Politics Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats h
Why America Can't End Its 'Forever Wars'
The U.S. military's new way of fighting, developed after two decades at war, traps us in conflicts that last forever.Though the new administration seems intent on ending America's oldest war and there is growing fatigue over endless wars in the Middle East, and though the Pentagon is scrambling to refocus resources and attention away from counterterrorism to big war pursuits against the likes of Russia and China, war isn't going to actually end. That's because there is something about the way the United States fights—about how it has learned to fight in Afghanistan and on other 21st-century battlefields—that facilitates endless war.
Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.
THE TOPLINE: The Biden administration said Thursday they that Russia was behind bounties placed on U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan in 2019.
As US troops prepare to pull out, a look at the war in Afghanistan by the numbers
Here is a look at the current situation for the approximately 2,500 U.S. service members in Afghanistan and what has transpired over the last 20 years. MORE: Biden to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 US Troops in Afghanistan Officially the Pentagon says there are about 2,500 American troops serving in Afghanistan as part of an advise-and-assist mission to help Afghan security forces. However, U.S. officials have acknowledged the number is slightly higher as U.S. counterterrorism forces are not counted in the official training mission number.
"The United States Intelligence Community assesses with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks against U.S. coalition personnel in Afghanistan in 2019, including through financial incentives and compensation," a senior administration official said during a phone call with reporters.
Earlier: The New York Times in June that the intelligence community concluded months earlier that a unit within the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency, secretly offered payments to Taliban-linked militants for attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan last year. Several other news outlets later confirmed the report.
The news ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill, largely from Democrats who demanded answers from the Trump administration and blasted then- for not punishing Russia.
Biden on Afghanistan withdrawal: 'It's time to end America’s longest war'
The president announced the withdrawal in the same room where former President George W. Bush announced the war in Afghanistan's start. "We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago," Biden said. "That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.
The intelligence was reportedly included in written material given to Trump known as the President's Daily Brief, but Trump denied he was ever briefed. Dismissing the issue Trump also said in July he never raised the issue in conversations with Russian President .
Biden's reasoning: The senior Biden administration official noted Thursday that the "low to moderate confidence" was largely due to "challenging operating environments" but stressed that the attribution "puts a burden on Russia."
"The safety and well-being of U.S. military personnel and that of our allies and partners is a matter of the absolute highest U.S. national security interests. Our men and women in uniform have defended our country ... promoted our interests and values around the world, and we cannot and will not accept the targeting of our personnel like this," the official told reporters.
'The progress Afghanistan has made ... will all be for naught,' retired general fears
President Biden has ordered the last 2,500 US troops home by Sept. 11, giving the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda room to grab power, ex-general says.The estimated 2,500 U.S. troops that President Biden has ordered home offered some slim assurance that the Afghan government could withstand the Taliban insurgency that has re-emerged across the country of 37 million.
White House press secretary on Thursday during a press briefing attributed the level of confidence in the assessment in part to the reliance on detainee reporting and the "challenging operational environment in Afghanistan."
More sanctions for Russia: The assessment was made the same day the administration and other retaliatory steps against Russia for carrying out the SolarWinds hack, which compromised at least nine federal agencies, and election interference efforts against the United States.
The senior administration official stressed to reporters that the assessment around Afghanistan was not the key reason behind the sanctions but was another Russian action the U.S. was watching closely.
They also said the Biden administration had no interest in creating an "escalatory cycle with Russia" and was seeking a "stable and predictable relationship going forward."
'LOW TO MEDIUM RISK' OF RUSSIA INVADING UKRAINE SOON, TOP GEN SAYS
The head of U.S. European Command on Thursday said in the next few weeks.
READ: Biden's remarks announcing Afghanistan troop withdrawal
President Joe Biden on Wednesday formally announced his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by September 11. © Pool/Getty Images North America/Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan on April 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden announced his plans to pull all remaining U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 in a final step towards ending America's longest war.
Gen. said the chances of an invasion, while hinging on a variety of factors, would likely start to diminish beyond the next two weeks based on the current trajectory of Russian forces.
"My sense is, with the trend that I see right now, the likelihood of an occurrence will start to wane," Wolters told lawmakers during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
A growing presence: Russia since last month has been amassing forces on its border with Ukraine, alarming U.S. and European officials by placing more troops there than at any time since 2014, when it annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
Moscow's military posturing has ramped up since fighting resumed between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian soldiers in eastern Ukraine, ending a cease-fire the two groups made last summer.
