AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Even just reading the transcript, you could hear the anguish in the words of Gen. Scott Miller, the last U.S. commander in Afghanistan, as he explained to reporters in Kabul how he would manage the task of extricating thousands of remaining U.S. troops and contract workers from the country still riven by decades of war.
“The President of the United States and subsequently the nations of NATO have determined that we will end our military mission. As such, I now have a set of orders,” Miller said yesterday in the Afghan capital. “It’s my objective to ensure that the Afghan security forces are in the best possible security posture, also that we will conduct an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan. And that means transitioning bases and equipment to the Afghan security forces and also charged with ensuring it is as safe as possible.”
WARNING THE TALIBAN: The Taliban say by failing to meet the May 1 withdrawal deadline, the U.S. is in violation of the agreement negotiated by the Trump administration last year, and therefore U.S. forces are now subject to attack.
“The Taliban have claimed we’ve violated the agreement and that they have no violations. We know that’s not true,” Miller said, noting he has personally warned the Taliban not to interfere with the withdrawal.
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Taliban members with the Taliban Political Commission, and I’ve told them a return to violence, an effort to force a military decision would be a tragedy for Afghanistan and the Afghan people,” he said. “Make no mistake, we have the military means to respond forcefully to any type of attacks against the coalition and the military means to support the Afghan security forces. That would be a mistake to move in that direction.”
Miller said he also warned the Taliban against continuing their campaign of targeted assassinations of Afghan officials. “We know those are meant to terrorize the population by conducting that type of activity. And we’ve talked to the Taliban about that. That is unacceptable,” he said.
THE LATEST PENTAGON REPORT: On Friday, the Pentagon released its latest congressionally mandated report on operations in Afghanistan, Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan, which outlines the situation in the country six months ago.
Since the report covers the period from June to November of last year, much of the information is now out of date. But the report does provide a window on just how extensive the international support mission has been to prop up the Afghan security forces in their civil war with the Taliban.
As of November, NATO’s Operation Resolute Support consisted of approximately 8,000 military personnel from 37 nations, with the United States, Germany, Italy, and Turkey each leading one or more regional “Train, Advise, and Assist” commands with five headquarters covering 32 provinces. All those troops, plus any foreign contractors, must leave, and their equipment either brought home or turned over to the Afghans.
“There’s certain equipment that we must take back to our countries. That’s a requirement,” said Miller. “But wherever possible, if we do not have to, we’re looking to ensure that the Afghan security forces have the bases, pieces of equipment, parts that are necessary for the functioning of the military.”
At the Pentagon Friday, spokesman John Kirby said some of the “rolling stock” will be brought back to the U.S., some deployed elsewhere in the region, some provided to Afghan partners, and some will be “destroyed.”
IT’S UP TO THE AFGHAN PEOPLE: Miller says the U.S. will continue to support the Afghan government in any way it can, short of sending troops back in, but he stressed the future of the country now hinges on the peace process and the fighting will of the Afghan military.
“My message to the people of Afghanistan is this is the time for unity. It’s the time to come together. It’s a time to support your security forces,” he said. “They must be ready. And they need the support of the Afghan people.”
As for the Taliban, Miller said, “From a purely military perspective, the idea of them not returning to a peace process is, again, does not make sense … It’s the only solution. If you go forward and start thinking about this in terms of forcing a military or a violent solution, that’s something that would not be good for Afghanistan.”
BIDEN CALLS ERDOGAN AHEAD OF GENOCIDE DECLARATION: President Joe Biden called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday, one day before he became the first U.S. president to recognize the mass murder of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire officially as a genocide.
“Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination,” Biden said in a statement on Armenian Remembrance Day. “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring.”
Turkey has long disputed the death toll and argued the fighting between Armenians and Ottoman forces did not constitute genocide. On Twitter, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu rejected the characterization. “We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past,” he tweeted. “We entirely reject this statement based solely on populism.”
While Biden’s genocide declaration injects another sore spot in Washington’s fraught relationship with Ankara, it was applauded by members of Congress who had lobbied for the recognition of the massacre.
“Calling this atrocity what it was — genocide — is long overdue because we must recognize the horrors of the past if we hope to avoid repeating them in the future,” said Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “This is an important human rights moment. President Biden pledged to put human rights back at the core of U.S. foreign policy, and I applaud this affirmation.”
BIDEN TO MEET ERDOGAN AT NATO: In the brief readout of the phone call between Biden and Erdogan, the White House said Biden conveyed his interest “in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements,” and said the two leaders agreed to hold a bilateral meeting on the margins of the NATO Summit in June “to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues.”
The Washington-based Jewish Institute for National Security of America released a statement Friday, calling a plan for a face-to-face meeting “a mistake,” arguing that Biden should not have a presidential-level meeting “unless Turkey makes significant progress in removing the S-400 air defense system it purchased from Russia, undertakes diplomacy to resolve disagreement with its neighbors in the Eastern Mediterranean region, and respects the human rights of its citizens.”
WAS RUSSIA CONDUCTING A ‘DRESS REHEARSAL’? Last week in a state-of-the-nation speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West not to cross his “red lines,” saying that Moscow would respond to any provocations, and those responsible would regret it.
“We really do not want to burn bridges. But if someone mistakes our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intends to burn or even blow up these bridges, they must know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift, and tough,” Putin said, according to an English translation on his website. “I hope that no one will think about crossing the ‘red line’ with regard to Russia.”
In an interview on CNN, former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said he believes Russia’s recent massive troop buildup on Ukraine’s eastern border was a clear threat of future military action.
“I think this was a dress rehearsal, such as the ones before the invasion of Georgia,” Sikorski told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria Sunday. “Putin, remember, has failed in Ukraine. He wanted to integrate the whole country into his Euro-Asiatic union.
Sikorski says he has “no doubt,” Putin will try again. “Remember that back in 2014, the Russians were very close to carrying out Operation Novorossiya, which would have been taking over half of Ukraine and cutting it off of the Black Sea. And I think those plans are still being considered.”
REPEALING REMARRIAGE PENALTY FOR GOLD STAR SPOUSES: Two combat veterans in Congress, a Democrat and a Republican, have teamed up to introduce a bill that would repeal a provision that denies benefits to spouses of troops killed in the line of duty if they remarry.
“Under current law, widows and widowers of service members killed in the line of duty are forced to forfeit earned benefits should they remarry before 55 and 57,” said former Green Beret Rep. Mike Waltz, a Florida Democrat. “These arbitrary age limits are completely nonsensical and only punishes those who forever mourn the loss of their spouse.”
“When Americans sign up to serve in the military, they should know the American people have their backs. If they sacrifice their lives for our country, the least our country can do is take care of their families,” said Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Seth Moulton, a former Marine infantry officer. “We owe a debt that cannot be fully repaid to Gold Star families. We must fix this for them.”
NOMINATIONS SHAPE BIDEN PENTAGON: The latest nominations announced by the White House Friday, continue to put Biden’s stamp on the Defense Department. Among them:
Shawn Skelly, nominated to be assistant secretary of defense for readiness, would be the highest-ranking openly transgender official to serve at the Pentagon.
Brenda Sue Fulton, nominated to be assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, was in the first West Point class to admit women and the first openly gay member to serve on the the academy’s Board of Visitors.
Other nominations announced Friday include:
Christopher Maier, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low intensity conflict, to assume the position full time.
And Deborah Rosenblum, nominated to be assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense.
Originally published in The Washington Examiner