Ethiopia, where we continue to urge the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces, the cessation of hostilities by all parties, and unimpeded humanitarian access.”
Feltman spent the last couple years at the Brookings Institution. But before that, he worked for nearly six years as the under-secretary-general for political affairs at the United Nations in New York. He was also the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon for four years ending in 2008. A bit more on his background via Brookings, here.

And lastly today: Indonesia has declared its submarine lost. The military made the call on Sunday, after “search teams had located the vessel’s wreckage on the ocean floor,” AP reported three days after it went missing off the Bali coast. Fifty-three crew members perished in the apparent accident. More from AP, here.