The D Brief: Abbey Gate anniversary; Afghans protest; A Trumper in Taiwan; and more…

One Year Later. Commemorations and remembrances are pouring in for the 13 Americans and 73 Afghans killed at the Abbey Gate of Kabul’s airport during the chaos of the evacuation on this date last year. It’s a day of decidedly mixed emotions. In its nine years, Defense One has published countless words of reporting and commentary about the 20-year Afghanistan War, its virtues and its follies. Some voices begged U.S. presidents to stay. Some begged to leave. Biden did what he promised he’d do, and defended it.

What remains is a sense that the global war on terrorism, by any name, is an ongoing conflict we continue to cover. This week’s airstrikes against Iran-backed positions in Syria and retaliations that wounded U.S. troops are a reminder that the war is often lost amid the wall-to-wall media coverage of the FBI’s search and seizure of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. 

Said Biden, “Our nation will forever mourn their sacrifice,” in a lengthy statement that reads like part-eulogy, part-political opportunity to brag that despite boasting of ending the #foreverwar, the war very much goes on. “In the wake of the horrific attack outside Kabul airport, we have redoubled our relentless global campaign against ISIS and other terrorists who threaten Americans.”

Some aren’t looking away. “We also still owe a debt of gratitude to the brave Afghans who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. troops on the battlefield who now face imminent danger under Taliban rule—we cannot abandon them, and I’ll keep fighting to secure a pathway to safety for them,” writes Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, in a statement marking the anniversary.

Must read: The stories of 14 U.S. service members who were there, captured by WaPost’s longtime military correspondent Dan Lamothe, who wrote in a tweet, “I’ve been working on this story for months, looking for ways to advance understanding of what happened at Kabul’s airport as it became a hellscape last summer. I wanted to hear as much as possible from rank-and-file, whose voice has often been missing from the discussion.”

Blinken adds, Friday morning: “These American heroes were engaged in a selfless mission to undertake an unprecedented airlift, making the ultimate sacrifice while helping to successfully move nearly 124,000 people to safety and giving tens of thousands of Afghan families the opportunity to pursue the American dream. We honor their memory and mourn their loss.” 

And this reminder: “​​We will never cease the pursuit of justice for those who carried out this attack. We continue to work closely with our interagency partners to locate and arrest them.” 

What Afghan women said… The Washington Post has posted online a creative presentation called “How Afghan women took on the Taliban, as told through their text messages.” This is the story of Afghan women subverting and standing up to the newly empowered Taliban, just days after the United States abandoned them. 

“We should not be afraid,”... “Sisters, today is not the day to be silent.”...”We should be afraid because the Taliban are beasts.”... “So stay at home and and let them crush your rights. Re-claiming the rights is not easy. We have to sacrifice ourselves to get them back.” 

“Despite risking their lives to be heard, protesters felt increasingly ignored by the international community, writes Susannah George, who crafted a compelling story of how the world—and the Taliban—eventually did respond.

Ghani takes the blame… for trusting Trump: Afghanistan’s former President Ashraf Ghani says responsibility for the fall of Kabul is “shared. And where I take responsibility for, is to have trusted our key partner that signed our withdrawal agreement”—meaning Trump. “One has to take responsibility for trusting a partner that then trampled our sovereignty and imposed the release of 5,000 prisoners, among them, the largest drug dealers in history in the region,” he said on PBS Newshour.

Ghani said he left with nothing other than the Afghan clothes he was wearing and his passport, “as the last person in the chain of command, because our forces could no longer sustain. I had no one to fight with me. It was not a situation where sacrificing myself would have saved the republic.” 

Afghan refugees in UAE limbo stage protest. Still living in a temporary humanitarian facility in UAE after fleeing their country last year, refugees protested this week and told Reuters that thousands of people are still stuck in limbo in what one refugee called a “modern prison,” with no word on when or if they will be able to settle permanently in another country. 

Related reading: 

Filling the void? The fear of China (and Russia) moving into Afghanistan after Ameria’s exit is real–but is it happening? In this Fox News Digital piece, we read, "Many countries, particularly neighboring countries around Afghanistan, as well as countries like Russia and China, they've moved forward with de facto engagement," according to Peter Mills, of the Institute for the Study of War. But he also says: "Despite this continuing engagement and continuing talks, you know, we're still not really seeing China put forth substantive investment." So… keep watching. 

