Overnight Defense: Afghan evacuees to be housed at Virginia base | Biden looks to empty Gitmo

Overnight Defense: Afghan evacuees to be housed at Virginia base | Biden looks to empty Gitmo
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Happy Monday 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 Biden administration plans to send the first group of Afghans - who are being evacuated amid threats to their lives for helping U.S. troops during the war - to a military base in Virginia, a congressional aide notified about the plans confirmed Monday.

Spokespeople for the State and Defense departments later also announced the plans to send the first group of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants to Fort Lee, Va.

"These are brave Afghans and their families, as we have said, whose service to the United States has been certified by the embassy in Kabul, and who have completed thorough SIV security vetting processes," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a news briefing. "They will be provided temporary housing and services as they complete the final steps in the special immigrant process."

The plan: Up to 2,500 Afghans who are in the "very final stages" of applying for SIVs are expected to be sent to Fort Lee while they wait for "final medical screenings and final administrative requirements," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at separate briefing. That includes 700 SIV applicants, while the rest are their family members.

Because they are near the end of the process, the Afghans are likely to only stay at the base for "several days or so," Kirby added.

Some of the 2,500 may also be sent to other military bases inside the United States in addition to Fort Lee as the Pentagon continues to look at options to house SIV applicants, Kirby said.

Earlier: The news, which was first reported by Reuters, comes after the Biden administration last week formally announced “Operation Allies Refuge,” which officials said would start evacuations at the end of July.

Sending the Afghans to Fort Lee represents a shift from the administration’s initial statements on looking to send them to third countries or U.S. facilities outside the continental United States.

But the Pentagon last week did say it also started looking at facilities within the continental United States in order to give the State Department, which is leading the operation, as many options as possible.

Other groups sent elsewhere: The Pentagon is continuing to look into overseas facilities to house Afghans who are less further along in the visa process than the group coming to Virginia and so need "additional security vetting," Kirby said Monday.

Plans are underway to relocate about 4,000 applicants and their family members outside the United States, Price said.

This group has passed the “chief of mission screening” process, Price said, but has yet to complete the more vigorous security clearance vetting process to come to the United States, which can take several months. 

Why Fort Lee?: For those coming to Fort Lee, the Pentagon will provide food and water, "appropriate medical care" if needed and "as much comfort as we can provide," such as providing access to religious facilities, Kirby said. The department will not need to build new housing for them on the base, he added.

Asked why Fort Lee was chosen as the initial site to house the Afghans, Kirby said the base "just made a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons."

Kirby declined to say when the first group would arrive at Fort Lee, citing security concerns.

The background: The Biden administration has faced increasing pressure from lawmakers and advocates to evacuate Afghans who served as interpreters or otherwise helped the U.S. military during the war as the United States nears its final exit from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years.

The pullout from America’s longest war is about 95 percent done, with President BidenJoe BidenUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Biden to tap law professor who wants to 'end banking as we know it' as OCC chief: reports MORE setting an official deadline of Aug. 31 for the end of the withdrawal.

 

BIDEN LOOKS TO EMPTY GITMO

The White House is considering “all available avenues” to transfer prisoners and close the Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba, press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions Democratic anger grows over treatment of Haitian migrants MORE told reporters on Monday.

“Our goal is to close Guantanamo Bay,” Psaki said at a briefing. “I don’t have a timeline for you. As you know, there’s a process, there are different layers of the process, but that remains our goal and we are considering all available avenues to responsibly transfer detainees and of course close Guantanamo Bay.”

Her comments came the same day that the Biden administration announced its first transfer of a detainee from the military prison, whittling the number of remaining prisoners down to 39.

More on the transfer: U.S. officials announced Monday that Abdul Latif Nasir, 56, would be repatriated to Morocco. The Periodic Review Board decided in 2016 that Nasir’s detention was no longer necessary to protect U.S. national security. Psaki noted Monday that Nasir started moving through the process under the Obama administration but that his case was paused under former President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE, who was determined to keep the prison open.

