Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war

Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war
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Happy Wednesday 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.

THE TOPLINE: Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it China moves quickly to replace America in Afghanistan Harris to travel to Vietnam, Singapore in August MORE on Wednesday said he had “tremendous faith and confidence” in Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Watchdog warns US will repeat mistakes of Afghanistan Adaptability remains a constant — even as the 'character of war' changes MORE after former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE blasted the four-star general over a book excerpt.

Trump targeted the general following recent reports that Milley looked to prevent Trump from staging a coup after losing the 2020 election. Trump said he had "lost total confidence" in Milley during his presidency, claiming Milley "choked like a dog" under scrutiny.

Austin’s backing: “I’ve known the chairman for a long time. We’ve fought together, we’ve served a couple of times in the same unit, so I’m not guessing at his character. He doesn’t have a political bone in his body,” Austin told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

“I clearly have tremendous faith and confidence in the chairman,” he added.

Earlier criticisms: Conservatives have heavily criticized Milley in the past several weeks for newly revealed encounters during the Trump administration that were written about in several recently released books.

An excerpt from the book "I Alone Can Fix It," by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, said Milley was so concerned Trump might try to stay in power through a coup in the last days of his presidency that he discussed it with his deputies.

The authors wrote that Milley saw Trump as "the classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose,” and “told his staff that he believed Trump was stoking unrest, possibly in hopes of an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and call out the military.”

Following that revelation, Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonDon Lemon defends Tucker Carlson amid confrontation video Fox News blasts 'ambush' of Carlson at Montana fly-fishing store Psaki says Biden admin 'needs' Fox News in order to fight vaccine misinformation MORE called for Milley to be fired and Trump said he should be court-martialed if the statements were true.

No comment: On Wednesday, Milley declined to comment on the books' claims and said he always “provided the best military professional advice” to Trump, noting that it was “candid, honest, every single occasion.”

“I know there’s a lot of interest out there on all of these books that are out there quoting me. ... I’m not going to comment on what’s in any of those books,” Milley said alongside Austin.

An oath: Pressed on whether he was worried by the perception he used his role for political reasons, he would only say that he and other military leaders took an oath to uphold the Constitution “and not one time do we violate that.”

“I want America to know that the United States military is an apolitical institution. We were then and we are now. Our oath is to the Constitution, not to any individual at all,” Milley said.

“The military did not and will not and should not ever get involved in domestic politics. We don’t arbitrate elections. That's the job of the judiciary and the legislature and the American people. It's not the job of the U.S. military," he added.

Also during the briefing: Austin on Wednesday dismissed efforts to “distract” from the military’s diversity and inclusion efforts with discussions about critical race theory.

“I don't want us to get distracted with a critical race conversation,” Austin said.

“This department will be diverse. It will be inclusive. And we're going to look like the country that we support and defend. And, our leadership will look like what's in the ranks of our military. And so, I'm committed to that. This department is committed to that. The chairman’s committed to that,” Austin added, referring to Milley.

“And that's what we're going to stay focused on. And so, we're not going to spend too much time debating the merits of this theory or any other theory. We're going to stay focused on making sure that we create the right force to defend this country and promote our values.”

What prompted the answer: Austin was responding to a question asking him to elaborate on comments he made at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing where Republicans sought to corner him and Milley over the issue of critical race theory.

Critical race theory, espoused in the 1970s, broadly focuses on the ways that racism has played a part in the development of U.S. policies and institutions. 

Though the philosophy is largely confined to graduate school-level courses, Republicans have brought the theory to the forefront of national debate, with some GOP-led state legislatures banning it from being taught in K-12 schools.

The GOP have also increasingly sought to pull the military into the debate, including questioning Austin and Milley about critical race theory at the June House hearing.

 

MILLEY: TALIBAN HAS ‘STRATEGIC MOMENTUM’ IN AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban controls about half of the district centers in Afghanistan, the U.S. military’s top general said Wednesday, saying the insurgents appear to have “strategic momentum” as the United States withdraws from the war.

Still, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley expressed confidence in the ability of Afghan forces to fend off a Taliban takeover of the country.

“The two most important combat multipliers, actually, is will and leadership. And this is going to be a test now of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan Security Forces and the government of Afghanistan,” Milley told reporters at a press briefing.

“I don't think the end game is yet written,” Milley added.

Some context: Milley's comments come as the U.S. military is about 95 percent done with its withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war. President BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE has set an Aug. 31 deadline for the United States to be fully out.

