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Defense & National Security — Russia-Ukraine war at top of list for UN meeting

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The U.S. and other countries opposed to Russia’s war in Ukraine will be brought to the table at this week’s United Nations General Assembly with nations sympathetic to Moscow or that have refused to take a side, posing a major test for the U.N.

We’ll detail what’s expected to happen at the meeting, plus more on a new prisoner swap with the Taliban, a new audit of how the Pentagon conducts secret information warfare and GOP worries over President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program in relation to military recruiting. 

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.

Ukraine war set to dominate UN leaders gathering

Russia’s war in Ukraine will likely dominate this week’s United Nations General Assembly, with nations that are sympathetic to Moscow or refusing to take a side posing a major test for the U.N. 

The New York discussion will put those countries that haven’t joined in on condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin in the hot seat. 

While the war itself will be a major point of discussion, so will many of its ripple effects in terms of the global energy supply, economics, human rights, food security and more. 

On tap: Biden will address the General Assembly on Wednesday and is likely to focus on Putin’s aggression, along with other priorities, including addressing climate change. 

“A core message that I think you’re going to hear from leaders across the U.S. government is that respect for the core principles of the international order is needed now more than ever,” John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, said Friday. 

Fractured: The U.N. was founded in response to the type of land war in Europe that many worried would unfold if Russia captured major Ukrainian cities and opted to move into other nations. 

While the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Canada and other allies have banded together to impose economic sanctions on Russia and provide military aid to Ukraine, this week’s meetings will underscore both the limits of the United Nations in confronting the Kremlin and the fractured nature of the organization. 

Limited success: The U.N. has had limited success in pushing back on Russia, specifically by suspending it from the Human Rights Council. But Russia sits on the powerful U.N. Security Council, giving it veto power over more sweeping proposals, as well as a platform to grandstand. 

Russia has also found allies in China, Brazil, India and other nations that have not been willing to go nearly as far in imposing sanctions or even outright condemning Moscow’s actions. 

Read the full story here

American hostage freed by Taliban in prisoner swap

Mark Frerichs, an American hostage held by the Taliban for more than two years, was freed on Monday as part of a prisoner swap for a Taliban leader who had been convicted of drug trafficking.

The White House announced Frerichs’s release on Monday morning, with President Biden calling it “the culmination of years of tireless work by dedicated public servants across our government and other partner governments.” 

‘Difficult decisions’: Biden spoke with Frerichs’s sister to share news of his impending release. Biden did not specify the terms of his release, only referencing that the negotiations required “difficult decisions, which I did not take lightly.” 

A senior administration official confirmed that Frerichs’s release was part of a prisoner swap for a Taliban drug lord, Bashir Noorzai, who was imprisoned by the United States for smuggling more than $50 million worth of heroin. 

Earlier: Biden made the decision in June to grant clemency to Noorzai “if that meant bringing an American home,” a senior administration official said, clarifying that Noorzai was never a detainee at the Guantánamo Bay prison. 

Frerichs, a veteran and civilian contractor, worked in Afghanistan for a decade as an engineer before being abducted in early 2020. U.S. officials had steadfastly maintained that Frerichs had done nothing wrong and called for his release. 

Read that story here 

Pentagon orders audit of online info warfare: report

The Pentagon will review how it conducts secret information warfare after Meta and Twitter found and dismantled fake accounts likely tied to the U.S. military, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Undersecretary of Defense for policy Colin Kahl last week asked the military commands that participate in online psychological operations to give a complete rundown of their activities by next month, according to the outlet. 

Concerns: The order came after the White House, State Department and some in the Defense Department voiced issues with tactics the Pentagon used in attempts to manipulate overseas audiences, several defense and administration officials told the Post. 

Such tactics, which are used by the likes of Russia and Iran, violate the social media platforms’ rules.   

A dismantling: Twitter and Meta, the company that owns Facebook, in August removed a network of accounts for promoting “pro-Western narratives” in the Middle East and Central Asia.  

While there are no U.S. laws barring fictitious accounts, specific Pentagon policy discourages the spread of false information.   

Read the rest of the story here 

GOP LAWMAKERS WORRY BIDEN MOVE MAY HURT MILITARY RECRUITING

A group of House GOP lawmakers is pushing President Biden to address concerns that his student loan forgiveness plan could kneecap military recruiting by making the GI Bill seem less valuable.  

In a letter led by Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas), the 19 House Republicans said they worry about the “unintended consequences” of Biden’s decision last month to cancel up to $20,000 of student loan debt per borrower, particularly “the negative impact this will surely have on our nation’s military and their ability to recruit and retain” talent. 

Leverage: It “By forgiving such a wide swath of loans for borrowers, you are removing any leverage the Department of Defense maintained as one of the fastest and easiest ways to pay for higher education,” according to the letter sent to the White House on Thursday. 

Earlier: Biden in August announced plans to forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for millions of borrowers making less than $125,000 a year and $20,000 in canceled debt for those who received Pell Grants. The White House said the move would impact more than 40 million Americans. 

Democratic leaders have lauded the move, though Republican lawmakers have called it an overreach and unfair for the vast majority of taxpayers. 

Recruitment struggles: The latest protest over the loan forgiveness points to the military, which for several years has struggled with meeting recruitment goals due to a robust labor market, competition for talent with the private sector and an ongoing decline in the number of young people who are both eligible and want to serve in the military.  

The Army is not expected to meet its active-duty recruitment goals this year, while Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps officials are expecting to meet their targets but only narrowly.   

“As the services try to adopt unique approaches to tackle their recruiting challenges, including historic bonuses, it feels like their legs are being cut out from underneath them,” the Republican lawmakers wrote of Biden’s plan.   

Read the full story here 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The Air and Space Forces Association will hold the 2022 Air, Space and Cyber Conference, with Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond, Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas) and Rep. Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii), among other speakers, at 8:15 a.m. in National Harbor, Md. 
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “U.S. Nuclear Strategy and Policy,” with testimony from outside experts at 9:30 a.m.
  • The U.S. Institute of Peace will host a virtual discussion on “Russia’s Actions in Ukraine and the Crime of Genocide,” at 10 a.m.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a talk on “Current Challenges to the Defense Industrial Base,” in relation to the Ukraine war, at 11 a.m.
  • The Middle East Institute will host a virtual discussion on “Greco-TurkishTensions: What It Means for NATO Unity and Regional Peace,” at 12 p.m.  
  • The Stimson Center will hold a virtual talk on “Coercion and Crisis Management in the Taiwan Strait,” at 1 p.m.  
  • The U.S. Institute of Peace will host a virtual discussion on “China’s Influence on the Freely Associated States,” with former U.S. Indo-Pacific Command head retired Adm. Philip Davidson, at 3 p.m.  
  • The East-West Center in Washington will hold a talk on “Taiwan Matters for America – America Matters for Taiwan,” with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and GOP Reps. Steve Chabot (Ohio) and Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), among others, at 3:30 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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

Tags Biden John Kirby Mark Frerichs prisoner swap UN General Assembly United Nations Vladimir Putin
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