Happy Friday 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: The truth may be out there, but we still don’t quite know what the truth is.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released its much-anticipated report on UFOs -- or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) if you’re the government -- on Friday.
The report confirmed that the U.S. government has had 144 UFO sightings since 2004.
But U.S. intelligence agencies have only been able to identify one of the 144 objects. Turns out, it was a “large, deflating balloon,” according to the report.
What are the others?: The report offered several options for what the 143 other objects could be and said there probably isn’t one explanation for all of them.
Some of the possibilities the report raised include airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, top secret U.S. government programs and foreign adversary systems.
But it also left open the door to “other” explanations -- a category that could include aliens.
“Although most of the UAP described in our dataset probably remain unidentified due to limited data or challenges to collection processing or analysis, we may require additional scientific knowledge to successfully collect on, analyze and characterize some of them,” the report said.
Background: The 9-page unclassified assessment came at the direction of lawmakers who inserted the requirement for the report into last year’s intelligence authorization bill amid an uptick in UFO sightings by U.S. military aviators.
Public interest in and acceptance of the existence of UFOs has peaked in recent months as anticipation for the ODNI report built up. Interviews where military pilots described seeing objects in the sky that they said defied explanation, as well as leaked video, stoked imagination further.
Lawmaker reaction: “For years, the men and women we trust to defend our country reported encounters with unidentified aircraft that had superior capabilities, and for years their concerns were often ignored and ridiculed,” Senate Intelligence Committee vice chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who championed the reporting requirement, said in a statement Friday.
“This report is an important first step in cataloging these incidents, but it is just a first step,” he added. “The Defense Department and Intelligence Community have a lot of work to do before we can actually understand whether these aerial threats present a serious national security concern.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) similarly said in his own statement that Friday’s “rather inconclusive report only marks the beginning of efforts to understand and illuminate what is causing these risks to aviation in many areas around the country and the world.”
GHANI MAKES THE ROUNDS IN DC
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wrapped up two days of meetings with lawmakers and administration officials Friday, capped with a visit to the White House to meet with President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE.
At the meeting, Biden pledged the United States would remain committed to Afghanistan with political and economic support even as the U.S. military withdraws from the country.
“The senseless violence has to stop, but it’s going to be very difficult,” Biden said. “But we’re going to stick with you, and we’re going to do our best to see to it you have the tools you need.”
Ghani’s view: Earlier in the day, Ghani held a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal Pentagon admits 'tragic mistake' in strike that killed 10 civilians MORE at the Pentagon.
At that meeting, Ghani brushed off concerns that his government could fall as soon as six months after U.S. troops depart.
“There have been many such predictions and they have all proven, turned out, false,” Ghani said when reporters asked about the U.S. intelligence assessment.
Ghani also refuted the idea that the United States is walking around from his country is
“The false narrative of abandonment is just false,” Ghani said.
At the White House, he also compared his country to pre-Civil War America, saying Afghanistan is in an “1861 moment, like President Lincoln, rallying to the defense of the republic, determined that the republic is defended.
“It's a choice of values, the values of an exclusionary system or an inclusionary system,” Ghani continued. “We are determined to have unity, coherence, national sense of sacrifice and will not spare anything."
MILLEY VS. CONSERVATIVES CONT.
Conservatives are still fuming over Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Pentagon admits 'tragic mistake' in strike that killed 10 civilians The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Washington braces for Jan. 6 rally MORE’s impassioned defense of being well-read, including studying critical race theory.
Among the latest attacks on Milley was Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonStefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right 90 percent of full-time Fox Corp. employees say they're fully vaccinated: executive MORE, who on his show Thursday night called the nation’s highest-ranking military officer a "pig" and "stupid.”
Former President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE -- who chose Milley for the job of Joint Chiefs chairman -- also got in on the action Friday, saying in an interview with Newsmax that Milley’s speech was “pathetic.”
Dispatch from the culture wars: The Milley row is just the latest example of conservatives trying to pull the military into their culture wars.
We took a look at the trend -- as well as how the Pentagon is punching back -- over here, if you’d like to catch up.
ON TAP FOR MONDAY
Reps. Rob WittmanRobert (Rob) Joseph WittmanOvernight Defense: House Armed Services starts defense bill markups | Two Navy sailors die of COVID-19 | Pentagon reimposes mask mandate in some places Passport backlog threatens to upend travel plans for millions of Americans Overnight Defense: Intel releases highly anticipated UFO report | Biden meets with Afghan president | Conservatives lash out at Milley MORE (R-Va.) and Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherBipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader 20,000 Afghan evacuees housed at military bases in five states: report Absent Democrats give Republicans new opening on Afghanistan MORE (R-Wis.) will speak about “The US Maritime Industrial Base and Competition with China” at virtual Hudson Institute event at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/3gWlHjl
-- The Hill: Roughly 650 troops to stay in Afghanistan after withdrawal: report
-- The Hill: Senators propose bill to help tackle cybersecurity workforce shortage
-- The Hill: Administration says it can work with Russia on key Syrian crossing point
-- USNI News: Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan now in the Middle East to cover Afghanistan withdrawal
-- Associated Press: Afghans who worked as interpreters for US troops hold rally
-- Inside Defense: Senators holding Kendall nomination over defense contractor ties and F-35 training center decision