Today's D Brief: POTUS on Afghanistan; DepSecDef in Boston; Valor in Somalia; And a bit more.

President Joe Biden is meeting with his national security team in the Situation Room this morning for an update on the U.S. military’s drawdown from Afghanistan, the White House announced in its public schedule for the day.

Biden is scheduled to speak to reporters about that drawdown three hours later, around 1:45 p.m. ET, from the East Room.   

The Brits just officially ended their mission in Afghanistan, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson telling the House of Commons today “most of our personnel have already left.” He said that on the same day the UK’s military chief, Sir Nick Carter, acknowledged it’s “fair to say the Taliban now hold nearly 50% of the rural districts in Afghanistan.” 

And if you’re curious, “Britain will leave behind a small number of troops to support a US-led protection force for diplomats in Kabul, although the Ministry of Defence would not say how many were remaining on the ground,” The Guardian reports. (Also in The Guardian this week: “Armed Afghan women take to streets in show of defiance against Taliban,” Emma Graham-Harrison reports, focusing on activities in the more centrally located Ghor province.)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called up his Turkish counterpart to talk about Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Pentagon announced in a statement. “Both leaders reasserted the importance of adequate security at Hamid Karzai International Airport and agreed to speak again in the near future on the topic,” according to the U.S. military's typically terse readout of the call.

You may wonder: Was the U.S. military’s exit from Bagram Air Base as disorderly as the Associated Press reported Tuesday? AP claimed the U.S. turned “off the electricity and slipp[ed] away in the night without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander.” Shortly afterward, a “small army of looters” reportedly entered Bagram and “ransacked barrack after barrack and rummaged through giant storage tents before being evicted,” Afghan officials said to AP.  

But the Pentagon says it prepared the Afghans for their departure from Bagram, insisting the transfer “was fully coordinated with the Government of Afghanistan to include the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces and the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority,” U.S. Army Maj. Rob Lodewick said in an email to reporters Wednesday evening. “Walkthroughs [were] conducted mere days before our departure window,” and those walkthroughs “identified infrastructure and associated responsibilities to be transferred to Afghan control. These included electricity and water services which, upon the final transfer of a base, bec[a]me the responsibility of Afghan forces.” 

Lodewick also says “U.S. forces provided on-the-job training to engineers from the Construction and Property Management Division of the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense on how to manage and operate the utility systems on Bagram,” and they did that “in order to position the ANDSF in the best possible posture to assume control of the base.” He also said in his statement that “several hundred generators were signed over to Afghan forces to support sustainable solutions to their power-generation requirements.” 

Meanwhile in Kabul, Afghanistan’s president is using this week’s developments in northern Badghis province to suggest Afghans “demonstrated their commitment to the country” by pushing the Taliban out of the provincial capital on Tuesday. Afghanistan’s Tolo News is following President Ashraf Ghani’s public remarks here.

And neighboring Iran is preparing for the future of Afghanistan, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif hosting “senior Afghan reps” in talks this week, he tweeted Wednesday. 


From Defense One

Israel’s Drone Swarm Over Gaza Should Worry Everyone // Zak Kallenborn: It’s time global leaders set new rules for these future weapons already being used to kill.

KC-46 Tankers Expand Mission Workload, Start Refueling F-35s // Marcus Weisgerber: Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks was briefed about the new tankers at a New Hampshire base Wednesday.

New Material May Power Tomorrow’s Cyborg Soldiers // Patrick Tucker: Isreali researchers may have found a way for human body movement to power implanted devices indefinitely.

It's Too Easy to Troll Like a Russian // Ivana Stradner and Pulkit Agrawal: We're scholars, but amateurs, and we found it alarming how quickly we imagined a personalized misinformation campaign with actual publicly available data.

How JEDI’s Ghost Will Bring Bitter Rivals Together // Patrick Tucker: The death of the Pentagon’s controversial cloud computing mega-contract likely puts Amazon and Microsoft in a new sort of partnership.

The Convergence of Man and Machine, But Better // Yi Se Gwon: Three steps to improve how we plan investments and prioritize changes across the military.

