Today's D Brief: Afghanistan's future; SecDef, lawmakers spar over racism study; Marines rethink battalions; Guardsmen go hungry; And a bit more.

79 days. That’s how long America’s military has left in Afghanistan, as long as there are no significant changes to the Sept. 11 withdrawal deadline set by U.S. President Joe Biden — the second president to win office on the promise of removing America from its “forever wars.” And the Afghanistan war is America’s longest at 19 years, 8 months and 18 days since it officially began on Oct. 7, 2001. 

Another concerning number: 180 days. That’s about how long a new U.S. intelligence estimate suggests Afghanistan’s government will stand before collapsing, perhaps as early as March 2022, according to the Wall Street Journal reporting Wednesday. And that’s a stark revision from the previous known U.S. intelligence estimate of two years.

Those things are surely on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s mind for his two-day trip to the U.S., which began today with a direct flight to Washington from Kabul. (Arrival photo via Tolo News) On Friday Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, will join Ghani and Biden at the White House. 

But experts don’t expect much from Friday’s meeting, Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher reported Wednesday. In particular, “None of the questions about how the United States will support the Afghan government after September is likely to be answered.”

One big open question: How can America appropriately monitor for terrorist plots to strike U.S. territory without people on the ground? Feldscher reports defense officials told Congress last month that they do not have a plan to collect intelligence after the withdrawal, and are still working to secure agreements with nearby countries to either allow overflight or host American assets. Read more here.

New: The Biden administration is preparing to move America’s Afghan interpreters and civilians to third countries while they await entry application processing to the U.S., the New York Times reported Thursday. ABC News confirmed planning is underway but operations have not yet begun.

For a sense of the scale of this effort, consider this: “More than 18,000 Afghans who have worked as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security guards, fixers and embassy clerks for the United States during the war have been trapped in bureaucratic limbo after applying for special immigrant visas,” according to White House officials. “Those applicants have 53,000 family members,” the Times reports.

Worth noting: None of this guarantees an applicant’s visa will be approved, and it remains “unclear whether people who somehow do not qualify would be sent back to Afghanistan or left in a third country.” More from the Times, here

Also new: Six more district centers fell to Taliban control overnight, Tolo News reports. Those span Faryab, Uruzgan, Baghlan, Logar and Ghazni provinces. That adds up to at least 36 districts seized by the group since May. 

  • Al-Jazeera estimates the Taliban control 80 out of Afghanistan’s 421 districts.
  • The Foundation for Defense of Democracies believes the Taliban control 142 districts in contrast to Kabul’s 86, with the remainder falling at various points on the spectrum somewhere in between. 

Tweeted FDD’s Bill Roggio on Wednesday: “Many of the districts are falling to the Taliban because the local security forces and government leaders recognize that the Afghan gov't can't or won't (or both) defend them.”

How busy is Kabul’s military? Reuters reported Saturday that Afghan security forces are fighting the Taliban in at least 28 of 34 provinces across the country. And that comes as President Ghani just replaced his defense minister and army chief this past weekend.

In Afghanistan headlines today:A government seized by force will not be recognized legitimate, the US warned the Taliban,” via Khaama Press. (That comes out of a State Department briefing on Tuesday, transcribed here.)

And ICYMI, “Some Afghans Are Forming Their Own Armies,” the New York Times reported Tuesday, zeroing in on some among Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic group. 

In U.S. opinion writing, David Ignatius of the Washington Post this week predicted a “summer of pain” with a “menu of policy options to prevent another ruinous civil war [that] is depressingly meager.” 


From Defense One

It's Time to Wargame Against an AI-Enabled China // Patrick Tucker: Top commanders say military training needs to reflect how artificial intelligence will change the pace of war.

The Marine Corps Is Redesigning Infantry Battalions for the Future // Caitlin M. Kenney: Recommendations for a nimbler unit organization with fewer grunts and more tech will go to the commandant next year.

Austin, Milley Push Back on Lawmakers’ ‘Critical Race Theory’ Accusations // Tara Copp: Republicans ask why West Point cadets learn about ‘White Rage,’ in pointed exchanges with nation’s first Black defense secretary.

Uncertainty About Post-Withdrawal Plans Clouds Biden’s Upcoming Meeting with Afghanistan’s Ghani// Jacqueline Feldscher: Still, experts say, the White House meeting will be an overdue show of support for the Afghan government.

Fix the Pacific Deterrence Fund—and the Deeper Problem It Reveals // Dan Patt and Bryan Clark: The military services are organized for efficient force development, not warfighting.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here


America's top military officer delivered an impassioned defense of open-minded inquiry and why it is important to understand other points of view in a heated exchange with Republican lawmakers Wednesday. The exchange came amid a wider confrontation between white lawmakers, a Black defense secretary, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about what kind of teachings about racism are appropriate in military education and training, Defense One’s Tara Copp reported.
What happened: “Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., led a series of questions challenging new Defense Department initiatives to address racism and white extremism in the ranks, aiming his criticisms at Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, while trying to minimize responses supporting those initiatives from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley in a House Armed Services Committee hearing.” Gaetz and at least one other GOP lawmaker said a recent seminar on “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage” held at the U.S. Military Academy was a “woke” effort to inspire race-based guilt among the academy’s majority white student body.
Austin and Milley responded that an important part of higher education is to expose the nation’s future uniformed leaders to all points of view. Milley sharpened the point with a reference to the Jan. 6 insurrection, which featured white-supremacist flags and symbols amid the violent crowd.
Milley: “I want to understand white rage, and I’m white, and I want to understand it. So what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out,” the Joint Chiefs Chairman said. Continue reading Tara Copp’s coverage, here.

Insurrection prosecutions update: At least 465 people have been arrested on charges related to the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.
That includes more than 130 who have been charged with “assaulting or impeding law enforcement,” the Department of Justice announced in the latest related charges. 

The U.S. seized 36 websites it says were disinformation operations run by Iran. The actions appear to have hit several semi-official and state-run outlets, CNN reported Tuesday. Those seem to have included outlets run by Houthi rebels in Yemen and “one of the main Iran-aligned Iraqi militia groups, Kata’ib Hizballah,” NBC News reported Wednesday.
From the region: Look ahead 18 months to the possible future of Iraq via a new report from analysts at the Institute for the Study of War. 

And finally today: National Guard members are twice as likely to go hungry as other Americans, according to Census Bureau data for mid-April to June. “They report more food insecurity than nearly any other group, regardless of household income, education, age or race. Nearly one in five Guard members report sometimes or often not having enough to eat,” the Washington Post reports. “The numbers are even more troubling for National Guard and reserve families with children.”
Why? More deployments for civil unrest, natural disasters, and pandemic-related testing and vaccination. “Over the pandemic the National Guard has faced longer deployments and periods of activation. They’ve overseen coronavirus testing, distributed food at the nation’s food banks, quelled civil unrest and more recently helped to administer vaccines, said John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States, an advocacy group.”
Busiest year since WWII: In 2020, Guardsmen were activated for a total of some 11 million days, more than five times the number in 2019, Goheen said. Read on, here.

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