'Of great concern': Wolters said "a very large" Russian ground force has moved into the vicinity of Crimea, as has a "sizable air force" and a "notable maritime force."
Though the Russian military movement has plateaued, "it is of great concern and our vigilance is high," he added.
INTELLIGENCE LEADERS FACE SHARP QUESTIONS AT HOUSE WORLDWIDE THREATS HEARING
The nation's top intelligence , with lawmakers focused on rehashing issues from the Trump era as future threats.
Antony Blinken makes surprise stop in Afghanistan to sell Biden troop withdrawal
Blinken seeks to assure senior Afghan politicians the U.S. remains committed to the country despite a plan to withdraw troops by Sept. 11.Blinken sought to assure senior Afghan politicians that the United States remains committed to the country despite Biden's announcement a day earlier that the 2,500 U.S. soldiers remaining in the country would be coming home by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. invasion in 2001.
The tone was set early when House Intelligence Committee ranking member (R-Calif.) opened the hearing by severely criticizing committee Democrats for steps taken against former over the past several years, and claiming intelligence officials had not testified over the past two years due to these actions.
"The real reason Trump officials didn't want to participate is that for years the committee's Democrats hijacked our open hearings to advance their conspiracy theories that the Trump administration was filled with Russian agents who colluded with Putin to hack the 2016 elections," Nunes said.
Dems push back: Committee Chairman (D-Calif.) stressed by comparison in his opening remarks that it was "important to speak truth to power," even if "intelligence assessments prove politically inconvenient."
"The American people will learn about threats to U.S. security, no matter what the circumstances - including when the IC's views might not comport with a president's preferences," Schiff said.
Who was there: Director of National Intelligence , along with the leaders of the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), were all present for the hearing. The five witnesses appeared before the Senate Intelligence panel Wednesday.
Heavy pressure: FBI Director Christopher Wray bore the brunt of the questioning, with lawmakers of both parties using the hearing to batter him for the FBI's past investigation of Trump associates as well as ongoing issues at an agency criticized for its lack of diversity.
Six key takeaways from Biden's Russia sanctions announcement
The Biden administration slapped sweeping sanctions on Russia Thursday over Moscow's alleged interference in the 2020 election, the massive SolarWinds hack and the ongoing occupation of Crimea, signaling it is adopting a tougher posture toward the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin. © Getty Images The sanctions announcement also showed that the Biden administration is more willing to directly call out Russia's meddling in US affairs after Trump administration officials had to dance around former President Donald Trump's frequent unwillingness to criticize Moscow.
Rep. (D-Calif.) pressed him for updates on the FBI's approach to sexual assault and harassment, while Rep. (R-Ark.) bashed the bureau for its handling of warrants when investigating Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
"You've promised the American people you would address these failures, in fact you just recently said, 'The FBI does the right thing the right way.' I just wonder when will someone be held accountable for this abuse," Crawford said.
Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, at multiple times during the hearing pressured Wray to clarify the FBI's view of antifa and the threat posed by those holding such beliefs.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Heritage Foundation on "U.S.-Taiwan Partnership in the Pacific Islands," at 10 a.m.
Lt. Gen. Jody J. Daniels, chief of Army Reserve and Commanding General, U.S. Army Reserve Command, will speak at a Business Executives for at 11 a.m.
Gen. Michael X. Garrett, commanding general, U.S. Army Forces Command, as part of the George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group at 11:15 a.m.
-- The Hill: New US sanctions
-- The Hill: Senators reintroduce
-- The Hill: DOJ asks Supreme Court to decline to hear
-- The Hill: Biden aide: in Afghanistan 'will diminish'
-- The Hill: Democrats reintroduce bill to block US from
-- The Hill: Blinken makes after withdrawal announcement
-- The Hill: Opinion: American Afghanistan to the Taliban
-- The Hill: Opinion: Leaving Afghanistan: Is it
-- The Hill: Opinion: Biden can make history on
Hillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference .
Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter by clicking HERE. Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.The Biden administration on Thursday levied sweeping sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its involvement in the SolarWinds hack and interfering in U.S. elections, which lawmakers hailed as a positive step, but will likely serve to increase tensions between the two nations.