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Overnight Defense: Biden officially rolls out Afghanistan withdrawal plan | Probe finds issues with DC Guard helicopter use during June protests

Overnight Defense: Biden officially rolls out Afghanistan withdrawal plan | Probe finds issues with DC Guard helicopter use during June protests
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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: It’s official: U.S. troops will be leaving Afghanistan by Sept. 11.

President BidenJoe BidenBiden's quiet diplomacy under pressure as Israel-Hamas fighting intensifies Overnight Defense: Administration approves 5M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point CDC mask update sparks confusion, opposition MORE formally announced his withdrawal plan Wednesday in a speech in the White House’s Treaty Room -- the same place former President George W. Bush announced the start of the war nearly 20 years ago.

“War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking,” Biden said. “It’s time to end the forever war.”

Rebutting criticism: Biden also sought to rebuff criticisms of his withdrawal announcement.

“I know there will be many who will loudly insist that diplomacy cannot succeed without a robust U.S. military presence to stand as leverage. We gave that argument a decade. It’s never proved effective,” Biden said. “Our diplomacy does not hinge on having boots in harm’s way.” 

 

Conferring with predecessors: Before his announcement, Biden spoke with both Bush and former President Obama.

 

Arlington visit: Shortly after delivering the remarks, Biden visited Arlington National Cemetery to pay his respects to service members buried there who lost their lives in the most recent U.S. wars.

 

NATO following suit: The 7,000 troops from NATO countries still in Afghanistan will also be withdrawing in coordination with the United States, the alliance said.

“In the light of the U.S. decision to withdraw, foreign and defense ministers of NATO discussed a way forward today and decided that we will start the withdrawal of NATO Resolution Support forces by May 1,” NATO Secretary-General Jen Stoltenberg said at a news conference in Brussels alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinIt's time to drop 'competition' from US defense strategy Push to combat sexual assault in military reaches turning point Overnight Defense: Military sexual assault reform bill has votes to pass in Senate l First active duty service member arrested over Jan. 6 riot l Israeli troops attack Gaza Strip MORE and Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBiden's quiet diplomacy under pressure as Israel-Hamas fighting intensifies Overnight Defense: Administration approves 5M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point Psaki won't say if Biden has seen Israeli intel on AP Gaza building MORE.

“We went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together, and we are united in leaving together,” Stoltenberg said.

Does the brass approve?: Military officers have previously warned of the consequence of a full U.S. withdrawal.

Asked Wednesday if officers agreed with Biden’s decision, Austin said he “won't speak for them” but did suggest there were “concerns.”

“What I can tell you is this was an inclusive process and their voices were heard and their concerns taken into consideration as the president made his decision,” Austin said. “But now that the decision has been made, I call upon them to lead to their forces, to lead their forces through this effort, through this transition. And knowing them all very well as I do, I have every confidence that they will in fact lead their forces through this effort.”

Austin said he himself “fully supports” Biden’s decision.

Intelligence concerns: At a Senate hearing hours before Biden’s speech, CIA Director William BurnsWilliam BurnsSenate Intel vows to 'get to the bottom' of 'Havana syndrome' attacks Dozens of scientists call for deeper investigation into origins of COVID-19, including the lab theory US investigating possible 'Havana syndrome' attack near White House: CNN MORE said the U.S. ability to collect intelligence on threats in Afghanistan will “diminish” with a U.S. military withdrawal.

While terrorist groups elsewhere in the world represent “much more serious threats today” than those in Afghanistan, Burns said, the Afghan branches of al Qaeda and ISIS “remain intent on recovering the ability to attack U.S. targets.”

“So all of that, to be honest, means that there is a significant risk once the U.S. military and the coalition militaries withdraw,” Burns said at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

Taliban warning: While the Taliban have increased attacks on Afghan forces since last year’s agreement, they have largely refrained from attacks on U.S. and NATO troops.

But the group issued a warning Wednesday that failure to withdraw by the May 1 deadline in last year’s deal would cause “problems.”

“If the agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those whom failed to comply with the agreement will be held liable,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted.

Biden issued his own warning to the Taliban, saying the insurgents “should know that if they attack us as we draw down, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal."

Afghanistan’s reaction: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Wednesday he “respects” the U.S. decision following a call with Biden, adding Afghanistan will “work with our U.S. partners to ensure a smooth transition.”

“As we move into the next phase in our partnership, we will continue to work with our US/NATO partners in the ongoing peace efforts,” he added in a series of tweets, in which he also insisted that “Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country.”

