Austin on mission to reassure US allies on front lines with Russia

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‘REASSURING AND REINFORCING’: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is in Tbilisi, Georgia, today, the first stop on a weeklong mission to reassure nervous allies that the United States won’t abandon them in the face of Moscow’s expansionist aims.

"We are reassuring and reinforcing the sovereignty of countries that are on the front lines of Russian aggression," a senior defense official said Friday at a background briefing for reporters traveling with Austin to Europe.

After Georgia, Austin will travel to Ukraine and Romania and then wrap up the week at an in-person meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, Belgium.

Today, Austin will meet with Georgia Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili as well as his Georgian counterpart Juansher Burchuladze to, in the words of a Pentagon release, “reaffirm U.S. support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and underscore the importance of the U.S.-Georgia strategic partnership in addressing regional and global security challenges.”

GEORGIA AND UKRAINE: Next stop will be Ukraine and meetings with President Volodymyr Zelensky and Defense Minister Andrii Taran. Ukraine, like Georgia, is a country where Russian troops occupy a significant portion of the country, and both nations are seeking the protection of the NATO alliance to fend off Russian revanchism.

While the U.S. has told both countries that the door to NATO membership is open to them, neither is close to meeting the requirements to join the 30-nation alliance. Austin's visit will “serve as an opportunity to discuss Ukraine’s progress with the implementation of defense and defense industry reforms needed to advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” the Pentagon said.

ROMANIA, A ‘ROLE-MODEL ALLY’: The third stop will be NATO member Romania and consultations with President Klaus Iohannis and Defense Minister Nicolae-Ionel Ciuca.

"Romania ... is doing just about everything that we could possibly ask of a NATO ally, so we have the opportunity to recognize that and appreciate that," an official told reporters ahead of the trip, calling Romania a "role-model ally.”

Romania is one of only ten NATO nations that has met the alliance goal of spending more than 2% of GDP on defense, and more importantly, it is one of 25 members devoting more than 20% of their defense budget to modernizing equipment.


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HAPPENING TODAY: Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford will all speak today at the Milken Institute’s 24th annual Global Conference with the theme: “National Security: A Bipartisan Priority.” Livestream at 5 p.m. here.

GATES: ‘I BEAR SOME RESPONSIBILITY’: In his CBS 60 Minutes interview that aired last night, former Bush and Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates accepted some of the blame for the stunning collapse of the U.S.-trained Afghan army, which melted away in the face of the Taliban advance, culminating with the fall of Kabul on Aug. 14.

“I bear some responsibility for this,” Gates told Anderson Cooper. “It had started before I got there, but I think that we created an Afghan military in our own image. And one that required a lot more sophisticated logistics and maintenance and support than say the Taliban.”

Cooper noted that the U.S. spent years trying to teach Afghan troops to read and write, skills the Taliban fighters didn’t seem to require.

“Well, they needed to know how to read in order to operate the equipment we were giving them,” Gates responded. “Instead of being light and tactical and basically self-resourced as the Taliban were, we created a logistics-heavy, sophisticated-equipment-heavy military. And when you pulled that rug out from under them, and you add on top of that the corruption of the senior military leaders and so on, it's not a surprise to me that the Afghan army collapsed.”


LACK OF PLANNING: When it came to the messy evacuation airlift, Gate blamed both former President Donald Trump and current President Joe Biden. “They really had a lot of time to plan, beginning with the deal that President Trump cut with the Taliban. So that was in February of 2020.”

“Once President Biden reaffirmed that there was going to be a firm deadline date, that's the point at which I think they should have begun bringing those people out,” Gates said. “You'd have to be pretty naive not to assume things were gonna go downhill once that withdrawal was complete.”

The whole debacle left Gates feeling physically ill. “For a few days there, I actually wasn't feeling very well. And I realized it was because of what was happening in Kabul. And I was just so low about the way it had ended, if you will,” he said. “And I guess the other feeling that I had was that it probably did not need to have turned out that way.”


OVER THE HORIZON OR OVER THE RAINBOW? Gates was also skeptical of the Biden administration strategy of countering al Qaeda and ISIS in Afghanistan with so-called “over the horizon” airstrikes conducted from bases thousands of miles away.

