With help from Daniel Lippman
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The takeaway from two days of Afghanistan hearings is that Gen. MARK MILLEY wanted U.S. troops to remain in the country indefinitely — and no one followed up on that over many more hours of testimony.
In an exchange with Sen. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-Mass.) yesterday, the Joint Chiefs chair said “my estimate at the time was if you kept advisers there, kept money flowing … we probably could have sustained” the Afghan government and its armed forces “for a lengthier, indefinite period of time.”
Warren soon followed by saying, “I believe that leaving a force behind would have necessitated that force staying indefinitely,” to which Milley replied “That’s right.” And after the lawmaker said keeping U.S. forces in Afghanistan would expose them “to unnecessary risk or harm,” Milley also agreed: “That’s exactly right.”
NatSec Daily asked Warren about the exchange. “Yesterday I asked General Milley whether leaving a couple of thousand U.S. troops behind in Afghanistan for a few more months would have changed the outcome there — and he said the outcome would have been the same. In fact, it only would have served to put more American lives at risk,” she told us. “Instead, Joe Biden made the courageous decision to finally leave Afghanistan and followed the military’s guidance on how to go about that withdrawal.”
Earlier, Milley offered that “the end state probably would have been the same no matter when” the U.S. chose to withdraw from Afghanistan — meaning the chaos seen in Kabul would’ve happened no matter how long America remained a party to the war.
Let’s recap: The nation’s top military adviser admitted he wanted U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan forever, even though their presence wouldn’t change results on the ground while keeping them in harm’s way.
Reactions to the general’s comments varied. “The logic of continuing the war has implied waging the war indefinitely, so perhaps Milley’s statement was more candid than surprising,” STEPHEN WERTHEIM, a pro-restraint senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told NatSec Daily.
After your host tweeted about Milley’s comments, Rep. MIKE WALTZ (R-Fla.) — a House Armed Services Committee member and former Green Beret — quote-tweeted in defense of the chair’s position: “Because al Qaeda fully intends to attack us again and ‘over the horizon’ counterterrorism is NOT realistic.”
Lawmakers questioning Milley (and Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN and U.S. Central Command head Gen. KENNETH “FRANK” MCKENZIE) didn’t push the general on his policy stance.
Why, after 20 years of war, was it worth it for U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely? Why keep them in harm’s way if they have little to no chance of changing the balance on the ground? And why was the withdrawal “a strategic failure” if the other option was, how to put it, a forever war?
These are questions Milley should’ve had to answer but didn’t, since Democrats mostly sought to absolve Biden’s handling of the drawdown and Republicans grandstanded and launched politically motivated attacks. It’s yet another example of Congress’s sloppy oversight of the two-decade war in Afghanistan.
“Congress isn’t a serious body,” a House Democratic aide told your host. “None of its personal staff even have access to the information we need and no member cares about this, it seems.”
Spokespeople for Milley didn’t respond to a request for comment.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– AUAF TO HAVE A PARTY: Even though its Kabul campus closed after the Taliban took over the capital, the American University of Afghanistan, marking its 15th anniversary, next week is hosting its annual awards dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, where it will bestow honorary degrees on HILLARY CLINTON and TOM FRESTON. The fundraiser — with the goal of raking in $1 million — will benefit student scholarships, faculty and staff salaries, and the rebuilding and redesign of the university, which for the moment is holding all classes online, our own DANIEL LIPPMAN reports. The invite.
KISHIDA TO BE JAPAN’S NEW PM: After winning his party’s vote today, KISHIDA FUMIO is set to become Japan’s next prime minister. The 64-year-old former foreign minister will take over on Monday after a special parliamentary session.
Kishida, who had the backing of former Prime Minister ABE SHINZO, isn’t seen as a reformer. “Kishida’s reputation in this race is as Mr. Steady and with former PM Abe in his corner, we should see a lot of continuity of the Abe course in foreign policy,” SHEILA SMITH, a senior fellow for Japanese issues at the Council on Foreign Relations, told NatSec Daily.
