Today's D Brief: Taliban's interim gov't; Ghani's apology; Russia weaponized comment sections; And a bit more.

The Afghan Taliban announced an interim cabinet of all-male officials on Tuesday, and it includes a wanted terrorist as well as four former prisoners at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

The Taliban’s leader remains Haibatullah Akhundzada, and Reuters has more on him here. But his caretaker government now features Mullah Hassan Akhund as prime minister (Akhund served as the Taliban’s foreign minister 20 years ago); Siraj Haqqani as acting minister of interior (he’s the wanted guy with a $5 million FBI bounty on his head); and filling the role of defense minister is Mawlawi Yaqoob, son of deceased founder Mullah Omar. 

Bigger picture: “Drawn mostly from Afghanistan’s dominant Pashtun ethnic group, the Cabinet’s lack of representation from other ethnic groups also seems certain to hobble its support from abroad,” the Associated Press reports from Kabul.

“They’re exactly the same colors as the old Taliban...mainly old men from Kandahar,” Lindsey Hilsum of the UK’s Channel 4 news said Tuesday. 

Said TB leader Akhundzada, in a statement Tuesday, his first public remarks since Kabul fell in mid-August: “Our previous 20 years of struggle and Jihad had had two major goals. Firstly to end foreign occupation and aggression and to liberate the country, and secondly to establish a complete, independent, stable and central Islamic system in the country. Based on this principle, in the future, all matters of governance and life in Afghanistan will be regulated by the laws of the Holy Shariah.”

Said former State Department official Barnett Rubin, to the Wall Street Journal: “Bottom line: Afghanistan still needs a political settlement, and this government takes the country further away from that objective than before.”

To the victor’s rich pals go the spoils? China is reportedly “considering deploying military personnel and economic development officials to Bagram airfield...in the coming years,” U.S. News and World Report’s Paul Shinkman reported Tuesday. 

Caveat: Current known plans “would not encompass taking over the base but rather sending personnel and supplies at the invitation of the government in Kabul—and certainly after the Taliban secures its rule,” Shinkman writes. Read on, here

One more thing: Ashraf Ghani tweeted an apology to the people of Afghanistan today from his presidential account, after more than two weeks of silence on the platform. He says he left Kabul at the advice of “palace security” in the hopes of avoiding a civil war as had occurred in the 1990s. Ghani also says he never brought with him “millions of dollars belonging to the Afghan people.”

To his credit, he also emphasizes Afghanistan’s Jirga and Shura process as a way forward under Taliban officials. Read his full statement, here


From Defense One

State Dept. Working ‘at the Highest Levels’ to Clear Mazar-i-Sharif Charter Aircraft // Tara Copp: One problem: all the U.S. screeners have left Afghanistan.

Defense One Radio Ep. 87: Climate change vs. everyone // Defense One Staff : In this episode, we review how our understanding of the threats posed by human-caused climate change is evolving, and we look at some ways the U.S. could more smartly compete with China.

‘Dear America’: Gold Star Families Want ‘Archaic’ Support Systems Fixed // The Pentagon team that manages them “have not protected us, and they have refused to listen.”

Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1888, the world’s first fully capable submarine was launched for the Spanish Navy by engineer and sailor Isaac Peral. Spanish leaders saw little use for the novel yet relatively slow vessel, and decided to cancel the program two years later. 


The U.S. military’s base (and ship) renaming commission wants you! The Defense Department’s official expert panel in charge of recommending new names for ten Army posts and two Navy ships that honor Confederates is asking for the public’s input on who to rename them after. Details here.
The commission is asking the public to help create a list of new names that meet three broad requirements, including guidance that each submission must: 

  • “appropriately reflect the courage, values, sacrifices, and diversity of our military men and women”;
  • consider “the local or regional significance”; 
  • And they should have the “potential to inspire and motivate our service members.”

