Today's D Brief: Bye-bye, Bagram; Army may require COVID shots; China-India border buildup; Telehealth Catch-22; And a bit more.
Bye-bye, Bagram. The U.S. military has officially withdrawn from Afghanistan’s storied Bagram Air Base, and it’s already getting a little messy, the Associated Press’s Kathy Gannon reports from Kabul.
“The American departure was done overnight without any coordination with local officials,” according to the district administrator for Bagram, “and as a result early Friday dozens of local looters stormed through the unprotected gates before Afghan forces regained control,” Gannon writes. The New York Times reports some of the looters were arrested by police.
The base was formally handed over to Afghan security forces, a spokesman for Kabul’s Defense Ministry tweeted this morning. But America’s top war commander there, Army Gen. Austin Miller, “still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the forces,” a U.S. official told AP and Voice of America.
According to the Taliban, “We consider this withdrawal a positive step. Afghans can get closer to stability and peace with the full withdrawal of foreign forces,” a spokesman told VOA.
One view here stateside: “A major chapter in the American history in Afghanistan closes. Don't expect it to be the last chapter, though,” tweets Brad Bowman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, D.C. Other Afghan policy experts, like Jonathan Schroden, e.g., are less fatalistic.
Don’t miss this behind-the-scenes report on the White House’s Afghan pullout decision from CNN. One especially notable point: “In May, a group of Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requesting that he provide a risk assessment of the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan,” CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Natasha Bertrand, Jeremy Herb, Zachary Cohen, and Oren Liebermann write. “However, lawmakers were informed last week by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl that Biden had granted a waiver, thereby allowing the Pentagon to move forward with the withdrawal without providing that assessment to Congress or answering a series of key questions about his plan for countering terrorists in Afghanistan going forward.” Read on, here.
From Defense One
A Catch-22 Is Keeping Telemedicine Off the Battlefield // Patrick Tucker: Wargame planners won’t include even low-bandwidth telehealth until it has proven valuable in wargames.
Lawmaker Wants to Grill Officers on Critical Race Theory Before Approving Promotions // Jacqueline Feldscher: It’s the latest step Sen. Tom Cotton has proposed to stop “culture wars” within the military.‘Black Hawk Down’ Veterans to Receive 58 Silver Stars // Caitlin M. Kenney: The Army just upgraded combat medals given to 60 special operators of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, right as Pentagon officials decide whether to return to Somalia.
The Naval Brief // Caitlin M. Kenney: Another destroyer; Confirmation crunch time; AUMF debate; and more...
How Rumsfeld Deserves to Be Remembered // George Packer, The Atlantic: America’s worst secretary of defense never expressed a quiver of regret.
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 1976, North Vietnam formally annexed South Vietnam.
The U.S. Army is preparing to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations possibly as early as September, Army Times reported Thursday. About 70 percent of soldiers are vaccinated, but the rate of uptake is slowing, Army health officials said.
Commanders are to “prepare for a directive to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for service members [on or around] 01 September 2021, pending full FDA licensure,” said an execute order sent to the force by Department of the Army Headquarters, according to Army Times, which noted that execute orders are used “when the president directs the defense secretary to execute a military operation.”
In May, President Biden said he’d leave it up to the military to decide whether to order troops to get vaccinated — but also said he might change his mind.
The Navy may order sailors to get the shots as well. Last month, leaders told their commands to prepare for a vaccination order.
ICYMI: Why isn’t the vaccine mandatory already? Largely because of problems with an anthrax vaccine that was mandated in the 1990s. Defense One’s Elizabeth Howe explains, here.
Across the U.S. military, “Over 68 percent of our active duty service members have received at least one [vaccine] dose," acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Terry Adirim told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday. "The figures are a slight improvement from last month, when 58 percent active-duty service members had at least one dose," The Hill reported Wednesday.
By service, the Navy leads with 77 percent having received at least one dose; the Army is next at 70 percent, followed by the Air Force at 61 percent (including Space Force), and the Marine Corps trails all the others at 58 percent.
