Today's D Brief: Pacific carrier diverted to Mideast; Taliban warns neighbors; Giant naval exercise; CT & great power competition; And a bit more.

Carrier alert: The U.S. Navy’s Japan-based flattop, USS Ronald Reagan, is expected to move closer to the Middle East and Afghanistan this summer to help with the U.S. military’s ongoing drawdown, the Wall Street Journal’s Nancy Youssef and Gordon Lubold report this morning. The Reagan will backfill the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which has been in the Middle East since April. 

One big reason this matters: “The U.S. Seventh Fleet, based in Japan, has dozens of other ships and aircraft, but the redeployment of its only available aircraft carrier represents a significant diversion away from Asia.” Read on, here

Worth noting: The U.S. owns at least 11 aircraft carriers. China is next on the list with just two; India and Italy also have two, but China’s are more modern and China is making at least two more, one of which is believed to be nuclear-powered. Popular Mechanics rolled up the rest of the carrier-operating nations back in December, here. has still more on the U.S. Navy’s biggest ships and hardware here.

Afghanistan latest: The Taliban just warned neighboring countries against hosting American troops and equipment as the U.S. considers its so-called “over the horizon” options for how to handle counterterrorism after its Afghan exit. 

“Foreign forces are the root cause of insecurity and war in the region and the greatest tragedy is that everyone has witnessed in the last twenty years, especially our afflicted people who have suffered and continue to suffer more than anyone else,” the group said in a statement. “We urge neighboring countries not to allow and grant anyone such a concession...

“As we have repeatedly assured others our soil will not be used against anyone’s security, we urge others not to use its soil and airspace against our country.” Read over the full remarks, which the group posted in English, here.

Pakistan’s top diplomat said his country won’t be used for any U.S. bases, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told senators Tuesday in Islamabad. “Forget the past, but I want to tell the Pakistanis that no U.S. base will be allowed by Prime Minister Imran Khan so long he is in power,” he said.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past two decades, “much of the Taliban’s leadership [still] lives in Pakistan,” America’s top envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told German news website Der Spiegel in an interview 15 days ago.

Meanwhile on the peace talks front, the Taliban seem to be slow-walking where it can in any upcoming negotiations with representatives from the current Kabul government. Voice of America reported Tuesday that the group has set three conditions for a possible conference hosted by Turkey: “The conference must be short, the agenda should not include decision-making on critical issues, and the Taliban delegation should be low level,” according to VOA.

From Defense One

US Naval Services Aim to Put Network-War Concepts to Global Test // Caitlin M. Kenney: Enormous exercise will combine several new concepts in scenarios up to major combat.

Introducing ‘The China Intelligence’ // Peter W. Singer and Peter Wood: Everyone needs to understand China better. Open-source intelligence can help.

Pentagon Studying How Counterterrorism Fits Into Great Power Competition // Jacqueline Feldscher: The Pentagon has not previously discussed how to use counterterrorism capabilities for great power competition. Now that’s changing.

US Air Force Will Cut Turkey from F-35 Production, Kendall Says // Tara Copp: The service secretary nominee also signals he’s not in favor of reducing U.S. F-35 purchases.

Three Political Crises Drove the Gaza Violence // Jon B. Alterman, CSIS: Millions of civilians were endangered by three sets of beleaguered politicians who lack a popular mandate.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1865, the last four-star general of the treasonous Confederate army, Edmund Kirby Smith, surrendered at Galveston, Texas.

Lukashenko’s retort. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed today that his military “responded adequately to the information received” when it forced a passenger plane to land in Minsk so authorities could arrest a dissident journalist this weekend.
Lukashenko is under growing pressure from European nations with airlines that previously flew over the former Soviet territory. But he maintained his defiance in a speech today to parliament, claiming "our ill-wishers from outside and inside the country have changed the methods of attacking the state," and it is those people, Lukashenko claimed, who have "crossed the boundaries of common sense and human morality.”
Where to go from here? “The Irish government will raise the issue with the United Nations Security Council later Wednesday,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The New York Times has more on Lukashenko’s growing global isolation, here.
Speaking of former Soviets, Russia is trying to tamp down expectations from that upcoming Biden-Putin summit in Switzerland, AP reports from Moscow.  

SecState Blinken is in Egypt for $110 million in funding for Gaza,  Politico reports. He’s already visited the leaders of Israel, Jordan and Egypt. For the record, Blinken “has made it clear the U.S. has no immediate plans to pursue peace talks between the sides and done little to address the underlying causes of the decades-long conflict,” AP reports from Cairo.
Here’s a puzzler from the region:Mysterious air base being built on volcanic island off Yemen,” AP reports from Dubai, which is probably responsible for what’s happening in that particularly strategic location.

Just behind Russia, Iran, and Myanmar, U.S.-based actors who share “conspiratorial or fringe political” content helped push the United States to #4 on Facebook’s list of the top nations involved in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on the platform. That’s according to Facebook’s newly-published “Threat Report” entitled “The State of Influence Operations 2017-2020.”
Other notable trends FB identified in its report:

  • The big campaigns (think the 2016 U.S. election, e.g.) are largely behind us; many actors seem to have moved on to “smaller, more targeted operations” now, FB says;
  • Users are increasingly concerned about what is “authentic debate” on these platforms versus what is debate that’s being manipulated in some way (through fake accounts, e.g.); 
  • And that sort of blurring-of-the-lines is carrying over into “the false perception of widespread manipulation of electoral systems, even if there is no evidence.”

Now what? This problem of online influence operations requires a “whole-of-society response,” the report’s authors warn. That will require building better links for “independent researchers, law enforcement and journalists” so they can “connect the dots to better counter IO.” Read over the full report here.

Update: A 71-year-old Vietnam vet from Alabama was arrested on Jan. 6 after police found 11 molotov cocktails and loaded weapons in his truck. Now a judge has denied his release after authorities say he trained at a militia camp in Texas before Jan. 6, and “had driven around the [D.C. Capitol] area a month prior, kept lists of officials and tried to find Republican Sen. Ted Cruz to discuss election fraud,” according to AP

And finally today: A coastal Texas county has a bit of a trash problem on its beaches, but don’t volunteer to help clean it up because inside that trash could be a big bag of cocaine. “Authorities say that once the drug becomes wet, it can leak from the package and absorb onto the skin, possibly making someone sick,” AP reports from Matagorda County, just south of Houston and Galveston.