Today's D Brief: Tensions in Kabul; US activates Civil Reserve Air Fleet; The ISIS effect; Taliban government TBD; FDA approves Pfizer BioNTech’s vaccine; And a bit more.

United States and allied evacuations continue out of Kabul—although one Afghan soldier has died after gunfire broke out near the Hamid Karzai International Airport, local Khaama Press reports. Three others (nationalities unknown) were also wounded when “An unknown gunman reportedly opened fire at Afghan guards, which prompted responsive fires both by Afghan forces and U.S. troops,” Khaama writes. 

The soldier’s death comes a day after at least seven other Afghans died amid “a panicked stampede of thousands of people” on Sunday, the Associated Press reports from the capital. 

In evacuations news: The U.S. is about to significantly ramp up its evacuation flights, committing “more than 230 cargo planes, tankers, and other aircraft” to the effort, Defense One’s Tara Copp reports today. 

And America just activated its Civil Reserve Air Fleet, marking just the third time in history the military has mobilized the U.S. airlines to help with a military evacuation, Copp and her colleague Marcus Weisgerber reported Sunday. 

The Civil Reserve Air Fleet, or CRAF, is made up of commercial aircraft that the airlines, cargo, and charter carriers make available to the military during an emergency. All of the major U.S. airlines (including United, American, and Delta) are part of the consortium, which was created in the 1950s to assist the military in an emergency by flying people and supplies. 

BTW: This has happened before, but only twice. And both times were in the days leading up to the 1990 and 2003 Iraq wars, Copp and Weisgerber write. 

How it works: “These Civil Reserve flights will be helping facilitate the safe movement of people from staging locations and transit centers, like Qatar and Germany, to the United States or to a third country; none of them will be landing in Kabul,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Sunday from the Roosevelt Room of the White House. And, “At these sites where they’re landing, we are conducting thorough security screenings for everyone who is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident.” 

  • A note on stateside logistics: “This effort will only use three or four planes from each of the major carriers’ vast fleet of aircraft,” Biden said, “so there should be no effect, or a minimal effect, on commercial air travel.”

Departing Kabul: The U.S. evacuated about 11,000 people over a 30-hour stretch this weekend, the president said Sunday. Indeed, “​​In one 24-hour period this weekend, 23 U.S. military flights—including 14 C-17s, 9 C-130 flights—left Kabul carrying 3,900 passengers.” However, he added, “That number will change day to day as the air and ground operations in Kabul vary.” 

So far, nearly 28,000 people have been evacuated since August 14. That includes U.S., coalition, and civilian flights. And since July, nearly 33,000 people have made it out of Afghanistan, according to Biden.

Plot twist: The ISIS effect on departure queues and logistics around HKIA. U.S. officials expanded their security bubble around the airport this weekend, Biden confirmed Sunday without revealing specifics that might hurt operational security. Biden’s confirmation followed  CNN reporting Saturday that the U.S. has recently established “alternative routes” to the airport in light of a bombing threat from the ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan. 

Biden acknowledged the growing dangers out of Kabul on Sunday, but he did not change course—and he hasn’t yet committed to an extension of the Sept. 1 withdrawal deadline. “The security environment is changing rapidly,” he said. “There are civilians crowded at the airport, although we have cleared thousands of them. We know that terrorists may seek to exploit this situation and target innocent Afghans or American troops…we’re maintaining the constant vigilance to monitor and disrupt threats from any source, including the likely source being ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate referred to as ‘ISIS-K.’ 

“But we are under no illusions about the threat,” Biden said. “We’re working hard and as fast as we can to get people out. That’s our mission. That’s our goal. And our determination to get every American citizen home and to evacuate our Afghan allies is unwavering.”

About a possible deadline extension, Biden said, “We’ve discussed a lot with the Taliban. They’ve been cooperative in extending some of the perimeter.  That remains to be seen whether we ask that question.”

Biden also thanked the U.S. military for its focus and professionalism in these historic moments. “Nothing about this effort is easy,” he said, “but the women and men of the United States Armed Forces are acting bravely and with professionalism and with a basic human compassion.” 

Several striking photos emerged from Kabul on Friday seeming to illustrate as much; admittedly, they were from the U.S. Marine Corps, but that does not diminish the stopping power in several of the images.

