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: The operation to evacuate Afghans who helped U.S. troops now has a name and a week when it will start, but other details are still pretty slim.
The Biden administration formally announced “Operations Allies Refuge” on Wednesday and said the United States would begin evacuating Afghans who are in the midst of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) application process the last week of July.
But for other details, including when specifically flights will start, how many people will be evacuated and where they are being taken to, the White House declined to comment, citing “operational security.”
Officials tapped: Tracey Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kosovo, is leading a State Department coordination unit to run Operation Allies Refuge, the White House said. The unit also includes representatives from the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
Deputy homeland security adviser Russ Travers is also coordinating the interagency policy process on Operation Allies Refuge.
Pentagon role: The Pentagon has identified installations outside the United States where the Afghans could be sent, but no final decisions have been made on where to send them, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a briefing Wednesday afternoon.
The department has also been looking at the potential to house some people at military installations inside the continental United States, Kirby confirmed, saying "we're trying to provide as many options to the State Department-led effort as we can."
The department has also started an "action group" to help identify Afghans who worked with the U.S. military but are not yet in the SIV program, Kirby said, though he stressed, as the White House did, that the evacuations would be begin with those who are already in the middle of the application process.
The U.S. military has not been asked to provide transportation for the Afghans to get out of the country, nor has it been asked to help Afghans who live outside of Kabul make the journey to the capital for the flights, Kirby added.
Guam or the ‘Stans?: That Jacobson is leading the effort could indicate where the administration is looking to send the evacuees.
The administration has reportedly asked three Central Asian countries near Afghanistan — Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — to take in the evacuees while they wait for their visas to be processed.
But lawmakers and advocates have been pushing for Guam, citing the historical precedent of sending South Vietnamese refugees there during the fall of Saigon in 1975. Additionally, advocates say, using a U.S. territory would allow the Afghans to have legal protections they wouldn’t have in a third country, such as being able to apply for asylum if their SIV applications are denied.
White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiWhite House debates vaccines for air travel France's Macron to speak to Biden about submarine deal Why does Biden's vaccine mandate not apply to welfare recipients and others? MORE would not say Wednesday whether Guam remains an option for the administration, saying she would not "rule in or rule out any places."
"The security and safety of the individuals who are relocating is of utmost focus and concern," she said at a press briefing.
Reaction: While advocates and lawmakers welcomed Wednesday's announcement, they also continued to press for further details.
“It’s heartening to hear that something might be happening, but it’s quite disappointing to not hear any actual details about who is going to be evacuated, where they are going to go and what’s going to happen to the folks that are not evacuated,” Sunil Varghese, policy director with the International Refugee Assistance Project, told The Hill, adding that such information is vital to those in Afghanistan who are waiting.
"I hope to see more details on the number of those being evacuated, how they are being prioritized, how the United States is helping them safely travel to evacuation sites given the Taliban’s gains, and an expedited timetable," added Waltz, a retired Green Beret. "We must also prioritize helping those in Afghan civil society, especially women, who may be outside of the SIV requirements but that the Taliban will continue to target.”
IN OTHER AFGHANISTAN NEWS
Gen. Scott Miller, who until Monday led U.S. troops in Afghanistan, is back in Washington, D.C., and was slated to meet with President Biden at some point Wednesday.
Biden is meeting with Miller to thank him for his “extraordinary service in Afghanistan,” Psaki said in a statement to reporters Wednesday afternoon.
“As the final commander of the Resolute Support Mission, General Miller oversaw the vast majority of our drawdown from Afghanistan, which is a particularly vulnerable period for our troops,” Psaki continued. “That this drawdown has been conducted in such an orderly and safe way is a testament to General Miller’s leadership, and the President looks forward to personally thanking him later today.”
The timing of the private meeting is unclear.
Miller arrived at Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday morning and was greeted by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley. The two leaders shook hands with Miller and the group exchanged brief words before departing the tarmac.
Bush speaks: Also Wednesday, former President George W. Bush said he thinks the withdrawal is a mistake in rare comments on one of his successors’ moves on the war he started.
Asked during an interview with German news network DW whether he thinks it is a mistake to withdraw, Bush replied, “I think it is, yeah, because I think the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad. I’m sad.”
“Laura and I spend a lot of time with Afghan women and they’re scared and I think about all the interpreters and all the people that helped not just U.S. troops but NATO troops and it seems like they’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people. It breaks my heart,” he added.
PENTAGON NOMINEE WITHDRAWS
Biden’s nominee to be the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer has withdrawn from consideration amid an inspector general investigation into his tenure as the head of a Defense Department unit that serves as an emerging technologies incubator.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed Wednesday that Michael Brown withdrew from consideration to be under secretary of Defense for acquisitions and sustainment in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“In his letter, he cited his concerns over the lengthy process of the investigation and his desire not to slow up the work of the department, but I would refer you to Mr. Brown for more comment on that,” Kirby said at a press briefing.
Background: Since 2018, Brown has led the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), a Silicon Valley-headquartered office launched during the Obama administration to help connect the Pentagon to private sector innovation and help accelerate the department’s adoption of emerging technologies.
In April, Defense One reported the Pentagon’s inspector general was looking into allegations that Brown circumvented federal hiring regulations while at the DIU.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyAides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims Mullen defends Milley's conversations with China as 'routine' Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake MORE will speak at a ceremony marking full operational capability of NATO's Joint Force Command Norfolk in Virginia at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3i8lnxj
— The Hill: Taliban takes border post with Pakistan
— The Hill: Pence urges Biden to get tough on China amid 'emerging cold war'
— The Hill: Rouhani warns Iran could enrich uranium at weapons-grade levels
— New York Times: Pushing beyond sex assault, Gillibrand faces resistance to military bill
— Defense News: A dozen of Biden’s national security nominees are on hold in the Senate
— Washington Post: Military’s effort to reduce deadly vehicle accidents deemed inadequate
— Task and Purpose: The Air Force’s anti-beard policy is actually damaging airmen’s careers