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Overnight Defense: FEMA asks Pentagon to help with vaccinations | US says Taliban has 'not met their commitments' | Army investigating Fort Hood chaplain

Overnight Defense: FEMA asks Pentagon to help with vaccinations | US says Taliban has 'not met their commitments' | Army investigating Fort Hood chaplain

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.

THE TOPLINE: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has asked the Pentagon to assist with President Biden's goal to vaccinate 100 million people against the coronavirus in his first 100 days in office, the Department of Defense's (DOD) top spokesman said Thursday.

“The Department of Defense has received a request from FEMA for assistance in administering COVID-19 vaccine at various locations across the country. The Department is evaluating the request, and what kinds of support it can provide,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

Kirby said that given the significance of the request, “it will be reviewed urgently but carefully” to determine what military assets can be made available to help safely.

Earlier: CNN was the first to report on the discussions between the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, of which FEMA is a part, on how the military can assist the agency.

Among the possible solutions is sending up to 10,000 active-duty and National Guard forces to so-called vaccination megahubs.

President Biden has an ambitious goal of the United States vaccinating 1.5 million people per day in the coming weeks, he announced Monday.

Challenges ahead: “It’s going to be a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we’ve ever tried in this country, but I think we can do that,” Biden said during a press conference.

But the White House has moved to temper expectations, with press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiHillicon Valley: Tech companies duke it out at Senate hearing | Seven House Republicans vow to reject donations from Big Tech Vaccination slowdown could threaten recovery New signs of progress emerge on police reform MORE on Tuesday clarifying that Biden was merely being optimistic and that he was not setting a concrete goal. 

White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt on Wednesday said that it will be "months" before all Americans who want a coronavirus vaccine can get one.

 

PENTAGON: TALIBAN HAS ‘NOT MET THEIR COMMITMENTS’: The Pentagon in its first briefing under the Biden administration warned the Taliban it is jeopardizing its agreement with the United States for a full U.S. military withdrawal by May.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby stressed Thursday that no decisions have been made about troop levels and that the Biden administration is still committed to last year’s U.S.-Taliban deal.

But, he bluntly said the Taliban has not yet lived up to its commitments under the deal, adding it would be difficult for the United States to move forward with the agreement if that does not change.

Decision pending: “The Taliban have not met their commitments,” Kirby said. “Without them meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces, and by dint of that the Afghan people, it's very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement.

“But we're still committed to that, there’s no question about that,” he continued. “The secretary’s been clear in testimony that we need to find a reasonable, rational end to this war, and that it's got to be done through a negotiated settlement that includes the Afghan government.”

Pressed further on the new administration’s position, Kirby said the “goal” is to reach the May deadline, but that “we're going to be making our decisions in a sober, rational manner that is driven by what's in our best interests and the interests of our partner in Afghanistan, as well as our NATO partners and allies.”

Staying at 2,500…for now: During the Trump administration, U.S. military officials said the Taliban had yet to break with al Qaeda. Officials also repeatedly condemned stepped up Taliban attacks on Afghan forces.

But former President TrumpDonald TrumpUS gives examples of possible sanctions relief to Iran GOP lawmaker demands review over FBI saying baseball shooting was 'suicide by cop' House passes bill aimed at stopping future Trump travel ban MORE continued to draw down. Five days before Trump left office, the U.S. military hit his goal of dropping to 2,500 troops, the lowest level of U.S. troops in Afghanistan since 2001.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense: DC National Guard activates 250 troops ahead of Chauvin verdict | Planning update on Afghanistan withdrawal Top general: Counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan after withdrawal 'harder' but 'not impossible' Inspector general chose not to investigate Secret Service in clearing of Lafayette Square: report MORE and Gen. Scott Miller, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, have assured that 2,500 is sufficient for the largely counterterrorism mission the U.S. military has now, Kirby said Thursday.

“If we can get to a negotiated settlement, then there won't be the need for those troops. Right now, there is,” Kirby said.

A review: Since taking office, Biden administration officials said they are reviewing the U.S.-Taliban agreement, which is one of the areas where Biden’s transition team said the Trump administration obfuscated.

Last week, national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanMenendez threatens sanctions on Russia if Navalny not given medical treatment The Memo: Russia tensions rise with Navalny's life in balance Navalny to be moved to hospital in another prison, officials say MORE told his Afghan counterpart on a call that the administration was reviewing the agreement “to assess whether the Taliban was living up to its commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders,” according to a National Security Council statement on the call.

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenThe era of climate statecraft is here Biden administration working with Congress to provide 0 million for civilian assistance in Afghanistan US targets state-owned Myanmar timber, pearl businesses with new sanctions MORE also told reporters Wednesday the administration needs to “understand ... exactly what is in the agreements that were reached between the United States and the Taliban to make sure that we fully understand the commitments that the Taliban has made, as well as any commitments that we’ve made.”

Assessing other areas: In addition to Afghanistan, Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is reviewing U.S. force posture around the world “as you would expect him to do when he first comes into office.”

That includes reviewing Trump’s plan to withdraw nearly 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany, a plan that caught the U.S. ally by surprise, was lambasted by lawmakers in both parties and that Biden has been expected to reverse.

Kirby similarly said no decisions have been made on Germany force posture, but that Austin pledged in a call with his German counterpart that “whatever decision we make, we will do it in consultation with her and her government. There won't be any surprises.”

 

ARMY INVESTIGATING FORT HOOD CHAPLAIN FOR ANTI-TRANS COMMENTS: Army officials are investigating a Texas chaplain after he made disparaging remarks against transgender soldiers in a social media post.

Maj. Andrew Calvert, a chaplain with the 3rd Security Force Assistance Brigade at Fort Hood, wrote on the Army Times’s Facebook page on Monday that transgender soldiers were “mentally unfit” and “unqualified to serve.”

President Biden the same day signed an executive order to repeal former President Trump’s ban on most transgender people serving in the military.

An investigation: The Army’s Security Force Assistance Command on Tuesday revealed that it was looking into Calvert’s actions.

"We are aware of the recent comments posted to the Army Times Facebook in regard to the ban being removed on transgender service members. This incident is under investigation," officials said in the statement.

The statement also reminded Army personnel of the service’s “Think, Type, Post” social media policy and “always treating people with dignity and respect.”

Army Times was the first to report on the investigation.

Background: Biden’s executive order marks a reversal of the Trump administration policy, put into effect in 2019, that barred most transgender people from serving in the military unless they do so in their biological sex.

The Obama administration, in which Biden was vice president, lifted the previous ban on transgender military service in 2016.

But in 2017, Trump tweeted he would “not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Aspen Security Forum will hold a virtual event: “The View from Kabul: A Live Conversation with the President of Afghanistan,” with Ashraf Ghan at 10 a.m. 

The U.S. Institute of Peace will hold a virtual discussion “Passing the Baton: Securing America’s Future Together,” with current national security adviser Jake Sullivan; former Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien; and former Secretary of State and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, at 11 a.m.

 

ICYMI

– The Hill: Iranian diplomat: 'Window is closing' for US to lift sanctions, rejoin nuclear pact

– The Hill: Biden DHS pick advances in Senate, clearing Republican hurdle

– The Hill: China to Taiwan: Independence 'means war'

– The Hill: Capitol police chief calls for permanent fencing, back-up security

– Military Times: National Guard troops will get credit towards GI Bill benefits for Capitol Hill security mission

– The Associated Press: Biden seen likely to keep Space Force, a Trump favorite

– Stars and Stripes: Navy sends three ships into Black Sea as Russia takes notice