Critics of Biden’s withdrawal have sounded the alarm about the potential for the Taliban to overrun the Afghan government without a U.S. military presence in the country, pointing to recent Taliban gains to bolster their case.

As of Wednesday, the Taliban controls about 212 of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers, Milley said.

A significant jump: That's a significant jump from the 81 district centers Milley said the Taliban controlled a month ago.

“Strategic momentum appears to be sort of with the Taliban,” Milley acknowledged Wednesday.

But, Milley added, the Taliban still does not control any provincial capitals, though he acknowledged the insurgents are “putting pressure on the outskirts of probably about half of them, 17 of them.” 

Push back: Still, Milley pushed back on what he said was a “narrative” the Taliban is “propagating” of their “inevitable victory.”

Milley attributed some of the Taliban’s recent gains to Afghan forces consolidating in order to protect population centers.

“Part of this is they're giving up district centers in order to consolidate their forces because they're taking an approach to protect the population,” Milley said. “And most of the population lives in the provincial capitals and the capital city of Kabul. So they are right now, as we speak, adjusting forces to consolidate into the provincial capitals and Kabul.”

He also predicted that, following a lull in violence for the Eid al-Adha holiday, the rest of the summer could be decisive for the tide of the war.

 

SUSPENDED COMMANDERS GET REASSIGNED, REINSTATED

The Army on Wednesday announced the reinstatement and reassignment of two commanders.

The first was Maj. Gen. Jeff Broadwater, who late last year was suspended from his duties as head of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood.

Broadwater was suspended in December as part of a sweeping disciplinary action that included 14 leaders at Fort Hood after an independent review of the base’s command scrutinized years of sexual assault and violence at the installation.

The committee, which began its investigation in August 2020, found major issues with the Fort Hood criminal investigation arm and a command climate at the troubled base that allowed sexual harassment and sexual assault to happen, most often without consequence. 

No adverse action: Broadwater has since been cleared after a “follow-on Army Regulation 15-6 investigation into 1st Cavalry Division’s climate and culture,” the Army said in the Wednesday statement.

“Maj. Gen. Broadwater is not pending any adverse action as a result of either the Fort Hood Independent Review or the Army Regulation 15-6,” the service said, adding that it will release the investigation’s findings and recommendations when a final administrative review is finished. 

Broadwater will be reassigned as the deputy commander of V Corps at Fort Knox, Ky., while Maj. Gen. John Richardson will assume command of the 1st Cavalry Division beginning on Wednesday.

The other commander: The Army also on Wednesday announced it will reinstate the head of the Army War College following his suspension earlier this year over a sexual misconduct allegation.

The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) “has completed an investigation into an allegation of abusive sexual contact made against Maj. Gen. Stephen Maranian and determined there is no probable cause that he committed the alleged offense,” the service said in a statement.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Maranian will be immediately reinstated to his position as commandant of the Army War College, the statement added.

A lack of evidence: The two-star general was suspended from the Carlisle, Pa., institution in February over an allegation of inappropriate touching unrelated to the college.

A CID investigation, “led by an experienced, civilian investigator who has conducted over 700 sexual assault investigations in the past 18 years,” initially looked into the matter. They interviewed 16 witnesses, some multiple times, “in an effort to develop evidence to determine if there was probable cause to substantiate the allegation,” according to the Army.

The command then referred the case to an independent special victim prosecutor as well as a former civilian prosecutor, with both finding that the evidence “was not sufficient to establish probable cause that the offense had occurred.” 

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a virtual discussion on U.S.-Korean relations with former Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox, at 9:30 a.m. 

The Heritage Foundation will hold a virtual discussion on “Enhancing Deterrence in the Indo-Pacific," at 10:30 a.m.

The Jewish Institute for National Security of America will hold a webinar on “Drone Wars: The Spread of Unmanned Tech on Today’s Battlefield,” at 11 a.m. 

Former Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war The Biden administration and Tunisia: Off to a good start Overnight Defense: Navy pulls plug on 0 million railgun effort | Esper defends Milley after Trump attacks | Navy vet charged in Jan. 6 riot wants trial moved MORE and former British Prime Minister Theresa MayTheresa Mary MayOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war Will Ocasio-Cortez challenge Biden or Harris in 2024? The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' MORE will speak at a McCain Institute virtual conversation at 12 p.m. 

The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement will hold a virtual discussion on “Laser Weapons Today and Tomorrow,” at 12 p.m. 

 

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