Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating — fast

Happy Wednesday 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 Taliban on Wednesday seized three more provincial capitals in Afghanistan, the latest areas that military forces have taken as the United States completes its withdrawal from the country.

Taliban fighters on Wednesday completed their takeover of Afghanistan’s northeast, successfully securing nearly two-thirds of the country, according to The Associated Press.

Faizabad, the capital of the northeastern province of Badakhshan, was captured as President Ashraf Ghani’s forces attempted to defend one of the country’s largest cities, Reuters reported.

Provincial council member Jawad Mujadidi said that the Taliban first began to seize Faizabad before launching Tuesday’s offensive.

Experts give grim prediction: The news comes as officials say Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul could fall to the Taliban earlier than experts had initially believed when the U.S. military began to withdraw from the country after 20 years.

Officials familiar with the matter told The Washington Post that the U.S. military has assessed that a collapse could occur within the next 90 days. Others told the newspaper that a collapse could occur within the month.

The Post notes that intelligence officials in June had initially assessed that Kabul could fall within six months

“Everything is moving in the wrong direction,” one official told the Post.

The Pentagon’s response: Press secretary John Kirby later on Wednesday said he would not comment specifically about intelligence assessments in the country.

“We continue to monitor the situation in Afghanistan closely. We are mindful of the deteriorating security situation and our focus right now remains on supporting the Afghan forces in the field where and when feasible from the air as well as completing our drawdown in a safe and orderly way,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.

A struggling government force: The Afghan government has struggled to maintain control without the support of U.S. military forces. President Biden on Tuesday called on the country’s officials to fight for their home, noting that he did not regret the decision to withdraw. 

How much do the Taliban control now?: A European Union official on Tuesday said that the Taliban is believed to now control 65 percent of Afghanistan. On Wednesday it was reported that the military group had seized three more provincial capitals, with the Afghan government being forced to withdraw security forces from hard-to-defend areas in order to shore up resources.

White House pushes back: White House press secretary Jen Psaki also shot back at concerns that Kabul’s fall is inevitable.

“The president continues to believe that it is not inevitable that the Taliban takes over Kabul or the country and that they need to show political will at this point to push back,” Psaki told reporters.

Elsewhere in the country: Also on Wednesday, hundreds of Afghan security forces surrendered to the Taliban near the northern city of Kunduz, which was seized by the militant group earlier this week.

The Washington Post reports an entire Afghan army corps surrendered to the Taliban and handed over valuable equipment, including weapons and vehicles.

Kunduz provincial council member Zargul Alemi said that local elders had previously met with Afghan security forces and asked them to surrender, as the Taliban had pledged not to harm them. According to Alemi, a small faction of security forces retreated to nearby mountains after some others agreed to surrender.

On Sunday, it was reported that the Taliban had seized Kunduz, which serves as an important commercial hub near the border with Tajikistan. Many residents reportedly attempted to flee the city shortly before the Taliban descended upon it. 

COAST GUARD LACKS DIVERSITY IN HIGHER RANKS

Research commissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard found that racial and ethnic minorities and women are underrepresented throughout the military branch, though the lack of diversity is especially prominent among senior leadership. 

The Wednesday report, conducted by the RAND Corporation’s Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC), found that while 42 percent of all U.S. service members are racial or ethnic minorities, these groups make up just 31 percent of the Coast Guard. 

Hopeful signs of change: The HSOAC reported some hopeful signs in the branch’s diversity and inclusion efforts, including that the Coast Guard outperforms benchmarks for racial and ethnic diversity among enlisted men, though this is not the case for Asians and Pacific Islanders. 

Additionally, the report said that the Coast Guard has more non-minority female officers than any other U.S. military branch. 

Shortfalls: However, HSOAC reported shortfalls in the military service’s ability to attract “eligible, service-inclined women,” and said it does not have “adequate representation of Black men or women from racial or ethnic minority groups.” 

The group also found that the higher the rank within the Coast Guard, the less representation there is for women and racial and ethnic minorities. 

Focus groups and surveys conducted among active-duty personnel found that few say that the career advancement process within the Coast Guard is fair, and that there is a pervasive “lack of trust in leaders at all levels about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues and about implementation of processes designed to protect against discrimination.” 

More steps needed: Nelson Lim, the report’s lead author, said in a statement included with its findings that the “lack of diversity in the Coast Guard is cumulative and compounds with every step in the career lifecycle.” 

“As a result, the number of women and racial and ethnic minorities in the pool of potential leaders narrows at each stage and results in a less diverse senior leadership,” Lim added. 

He said that the “bottom line is that the Coast Guard needs to take much more decisive action to meet executive and congressional branch demands to improve diversity top-to-bottom.” 

Recommendations: Lim noted that while Coast Guard leadership has shown a willingness to improve diversity and inclusion within the branch, he argued there is “no quick fix” and that it will “take years of consistent, comprehensive effort to make lasting changes.”

The report included dozens of recommendations for the Coast Guard, including implementing “data-driven outreach policies,” committing to “reevaluate current eligibility requirements, and adapt advertising strategies to help recruit a more diverse base.”   

 ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Potomac Officers Club will hold a virtual forum on “How the Army will drive future capabilities,” with Christopher Lowman, senior official performing the duties of the Army undersecretary; and Gen. John Murray, commander of U.S. Army Futures Command, at 8 a.m. https://potomacofficersclub.com/events/poc-2021-6th-annual-army-forum/?nowprocket=1&utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20081121_08/11/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

Former national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will speak at the Woodrow Wilson Center Asia Program’s virtual discussion on nearly 20 years of U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, with focus on the U.S. withdrawal and its implications, at 10 a.m. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/hindsight-front-afghanistan-ambassador-mark-green-conversation-hr-mcmaster?rid=78393&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20081121_08/11/2021

ICYMI

— The Hill: Lawmakers raise concerns over federal division of cybersecurity responsibilities

— Army Times: Not shocking: Most of the Army’s tasers don’t work

— Stars and Stripes: Longer hair and scalp tattoos: Air Force’s dress-and-appearance rules to change this fall

— The New York Times: Fear sets in as Taliban seize former bastions of resistance

— Military.com: A former command chief sexually harassed airmen and made racist remarks. The Air Force moved him to another leadership post.

 

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