Overnight Defense & National Security — Blinken heads to the hot seat

Overnight Defense & National Security — Blinken heads to the hot seat
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Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Diplomats express 'frustration' to Blinken over Havana syndrome skepticism: report Biden's post-Afghanistan focus on China is mostly positive so far MORE is set to appear before both chambers of Congress as questions remain on the Biden administration’s messy Afghanistan withdrawal and the future of those left behind in the war-torn country.

We’ll share how many people are still in the country, the efforts to facilitate their exit and what lawmakers want to know.

For The Hill, we’re Ellen Mitchell and Rebecca Kheel. Write to us with tips: emitchell@thehill.com and rkheel@thehill.com

Let’s get to it.

Afghanistan hearings set to kick off 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will appear before lawmakers on Monday to answer questions about the State Department’s role in the evacuation of Afghanistan.

The hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee will kick off what is likely to be a number of hearings about the administration’s handling of the end of the United States' longest war. 

Few details: The State Department has yet to release a number of details about its planning for the Afghanistan withdrawal or offer a full accounting of the 124,000 people the U.S. evacuated.

Sharp questioning ahead: Committee Chairman Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksGroups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war Meeks on being mistaken for a staffer: 'Glad I still blend in with the cool kids' Blinken grilled in first hearing since Afghanistan withdrawal MORE (D-N.Y.) in mid-August requested Blinken as well as Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinSchumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates Diplomats express 'frustration' to Blinken over Havana syndrome skepticism: report MORE appear before the committee.

“The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly changing and it is imperative that the administration provide the American people and Congress transparency about its Afghanistan strategy,” Meeks said at the time.

Blinken is likely to face sharp questioning from both sides of the aisle, particularly from members who had been urging the State Department to speed processing of Special Immigrant Visa applications for those who assisted the U.S. military.

“The security and humanitarian disaster unfolding was avoidable, and it was caused in large part by the acts, omissions, and delays from the State Department which you lead,” the committee's ranking member, Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHouse passes bill to compensate 'Havana syndrome' victims McCaul pressures State to formalize ties to outside evacuation groups Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (R-Texas), wrote in an Aug. 20 letter to Blinken asking the State Department to turn over a number of documents. 

A Senate hearing too: Blinken will also appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 14 to testify about the administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

It was the first scheduled public hearing with administration officials since late last month, when the Biden administration was caught off guard by the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and military and the advance of the Taliban into Kabul. 

Blinken is the only witness currently listed for the hearing. A spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian  Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (D-N.J.) didn't immediately respond to a question about potential testimony from additional administration officials. 

The total so far: White House officials said that since Aug. 14, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of about 105,000 people out of Afghanistan. Since the end of July, approximately 110,600 people have been relocated. 

On Thursday from 3 a.m. EDT to 3 p.m. EDT alone, about 7,500 people were evacuated from Kabul. Roughly 5,100 people were carried on 14 U.S. military flights and 2,400 people on 39 coalition flights. The U.S. topped 100,000 people evacuated since Aug. 14 on Thursday.

QUESTIONS REMAIN

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is over, but congressional oversight has just barely begun.

Lawmakers continue to have lingering questions about a withdrawal that saw the deaths of 13 U.S. service members, as well as scores of Afghans, and are promising hearings and probes in the coming weeks.

Already one House committee has moved to try to compel answers, advancing a defense policy bill last week that would require reports on everything from the decision to leave Bagram Air Base to what military equipment was left behind.

Read more on the five questions about the withdrawal lawmakers want answered.



Biden asks for funding to help bring 95,000 Afghans to US

The Biden administration is planning to ask Congress for funding to bring some 95,000 Afghans to America and assist in resettling them — a sign both of U.S. commitments to allies and the likelihood that efforts to evacuate them will linger for months.

How much?: The White House is asking for $6.4 billion through a continuing resolution to fund ongoing efforts to get allies and other vulnerable Afghans out of the country.

What would it do?: A senior administration official said those funds would be used to help bring 65,000 Afghans to the U.S. by the end of September as well as another 30,000 who may come over the course of the next year.