 

INVESTIGATION FAULTS DC GUARD HELICOPTER USE

The long-awaited investigation into the D.C. National Guard flying a helicopter low over protesters during the June protests was finally released Wednesday.

The investigation found the National Guard did not have clear guidance on orders to use two helicopters when the incident occurred.

The helicopters were "not prohibited by Federal law or policy or Army regulation," but when they were deployed to downtown, but "there was a systematic lack of understanding" among aircrews in terms of how they would be used, according to an Army release on the report.

Background: The report comes nearly a year after the June 1 incident, during which a D.C. National Guard helicopter flew less than 100 feet over crowds protesting the killing of George Floyd. Footage from that night showed an unarmed Lakota medivac craft with Red Cross markings using its rotor wash — or the downward rush of air from rotors — to disperse crowds near the Capitol One Arena.

Shortly after that night, lawmakers and other officials demanded to know why the Guard used one of its medivac helicopters in a "show of force" and asked whether proper approval was given.

Details scarce on discipline: “A number” of Army members received some type of administrative discipline as a result of the confusion, service officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

They would not provide additional details, but one Army official told the AP that the personnel were guilty of “performance shortcomings” and no one was found to have committed any misconduct.

 

DUCKWORTH CALLS FOR DOJ PROBE INTO TREATMENT OF ARMY OFFICER

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthBipartisan Senate bill introduced to give gyms B in relief Duckworth says food stamps let her stay in high school If you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume MORE (D-Ill.) is calling for the Justice Department to investigate a Virginia police department after its officers, one of whom has since been fired, held at gunpoint and pepper sprayed a uniformed National Guard officer in an incident caught on camera.

“Given the alarming nature of the video evidence documenting brazenly violent and disrespectful treatment of an Army Officer wearing his uniform, it is logical to infer that this incident may be indicative of widespread law enforcement misconduct,” Duckworth wrote in a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick Garland'Tiger King' seeking presidential pardon from Biden Capitol riot fuels debate over domestic terror laws Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo MORE.

She also asks the Justice Department to investigate whether there is a pattern of “stops, searches, or arrests that violate the Fourth Amendment; use excessive force; conduct discriminatory policing and violate the constitutional rights of criminal suspects,” among police in Windsor, Va.

Context: Duckworth, a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel who was a combat pilot in the Iraq War, was referring to the footage of Army Second Lt. Caron Nazario, who is Black and Hispanic, during a traffic stop in Windsor.

Nazario can be seen dressed in his uniform and holding his hands up and out of the window of his parked car at a gas station as the officers point their guns at him and order him get out of his vehicle.

At one point Nazario responds, "I’m honestly afraid to get out," to which one of the cops can be heard saying, "Yeah, you should be!"

An officer then pepper-sprays Nazario multiple times after another attempts to open his car door.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Director of National Intelligence Avril HainesAvril HainesDomestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever Will Biden provide strategic clarity or further ambiguity on Taiwan? States step in as Congress fails to fight foreign influence MORE, CIA Director William Burns, FBI Director Christopher Wray, National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone and  Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier will testify at the House Intelligence Committee’s worldwide threats hearing at 9 a.m. https://bit.ly/3wPlCDQ

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughOvernight Defense: Biden officially rolls out Afghanistan withdrawal plan | Probe finds issues with DC Guard helicopter use during June protests Congress must address the toxic exposure our veterans have endured Veterans shouldn't have to wait for quality care MORE will testify before the House Appropriations Committee’s veterans affairs subcommittee at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/32g7mpK

Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, will testify before the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3tj8vZD

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on 10 years of conflict in Syria with testimony from outside experts at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3srZ8pj

U.S. European Command chief Gen. Tod Wolters and Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, will testify before the House Armed Services Committee at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/3gbROeI

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on the role of inspectors general with testimony from outside experts and the current inspectors general from the Pentagon and military branches at 4 p.m. https://bit.ly/3mNtAZv

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Intelligence leaders warn of threats from China, domestic terrorism

-- The Hill: Obama: Biden made 'right decision' on Afghanistan

-- The Hill: Cheney: Afghanistan withdrawal a 'huge propaganda victory' for terrorists

-- The Hill: Senate to be briefed on Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal plan

-- The Hill: Biden to move ahead with $23 billion UAE weapons sale approved by Trump

-- Army Times: Fort Jackson investigating white soldier for harassing a Black man on video

-- Washington Post: For Afghanistan veterans, old feelings of frustration and loss surface as the U.S. prepares to end its longest war

-- Defense One: Petraeus trashes Biden decision to quit Afghanistan

-- Stars and Stripes: Anxiety runs deep in Afghanistan's cities as US plans its exit