Today's D Brief: Taliban march on; China's stealth jets; Space Force eyeing CENTCOM; USAF's new pocket policy; And a bit more.

The Taliban now control more than two-thirds of Afghanistan. That number came from a European officials' assessment shared with the Associated Press on Tuesday—and that was before the 10th provincial capital fell to the group today in southeastern Ghazni City.  

Why this one could really hurt: “The loss of Ghazni—which sits along the Kabul-Kandahar Highway that connects the Afghan capital to the southern provinces—could complicate resupply and movement for government forces, as well as squeeze the capital from the south,” AP reports today. (And if any of our readers are familiar with how quickly Afghan forces can burn through ammunition, you know how vital resupply is.)

The Taliban also recently picked up an Afghan Army HQs and a few airports in the north, Bill Roggio reported for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal on Wednesday. “The loss of the headquarters and the airports in Kunduz City and Shibirghan [in Jowzjan province] will deny the [Afghan] military the ability to launch counterattacks in the two provinces and relieve the siege of the key city of Mazar-I-Sharif in nearby Balkh province,” Roggio writes. “The Taliban controls the roads leading to these two cities, and the only way for the Afghan military to retake them is by reinforcing the units based at the airports via air.” 

In local headlines today: 

Bad news for Kabul: The Taliban say they’re not negotiating so long as Ashraf Ghani remains president. That’s the message from Pakistani’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad on Wednesday. “The condition is that as long as Ashraf Ghani is there, we are not going to talk to the Afghan government,” Khan said Taliban leaders explained to him. Khan had more to say on Wednesday, like how he feels the U.S. is leaving behind a mess and that he feels rejected by the U.S. in favor of India. Read on at Reuters

See also the Taliban’s statement today—an uncompromising message of contempt for Kabul and the U.S.—from the latest diplomatic talks in Qatar. 

Also very bad news for Kabul: Some U.S. officials think it could fall within 90 days. Others think the group could cut off the capital from the rest of the country in just 30 days (which could put it pretty darn close to 9/11), according to the Washington Post and Reuters reporting Wednesday. 

The view from the White House: “Look, we spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years,” President Joe Biden told reporters Tuesday, when only about half a dozen capitals had fallen. “We trained and equipped, with modern equipment, over 300,000 Afghan forces. And Afghan leaders have to come together.” Press Secretary Jen Psaki echoed that message on Wednesday when asked about growing Taliban control of the country. 

“Ultimately, the Afghan National Security Defense Forces have the equipment, numbers, and training to fight back,” said Psaki. “They have what they need. What they need to determine is if they have the political will to fight back, and if they have the ability to unite as a—as leaders to fight back.  And that’s really where it stands at this point.”

What the State Department is shooting for at this stage: “[A] permanent and comprehensive ceasefire and agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan,” Spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday. But, he admitted, that looks fairly unlikely. “Intra-Afghan negotiations leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire were an integral element of the agreement [reached in Qatar back in February 2020], and all recent indications, at least, suggest the Taliban are instead pursuing a battlefield victory.”

The Taliban have also been detaining government officials and local police in various cities during this march across the country, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a statement this morning calling for their immediate release.

ICYMI: The Pentagon has quietly established two new Afghanistan-linked offices, including its Defense Security Cooperation Management Office-Afghanistan, and the Over-the-Horizon Counterterrorism Headquarters, both based in Qatar. (Tip of the hat to Dr. Jonathan Schroden, who directs CNA's Countering Threats and Challenges Program.) 


From Defense One

As Delta Variant Spreads, Trade Shows Impose Mask Mandates  // Marcus Weisgerber: The Association for the U.S. Army said it will not limit attendance unless required by the local government.

What's Missing from US Missile Defense? Pentagon Aims to Find Out // Patrick Tucker: As part of its efforts to integrate weapons across the services, the office of the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs will look anew at missile defense plans.

US Army Picks Naval Special Agent to Lead Investigative Command // Caitlin M. Kenney: The first appointment of a civilian director is part of a restructuring prompted by the Fort Hood review.

Spacesuits and Lawsuits Put 2024 Moon Landing in Jeopardy // Tara Copp: Two lunar-exploration spacesuits won’t be ready, a new report says, while bid protests have held up work on the lander.

China’s New Missile Fields Are Just Part of the PLA Rocket Force’s Growth // Peter W. Singer and Ma Xiu: Since 2017, the PLARF has grown by one-third and worked to streamline and improve various support functions that are key to combat efficiency.

It’s Grim // Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic: The latest UN report is clear: Climate change is here, it’s a crisis, and it’s caused by fossil fuels.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Caitlin Kenney and Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here


China brought out some of its newest stealth jets for recent drills with Russia, Beijing’s first with another nation since the start of the pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. According to China’s state-run media, “More than 80% of the Chinese weapons and equipment used for the drills were newly developed, including the PLA’s J-20 stealth fighter, KJ-500 early-warning and control aircraft, its J-16 jet fighter and unmanned combat vehicles.”
Activities included “long-range precision strikes,” helicopter assaults and “large-scale parachute landings.” More here.
China on Wednesday sentenced a Canadian man to 11 years in prison on allegations he was a spy. The New York Times reports the sentencing of Michael Spavor is “widely seen as political retaliation by China against Canada for the detention of [Meng Wanzhou] a Chinese technology executive” at Huawei.
In other news from China: Communist party leaders are banning a range of music that officials think “endangers national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity...or which encourages illegal activities such as gambling and drugs,” Reuters reported Wednesday according to a notice from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
FWIW: NPR reports that “In the past, China has imposed similar bans on songs with titles including ‘I Love Taiwanese Girls,’ ‘Fart,’ ‘Beijing Hooligans’ and ‘Don't Want to Go to School.’”

Back stateside, U.S. lawmakers want to know if troops and their families are going hungry. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., on Wednesday sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin seeking more information about the scope of food insecurity among National Guard and Reserve service members and what the Defense Department is doing to address it, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports. The Senators cited several reports on the food insecurity crisis in the military, including a Washington Post story from June that reported National Guard and Reserve members are twice as likely to be hungry as other groups of Americans.
“This is morally, and as a matter of national security, unconscionable,” they write. “We must do better by our National Guard and Reserve service members.”
The Pentagon says it’s looking into food insecurity among active-duty troops; but Warren and Duckworth want Austin to answer questions about the impacts on Guardsmen and Reservists, especially considering their high level of deployments in the past year—fighting wildfires, protecting the Capitol, and helping the country in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Warren and Duckworth requested answers by Aug. 25.  

Space Force leaders are working on a plan to create a new unit under Central Command’s authority, Air Force Times reports. The unit would “coordinate what military space assets to use in the region,” and could potentially “serve as a blueprint for creating sister groups around the globe,” such as Pacific Space Forces. More details, here.
BTW: The idea of using and coordinating space assets in the Central Command region is not exactly new. Space operators have been integrated into air operations centers around the world, including the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar, since at least 2018, when they were still part of the Air Force.

And lastly today: The Air Force is about to let airmen put their hands in their pockets, Task & Purpose reported Wednesday. (The idea is so outrageous to anyone who has served in the U.S. military that the very thought spawned this listicle back in March.)
There’s more. “The change is one of many grooming and uniform changes that loosen up restrictions for airmen,” T&P writes. “Others include being able to use a cell phone or drink water while walking in uniform; new physical training uniforms; longer hair and hair accessory standards; cosmetic tattooing for men; and wearing morale patches on Fridays or during special events.”
See for yourself what’s going on and why in the Air Force’s message about these new changes, here

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