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Politics Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill

01:30  30 april  2021
01:30  30 april  2021 Source:   thehill.com

EXPLAINER: What remains as US ends Afghan 'forever war'

  EXPLAINER: What remains as US ends Afghan 'forever war' KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — After 20 years, America is ending its “forever war” in Afghanistan. Announcing a firm withdrawal deadline, President Joe Biden cut through the long debate, even within the U.S. military, over whether the time was right. Starting Saturday, the last remaining 2,500 to 3,5000 American troops will begin leaving, to be fully out by Sept. 11 at the latest. Another debate will likely go on far longer: Was it worth it? Since 2001, tens of thousands of Afghans and 2,442 American soldiers have been killed, millions of Afghans driven from their homes, and billions of dollars spent on war and reconstruction.

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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

Kirsten Gillibrand et al. standing in front of a sign: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) discusses the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act at a press conference © Greg Nash Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) discusses the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act at a press conference

THE TOPLINE: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Thursday unveiled her latest attempt to curtail sexual assault in the military, proposing a bill that would remove decisions about whether to prosecute such cases from the hands of military commanders.

"Sexual assault in the military is an epidemic, it has been for a very long time," Gillibrand said, alongside several senators from both parties at a news conference.

'It's an impossible situation': Democrats link arms with Biden on Afghanistan -- and brace for the worst

  'It's an impossible situation': Democrats link arms with Biden on Afghanistan -- and brace for the worst Most congressional Democrats are backing President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan this year, though many harbor nagging concerns that the gains won over the last 20 years will be erased and the Taliban will retake control after American troops are no longer there. © Thomas Watkins/AFP/Getty Images In this photo taken on June 6, 2019, US soldiers look out over hillsides during a visit of the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General Scott Miller at the Afghan National Army (ANA) checkpoint in Nerkh district of Wardak province.

"We owe it to our service members to do more to prevent these crimes and to properly prosecute them when they occur."

A long effort: Gillibrand for eight years has attempted to push a bill that would remove military commanders from deciding on sexual assault cases. She argues having commanders involved in the decision has prevented service members from coming forward out of fear of retaliation and emboldened attackers, as those who commit such crimes rarely face punishment.

The Pentagon and Gillibrand's fellow lawmakers for years have pushed back on the proposal, claiming taking such decisions out of the commanders' hands would cause a breakdown in unit cohesion.

The new bill: But her latest legislation, the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act - which would require specially trained military prosecutors, not commanders, to decide whether to try assault crimes in the military - has gained a level of support her past efforts have failed to reach.

Kirsten Gillibrand’s Finally Winning Her Sexual Assault War With the Pentagon

  Kirsten Gillibrand’s Finally Winning Her Sexual Assault War With the Pentagon Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s New York seat in 2009, had been a rising star for a decade before her messy 2020 run for president, overplay of the woman card, and reluctance for nearly three months to join calls for Gov Andrew Cuomo to resign over serious charges of sexual misconduct—even though Ms. MeToo had led the march to force out Minnesota senator Al Franken of SNL fame over significantly less troubling charges. © Provided by The Daily Beast Bill Clark/Getty But if hypocrisy held a person back forever, the Senate would be a lonely place. Now Gillibrand’s about to light up the sky.

"This new coalition will make the difference of passing this legislation, I am certain of it," Gillibrand said while flanked by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Extra help from Ernst: Ernst, a retired National Guard lieutenant colonel and sexual assault survivor who previously opposed taking the decision out of the chain of command, now backs the bill after she worked with Gillibrand to add several prevention efforts to it, including better training for commanders and increased physical security measures.

"It has been an evolution, and I've made it very clear that I have been very torn about this in the past," Ernst said Thursday of her decision to support the bill.

"I said I would always keep an open mind and if we didn't see things change then perhaps it would be time to make those changes. And so I have kept an open mind."

Fact check: Biden's speech had an estimated 26.9 million viewers

  Fact check: Biden's speech had an estimated 26.9 million viewers The president’s first address to Congress had 26.9 million viewers, not 11.6 million as claimed in a social media post.An April 29 Facebook post from James T. Harris, a conservative radio host and social media personality, lists television ratings for five past presidential addresses — four from former President Donald Trump and one from Biden. The post says Biden’s address to Congress had only 11.6 million viewers, compared to 37.2 million viewers for Trump’s 2020 State of the Union speech.

Gillibrand, who has approached Ernst for years to gain her support, said the backing from the sole female Republican senator who has seen combat was "extremely meaningful."

New support: Ernst's aid is also likely to attract other lawmakers who voted against a similar bill from Gillibrand in 2014.

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) previously opposed the measure but now support the new legislation.

"You're seeing people giving this fair consideration," Gillibrand said of the shift.

Read the rest here.

US TROOPS BEGIN LEAVING AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan has officially begun in line with President Biden's order for all U.S. troops to be out by Sept. 11, the White House confirmed Thursday.

"A drawdown is underway," deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling on Air Force One.

Biden ordered the withdrawal earlier this month, intent on bringing to a close America's longest war by the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked the conflict.

Overnight Defense: Pentagon panel recommends major change in prosecuting military sexual assault | Reinforcements provide cover for Afghanistan withdrawal | Biden pick would be Pentagon's highest-ranking openly trans official

  Overnight Defense: Pentagon panel recommends major change in prosecuting military sexual assault | Reinforcements provide cover for Afghanistan withdrawal | Biden pick would be Pentagon's highest-ranking openly trans official Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.THE TOPLINE: A Pentagon panel on combating sexual assault is recommending a change that has been long sought by advocates but resisted by the military: taking decisions to prosecute service members for sexual assault outside the chain of command.The Associated Press on Friday first reported the recommendation - made by a civilian-led commission created by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in February - which would mark a major reversal of military policy.