BTW: 47% of Americans have been fully vaccinated so far, which adds up to about 156 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Nearly 55% of the country, or 181 million people, have received at least one dose.)
On the other side of the world, Pakistan received 2.5 million Moderna COVID vaccines from the U.S. today, AP reports from Islamabad.
In neighboring India, 400,000 people have now died from COVID-19, and “half of them [passed away] in the past two months,” AP reports from New Delhi. That puts India just behind Brazil and the U.S. for COVID-related deaths, though New Delhi’s numbers are believed to be an undercount.
South Korea is battling its largest spike in new cases since January, with most people (633 out of 826) testing positive in Seoul. Despite this, it’s worth noting that out of a nation of 51 million people, just over 2,000 South Koreans are believed to have died from COVID-19 so far. The U.S., by contrast, has recorded more than 605,000 deaths among a population of nearly 330 million people.
In case you’re wondering: 11% of South Koreans have been vaccinated with at least one dose. Check out how each nation stacks up in a comparison map (or charts, your choice) over at Our World in Data.
China has added 35,000 troops to its disputed border region with India over the past 12 months, including an HQ-9 air defense system, according to Indian intelligence and military officials, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday from New Delhi.
Why this matters: “Those moves have been matched by India, which has sent tens of thousands of its own troops and advanced artillery to the region, the officials said.” Though they did not say if, like China, India has “dug underground bunkers and tunnels” for its troops.
Bigger picture: “India and China have held about a dozen rounds of talks between military and diplomatic officials since the confrontation last year in an effort to de-escalate tensions. Those talks led to the pullback of troops from both sides at one friction point at Pangong Tso, a glacial lake at an altitude of about 14,000 feet.” But both countries are still very keen on maintaining a foothold in the region. Read on, here.
One last bit about China: Its Communist Party officials have for the last several years been trying to leverage rap music to boost enthusiasm for the party. But its latest iteration for China’s centennial — a 15-minute song with 100 different rappers and groups — fell very flat, the WSJ reported Thursday from Hong Kong.
Sen. Tom Cotton: I may grill prospective generals about their views on critical race theory. “The additional questioning would be a new step in the Arkansas Republican’s efforts to eradicate military training that concerns white privilege or the oppression of Black people. Cotton argues that teaching about these things undermines troop morale and unit cohesion,” Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher reported Thursday.
The senator is not wrong that there’s a new push in the military to help troops better understand racial dynamics. But: “What Cotton has diagnosed as ‘critical race theory’ sounds much more like ham-fisted attempts at diversity and inclusion training,” write Military Times’ Meghann Myers and Leo Shane in a recap. “For a largely nascent effort, it’s not surprising that commanders would be experiencing some trial and error with how they convey the notion that the color of a person’s skin might affect their experiences in the world. After all, the discussion of ideas like systemic racism and white privilege are new for a lot of Americans, who for decades have been told that simply not acknowledging race or ethnicity was the best way [to] demonstrate one’s own lack of bigotry.” Read on, here.
New policy changes are coming to America’s southern border, and they could come as soon as the end of the month. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the White House is planning to gradually rescind its tighter entry restrictions known as Title 42, which resulted from the COVID-19 outbreak.
The lifting of that order is expected to coincide “with a phased reopening this summer of nonessential travel at ports of entry along the Mexican and Canadian borders,” administration officials told the Journal.
Several related control measures are also under consideration inside the White House, including a kind of pre-registry option for would-be migrants, as well as an expedited removal option for border agents. Continue reading here.
And lastly this week: Are you worried your friend is becoming an extremist online? Now Facebook is worried, too, according to CNN’s Oliver Darcy reporting Thursday. The social media goliath is testing a prompt that asks users that question as the company navigates how to proceed after the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“Violent groups try to manipulate your anger and disappointment,” another of Facebook’s prompts reads. “You can take action now to protect yourself and others.” Read on at CNN, here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!