Today's D Brief: Austin's big idea; Fighting increases in Afghanistan; Army budget ‘risk’; China’s free-falling rocket; And a bit more.

SecDef Austin's new defense pitch. He calls the idea “integrated defense,” according to a Washington Post oped, which was adapted from a speech Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin delivered nearly a week ago. And by that he means “the U.S. military isn’t meant to stand apart, but to buttress U.S. diplomacy and advance a foreign policy that employs all instruments of our national power. As President Biden has made clear, diplomacy must come first, and the use of force must be a very last resort.”

Austin introduced the concept last week at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, which is located at Hawaii's Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. That speech marked one of Austin's first public forays into strategy, as the Associated Press reported.

“Integrated deterrence means using some of our current capabilities differently," Austin writes. "It means developing new operational concepts for things we already have. And it means investing in quantum computing and artificial intelligence, which will help us make decisions with more speed and rigor...

"But this isn’t just about technology," he says. "That means that our view of deterrence has to rise above the old stovepipes that can build up in any big organization. Deterrence in the space and cyber domains, and nuclear deterrence itself, shouldn’t be seen as somehow entirely separate from the sweep of our operations...In space, for example, integrated deterrence would mean ensuring that capabilities like our Global Positioning System can continue even if adversaries attack it with missiles, cyber tools, or space-based weapons.”

FWIW: The concept itself isn’t particularly new, as Brookings’ Michael O’Hanlon notes, and Austin’s declaration that “technology is changing the character of warfare itself” sounds a bit specious to CNAS Adjunct Fellow Elsa Kania. But as Cambridge lecturer John Nilsson-Wright put it, “Concepts, analysis & smart messaging are back in US foreign & security policy….I imagine we’ll hear a lot more about this in the weeks & months to come.”

From Defense One

‘A Lot of Risk’ in Army’s Proposed 2022 Budget, Service Leaders Say // Caitlin Kenney: As details remain under wraps, lawmakers fret about possible cuts.

What's In Biden’s First Budget? And How Late Will It Be? // Marcus Weisgerber: The White House could submit its defense budget request later than any administration in at least a century.

Some US Military Bases Begin to Loosen Mask Rules // Jennifer Hlad: As some states drop COVID restrictions, commanders from coast to coast are attempting to walk a safe line.

Pentagon Has No Plans to Shoot Down Freefalling Chinese Rocket // Tara Copp and Jacqueline Feldscher: Secretary Austin is monitoring the large rocket’s decaying orbit, but spokesman says it’s “too early” to develop options to intercept.

Tough Conditions and Contested Communication Are Forcing the US Military To Reinvent AI // Patrick Tucker: Those miracle apps on your phone are powered by cloud computing and high-bandwidth data transfer. What does AI look like when those features are missing?

‘That’s Why I Wear the Uniform:’ Milley Calls Racial, Religious Equality His ‘North Star’ // Tara Copp: The chairman’s remarks at an ROTC commissioning come amid Pentagon efforts to address inequality in the ranks.

Welcome to this Thursday 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 1996 and eight days after he disappeared, the body of former CIA director William Colby was found on a riverbank about a quarter mile from his Maryland home.

Sniper fire targeting Ukraine’s troops has decreased since Russia withdrew some of its forces from Ukraine’s borders in the last two weeks, Kyiv’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday during a visit by U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken. However, Blinken added, “we also see that significant [Russian] forces remain” on Ukraine’s border, Agence France-Presse reports.
Background: “Russia last month amassed 100,000 troops near the border and in Crimea, its biggest buildup since 2014, but quickly announced a pullback in what many saw as a test for the new US administration of President Joe Biden,” AFP writes. And on Thursday, “Zelensky said Ukraine still saw Russia flexing its muscle on the Black Sea and said it had only removed 3,000 to 3,500 troops from Crimea.”
Blinken just ended a three-day visit with G7 officials in London. There the delegates released a statement censuring China for its human rights abuses in, e.g., its western Xinjiang region. More on that from Reuters here.
Related: Those human rights abuses in Xinjiang are the topic of discussion in a hearing today before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Details here.
One more thing about China: The U.S. military’s top officer in Africa says Beijing wants to add another port in the continent — this time on its western coast. The Associated Press has more from its interview with AFRICOM’s Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, here.

