Today's D Brief: UNGA begins; COVID surpasses 1918 flu deaths; Putin the poisoner, cont.; USAF’s new tanker-airlifter; And a bit more.
New: Check out the Space Force’s new uniforms, which were unveiled today by Chief of Space Operations Air Force Gen. John Raymond on stage at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference. Defense One’s Tara Copp tweeted a few images over here.
Also today: President Joe Biden is addressing the United Nations General Assembly for his first time as POTUS. Biden follows behind Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who opened today’s ceremonies from UN headquarters in New York City at 9 a.m. ET. (Livestream here.) COVID and climate change are expected to be the leading topics in this year’s addresses—as well as Afghanistan and Yemen, according to White House officials.
Biden will emphasize how America is “closing the chapter on 20 years of war,” U.S. officials told reporters in a preview Monday. He’ll also say that the U.S. is “opening a chapter of intensive diplomacy by rallying allies and partners and institutions to deal with the major challenges of our time: COVID-19; climate change; emerging technologies; rules of the road on trade and economics; investments in clean infrastructure that is noncorrupt and high-standards; a modern approach to counterterrorism; and vigorous competition with great powers, but not a new Cold War.”
According to the White House, America’s diplomatic “picture is quite positive despite the differences in perspective on Afghanistan and the issues we’re dealing with with France right now,” an official told reporters Monday. “The president feels very good about the path forward and how American foreign policy can play a vital role in rallying the world.”
- Read more: “Biden to Pitch Partnership at UN, Amid Tension With France and Other Allies,” via Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher.
About 36 world leaders will speak today, and a third of them—including China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, e.g.—chose to send a pre-recorded video of their remarks, according to the UN’s schedule.
Around noon ET, Biden meets with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in New York. Later, around 5 p.m. ET at the White House, Biden hosts UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
From Defense One
Air Force Secretary Warns of China’s Burgeoning Nuclear Arsenal, Reveals B-21 Detail // Marcus Weisgerber: Frank Kendall also criticized Congress for not allowing the Air Force to retire old, unneeded warplanes and questioned the need for hypersonic weapons.
A Rahm Emanuel is Exactly What Japan Wants, Asia Scholars Say // Jacqueline Feldscher: What matters in American politics is not what matters to Tokyo.
AUKUS Is the Death Knell of Australia's Strategic Ambiguity // James Curran, Council on Foreign Relations: At what cost is Australia attempting to strengthen its deterrence of China?
Biden to Pitch Partnership at UN, Amid Tension With France and Other Allies // Jacqueline Feldscher: The withdrawal from Afghanistan “opens the chapter” for diplomacy, a senior administration official said.
US Air Force Developing Combat Tanker-Airlifter that Can Land on Water // Tara Copp: In a conflict with China, aircraft will need flexibility in basing, and that means water takeoffs, landings.
AFA Conference Wire: Force Mixes and COVID Masks // Defense One Staff : Vaccine cards and masks are back on the agenda for the 2021 Air Force Association.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1792, the parliamentary National Convention of France abolished the monarchy during a series of events we now refer to as the French Revolution. In four months’ time, King Louis XVI would be publicly executed by guillotine. Less than seven years later, General Napoleon Bonaparte would ascend to power in a coup that effectively ended the French Revolution and unleashed a dictator on Europe for the next decade-plus—until overreach at Moscow hastened his demise.
More Americans have been killed by COVID than died from the 1918 flu, according to the latest dismal statistics from the ongoing pandemic. The sordid milestone seems to have been passed on Monday, when America’s COVID-19 death toll eclipsed 675,000 fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters.
What can we do more smartly next time around? Don’t abandon “safety precautions too early;” don’t let “a false sense of security” spread among the young and healthy; and don’t rely on “unproven treatments,” CNN reports.
The CDC wants U.S.-bound Afghan evacuee flights postponed until measles vaccinations can be distributed to travelers—and 21 days pass after those vaccinations, Politico reported Monday.