“The military refers to it as ‘over the rainbow,’” Gates said dismissively. “This notion that you can carry out effective counterterrorism in Afghanistan from a great distance, it's not a fantasy, but it's just very, very hard,” he said. “If you don't have the kind of sources on the ground to have the kind of real-time intelligence that allows you to target people, it's very complicated.”

US PROMISES CONDOLENCE PAYMENTS: In a statement issued late Friday, the Pentagon confirmed that its No. 3 civilian official offered “ex gratia condolence payments” to the families of 10 Afghan civilians who were killed when Zemari Ahmadi, an Afghan aid worker, was targeted by a U.S. drone after being mistaken for an ISIS suicide bomber.

“On October 14, Dr. Colin Kahl, under secretary of defense for policy, held a virtual meeting with Dr. Steven Kwon, founder and president of Nutrition and Education International, and reiterated his sincere condolences on behalf of the Department of Defense for the loss of life,” said the statement from Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

“Kahl reiterated Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s commitment to the families, including offering ex gratia condolence payments, in addition to working with the State Department in support of Mr. Ahmadi’s family members who are interested in relocation to the United States,” Kirby said.

The Aug. 29 strike killed Ahmadi and nine other innocent victims, including seven children.


UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Turns out there was less than originally reported about the alleged thwarted hijack attempt at the Kabul airport during the beginning of the U.S. noncombatant evacuation operation.

A detailed account written by Air Force public affairs officer Lt. Col. Kristen Duncan reported “an intel tip” indicated that “five people onboard one of the commercial flights intended to hijack the aircraft.”

But the U.S. Central Command says that tip turned out not to be accurate. “During the Afghanistan evacuation mission, there was never any hijacking attempt on a plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport,” a CENTCOM spokesperson told Washington Examiner Defense Reporter Mike Brest.

“During the Afghanistan evacuation mission, an intel tip indicated the possibility of a plot to hijack a particular commercial flight that was preparing to depart the airfield,” the spokesman said. “Ground traffic controllers diverted the plane to a safe location on the airfield where security forces boarded the plane and determined that there was no active attempt to hijack the aircraft.”


SLAP ON THE WRIST: Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, who admitted violating military rules against making political statements in uniform and willfully disobeying a superior officer, was sentenced Friday to a forfeiture of $5,000 pay, but he will be allowed to resign from the Corps without losing his pension or retirement benefits.

The penalty, which included a letter of reprimand, was far less than what prosecutors were seeking,

Scheller pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor-level charges at his court-martial, including willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, dereliction in the performance of duties, and conduct unbecoming of an officer and gentleman.

The military judge overseeing the case, Col. Glen Hines, said he did not condone what Scheller did but cited his "outstanding record."


The Rundown

Washington Examiner: Public permitted to approach Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza for first time in nearly a century

Washington Examiner: Defense official speaks to employer of Afghan aid worker killed in botched drone strike

Washington Examiner: Russia says it pushed US destroyer from area near its waters

Washington Examiner: ISIS claims responsibility for deadly mosque bombing in Afghanistan

Washington Examiner: Air Force walks back claim of attempted hijacking on Afghan evacuation flight

Washington Examiner: Army delays distribution of advanced high-tech goggles to soldiers

Washington Examiner: Military judge goes light on 'outstanding' Marine who blasted military brass for botched Afghan pullout

Financial Times: China Tests New Space Capability With Hypersonic Missile

Reuters: China Condemns U.S., Canada For Sending Warships Through Taiwan Strait

New York Times: Don’t Call It A Cold War: U.S. Labors To Name China Rivalry

Washington Post: Marine’s court-martial highlights the military straining to deal with partisan politics

Defense One: Taliban Could Lose Power Amid Governance Struggles, Experts Say

Washington Post: Americans vanquished, China triumphant: 2021’s hit war epic doesn’t fit Hollywood script

Air Force Magazine: AMC Green Lights KC-46 to Refuel F-15s, F-16s; 62 Percent of Receivers Now Cleared