The assets set to be renamed include:

  • Virginia’s Forts Lee, Pickett, A.P. Hill and Belvoir;
  • Georgia’s Forts Benning and Gordon;
  • North Carolina’s Fort Bragg;
  • Louisiana’s Fort Polk; 
  • Alabama’s Fort Rucker; 
  • Fort Hood in Texas; 
  • The USS Chancellorsville
  • And the USNS Maury

The commission will submit its final list to Congress by Oct. 1, 2022. A bit more on that, here.

  • Don’t miss our May interview with one of the commission’s panelists, retired West Point History Professor and U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, here.

One last thing: Virginia just removed its 21-foot-tall statue of Robert E. Lee from Richmond today, after more than 130 years of looming over Monument Avenue. NBC News has more on the legal wrangling that led to this historic reckoning, here.

As America edges closer to its own tragic anniversary Saturday, France on Wednesday began its trial into the ISIS-claimed Nov. 2015 Paris attack that left 130 people dead. The case is expected to take an estimated nine months to prosecute, and will take place inside “the storied 13th-century Palais de Justice in Paris, where Marie Antoinette and Emile Zola faced trial,” AP reports.
“Fourteen defendants will appear in person at the trial, including the sole surviving militant of the attacks that night, 31-year-old Frenchman Salah Abdeslam,” the Wall Street Journal reports in its preview. “All the other militants who carried out those assaults either died in shootouts with police or detonated suicide vests.”
Worth noting: “In France, filming or recording a court case is usually banned, but authorities have installed eight cameras to record an event they deem historic,” the Journal reports. More on Abdeslam and his crowded criminal history, here.

Achtung, Deutschland: Russia state media runs what’s become “the most prominent media outlet on social media in Germany ahead of the election,” Politico reported Tuesday.
Unsurprisingly, it's pumping out “anti-vaccine conspiracy theories...and championing the far-right Alternative for Deutschland,” which had been sagging at the polls over the past several months, as we discussed in our June podcast on the future of European security.
And just like America’s recent elections, “the Kremlin-backed outlet is also pursuing a double strategy of promoting AfD, while attacking the Green Party, especially its leader, Annalena Baerbock,” Politico writes.
Bigger picture: “It’s clear that this election really matters to Russia,” said Kristine Berzina of the German Marshall Fund's Alliance for Securing Democracy. Continue reading, here.

Looking well beyond Germany, Russia’s trolls have weaponized the comment sections of several leading Western newspapers. And those newspapers ought to respond by being “more transparent about how they are tackling disinformation and more proactive in preventing it,” according to a new report from Cardiff University’s Crime and Security Institute.
The gist: “[R]esearchers employed data science pattern recognition and detection techniques to reader comments, which illuminated a series of unusual behaviours associated with some accounts posting pro-Kremlin content,” including “242 stories where provocative pro-Russian or anti-Western statements were posted in reaction to articles of relevance to Russia. These comments were then fed back to a range of Russian-language media outlets who used them as the basis of stories about politically controversial events.”
The scope: “32 prominent media outlets across 16 countries have been targeted via their reader comments sections,” and the outlets include Fox News, Breitbart, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Find a more global accounting beginning on page 24 of the report (PDF), here.
And if this flooding-the-comment-section tactic sounds familiar, you may have glimpsed it when we looked into the future of cyberwarfare for Defense One Radio back in 2019.

And finally: Defense One’s State of Defense live event begins today, with a webinar discussion of “The Future Soldier.” State of the Army kicks off tomorrow, featuring keynote speaker Army chief Gen. James McConville, as well as panels on how to build a better Army and what kind of Army the U.S. needs. State of the Navy and State of the Marine Corps are next week. Registration is required, but it’s free. Details and more, here.
Also today: Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks is keynoting the Defense News Conference, beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET. According to the Pentagon’s preview, Hicks will “discuss how the department is prioritizing and meeting the pacing challenge from China through innovation and modernization efforts, including through harnessing the ingenuity of the defense industrial base and addressing the effects of climate change on the Department’s missions and operational plans, readiness, installations, and budget.”
Later in the day, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville are slated to speak shortly after 11 a.m. ET, followed by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Stefanie Tompkins and Defense Innovation Unit Director Mike Brown closer to noon.

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