Today's D Brief: Taliban killing spree; Panic in Pakistan; French mull Sahel drawdown; Tornado at Kings Bay; YouTube’s radicalizing algorithm; And a bit more.

The fate of Afghanistan is up to the Afghan people, President Joe Biden said repeatedly Thursday, as American troops continued their withdrawal and Taliban forces swept through the country. “It’s up to the people of Afghanistan to decide on what government they want, not us to impose the government on them,” he said during an address at the White House, Defense One’s Jacqueline Felscher reports.

Biden also rejected calls that the U.S. military drawdown should slow or stop because security in Afghanistan is degrading so fast. He said it is “not inevitable” that Afghanistan will fall to the Taliban, citing the 300,000 trained members of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces and their ability to defend against an estimated 75,000 Taliban fighters. 

But he also said it is “highly unlikely” that the country will have one unified government, and that it’s not America’s job to ensure that happens." Read on at Defense One, here

For what it’s worth: This week we learned “77% of Americans said they approved of the U.S. removing its troops from Afghanistan,” which CBS News reported Thursday “was majority approval across the political spectrum.” (That’s from a survey conducted in April.) 

SecDef Lloyd Austin called up his Turkish counterpart for the second time in two days, the Pentagon announced Thursday evening, saying the two “continue[d] discussions over the ongoing drawdown in Afghanistan” and “agreed to stay engaged with respect to arrangements at the Hamid Karzai International Airport.”

A Taliban delegation traveled to Russia on Thursday to say the group controls 85% of Afghanistan, and that it would try hard to keep ISIS and other terrorist groups out, Reuters reports from Moscow.

The Pentagon insists the U.S. isn’t abandoning the Afghan Air Force. “It’s not like we’re clapping our hands and walking away,” spokesman John Kirby said Thursday. “We’re going to continue to work on improving their Air Force. The [Defense] Secretary just recently agreed to help them to deliver two—this month—UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, with another 35 to come. We’re going to help manage an overhaul process for some of their MI-17 helicopters. And we are going to purchase another three Super Tucano … A-29 aircraft. So we’re committed in very tangible ways to improving their Air Force capabilities.”

The Taliban have allegedly assassinated at least seven Afghan Air Force pilots over the past several months, according to a special report this week from Reuters. And this is especially concerning because it seems to “illustrate what U.S. and Afghan officials believe is a deliberate Taliban effort to destroy one of Afghanistan’s most valuable military assets: its corps of U.S.- and NATO-trained military pilots,” Reuters writes. “In so doing, the Taliban—who have no air force—are looking to level the playing field as they press major ground offensives.” 

The Taliban say they are indeed behind the killings, with a spokesman telling Reuters the pilots were “targeted and eliminated because all of them do bombardment against their people.” Read on, here

The Taliban are killing government workers across the country, too, which is “part of the Taliban’s broader strategy of trying to rebrand themselves as capable governors while they press a ruthless, land-grabbing offensive,” the New York Times reported Tuesday. 

Meanwhile next door, “panic is spreading through Pakistan’s halls of power,” the Wall Street Journal reports from Islamabad, where “After years of publicly railing against American strategy in Afghanistan and saying there is no military solution, Pakistani officials now complain that the U.S. exited Afghanistan too quickly.”

Like the U.S. in Afghanistan, the French military has a drawdown dilemma of its own in the African Sahel, the Associated Press reported Thursday from Mali. 

Background: “In June, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the end of Operation Barkhane, France’s seven-year effort fighting extremists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State in Africa’s Sahel region. France’s more than 5,000 troops will be reduced in the coming months, although no timeframe has been given. Instead, France will participate in a special forces unit with other European countries and African countries will be responsible for patrolling the Sahel.”

BTW: France’s Defense Minister Florence Parly dropped by the Pentagon this morning to meet with SecDef Austin. This afternoon, she’ll sit down with Defense One’s Kevin Baron for an event hosted by the Atlantic Council. That gets started at 3 p.m. ET. Details and livestream here.

From Defense One

Long Road Ahead for Energy Resilience of Army Installations // Caitlin M. Kenney: The service is working to make sure its bases can operate even if local utilities are down.

How We Get to Captain America-level Battle Speeds  // Gen. David Allvin: We are on the verge of Hollywood-level fast, but the service branches need cultural change and cooperation for it to work.

Afghans Own Whatever Comes Next, Biden Says  // Jacqueline Feldscher: Rejecting critics, President Joe Biden said the United States isn’t responsible for Taliban gains, civilian deaths, or worsening women’s rights after American troops leave.

The US Military Should Return to Vietnam // Charles K. Djou and Matthew B. Powell: Recent conditions—and China’s provocative actions—have set the stage for a new relationship.

The Naval Brief: DepSecDef visits shipyard; Afghanistan ending; F-35C milestone; and more... // Caitlin M. Kenney: 

How to Stop Political Division from Eroding Military-Academic Relations // Rikki H. Sargent, Shannon Houck, and Lucian Gideon Conway: Four ideas.

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.

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

Deputy Defense Secretary Kath Hicks is back in D.C. this morning after her trip across New England was cut short Thursday by Tropical Storm Elsa.
Hicks was supposed to visit General Dynamics’s Electric Boat in Quonset, Rhode Island, which is directly in the storm’s path. The shipyard builds parts of Virginia-class and new Columbia-class submarines. Hicks was also supposed to visit Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut.
Learn more about her trip in the Defense Business Brief, which is coming later today.

Updating: Nearly a dozen suspects believed to have assassinated Haiti’s president were arrested in Taiwan’s embassy in Port-au-Prince on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reports from Taipei. AP has a bit more that’s not paywalled, here.

Amid a wave of unrest in Eswatini, U.S. Marines just deployed to the embassy in the southern African country formerly known as Swaziland, Task & Purpose reported Thursday.

A tornado hit southeastern Georgia’s Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay on Wednesday, and injured at least 10 people who’d been inside “multiple recreational vehicles” at the base at the time, the Associated Press reported Thursday. The storm generated winds of up to 130 mph, according to the National Weather Service, and nine of the injured were taken to a nearby hospital.
See photos of the damage via Kings Bay’s Facebook page here

Apropos of nothing: You probably could have guessed this, but Erik Prince has a $10 billion plan to create a private army—this time in Ukraine, Time’s Simon Shuster reported this week in a #LongRead from Kyiv. 

The Justice Department will pay $6 million for a database of Jan. 6 insurrection “videos, photos, social media posts and documents for use by attorneys in a slew of criminal cases,” Politico reports. The winning IT contractor is Deloitte Financial Advisory Services.
Prosecutions update: “More than 535 individuals have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol,” and that includes more than 165 people “charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement,” the Justice Department announced in its latest related arrest from Tuesday. 

And lastly this week: Surprise, surprise—YouTube’s algorithm pushes hateful content and misinformation, according to a new report (PDF) from the Mozilla Foundation (of Firefox browser popularity).
Why this matters: “YouTube is the second-most visited website in the world, and its algorithm drives 70% of watch time on the platform—an estimated 700 million hours every single day,” the report’s authors write.
Bigger picture: “[A] growing body of evidence implicates social media's recommendation algorithms in the spread of misinformation and violent content,” Politico reported Thursday. 

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