Today's D Brief: Attack in Kabul; Evacs slowing down; VP Harris in Vietnam; Acquisition ‘Valley of Death’; And a bit more.

At least one “large explosion” has hit Kabul’s main airport near its Abbey Gate, the U.S. Embassy confirmed Thursday after multiple outlets reported what seemed to have been a suicide bombing. CNN and Fox News are reporting at least three U.S. service members were wounded in the attack (which may have involved more than one explosion); FP’s Robbie Gramer reports the number of wounded Americans could be “four or more.” Reuters reports casualty numbers are expected to rise. 

BTW: An attack was believed to be coming, British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told the BBC Thursday morning. (A Taliban spokesman insisted the opposite in an exchange with the Associated Press.) A range of evacuation flights out of Kabul had already stopped or were “disappearing,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday morning. 

Many Afghan observers expected the local ISIS affiliate to attempt such an attack at just such a time as this, as Reuters reported in a short video ahead of the violence. Indeed, State Secretary Antony Blinken said Thursday, “We’re operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban, with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack. We’re taking every precaution, but this is very high-risk.”

Before the explosion, gunshots, water cannons, and tear gas were growing constants around Hamid Karzai International Airport, according to AP. 

Evacuation latest: More than 101,000 people have been flown out of Afghanistan on United States and partner nations’ aircraft since July, White House officials said Thursday morning. “However, the number of U.S. military aircraft taking off had dropped significantly as of Thursday: 17 Wednesday compared to 42 the day before,” Defense One’s Tara Copp reports

And total departures are also falling daily: 13,400 on Wednesday compared to 19,600 the day before. And Canada formally ended its evacuation flights after helping about 3,700 people flee, ABC News reports. Denmark, Poland, and Belgium have ended flights, too. Italy’s defense minister said his military planes were getting shot at upon departure from HKIA. 

About 1,500 Americans were still in the country as of Wednesday, and the U.S. is in touch with about 500 of them, Secretary Blinken told reporters at the State Department. 

  • The CIA and the U.S. military are conducting extraction operations around Kabul, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.  

About 600 U.S. troops have departed Kabul, leaving about 5,200 to help with departures until the Aug. 31 deadline for American forces to leave. A bit more below the fold.

From Defense One

Pentagon Orders Troops to Get COVID Vaccine // Caitlin M. Kenney: Austin’s order follows FDA approval of one vaccine—and the deadliest week yet for COVID-stricken troops.

Not For the First Time, COVID Takes Back Seat to a More Pressing Crisis // Elizabeth Howe: The evacuation of refugees from Afghanistan depends on cramming people into closed spaces—during a global pandemic.

Number of Objects in Low Earth Orbit Jumps 22% in 2 Years: Space Operations Command  // Tara Copp: Need to track, detect objects driving need for new space domain awareness investment.

House Bill Aims to Bridge Acquisition ‘Valley of Death’ In Race to Counter China // Patrick Tucker: A draft of the House NDAA markup outlines two provisions to fix the gap between research and acquisition.

The Curious Omission in Russia’s New Security Strategy // David Shedd and Ivana Stradner: It doesn’t mention “cyber”—and that tells us a few things.

Conference Wire: More Stuff in Space // Defense One Staff : The 2021 Space Symposium rolls on with a big jump in low-Earth-orbit objects and some early birthday cake.

Welcome to this Thursday 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 two military veteran lawmakers who secretly flew to Kabul on Tuesday with a deadline extension on their mind have since changed their minds about that, they told the New York TimesCatie Edmondson on Wednesday.
Asked what takeaways their trip yielded for other lawmakers and fellow Americans, Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., said, “Almost every veteran in Congress wants to extend the Aug. 31 deadline, including us, and our opinion on that was changed on the ground, because we started the evacuations so late. There’s no way we can get everyone out, even by Sept. 11. So we need to have a working relationship with the Taliban after our departure. And the only way to achieve that is to leave by Aug. 31.”
There will probably be more heartbreaking images from around Kabul in the days ahead. And this is partly because, as Moulton said, “[A]t the end of the day, we don’t have time to get everyone. That’s why our ongoing relationship with the Taliban is so important.”
And the U.S. troops helping in Kabul are gonna “need help after” because of the sheer emotional weight of what’s happening, both Moulton and Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., told the Times. “Something I think people need to know is that there is no scenario that trains a soldier or Marine to take somebody in a wheelchair, and have to push them back out because they don’t meet the paperwork criteria,” said Meijer. “I think we both are just incredibly concerned.” Read the full exchange here.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, “There’s gonna be a food fight” over nearly $6 billion in U.S. funding that had been expected to go to Afghanistan’s military. Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama told Politico on Wednesday, “A whole lot of people have been looking at that money now.”

Vice President Kamala Harris dropped by Vietnam on Wednesday, where she accused China of “bullying.” She also offered U.S. help “bolstering [Hanoi’s] maritime security.” The Hill has more here.
Harris also brought news the U.S. is donating 1 million COVID-19 vaccines to Vietnam. But China quickly swooped in with its announcement it would donate 2 million of its own COVID-19 vaccines to Vietnam. Business Insider has more on the curious timing for that bit of vaccine diplomacy, here.  

Some acquisition hurdles could be gone soon. Provisions in the latest version of a House defense bill could help overcome the obstacles in the acquisition process that can stop new tech from getting to the battlefield, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports
Consider, for example, one provision in the draft of the National Defense Authorization Act that “would establish a five-year pilot program to more quickly identify such technologies.” Another provision would expand Navy programs that foster small-business innovation. Read more, here.

And finally today: RIP, Pierre Sprey. The legendary Pentagon whiz kid was best known as a driving force behind the A-10 attack plane and F-16 fighter jet. He died at his Maryland home on Aug. 5 of an apparent heart attack. The Washington Post has his obituary.