He outlasted challenges from three other candidates, including the younger and more popular KONO TARO. Kono was too liberal on social issues for the conservative members of the Liberal Democratic Party, prompting them to choose a party insider with like-minded views.
“Kono frightened the old guard too much. They don’t want generational change yet,” said MICHAEL GREEN, the Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But this positions Kono to be the dynamic leader Japan may need if turbulence hits again.”
That puts extra pressure on Kishida to deliver for Japan. He has to curtail his nation’s Covid-19 outbreak, jump-start a sputtering economy, and help his party win a general election in November. It’s tough times ahead for the new premier.
NORTH KOREA’S NEW CAPABILITY: North Korea has a new hypersonic missile it calls the Hwasong-8. The biggest news isn’t necessarily the weapon, but rather how the North Korean military might fuel the projectile.
North Korea “ascertained the stability of the engine as well as of missile fuel ampoule that has been introduced for the first time,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.
JEFFREY LEWIS, the nuclear expert at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, pointed out on Twitter that “ampoule” is “the Russian term for missiles that are fueled in the factory and then sent to units in canisters.”
What does that mean for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea? “If the DPRK fuels the missiles in the factory, military units don’t have to spend time doing it in the field when the @usairforce is doing its level best to kill them…Big step for the DPRK.”
In other words, it’s now even harder to stop North Korea from launching deadly weapons during a war.
DHS STOPPED FLIGHT FROM KABUL CARRYING AMCITS: The Department of Homeland Security yesterday blocked a flight from Kabul carrying over 100 Americans and green card holders from flying to the U.S.
“They [Customs and Border Protection Agency] will not allow a charter on an international flight into a U.S. port of entry,” BRYAN STERN, a founder of nonprofit group Project Dynamo, told Reuters’ JONATHAN LANDAY. Stern was stuck on a chartered Kam Air plane for 14 hours at Abu Dhabi’s airport, and couldn’t get off to then take a chartered Ethiopian Airlines plane to the U.S. with his passengers.
A spokesperson for DHS said “All U.S.-bound flights must follow the established safety, security, and health protocols before they are cleared for departure. This process requires flight manifests to be verified before departure to the U.S. to ensure all passengers are screened appropriately.”
A State Department spokesperson wrote to NatSec Daily that “our embassy staff in the UAE has been working around the clock to verify the accuracy of the passenger manifest and is coordinating with DHS/Customs and Border Protection on the ground to ensure the passengers are screened and vetted before they are permitted to fly to the United States …. We expect the passengers to continue onward travel tomorrow morning.”
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REPUBLICANS ECHO RACIST THEORY AS EXTREMIST THREAT RISES: Some prominent elected Republicans, including Texas Lt. Gov. DAN PATRICK and Reps. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) and SCOTT PERRY (R-Pa.), have been alluding to or openly promoting the “white replacement theory” long espoused by white supremacist groups — the same conspiracy theory that motivated terrorist attacks such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, per Axios’ DAN PRIMACK and RUSSELL CONTRERAS.
The comments — made in relation to the Biden administration’s policy toward migrants — come as Homeland Security Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS has described domestic violent extremism as “the most significant terrorism-related threat” facing the United States. Attorney General MERRICK GARLAND also has singled out “those who advocate for the superiority of the white race” as posing the greatest domestic violent extremist threat. And FBI Director CHRISTOPHER WRAY reported this month that the bureau had “more than doubled our domestic terrorism caseload” since spring 2020.
RUSSIA DETAINED CYBERSECURITY TYCOON: Russian authorities arrested ILYA SACHKOV, leader of the top Russian cybersecurity firm Group-IB, on treason charges. A court in Moscow ordered the 35 year-old be held in custody for two months, even though Sachkov denies passing intelligence to foreign countries.
“Group-IB’s team is confident in the innocence of the company’s CEO and his business integrity,” the company said in a statement.
