Today's D Brief: COVID vax mandate for the military; Taliban's new orders; Tough talk from North Korea, China; And a bit more.
The U.S. military is making COVID vaccinations mandatory as early as the middle of next month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in a memo to the force Monday. That mandate timeline could move up if the Food and Drug Agency formally approves a vaccine before mid-September.
Background: This new guidance for all uniformed service members and Defense Department staff follows a White House announcement in July that mandated all federal workers either assert that they have been vaccinated, with penalties including criminal prosecution if they lie, or submit to strict rules to stop the spread of the virus, including weekly testing, mandatory mask wearing, and social distancing, Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher reports.
Next steps: If a vaccine is approved by the FDA, Austin can make it mandatory without seeking permission from his commander-in-chief, President Joe Biden. But if it’s not approved within about five weeks, Biden will need to issue a waiver to add it to the list of more than a dozen shots already required by troops, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a briefing Monday.
The U.S. military already gives out at least 17 different vaccines, including chickenpox, hepatitis A, the flu, and polio for service members stationed stateside. “Troops deploying abroad have an even longer list,” Feldscher writes. “Those going to Korea, for example, are required to get a typhoid vaccine, and some countries also require troops to get a shot to prevent yellow fever.”
National context: “Per capita, [America's] least vaccinated states have 10 times [the] hospitalizations and 7 times [more] deaths” than its most vaccinated states, according to the Dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish Jha, who tweeted the metrics just before midnight.
“We cannot let up in the fight against COVID-19, especially with the Delta variant spreading rapidly through unvaccinated populations,” Biden said in a statement. “We are still on a wartime footing, and every American who is eligible should take immediate steps to get vaccinated right away.”
The House Armed Services Committee’s top Republican supported the decision in a statement Monday. “Vaccines protect our men and women, many of whom live in cramped and crowded conditions, from the spread of disease while at home or deployed across the globe,” said Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama. “We have already seen COVID-19 affect our readiness downrange...Secretary Austin earlier confirmed that, as of Mid-July, over 70% of active-duty troops had received at least one vaccine shot. That is encouraging news and I hope that number reaches 100% quickly.”
Canada just opened its border to vaccinated Americans, although “The U.S. didn’t reciprocate,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
The fine print for north-bound travelers: They have to be symptom-free; they must have had their last vaccine dose at least two weeks before trying to enter Canada; and they have to bring proof of a negative test (from approved testers only) that must be less than three days old. “They are also required to upload proof of their vaccination to a Canadian government app or website and carry proof of their vaccination status with them,” the Journal reports.
From Defense One
Hypersonic Missile Defense May Depend on Low Earth Orbit Satellites // Tara Copp: Sensors in relatively low orbits may be the best way to spot superfast missiles—but they can’t do the job alone.
COVID-19 Vaccines Will Become Mandatory For Troops Next Month—or Sooner // Jacqueline Feldscher: Biden says he will approve Austin's recommendation to require vaccinations by mid-September, or sooner if the FDA formally approves them.
Move the US-Iraq Relationship Out of Crisis Mode // Bilal Y. Saab: Think fewer troops, more institution-building.
Welcome to this Tuesday 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.
The Taliban says they’re under new orders to not harm Afghan security forces in territory seized by Taliban fighters, the Associated Press reports from Kabul. It’s a slight change in tone that comes as America’s top envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, is in Doha for negotiations with the group.
Khalilzad is warning the group not to militarily seize Kabul, AP reports, else they’ll risk international isolation, presumably led by the U.S. The group already stormed or simply walked into the provincial capitals of six different provinces over the past five days. Three more could be next, including Helmand, Farah, and Kandahar.
BTW: The UN is also asking the Taliban to stop attacking cities, according to Afghanistan’s Pajhwok News.
In predictable images from Afghanistan, U.S. military equipment is showing up in Taliban hands, via social media. Hard to imagine that won’t happen again soon in other locations across the country.
North Korea says it’s upset over joint U.S.-RoK military drills set for next week, the Wall Street Journal reports today from Seoul. The dictator Kim Jong-un is reportedly so upset that he’s sending out his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to spread the message. According to the Kim family, “The reality proves that only substantial deterrent [read: North Korea’s nuclear weapons program], not words, can ensure the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula,” she said in a statement Tuesday.
Worth noting: “The U.S. and South Korea haven't conducted joint, large-scale field drills for years,” the Journal writes. Smaller-scale ones have been more common since the POTUS45 era. And those, “including the one planned for this month, unfold indoors in front of computer monitors,” the Journal reminds us.
And ICYMI, China says it’s upset at those drills, too, South Korea’s Yonhap News agency reported Monday. Beijing’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told an audience last week that the exercises, set to begin Aug. 16, “are not constructive under the present circumstances, and if the US truly wants to restore dialogue with North Korea, it should not do anything whatsoever that creates tensions.”
An official in Seoul called Wang’s remarks “unusual” because “the South Korea-U.S. combined exercises are an annually-held and defensive exercise and therefore, it does not pose a threat to any particular country, including North Korea,” Yonhap writes. And as a result, that official said, “We’re analyzing the background and intentions” behind Minister Wang’s comments. Read on, here.
Related: U.S. and Chinese officials traded rhetorical barbs Monday over possible future tensions around the South China Sea, Reuters reported from the United Nations Security Council in New York.
“Conflict in the South China Sea, or in any ocean, would have serious global consequences for security, and for commerce," U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken said Monday. “When a state faces no consequences for ignoring these rules, it fuels greater impunity and instability everywhere.”
China’s reax: The U.S. is “stirring up trouble out [of] nothing, arbitrarily sending advanced military vessels and aircraft into the South China Sea as provocations and publicly trying to drive a wedge into regional countries.”
Today on the Hill: The U.S. military’s role in Middle Eastern security is the focus of a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing featuring Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dana Stroul. That began at 10 a.m. ET. Catch the livestream here.
And finally today: Get to better know Charles Loeb, a pioneering Black war correspondent who “defied the American military’s denials and propaganda to show how deadly radiation from the strike on Hiroshima sickened and killed” thousands more than the U.S. military admitted publicly. The New York Times’ William Broad unpacked the story of Loeb on Monday, writing that “Loeb’s questioning never got the recognition it deserved.” Dive back into history, here.