Overnight Defense: Watchdog blasts government's handling of Afghanistan conflict | Biden asks Pentagon to look into mandatory vaccines | Congress passes new Capitol security bill

Overnight Defense: Watchdog blasts government's handling of Afghanistan conflict | Biden asks Pentagon to look into mandatory vaccines | Congress passes new Capitol security bill
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Happy Thursday 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 independent watchdog created by Congress to scrutinize the war in Afghanistan eviscerated the U.S. government’s handling of the conflict and said such mistakes are certain to be repeated.

John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), said shifting goals, unrealistic timelines and an influx of untracked money led to an ineffective Afghan security force that has floundered against the Taliban as the U.S. military gets closer to leaving the country by the end of August.

Repeated mistakes: And he said U.S. officials are unlikely to learn from those failures.

“Don't believe what you're told by the generals, or the ambassadors, or people in the administration saying we’re never going to do this again. That’s exactly what we said after Vietnam. We’re never going to do this again. Lo and behold we did Iraq. And we did Afghanistan. We will do this again,” Sopko told reporters during a media call.

The latest report: Sopko’s comments are largely reflected in SIGAR’s latest quarterly report, released earlier Thursday, which details the state of Afghanistan as U.S. forces leave the country after 20 years of fighting the Taliban. President Biden has set an Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal.

The new report from SIGAR warns the Afghan government could face an “existential crisis” if recent territorial gains by the Taliban are not reversed.

Between March and May, there were nearly 10,400 enemy attacks, about 1,000 more than the same time period in 2020 and 3,000 more than the same period in 2019, according to SIGAR.

At least 26 insider attacks were reported between April 1 and June 30 — as the U.S. military pulls out of the country — killing at least 81 Afghan troops and wounded 37 others. 

Afghan military deaths “have shown an upward trend, especially during the month of June,” U.S. Forces-Afghanistan told SIGAR, according to the report

Why it didn’t work: Sopko pointed to too short timelines and constantly shifting goals as the biggest reasons for the issues in the country.

He also said the U.S. “didn’t focus on logistics.”

“Every time we had a problem with the Afghan military we changed the goal posts in how we were rating them ... and made it easier to show success,” Sopko said.

He went on to say that when officials could no longer hide the lack of progress — despite providing more than $837 billion for reconstruction efforts — “they classified the assessment tool.”

“So, they knew how bad the Afghan military was. And if you had a clearance, you could find out, but the average American, the average taxpayer, the average congressman, the average person working in the embassy wouldn’t know how bad it was,” he said.

Read the full story here.

 

BIDEN WANTS PENTAGON TO LOOK INTO MANDATED COVID-19 SHOTS

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 on Thursday will ask the Defense Department to look into “how and when” it will mandate service members get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the White House.

“Today, the president will announce that he is directing the Department of Defense to look into how and when they will add COVID-19 vaccination to the list of required vaccinations for members of the military,” the White House said in a fact sheet released ahead of a speech Biden gave Thursday afternoon about steps he's taking to encourage more vaccinations.

“This is particularly important because our troops serve in places throughout the world—many where vaccination rates are low and disease is prevalent,” it added.

Add it to the list?: The Defense Department already requires service members to get more than a dozen vaccines, including shots for measles, mumps, diphtheria, hepatitis, smallpox and the flu.

But it has so far not mandated the COVID-19 vaccine while it remains under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) emergency use authorization. Instead, the department has been strongly encouraging troops to take the vaccine and has said that mandating it is an option after it receives full FDA approval.

“If these vaccines are approved by the FDA, then the secretary will certainly talk to the services and health care professionals here at the department to determine what the best options are going forward, which could include making them mandatory,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said earlier this month.

A new surge, a new push: But amid a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant and low vaccination rates in some parts of the country, the administration has been searching for new ways to encourage vaccinations.

Biden’s announcement on the Defense Department will come in the same speech he is announcing that federal employees will be required to attest to being fully vaccinated or else face weekly or twice weekly COVID-19 testing.

 

HOUSE, SENATE PASS $2.1B CAPITOL SECURITY BILL, SENDING TO BIDEN

The House on Thursday cleared a $2.1 billion emergency spending bill that includes funding for the Capitol Police in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Passage of the bill by a vote of 416-11 came shortly after the Senate advanced the measure hours earlier in a 98-0 vote. The bill now heads to President Biden for his signature.

Six Democrats and five Republicans voted against the bill in the House.

Fast moves: Lawmakers wanted to act quickly ahead of the Capitol Police potentially facing a funding shortfall in August that could lead to furloughs.

The House and Senate action comes just two days after senators reached a bipartisan deal, after talks had dragged on for weeks since the lower chamber passed a $1.9 billion Capitol security package in May.

What’s in it: The package cleared on Thursday provides the Capitol Police with $70.7 million for overtime pay, retention bonuses, equipment and mental health services. It also includes $300 million to harden windows and doors around the Capitol complex and install new security cameras.

Another $521 million would go toward reimbursing the National Guard for deploying its members to the Capitol for months after Jan. 6 to help support the enhanced security demands.

The measure also includes $1.125 billion for Afghan refugee resettlement and would provide 8,000 Afghan special immigrant visas to relocate people who helped the U.S. military.

What’s not: The compromise Senate measure lacks some of the provisions included in the original House bill, such as creating a rapid response force within the National Guard to back up the Capitol Police in emergency situations and resources for prosecuting the people in the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

NAVY CHARGES SAILOR IN DAYS LONG SHIP FIRE LAST YEAR

The Navy said it is bringing arson charges against a sailor in last July's four-day fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard that ended up destroying the amphibious assault ship.

On Thursday, the Navy announced it would charge the sailor “in response to evidence found during the criminal investigation” into the fire, which started on the Bonhomme Richard on July 12, U.S. 3rd Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Sean Robertson said in a statement.

“Evidence collected during the investigation is sufficient to direct a preliminary hearing in accordance with due process under the military justice system,” Robertson said.

The few details: The Navy did not name the sailor, but said the individual was a member of the ship's crew at the time. The fire started when the ship sat in port at Naval Base San Diego.

The blaze injured 63 people, including 40 sailors and 23 civilians, and rendered the ship unsalvageable.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a virtual 11th annual South China Sea Conference, with Rep. Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaConservative group targets Spanberger, Luria in new ads ahead of reconciliation bill Virginia races offer an early preview of Democrats' midterm challenges House panel approves B boost for defense budget MORE (D-Va.), at 8:30 a.m.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (D-Va.), will join veterans group, VoteVets, to speak on the importance of bringing Afghan translators here to safety as the war in Afghanistan ends at 9:30 a.m. in Washington, D.C., to be streamed live here.

 

ICYMI

– The Hill: Special Forces soldier drowns during training in Key West

– The Hill: Top Biden adviser: Passing infrastructure deal is 'urgent national security imperative'

– The Hill: Mexico says security initiative with US doesn't work, is 'dead'

– The Hill: US planning to target Iran drone, guided missile programs with sanctions: report

– The Hill: Dozens of Afghan civilians killed by flooding in Taliban-enforced areas

– The Hill: Taliban claim responsibility for Afghan comic's death

– The Hill: Opinion: Break glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change

– Stars and Stripes: The US military couldn’t stop the heroin trade from funding the Taliban. But synthetic opioid producers might.

– The Associated Press: Heartbroken parents to sue a year after 9 troops died at sea