Today's D Brief: Window closing in Kabul; Drone strike fallout; Knife missile in Nangarhar; Recidivism in North Korea?; And a bit more.
The United States has one day left to withdraw troops and citizens from Afghanistan, if it’s going to stick to the deadline U.S. officials forged with the Taliban in exchange for the group not attacking Americans. This very small window suggests many of the Afghan stories we’ll likely learn about over the next several days—indeed, weeks—will be heartbreakingly desperate, “Hail Mary” accounts of panicked, separated and stranded families and those both near and far trying to assist. (Those, like this from the Wall Street Journal, are already emerging.)
Good news: Evacuation flights out of Kabul are reportedly still departing, though the number of people flying out of Hamid Karzai International Airport has significantly declined over the course of the past several days.
116,700 people have been evacuated from Kabul since Aug. 14, and that includes about 1,200 people in the past 24 hours (ending 3 a.m. ET Monday), according to the White House.
Bad news: At least five rockets have been fired at the airport so far today, though no one has been harmed in those attacks, which were claimed by the local ISIS affiliate, Reuters reports.
Worse news: Concerns about civilian casualties loom large today after a U.S. drone strike on Sunday is believed to have killed at least one alleged ISIS-K fighter inside a car near the airport—but also several others who are believed to have been nearby. CBS News reported “the strike was ordered after two men were seen loading explosives into the trunk of a car,” according to a defense official. U.S. military officials at Central Command called the action “a self-defense unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike,” and admitted that it seemed to trigger “significant secondary explosions.”
An Afghan citizen told CNN the explosions killed nine members of his family, including six children. A few hours after the strike, U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement, “We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties. It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further.”
The U.S. military used its new “knife missile” in a drone strike Friday on alleged ISIS-K fighters in Nangarhar province, the Wall Street Journal reported this weekend. The aircraft flew from the UAE, and it’s believed to have “killed an ISIS-K planner known to U.S. intelligence analysts for developing a specific type of attack in the Kabul area,” the New York Times reported. An unnamed “facilitator” is also believed to have been killed in the attack.
Dignified transfer at Dover. On Sunday morning, POTUS46, the First Lady, SecDef Austin, SecState Blinken and other White House officials attended the dignified transfer of the 13 U.S. troops who died last week in Afghanistan as their caskets arrived at Dover Air Force Base. The fallen include five who were just infants when the Afghanistan war began almost 20 years ago:
- David Lee Espinoza, 20, USMC;
- Rylee McCollum, 20, USMC;
- Dylan Merola, 20, USMC;
- Kareem Nikoui, 20, USMC;
- Jared Schmitz, 20, USMC;
- Humberto Sanchez, 22, USMC;
- Maxton Soviak, 22, USN;
- Hunter Lopez, 22, USMC;
- Daegan Page, 23, USMC;
- Ryan Knauss, 23, Army;
- Nicole Gee, 23, USMC;
- Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, USMC;
- Darin Taylor Hoover Jr., 31, USMC.
“These men and women made the ultimate sacrifice so that others could live,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “They were and will be forever remembered as heroes.”
“Their bravery and selflessness has enabled more than 117,000 people at risk to reach safety thus far,” President Joe Biden said. “May God protect our troops and all those standing watch in these dangerous days.” Coverage continues below the fold.
From Defense One
The Final Retrograde from Afghanistan Has Officially Begun // Tara Copp: The threat to U.S. personnel, aircraft in the final days at Kabul airport remains “very real” after a retaliatory U.S. drone strike took out two ISIS-K planners.
U.S. Conducts Airstrike on ISIS-K Planner in Afghanistan // Tara Copp: Embassy issues second warning to Americans at Kabul airport gate: ‘Leave immediately.’
What Does ISIS Want Now? // Graeme Wood, The Atlantic: A bombing at Kabul airport portends grave consequences as the Islamic State’s affiliate takes on the Taliban.
Defense One Radio, Ep. 86: Afghanistan’s new, uncertain chapter // Defense One Staff : A former Afghan interpreter and diplomat explain what might lie ahead for Afghanistan after nearly two decades of war.
