Today's D Brief: DOD to rescind Covid vaccine mandate by 17 March; Russia's Ukraine invasion boosts US oil exports; Berlin, Paris have doubts about Kyiv; And a bit more.
All United States military services must fully rescind their Covid vaccine requirements by St. Patrick’s Day, the Pentagon announced Friday. The U.S. Army appears to have been ready, and formalized the change on the same day. And regardless of the speed at which the other services formally repeal their policies and guidance, Covid-vax rules have been void since January 10, according to the Pentagon memo.
For the record, the military “will continue to promote and encourage vaccinations for all service members, along with continued use of other effective mitigation measures,” the memo reads.
Lab origin for Covid? With an admittedly low degree of confidence, the Energy Department and the FBI think the Covid-19 virus likely spread because of an accident at a Chinese laboratory, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. However, “Four other agencies, along with a national intelligence panel, still judge that it was likely the result of a natural transmission, and two are undecided,” Michael Gordon and Warren Strobel write.
The House Armed Services Committee will hear about “COVID-19's Impact on DOD and its Servicemembers” in a hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. The hearing includes Army, Navy, and Air Force undersecretaries, as well as the Pentagon's Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros Jr. It’s scheduled for 2 p.m. ET. Details and livestream via HASC, here.
The following day, the House Oversight’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic will discuss “Covid Policy Decisions” in an afternoon hearing that begins at 2 p.m. Wednesday. There are no government or military officials involved in this one; only medical doctors from Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and Harvard universities. Details, here.
This afternoon in Washington: Army Secretary Christine Wormuth will join Army Pacific chief Gen. Charles Flynn to discuss “the Army's role in the Indo-Pacific” in an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. That begins at 2 p.m. ET; details and livestream, here.
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How The Navy Trains Its Info Warfare Officers Needs Work // Lauren C. Williams: The goal is to expand the training into virtual and synthetic environments in the next few years.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 2019, the nuclear-armed neighbors Pakistan and India briefly reignited long-simmering tensions after the two exchanged airstrikes before Pakistan shot down an Indian Mig-21 jet near the disputed Kashmir region.
The U.S. is enjoying a record boom in crude oil exports now that we’re more than 12 months into Russia’s Ukraine invasion. That includes a 38% rise in monthly seaborne cargo to Europe—with Spain alone buying 88% more from the U.S. than it did during the year prior, according to ship-tracking firm Kpler.
What’s going on: “[T]he shale boom in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has made the U.S. a major producer again, tapping gushers of fossil fuels ready for delivery to destinations opened by the Ukraine conflict,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. “America is back in the most predominant position it has been in world energy since the 1950s,” one analyst said.
The leaders of Germany, France, and Britain want to lure Ukraine into peace talks with Russia, and they’re planning to do so with “much broader access to advanced military equipment, weapons, and ammunition to defend itself once the war ends,” the Wall Street Journal reported Friday from Berlin.
Behind the offer lie “deepening private doubts…that Ukraine will be able to expel the Russians from eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which Russia has controlled since 2014,” according to the Journal. The leaders of France and Germany reportedly pitched the plan to Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelenskyy during his visit to Paris about three weeks ago.
Kremlin officials had no comment on the one-year anniversary of their ongoing Ukraine invasion. And this is “likely because Russia has failed to achieve any of its stated objectives and has not made significant territorial gains since July 2022,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote on Friday.
Chinese dronemaker Xi'an Bingo Intelligent Aviation Technology is mulling drone sales to Russia, German newspaper Der Spiegel reported Thursday. The sale of approximately 100 of the firm’s ZT-180 drones are under consideration; those drones can carry a 35-50 kg warhead, and the plans allegedly involve transferring the items with falsified shipping documents under the guise of “civil aviation parts,” according to Der Spiegel. CNN has more, reporting Friday, here.
“If [Beijing] goes down that road, it will come at real costs to China,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Sunday on CNN's “State of the Union.”
New: The U.S. is adding a 200% tariff on Russian aluminum products in a move that was welcomed by American titans like Alcoa and Chicago-based Century Aluminum Co., Reuters and the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend. “In total, these actions will increase tariffs on Russian aluminum up to 270 percent—increasing pressure on Russia while minimizing costs on us and protecting our industries and workers,” the Commerce Department said in a statement Friday.
“Today’s action will result in increased tariffs on more than 100 Russian metals, minerals, and chemical products worth approximately $2.8 billion to Russia,” the White House said in a fact sheet Friday. The new measures are expected to “significantly increase costs for aluminum that was smelted or cast in Russia to enter the U.S. market in order to counter harm to the domestic aluminum industry, which is being squeezed by energy costs as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” The Treasury Department has more details, here.
