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Overnight Defense: Pentagon policy nominee ekes by in tie Senate panel vote | House Armed Services chairman calls May 1 Afghanistan withdrawal 'dangerous' | North Korea fires unidentified projectile

Overnight Defense: Pentagon policy nominee ekes by in tie Senate panel vote | House Armed Services chairman calls May 1 Afghanistan withdrawal 'dangerous' | North Korea fires unidentified projectile
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Happy Wednesday 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: Colin Kahl’s nomination to be under secretary of Defense for policy has made it out of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but just barely.

The panel voted 13-13 along party lines Wednesday to advance Kahl’s nomination.

The tie vote means Kahl will have to overcome an additional procedural hurdle on the Senate floor as Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) must hold a vote to discharge the nomination from the committee.

Manchin makes up his mind: Kahl’s nomination has been hanging by a thread for weeks as defense watchers asked one question: What will Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinFormer OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Masks off: CDC greenlights return to normal for vaccinated Americans Jill Biden, Jennifer Garner go mask-free on vaccine-promoting West Virginia trip MORE (D-W.Va.) do?

Manchin was seen as the key swing vote as Republican unified against Kahl.

The Democratic senator told reporters after the committee vote he supported Kahl following talks with the nominee. 

Manchin said he and Kahl discussed their differing views on the Iran nuclear deal, which Manchin opposed. But he and Kahl also discussed their shared opposition to former President TrumpDonald TrumpSunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans Navajo Nation president on Arizona's new voting restrictions: An 'assault' on our rights The Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez MORE's efforts to withdraw from Syria and abandon the United States's Kurdish partners, Manchin said.

"I said, 'I just want to make sure I have an open dialogue with you,' " Manchin said of his conversations with Kahl. 

Republicans have been mainly hitting Kahl on his tweets, which they characterized as partisan outbursts unbefitting of a top Pentagon official.

Manchin said he told Kahl he didn’t “know why you felt you had to interject” with the tweets, but that he knows Kahl has Biden's "trust and confidence" and he "has the qualifications and has the expertise to be very helpful."

"It was not an easy decision, trust me," Manchin said.

White House stands by its man: Despite eking by in the committee, Kahl still faces a rocky road to confirmation. There’s the previously mentioned discharge vote. And if all Republicans vote against him, Vice President Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHere's why Joe Biden polls well, but Kamala Harris does not Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart Carper urges Biden to nominate ambassadors amid influx at border MORE will need to cast a tie-breaker vote.

But the White House said Wednesday it stands by his nomination.

“Colin is qualified, he's experienced, and he would bring an incredible reservoir of perspective to the job at the department of defense,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiFrench police deploy tear gas on protestors supporting Palestinians in Paris White House says safety of journalists is 'paramount' after Gaza building bombed Washington showing signs of normalcy after year of restrictions MORE said at a press briefing. “So we look forward to his confirmation.”

 

CHAIRMAN: WITHDRAWING FROM AFGHANISTAN BY MAY 1 WOULD BE ‘DANGEROUS’

As we wait for President BidenJoe BidenWarren calls for US to support ceasefire between Israel and Hamas UN secretary general 'deeply disturbed' by Israeli strike on high rise that housed media outlets Nation's largest nurses union condemns new CDC guidance on masks MORE to make his decision on whether to fully withdraw from Afghanistan by May, the House Armed Services Committee chairman has given us the latest signal the withdrawal won’t happen by then.

At an event Wednesday hosted by Foreign Policy, Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithGOP Rep. Turner to lead House push to address military sexual assault US is leaving, but Afghan women to fight on for freedoms Overnight Defense: Ex-Pentagon chief defends Capitol attack response as GOP downplays violence | Austin, Biden confer with Israeli counterparts amid conflict with Hamas | Lawmakers press Pentagon officials on visas for Afghan partners MORE (D-Wash.) said it would be “dangerous” to fully withdraw by then, given how little time is left until May.

Smith also said that based on his conversations with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, the “general feeling” in the Biden administration is that the deadline is “too soon” to withdraw.

“Running for the exits pell-mell by May 1 is dangerous,” Smith said. “It is dangerous to our troops. I don't want to leave a bunch of high-grade military equipment behind for whoever grabs it, either. That too is dangerous. It is a purely logistical argument.”

Instead, do it ‘responsibly’: Smith acknowledged staying beyond the beginning of May could lead to attacks on U.S. forces from the Taliban, who have largely refrained from direct attacks on U.S. troops since signing the U.S.-Taliban deal even as it steps up attacks on Afghan forces. 

“Our troops have been relatively safe. If that changes on day one, that's a problem, so job one is to try to get back in and talk with the Taliban about at least giving us a little bit more time,” Smith said.

Smith also stressed he does not believe there is much more the United States can accomplish in Afghanistan after 20 years of war and said he supports withdrawing “responsibly.”

“I do not believe that in six or eight months, we're going to magically have trained that last Afghan that gets them to get along peacefully,” he said. “At this point, we've done what we can do. I don't know what the future of Afghanistan is. I'm not terribly optimistic about it, but I don't think that lack of optimism changes if the U.S. stays for another year or another 10. I think in that regard, we've learned the limits of what we can do there, and it is time to change our policy and pull out responsibly.”

Pentagon’s response: Asked later Wednesday about Smith’s comments, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby referred back to comments Austin made during a trip in Afghanistan over the weekend.

Austin “has confidence that if a decision is made to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan, he’s confident that Gen. McKenzie and Gen. Miller will be able to do so in a safe and orderly, effective way,” Kirby said at a press briefing, referring to U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie and U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. Scott Miller.

Kirby also declined to answer a question on whether Smith was accurately characterizing the Pentagon’s thinking when he said the “general feeling” is that May 1 is “too soon.”

 

NORTH KOREA FIRES PROJECTILE

North Korea has fired an unidentified projectile that reportedly landed in the East Sea, Yonhap News reported, citing South Korea's military.

Japan's Coast Guard also urged ships to be on alert Thursday local time after it said North Korea launched what may have been a ballistic missile.

"Vessels are requested to pay attention to further information and to keep clear when recognizing falling object," the alert stated.

Further details on the apparent launch were not immediately available. 

Background: This launch comes a day after U.S. officials confirmed North Korea launched a short-range weapons system over the weekend, with South Korea officials saying that test was of cruise missiles.

U.S. officials brushed off the weekend launch as "normal military activity" for North Korea, saying the weapon system was not subject to U.N. sanctions.

If this latest launch is indeed a ballistic missile, that would be considered more provocative. 

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Christopher Maier, acting assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and low intensity conflict; Gen. Richard Clarke, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; and Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville will speak at a virtual event hosted by the Brookings Institution at 11 a.m. 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will mark up several bills, including one to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military, at 1 p.m. 

And coming up next week: Former Defense Secretaries Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and former under secretary of Defense for policy Michèle Flournoy will participate in The Hill's Future of Defense Summit at 12:30 p.m. March 29. RSVP today for event reminders. (https://futureofdefense.splashthat.com/)

 

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