‘ALL WARS MUST END’: In what was labeled as his initial message to all Defense Department employees, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller walked a fine line, hinting that he may be ordered to oversee the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan, something President Trump said in an Oct. 7 tweet should happen by Christmas.
“This fight has been long, our sacrifices have been enormous. and many are weary of war — I’m one of them — but this is the critical phase in which we transition our efforts from a leadership to supporting role,” wrote Miller, a former Green Beret. “We are not a people of perpetual war — it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end.”
‘THIS WAR ISN’T OVER’: At the same time, Miller admitted that al Qaeda has not yet been vanquished but was vague about whether defeating al Qaeda in Afghanistan would require a continued troop presence in the country, as advocated by President-elect Joe Biden.
“This war isn’t over,” Miller wrote. “We are on the verge of defeating al Qaeda and its associates, but we must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish.”
ESPER OPPOSED HASTY WITHDRAWAL: By firing Mark Esper last week and installing retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor as chief adviser to Miller, Trump swept away the civilian leaders who would resist a withdrawal before the Taliban makes good on its pledge to reduce violence and negotiate in good faith with the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
According to the Washington Post, Esper sent a classified memo to the White House this month expressing concerns about additional cuts. “Conditions on the ground were not yet right,” Esper reportedly argued, citing “the ongoing violence, possible dangers to the remaining troops in the event of a rapid pullout, potential damage to alliances and apprehension about undercutting the negotiations.”
Macgregor, a frequent Fox News contributor, is among those who argue its long past time for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan after 19 years of war.
NO NEW DIRECTIVE: “There is no new mission directive — nothing has changed,” a senior White House official told the Washington Examiner’s Jerry Dunleavy. The official with knowledge of the recent moves at the Pentagon said the goal is to fulfill Trump’s longtime promises to kill bad guys, free American hostages held overseas, and wind down U.S. combat troop levels around the world, especially in Afghanistan.
“He wants to bring the troops home. He wants to end the wars,” the official said.
LOGISTICS, LOGISTICS, LOGISTICS: It’s an axiom of warfighting that battles are won by logistics, and the logistical problem of pulling 4,000 to 5,000 troops and their equipment out of Afghanistan in less than ten weeks may be the one thing that stymies Trump’s desire to complete the pullout before he leaves office.
“The president needs to recognize that battlefield reality doesn’t often comport with a political calendar. If he wants troops out of Afghanistan, as I know most Americans do, we have to do it in a way that makes sense, in an orderly manner, and that comports with battlefield reality,” said former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on ABC’s This Week. “And, you know, Donald Trump, the dealmaker, should also appreciate that in trying to strike a deal, you don’t unilaterally surrender your greatest point of leverage by unilaterally withdrawing troops before the Afghan government and the Taliban have stuck a deal.”
Good Monday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Victor I. Nava. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at DailyonDefense.com. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter: @dailyondefense.
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FORMER COMMANDERS WEIGH IN: The prospect of U.S. troops making a hasty pre-inaugural departure from Afghanistan was met with alarm by some of America’s recently retired four-star commanders.
“Simply saying ‘everyone home by Christmas’ and pulling the last few thousand troops out of Afghan has emotional appeal, but makes no sense,” tweeted retired Adm. James Staviridis, former supreme NATO commander. “We are close to a peace agreement — cutting out now will crater it.”
“Nobody wants ‘Endless Wars.’ Including ‘the Generals’ (never met one who does, especially, those of us who have children serving this country),” tweeted former Special Operations Commander retired Gen. Tony Thomas. “The discussion (less cliche) should be is have we achieved the end state of sustainable security so that we never have another 9/11?”
LET THE TRANSITION BEGIN: The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee is part of the chorus of Trump critics who argue that the president is harming national security by delaying cooperation with the Biden transition team.
“No one likes to lose, but President Trump is recklessly and pointlessly blocking the transition to protect his own ego,” said Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed in a statement. “The reality is Joe Biden won with a record-breaking number of votes and President Trump’s blockade on information and resources only makes the country less safe and puts more people’s health at risk.”
“President Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories and failure to recognize basic facts are further evidence of his lack of respect for our democracy and an insult to the American people,” Reed said. “President-elect Biden must be given access to high-level intelligence briefings and all the other transition resources he needs to ensure a smooth, complete, peaceful transition of power.”
‘I CONCEDE NOTHING’: As tens of thousands of Trump supporters rallied in Washington, Trump tweeted that Biden’s victory was a sham. “He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!”
Last week, a statement from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency called the Nov. 3 election “the most secure in American history.”
THE DEMISE OF AL QAEDA’S NO. 2: As first reported by the New York Times, and corroborated by other news organizations including the Associated Press, the United States and Israel worked together to assassinate Abu Mohammed al Masri, al Qaeda’s No. 2, in Tehran Aug. 7, the anniversary of the 1998 embassy attacks in Africa he was accused of plotting.
“Around 9:00 on a warm summer night, he was driving his white Renault L90 sedan with his daughter near his home when two gunmen on a motorcycle drew up beside him. Five shots were fired from a pistol fitted with a silencer. Four bullets entered the car through the driver’s side and a fifth hit a nearby car,” the New York Times reported.
In a 20-tweet long thread on Twitter, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ Thomas Joscelyn, editor of the Long War Journal, lays out some of the background behind the killing of al Masri, who has long been on the FBI’s most wanted list.
“We’ve suspected that the U.S. increased its efforts to take out senior al-Qaeda leaders across multiple countries this year. Abu Muhammad al-Masri is one in a string of operatives to perish in recent months, but he was the most senior,” Joscelyn writes, noting, “On 9/17, Christopher Miller (then NCTC director, now acting SecDef) told Congress that ‘several’ of al-Qaeda’s ‘remaining senior leaders continue to find safe haven in Iran, and will likely play a key role in the group’s efforts to reconstitute its leadership.’”
SPACE FORCE COMMANDER BACK: Space Force Gen. David Thompson, the vice chief of space operations, is back at work at the Pentagon after a two-week quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test.
Thompson was asymptomatic but tested positive after close contact with a family member. He returned to work Nov. 9, according to the Air Force.
MFO SOLDIERS ID’D: The Army has identified the five American soldiers who died in last week’s Black Hawk helicopter crash in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
All were serving as part of peacekeeping operations with the Multinational Force and Observers mission set up to monitor the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. They are:
- Capt. Seth Vernon Vandekamp, 31, from Katy, Texas.
- Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dallas Gearld Garza, 34, from Fayetteville, N.C.
- Chief Warrant Officer 2 Marwan Sameh Ghabour, 27, from Marlborough, Mass.
- Staff Sgt. Kyle Robert McKee, 35, from Painesville, Ohio.
- Sgt. Jeremy Cain Sherman, 23, from Watseka, Illinois.
Author: Jamie McIntyre, Senior Writer
Source: Washington Examiner: Trump laying groundwork for full US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan before leaving office