“Mr Sachkov is the latest in a series of prominent people, including scientists, cyber-security officials, and a former journalist, to be arrested in Russia on treason charges in recent years,” the BBC reported. Of course, Russia has long been the culprit of using digital tools to spy on other nations, hack private and public systems, and interfere in democratic elections.
THE MARINE CORPS’ NMESIS: The Marine Corps’ new ground-based, anti-ship missile — the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS) — is proving valuable to the service so far, Breaking Defense’s JUSTIN KATZ reports.
“NMESIS is a combination of several proven capabilities, a key reason why the service has managed to bring it online so quickly. The weapon itself uses the anti-ship Naval Strike Missile made by Kongsberg; a control system operated remotely, dubbed ROGUE-Fires; and the chassis of a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle,” he wrote.
“Marines can control the ROGUE-Fires with a game-like remote controller or command multiple launchers to autonomously follow behind a leader vehicle,” according to a recent Marine Corps statement. “The ROGUE-Fires vehicle, built on a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle platform, provides the Corps with a robust expeditionary system capable of operating anywhere.”
Basically, this gives the Marines the capability to plop NMESIS on an island and shoot at oncoming vessels — which could prove helpful in a future war in the Indo-Pacific.
“This is all part of the … pivot to the Pacific,” JOHN FERRARI, a former Army two-star general now at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told Katz. “How are you going to keep the Chinese navy bottled up inside, if not the first, the second island chain?”
HISTORIC LEVEL OF THREATS TO LAWMAKERS: U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. THOMAS MANGER told The Associated Press’ MICHAEL BALSAMO and COLLEEN LONG in an interview that his officers “have never had the level of threats against members of Congress that we’re seeing today,” predicting the force will respond to roughly 9,000 threats against lawmakers this year.
Speaking of the poorly attended, pro-insurrectionist rally that took place near the Capitol earlier this month, Manger suggested the temporary fencing and reinforcements deployed for that event may not be the new norm for future protests: “It’s really going to depend on the intelligence we have beforehand. … It’s going to depend on the potential for violence at a particular demonstration.”
Manger also invoked the 9/11 terrorist attacks, saying the Capitol Police had experienced an uptick in applications to join the force post-Jan. 6, similar to the surge in people seeking to become police officers and firefighters 20 years ago.
RISCH LEADS AFGHANISTAN BILL: Sen. JIM RISCH (R-Idaho), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, two days ago introduced the “Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight and Accountability Act” alongside 21 other Republicans. If passed, the bill among other things would establish a State Department task force to focus on evacuations from Afghanistan and block the U.S. from recognizing a Taliban member as the representative to the United Nations or the U.S.
Risch told NatSec Daily how excited he is to put the legislation forward. “My bill, which is co-sponsored by half of SFRC and a quarter of the Senate, includes common sense proposals to bring home Americans stuck in Afghanistan, sanction the Taliban and its supporters, and create a credible strategy for counterterrorism,” he said. He says he hopes to work with SFRC Chair BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) and SecDef Austin on the proposals.
FORMER AUSSIE PM BLASTS AUKUS: Former Aussie Prime Minister MALCOM TURNBULL is not a fan of the Australia-U.K.-U.S. nuclear submarine deal.
“[N]othing is agreed. There is no design, no costing, no contract. The only certainty is that we won’t have new submarines for 20 years and their cost will be a lot more than the French subs,” he said today at the National Press Club of Australia. “However, high hopes and good intentions are in abundance. But there were plenty of them when we did the deal with France, too.”
“It was my government, which chose the French bid on the basis that it was the best — especially in terms of stealthiness, which is the prime requirement for a submarine,” he continued. “In 2018 I tasked the Defense Department to formally reconsider the potential for nuclear powered submarines in Australia. Technologies were changing, the risk environment was worsening, I was concerned that conventionally powered boats would not be good enough in the future. The big question, however, remained whether we could sustain and maintain a nuclear-powered navy in Australia without local, Australian nuclear facilities and the advice remained that we could not.”
