Today's D Brief: US Afghan commander steps down; Biden’s ransomware threats; US-French SOF deal; Hottest June ever; And a bit more.

America’s Afghan war commander steps down. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, who has served as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan since 2018, relinquished his command at a Monday ceremony in Kabul. Command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan — and of possible air strikes and other air support mounted from nearby countries — now belongs to Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla. 

As well: “A two-star admiral based at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul will oversee the U.S. military’s role in securing the American diplomatic presence in Kabul, including defending the Kabul airport,” AP reports.

Miller warned in his remarks “that relentless violence across Afghanistan is making a political settlement increasingly difficult,” AP wrote.

He arrived in-country after stints leading the secretive Delta Force and then Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, the Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe wrote in a June profile. “Restricted by the realities of a 20-year-old conflict, Miller boosted airstrikes to numbers not seen in a decade, and threw his support behind a possible political settlement with the Taliban — even as he privately questioned the group’s willingness to follow through, several officials said.” Miller ultimately oversaw the initial drawdowns ordered by Donald Trump, and the final one ordered by President Biden.

McKenzie told reporters traveling with him that “he believes the Taliban is pursuing a ‘military victory’ over the Afghan government, citing its recent battlefield victories in numerous parts of the country,” Lamothe wrote Monday. 

“I think, certainly, the provincial capitals are at risk, and we’ll see how that shakes out over the next few weeks,” McKenzie said. “I think the Afghans are determined to fight very hard for those provincial capitals.” Kabul in particular may prove difficult to capture, he said.

From Defense One

Biden Urges Putin to Give up Russian Ransomware Gangsters, Threatens Unspecified 'Consequences' // Patrick Tucker: The President is talking tougher on Russian criminal cyber gangs, but still isn’t naming specific penalties.

French, U.S. Special Forces Agree to Beef Up Partnership in Africa // Jacqueline Feldscher: The new agreement shows that counterterrorism will still be a top focus for the Pentagon.

Shipbuilder Warns of Layoffs if Biden Doesn’t Buy More Destroyers // Marcus Weisgerber: Bath Iron Works told Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks it will need to cut its workforce by 2,500 if more ships aren’t ordered soon.

China’s Aggressive Data Push Worries Military Intel Officials // Patrick Tucker: The AI future runs on data and the Chinese government is out for all it can get.

Another Free-Falling Chinese Rocket Body Hit Earth Last Week // Tara Copp: China continues to burn all the fuel in its launches, allowing the used-up rockets to fall back to Earth uncontrolled.

The Army Brief // Caitlin M. Kenney: Afghanistan’s future; drone swarm; telemedicine training; and more...

Congress Has a Role Against China, Too // Maseh Zarif and Jane Tilles: Lawmakers’ bipartisan momentum against the CCP is a good start. Here are three ideas for the way forward.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Hicks gives some insight into new Innovation Steering Group; The challenge in hiring shipbuilders; Outreach to small biotech firms and more.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston and Ben Watson. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1943, hundreds of German and Soviet tanks clashed at Prokhorovka

Unrest is sweeping across Cuba’s capital city, Havana, which is experiencing the “biggest anti-government demonstrations on the Communist-run island in decades,” Reuters reports.
Food shortages and high prices are driving the protests. “Although many people tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon,” AP reports from the capital. “About 2 1/2 hours into the march, some protesters pulled up cobblestones and threw them at police, at which point officers began arresting people and the marchers dispersed.”
The White House has chimed in on Cuba’s unrest today, with President Biden saying in a statement this morning: “We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime. The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”

Unrest is also growing in South Africa, where the army has been deployed “to two provinces, including its economic hub of Johannesburg, to help crush mob violence and looting as unrest sparked by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma entered its fourth day,” Agence France-Presse reports from the capital.
BTW: A small contingent of U.S. Marines deployed to neighboring Eswatini (to bolster embassy security) in early July “after pro-democracy demonstrations erupted last month,” Stars and Stripes reported last week. 

New York City just opened the first cyberdefense center for an American city, which features “282 partners overall sharing intelligence on potential cyber threats,” the Wall Street Journal reported late last week. Related reading: “Fallout From Hack of City Law Department Could Linger for Months,” the New York Times reported Friday.

Today at the Pentagon, SecDef Austin hosts his UK counterpart, Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace, around noon ET. Afterward, the two will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

Former SecDef Ash Carter said the “best decision” of his tenure was recommending then-Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford to be Joint Chiefs chairman. Carter said so Thursday during a meeting at Harvard University in Boston. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber dropped by for the occasion during his travels last week with Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.
Dunford, who was chairman for most of the Trump administration, regularly tried to keep the military out of politics, Weisgerber writes. Now a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center, Dunford is focusing on civil-military relations. “What I’d like to do in a very non-partisan way is to try to reset the dialogue…on civil-military relations and maybe help some of our senior leaders navigate a space that is far more difficult,” he said Thursday.
Dunford cited polling that show a decline in American’s trust of the U.S. military (here, e.g.). “What it reflects is all of our institutions have been somewhat impacted over the last couple of years and the trust and confidence of institutions have eroded,” he said. “The [Defense] Department has remained largely unaffected by that, until recently.” (For what it’s worth, Dunford is co-chair of a bilateral group that is focusing on the U.S. relationship with Japan.)
Also in the Harvard meeting: Eric Rosenbach, Carter’s chief of staff and deputy assistant secretary of defense for global security. He is now co-director of the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Down south a bit, the Virginia Military Institute has a misogyny and sexual harassment problem, the Washington Post reports in a #LongRead on the institution where 87% of its cadets are male.
Why this matters: “The Post spoke to more than a dozen women who attended VMI, graduated, or still go there about what they’ve experienced. The vast majority have been enrolled within the past two years,” the Post reports, and notes, “Several said they were sexual assault victims...In the interviews, they described an atmosphere of hostility toward women, with constant ridicule at their expense on Jodel, and an expectation of backlash from male cadets if they reported incidents in which they’ve been groped or raped.” Continue reading, here.

And lastly: Two firemen died Saturday when their plane crashed fighting wildfires in Arizona. “Matthew Miller, 48, and Jeff Piechura, 62, were on board the Beechcraft King Air C90 aircraft when it crashed on Saturday,” USA Today reported on Sunday.
At least 300,000 acres of land is ablaze across six U.S. states, with the largest moving across Oregon.
“Record-breaking heat wave” is how CNN describes what’s happening across many Western U.S. states, where 18 million people are under heat alerts. And last month was the hottest June in the 127 years that comprehensive records have been kept, NOAA says.