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Defense & National Security — GOP, White House clash amid Afghan anniversary

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A GOP report slamming the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan has dropped, causing the White House to fire back with its own memo on the major incident. 

We’ll share what both sides are arguing, plus a new strike on a base housing U.S. troops in Syria, the Pentagon chief’s latest COVID-19 diagnosis, and how advanced U.S. missiles are helping pilots in Ukraine. 

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Subscribe here.

White House knocks new GOP report on Afghanistan

The White House is firing back at a GOP report slamming the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan by circulating its own memo arguing the decision strengthened national security and did not compromise the United States’ ability to extinguish terrorist threats.

  • Republicans are reviving their criticisms of the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan last August as the first anniversary of the withdrawal approaches.
  • Meanwhile, Monday marks a full year since the Taliban took over Kabul, ushering in the hasty collapse of the Afghan government.

The White House memo, which dismisses the GOP report as “partisan” and “riddled” with inaccuracies, lays out Biden’s logic for ending America’s longest war and pushes back on specific claims in the report led by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.   

An inherited mess: The White House memo reiterates that President Biden inherited the Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban regarding plans for the U.S. withdrawal from the country.   

“When President Biden took office, he was faced with a choice: ramp up the war and put even more American troops at risk, or finally end the United States’ longest war after two decades of American presidents sending U.S. troops to fight and die in Afghanistan and $2 trillion spent,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson writes in the memo, text of which was first reported by Axios and obtained by The Hill.   

Pulling from last year’s argument: “The President refused to send another generation of Americans to fight a war that should have ended long ago — and we fundamentally disagree with those who advocated for miring the United States’ fighting men and women in an indefinite war with no exit strategy,” the memo adds.   

Biden frequently made the same argument directly following the U.S. pullout, citing American lives as the reasoning for his decision to move ahead and remove U.S. service members from the country.  

The GOP’s report: McCaul’s report, which is being released this week, offers a detailed look at the chaos that transpired last year and criticizes the Biden administration for failing to plan adequately ahead of the withdrawal.   

“There is a disconnect between the intelligence on the ground and what the White House is doing,” McCaul said in an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, previewing the report.   

The White House memo offers a glimpse of the administration’s defense one year later. It cites the recent successful drone strike that killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan as evidence the U.S. can still take out terrorists without American boots on the ground and says the U.S. is better positioned today to confront threats from Russia and China.   

The memo also reminds readers that military leaders like Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said the U.S. would have needed to ultimately increase the troop presence in Afghanistan above 2,500 in order to fend of Taliban attacks if Biden put the breaks on plans to withdraw.  

Read the full story here 

More from The Hill: 

Drone strikes US outpost in Syria 

base housing U.S. troops in eastern Syria was attacked by multiple drones early on Monday, though no casualties or damage were reported, according to a Pentagon statement.  

The attack took place near al-Tanf Garrison, which sits near the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq and is run by the U.S. military and American-backed Syrian opposition fighters known as Maghaweir al-Thowra (MaT), the Defense Department said.   

What happened?: The coalition forces “successfully engaged one [unmanned aerial system] preventing its impact. A second UAS detonated within a MaT forces compound resulting in zero casualties or reported damage. The other attempted one-way UAS strikes were not successful,” the statement read.  

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. 

An appealing target: U.S. and coalition troops are based at al-Tanf to train Syrian forces to counter ISIS militants and keep the terrorist group from resurging in the region. 

The base also sits on a key roadway for Iranian-backed forces, making it a target for such militants.   

Earlier: U.S. officials believe Iran provided resources and encouraged a drone attack in October at al-Tanf, which is believed to have included five drones laden with explosive charges. 

Read the full story here 

Pentagon chief tests positive for COVID for 2nd time 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday morning tested positive for COVID-19, the second time the Pentagon chief is known to have contracted the virus.  

Austin, 69, said in a statement he is experiencing “mild symptoms” and will quarantine at home for the next five days, in accordance with the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. 

Work from home: “I will retain all authorities and plan to maintain my normal work schedule virtually from home,” Austin added.  

Last contact: Austin said he was last in contact in person with President Biden on July 29, more than two weeks ago. 

Austin last tested positive for the virus in early January. He also experienced mild symptoms at the time.  

Read that story here 

US MISSILES CREDITED AS KEY IN UKRAINE FIGHT

U.S.-provided anti-radiation missiles have helped take out some of Russia’s most dangerous weapons systems in Ukraine in recent days. 

But the missiles, only recently confirmed to be in the hands of Ukraine’s air force, are just one part of a complicated strategy to expel Kremlin forces completely from the country, a Ukrainian fighter pilot told The Hill. 

The pilot, who identifies himself by his call sign of “Juice,” said the country’s air force has recently used the anti-radiation missiles to suppress Russian air defense systems. 

Their presence in Ukraine was confirmed for the first time last week by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, who said the missiles have been included in several recent lethal aid packages from the United States and make existing Ukrainian capabilities more effective. 

“It’s a great support for us. Actually, it’s one of the most advanced weapons that we have at the moment,” Juice said, but he stressed that the missiles are only “one part of the complex mission.” 

Read the full story here 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Cato Institute will host a virtual discussion on “The Taliban Today,” at 12 p.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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Tags Afghanistan afghanistan withdrawal Biden drone strike Lloyd Austin Michael McCaul Syria Taliban Ukraine invasion war in ukraine
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