Welcome to the Foreign Policy Security Brief.
What's on tap today: The top US general does a Surprise visit to Afghanistan, the US government is staggering from a suspected Russian hackand the US Army is looking for some catchy new slogans.
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Milley takes a step
The Trump administration may intend to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan before Inauguration Day – but don't tell Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley so. In an unannounced trip this week, the top military officer visited Taliban negotiators in Qatar to urge the group to curb violent attacks, which have increased as the White House pushed for a faster withdrawal than recommended by military officials.
“The most important part of the talks I had with both the Taliban and the Afghan government was the need to reduce violence immediately. Everything else depends on it, ”Milley told a traveling press contingent who agreed to stop reporting on the trip until it ended.
While Milley's behind-the-scenes trip is likely to make headlines, it's not clear how much leverage the United States has to move the talks forward. The Doha Accords stipulate that the United States will zero troop levels in Afghanistan by mid-2021 if the Taliban honors its commitments to end the violence. However, US President Donald Trump has opted for a faster timeframe and dropped 2,500 soldiers by January. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is pulling fire from U.S. government watchdogs who say the agency has failed to properly keep an eye on the delicate defense equipment being made available to Afghans missing on the battlefield.
Experts have urged President-elect Joe Biden to stay on course for talks by allowing Trump's envoy for the Afghan talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, to stay in place. However, the future government may have little patience with the negotiations as so-called "Eternal Wars" are likely to override major foreign policy priorities, such as: B. US alignment with Asia and the fight against coronavirus at home.
In the last round of talks, the Taliban made 24 important demands, including a new constitution and a return to the Islamic government as both sides work towards a renewed ceasefire.
Change your password. A slow disaster is unfolding within the US national security agencies as new details emerge of a massive hack against the federal government, likely carried out by Russian intelligence agencies. The Defense, State, Commerce, Treasury and Homeland Security departments were at risk from the sophisticated attack, as the New York Times reported.
The US government didn't discover the attack until a private cybersecurity company, FireEye, brought the matter to their attention in recent weeks. An IT network software provider inadvertently distributed malware to around 18,000 users, including federal agencies, through an update. "It will take years to know for sure which networks the Russians control and which they are currently occupying," wrote Tom Bossert, a former homeland security advisor at Trump.
Incoming President-elect Biden "must assume that the communications on the subject will be read by Russia and assume that government data or e-mails could be forged," warned Bossert.
Wilkie in the hot seat. Top veteran advocacy groups are calling on Trump to sack Veterans Secretary Robert Wilkie after an internal surveillance report was released criticizing how he handled a sexual assault allegation over the past year. The watchdog report accused Wilkie and other policy officials of the department of working behind the scenes to discredit the sexual assault survivor, a congressional assistant who said she was groped and verbally abused by a veteran at a VA medical center last year.
Wilkie dismissed the report's conclusions, saying the watchdog's report was "more devoted to assessing political issues than improving the department".
Over the moon. A Chinese moon capsule with the first fresh rock samples in over four decades returned to Earth on Thursday. This was a major accomplishment for Beijing's growing space program – and a reminder to the United States that its main geopolitical competitors are stepping up its activities in space. Looking back at a 2019 speech: Vice President Mike Pence said, "We are in a space race today, just as we were in the 1960s, and more is at stake." China has "ambitions to reach the strategic high of the moon Ground."
Speaking of which, the administrators' latest space policy document, released Wednesday, contains a roadmap for nuclear missiles and reactors on the moon, Breaking Defense reports, reflecting greater long-term ambitions for US activities in space. (Officials insisted this had nothing to do with building nuclear weapons in space.)
Fresh energy. Biden elects former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm as his Secretary of Energy. Arun Majumdar, a scientist who ran the Department of Energy's cutting-edge research agency under Obama, is in the running to be selected as assistant secretary, the Washington Post reports. If this were confirmed, Granholm and Majumdar would be responsible for maintaining the United States' massive nuclear arsenal and network of national laboratories.
Stack the boards. Trump is gaining more allies on advisory boards and commissions in the final days of his tenure, and appoints Andrew Giuliani, son of his personal attorney and White House aide, to the United States' Holocaust Memorial Council. Trump also restored the Defense Policy Board this week, appointing allies such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Air Force fighter pilot Scott O'Grady to the board.
Do you have a tip on the recent Trump administration layoffs or transition? Contact Jack (email@example.com) or Robbie (firstname.lastname@example.org).
“We were tortured, killed, and forced to flee our homes. But we are not broken. We haven't lost our hope and our will to change. Even if we had the opportunity to go back to the time before our revolution, the time before the killing and torture of our families, loved ones and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, we would still choose to break the cage of fear that we have been through Imprisoned for 40 years. "
– Omar Alshogre, a Syrian protester, former prisoner and refugee, reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring
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The army needs your help. The US Army in Europe had more or less figured out when it was all about Europe – with a clear, if simple, slogan: "Europe Strong". But last month the Pentagon merged the Army's Europe and Africa commands, meaning the newly formed US Army Europe-Africa (or USAEUR-AF for acronyms) needs a new slogan.
Do you have a good idea? The army wants to hear from you. Parking spaces for a new slogan are accepted until February 1st. Slogan ideas can be submitted here.
That's it for today.
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