Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia

Kremlin Pool Photo via Associated Press
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has in recent years sought to outpace the U.S. in the hotly contested space domain.

It’s Tuesday, 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.

The White House has warned that Russia could carry out an attack on Ukraine “at any point.” We’ll share the steps the Biden administration is taking to try to prevent such an outcome, plus the new location where Russia is moving its troops.

We’ll also look at details of a new watchdog report that predicted the collapse of Afghanistan’s air force and an effort from some GOP lawmakers to press the administration on U.S. weapons left behind in Afghanistan.

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

Let’s get to it.

 

US: Russia could attack Ukraine ‘at any point’ 

Underscoring the immediacy of the threat, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that the U.S. believes that Russia could carry out an attack on Ukraine “at any point.”

“Our view is this is an extremely dangerous situation. We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine,” Psaki told reporters at a briefing, adding later that her language was “more stark than we have been.”

An upcoming meeting: Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday as the U.S. seeks to ward off an invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which has amassed 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine and recently moved forces to Belarus for joint military drills.

TimingThe meeting follows high-level diplomatic talks between U.S. and Russian officials and NATO in Europe last week. Blinken and Lavrov spoke by phone on Tuesday and agreed to meet.

Blinken’s plan: Blinken plans to urge the Russians to deescalate the situation and take the diplomatic path offered by the U.S. and its allies, Psaki said, reiterating that there would be significant economic consequences should Russia choose to invade Ukraine.

“It is up to the Russians to determine which path they are going to take, and the consequences are going to be severe if they don’t take the diplomatic path,” Psaki said.

Previous threatsPresident Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin on a video call in December that Russia would face sanctions if it invaded Ukraine and that the U.S. would move to bolster NATO’s eastern flank and increase military aid to Ukraine in the event of an invasion.

Psaki on Tuesday disputed reports that cutting Russia off from the SWIFT global banking system was off the table.

“No option is off the table, in our view,” she said.

Read the full story here.

RUSSIA SENDS TROOPS TO BELARUS FOR WAR GAMES

Russian officials on Tuesday said Moscow is sending its troops to Belarus for joint military drills, a move that will place more Kremlin troops and equipment near Ukraine as Western nations fear an invasion.

Russia and Belarus will participate in drills involving exercises to “thwart and repel a foreign aggression,” according to Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin, as reported by The Associated Press.

More details: Russia, which has already has already begun moving its troops and equipment for the war games — to include a dozen Su-35 fighter jets — expects to have its forces in place in the second week of February, with the drills to take place Feb. 10-20, according to Fomin.

The Pentagon’s response: Later Tuesday, when asked whether the Pentagon had assessed the movements to Belarus, press secretary John Kirby said he would not comment on the operations and exercises of another country and that the Russians “can certainly speak for themselves in that.”

Kirby added that officials “continue to see a sizable force presence by the Russian armed forces in the western part of their country, around the northeastern border with Ukraine,” which “continues to be concerning to us.”

Read the full story here.

Read more coverage on Russia here: 

 

Watchdog predicted Afghan air force collapse 

The U.S.’s watchdog for Afghanistan predicted the collapse of Afghanistan’s air force months before U.S. troops withdrew.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) revealed its findings in a report that it first issued to the Department of Defense in January 2021 but was not publicly released until last Wednesday. 

According to that report, the Afghan Air Force continued to struggle with a host of issues, including leadership challenges, aircraft misuse, and a dependence on contractors for support. 

‘Well aware’: Army Maj. Rob Lodewick, a Defense Department spokesperson, told The Hill in a statement that the department is “well aware” of the report and the issues facing the Afghan Air Force at the time.  

“DoD has long-acknowledged the important role the [Afghan Air Force] had within the [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] and its efforts/ability to secure Afghanistan, the need and importance of continued funding and maintenance, logistics and training support, and the challenges faced with continuing such support amidst a withdrawal of on-ground forces,” Lodewick said. 

The main issues: According to SIGAR’s report, which predates the withdrawal by several months, the U.S. spent over $8.5 billion to support the Afghan air forces since 2010. The force includes the Afghan Air Force and Special Mission Wing.

However, the watchdog found that the Afghan Air Forces would continue to rely on U.S.-funded initial pilot training conducted outside of Afghanistan. 

Further, the force had been dealing with issues of slow capacity development due to limited personnel, gaps in training personnel, inefficient leadership development leading to misusing aircraft, and few U.S. and coalition advisers. 

Read the full story here 

A MESSAGE FROM HUAWEI

REPUBLICANS PRESS ON WEAPONS LEFT BEHIND

Over two dozen Republican lawmakers are pressing the Biden administration on its efforts to recover U.S. weapons and supplies left behind after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin dated Jan. 14, the lawmakers blasted the administration for missing a deadline to submit a report on the equipment, which was required under a government funding bill. 

Past due notice: “It is with gravest concern that even after a three-month window to produce the required information, the DOD still has not given Congress an accurate accounting of United States equipment still in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan where terrorist groups are reconstituting,” the letter, led by Rep. Andy Barr (R-K.Y.), read. 

“This lack of information prevents Congress from being able to accurately and effectively conduct oversight over the tens of billions of dollars of equipment invested in Afghanistan over the past 20 years and creates vulnerabilities in our national security,” they continued. 

Some background: Billions of dollars of weapons were left behind in Afghanistan after the quick collapse of the country’s government and security forces amid the U.S. withdrawal from the country. 

U.S. forces had been in the country 20 years before a chaotic departure that included the deaths of American service members and Afghans. The Taliban gained control over the country at a rapid pace, prompting then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee.

At issue in the letter is a report that was required under the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act, which was passed in late September and funded the federal government through Dec. 3.

Read the full story here 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

A MESSAGE FROM HUAWEI

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for latest coverage. See you tomorrow! {mosads}

Tags Andy Barr Antony Blinken Jen Psaki Joe Biden John Kirby Lloyd Austin Vladimir Putin

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