Today's D Brief: Russia takes more control of Bakhmut; Ukraine wraps British tank training; Fallout continues over leaked Ukraine docs; America’s Covid ‘emergency’ is finally over; And a bit more.

Russia continues to slowly grind its way through the destroyed Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, consolidating incremental advances into the eastern city that have gradually accumulated since January or so. According to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, “Geolocated footage posted on April 9 and 10 shows that Russian forces made marginal advances northwest of Khromove (2km west of Bakhmut), in southwest Bakhmut, and north of Sacco i Vanzetti (15km north of Bakhmut).” The Wall Street Journal conveyed similar hard-fought progress by the invading forces, according to Matthew Luxmoore’s dispatch Monday from the region. 

Russia’s Wagner mercenaries also claim to have beheaded a Ukrainian soldier and placed his head on a spike inside Bakhmut, ISW reported, citing social media postings. Other “users recalled similar instances of skulls mounted on spikes in Popasna, Luhansk Oblast, where Wagner troops operated over spring–summer of 2022,” according to ISW.  

Developing: Ukraine says its tank crews have finished training on Britain’s Challenger 2 tanks, and those soldiers are now headed back to the battlefield from the UK. In late March, Kyiv’s military received several of the 14 promised tanks from the Brits, who announced the transfer back in January. 

The Ukrainians will now “return to their homeland better equipped, but to no less danger,” British military chief Ben Wallace said after the training finished. “We will continue to stand by them and do all we can to support Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Wallace added. See video of some of that tank training posted to YouTube two weeks ago, here

New: Ukraine also says it has fully liberated the Sumy oblast, which borders Russia to the northeast. It’s unclear how many Russian forces were remaining in the region, and it’s impossible to verify Kyiv’s claim, which was sourced to its top uniformed officer, Gen. Valery Zaluzhnyi. 

Russia seems to be prioritizing its occupation forces around the Donetsk town of Marinka, and appears to be “expending significant resources for minimal gains,” according to the British military, writing Monday on Twitter. The town “has been fought over since 2014 and has been largely destroyed by artillery exchanges,” according to the Brits. It’s important to Moscow (and Ukraine) because “It commands the approaches to Donetsk and the key H15 road,” the Brits said Monday. 

New: Egypt allegedly planned to manufacture and supply up to 40,000 rockets for Russia and keep it secret “to avoid problems with the West,” the Washington Post reported Monday, citing leaked U.S. military documents dated February 17 and believed to have been posted online in early March. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the U.S. doesn’t yet believe a Ukrainian counteroffensive can win back all the territory occupied by Russian forces. That’s according to those leaked documents, as reported by the Washington Post on Monday. Such a feat would be an incredibly impressive achievement anyway, since Russian forces occupy nearly a fifth of Ukraine, which after all is the largest country in Europe. 

The U.S. military based its alleged assessment on “force generation and sustainment shortfalls” for Kyiv; that includes personnel, equipment, and ammunition shortages, which are certainly plausible given 14 consecutive months fending off Russian tanks, artillery, drones, and hypersonic missiles. 

For what it’s worth, South Korean officials called the leaked documents “utterly false,” and officials in Seoul declined to drop its alliance with the U.S. since to do so would be “compromising [for South Korea’s] national interest.” Reuters and the New York Times have more. 

From Defense One

3 Years or Less: Space Force’s ‘Simple Formula’ for Quicker Launches // Audrey Decker: “Our competitors seem to have figured out speed. It’s time we do the same,” said the assistant Air Force secretary for space acquisitions and integration.

Inside the Neverending Race To Update Pentagon IT // Lauren C. Williams: The Joint Service Provider, charged with handling the defense secretary’s IT, is laser-focused on improving security and making sure infrastructure doesn’t obstruct the mission.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Bell gets new CEO; Sea-Air-Space wrap up; Team forms to replace Navy TACAMOs; and more.

Still Waiting for an International Tribunal on ISIS  // Omar Mohammed: It would help Iraq restore the rule of law, deter future violence, and give victims a mechanism for redress and healing.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. On this day in 2001, the crew of a U.S. Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft were released from Chinese custody after 11 days in captivity following a collision with a Chinese military jet about 70 miles from China’s Hainan Island. 

America’s Covid national emergency is now over. President Biden on Monday signed legislation officially ending the “national emergency related to the Covid-19 pandemic.” According to CDC data, the number of cases has decreased significantly from highs in 2022; there were 120,820 cases and 1,773 deaths reported the week of April 5, 2023. 

China’s military sent nearly 100 aircraft around Taiwan on Monday as part of its multi-day protest of a visit to the U.S.—and an in-person meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.—by President Tsai Ing-wen last week. That included a record-high 91 Chinese aircraft, along with 12 navy ships in the waters around Taiwan, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which just released a detailed, day-by-day report on Beijing’s latest drills.
Why it matters: “These exercises are more significant than China’s responses to past Taiwan presidential transits, and they are reminiscent of the unprecedented [Chinese People’s Liberation Army] response to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022,” CSIS writes for its ongoing “China Power” coverage. 
Beijing’s foreign ministry on Monday called the drills “a stern warning to the provocative activities of ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces and their collusion with external forces.” Three days earlier, a different Chinese diplomat insisted “the future of Taiwan lies in China’s reunification, and the wellbeing of the people in Taiwan hinges on the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Polls, however, show Taiwanese are not so keen on that reunification. The Brookings Institution has a bit more on that angle, writing last February, here.
From the region: 

And lastly: The United Kingdom named Anne Keast-Butler director of GCHQ, its intelligence, communications and cyber agency, making her the first woman in the role. The organization, previously helmed by Jeremey Fleming, is “tasked with protecting the country from terrorists, cyber-criminals, and malign foreign powers,” Reuters reports. Keast-Butler will take the job in May; she has been serving as deputy director general at MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence and security agency. A little more, here