What’s going on: “After four Afghans tested positive for measles after arriving in the U.S. this month, the CDC announced that it would halt flights to the U.S. for Afghan evacuees at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar for at least a week out of an abundance of caution. The agency is now recommending a stoppage on flights until Afghan evacuees receive the measles vaccine and develop immunity.” More here.
The U.S. military seems to have killed two alleged senior al-Qaeda leaders in a drone strike Monday over Idlib province, Defense Department Press Secretary John Kirby said Monday from the Pentagon.
“Initial indications are that we struck the individual we were aiming for, and there are no indications of civilian casualties as a result of the strike,” according to a statement from Central Command spokeswoman Navy Lt. Josie Lynne Lenny.
Those targeted seem to have been “Abu al-Bara al-Tunisi (a senior Huras al-Din ideologue) & Abu Hamza al-Yemeni (a senior military leader),” Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute tweeted ahead of the Pentagon announcement.
Bigger picture take: “Periodic American drone strikes are rubbing salt in an already gaping al-Qaeda wound in Syria — the country that only a few years ago seemed to be al-Qaeda's source of greatest promise,” Lister told Voice of America.
Europe’s highest human rights court says today that Russia was behind the 2006 poisoning and death of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who died after drinking polonium-laced tea in London. Reuters has that story from London, here.
By the way: British police say they’ve just confirmed that a third Russian was involved in the 2018 poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, the Washington Post reports from London.
From Russia to candidate Trump and the RNC: Two GOP operatives—including one closely linked to Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul—were indicted on six campaign finance charges Monday, including conspiracy and falsifying records, after allegedly routing at least $25,000 from a Russian national to support a joint project between the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee called Trump Victory back in 2016.
You may remember one of the two charged, Jesse Benton, as former campaign manager for both Paul and McConnell in 2010 and 2014, respectively. But during that run with McConnell, Benton stepped down after facing his first campaign finance charges for “payments to a key Iowa state lawmaker who switched endorsements from Michelle Bachman to Ron Paul in the 2012 presidential GOP primary,” Politico reports. He was convicted in 2016 and spent six months on home confinement and two years on probation.
Benton also found himself in the spotlight in late Oct. 2016, when he was filmed by The Telegraph apparently bragging that he could help “route $2 million from a Chinese businessman to a Super PAC supporting GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump,” as the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader reported.
Trump pardoned Benton of those 2012 charges this past December, ending his probation, but not shielding him from these new charges made public on Monday. Benton, 43, is joined in the indictment by conservative author Roy Douglas “Doug” Wead, 75. Wead previously served as an adviser to both Presidents Bush, the Washington Post reports, and “secretly taped the younger Bush over a two-year period. Wead released excerpts of the recordings, which were made legally, and the White House at the time did not deny their authenticity.”
ICYMI: “Trump Looks for Challenger to Depose Mitch McConnell as Split Widens,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
This week in big ideas: It’s time to go on the cyber offensive against ransomware hackers, Dmitri Alperovitch writes in the op-ed pages of the New York Times.
The gist: A “comprehensive anti-ransomware strategy must make it more difficult for criminal groups—and the nation-states that may sponsor them—to carry out attacks,” he argues, and suggests, “An aggressive campaign would target the foundation of ransomware criminals’ operations: their personnel, infrastructure, and money.” But whether this sort of escalation could actually work—as the New York Times’ David Sanger pointed out—is anyone’s guess. Continue reading, here.
In tragic and highly unusual news, an Air Force pilot was electrocuted Sunday shortly after ejecting from his Navy T-45C Goshawk training jet before it crashed in Texas, the local CBS affiliate reported.
And lastly today: Glimpse a rare Russian Mi-17 helicopter after apparent U.S. special operators had to repair it after an emergency landing on a private farm in North Carolina this past spring. The Drive spotted the story after it was published in the Air Facts aviation journal last week. Read the full account, based on publicly available information, at The Drive, here.