Overnight Defense: Top US commander in Afghanistan departs | US sends delegation to Haiti after request for troops | Senate Dems propose $1.3B for Pentagon in Capitol security bill

Overnight Defense: Top US commander in Afghanistan departs | US sends delegation to Haiti after request for troops | Senate Dems propose $1.3B for Pentagon in Capitol security bill
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Happy Monday 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 United States hit one of its last major milestones in its Afghanistan withdrawal Monday.

Gen. Scott Miller, who has led the U.S. war effort since 2018, handed over the reins to U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie, who will oversee any remaining U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan from his headquarters in Florida.

Officially, the U.S. withdrawal will not be over until Aug. 31. But the departure of the last in-country commander of troops brings a symbolic end to America’s longest war.

So long, but not goodbye? At a change-of-command ceremony in Kabul, McKenzie held the transition marked a new phase for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, but not an end.

“This ceremony marks an important milestone in the transition of our involvement in Afghanistan, but it’s not the end of the story. It’s rather the end of a chapter,” McKenzie said.

"You can count on our support in the dangerous and difficult days ahead. We will be with you," he added.

Miller, for his part, marked the sacrifices of U.S., Afghan and allied troops over the course of the war.

“Our job now is just not to forget,” Miller said. “With the families that have lost people across this conflict, it will be important to them as they know that someone remembers, that someone cares and we’re able to talk about it in the future.”

Miller’s hard job: Miller, whose three years in command made him the longest serving U.S. commander in Afghanistan, oversaw a particularly tumultuous period of the war.

He was in command as former President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE negotiated with the Taliban on a withdrawal deal, and he has been overseeing the final withdrawal that President BidenJoe BidenCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes MORE ordered in April.

In his farewell speech, Miller noted he’s one of the few U.S. military officers to have spoken with the Taliban, saying “the violence that has been going on is against the will of the Afghan people and it needs to stop.”

McKenzie’s new job: McKenzie’s new role will have four focuses: protecting the U.S. diplomatic mission, securing the Kabul airport to enable the diplomatic mission, continuing to provide advice and assistance to Afghan forces and supporting U.S. counterterrorism efforts. 

In addition to McKenzie, Rear Adm. Peter Vasely will lead the troops protecting the U.S. Embassy, a mission the Pentagon has dubbed U.S. Forces Afghanistan Forward.

What’s the Taliban’s goal? At a Pentagon press briefing after the command change, the department’s top spokesperson said it was “clear” the Taliban believe it can win the war militarily.

“It is clear from what they are doing that they have governance designs, certainly, of a national scale,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said about the Taliban. “It is clear from what they are doing that they believe there is a military solution to the end of this conflict.”

"They have clearly have governance designs of a national character because you can see it in the districts that they are trying to challenge and/or have occupied," he added.

US DELEGATION GOES TO HAITI, BUT NOT PENTAGON

U.S. officials traveled to Haiti on Sunday and met with authorities leading an investigation into the assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, as well as the country’s acting prime minister, the White House said Monday.

Officials from the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and State, as well as the White House National Security Council (NSC), traveled to Haiti to review the country’s security and assist with the investigation.

NSC spokeswoman Emily Horne said that U.S. officials met with acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph and Prime Minister-Designate Ariel Henry in a joint meeting “to encourage open and constructive dialogue to reach a political accord that can enable the country to hold free and fair elections.” The U.S. delegation also met with Joseph Lambert, who leads Haiti’s Senate.

“The delegation reviewed the security of critical infrastructure with Haitian government officials and met with the Haitian National Police, who are leading the investigation into the assassination,” Horne said.

No DOD reps: The trip came after Haiti requested help from U.S. troops to guard critical infrastructure as the country grapples with unrest following Moïse’s assassination last week.

But there were no Pentagon officials in the delegation, Kirby confirmed at Monday’s briefing.

Stiil, Kirby said, the Pentagon is continuing to review Haiti’s request “just like we would review any request for U.S. military assistance.”

Foreign policy challenge: The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant and Laura Kelly took a look Monday at how the turmoil in Haiti is presenting the Biden administration with a new and complicated foreign policy crisis.

Regional experts are raising alarm that the president’s murder, while extraordinary, is only one part of Haiti’s ongoing hardships that threaten a broader humanitarian crisis and possible flood of refugees into neighboring countries, including the United States.

Haiti is also contending with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Atlantic hurricane season and a plague of gang violence, all of which have been made worse by the country’s dysfunctional political system.

“It is a tinderbox really ready to explode,” said Jenna Ben-Yehuda, president and CEO of the Truman National Security Project.

SENATE DEMOCRATS RELEASE CAPITOL SECURITY BILL

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' MORE (D-Vt.) unveiled Monday his $3.7 billion proposal to beef up Capitol security.

Of note for defense watchers, the bill includes $1.83 billion for the Pentagon.

That includes the $521 million to cover the cost of the National Guard’s deployment to the Capitol after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Guard officials have warned they will have to start canceling training in August without the funding.

The other $1.3 billion for the Pentagon would cover COVID-19 costs, including $761 million to cover shortfalls in military healthcare funding and $549 million to cover personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

Afghan visas: While ostensibly a Capitol security bill, the proposal also folds in reforms to the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Afghans who helped U.S. troops lawmakers have been pushing to speed application processing amid the withdrawal.

Specifically, the bill would 20,000 visas to the program, postpone the required medical exam until applicants and their families arrive in the United States, changing the employment requirement for eligibility from two years to one, removing the requirement for a credible sworn statement regarding the threat an applicant faces and providing for special immigrant status to spouses and children of murdered applicants, among other changes.

The bill also includes $100 million in emergency aid for Afghan refugees.

GOP proposal: The bill Leahy released Monday is a response to a Senate GOP proposal for Capitol security funding that was released Friday.

The Republican bill proposed $632 million: the $521 million for the National Guard, as well as $97 million for the Capitol Police and $15 million for the Architect of the Capitol. 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for several nominees, including Navy secretary nominee Carlos Del Toro, at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3r5gEAs

The House Appropriations Committee will mark up the fiscal 2022 defense appropriations bill, as well as the Homeland Security appropriations bill, at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2U3Bhkr

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the fiscal 2022 budget request for fixed-wing tactical and training aircraft programs with testimony from defense officials at 3 p.m. https://bit.ly/3wDyXOl

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinFar-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol Capitol Police swear in state, local law enforcement ahead of 'Justice for J6' rally Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake MORE will speak at the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence's 2021 Global Emerging Technology Summit at 4 p.m. https://bit.ly/3ebf62E

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Bipartisan group calls on Biden to clarify reasoning for Syria airstrikes

-- The Hill: China says its military 'drove away' US warship

-- The Hill: Senate Armed Services chair: 'I think Kabul will hold'

-- The Hill: Panetta calls on Biden to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for military

-- Reuters: Afghan special forces moved in on Taliban, only to find they had melted away

-- Marine Corps Times: Marine Raider gunny busted to private but no discharge in Green Beret hazing death

-- Bloomberg: F-35 closes in on new timeline for combat test once set for 2017