Today's D Brief: Another PUC for the 82nd; New Philippines port?; Russia tempts Türkiye; Europe’s radioactive boars; And just a bit more.

The U.S. Army’s storied 82nd Airborne Division just earned another “Presidential Unit Citation,” this time for their work helping evacuate civilians from Afghanistan two years ago after the collapse of Kabul. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth approved the honor on Thursday morning. 

The citation reads: “The Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division and Joint Task Force 82 (JTF-82) demonstrated heroic discipline and courage during the execution of the non-combatant evacuation operations in support of Operation Allies Refuge at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan. The bravery of the Soldiers on the ground and the dedication of those who supported every evacuation flight exemplify the ideals of service with honor and compassion. Until the last aircraft departed, the 82nd Airborne Division and members of JTF-82 held the line and provided the safe passage needed to evacuate over 100,000 U.S. citizens, Afghan civilians, and family members. It is a privilege to recognize these Soldiers for their actions during the tumultuous days of August 2021 and to honor their courage at a time when the entire Nation relied on them to complete their mission—which they did with great distinction.”

The division was previously awarded the PUC for their work during the invasion of France in June 1944, including their parachute jump into Sainte-Mère-Église, which the division celebrates with a dropzone bearing that name on Fort Liberty, in the sandhills of North Carolina. (The D-Day jump into Sainte-Mère-Église was depicted in the 1962 film “The Longest Day.”)

American Marines and sailors are also being awarded the PUC, service officials announced Thursday as well. That includes Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, as well as members of the Navy assigned in Kabul in those final days of the withdrawal. 

“These service members worked tirelessly to assist U.S. citizens, U.S. government officials, and thousands of desperate Afghan civilians trying to flee their country,” said Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro. “For their courage and resolve in the face of a terrorism and human calamity, this Nation owes our service members a debt of gratitude.”

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin released a statement marking two years since the end of the Afghan war. “We bow our heads today in memory of the 2,461 U.S. service members who never made it home, including the 13 courageous troops taken from us in the attack at Abbey Gate in the final hours of the war,” Austin said. “We also remember the hundreds of service members from allied and partner countries who lost their lives during this 20-year war. And we honor the more than 20,000 Americans who were injured waging war in Afghanistan, including many who still bear wounds that are not visible.” 

POTUS: “I remain forever grateful to the military members, diplomats, intelligence professionals, and development specialists who not only worked together to advance the United States’ Afghan mission for two decades—but who also conducted our withdrawal with the same resolve and bravery that defined U.S. service in Afghanistan,” President Joe Biden said in his own statement Wednesday. “We have demonstrated that we do not need a permanent troop presence on the ground in harm’s way to take action against terrorists and those who wish to do us harm,” Biden said. 

The president also said he’s “proud that our nation has welcomed more than 117,000 Afghan newcomers,” who “contributed to our mission in Afghanistan for twenty years.” They are “now making vast contributions across our nation,” Biden said. “And, just as they stood with us, I remain committed to standing with them—including urging Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act so we can provide a pathway to permanent legal status for our Afghan friends and neighbors.”

Related reading: 

Welcome to this Thursday 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 1939, Nazi operatives dressed in Polish uniforms took over a radio station near Germany’s border with Poland at the time and broadcast an anti-German message in Polish. The deception has since become one of the most notorious false flag attacks in military history, and provided Adolf Hitler the justification he desired in order to launch an invasion of Poland, triggering the Second World War. 

The U.S military may soon build a civilian port for the Philippines that’s pretty close to Taiwan, Reuters reported Wednesday from Manila. It would be located in the Batanes islands, which sit about 125 miles from Taiwan and are home to about 18,000 people. (Map, here.) Discussions are underway. 

Why it matters: “The Bashi Channel between those islands and Taiwan is considered a choke point for vessels moving between the western Pacific and the contested South China Sea and a key waterway in the case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan,” Reuters writes. 

Its civilian purpose would ostensibly be “to assist the unloading of cargo from the capital, Manila, during rough seas in the monsoon season,” according to the provincial governor, Marilou Cayco. A decision on the new port could come as soon as October, Cayco said. Read more, here

Related reading: 

North Korea says it simulated a “tactical nuclear strike” on locations across South Korea Wednesday evening, using what it called “scorched-earth strikes at major command centers and operational airfields of the 'ROK' military gangsters,” according to state-run media KCNA. Pyongyang’s military said its two practice missiles detonated in an airburst some 400 meters above the ground, which sent “a clear message to the enemies.” 

In reality, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea about half an hour before midnight local time, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports, citing Seoul’s military. “The North last test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles on July 24,” Yonhap notes. 

With its latest launches, North Korea is protesting U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which this week featured U.S. B-1B bombers. American B-1Bs were also used simultaneously in joint drills with Japan on Wednesday, Reuters reported from Seoul. Japan also joined a trilateral naval missile defense drill with the U.S. and South Korea in the East China Sea on Tuesday. U.S. Naval Institute News has a bit more on those exercises, here

In other nuclear-related news this week, central Europe’s wild boar population is radioactive, and researchers now say it’s not because of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, but a residue of Cold War nuclear weapons tests. Those tests are still affecting the soil in areas around Germany's state of Bavaria. The BBC has more, here

New: Russia appears to be trying to bribe Türkiye with an “alternative” to the UN-brokered grain deal to ship agricultural products out of the Black Sea, according to a report from Russian state-run media on Wednesday. Russia withdrew from the agreement in July, and began attacking Ukrainian port facilities close to Romania in the days immediately afterward. 

Moscow’s pitch, delivered by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, would yield Ankara one million tons of discounted Russian grain, with more of the stuff moving through Türkiye and onto other countries. Qatar would also provide additional “financial support” under the terms of the deal, which are expected to be discussed during Türkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan’s Thursday and Friday visit to Moscow. Reuters notes that it is “not clear what incentive Qatar would have to take part in the arrangement proposed by Russia, which since the collapse of the grain deal has also promised to supply quantities of free grain to six African countries.”

Additional reading: 

Today in commentary: Beware of Pentagon techno-enthusiasm, opines William Hartung at Defense One. The Pentagon’s massive new drone effort, while laudable in its quest for simpler weapons, does not come without strings attached. Read on, here.

And lastly: Former Missile Defense Agency director Navy Vice Adm. Jon Hill just joined the Missile Defense Project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. He’ll serve as a non-resident senior adviser with the project, and will serve as a member of its advisory board. 

Hill left service just last month, and has been working with Lockheed Martin as vice president and chief engineer for training and logistics solutions. Read more about Hill and his background, via CSIS, here.