Breaking Defense: F-35 Engine Rivals Prepare For Another Clash

Air Force Magazine: Van Ovost Takes Command of TRANSCOM, Pledging to ‘Underpin Lethality’

Military Times: ‘The Enemy Is Lurking In Our Bodies’ -- Women Veterans Say Toxic Exposure Caused Breast Cancer

Air Force Magazine: Lockheed Martin Says It Will Compete for Advanced Fighter Trainer

National Interest: The United States Marine Corps Just Showed Off How It'll Deploy Its Newest Suicide Drone The Marines Are Using SMASH-Mouth Tactics to Kill Drones China Has Big Plans to Show Off Its New H-20 Stealth Bomber J-35: China's Big Plan to Add Stealth Fighters to Aircraft Carriers Tempest: 6th Generation Stealth Fighter Built by The UK And Japan?

The Cipher Brief: Chris Inglis and the Gathering Cyber Storm

Washington Examiner: Opinion: Germany's likely new government abandons 2% NATO pledge Opinion: NATO Has a Problem: Belarus Is Slowly Being Reabsorbed Into Russia



10 a.m. — Middle East Institute virtual discussion on "the evolving role, strategy, and posture of NATO in the Middle East, as the United States draws down militarily in the region,” with Giovanni Romani, head of the NATO Political Affairs and Security Policy Division's Middle East and North Africa Section.

12 p.m. — Technology Training Corporation virtual Military Hypersonic Weapon Systems Conference, with Robert Taylor, J8 director for capability and resource integration at U.S. Strategic Command. Livestream at

2 p.m. — Atlantic Council Scowcroft Center Zoom event: “Maximizing Military Power through Minimizing Bureaucratic Barriers,” with retired Marine Gen. James Jones and retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro; moderated by Missy Ryan, Washington Post staff writer and Pentagon correspondent.

3 p.m. — Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance virtual discussion: “Air to Air Missile Defense,” with Brig. Gen. Paul Murray, deputy director of operations, NORAD; Brig. Gen. Christopher Niemi, director of strategy, plans, programs, and requirements, PACAF; Col. Jason Nalepa, commander of the 173rd Operations Group, Oregon Air National Guard; retired Lt. Gen. Ty Thomas, Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance; retired Rear. Adm. Mark Montgomery, board member, Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance; and Riki Ellison, chairman and founder, Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. Livestream at

5 p.m. — Milken Institute 24th annual Global Conference: “National Security: A Bipartisan Priority,” with Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D- N.Y.; House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas; Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.; former Joint Chiefs Chairman retired Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford; moderated by Gerard Baker, The Wall Street Journal.


9:30 a.m. G50 Dirksen — Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider the nominations of Nickolas Guertin to be director of operational test and evaluation; Alexandra Baker to be deputy undersecretary of defense for policy; John Coffey to be Navy general counsel; and Douglas Bush to be assistant secretary of the army for acquisition, logistics, and technology.

10 a.m. — Defense One and NextGov Network Modernization Summit with Rep. Adam Smith, chairman, House Armed Services Committee; Michele Flournoy, co-founder and managing partner, co-founder, WestExec Advisors, Center for a New American Security; and Michael Spirtas, associate director, senior political scientist; International Security and Defense Policy Center, RAND Corporation.

10 a.m. 1740 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. — The Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies book discussion: Here, Right Matters: An American Story, with author retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, former White House National Security Council member; and Kent Calder, interim dean, Johns Hopkins SAIS.

12 p.m. — Hudson Institute virtual discussion: “Lethality and the Future of U.S. Military Strategy," with David Roberts, CEO of GEDI Training; retired Army Lt. Col. David Grossman, author of On Killing; and Bryan Clark, director of Hudson's Center for Defense Concepts and Technology.

12 p.m. — Technology Training Corporation virtual Military Hypersonic Weapon Systems Conference, with Michael White, principal director of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Modernization's Hypersonics Office.

12 p.m. — George Mason University National Security Institute event: “The National Security Implications of Antitrust: America's Adversaries,” with Maureen Ohlhausen, section chair of antitrust and competition law, Baker Botts L.L.P.; Matt Perault, professor, University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science; Alex Petros, policy counsel, Public Knowledge; and Jamil Jaffer, founder and executive director, National Security Institute.