In local headlines today: 

From Defense One

Defense Secretary Orders US Airlines to Help With Evacuation // Marcus Weisgerber and Tara Copp: It's only the third time in history that the U.S. airlines have been mobilized by the military.

US Helicopters Rescued 169 Americans Outside Airport; More Ops Could Follow // Tara Copp and Jacqueline Feldscher: Biden “will mobilize every resource necessary” to save more, but U.S. has yet to test Taliban checkpoints. Meanwhile, fuel-strained air operations resume.

It Really Was 800+ Afghans on That Plane. They Forgot to Count the Kids. // Marcus Weisgerber and Tara Copp: The iconic photo of Reach 871, the packed U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane, touched people around the world—and highlighted the dire situation now facing Afghans.

What I Learned While Eavesdropping on the Taliban // Ian Fritz, The Atlantic: I spent 600 hours listening in on the people who now run Afghanistan. It wasn’t until the end of my tour that I understood what they were telling me.

So Much for a ‘Foreign Policy for the Middle Class’ // Yascha Mounk, The Atlantic: Biden’s answer to Trump’s approach lasted only as long as its first major test.

What Comes Next? A Lesson from Saigon // Michael Desch: Rather than marking the eclipse of American power, withdrawal from Vietnam coincided with its spectacular increase.

The Pentagon Must Prep Now for the Next Pandemic // Lt. Col. Adam Scher: We must take stock of the myriad ways the U.S. military has helped fight COVID-19—and learn to do even better.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Organizations mobilize to get people out of Afghanistan; HII closes Alion deal; Shipbuilders needed; and more...

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 1954, the C-130 aircraft took its first flight from Lockheed’s plant at Burbank, Calif. The aircraft is still in fairly wide use today, (for India and Japan, e.g.) including during evacuation efforts out of Kabul. 

The U.S. shot down some kind of aerial drone over eastern Syria on Saturday. The American pilot—allegedly a general officer—was flying an F-15E, and used an AIM-9X for the kill, Aviation Week’s Steve Tremble reported Sunday. 

Migration and displacement warning for the Middle East: “The total collapse of water and food production for millions of Syrians and Iraqis is imminent,” the Norwegian Refugee Council warns today in conjunction with nine other aid agencies.
What's going on? Drought and a warming planet are drying up the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which supply water to Syria and Iraq.
ICYMI: In a new first here stateside, U.S. authorities recently declared a water shortage on Lake Mead, which is America’s largest reservoir, straddling Nevada and Arizona. The announcement came from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation, which said the advisory will span approximately the next 24 months or so.
“The declaration triggers cuts in water supply that, for now, mostly will affect Arizona farmers," the New York Times reported on Aug. 16. “But larger cuts, affecting far more of the 40 million people in the West who rely on the river for at least part of their water supply, are likely in coming years as a warming climate continues to reduce how much water flows into the Colorado from rain and melting snow.”
And Orlando’s mayor asked citizens Friday to limit their water as COVID strains the state’s liquid oxygen supply networks.  
One big help in central Florida: “Limiting lawn irrigation, which accounts for nearly 40% of water use in Orlando,” the mayor’s office said. Read on, here

FDA approves: Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccination has just been approved for people 16 years of age and older by the Food and Drug Administration, the agency announced this morning in a statement. “[A]s the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D.

The U.S. military lost a few more troops to COVID-19 last week, which was its statistically deadliest week to date, Meghann Myers of Military Times reported Saturday. The deaths, from Aug. 11 through 18, include: 

  • Marine Corps Sgt. Edmar Ismael, 27, of 2nd Marine Logistics Group at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, died Aug. 14.
  • Navy Personnel Specialist First Class Debrielle Richardson, 29, of Helicopter Maritime Squadron 60 in Jacksonville, Florida, died Aug. 13.
  • Navy Aviation Support Equipment Technician 2nd Class Robert Antonio McMahon, 41, of Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, died Aug. 14.
  • Texas Army National Guardsman Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Riddick, 49, of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, died Aug. 15.
  • Air Force Senior Airman Daniel William Moise, 31, of the 919th Special Operations Wing at Duke Field, Florida, died July 27 (his death was not reported to DoD until after Aug. 11). 

Bigger picture: “So far, the military has reported 34 deaths from COVID-19, for a 0.01 percent death rate,” Myers reports. “While it’s still far lower than the overall U.S. rate of 1.7 percent, that rate is 25 times higher than it was last year.” Continue reading here.