Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Taliban targets Afghan air force pilots | Haiti requests US security forces amid turmoil

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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: Each day seems to bring more grim news out of Afghanistan.

On Friday, that included a chilling report from Reuters on a Taliban campaign to assassinate Afghan air force pilots.

The air force is one of the Afghan government’s main advantages over the Taliban, though there have been questions about how long it can last without the U.S. contractors who have been maintaining the planes.

In an effort to take away that advantage, the Taliban is targeting the pilots, who take years to train and are hard to replace.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to Reuters the insurgents started a program that will see Afghan Air Force pilots “targeted and eliminated because all of them do bombardment against their people.”

How much does the Taliban control?: Also Friday, the Taliban claimed they now control 85 percent of Afghanistan — though that is far more than other estimates.

The assertion was made by a Taliban negotiator during a news conference in Moscow, where a senior Taliban delegation was visiting this week to offer reassurances the insurgents’ recent gains will not threaten Russia or its Central Asian allies.

According to Long War Journal, which is maintained by Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Taliban controlled 204 of 398 districts, or just over half, as of Monday. The Taliban is contesting another 124 districts, according to the tracker.

Asked about the Taliban claim in a CNN interview Friday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said he was “not in a position to quantify or to validate” it.

Security ‘deteriorating’: While Kirby wouldn’t confirm how much territory the Taliban controls, he did acknowledge a “deteriorating security situation” in Afghanistan.

“What we have seen is a deteriorating security situation on the ground, no question about that, that the Taliban continues to take district centers,” Kirby told CNN. “We are seeing them continue to advance on district centers around the country, and it is concerning.”

But he also added that “claiming territory or claiming ground doesn’t mean you can sustain that or keep it over time.”

 

HAITI REQUESTS US SECURITY FORCES

The Biden administration has received a request from Haiti to provide U.S. security forces to the Caribbean nation to guard critical infrastructure, according to two congressional sources, as the country grapples with an unpredictable security situation following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse earlier this week.

US troops or not?: A congressional source told The Hill that the request for U.S. forces was “a bit generically mentioned.”

“It’s kind of been framed in this bucket of U.S. security assistance where in reality the Haitian government made a request for U.S. troops,” the source said.

“The scope of the mission was in terms of protection of some critical facilities but there was no number of duration attached to it.”

A second congressional source said there is confusion over the specific request, and that the French word for “troops” can also refer to police, which could be fulfilled by law enforcement.

The request could encompass U.S. troops guarding Haiti’s air and seaports as well as its gasoline reserves, according to The New York Times, which first reported the potential for U.S. troops on the ground.

What the administration says: The Biden administration did not comment on specifics of the assistance it is providing to Haiti, but said that the U.S. is responding to requests from Haitian police for investigative and security assistance, with senior FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials being dispatched to the country.

“In response to the Haitian government’s request for security and investigative assistance, we will be sending senior FBI and DHS officials to Port-Au-Prince as soon as possible to assess the situation and how we may be able to assist,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday.

“We’re providing resources in terms of women and man power, but also financial resources is part of what our objective is as well,” she added.

The FBI said in a statement to The Hill that “the Haitian government requested assistance today from U.S. law enforcement with the investigation into President Moise’s assassination. The FBI is currently engaging with the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and our law enforcement partners to determine how we can best support this effort.”

Human rights concerns: The request for outside security forces is already raising concern among human rights groups and advocates for Haiti.

“I don’t think that we need outside forces to come in and provide ‘security’ to Haiti, we know and we have the history of the U.N. forces and the aftermath of all of those,” said Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit groups. 

Jozef was referring to United Nations peacekeepers who introduced a cholera epidemic in the country following the 2010 earthquake.

Further, an academic investigation in 2019 also found that international peacekeepers fathered and abandoned hundreds of children in the impoverished country. 

“So we understand that there is a need for collaborations with the Haitian people, so that they can be safe and protected. However, we do not believe that there should be outside forces,” Jozef added. 

 

BUSY DEFENSE AGENDA AHEAD

Congress begins to return from its Independence Day recess next week, with several defense items on its agenda.

In the Senate, the Foreign Relations Committee will have its closed-door briefing on repealing the 2002 and 1991 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF) on Monday evening. Briefers include officials from the State and Defense departments.

This is the briefing Republicans requested when they asked the committee to delay its consideration of the bill to repeal the AUMFs. The briefing will also discuss the recent U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, according to the committee.

On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee is slated to hold a confirmation hearing for several nominees, including Navy secretary nominee Carlos Del Toro. It’s likely to be the last confirmation hearing before the committee formally begins work on the annual defense policy bill the following week.

In the House: The main defense action in the House next week is the full Appropriations Committee’s markup of the fiscal year 2022 defense spending bill. Recall that the defense subcommittee advanced the bill before the break.

The full committee markup is scheduled for Tuesday, alongside the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security. 

 

ICYMI

— The Hill: US nears endgame in Afghanistan

— The Hill: Pentagon eyes places to send Afghan interpreters as Biden pledges evacuations by end of July

— The Hill: Biden nominates Garcetti as ambassador to India

— The Hill: US, Russia cooperation extends access to key Syrian humanitarian crossing

— Time: Inside one combat vet’s journey from defending his country to storming the Capitol

— Foreign Policy: Afghan foreign minister: ‘It will not be just a civil war’

— Defense One: Another free-falling Chinese rocket body hit Earth last week

— New York Times: Chief Guantánamo prosecutor retiring before Sept. 11 trial begins

— Associated Press: Afghan warlord slams govt, quick US goodbye

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