2 p.m. — American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research web event: “Does the US need a national cybersecurity strategy?” with James X. Dempsey, senior policy adviser, geopolitics, technology, and governance, Cyber Policy Center, Stanford University; James Andrew Lewis, director, Strategic Technologies Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies; Sujit Raman, partner, Sidley Austin LLP; Diane Rinaldo, senior vice president, Beacon Global Strategies; and Shane Tews, nonresident senior fellow, AEI.


9 a.m. NATO Headquarters, Brussels — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg briefs reporters ahead of the meeting of the NATO Ministers of Defense, which takes place Oct. 21-22.

9:15 a.m. — Heritage Foundation releases its “2022 Index of U.S. Military Strength, with House Armed Services ranking member Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala.; Dakota Wood, senior research fellow for defense programs at Heritage; and Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Center for National Defense.

12 p.m. — Henry L. Stimson Center virtual book discussion of Winning and Losing the Nuclear Peace: The Rise, Demise, and Revival of Arms Control, with author Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center; Joan Rohlfing, president and COO at the Nuclear Threat Initiative; and Barry Blechman, co-founder and fellow at the Stimson Center.

1 p.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies International Security Program on the future of the National Guard, with Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, director of the Army National Guard; and Mark Cancian, CSIS senior adviser.

1 p.m. — Center for Security Policy online discussion: “Securing the Border in the Biden Era,” with Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas.


8 a.m. — International Institute for Strategic Studies virtual discussion: “Future U.S. Defense Strategy in East Asia,” with former Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Strategy and Force Development Elbridge Colby, co-founder and principal of the Marathon Initiative and author of The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict; and Meia Nouwens, senior fellow for Chinese defense policy and military modernization at IISS.

9 a.m. — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attends the in-person meeting of NATO Ministers of Defense in Brussels, Belgium.

11 a.m. — Ploughshares Fund virtual discussion: “Press the Button LIVE: Nuclear Policy in the Biden Administration and Beyond,” with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash.; Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif.; former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, member of the Ploughshares Fund Board of Directors; Lilly Adams, independent consultant; Jane Vaynman, assistant professor at Temple University; and Jon Wolfsthal, senior adviser at Global Zero.

12:30 p.m. — Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies virtual discussion: “Are We Living through Another Cold War?" with Sergey Radchenko, professor at SAIS Europe; and Francis Gavin, director of the SAIS Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs.

3 p.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: “The recent nuclear submarine deal between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS), with former U.S. Ambassador to Australia John Thomas Schieffer.


9 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: “U.S.-China Economic Competition,” with Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh; Anne Stevenson-Yang, co-founder and research director at J Capital Research; David Bank, senior adviser at the Cohen Group; Alexander Titus, head of healthcare and life sciences strategy for the global public sector at Google Cloud; and Remco Zwetsloot, research fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

10 a.m. — Atlantic Council virtual discussion: “Women, Peace, and Security 2030: Integrating lessons learned from Afghanistan, with former NATO Special Representative for Women, Peace, and Security Clare Hutchinson.

3 p.m. — Heritage Foundation virtual discussion: “Japan's Growing Role in Indo-Pacific Security,” with former national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Japan chair at the Hudson Institute; Jeffrey Hornung, political scientist at the RAND Corporation; and Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at Heritage.


10 a.m. 300 First St. S.E. — Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in-person Aerospace Nation breakfast event with Gen. Mark Kelly, commander, Air Combat Command; and retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean, Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. RSVP:


“Instead of being light and tactical and basically self-resourced as the Taliban were, we created a logistics-heavy, sophisticated-equipment-heavy military. And when you pulled that rug out from under them, and you add on top of that the corruption of the senior military leaders and so on, it's not a surprise to me that the Afghan army collapsed.”

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates telling CBS 60 Minutes that he is partially to blame for the U.S. building the wrong kind of army in Afghanistan.

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Tags: National Security, Daily on Defense

Original Author: Jamie McIntyre

Original Location: Austin on mission to reassure US allies on front lines with Russia

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