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Overnight Defense: Top general concerned about Afghan forces after US troops leave | Pentagon chief: Climate crisis 'existential' threat to US national security | Army conducts review after 4 Black soldiers harassed at Virginia IHOP

Overnight Defense: Top general concerned about Afghan forces after US troops leave | Pentagon chief: Climate crisis 'existential' threat to US national security | Army conducts review after 4 Black soldiers harassed at Virginia IHOP
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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 top U.S. general in the Middle East expressed concern Thursday about Afghan forces’ ability to fend off the Taliban after U.S. troops withdraw from the country.

“My concern is the ability of the Afghan military to hold the ground that they're on now without the support that they've been used to for many years," Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I am concerned about the ability of the Afghan military to hold on after we leave, the ability of the Afghan air force to fly, in particular, after we remove the support for those aircraft," he added.

Concerns given: Pressed later in the hearing on continuing to fund Afghan forces when U.S. troops withdraw, McKenzie said that without "some support," the Afghan forces "certainly will collapse."

McKenzie’s testimony marked the second time this week he has expressed concern about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after President BidenJoe BidenDefense lawyers for alleged Capitol rioters to get tours of U.S. Capitol Sasse to introduce legislation giving new hires signing bonuses after negative jobs report Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE announced last week he was ordering U.S. troops to pull out by Sept. 11.

McKenzie has declined to say what his advice to Biden was, remarking only that he had “multiple opportunities” to give the president his perspective.

Challenges ahead: McKenzie has laid out what he sees as the challenges ahead following the withdrawal. On Tuesday, he told the House Armed Services Committee that counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan would be “harder” without a troop presence there but “not impossible,” a point he reiterated Thursday.

“The long-term view for the war on terror is this: it’s not going to be bloodless. The war on terror is probably not going to end,” McKenzie said Thursday.

He also expressed “great concern” about the ability of the Afghan government to protect the U.S. Embassy once U.S. troops leave, suggesting that the security situation there could have implications for the U.S. military’s ability to continue training Afghan forces and conducting oversight of funding for them.

Also during the hearing…: At the same hearing, lawmakers were told that the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Somalia has hindered intelligence gathering, making continued U.S. counterterrorism operations more difficult.

“There's no denying that the repositioning of forces out of Somalia has introduced new layers of complexity and risk,” U.S. Africa Command chief Gen. Stephen Townsend told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Our understanding of what's happening in Somalia is less now than it was when we were there on the ground physically located with our partners.”

In the final months of his tenure, former President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race Iran says onus is on US to rejoin nuclear deal on third anniversary of withdrawal Assaults on Roe v Wade increasing MORE ordered almost all of the 700 U.S. troops that were in Somalia to withdraw. The troops were in Somalia to help local security forces fight al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab and the local ISIS affiliate.

Changes ahead?: Trump framed the move as part of his efforts to end "forever wars," but most of the U.S. troops that left Somalia were repositioned to other nearby countries such as Kenya and Djibouti and have continued to conduct operations inside Somalia.

The Biden administration is in the midst of a review of U.S. military posture around the globe that could result in a reversal of Trump’s withdrawal or other changes to the U.S. military footprint in Africa.

 

AUSTIN: CLIMATE CRISIS ‘EXISTENTIAL’ THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinWill deterrence work, when our foes wage war disguised as peace? Overnight Defense: Former Navy secretary reportedly spent .4M on travel | Ex-Pentagon chief Miller to testify on Jan. 6 Capitol attack | Austin to deliver West Point commencement speech White House posts visitor logs for first time since Obama MORE on Thursday called climate change an “existential” threat to U.S. national security, committing the Pentagon to “doing our part” to alleviate it.

“Today, no nation can find lasting security without addressing the climate crisis. We face all kinds of threats in our line of work, but few of them truly deserve to be called existential. The climate crisis does,” Austin said during an international climate summit hosted by the White House.