The U.S. military is hitting the Taliban with airstrikes in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, “where aid groups have reported a significant increase in fighting in just the past few days,” Voice of America’s Jeff Seldin reported Wednesday.
Nearly 180 Taliban fighters were killed by Afghan forces in operations spanning at least seven different provinces on Wednesday, and that includes 43 in Helmand, Ministry of Defense deputy spokesman Fawad Aman tweeted.
Overnight, two districts in Baghlan province fell to the Taliban, according to Tolo News. (Baghlan is located just north of Kabul.) The Taliban claim 200 locals and police joined the group after the district fell. Taliban fighters are also reportedly escalating attacks in Ghor and Farah provinces, toward the west.
Bigger picture: “Of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, the Taliban controls 78 and contests another 193,” Bill Roggio of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies wrote Wednesday in FDD’s Long War Journal. View FDD’s map of Afghan influence here.
FWIW: The Taliban say they’ve released 11 Afghan security forces who’d been detained by the group, Taliban spox Zabihullah tweeted today, citing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan as the reason for their release. (Six of those allegedly released had been held in Helmand province.)

Attention Iraq watchers: You’re going to want to bookmark a new deep dive on PMFs. It’s highly unlikely Iraq and coalition troops could have dislodged ISIS as quickly as they did if they had not had the support of Iraq’s multifaceted Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF units, which number about 164,000 fighters. Now you can get an updated and much better grasp on that Shiite-dominated militia confederation thanks to an almost 50-page report (PDF) from analysts at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy think tank in Washington, D.C.
One big reason why this matters: “[I]t has become increasingly difficult to conceive of a way to rein in much of the PMF or to weaken it without a destructive confrontation that would undermine the fragile Iraqi state…In the aggregate, [the current PMF system] creates new elites complicit and invested in a circle of militarized corruption.”
Recommendations for how to proceed from here: Update or revise Iraq’s PMF Commission, which temporarily legitimized the militias amid the desperate race to push ISIS from Iraqi cities in 2016. In particular, “there must be clearly defined criteria for the positions of the PMF Commission; use of military law against renegades; active roles for security; and legalism,” Newlines’ analysts write. That commission should also “close [its] economic offices and forbid political and party activity so that the PMF can play its role inside the body of the Iraqi state and in harmony with the laws and constitution of Iraq” via “financial and administrative oversight.”
Worth noting: The detail in this report is extraordinary, from a unit-by-unit breakdown across each of Iraq’s regions to maps of PMF checkpoints, training camps and even military factories and oil fields believed to be linked to or controlled by PMF officials. Continue reading (PDF) here.
BTW: A very unusual drone crashed in Iraq last July. That drone happened to have been part of a secretive U.S. special operations program, The Drive reported Tuesday. 

Back stateside, ICE deportations just fell to the lowest monthly level yet recorded, the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff reported Wednesday. “ICE deported 2,962 immigrants in April, according to the agency. It is the first time the monthly figure has dipped below 3,000, records show. The April total is a 20 percent decline from March, when ICE deported 3,716.”
Lawmakers are hearing about factors influencing migration to the U.S. in an afternoon hearing before the House Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Oversight, Management and Accountability. Details here.

Also today on the Hill, U.S. Navy ship and submarine maintenance are the topics of discussion today before the House Armed Services’ Readiness Subcommittee. “The [Navy] witnesses will also discuss the Navy’s new optimized fleet response plan, COVID-19 impacts to ship and submarine impacts, and its planning for sustaining a reconfigured fleet,” according to HASC’s preview. That’s scheduled for 3 p.m. ET. Details here.
Elsewhere this afternoon, DARPA officials will speak at a Nextgov/Defense One virtual event starting at noon ET. Details and livestream (no-cost registration required) here.
And Navy Chief Adm. Gilday is slated to speak at the Navy Memorial’s SITREP Speaker series. That gets started at 1:30 p.m. ET. Details here; registration here.