Today's D Brief: US expands Afghan refugee program; Taliban attacks rising; Milley, Gilday, Berger @ SAS; And a bit more.
Taliban violence is rising in Afghanistan, so the United States is expanding its Afghan refugee criteria beyond those who worked directly for the U.S. and now to Afghans who were employed by U.S. contractors, the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post report today from Washington.
The new criteria is referred to as “Priority 2” designation, and it’s unclear exactly how many people it could affect. The new designation extends to spouses and children of contractor employees, and includes “Afghans who are at risk because they have worked for U.S.-based media or U.S.-funded NGOs as well as those who have other qualifying employment,” Ross Wilson, Chargé d'Affaires to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, tweeted this morning.
For some perspective, some 20,000 Special Immigrant Visa applications are still being processed, the Journal reports. And late last week, more than 200 Afghans, including family members of people who worked with U.S. forces, arrived at Fort Lee, Virginia, an Army base near Richmond, as Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher reported.
The first group of refugees is expected to spend about a week at Fort Lee, where they will receive a medical checkup before being relocated across the country. The State Department is trying to shorten that wait on the base for future flights.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the Taliban attacked Helmand’s provincial capital city of Lashkargah, including a prison there over the weekend. And today the group’s fighters took control of the national TV office in Lashkargah, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reports via Twitter. According to Doctors without Borders, “Fighting in the city has brought life to a standstill. People are trapped in their homes and there are many casualties due to airstrikes, bullets, and mortars.”
The Taliban attacks in Helmand drew U.S. airstrikes, which have reportedly killed 40 Taliban fighters, according to Afghanistan’s Khaama Press. However, “sources in the provincial capital have said eight members of a family, including children, [were] killed in the strikes.”
But Kabul’s military says all is not lost in Afghanistan’s west, where security forces in the nearby Herat province have been fighting off Taliban fighters headed for the provincial capital city overnight.
To the east, in Kandahar’s border district of Spin Boldak, “The Taliban massacred dozens of civilians in revenge killings,” the U.S. Embassy in Kabul announced this morning, echoing a message first delivered Saturday by Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission.
“These murders could constitute war crimes; they must be investigated & those Taliban fighters or commanders responsible held accountable,” the Embassy says, adding, “The Taliban's leadership must be held responsible for the crimes of their fighters. If you cannot control your fighters now, you have no business in governance later.”
Bigger picture: “Since the Feb 2020 #Doha Deal, Taliban said several times that they didn’t want to capture major cities,” Dawood Azami of the BBC tweets. But the Taliban “now seem to be trying hard to capture provincial capital/s before the US withdrawal (scheduled to be completed by 31 Aug).” None of that is terribly surprising, but it would seem to suggest President Ashraf Ghani’s administration in Kabul just “aims to reach a stalemate with Taliban” over these next few weeks, as it’s not entirely able to push back on every pressured front across the country.
Also worth noting: “[T]here are sharp differences in the Taliban’s ability to take rural versus urban or mountainous versus desert terrain—features not depicted in any of the maps of control,” writes Jonathan Schroden of the CNA Corporation in a Sunday piece for Lawfare. Still, he cautions, “Have the Taliban seized enough of Afghanistan to warrant concern about what’s happening there? Absolutely.”
According to the Taliban’s messaging machine, Afghan soldiers are surrendering to the group in multiple locations across the country. The group’s top spokesman’s last three tweets this morning have concerned this message specifically here, here and here.
In regional saber-rattling, the Russian, Uzbek, and Tajik militaries are drilling near Afghanistan’s border over the next eight days, Reuters reports from Moscow. “Russia said 1,500 Russian and Uzbek troops would take part in the five-day exercises that began at the Termez military site in Uzbekistan,” Reuters writes, citing state-run TASS. Another “1,800 of its soldiers would take part in the Tajik drills, instead of 1,000 as initially planned,” according to Russian military officials.
From Defense One
NSA to National Security Employees: Avoid Working on Public Wi-Fi // Mila Jasper: The agency offered best practices for remote work using wireless technologies.
Conference Wire: Sea-Air-Space Opens, No Masks Required // Defense One Staff : The Navy League's sprawling event was the first big trade show canceled by COVID. Now it returns amid a new coronavirus spike.
‘How Does One Process Defeat?’ // Eliot A. Cohen, The Atlantic: A letter to a civilian who deployed to Afghanistan.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: In-person SAS2021 a go; Earnings recap; Black Hawk upgrade and more.
First Afghan Interpreters Arrive in Virginia // Jacqueline Feldscher: More than 200 Afghans are expected to spend a week at Fort Lee before being resettled.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 216 BCE, one of the worst defeats in Roman history occurred via Hannibal's forces at the Battle of Cannae.
Happening today: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger speak at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space Symposium.
Gilday and Berger spoke about their respective services this morning at the conference, which is being held in person this year at Maryland’s National Harbor. (Catch that in reruns via DVIDS, here.) Milley takes the stage at 12:30 p.m. Eastern to deliver his remarks. Catch it live, here.
This week in esoteric jihadi news, al-Qaeda says it’s looking for translators, AQ-watcher Elisabeth Kendall tweeted this morning.
FWIW: Some of the languages AQ already has covered include English, Norwegian, and Rohingya. Continue reading, here.
And lastly: China is undergoing a “major expansion” of nuclear missile silos, the New York Times reported last week after scouring new imagery of western China. And if that sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that. “In June, researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California identified another field under construction in neighboring Gansu province,” AP reports.
Said U.S. Strategic Command in response to that report, via Twitter: “This is the second time in two months the public has discovered what we have been saying all along about the growing threat the world faces and the veil of secrecy that surrounds it.”
Known-knowns: “Both sites are around 800 square kilometers (300 square miles),” and could contain decoys, according to AP. The benefit of building any more at all would make “targeting the field much more complicated,” AP notes.
But this is likely not meant for just the China hawks in the U.S. “It’s also to let Russia know. China, if it increases its number of missiles, it threatens not only the U.S., but also Russia and Europe,”said Kuo Yu-jen, who directs the Institute for National Policy Research in Taiwan.
Shoutout to microsats—and Planet’s, in particular. “It would have been impossible to detect and characterize [these silo fields] without high-cadence, wide-area imagery of the kind provided by Planet’s Dove satellites,” said Jeffrey Lewis, aka “arms control wonk.”