Today's D Brief: Afghan exit on the Hill; Spotlight on Milley; 3 carriers near Taiwan?; Army's counter-UAV search; And a bit more.
The Pentagon’s Afghan withdrawal goes under the microscope this week as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley testify before Senate and House Armed Services lawmakers on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. But the New York Times calls Tuesday’s first hearing possibly “the most significant televised congressional hearing involving senior military leaders since Gen. David H. Petraeus was grilled by lawmakers on the fiasco that was the war in Iraq in 2007.” That’s because of several headline-generating stories about recent decisions by Gen. Milley, especially during the final months of the Trump administration one year ago.
In other words: Don’t expect Afghanistan to remain the entire focus of this week’s two Afghanistan hearings. But those are just two of at least nine notable hearings happening this week on the Hill. Military Times has more on the others, here.
In perhaps welcome news for Washington, the ICC’s new chief prosecutor wants to investigate alleged Taliban and ISIS crimes in Afghanistan—and to “de-prioritize” alleged U.S. and coalition war crimes, Agence France Presse reported Monday from the Hague.
By the way: The Taliban appear to have brought back public hangings, including one incident alleged to have taken place this weekend in Herat.
- “How Afghanistan’s security forces lost the war,” by Susannah George of the Washington Post;
- “Top Foreign Affairs Republican seeks declassification of Afghan intel,” via The Hill.
After helping with the Afghan withdrawal, the Navy’s USS Reagan is now back near the South China Sea, Navy Times reports. The USS Carl Vinson and the UK’s HMS Queen Elizabeth are also in the area, though much closer to Taiwan, as a naval observer flagged on Twitter this weekend.
FWIW: NATO’s chief spoke with China’s foreign minister today, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced this morning from Brussels.
Stoltenberg’s message: “NATO does not see China as an adversary,” but wants Beijing to “act responsibly in the international system” and “to engage meaningfully in dialogue, confidence-building, and transparency measures regarding its nuclear capabilities and doctrine.” The two also spoke about Afghanistan and arms control. See Brussels’ full readout, here.
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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 1996, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul, and not for the first time. “One-eyed opposition leader Mullah Mohammed Omah and his student fighters had been repulsed from the city twice before, but this time it appeared government forces lost the will to fight,” the BBC reported 25 years ago today.
Ukraine’s annual military drills with NATO, Rapid Trident, continue this week and run through Friday. About 6,000 troops from 15 different nations (including about 4,000 from Kyiv and 450 from the U.S.) have converged near the western Ukrainian city of Yavoriv, which has hosted U.S.-allied training since at least 2015—one year after Russia invaded Ukraine and illegally annexed its Crimean peninsula.
Militaries involved: Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Lithuania, Moldova, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Turkey, and the U.S.—including the Washington Army National Guard’s 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Read more from the U.S. Army, here.
Context: Rapid Trident comes shortly after Russia’s big ZAPAD war games, held every four years, and—at least according to Moscow—involving 200,000 troops. Speaking of…
The dictatorial leaders of Russia and Belarus are upset today over U.S. and allied training military facilities inside Ukraine, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Monday during a meeting with his advisors in Minsk. (Between the two of them, Russia and Belarus’s leaders have been in power for nearly half a century.)
Lukashenko: “You see, they are dragging NATO troops there, to Ukraine. Under the guise of training centres, they are actually creating bases. The United States is creating bases in Ukraine. It is clear that we need to react to this,” Lukashenko said, according to Reuters. “The Russian president and I have held and are holding consultations on this issue and have agreed that some action should be taken there,” Lukashenko said, but did not elaborate.
Back stateside, the U.S. Army just awarded a $237 million deal for a counter-drone and counter-cruise missile system prototype—16 of them, actually—from Huntsville-based firm Dynetics, according to a Friday announcement with a single accompanying photo.
Next up: “Prototype development” will take place at Huntsville (home to the Army’s Redstone Arsenal) and in Tucson, Ariz., with the first “combat-capable battery” due sometime in summer 2023.
By the way: The Army is one step closer to selecting yet another new counter-drone system, officials told reporters Friday afternoon, which was one week after their most recent counter-unmanned system test took place at Arizona’s Yuma Proving Grounds.
Five systems are still under the Army’s close eye, including Northrup Grumman’s XM1211 30mm Proximity Round; “Smash Hopper” from Smart Shooter; and the Agile Small Deflection Precision Stabilized Weapon System from Flex Force. Those three used kinetic objects to disable drones. The Army’s also looking at the more electronic warfare-based approaches of “DroneKiller” from IXI; and the “DroneGun” (mkIII) from Drone Shield, which put out RF signals that interfere with the drone and its pilot.
If you’re wondering what sort of targets the Army is assessing in these tests, Army officials won’t say beyond “off-the-shelf” stuff you could find at, say, Costco. And for the record, “None [of the five systems’ makers] have been definitively notified for a follow-on contract,” Army Col. Greg Soule said Friday.
The U.S. military’s COVID-19 death toll quietly doubled in the last two months, Military Times reported late last week. About that trend, Meghann Myers writes, “After more than a year in which, generally, one or two service members died each month, August saw eight deaths and September has seen nine so far.”
Bigger picture: “Their deaths bring the military’s COVID-19 mortality rate to just over 0.02, much lower than the roughly 2-percent rate nationwide, but 50 times higher than it was during previous surges last year.” More here.
And lastly: Defense One’s State of the Space Force event began about an hour ago with a keynote interview with Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond; catch the rest of the events, including a discussion with Space Development Agency director Dr. Derek Tourner, here.
Stay tuned: State of the Air Force kicks off tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET—capped off by a keynote interview with Air Force Chief Gen. C.Q. Brown at 4 p.m. Details and registration, here.