Defense & National Security — Austin says work ‘is not done’ one year after Afghanistan withdrawal

·6 min read

Tuesday marked one year since the last U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan, but Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says America’s counterterrorism work is “not done.”

We’ll break down the Pentagon chief’s message to the department. Plus, we’ll talk about the “numerous failures” of the Iranian drones being used by Russia against Ukraine.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

DOD chief marks Afghanistan withdrawal anniversary

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin marked the first anniversary of the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, acknowledging that America’s work “is not done” in the country.

In a memorandum to all Department of Defense personnel, Austin said the U.S. went to Afghanistan in 2001 to “wage a necessary war of self-defense” in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

But since then, “no enemy has been able to launch such an attack on our homeland” due to the department’s efforts to defend citizens against terrorist threats, he added.

One year since the withdrawal: Tuesday marked one year since the last U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war.

The withdrawal has been seen as a stain on the Biden administration, as reports revealed that the U.S. was unprepared for how quickly the Afghan government would collapse, allowing the Taliban to rapidly seize power.

But President Biden and his officials have stood by the effort, noting that the U.S. evacuated over 124,000 refugees, mainly Afghan civilians. The president has also argued that staying in Afghanistan would have cost more U.S. lives.

Work is ‘not done:’ “Still, we know this work is not done. We must keep a relentless focus on counterterrorism—and we are,” Austin said. “We’re committed to supporting a whole-of-government effort to address the root causes of violent extremism. No one should doubt America’s resolve to keep our people safe.”

‘Profound gratitude: In Tuesday’s memorandum, the Pentagon chief mainly expressed “profound gratitude” to all who served in Afghanistan for the prior two decades — including American service members, veterans of the war and their families.

Austin, who noted that he is also a veteran of the war, said he witnessed “firsthand the bravery, selflessness, and compassion that our men and women brought to the fight.”

The Pentagon chief concluded his letter by addressing those who have “hard questions” about the war and what their sacrifices in Afghanistan meant.

“Last year, I said that although the Afghanistan war has ended, our gratitude to those who served never will. Today, I renew that pledge,” he continued. “To every man and woman who served in Afghanistan: This country will never forget what you did and what you gave.”

Read the full story here.

Vets grapple with ‘moral injury’ a year on

Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret, followed a strict code during his three combat tours in Afghanistan.

“We were taught in special operations, for example, that everything we do is by, with and through the indigenous populations of the places we work,” Mann told The Hill. “You do not abandon them, you do not leave them.

A year ago today, President Biden pulled the final United States soldiers out of Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war. Tens of thousands U.S. allies — Afghans who fought alongside or supported American troops or civilian programs — were left behind.

Mann said he feels a “moral injury” caused by “a violation of your own moral code by those in charge.” And he is among many veterans of the Afghan war who has made it his mission to continue helping Afghans who risked their lives for America’s war.

Read more here.

Iranian drones used by Russia seeing failures

Iran has sent its first shipment of drones to Russia that Moscow aims to use in attacks against Ukraine, according to a Biden administration official who said U.S. intelligence indicates the drones have already seen “numerous failures.”

The U.S. believes that Iran transferred Mohajer-6 and Shahed-series drones to Russia earlier this month on a Russian flight between the two countries, according to the administration official.

Backstory: The White House warned back in July that the Iranian government was preparing to sell hundreds of drones to Russia to use on the battlefield in Ukraine, but at the time officials couldn’t say whether any drones had actually been transported to Russia.

The Iranian drones could help address weaponry shortfalls Russia is experiencing as it continues its military campaign in Ukraine, which has exceeded six months. Export controls imposed by the U.S. and other countries have also been designed to wear down Russia’s military capabilities in the long run.

Complicating the nuclear deal? The closer partnership between Iran and Russia comes as the Biden administration tries to revive the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

There have been positive signs of the parties moving toward some kind of agreement in recent weeks, with Iran dropping some of its demands, though a deal has yet to be reached.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre indicated the drone shipments would not impact the ongoing talks about reviving the deal, to which Russia was a party along with Iran and five other nations.

Read the full story here.

Navy thwarts attempt to capture unmanned drone

The Navy said on Tuesday that it foiled an attempt from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) to capture an unmanned drone in the Arabian Gulf.

In a statement, the U.S. 5th Fleet said it observed the Shahid Bazar, an IRGCN support ship, trying to detain a Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel (USV) while transiting international waters at around 11 p.m. local time.

The Saildrone Explorer was equipped with sensors, radars and cameras for navigation and data collection, though it doesn’t store classified information, the statement noted

U.S. Navy patrol coastal ship USS Thunderbolt, which was operating nearby, “immediately responded” to the incident, the statement said.

The Fleet also launched an MH-60S Sea Hawk from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26, based in Bahrain.

Read more here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The National Defense Industrial Association will continue its “Electronics Division Meeting & Trust & Assurance Subcommittee Meeting” at 7 a.m.

  • The National Training and Simulation Association will host a webinar on “SPACE Force: A 360 View on Training, Simulation and Logistics” at 11 a.m.

  • The Wilson Center will host a discussion on “Pioneering Space Force: A Fireside Chat with General John W. “Jay” Raymond” at 1 p.m.

  • The Hudson Institute will host a discussion on “The Causes and Consequences of War: A Conversation with Professor Hew Strachan” at 2 p.m.

  • The Atlantic Council will hold a conversation with Danish Minister of Defense Morten Bødskov at 2:45 p.m.

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 tomorrow!

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