Today's D Brief: Nimruz falls first in Afghanistan; China is hacking Russia; FBI arrests 'George Washington'; And a bit more.

Unfortunate new first for Afghanistan: Afghan Taliban fighters reportedly took control of Zaranj, Nimruz province’s capital city, overnight. Nimruz is even farther west than Helmand, which many thought would fall first since the Taliban have been fighting there for several weeks. But unlike Helmand, Nimruz shares a border with Iran, making the capital city of particular value to the group in terms of customs money and logistical strategics, Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution flagged on Twitter. 

Reuters calls the taking of Zaranj “the first provincial capital the insurgents have captured” and the Washington Post describes it as “a significant escalation in the group’s military offensive.”

To the north in Jowzjan province, which neighbors Turkmenistan, nine of 10 districts there are now under Taliban control, the deputy governor told Reuters.

You may wonder: Is anyone still trying to get Taliban and Kabul officials to talk to each other, a la “intra-Afghan” peace talks? The answer is yes, but meetings have been “sporadic” and progress scant, the New York Times reported Thursday. Said State Department spox Ned Price on Wednesday: “The Taliban must stop this ongoing violence; they must stop it.” But of course the group shows no signs of stopping its violence anytime soon. 

Today, Taliban fighters assassinated the head of the Afghan government's media information center in the Afghan capital. His name was Dawa Khan Menapal. The attack happened near a mosque in Kabul, and just “days after warning they would target senior administration figures in retaliation for increased air strikes” in provinces like Helmand in the south, Agence France-Presse reports

For what it’s worth: The UN Security Council is holding an open meeting today to discuss the worsening violence in Afghanistan, the BBC reports. Catch it live here.

From Defense One

Sanctions Won’t Hurt Iran’s UAV Program // Kirsten Fontenrose: The Biden administration should rethink its approach—and its real goals in the region.

US Air Force, Venture Firms Make $60 Million Bet on Hypersonic Aircraft Startup // Marcus Weisgerber: The deal calls for Georgia-based Hermeus to accelerate development of reusable test aircraft.

How the Energy Department Can Improve Industry Cybersecurity // Tasha Jhangiani and Madison Lockett: Practical steps include educating direct actors like electricians or IT professionals on basic cybersecurity priorities, concerns, and best practices.

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

Hezbollah claimed the launch of more than a dozen rockets into Israel from Lebanon this morning, the Washington Post reports and the Israeli military announced on Twitter along with a video to illustrate.
A note on perceived intent: “An Israeli military spokesman said Hezbollah seemed to be reasserting its dominance in southern Lebanon following recent rocket launches attributed to other militant groups,” according to the Post. “But the careful targeting of Friday’s attack away from populated areas suggests that Hezbollah is not seeking an outright confrontation.”
By the way: Lebanese citizens near one of Hezbollah’s rocket trucks reportedly stopped the truck, which was seized by the Army, according to Beirut reporter Sunniva Rose. 

Russia seems to be fed up with being hacked by China, and now multiple Russian government cybersecurity agencies are pointing a finger directly at Beijing.
Related headlines:The Colonial Pipeline ransomware gang is back under a new name,” Quartz reported Thursday; though you can check veteran reporter Brian Krebs for his quite thorough rundown on these guys.
And the U.S. just asked for cyberdefense help from Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. “The effort will initially focus on combating ransomware and cyberattacks on cloud-computing providers,” and it’ll be known as the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative.
Also involved in this one: CrowdStrike Holdings Inc., FireEye Inc., and Palo Alto Networks Inc. as well as telecommunications vendors AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., and Lumen Technologies Inc. Read on, here

The FBI used phone tracking and facial recognition to locate and arrest an insurrectionist who came to the Capitol on Jan. 6 dressed as George Washington. (Hat tip to HuffPost for locating the colorful details on this one.)
BTW: President Biden signed a bill Thursday to give Congressional Gold Medals in honor of the police officers who fought insurrectionists on Jan. 6. During the ceremony, Biden “urg[ed] the country not to rewrite the history of that day,” Reuters reports.

In COVID news, United Airlines just became the first major airline to mandate vaccines for its employees, the New York Times reports. “Employees will be required to upload proof of vaccination within five weeks of the Federal Drug Administration fully approving a vaccine or by Oct. 25, whichever comes first,” the Times reports. What’s more, “Employees who fail to comply with the new policy will be fired.”

Power and process: How does a president con Congress out of billions of dollars for his xenophobic pipedream? When it comes to POTUS45’s intolerant quest to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, his administration and defense officials consistently kept Congress “in the dark and denied basic answers about the accounting maneuvers,” according to Politico’s new reporting Friday.
Long story short: “With Trump gone and a new White House trying to recover the wall funds, many in both parties want to put the episode in the rear-view mirror. But more than $1 billion is not coming back. And left behind in its place is a legacy of distrust and nagging questions as to how Congress can better protect its constitutional power of the purse.” Worth the click, here

And lastly this week: The commander of the Marines who raised the flag at Iwo Jima has died at the age of 102. The Washington Post reported early Friday on the story of then-Capt. Dave Severance and “the 70,000 Marines who stormed the island of Iwo Jima early in 1945, hoping to gain control of its strategic airfields.”
And the famous flag-raising moment? “It certainly was an inspiring event, but, frankly, I didn’t see it,” Severance said in 1965. “I was with some of my other men on the south side of Suribachi, involved in combat, and we couldn’t see the face of the volcano, where the flag was raised. We only learned it later from battalion headquarters.” Read the rest, here

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