Today's D Brief: Flurry of Afghan diplomacy; Journalist killed in Kandahar; Gen. Miller, profiled; Milley’s new weapons warning; And a bit more.

Afghanistan’s chief negotiator is headed to Qatar today for a new round of talks with the Taliban, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reports. Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, leads the group, which was sent off from Kabul by former president Hamid Karzai (whom the airport in Kabul is named after). A separate “Afghan delegation” will also travel to Pakistan on Saturday “for a meeting on Afghanistan’s peace,” Tolo reports. 

By the way: Afghanistan’s president spoke with Pakistan’s prime minister today during the Central and South Asia 2021 summit, which is being hosted by Uzbekistan. 

New: The U.S. just announced “a new quadrilateral diplomatic platform” linking Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and the U.S., the State Department said in a statement Friday. 

“Enhancing regional connectivity” is the group’s focus, with later events planned for representatives “in the coming months.”  

An Afghan special forces commander was killed during fighting in Kandahar province this morning, Tolo reports. His name was Sediq Karzai, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters photographer was also killed in the same clashes around Spin Boldak, near the border with Pakistan. That photographer was 38-year-old India native Danish Siddiqui

Check out some of Siddqui’s reporting (and photos) from the last series of missions via his Twitter account, here; and here are some of his award-winning photos from work outside of Afghanistan. The New York Times has a bit more on Siddiqui, here. Reuters has more here

#LongRead alert: Veteran national security reporter James Kitfield just turned in a feature-length profile of now-former Afghan war commander, U.S. Army Gen. Austin Miller, published Friday in Politico. Kitfield conducted two in-depth phone interviews with Miller himself in preparation for this piece, which has no shortage of ground to cover—this being America’s longest war. Dive into this one, here.

From Defense One

National Guard Scrambles for Funds After Congress Refuses to Cover Jan. 6-Related Costs  // Tara Copp: More than a half billion dollars in the hole, the Guard’s chief has ordered the heads of the Army and Air Guards to claw back money from state units.

Researchers Create Drone Swarms That Can Detect Gas Leaks, Other Threats // Patrick Tucker: A new algorithm called “Sniffy Bug” shows how tiny drones will do dangerous work even in areas where they can’t use GPS.

The Next War’s ‘Butcher’s Bill’ Will Match WWII’s—Unless the US Adapts, Milley Says // Caitlin M. Kenney: NATO militaries must master new technologies, from AI to next-gen long-range fires, within 15 years, Joint Chiefs chair warns.

Officials Deny American Troops Are Pulling Out Of Iraq as Strategic Talks Near // Tara Copp and Jacqueline Feldscher: Biden will likely discuss the future of the American troop presence in Iraq when the prime minister visits Washington this month.

The Naval Brief // Caitlin M. Kenney: Del Toro hearing; shipbuilder layoffs; carrier retrofit; and more...

NATO Must Shore Up Control of a Key Maritime Chokepoint  // Scott Savitz: Independence movements along the GIUK Gap could leave the alliance short of key bases and influence.

SecDef Teases New Deterrence Strategy, Vows Billions More for AI // Mila Jasper: In pursuit of "integrated deterrence," Lloyd Austin committed $1.5 billion over five years to the Pentagon’s artificial intelligence hub.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day at 5:29 in the morning 76 years ago, the world entered the Atomic Age when the U.S. detonated a nuclear weapon for the first time ever at what is now the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The U.S. military is not withdrawing from Iraq as soon as you may have heard, despite what regional reporters have been told this week by Iraqi sources, Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher, Tara Copp and Kevin Baron reported Thursday.
Background: Brett McGurk, the National Security Council’s top official for the Middle East and North Africa, met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on Thursday to discuss preparations for the next strategic talks between the United States and Iraq.
From the region: Lebanon’s prime minister just stepped down after failing to form a new government, and it’s unclear when parliament will designate a new PM, the New York Times reported Thursday from Beirut. 

Milley’s new weapons warning. The U.S. and NATO militaries need to master today’s emerging technologies, from long range fires to AI and robotics, within 15 years—or else they risk some unspecified but devastating setback in the next world war. That was one of the messages delivered Thursday by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley at NATO’s new operational headquarters, Joint Force Command Norfolk in Virginia. Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney has more here.

President Biden declined to send U.S. troops to Haiti to help protect its infrastructure following the assassination of its president on July 7. (Haiti’s elections minister publicized the request for U.S. and UN troops two days later.) But the U.S. will send a few more Marines to help protect its embassy in Port-au-Prince, Biden said Thursday. The Associated Press has a bit more on Biden’s decision, and a short history of U.S. interventions in Port-au-Prince, here.

Gunmen shot and killed a Nigerian general Thursday as he was traveling in an automobile about 120 miles south of Abuja, Reuters reports from the capital city. His name was Maj. Gen. Hassan Ahmed, and his particular killing seems to be a first for Nigeria. “While two retired generals were shot dead last year in attacks as they travelled by road, no serving general had previously been killed in this manner,” Reuters writes. A bit more here.

Unlike China, Russia is cozying up to Myanmar’s military coup leaders, the Wall Street Journal reports a few weeks after a Moscow visit by junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. For the record, “No deals were announced” in that meeting, “though regional policy analysts expect some are under way,” the Journal writes.
For what it’s worth, “Russia accounted for 16% of Myanmar’s arms imports from 2015 to 2019, second to China’s 49%,” according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Read on, here

Back stateside, masks will be required indoors once again in Los Angeles County, just a month after nearly all COVID-19-related restrictions were lifted. The new rules take effect at 11:59 p.m. tomorrow, the Los Angeles Times reports, and were prompted by a dramatic increase in new cases.

Vaccines are believed “to be essentially as effective against the Delta variant as other variants. During June, 86% of people diagnosed with the Delta variant in L.A. County were not fully vaccinated,” the paper reports. “Vaccinated people are, in essence, being asked to make a sacrifice to help slow coronavirus spread among the unvaccinated.”

And lastly this week: A new swarm of drones can detect gas leaks as well and map rooms without the aid of GPS. It’s a technology Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports could be particularly relevant to the U.S. military, which is increasingly interested in small drones that perform well together with little human control and in tight places where GPS can’t reach—like underground. The swarm comes from a team of researchers collaborating across the Netherlands, Spain, and Harvard University.
One catch: “They’re too small to carry the power necessary to run the same sorts of algorithms that allow self-driving cars or larger drones to map their environment, and they lack the energy to run things like light detection and ranging, which also helps autonomous vehicles to map their surroundings.”

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