US Army Wants to Put Facial Recognition in Daycare Centers // Aaron Boyd: A pilot system at Fort Jackson would begin “monitoring the health and well-being of children."
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Space Symposium recap; Boeing unveils Qatar F-15s; ULA requires employees to get vaccinated; 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 1963, a communication link tying Washington with Moscow first became operational. The line opened almost a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis and three months after the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed a Hot Line Agreement “to reduce the danger that accident, miscalculation, or surprise attack might trigger a nuclear war.”
President Biden has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to take the lead in resettling Afghans arriving stateside. “This process includes but is not limited to initial immigration processing, COVID-19 testing, separation of COVID-positive individuals for anticipated quarantine, and resettlement support for evacuees who are neither American citizens nor lawful permanent residents and who will be temporarily accommodated at select U.S. military bases before relocating to communities across the country,” according to a memo published Sunday by the White House.
Seven U.S. military bases have been selected to host up to 50,000 Afghans and their families. Those include:
- Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.;
- Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.;
- Fort Pickett, Va.;
- Fort Lee, Va.;
- Fort Bliss, Texas;
- Fort McCoy, Wis.;
- Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
Looking ahead, “[W]hen the airlift and the media frenzy are over, the overwhelming majority of Afghans, some 39 million, will remain inside Afghanistan,” UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi warned Monday. “They need us—governments, humanitarians, ordinary citizens—to stay with them and stay the course.”
Other concerns on the horizon include, e.g. can the U.S. reasonably expect to influence Taliban behavior in the way that it prefers over the next several months? Ways to attempt this include sanctions and the continued freezing of funds previously available to the government in Kabul. However, these traditional tactics are unlikely to be terribly effective—and they could in fact harm far more Afghans than they’d be meant to help, former State Department official Elizabeth Threlkeld, currently with the Stimson Center, told us in our latest Defense One Radio podcast.
We also spoke to former Afghan interpreter Habib Hassan, who last shared his thoughts from Kabul back in late 2018. Almost three years later, he’s racing to get his family out of Afghanistan, which is a task that feels all but hopeless at this stage.
His big hopes for Afghanistan include (1) ensuring those who want to leave can still leave after the Aug. 31 deadline; (2) expanding Western media coverage of the country beyond Kabul and to the other major cities; (3) working out some clear terms for non-governmental organizations to operate safely inside the country; (4) ensuring basic services remain functioning across all sectors; and lastly, “mak[ing] sure that those rights that are enshrined in the Afghan constitution are respected unless and until there is a new constitution agreed upon and approved by the Afghan people.” Hear (or read) more from Hassan and Threlkeld, here.
One last thing: Uzbekistan wants all those Afghan pilots to leave, and it wants the U.S. to make that happen, somehow, and quickly, the Wall Street Journal reports—noting 585 Afghans have been staging in Uzbekistan for the past two weeks.
Background: “Some Afghan pilots flew themselves to safety with hundreds of family members and colleagues aboard 46 Afghan Air Force helicopters and planes. These pilots are among the Taliban’s most hated enemies because of their role in airstrikes that inflicted high numbers of casualties during the decadeslong conflict.” Read on, here.
Looks like North Korea has restarted a nuclear reactor previously used to make plutonium, according to an annual report (PDF) from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency released Friday.
But that’s not all. According to the New York Times, “The report also suggested that North Korea had renewed efforts to extract plutonium from spent fuel removed earlier at the sprawling complex, in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang.” CNN has more, here.
Facial recognition could be coming to daycare centers across U.S. Army installations, but only after a pilot program on Fort Jackson in South Carolina, NextGov’s Aaron Boyd reported late last week.
Why? Brace yourself for some seemingly nonsensical jargon: The military wants to use the technology “to form and implement a solution to monitor the health and well-being of children in the [daycare center] by maximizing the use of commercially available, state-of-the-art facial recognition and machine learning algorithms,” according to the contract solicitation.
And lastly today: A new U.S. Army plane billed as a reconnaissance and electronic warfare aircraft has flown for the first time, according to Defense News.
The aircraft can fly above 40,000 feet for up to 14 hours, and can reportedly help boost “long-range precision fires to counter distant threats.” A bit more, here.