Defense & National Security — Inside the rise in military sexual assault

·6 min read

Incidents of sexual assault in the military grew 13 percent in fiscal year 2021, according to a report from the Pentagon released Thursday.

We’ll dive deep into the numbers. Plus, we’ll talk about the end of an immigration pathway for those evacuated from Afghanistan during the U.S.’s withdrawal of troops.

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. Subscribe here.

Reports of sexual assault in the military grew in 2021

Reports of sexual assault in the military grew 13 percent in fiscal year 2021, according to a report from the Pentagon released Thursday.

The report said the department received 8,866 reports of sexual assault during the last fiscal year, up 1,050 reports over the 7,816 it received in fiscal year 2020.

‘Tragic and extremely disappointing:’ Elizabeth Foster, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency in the Department of Defense, said the numbers were the highest sexual assault prevalence for women since the department began tracking in 2006, and the second-highest prevalence rate for men.

“These numbers are tragic and extremely disappointing,” Foster told reporters. “Every incident has a ripple effect across the unit and impacts unit cohesion, ability to trust and distracts from the critical mission at hand.”

  • The increase in sexual assault reports were driven by increases in the Army, which saw the largest increase in reporting out of all the services. 

  • The service received 4,081 reports of sexual assault, a 25 percent increase over fiscal year 2020.

And as for sexual harassment: The survey found that about 29 percent of active-duty women experienced an incident of sexual harassment in 2021, up from 24 percent in 2018.

The department received 3,174 sexual harassment reports in 2021, up from 1,781 in 2020.

Read the report here.

US ends one immigration path for Afghan evacuees

The U.S. government will no longer temporarily waive immigration requirements for vulnerable Afghans entering the country, instead focusing on more enduring pathways as the evacuation enters a new phase.

The government will largely cease its use of humanitarian parole to allow at-risk Afghans to enter the country after Oct. 1, requiring remaining evacuees to demonstrate family ties in the U.S., a connection with the U.S. military or that they are among the most vulnerable applicants to the U.S. refugee program.

A shift to long-term strategy: The latest move is a sign of a new phase in the U.S. evacuation effort as the nation marks one year since the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

  • The move will ensure that those who arrive in the U.S. come with a more stable immigration status.

  • Those who are given humanitarian parole at ports of entry are given just two years to secure another immigration pathway — a detail that has left many of the 85,000 Afghans who arrived during the evacuation uncertain about their future.

Recognize the ‘urgency:’ As the government shifts from Operation Allies Welcome to a new program they are calling Operation Enduring Welcome, it has pledged to speed up processing of those hopeful of getting a Special Immigrant Visa due to their service to the U.S. military — a yearslong process that requires high-level State Department approval. Refugee applications similarly take years to process.

“Our hope is that the Biden administration will recognize the urgency of this moment, just as it has for displaced Ukrainians. Far too many of our allies remain in harm’s way, and far too many families remain separated by bureaucratic hurdles,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service said in a statement.

“As the administration largely discontinues its use of humanitarian parole, it must commit to meaningful and efficient processing under the refugee and SIV programs. While our nation’s commitment to them has no end date, our Afghan allies deserve more than backlogs and red tape.”

A harsh reality: Thousands of Afghans remain at processing facilities overseas, however, including in both the United Arab Emirates and in Qatar.

And since March, which the government deemed the second phase of the evacuation, only roughly 5,000 Afghans made it from such centers to the U.S.

Still, many more remain in Afghanistan who eager to come to the U.S., but with few pathways to do so. Many are applying to the U.S. refugee program or a separate humanitarian parole program but face daunting odds.

Read the full story here.

Lawmakers raise concerns with proposed Iran deal

A group of 50 House Democrats and Republicans is calling on President Biden to share with Congress text of a potential agreement with Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal before any papers are signed.

In a letter sent Thursday and led by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.), lawmakers raise concerns that provisions reportedly included in the agreement could lead to weakening U.S. sanctions on Iran that are meant to target funding for terrorist activities.

The political divide: While Republicans near-universally oppose the JCPOA, Democrats are deeply divided over the effectiveness of the deal, which is intended to trade sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for Tehran agreeing to give up nuclear weapons ambitions and submit to intrusive monitoring of its activities.

But Democrats who criticize the deal say it does little to stop Iran from ever achieving a nuclear weapon and does not address other malign Iranian threats, such as funding for its terrorist activities and threats to Israel.

Backstory: The letter comes as international officials are raising the possibility of an imminent agreement between the U.S. and Iran to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that he hopes the JCPOA will be “concluded in the next few days.”

And Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday, a strong signal that there’s forward movement on a potential deal. The U.S. has maintained close communication with Israel over the negotiations, with Jerusalem virulently opposing a return to the deal.

The concerns: In the letter sent Thursday, the lawmakers, which include 34 Democrats and 16 Republicans, raise concerns over a number of reported provisions, including that non-U.S. citizens would not be exposed to sanctions for doing business with U.S.-sanctioned Iranian persons. These persons include those associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

The bipartisan letter sent Thursday also raised concern about Russia’s role in the talks given the U.S.-led, international isolation campaign against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

The lawmakers say they oppose any plan that would make Russia responsible for the disposal of Iran’s enriched uranium, a key factor in depleting the Islamic Republic’s stockpile of a critical component of nuclear weapons.

Read more here.

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