He also went on to say that since Australia doesn’t have the requisite nuclear infrastructure to build and maintain the subs, it’s likely they will all be built in the U.S. and U.K.
Put together, this is probably the most stinging critique of AUKUS yet — and it didn’t even come from France.
— FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY: REMLEY (JOHNSON) FLOCK is now senior account manager for wealth management advisory at Northern Trust. She most recently was senior adviser for the Rumsfeld Foundation and chief of staff for the late Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
— DAMIAN MURPHY, a longtime aide to Sen. Menendez (D-N.J.), has been appointed staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Murphy will replace JESSICA LEWIS, who has been confirmed by the Senate to serve as assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
— JULIE CERQUEIRA is now principal deputy assistant secretary in the office of international affairs at the Energy Department. She most recently was executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance and is also a State Department alum.
— JESSICA STERN, most recently the executive director of OutRight Action International, has joined the State Department as Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons, per department spokesperson NED PRICE. The White House announced her appointment in June.
— DONALD WINTER, who served as Navy secretary during former President GEORGE W. BUSH’s administration, has registered as a foreign agent to represent Australian Prime Minister SCOTT MORRISON in AUKUS negotiations with the United States and the United Kingdom, per POLITICO Influence’s CAITLIN OPRYSKO.
— KARA FOX, CNN: “Afghanistan is the world’s opium king. Can the Taliban afford to kill off their ‘un-Islamic’ cash cow?”
— VIVIAN YEE, The New York Times: “‘I Can’t Imagine a Good Future’: Young Iranians Increasingly Want Out”
— NAN LI, War on the Rocks: “Succeeding Xi Jinping”
— Senate Armed Services Committee, 9:30 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: To Receive Testimony on Afghanistan — with THOMAS JOSCELYN and VALI NASR”
— House Intelligence Committee, 10 a.m.: “Markup of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022”
— The Middle East Institute, 10 a.m.: “Book Launch: ‘The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence’ — with CHARLES LISTER, DOUGLAS LONDON and NANCY A. YOUSEF”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — with LAURA S. H. HOLGATE, CARYN R. MCCLELLAND, CLAIRE A. PIERANGELO and DAVID JOHN YOUNG”
— The Wilson Center, 10 a.m.: “Babi Yar: Marking the 80th Anniversary of the Tragedy — with MARTIN DEAN, YAACOV FALKOV, KIRILL FEFERMAN, MARK GREEN, NATAN SHARANSKY and IZABELLA TABAROVSKY”
— The Atlantic Council, 10:30 a.m.: “U.S.-Paris Tech Challenge — with LEAH BRAY, GRAHAM BROOKIE, CLARA TSAO and PATRICIA WATTS”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1 p.m.: “The Future of Women and Girls in Afghanistan — with SHAHARZAD AKBAR, ILZE BRANDS-KEHRIS, MARTI FLACKS, HENRIETTA FORE, JOHN J. HAMRE, J. STEPHEN MORRISON and UZRA ZEYA”
— House Foreign Affairs Committee, 1 p.m.: “Markup of Various Measures”
— House Homeland Security Committee, 2 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: 20 Years After 9/11: Transforming DHS to Meet the Homeland Security Mission — with RANDOLPH ‘TEX’ ALLES, ANGELA BAILEY and CHRIS CURRIE”
— House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 2 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Modernizing And Securing VA’s IT Infrastructure”
— The RAND Corporation, 3 p.m.: “Twenty Years of Service: American Perspectives on What We Owe Veterans — with PHILLIP CARTER, JESSIE COE, CARRIE FARMER, MEREDITH KLEYKAMP, RAJEEV RAMCHAND and KAYLA WILLIAMS”
— The Miller Center, 8:30 p.m.: “China and the Re-Centering of East Asia: A Special Lecture Series — with BRANTLY WOMACK”
Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.
And thanks to our editor Ben Pauker, who always conducts aggressive oversight.