Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon works to evacuate US troops' families

Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon works to evacuate US troops' families
© Greg Nash

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The Pentagon is moving to help family members of U.S. troops still in Afghanistan to evacuate.

We’ll share details of the effort plus worrying military movements in Russia along its border with Ukraine and recent satellite images that show China has built Navy ship mock-ups for possible target practice.

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

Let’s get to it.

Memo details help for stuck family members 

Months after the U.S. military pulled all military personnel from the country, the Pentagon is moving to help family members of U.S. troops still in Afghanistan evacuate. 

In a Thursday memo provided to The Hill, the Pentagon instructed all U.S. military personnel or Department of Defense (DOD) civilian employees with immediate family members in Afghanistan who are seeking evacuation to contact a DOD-associated email address as part of a new database.

The instructions: They were instructed to use the subject “DoD Immediate Family Member,” and be prepared to pass along the individuals’ names, contact information, location, passport details and national identification card particulars.

Obstacles: The memo, first reported by NBC news, noted the obstacles on the ground.

“Given the current situation in Afghanistan and the absence of an in-country U.S. embassy presence, there are a number of challenges related to departures of Afghan nationals, including those of unique interest to DoD,” the document added.

More comments from the Pentagon: Asked about the memo on Monday, Pentagon press secretary John KirbyJohn KirbyLawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine Overnight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia Russia sends troops to Belarus for war games MORE said he did not have updated numbers on how many such individuals would fall under that effort, but said officials expect “dozens” of service members to have family members still in the country.

He said the memo encourages military personnel and DOD civilians with immediate family members to contact the Pentagon’s policy office and “to make it clear that we would facilitate passing that information on to the State Department action group that's working this - their care team - so that we can nest all that into an integrated interagency effort to help these people get out of the country.”

‘A more deliberate effort’: A defense official told NBC that the memo, issued by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, illustrates “a more deliberate effort at the DOD level” to examine how many people are still in the country.

“There is an increased desire to make sure that as we make this push that we have every situation accounted for,” the official said, adding that the Pentagon is taking efforts to “expand the reach” to ensure that family members of Defense Department personnel are receiving assistance.

Read the full story here.

DHS STREAMLINING PROCESS FOR AFGHAN RESETTLEMENT

Once Afghan evacuees make it out of the country, the Biden administration will waive some fees for individuals as they seek work permits and otherwise try to gain residency in the U.S. after a rushed evacuation.

The government will waive fees for both applications as well as the biometric testing required to proceed.

The move comes as some 70,000 Afghans have arrived in the U.S., many “paroled” into the country through a temporary waiving of immigration laws that allows those who would not otherwise qualify to enter the U.S. to formalize their status later.

Evacuees will also be able to apply for expedited processing to get their work permits or adjust their immigration status.

The intended purpose: Both are designed to ease the transition for a group that left in chaos that ensued during the U.S.'s exit from the country, with many who left unable to fully secure Special Immigrant Visas for those who assisted the U.S. military due to yearslong backlogs. 

Read the full story here.

CIA head raises ‘serious’ concerns with Putin 

CIA Director William Burns reportedly discussed U.S. concerns regarding Russia's military buildup at the Ukrainian border last week during a rare direct discussion with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinIran announces naval drills with Russia, China Blinken calls for 'global action' against Russia amid Ukraine tensions Putin's options extend well beyond invasion MORE.

"It would be foolish for us not to be considering the possibility of an invasion or incursion," a source told CNN regarding the "serious concerns" of the U.S.
Putin's spokesperson Dimitry Peskov confirmed on Monday that “such a conversation took place via telephone.”

What else was discussed: “Peskov added that the leaders discussed "bilateral relations, the crisis situation in the diplomatic practice, and an exchange of views on regional conflicts."

"Of course, cybersecurity issues were also mentioned," he said.

The Pentagon’s response: In a press briefing on Monday, ​​Pentagon press secretary John Kirby called the military buildup “concerning” and confirmed that the U.S. is watching the matter "closely."

“I'm not going to get into intelligence assessments from the podium, particularly in quantifying this,” Kirby said. “We continue to see concerning movements by the Russian military in their western areas and around Ukraine. We continue to call on them to be clear about what their intentions are, what they're actually doing and to abide by the Minsk agreements and to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.”

Read more details here.

From the weekend: China triggers fears

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley testifies before the House Armed Services Committee on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan on September 29, 2021.

China’s military buildup and its push to develop nuclear-capable missiles is unnerving Congress and U.S. defense officials alike.

America’s defense establishment has watched threats from Beijing rapidly grow in multiple areas, including recent hypersonic missile tests, an expanding nuclear arsenal, strides in space and cyber and seemingly daily threats to Taiwan.

“We’re witnessing one of the largest shifts in global geo-strategic power the world has witnessed,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyJournalist Robert Costa leaving Washington Post for CBS News The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Voting rights week for Democrats (again) Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE said Wednesday when speaking about China’s recent military advances.

Why this matters: A potential shift in the global balance of power is worrisome to U.S. officials and lawmakers.

For decades, America has held the stance of the world's foremost economic and military power. A shift to China, while not a direct threat, could upend alliances in the Indo-Pacific region at a time when U.S. and Chinese militaries increasingly butt heads in the South China Sea.

Outpacing: Outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten last week said that the pace at which China is developing military capabilities is “stunning,” and on track to surpass the United States “if we don't do something to change it.”

A major example of the speed at which Beijing is moving was a test in August of a hypersonic weapon that partially orbited Earth, reentered the atmosphere and rocketed toward its target, which it missed by less than 30 miles. 

Milley called the test “very concerning” and “very close” to being a “Sputnik moment,” referring to the Soviet Union's 1957 launch of the world’s first space satellite that gave Moscow a lead in the space race and shocked the United States.

Stewart, who has received the vaccine, told the AP that he wanted the Biden administration to delay potentially firing employees and for more exceptions to be granted.

Read the full story here.

SATELLITE IMAGES CATCH CHINA’S POSSIBLE US NAVY SHIP MOCKUPS

Satellite images captured by a Colorado-based company show China has built mock-ups of a pair of U.S. Navy ships for possible target practice for a future naval clash as tensions have risen between the two countries.

The images were captured by satellite imagery company Maxar Technologies on Sunday and show the outlines of a U.S. aircraft carrier and a destroyer sitting on a railway track, The Associated Press reported.

The Colorado-based company identified the location as Ruoqiang, a Taklamakan Desert county in the northwestern Xinjiang region.

The independent U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) said on its website the U.S. ship mock-ups are a part of a new target range developed by China’s People’s Liberation Army.

Read about that 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. See you Tuesday.