Today's D Brief: Counteroffensive cluster bombs; China, Russia off Alaska; Japan military, hacked; Afghan resistance; And a bit more.

A Russian missile attack killed seven Ukrainians, including one rescue worker, in the eastern city of Pokrovsk on Monday. Five other civilians and one soldier were also killed in the attack, which hit a residential building in Pokrovsk. President Volodymir Zelenskyy posted footage of the strikes’ aftermath on social media Monday. The Associated Press has more on Pokrovsk, reporting Tuesday from Kyiv, here

Zelenskyy conceded Ukraine’s counteroffensive is proceeding more slowly than some observers may prefer, but he also said he knows patience is required to fend off an increasingly exhausted enemy like the Russian military. After all, he said, “Russia, unlike us, can end this war faster, without unnecessary casualties.” Read more from that interview published Sunday by Argentina’s La Nacion, here.

  • By the way, Ukrainian intelligence officials arrested a woman they allege was trying to sell details of Zelenskyy’s precise location to the Russians. The BBC has more on that case, here.  

Developing: Some Ukrainian troops appear to be growing skeptical of the U.S. ways of war, which include an emphasis on synchronized movement of air, land, and sea forces. Said one Ukrainian in the south to Carlotta Gall of the New York Times, “They fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the enemy there is not like the Russians.” 

But U.S.-provided cluster bombs are helping clear a path through the initial approaches into Russian-occupied territory, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday from Zaporizhzhia. However, “Ukraine still hasn’t reached the most formidable Russian defenses, a series of trenches, tank traps and other barriers. Military experts say Ukraine likely will need its Leopard 2 tanks and other Western-provided armored vehicles to push through those lines.”

One of the oft-praised benefits of cluster bombs is its ability to shred a section of trees, eliminating cover for Russian forces in occupied territory. During one such use of the weapons, “there was no tree left above waist height,” a soldier told the Journal

Worth noting: Ukraine and Russia are still conducting prisoner exchanges, including another such instance on Monday, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. Ukrainian officials said they received 22 prisoners from Russia, but they did not say how many Russian prisoners were returned to their homeland. 

Related reading: 

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do that here. On this day in 1998, Taliban fighters attacked an Iranian consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, killing 10 diplomats and a journalist. 

Eleven military vessels from China and Russia were found to be operating near the Aleutian Islands last week; they were met by four U.S. destroyers, Alaska’s two U.S. senators said in a Sunday statement. USA Today has a bit more.

DOD’s BG Ryder on Monday: “NORAD and NORTHCOM monitored their presence.  They were in international waters. At no point in time were they deemed to pose a threat. And so like any country, they are free to conduct exercises in international airspace, international waters. We will continue to monitor but, you know, I think that it's no surprise to anyone that China and Russia continue to look at ways to cooperate and we'll continue to monitor this situation and act appropriately.”

“The scale and complexity of this Russian and Chinese naval deployment is unprecedented,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said in a statement Monday. “While I am glad the U.S. Navy deployed four destroyers and a P-8 aircraft to monitor the fleet, the exercise serves as a stark signal that generational investments in U.S. shipbuilding and ship maintenance to maintain deterrence are more necessary than ever.” 

China hacked Japan’s defense networks in 2020—and then did it again, officials say. Washington Post: “The 2020 penetration was so disturbing that Gen. Paul Nakasone, the head of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, and Matthew Pottinger, who was White House deputy national security adviser at the time, raced to Tokyo. They briefed the defense minister, who was so concerned that he arranged for them to alert the prime minister himself.”

Japan took steps to harden its defenses—but the following year, the Chinese hackers were discovered to still be in the country’s defense networks. “Since then, under American scrutiny, the Japanese have announced they are ramping up network security, boosting the cybersecurity budget tenfold over the next five years and increasing their military cybersecurity force fourfold to 4,000 people.” Read on, here.

China releases TV documentary highlighting Taiwan-invasion wargames. The eight-part series, “Chasing Dreams,” aired by state broadcaster CCTV earlier this week, “features military drills and testimonials by dozens of soldiers, of which several express their willingness to die in a potential attack against Taiwan,” AP reports.

Tensions rise as China demands Philippines move a grounded warship. Days after Chinese vessels blocked a resupply ship headed to a Philippine outpost on a South China Sea shoal, Beijing is demanding that Manila remove it. Reuters, here.

And lastly: There is still a fledgling resistance movement fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported Tuesday. Many of the soldiers holed up in a safehouse somewhere in northern Afghanistan, near the Salang Pass. They called themselves the Afghan Freedom Front. Read on for their fate, here.  

For the record: “The United States remains the largest donor to the Afghan people, having appropriated more than $2.35 billion since the Taliban takeover in August 2021,” America’s watchdog agency for Afghanistan reconstruction said in its 60th and most recent quarterly report (PDF), published Tuesday. And perhaps unsurprisingly, “the Taliban are comfortable accepting foreign support insofar as they can closely monitor the organizations, including restricting and controlling them, and claim some credit for the provision of the benefits,” the special inspector general said. 

Taliban interference with NGO work in the country has also recently escalated, “leading to a steady decline in humanitarian access in 2023, with a 32% increase in incidents between January and May 2023 as compared to the same period in 2022,” SIGAR said. 

And the group continues to show “no signs of bending to pressure for reform or compromise,” and its leaders “are unchecked by any meaningful political opposition,” according to UN officials. Read over the full report or comb through any of the previous 59 editions, here.