The Biden administration on Thursday announced $2 billion in aid to Ukraine as it continues to fend off Russia’s invasion.
We’ll break down the latest package. Plus, we’ll talk about House Republicans’ ‘grave concerns’ regarding President Biden’s use of Marines during his speech in Philadelphia last week.
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.
US sending assistance countries at risk from Russia
The United States intends to send another $2 billion in military support to Ukraine and 18 nearby countries at risk of Russian attack, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Thursday during a visit to Kyiv.
A new weapons package: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also on Thursday announced another package of weapons to Ukraine worth up to $675 million, a pledge made as he met with allies working to keep Ukraine equipped “over the long haul” amid the Russian invasion.
A list released by the Pentagon detailed the contents of the package, including:
Four 105mm Howitzers and 36,000 accompanying artillery rounds
ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS)
additional High-speed Anti-radiation missiles (HARM)
50 armored ambulances
The further $2.2 billion: Both the Pentagon and State Department also announced that the Biden administration has informed Congress of its “intent to make a further $2.2 billion available in long-term investments under Foreign Military Financing to bolster the security of Ukraine and 18 of its neighbors; including many of our NATO Allies, as well as other regional security partners potentially at risk of future Russian aggression.”
Roughly half of that money will go toward Ukrainian security and the other half split between Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
State of war: Ukrainian forces are working to push Russian troops from the northeast part of the country around Kharkiv and in the south near Kherson, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday highlighting “good news” about recapturing unnamed settlements from the Kharkiv region.
But Russia is showing no sign of backing down, with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday defiantly claiming his country has “not lost a thing” from the war in Ukraine and the tight sanctions it has triggered.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, estimated in August that Russia has suffered around 70,000 to 80,000 casualties in under six months.
GOP concerned about Biden’s use of Marines
House Republicans told the Department of Defense that they are “gravely concerned” about President Biden using Marines as “political props” during his Sept. 1 speech in Philadelphia.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the lawmakers said it appeared that the Marines “participated in a political event” that “jeopardizes their compliance” with Pentagon regulations against participating in political activities while in uniform.
Who wrote the letter? The letter was signed by House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense ranking member Ken Calvert (R-Calif.).
A point of debate: Biden’s use of the Marines during his speech sparked debate, with many who liked the president’s remarks criticizing the positioning of Marines behind him during a speech that was largely seen as political.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre later insisted that Biden had the Marines there out of respect for the military and its role in defending democracy.
The demands: In their letter, the lawmakers asked Austin to respond to questions regarding his knowledge of Biden’s use of the Marines during the speech.
They asked if anyone in the Defense Department knew of the contents of Biden’s speech before he gave it, if the agency knew that two active-duty service members would be involved and what guidance was given to the White House regarding their participation in the event, among other things.
“You’ve expressed your concern about politicization of the military and have insisted the military will not become a political instrument under your watch. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened with the participation of the Marines at this political event,” the lawmakers wrote.
PENTAGON EXPEDITES TIMELINE FOR RED HILL DEFUELING
The Department of Defense submitted a new plan to Hawaii state officials for defueling the bulk fuel storage facility at Red Hill in Hawaii, expediting the timeline by several months.
The Navy said that the new timeline condensed repair time, determined that certain activities could be done in parallel, and reduced the duration of the final phase of defueling from eight months to roughly five months.
Watchdog evaluating claims about Afghan evacuees
The Department of Defense’s watchdog told two Republican senators that it will evaluate claims that hundreds of Afghan evacuees were allowed to enter the U.S. despite being on the department’s watchlist.
“As part of our ongoing body of work on Afghan evacuees, we are initiating an evaluation, to commence in the first quarter of [fiscal year] 2023, to address your questions pertaining to the DoD’s role in reviewing DoD databases for information on Afghan evacuees when requested by other agencies,” acting Pentagon Inspector General Sean O’Donnell wrote in a letter to Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) obtained by The Hill.
The evaluation will also look into claims that officials at the National Security Council and Department of Defense “did not follow proper procedures when processing evacuees in Afghanistan and at staging basis.”
Backstory: O’Donnell was responding to an Aug. 4 letter from the two senators regarding allegations they received from a Pentagon whistleblower. The senators said the whistleblower had told them that the administration evacuated 324 individuals from Afghanistan who appeared on the agency’s watchlist. The whistleblower claimed that those evacuated included “known suspected terrorists.”
The senators also said the person claimed that White House and Defense Department officials directed agency personnel to not conduct fingerprint tests of Afghan evacuees and that Department of Homeland Security staff were authorized to delete old biometric data regardless of whether staff believed the data was out of date.
“This information may show the Biden Administration’s failure to vet those evacuated from Afghanistan was even worse than the public was led to believe. The following allegations demand an immediate investigation by your office,” the senators said at the time.
What the watchdog has done: O’Donnell’s letter only addressed the concern about the evacuees entering the U.S. despite being on the Pentagon’s watchlist, and he referred their other questions to other agencies.
The agency’s evaluation will come as part of its “ongoing body of work” on evacuees. It released two reports regarding Afghan evacuees this year — one evaluation on the screening of Afghan evacuees in February and another audit on the Pentagon’s support for relocating Afghan nationals.
O’Donnell noted that the agency is also evaluating “security and life support practices for Afghan evacuees at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.”
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The third day of the 2022 Billings CyberSecurity Summit will begin at 9 a.m.
The Hudson Institute will host a discussion on “Chinese Economic Decoupling Strategy against the United States” at `0 am.
The Brookings Institute will hold a discussion on “The role of veterans in strengthening our democracy” at 4 p.m.
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