Overnight Defense & National Security — GOP unhappy with Afghan vetting

Overnight Defense & National Security — GOP unhappy with Afghan vetting
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It's Thursday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Republican lawmakers are not happy with the vetting process for Afghan refugees, claiming that several steps were delayed or sometimes skipped.

We’ll share what their concerns are, plus the details on Taiwan’s president confirming that U.S. troops have indeed been on the island training Taipei’s forces.

For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Write to me with tips: emitchell@thehill.com.

Let’s get to it.


Republicans say steps in vetting skipped, delayed 

An internal memo drafted for GOP members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee warned that the “standard security screening and vetting process” for refugees, including validating identification documents and in-person interviews by a trained official, is “not being followed for Afghan refugees.”

“In fact, federal officials relayed information about the process to Committee staff that raised a number of questions about the adequacy of the screening and vetting being conducted,” reads the memo, which was obtained by The Hill.  

A critical stance: Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for the vetting process of Afghan refugees, while raising concerns about welcoming refugees into the U.S.

Biden administration pushes back: The U.S. officially withdrew from Afghanistan on Aug. 31, ending the nation’s longest war. More than 124,000 people were evacuated as part of the effort, the vast majority of which were Afghans. 

Biden administration officials have called out the GOP for hypocrisy.

“Many of the same people criticizing us for bringing in Afghans were on TV calling for us to evacuate as many Afghans as possible in August,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne told The Hill in a statement.

Screening measures solid: When refugees arrive at military bases overseas, biographic and biometric data is collected and fed into a series of government databases used for screening purposes, a White House official told The Hill on Thursday. Those that are cleared to enter the U.S. then board a flight and go through additional screening when they land.

Refugees that are flagged at any point of the process are then interviewed by law enforcement personnel.

Ten evacuees who made it into the U.S. have been flagged for being a security risk, the Journal reported.

Who wrote the memo?: The memo was drafted by GOP aides to the committee who traveled to Dulles Airport in Virginia, the Fort Lee Air Base in Virginia, the Ramstein Air Base in Germany and the Rota Naval Base in Spain earlier this month.

The aides based their memo solely on interviews conducted with federal agents at the sites who are tasked with screening refugees.

Read the full story here.


Taiwan confirms presence of US troops

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen confirmed the presence of U.S. troops on the island during an interview with CNN published on Thursday.

Tsai was asked if U.S. military support included sending service members to help train Taiwanese troops, as The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, drawing objections from China.

“Well, yes, we have a wide range of cooperation with the U.S. aiming at increasing our defense capability,” she answered.

Numbers kept under wraps: “How many U.S. service members are deployed in Taiwan right now?” CNN’s Will Ripley asked her.

“Not as many as people thought,” she said.

Counting on Washington: Tsai added that she has faith that the United States would assist Taiwan if China tried to assert itself against the island, which Beijing considers part of its sovereign territory. 

“I do have faith and given the long term relationship that we have [with] the U.S. and also the support [of] the people of the U.S. as well as the Congress, and the administration has been very helpful,” she said.

The Pentagon’s response: "I would like to highlight that our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China and is in line with our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act and our One China policy," Pentagon spokesperson John Supple told The Hill in a statement, adding that he had no comment on specific training, operations or engagements.

Some background on the relationship: The U.S. has operated under a policy of “strategic ambiguity” with Taiwan. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act allows for Washington to “make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.”

While the legislation does not officially recognize the island nation, it does allow for unofficial relations between the U.S. and Taiwan to be established.

Read the full story here.



The defense minister of Taiwan on Thursday said that the island cannot rely on others for protection and must depend on itself as military tensions between China and Taiwan have grown in recent weeks, The Associated Press reported.

Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Taiwan’s Defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said, “The country must rely on itself, and if any friends or other groups can help us, then it’s like I said before, we’re happy to have it, but we cannot completely depend on it,” according to the news outlet.

Read that story here.


Bolton: ‘Critical’ for US to handle multiple strategic priorities 

Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former Trump administration national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonEquilibrium/Sustainability — Fire calls infrastructural integrity into question Will Biden's 2021 foreign policy failures reverberate in 2022? Biden is losing contest of wills with Iran over nukes MORE said on Thursday it is "critical" that the U.S. becomes capable of handling more than one strategic defense priority at a time, saying the White House cannot disregard one priority for the sake of another.

Bolton gave his thoughts on the state of U.S. security while speaking to The Hill's Steve Clemons for its "A More Perfect Union" event.

When asked by Clemons if he had any concerns about the U.S.'s ability to establish strategic priorities, Bolton said, "I think the United States can handle more than one strategic priority."

Where to focus?: "It's certainly the highest priority to focus on the threat of China. I consider it existential in this century, not just for the United States, but for the West as a whole. But that doesn't mean you can disregard other threats, and Afghanistan and the broader Middle East are excellent examples of that."

Read the full story here.




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