Moving out: Biden had said the withdrawal would start by Saturday, which was the deadline for a full U.S. withdrawal under an agreement with the Taliban signed by the Trump administration.

About 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan nearly 20 years after the United States first invaded the country.

In addition to those U.S. troops, the 7,000 or so NATO troops still in Afghanistan are also withdrawing, as are all U.S. contractors.

Nonessential staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul have also been ordered to leave the country ahead of an expected increase in violence amid the withdrawal.

New threats: The Taliban has largely refrained from attacks on U.S. and coalition personnel since it signed the agreement with the United States last year but has threatened to resume attacks since the withdrawal is not meeting the May 1 deadline in that deal.

On Thursday, Jean-Pierre detailed the force protection measures the U.S. military is taking in light of those threats.

In addition to the deployment of B-52 bombers and the extended deployment of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier the Pentagon has previously confirmed, Jean-Pierre confirmed that parts of an Army Ranger task force are deploying to Afghanistan to help with force protection.

"Potential adversaries should know that if they attack us during our withdrawal, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal," she said.

Formal start of final phase of Afghan pullout by US, NATO

  Formal start of final phase of Afghan pullout by US, NATO KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The final phase of ending America's “forever war” in Afghanistan after 20 years formally began Saturday, with the withdrawal of the last U.S. and NATO troops by the end of summer. President Joe Biden had set May 1 as the official start of the withdrawal of the remaining forces — about 2,500-3,500 U.S. troops and about 7,000 NATO soldiers.

And last night: During his first address to Congress on Wednesday evening, Biden touted the withdrawal as an example of U.S. leadership.

"American leadership means ending the forever war in Afghanistan," he said to a standing ovation from Democrats in attendance.

Biden, however, stressed the U.S. military would retain the ability to strike threats in Afghanistan from afar, pledging that "we will maintain an over-the-horizon capability to suppress future threats to the homeland."

Both sides' argument: Biden's withdrawal has been met with skepticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle worried about a potential collapse of the Afghan government leading to a resurgent threat from al Qaeda.

But it has also been praised by some Democrats and anti-interventionist Republicans who say it is far past time to bring troops home from America's longest war.

Read more here.

BIDEN BUDGET DELAY CAUSES HEADACHES

The Senate Armed Services Committee is delaying consideration of its annual defense policy bill because of "uncertainty" over when President Biden will submit his full budget request to Congress, the committee's chairman said Thursday.

"Because of the uncertainty of the timing of the president's budget submission, the committee has made a difficult decision to delay the markup of the NDAA until July," committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said at the top of an unrelated hearing Thursday, referring to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The panel typically takes up the bill, which is considered a must-pass, in May, though there are sometimes delays. Last year, for example, the committee did not consider the bill until June amid COVID-19 pandemic-related delays.

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A new focus: Instead of working on the defense bill in May, Reed said, the committee will now focus on confirmation hearings. The panel has 23 pending nominations to consider, he said.

In June, the panel will hear from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and the military service chiefs, Reed added.

What caused the delay: Earlier this month, the White House released an outline of its fiscal 2022 budget request that provided top-line dollar amounts for federal government agencies. The budget outline called for $753 billion for defense, including $715 billion for the Pentagon, modest increases over this year.

But the outline provided no specifics on what the money would buy, with the White House saying a more detailed budget request would follow later.

New administrations typically do not meet the usual March time frame to deliver Congress a budget request. But the Biden administration has blamed obfuscation by the Trump team during the presidential transition for delaying its budget even more than normal for a new administration.

Read more of the story here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will preside over a change-of-command ceremony for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, at 8 a.m. at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement will hear from Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, on the final day of its virtual 2021 Hypersonic Weapons conference, at 9 a.m.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on worldwide threats with Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director, Defense Intelligence Agency; and Avril Haines, director of national intelligence, at 9:30 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G50.

The Aspen Security Forum will hold a virtual event on "The Biden Administration's first 100 days," with Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, former Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun, and former national security adviser Tom Donilon, at 9:30 a.m.

5 winners and 3 losers from President Biden’s first congressional address

  5 winners and 3 losers from President Biden’s first congressional address Winner: Obamacare. Loser: Wall Street.“After just 100 days — I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” Biden said during his speech. “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, will speak at the Business Council for International Understanding in an off-the-record and closed press discussion at 2 p.m.

Gen. John W. "Jay" Raymond, chief of space operations for U.S. Space Force, will speak at a Washington Post Live event: "The Path Forward: Space Force," at 3:30 p.m.

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Biden spy chief: China would find change in US policy toward Taiwan 'deeply destabilizing'

-- The Hill: Biden touts Afghan withdrawal: 'American leadership means ending the forever war'

-- The Hill: US investigating possible 'Havana syndrome' attack near White House: CNN

-- The Hill: Biden prepping cybersecurity executive order in response to SolarWinds attack

-- The Hill: Blinken meets with Israeli spy chief over concerns with Iran

-- The Hill: China: US military activity increasing under Biden administration

-- The Hill: Opinion: America stands to lose if we save Iran from more economic trouble

-- Military.com: Hawaii-Based Navy Submarine Commander Relieved Over Morale Problems

-- Stars and Stripes: Lawmakers try again to change VA motto with new administration

5 winners and 3 losers from President Biden’s first congressional address .
Winner: Obamacare. Loser: Wall Street.“After just 100 days — I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” Biden said during his speech. “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.

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