“The climate crisis is a profoundly destabilizing force for our world. As the Arctic melts, competition for resources and influence in the region increases. Closer to the equator, rising temperatures and frequent and intense extreme weather events in Africa and Central America threaten millions with drought, hunger, and displacement,” he added.

New pledges: Biden began the virtual summit with a pledge to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by the year 2030, more than double the Obama administration’s commitment under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. 

Notably, the summit took place on the fifth anniversary of the signing of the agreement, which former President Trump pulled the United States from in 2019. Biden reentered the U.S. in the agreement in January. 

Biden also announced a new international climate finance plan meant to eventually double U.S. financing for climate-related programs in developing countries and put limits on international investment in fossil fuels. 

Growing damage: The Defense Department in just the past few years has seen its own fair share of climate change impacts on military installations – including heavy downpours, drought, rising temperature and sea level and repeated forest fires - which Austin listed off in his speech.

Among them was 2018’s Hurricane Michael, which “inflicted billions of dollars of damage at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida,” he said.

Severe flooding of the Missouri River in 2019, meanwhile, damaged Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., costing hundreds of millions of dollars to repair.

“The wildfires in California have threatened other military installations, forcing repeated evacuations. Typhoons in Guam most commonly occurred from June to December, but in February of 2019, Typhoon Wutip forced us to pause exercises with our Australian and Japanese allies,” Austin added.

DOD efforts: As part of that, the Pentagon in January announced that it will now consider climate change when planning war games and will incorporate the issue into its future National Defense Strategy. 

The Defense Department in March also announced the creation of a working group to respond to Biden’s executive orders aimed at addressing the climate crisis.

 

ARMY REVIEWING AFTER 4 BLACK SOLDIERS HARASSED AT IHOP

Officials at a Virginia military base are conducting an internal review after TikTok videos showed a woman harassing several Black soldiers at an IHOP before cursing out another patron who intervened.

Two TikTok videos filmed by one of the four soldiers, all of whom remained unnamed, shows a white woman coming over to the seated soldiers and addressing them as "shitbags."

The woman continues cursing at the soldiers, with her reasoning unclear, as they ask her to leave them alone. In a second video, a larger non-uniformed male patron, who was identified in the video as a retired airman, confronts her and demands that she leave before the woman threatens to engage in a physical altercation.

An ‘internal review’: An official at Fort Belvoir, where the four men are stationed, confirmed in a statement to The Hill on Thursday that the base was conducting an "internal review" of the incident.

"We are committed to fostering an environment of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our force. A view of the video will show the Soldiers maintained their composure and military bearing throughout this shocking incident," said Joe Richard, public affairs director for Fort Belvoir, calling the soldiers well-trained and disciplined.

"The Garrison has the incident under internal review," the spokesperson added.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a webinar on “Securing Critical Minerals Supply Chains," at 9 a.m. 

The Heritage Foundation and Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service will hold a webinar on “U.S. Intelligence: How Does It Adapt to a Rapidly Changing National Security Landscape?" with former Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Steve Cambone, at 12 p.m. 

The Henry L. Stimson Center will hold a webinar on ‘The Intersection of Technology and National Security,” at 1 p.m. 

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research will hold a virtual discussion on “The Outlook for Air and Space Power,” with Royal Air Force Chief of the Air Staff Mike Wigston, at 2 p.m.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: US general: Syrian missile strike in Israel was 'incompetence,' not attack

-- The Hill: US closely watching Russia plan to draw down troops near Ukraine

-- The Hill: Russia says it is ending military buildup at Ukrainian border

-- The Hill: Lawmakers told Russia likely behind suspected directed-energy attacks on US troops: report

-- The Hill: Israel, Syria trade strikes targeting nuclear reactor, air-defense systems

-- The Hill: Lawmakers slam DHS watchdog following report calling for 'multi-year transformation'

-- The Washington Post: Post-riot effort to tackle extremism in the military largely overlooks veterans

-- The Associated Press: US troops in Afghanistan begin packing gear in pullout prep