Commerce is also blacklisting 90 companies for alleged sanctions evasion in support of Russia, including firms in China, the White House said Friday. The involved products include semiconductors, “industrial machinery [and] luxury goods.” The department also will “issue new restrictions to prevent components found in Iranian drones from making their way onto the battlefield in Ukraine,” according to the White House.
G7 leaders called on Russia to end its fighting at the one-year mark of Putin’s Ukraine invasion on Friday. Calling it an “illegal, unjustifiable, and unprovoked war,” the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S. promised they would “commit to intensifying our diplomatic, financial, and military support for Ukraine, to increasing the costs to Russia and those supporting its war effort, and to continuing to counter the negative impacts of the war on the rest of the world,” according to a joint statement published Friday.
“Russia started this war and Russia can end this war,” the leaders said. “We call on Russia to stop its ongoing aggression and to immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw its troops from the entire internationally recognized territory of Ukraine.”
They also called Putin’s nuclear rhetoric irresponsible, unacceptable, and vowed “any use of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with severe consequences.” They also promised to continue their “immediate focus on air defense systems and capabilities, as well as necessary munitions and tanks” to Ukraine’s military. More, here.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin rang his Ukrainian counterpart on Friday. Austin and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov. The two reviewed the latest U.S. military aid package to Ukraine, announced Friday and totaling about $2 billion. Tiny bit more in the Pentagon’s terse readout, here.
Upcoming: The House Armed Services Committee will discuss Ukraine oversight in a Tuesday morning hearing that begins at 10 a.m. ET. The Pentagon's Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl is expected to attend, along with Inspector General Robert Storch, and Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims II from the Joint Staff. Catch the livestream via YouTube, here.
Also on Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will visit Finland for meetings with President Sauli Niinistö, Prime Minister Saana Marin, and Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto. Stoltenberg will also deliver a speech at an event known as the SAMAK Nordic Summit, in Helsinki.
On Friday, President Biden will welcome his German counterpart Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House. “At the one-year mark of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the leaders will discuss our ongoing efforts to support Ukraine,” how to continue to “impose costs on Russia for its aggression,” and the two will review “a range of regional and global security issues, including working together on shared challenges posed by China and our cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” the White House said in a preview.
- “CIA chief: China has some doubt on ability to invade Taiwan,” the Associated Press reported Sunday after Director William Burns interview with CBS News (transcript here);
- “Sanctions Net Widens to Catch Russia’s Middle East Shipping Company” known as Sun Ship, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday;
- “Cold War bunker a life saver in devastated Ukrainian village,” Reuters reported Monday from southern Ukraine;
- “Russian Women Flock to Argentina to Give Birth,” the Journal reported separately from Buenos Aires on Sunday.
The U.S. military helped Iraqi officials repatriate 582 Iraqis from the al-Hol detention camp in northeastern Syria on Sunday. The families, 154 in all, were transported to the Jeddah-I rehabilitation center as “part of an ongoing Iraqi government and international effort to repatriate, rehabilitate, and reintegrate the Iraqi al-Hol residents,” U.S. officials at the Tampa-based Central Command announced Sunday.
“The al-Hol camp has long served as a flashpoint for human suffering and a recruiting opportunity for ISIS,” CENTCOM’s Army Gen. Michael Kurilla said in a statement. “This is why repatriation, rehabilitation, and reintegration of these residents is so critical for Iraq, for the region, and for the enduring defeat of ISIS,” he added.
Ten days prior, 59 women and children “from Syrian conflict zones” were repatriated to Kyrgyzstan aboard U.S. military aircraft, CENTCOM said on Feb. 16. “The only long-term solution to this [humanitarian] crisis [at al-Hol] remains the successful repatriation, rehabilitation, and reintegration of residents back to their countries of origin,” Kurilla said in a statement at the time. “In concert with our regional partners, CENTCOM will continue to support theses [sic] repatriation efforts using resources such as aircraft,” he said.
And lastly: North Carolina’s Fort Bragg will officially be renamed Fort Liberty in early June, Raleigh’s WRAL news reported Friday. The base, which opened near the end of the First World War, was named for the fairly dismal Confederate General Braxton Bragg. According to a post public affairs official, “The [new] name liberty honors the heroism, sacrifices and values of the soldiers, the service members, the civilians and families that served and live within this installation.”
Costs related to the name change are expected to top out at over $6 million. Veterans and the public are invited to attend the June 2 ceremonies in Fayetteville, N.C. The Fayetteville Observer has a bit more on the process, reporting in January, here.