From Defense One

Ukraine’s Strikes Are Setting the Stage for a Rough Russian Winter // Patrick Tucker: Kyiv seems to be setting up a long play for territory west of the Dnieper River.

The US Just Revealed a Secret Airborne Test of a Long-Range Cruise Missile // Marcus Weisgerber: The December test was part of the effort to equip B-2 bombers to fire the stealthy JASSM-ER.

CISA's Cyber Info-Sharing Program Didn't Always Deliver, Watchdog Says // Chris Riotta: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is supposed to give more than 300 agencies and firms the info they need to fix vulnerabilities. That hasn't always happened, the DHS inspector general found.

National Archives Recovered More than 100 Classified Documents from Trump in January // Chris Riotta: The 700-plus pages of classified material included documents relating to special access programs – some of the nation's most closely held secrets.

The Naval Brief: Gen Z values; Combating heat; Body fat polices; and more.. // Caitlin M. Kenney:

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Kevin Baron with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1429, Joan of Arc reached the outskirts of Paris, but never took the city, around the same time Baron’s ancestors were in Paris. It’s unclear if they ever met.

Disaster averted in Ukraine. The last power line carrying energy to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant—which is held by Russian forces—was cut Thursday, but was then restored before causing a major radiation disaster, Reuters reports

"If our station staff had not reacted after the blackout, then we would have already been forced to overcome the consequences of a radiation accident," Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an address to the country.

But is another disaster coming? Belarus’s leader said Friday that his country’s military planes are now able to carry nuclear weapons—at Russia’s request. Read that story via Reuters, here.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the Associated Press found that while many states pledged to cut financial ties with Russia after its invasion of Ukraine—e.g. Get rid of Russian investments—most have not followed through on those promises. Details, here.

Another U.S. lawmaker visits Taiwan. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., made sure the world knew she was defying Beijing by putting out several press releases and social media posts to announce she had visited Taiwan, which she called a country, while professing the virtues of democracy. 

One problem: Blackburn has acted more like a dutiful member of the Chinese Communist Party fawning over the dictator Xi Jinping than a champion of democracy. She has consistently backed former President Donald Trump’s anti-democratic twists and turns, calling Trump’s second impeachment in Feb. 2021 an “unconstitutional show trial” and the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago a “political witch hunt.”

Who’ll be next? Blackburn’s trip follows the media firestorm that covered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit, and the much-less-noticed trip by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Reps. John Garamendi, D-Calif., Don Beyer, D-Va., Alan Lowenthal, D- Calif., and Aumua Amata, R-American Samoa.

Meanwhile: China’s navy is increasingly ignoring the imaginary Taiwan Strait “median line” that was created in 1954, increasing pressure on Taiwan to abandon it, according to a Thursday analysis by Reuters. Read that, here.

Photos: Russia’s Arms Expo

Here’s a cool gallery of images from Russia’s bazaar, courtesy of the Washington Post. It looks just like a combo of a U.S. air show and any of America’s military fairs like (See: AUSA, AFA, and Navy League) but with Russians and a lot of kids. See if you can spot the robot fish.  

Excellent, another Center for Excellence… After two high profile airstrikes in CENTCOM last year, the Pentagon has rolled out a new effort to avoid killing civilians by mistake, and this time they mean it. The intention is to staff 150 people under the watchful eyes of a mix of DOD’s policy, finance, and Joint Staff officials. You can read about the rollout in this Military Times write up here, and the actual Pentagon plan in this PDF here

Jobs for vets update: The federal government offered to pay for a year of online courses for veterans unemployed because of COVID-19, to set up 17,250 vets for new careers. But as of Aug. 1, the Washington Post reports, only about 6,800 veterans had even enrolled, and just 397 had new jobs. The $386 million program had myriad problems, mostly related to design and timing, and when it expires in December, the VA will likely need to return tens of millions of dollars at the end of the year. More, here.

Lastly today: Godspeed, Uhura. The ashes of Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols will, yes, boldly go where no person has gone before when they are launched aboard a rocket mission to travel 90 million miles away and even orbit the sun. Nichols, the Black actor who broke through mid-century racism as a feature player in the series, and with that historic interracial kiss with Captain Kirk, died last month at age 89. 

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll catch you again Monday!