Today's D Brief: Taliban on the march in N. Afghanistan; SecNav Del Toro; Navy joins Greece wildfire efforts; And a bit more.

Nearly half a dozen of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capital cities have fallen to the Taliban since late last week as the group’s fighters are racing to take remote and poorly-defended locations ahead of America’s August 31 withdrawal date. Locations reportedly seized since Thursday include:

  • North-central Sar-e Pul province, taken Sunday or Monday, depending on Reuters or Associated Press reporting;
  • Northeastern Taleqan province, which was taken Sunday evening; 
  • Northern Jowzjan province (bordering Turkmenistan) was seized Saturday, according to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times;
  • Northern Kunduz (AP reports the group “planted their flag in the city’s main square, where it was seen flying atop a traffic police booth;” CNN on Sunday called it “the first major city to fall” to the Taliban);
  • North-central Samangan’s capital city of Aibak, where several reports (via Pajhwok News, e.g., as well as here and here) Monday morning suggest that province is the latest to fall;
  • And southwestern Nimruz’s Zaranj, a remote place that fell Thursday.

Also in the south, Helmand’s capital city has been “mostly taken” by the Taliban, where fighting has raged in Lashkar Gah for the last several weeks, AP reports. 

Across the country, “Civilian casualties have skyrocketed,” the New York Times reported on Sunday, pointing to a new UNICEF report that revealed “In the last 72 hours, 20 children have been killed and 130 children have been injured in Kandahar province; 2 children were killed and 3 were injured in Khost province; and in Paktia province, 5 children were killed and 3 were injured.” And according to the Times, “Nearly 2,400 civilians have been killed or injured between May 1 and June 30,” which was “the highest number recorded for that period since monitoring began in 2009.” 

On President Ghani’s mind: “Public uprising forces.” Afghanistan’s president is working today to unify Afghanistan’s disparate public defense forces, Tolo News reports from Kabul. This idea for a sudden “unified command” reportedly came from the office of Abdullah Abdullah, who is Afghanistan’s chief negotiator with the Taliban. 

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul is marking #PeaceMonday (which is new to us), and has decided to poll its followers with the following question about Afghanistan’s future: “What do you wish to tell the negotiating parties in Doha about your hopes for a political settlement?” Submit your answers via Twitter, here.

From the U.S. military’s perspective, a campaign of “limited airstrikes” is about all that’s planned, defense officials told the New York Times on Sunday. And still, as you may have guessed, “One official acknowledged that with only 650 American troops remaining on the ground in Afghanistan, a concerted air campaign was unlikely to undo the advances the Taliban had made.” (And the contractors? Many are reportedly “stranded” in Dubai.)

Big picture: “This is now a different kind of war, reminiscent of Syria,” Deborah Lyons, the head of the UN’s mission in Afghanistan, said Friday. As for what to expect from here, it’s unclear; but AP reports, perhaps predictably, “revenge attacks and repressive treatment of women have been reported in areas now under Taliban control.”

Bigger picture: China and Pakistan are about to be left “holding the bag,” said Ian Bremmer on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS on Sunday. “This is an embarrassment” for the U.S., “but it’s not a national security priority. That’s why Trump wanted out; that’s why Biden wants out, too. There’s gonna be a lot of people on the ground that are gonna be under massive humanitarian duress. And this is gonna become a much bigger problem for Pakistan, for India, and most importantly for China.”

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Welcome to this Monday 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 in 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb over Nagasaki, Japan, killing possibly as many as 80,000 people. Japan surrendered six days later.

The armed drone that attacked a tanker off Oman on July 30 was made in Iran, U.S. military officials at Central Command announced Friday. The attack blew a six-foot wide hole in the pilot house and killed two crew members, one from Romania and the other from the UK.
In terms of forensics, “a vertical stabilizer (part of the wing) and internal components” of one of the drones used “were nearly identical to previously-collected examples from Iranian one-way attack UAVs,” CENTCOM said, and shared a slide deck of allegedly supporting documents. What’s more, “The distance from the Iranian coast to the locations of the attacks was within the range of documented Iranian one-way attack UAVs.”
FWIW: The U.S. consulted with Israeli and British officials before making CENTCOM’s findings public. Read over the full report (PDF) here

For the first time under POTUS46, the U.S. just authorized the sale of GPS-guided artillery to Taiwan, Defense News reported Saturday. The deal is worth around $750 million and involves about two dozen support vehicles. “The prime contractor for the howitzers and armored recovery vehicles will be BAE Systems, while the Anniston Army Depot in Bynum, Alabama, would be responsible for the ammunition support vehicles.” Read on, here

ICYMI: SecNav Del Toro confirmed. The Senate on Saturday approved Carlos Del Toro as the 78th secretary of the Navy. Del Toro is a Naval Academy grad who served as a surface warfare officer during the Cold War and Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Find Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s statement on his confirmation, here.

The U.S. Navy has sent aircraft to Greece to help recon forest fires amid a record heatwave in the birthplace of democracy. Defense News has a tiny bit more on that, here.

And finally today: Some key aspects of climate change just might be irreversible for thousands of years, the UN says in a new report released Monday. Long story short: “Even if nations started sharply cutting emissions today, total global warming is likely to rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades, a hotter future that is now essentially locked in,” the New York Times writes off the new report.
Said one scientist to the Wall Street Journal: “We don’t really have time to adapt anymore because the change is happening so quickly.” But the situation isn’t entirely a lost cause, the Times notes; however, usefully coping with the current understanding of our climate “would require a coordinated effort among countries to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by around 2050.” Read over the full report here.