“The majority of the funds requested are for DOD and State to support overseas sites, like Ramstein in Germany, and sites in the United States as well as transportation for allies and partners between those overseas sites and the United States,” the official said on the call, referring to the departments of Defense and State.

The senior administration official said the funding would also be used to continue to house Afghans who arrive in the U.S. — often at military bases — before they are connected with various resettlement agencies.

In for the long haul: The funding indicates that so-called lily pad sites, overseas bases used to house evacuated Afghans as they await vetting to enter the U.S., will be operational for months on end.

The official said the funding for the overseas sites “shows the commitment to continue that work to ensure that we have the facilities that will be necessary so that individuals who do continue to depart from Afghanistan have certain locations to which to go for the same process that those already evacuated have gone through, including the critical step of security screening and vetting.”

The details: The funding request includes $2.4 billion for Defense Department bases and personnel while $1.3 billion would go to the State Department for its resettlement efforts.

Also included in the request is $815 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide humanitarian assistance funding and $1.7 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to provide refugee services.

As of last week, there were nearly 40,000 evacuated Afghans waiting abroad to enter the U.S. Those in Qatar have complained about the extreme heat, as well as a limited number of bathroom facilities.

 

Public input wanted for Confederate-named bases redo 

A congressionally mandated commission is seeking public input on new names for military bases and ships that bear Confederate monikers.

The Naming Commission, as the panel is informally known, put out a call on its website Monday for recommendations from the public for new names for at least 10 Army bases and two Navy ships.

"As we work with the local communities, we welcome input from the American public," retired Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, the commission’s chairwoman, said in a statement. "This feedback will help us determine names that appropriately reflect our military today and recognize the courage, values and sacrifices of our military men and women."

A bit of background: The commission — officially called the Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America — was created by last year’s defense policy bill over the veto of then-President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE.

After last year’s nationwide racial justice protests reinvigorated efforts to reckon with the legacy of slavery and take down monuments honoring the Confederacy, lawmakers in both parties argued that it’s far past time for the military to remove names honoring those who fought against the United States.

The focus: The Naming Commission’s initial focus is on Forts A.P. Hill, Bragg, Lee, Rucker, Benning, Gordon, Hood, Polk, Belvoir and Pickett, the USNS Maury, and the USS Chancellorsville.

Of the bases, only Fort Belvoir is not named after a Confederate leader. But the base was added to the list for renaming because in the 1930s, officials changed the name from Camp A. A. Humphreys, which honored a Union general, to the name of the plantation that originally sat at the site.

Another base that’s named after a Confederate military officer, Camp Beauregard, does not fall within the commission’s authority because it is owned by the Louisiana National Guard.

Potentially hundreds of changes: While public attention has largely focused on the Army bases being renamed, the legislation that created the commission requires scrubbing Confederate names from any “base, installation, street, building, facility, aircraft, ship, plane, weapon, equipment or any other property owned or controlled by the Department of Defense.”

Earlier this year, Howard predicted that when streets, buildings and other smaller assets are accounted for, the number of items that need to be renamed “potentially could run into the hundreds.”

Read the rest here.

VETS GRAPPLE WITH NEW AFGHANISTAN

Veterans are grappling with the fallout from the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan that ended the nation’s longest running war but also left the Taliban in control.

Afghanistan war veterans who spoke to The Hill said they have spent the past few weeks questioning their military service, while some said they have also tried to help get Afghan allies out of the country. Groups that work with veterans say processing the withdrawal has been difficult for many who fought there over the past two decades.

Increased calls: David Maulsby, executive director of PTSD of America Foundation, said his organization has received more calls to its crisis hotline from Afghanistan veterans who are “really, really angry with what they have seen on television the last couple of weeks.”

“What they're angry about is that so many of the men, women, children that they met while they were there, many of them who served them while they were there in Afghanistan, were just left behind and the process of trying to get those SIVs out there was an unmitigated disaster,” Maulsby said, referring to special immigrant visa holders, many of whom worked for the U.S. government at some point during the 20-year war.

“They are absolutely furious, not only with the administration but with the hierarchy, the military. They are just absolutely beside themselves,” he added.

Read the full story here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

 

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. We’ll see you Wednesday.