Today's D Brief: Afghanistan's big day at the WH; Interpreter evac planned; Space Force eyes cis-lunar missions; And a bit more.

The U.S. will keep nearly 650 service members in Afghanistan after its 9/11 withdrawal date, the Associated Press reports this morning. And that’s both significant and fairly expected news ahead of President Joe Biden’s afternoon meeting at the White House with Afghanistan’s top two leaders, President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation. (Ghani and Abdullah will also visit the Pentagon Friday just before noon to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.) 

Those 650 will “provide security for diplomats” after the main element of U.S. troops exits the country, which is expected to be completed by Independence Day here stateside. 

Another “several hundred” U.S. forces will stay on at Kabul’s main airport to help the modest but soon-to-be growing Turkish contingent tasked with providing security there. That U.S. element isn’t expected to stay beyond the month of September. But the U.S. troops are expected to keep a system designed to shoot down artillery, known as a C-RAM, at the airport — as well as some rotary-wing assets and personnel. Read more at AP, here.

The U.S. will send 3 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines to Afghanistan next week to help ease its coronavirus burden, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday ahead of the big meeting today at the White House. 

Why this matters: “Less than 1% of Afghans have been fully vaccinated,” according to the Journal. What’s more, “Widespread skepticism about vaccines and low levels of education have made the vaccination campaign particularly challenging.”

Meanwhile, the Taliban say they’re pumping the brakes on the group’s recent advances over Afghan security forces, the product of a series of pushes across the country in recent weeks. And they say they’re slowing down so they don’t “offend” the U.S., NBC News reports. 

Back stateside, Republican lawmakers are itching to blame Biden for Afghanistan’s fate, with Texas Rep. Michael McCaul referring to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as the “crown jewel” he expects the Taliban to eventually take. Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher said he’s bracing for a “Saigon moment” in Kabul, “where you’ve got the helicopter leaving and that’s what everybody associates with [Biden’s] policy,” he told Politico on Thursday. 

Said one key Democrat, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut: “We’ve all been very clear that there’s going to be bad news out of Afghanistan. But, you know what? There’s been tons of bad news out of Afghanistan while we’ve been there. Every single year the Taliban has gained more territory. Every single year the government remains completely inept and corrupt...My constituents are not persuaded that holding off the Taliban is a wise expenditure of U.S. taxpayer money, if we believe there are other ways to protect the nation against a terrorist attack.”

For what it’s worth, the White House in May “pledged $266 million in humanitarian assistance” to Afghanistan, “and has requested in its fiscal 2022 budget $3.3 billion for Afghanistan’s army, air force, special forces and police,” the Wall Street Journal reminded readers Thursday. 

ICYMI: The Biden administration committed to evacucating Afghan interpreters, Defense One’s Tara Copp reported Thursday. Charter planes will likely be hired to help, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. As well, he said, “The planning will obviously include housing and medical care, and, obviously, sustenance, of course, all those things are going to be factored into the planning here for how we are able to continue the [Special Immigrant Visa] process for individuals that we help depart Afghanistan, who's going to do all that.” Read on, here.

From Defense One

White House, Pentagon Finalizing Plans to Get Thousands of Interpreters out of Afghanistan  // Tara Copp and Jacqueline Feldscher: No decision yet on where and how Afghans and their families will be housed and fed as they await U.S. visas.

Black Sea Incident Shows Russia's Determination to Claim Waters Illegally  // Caitlin M. Kenney: The British warship was conducting a freedom-of-navigation exercise when it was harassed by Russian forces.

What Really Happened in the Black Sea? A Victory for Russian Disinformation // Elisabeth Braw: The global tempest around the June 23 incident reminds us of our responsibility to verify before we share.

Mark Milley, Anti-Racist // Kevin Baron: The Joint Chiefs chairman’s defense of anti-racism education continues his support for American values he says are the heart of the U.S. military.

US Troops on Base Less Likely to Seek Extremist Content Than Americans in General, Study Finds // Jacqueline Feldscher: Service branches differ in their engagement with anti-Black extremism or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, internet research firm says in upcoming report.

The Naval Brief // Caitlin M. Kenney: Marine Infantry’s future; Black Sea incident; UCMJ reform; And more... 

Add Natural Conservation to Security-Cooperation Efforts // Alice C. Hill: Protecting ecosystems can reduce destabilizing refugee flows, resource insecurity, and more.

Welcome to this Friday 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. On this day in 1950, the Korean war began, and would eventually kill nearly 5 million people — half of them civilians — before an armistice was signed in July 1953. 

The National Guard’s busy year, in review: 12 million Americans have been vaccinated from COVID-19 by National Guard troops, Guard Chief Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson said in a sort of retrospective briefing Thursday at the Pentagon. Other notable points of emphasis include: 

  • “Last June, more National Guard troops were mobilized than at any time since World War II”;
  • Guardsmen spent the past year otherwise helping with COVID relief efforts like “manning testing sites, to supporting long-term care facilities, to working in food banks”;
  • Thousands helped Hurricane Laura response efforts across Texas and Louisiana; 
  • A few thousand more helped Customs and Border Patrol along the southern border while more helped protect the skies and missile defense sites in places like Hawaii and Alaska;
  • More helped fight wildfires in America’s west;
  • 26,000 worked around the U.S. Capitol in the response to the Jan. 6 failed insurrection;
  • And “More than 1,500 were protecting the rights of peaceful protesters and safeguarding communities against violence in Georgia, Texas, Kentucky and Wisconsin,” Hokanson said. Read over his full briefing here.

Few people seem to be talking about Syria these days. And that makes a new report on the U.S. military’s partnership with the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces seem that much more timely and useful. It features three pages of indexed acronyms (because the region is not a simple one), and comes from Middle East analyst Michael Knights and veteran regional journalist Wladimir van Wilgenburg, who joined forces to write for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Tuesday.
One reason this matters: The authors have attempted what they call a “strategic and moral cost-benefit of [the U.S. military’s ‘by, with, and through’ approach in northeast Syria.”
And we appreciated the authors’ reminder to readers that military “intervention” in a nation like Syria, e.g., “is not a classroom exercise but rather a deeply chaotic enterprise.” We just started this one, so we’ll need more time to absorb its assessments and takeaways. But you can dive into the entire report, which clocks in at nearly 300 pages, here.
From the region: Israel is reportedly sending armed 1.5-ton ground vehicles to Gaza. The machines are called Jaguars, and they’re mounted with a machine gun and a loudspeaker, The Daily Beast reports.

America’s Space Force is eyeing operations out as far as the Moon. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate says the U.S. military “is preparing to develop spacecraft and concepts of operations for missions beyond traditional orbits that could span all the way to the space surrounding the Moon,” according to The War Zone.

And lastly this week: Join us this afternoon for the final day of our 2021 Defense One Tech Summit, which features National Security Agency Cybersecurity Director Rob Joyce in the closing slot, scheduled for 1:55 p.m. ET.
DARPA’s Dr. Tim Grayson and U.S. Special Operations Command’s Lisa Sanders kick off our first panel discussion today, moderated by Defense One’s contributor Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, and slated for 1:05 p.m. Details here

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!