Of the 39 remaining detainees, 10 are eligible for transfer, 17 are eligible for a Periodic Review Board, 10 are involved in the military commissions process, and two have been convicted, Psaki noted.

Review ongoing: The Biden administration launched a review of Gitmo in February shortly after President Biden took office with the intention of closing the prison by the time Biden leaves office.

But no timeline: Psaki noted on Monday that Biden cannot order the prison closed on his own and that it requires notifications and consultations with Congress. She twice declined to lay out a specific timeline.

“I don’t have a new deadline to outline for you here today,” Psaki said.

Also by The Hill: 

-- Biden administration transfers first Guantanamo Bay detainee

 

 

 

FROM THE WEEKEND: FUNDING FIGHT IMPERILS NATIONAL GUARD

National Guard training and maintenance operations are in danger over a stalemate in Congress on Capitol security funding legislation.

The Guard’s deployment to the Capitol in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection left it with a $521 million bill that, absent new funding from Congress, it has had to pay out of its existing budget.

That means, officials are warning, the Guard will have to nix weekend drills, annual training and planned maintenance in August and September.

Cancelations looming: Already, processes are in motion that could lead to those events being canceled as lawmakers struggle to find a way forward on legislation that would reimburse the Guard.

“The sooner Congress acts, the better,” said John Goheen, a spokesperson for the National Guard Association of the United States. “Yesterday would not be soon enough because the wheels are already turning.”

“Many states have already gone through the process of looking at how much money they're down and then, what they have to cancel,” he added. “And they’ll have to make a choice between what they absolutely have to do and what they really should be doing.”

Read the full story here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association will hold a virtual discussion with Steve Mapes, chief of the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency's Office of Small Business Programs, at 9 a.m. 

The Henry L. Stimson Center will hold a virtual discussion on “Voices from Japan: U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation in the Maritime Domain,” with former Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Adm. Tomohisa Takei; and former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, at 9 a.m. 

Senate Armed Services subcommittees will continue markups of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, with an open hearing by the subcommittees on readiness and management support and the subpanel on personnel, beginning at 9:30 a.m. in Russell Senate Office Building, room 106. 

The House Armed Services Committee will hear from defense experts on “Non-Governmental Views on the Fiscal Year 2022 Department of Defense Budget,” at 10 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. 

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations will hold a virtual discussion on the new report, "Iran and U.S. strategy: Looking Beyond the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” at 10 a.m. 

Former White House Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes will speak at the Atlantic Council on "lessons for U.S. foreign policy,” at 12 p.m. 

A House Armed Services subpanel will hold a hearing on “The Findings and Recommendations of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military,” with Kathleen Hicks, deputy secretary of defense; Lynn Rosenthal, chair, Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military; and other commission members at 2 p.m. in Rayburn 2118. 

Adm. Robert Burke, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe/U.S. Naval Forces Africa, and commander of Allied Joint Forces Command Naples will speak the U.S. Navy Memorial “SITREP series” virtual discussion at 2 p.m. 

The Senate Armed Services subcommittees will continue with closed hearings by the subcommittees on airland; emerging threats and capabilities; and seapower, beginning at 2:15 p.m. in Russell 106. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Afghan, Taliban officials meet in Qatar amid US troop withdrawal

-- The Hill: Biden administration investigating cases of 'Havana syndrome' in Austria

-- The Hill: Biden opens new cyber fight with China

-- The Hill: US, allies blame China-linked hackers for Microsoft Exchange breach

-- The Hill: Biden administration eyeing new sanctions on Iran oil sales if nuclear talks fail: report

-- The Hill: Haiti acting prime minister says he will step down, ending power struggle 

-- Stars and Stripes: What happened to Pat Tillman’s jersey? Here’s how the last Americans at Bagram Airfield rushed to secure mementos 

-- Military.com: President of Defense Department's Medical School Steps Down Amid Controversy