Today's D Brief: Lawmakers probe Afghan exit; UN warns of peril in Afghanistan; New North Korea test; Squirrels, Army robots; And a bit more.
America’s Afghanistan withdrawal goes under the microscope. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to Capitol Hill today for a 2 p.m. ET oversight hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It’s the first of two big hearings on the withdrawal, with the second slated for Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The ambitious title for today’s hearing: “Afghanistan 2001- 2021: Evaluating the Withdrawal and U.S. Policies – Part 1.”
Some of the questions lawmakers plan to ask concern, e.g., why Bagram Air Base was closed ahead of the impromptu evacuation in mid-August, and what sort of “over the horizon” agreements have been reached so far, as well as why more haven’t been agreed upon—according to Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, lead GOP lawmaker on the HFAC. Other key lawmakers are interested in probing “the policies that led to the Taliban’s reestablishing control of the country, including those that drove the Trump Administration’s February 2020 agreement,” as HFAC Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., announced in late August.
Anticipating Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy told Reuters, “The real question is why did we stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years after we knew that there was going to be no way we could build an Afghan military, an Afghan government that was capable of holding the country against the Taliban once we left.”
Said a nameless defense official to Politico, “When this is investigated, I think we will find that State overestimated their ability to continue a diplomatic presence and underestimated the demand that a government collapse would engender for [Special Immigrant Visa applicants] to want to flee.”
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, ordinary Afghans now face their “most perilous hour,” as the economy continues sinking and services are collapsing across the country, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday during a donor conference focused on Afghanistan. Guterres also reminded the audience that the UN is requesting $606 million in urgent funds to help the Afghan people, many of whom face drought and famine.
And the Taliban are already breaking their promises when it comes to rights for women, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Monday. Reuters has more.
Remember all those Afghan pilots who fled to Uzbekistan? Some of them “were transferred to a U.S. military base in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday,” the New York Times reported Sunday after the U.S. negotiated a deal with the Uzbeks. However, as the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, “Still in question is the fate of the 46 aircraft that landed at Termez airfield in Uzbekistan near the border with Afghanistan. These include U.S.-supplied Black Hawks and PC-12 surveillance aircraft, along with Soviet-era MI-17s.”
One last (apparently very terrible) thing: America’s last known offensive act in the Afghanistan war was a drone strike that killed 10 people in Kabul. But the New York Times visual investigations team obtained closed-circuit footage that strongly suggests that a man the U.S. called an “imminent threat” and an “ISIS facilitator” was instead an aid worker coming home to his family.
From Defense One
How Equipment Left In Afghanistan Will Expose US Secrets // Patrick Tucker: Even rendered inoperable, equipment now in the hands of the Taliban will yield troves of information about how the U.S. builds weapons and uses them.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Fall conference season: Masks required; Army wants a new drone; Collins buying FlightAware; and more.
Between Then and Now, They Did Not Die in Vain // Joseph Votel: I was among the first to parachute into Afghanistan in 2001. This is how I will remember the war.
Boost Defense Spending? Congress Owes Us a Better Explanation // Billy Ostermeyer: The proposed 2022 budget plus-ups add to a long history of hiding flimsy arguments behind dramatic rhetoric.
Europe Should Drop the Act on Afghanistan // Tom McTague, The Atlantic: The region is stuck believing in a past that never was and a future it doesn’t have the will to bring about.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jen Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1851, a boy who would later become a pioneering epidemiologist for the U.S. Army was born in Belroi, Va. His name was Walter Reed.
North Korea claims to have tested new long-range cruise missiles—which, unlike ballistic missiles, are not banned under UN resolutions. State-run media claimed the missiles traveled 1,500 kilometers to their targets.
Bigger picture: This is Pyongyang’s first known test launch since March, and it comes just days before President Biden’s representative is scheduled to meet with South Korean and Japanese reps in Tokyo “to discuss the stalled nuclear diplomacy with North Korea,” AP writes.
Gunmen released 75 kidnapped schoolchildren in Nigeria on Sunday after local telecommunications firms cut service during an army operation that closed in on the “bandits” nearly two weeks after the students were first abducted.
In Zamfara, Nigeria, gunmen attacked an army base and killed a dozen soldiers before stealing weapons and setting at least one building on fire Saturday. Agence France-Presse has a bit more, here.
Developing: Other unspecified “gunmen” have freed 240 prisoners in an undisclosed location inside Nigeria, AFP reports separately Monday morning on Twitter.
By the way: Children are increasingly being recruited and killed in Niger, according to a new report from Amnesty International. Fighters from the local ISIS branch—Islamic State in the Greater Sahara—and the local al-Qaida affiliate, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, are primarily resonsible for the kidnappings and killings, particularly in the northwestern Tillabéri region.
Oopsie: American Green Berets trained Guinea coup plotters. As a video that surfaced on social media appeared to suggest, U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers were indeed training members of the Guinea military before they snuck away in the early morning hours of Sept. 5 to overthrow the country’s leader, President Alpha Condé.
According to Declan Walsh and Eric Schmidt of the New York Times reporting Friday from Kenya, “A team of about a dozen Green Berets had been in Guinea since mid-July to train about 100 soldiers in a special forces unit led by Colonel Doumbouya, who served for years in the French Foreign Legion, took part in American military exercises and was once a close ally” of President Condé. Doumbouya is now by all indications in charge of Guinea, making him “the second-youngest leader of an African state,” behind Mali’s Col. Assimi Goïta, who “came to power only in May, also following a coup.”
For the record, “We do not have any information on how the apparent military seizure of power occurred, and had no prior indication of these events,” a U.S. military spokesperson from Africa Command told the Times. Read on to better understand Doumbouya’s credentials and ascent to power, here.
Do squirrels hold the secret to the U.S. Army’s robotic future? Scientists are examining the cognition of squirrels at University of California-Berkley and determining how they leap from branch to branch, which could lead them to learning how to make robots that can also adapt to complex terrains, Army Times reported Friday. “By studying controlling and actuating behaviors going on in the squirrels brain, limbs, trunk we can design robots with similar versatility,” explained Dr. Dean Culver, program manager for the Complex Dynamics and Systems program at the Army Research Office.
Unlike most Septembers at America’s southern border, the number of undocumented immigrants apprehended by authorities is down slightly compared to August, NBC News reports.
That modest downward trend comes on the heels of a record-setting July, and follows a new approach from Mexican officials, as well as “newly started flights from the U.S. that expel immigrants to Mexico and Guatemala before they can claim asylum,” according to NBC News. More here.
Lastly today: The annual “Future Security Forum” from New America and Arizona State University kicks off with about four hours of discussions beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET. This year’s theme concerns the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and aims to help “chart the next 20 years of national and international security trends.”
Sessions include a focus on conflict in space, the future of intelligence, special operations, artificial intelligence, and even UFOs. Review the agenda and speakers, including Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond—and don’t forget to register for the livestream—here.
Elsewhere today: Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Air Force Gen. John Hyten speaks at the Brookings Institution this afternoon at 2 p.m. ET. Topics of discussion include “the state of American defense, military modernization, the state of the all-volunteer force, the implementation of the National Defense Strategy, and what new approaches the Pentagon under Secretary Lloyd Austin will take in tackling these issues,” according to Brookings’ preview. Registration required; more, here.