Pentagon Cancels JEDI Cloud Contract // Frank Konkel and Mila Jasper: The Defense Department will opt for a new multibillion-dollar, multi-vendor contract.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here


Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks had breakfast with former SecDef Ash Carter this morning in Boston, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports traveling with Hicks. Later today, Hicks has meetings planned at Harvard, MIT, Draper Labs, and the Air Force AI Accelerator.
Carter, former Joint Chiefs chairman Joe Dunford, and a number of other former Pentagon officials are expected to participate in today’s meetings about artificial intelligence and biotechnology efforts that are largely meant to counter China. Recall that Carter was one of the architects of the Pentagon’s increased partnerships with Silicon Valley and other commercial technology firms.
Yesterday: Hicks met General Dynamics executives at Bath Iron Works in Maine. Those execs are pushing the Pentagon to sign a multi-year arrangement for more destroyers. Hicks also toured the USS Daniel Inouye and met with Navy sailors already stationed on the ship.
Later at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, she was briefed about construction projects that will allow the facility to maintain and overhaul more submarines at the same time. Then, at Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire, she talked to airmen and toured a KC-46, the Air Force’s newest, and often troubled, refueling tanker. Despite its woes, airmen there gave the tanker high marks, especially compared to the 50-year KC-135s the wing used to fly. BTW, the New Hampshire wing said they recently started refueling F-35 fighters for the first time.
FWIW: Most of Hicks' meetings in Bath, and all of them at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, were in classified military areas that your correspondent was not permitted to enter. We’re expected to see more of her Thursday. Stay tuned to Weisgerber’s Twitter feed for more.

The French defense minister will visit her counterpart at the Pentagon during a three-day trip that starts today. “This trip will make it possible in particular to tackle the fight against terrorism, in the Sahel and the Levant, but also new challenges such as cyber and space,” Minister Florence Parly tweeted Wednesday evening.
She’ll later sit down for an interview at the Atlantic Council on Friday afternoon. Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron is scheduled to question Minister Parly about “opportunities for Franco-American cooperation on defense and France’s response to key transatlantic challenges,” according to the Council. Details and registration, here.  

The Pentagon is moving one step closer to a pre-pandemic posture across the sprawling facility, defense officials announced Wednesday evening—careful to note in their second sentence that this “is not [yet] a return to pre-COVID-19 ‘normal’” across the reservation.  
In formal language, the Pentagon’s Health Protection Condition status is descending “from Bravo to HPCON Alpha, effective 5 a.m. EDT Friday.”
What that means: “Under HPCON Alpha, one of the key changes is that the occupancy goal will be no more than 90% of personnel in workspaces,” the Pentagon said. But that 90% “is a maximum goal, not a target to achieve immediately.” Read on, here.
By the way: 95% of U.S. military bases around the globe have lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions, the Defense Department announced Wednesday in its latest update. That leaves just 12 out of 230 installations with measures still in place, including bases in Japan, Guam, Cuba, Bahrain, and Germany. Details (PDF) here.              

A judge this week ruled the U.S. Air Force was 60% responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in Texas’ history, the 2017 attack at a church in Sutherland Springs that left 26 people dead, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Former Airman Devin Kelley carried out the attack before killing himself shortly afterward.
Key background: “Kelley had been convicted in a 2012 general court-martial on two counts of domestic assault on his wife and their child and sentenced to a year in military jail, which should have barred him from legally buying a gun,” the Journal writes. “But the Air Force never entered his conviction into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which gun dealers must use to check for criminal records before selling someone a firearm.”
According to the judge’s decision, “[T]he evidence shows that—had the Government done its job and properly reported Kelley’s information into the background check system—it is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the Church shooting.” More here.

And finally today: We’re learning new details about what the U.S. military has been doing (on occasion) in Somalia over the past couple years. The latest update comes via Stars and Stripes’ Chad Garland who unearthed a few new details about a U.S. special operations advisory mission near the town of Baardheere, west of Mogadishu, way back in July 2015.
Involved: Capt. William Doyle, with the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) out of Colorado, and a six-hour firefight where Doyle’s actions are credited with helping kill 173 “enemy” fighters (believed to be with al-Shabab) and 60 more fighters wounded.
Tweeted AP’s James LaPorta: “It’s amazing how long it takes to learn about combat ops in Somalia. I reported on this massive firefight in 2015 in 2017 from SEAL Team Six’s perspective and knew there was an ODA team there (ODA 0226) but now we finally know the Green Beret’s perspective.” Read more at Stripes, here.

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