The mental scars of Afghanistan
It's Thursday, welcome to Overnight Defense, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.
The Pentagon is promising more mental health outreach after Afghanistan’s collapse.
Security screenings of Afghan evacuees are finding some flags.
And the House Armed Services committee approved its massive defense policy bill in the wee hours of the morning.
Let’s get to it.
Help is available
Since the Taliban overran Afghanistan last month after 20 years of U.S. involvement in the country, reports have surfaced of service members and veterans in despair.
The top general in the United States said yesterday, he shared their “pain and anger.”
In conjunction with Suicide Prevention Month in September, the Pentagon is promising to ramp up mental health outreach to veterans and service members who were involved in Afghan war.
“We want to make clear that there are resources available. And I think you'll hear more from department leadership communicating that across the force,” Pentagon press secretary John KirbyJohn KirbyErdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — The Quad confab Top nuclear policy appointee removed from Pentagon post: report MORE told reporters Thursday.
“We all recognize that the events in just the recent past, certainly the last month or so, will factor in and potentially bear heavily on some of our Afghan war vets,” he added.
One evacuee in custody
One person evacuated from Afghanistan to a U.S. military base in Germany is in custody after failing a security screening but is not believed to be a “high threat,” the top U.S. general in Europe said Thursday.
Speaking via video conference to reporters at the Pentagon, U.S. European Command chief Gen. Tod Wolters would not elaborate on the man in custody, saying such information is “protected.”
But the general said he is “currently in the appropriate custody of U.S. interagency officials, and Germany has been very, very cooperative, and we are still working his background investigation.”
Secondary screening: In addition to the person in custody, 58 Afghans have been flagged for additional screening, but Wolters said he expects that “all 58 will probably clear.”
“If an individual pops red, we calmly take them out of the normal processing line, and we put them in a different location so that we can have some isolation and have a little bit of extra time to make sure that everybody is as safe and secure as possible,” he said.
The process: Wolters said Thursday the processing includes initial screening of biometric and biographical information in Defense Department, Customs and Border Protection and FBI databases so that “we comprehensively scrutinize their background” before the evacuees are sent to sleeping quarters.
There’s also another biometric and biographical check before individuals leave the bases to ensure the evacuees “continue to remain in the green,” Wolters said.
BY THE NUMBERS
Wolters also offered a breakdown of how many Afghans have come and gone to bases under his purview. Per the general:
- 155 flights have brought in 38,000 Afghan evacuees.
- As of the time of the briefing, 12,000 Afghans were at Ramstein Air Base in Germany; 5,000 evacuees at Rhine Ordnance Barracks in Germany; 2,500 at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy; and 1,800 at Naval Station Rota in Spain.
- 16,000 Afghans have left Europe and gone to the United States
While you were sleeping
Just after 2:30 a.m. Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee approved its National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Partisan debates became heated as the night wore on, and the final vote was divided mostly along party lines, 57-2.
Democratic California Reps. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHouse passes sweeping defense policy bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Iron Dome funding clears House Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Defense bill takes center stage MORE and Sara Jacobs were the only “no” votes. They opposed the $25 billion price hike we told you about in Wednesday’s newsletter.
If you missed all the excitement while you were sleeping, we’ve got you covered here.
Afghanistan: As expected, Afghanistan was a major feature of the end of the night, as Republicans tried to pin down Democrats on breaking with President BidenJoe BidenFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push Protesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system MORE.
Many of the amendments Republicans offered were uncontroversial and bipartisan, including requirements for reports on military equipment abandoned in Afghanistan, the security situation in Afghanistan and threats posed by al Qaeda.
Democrats also offered some of their own amendments, including one from Rep. Jason CrowJason CrowOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates Bipartisan momentum builds for war on terror memorial Democrats face full legislative plate and rising tensions MORE (D-Colo.) to require a report on plans for “over the horizon” counterterrorism operations, continued efforts to retrieve Americans and Afghan allies left in the country and other areas.
But a couple of the debates got a bit heated, including when Rep. Michael WaltzMichael WaltzGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization How lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan MORE (R-Fla.) offered an amendment to declare Congress “has lost confidence in President Biden’s ability to perform his duties as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces.”
Democrats shot that down in 28-31 party-line vote.
CRT: Republicans also sought to inject their culture wars into the defense bill debate, including offering amendments that would have banned the military, its service academies and Defense Department-funded grade schools from the “promotion” of what one of the measures described as “anti-American and racist theories, such as ‘critical race theory.’” The amendments failed in party-line votes.
Space Command: As part of a large package of amendments considered uncontroversial, the panel also approved a measure aimed at stalling the relocation of U.S. Space Command from Colorado to Alabama.
The amendment from Rep. Doug LambornDouglas (Doug) LambornDefense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan House committee votes to temporarily postpone Space Command relocation Democrats defeat GOP effort to declare 'lost confidence' in Biden after Afghanistan withdrawal MORE (R-Colo.) would block funding for the move until the inspector general and Government Accountability Office have finished their investigations into the decision to move the headquarters to Alabama.
No more generals: The committee also approved an amendment to make it harder to appoint a recently retired general as Defense secretary by increasing the cooling-off period to 10 years and requiring a two-thirds vote in Congress to waive the law.
The amendment comes after Congress granted both Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Gen. Milley faces his toughest day yet on Capitol Hill Republican lawmakers warn against more military coordination with Russia MORE and former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisFormer Defense Secretary Mattis testifies in Theranos CEO trial 20 years after 9/11, we've logged successes but the fight continues Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan MORE waivers to bypass the current law barring recently retired generals from leading the Pentagon.
WOMEN COULD HAVE TO SIGN UP FOR DRAFT
The committee also approved an amendment that would require women to register for the draft.
The panel voted 35-24 to approve an amendment from Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) that would strike references in the law requiring a “male citizen” register for the Selective Service System and replace it simply with “citizen.”
“By reforming the Selective Service to be gender-neutral based registration, we draw on the talents of our entire nation in the time of a national emergency,” Houlahan said. “The current male-only registration sends a message to women not only that they are not vital to the defense of the country, but also that they are not expected to participate in defending it.”
Likely approval: Recall that the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a matching amendment in its NDAA in July.
That means it's likely the provision will be in the final product that’s signed into law.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
- Foreign correspondents will discuss the effects of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan at a virtual National Press Club event at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/3kM6xOh
WHAT WE’RE READING
- GOP senators call on Biden to release info on Americans, visa applicants left in Afghanistan...
- Taliban, rebels both claim to inflict heavy losses during fighting in holdout province…
- 9/11 community members ask DOJ watchdog to investigate FBI's handling of evidence…
- Opinion: Appoint an 'Afghanistan commission' now
- Military.com: After outcry from female vets in Congress, Pentagon revives committee on women in service
- Associated Press: Those left in Afghanistan complain of broken US promises