Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Ellen Mitchell, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

  THE TOPLINE: President BidenJoe BidenConsultants found extensive concrete deterioration at Surfside building in 2020: report Arkansas coronavirus cases reach new high for second day since the winter Emergency physician gathering photos among wreckage of Surfside building collapse MORE “fully supports” Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinFormer Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dies at 88 Navy won’t take further action against?ex-SEAL over ‘killed’?captive comments The way forward in Afghanistan MORE’s recommendations on tackling sexual assault in the military, including the proposal to remove decisions to prosecute sex crimes from the chain of command.

  Biden’s support comes as the administration on Friday officially rolled out the findings of the Independent Review Commission, which was tasked with studying ways to eradicate what has been a pervasive issue in the military.

  ”I strongly support Secretary Austin’s announcement that he is accepting the core recommendations put forward by the Independent Review Commission on Military Sexual Assault (IRC), including removing the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault from the chain of command and creating highly specialized units to handle these cases and related crimes,” Biden said in a statement after the report’s release.

  The beginning: “Today’s announcement is the beginning, not the end of our work,” he added. “This will be among the most significant reforms to our military undertaken in recent history, and I’m committed to delivering results.”

  Report details: In the nearly 300-page document, “Hard Truths and the Duty to Change,” the commission laid out more than 80 recommendations, the most major being the creation of a special victim prosecutor office and to “shift legal decisions about prosecution of special victim cases out of the chain of command,” according to the report.

  Including military justice reform, the IRC report makes a total of 28 recommendations and 54 sub-recommendations in the areas of accountability, prevention, climate and culture and victim care and support, all of which its authors said are equally important and interdependent in stopping sex crimes in the military.

  A ‘strong bias’: In memo released Friday, Austin said he has a “strong bias toward accepting” the report’s recommendations “wherever possible with adjustments made to ensure effective implementation.” Austin arrived at his decision after “extensive consultation with the military and civilian leadership” of the military branches, he added.

  On a background call ahead of the release of the IRC report, a senior administration official told reporters that Biden spoke with Austin about these issues “and fully supports his approach.”

  Biden is “really pleased to see that there is a growing consensus that these crimes should be taken out of the chain of command,” the official added.

  Background: In one of his first acts after taking office, Biden ordered Austin to review the military’s policies on sexual assault and harassment and find new ways to tackle a problem that Pentagon leaders have struggled to stem for years. Biden had said during the 2020 presidential campaign he supported removing the decision to prosecute major crimes such as sexual assault from the chain of command.

  In line with Biden’s order, Austin in February empaneled the IRC and appointed Lynn Rosenthal, formerly the first-ever White House adviser on violence against women and a well-known gender violence expert, to lead the effort.

  More on the report: The report recommends the reforms to the Uniform Code of Military Justice take effect in 2023 in order to have enough time to build the new structure of special victims prosecutors, according to the document.

  Among the findings of the IRC — which spoke to 600 people, including survivors, researchers, former service members, commanders, junior and senior enlisted members and advocates — was that there is a “troubling gap between what senior leaders say about this problem and how junior enlisted members experience the problem,” the official said.

  “We have heard for many years that there is no tolerance for sexual harassment and sexual assault, but we learned that in practice there is quite a lot of tolerance,” the official added.

  The commission also found “critical deficiencies” in the workforce, including a lack of experience and specialization.

  Read the rest of the story here.


  The top general leading U.S. military operations in Afghanistan will transfer his command to the head of U.S. Central Command “effective later this month,” as the United States brings to a close its longest-running conflict, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson announced Friday.

  “As part of our ongoing drawdown process [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] approved a plan today to transfer command authority over our mission in Afghanistan from Gen. Scott Miller to Gen. Frank McKenzie. We expect that transfer to be effective later this month,” press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

  Miller will remain in theater “for a number of weeks” to prepare for and to complete the turnover to McKenzie, and will likely travel in and out of the country as he does this, Kirby said

  Almost done: Kirby called the change in leadership structure — as well as the turnover of Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan earlier on Friday — “key milestones in our drawdown process reflecting a smaller U.S. force presence” in the country.

  The moves effectively end major U.S. military operations in Afghanistan since they began nearly 20 years ago following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

  The U.S. is now more than halfway done with withdrawing the last of the roughly 3,500 troops that remained there, and Kirby said officials believe that will be finished by the end of August.

  What’s going to happen now: Even with the change of authority, Kirby said that McKenzie will “continue to exercise authority over the conduct of any and all counterterrorism operations needed to protect the homeland from threats emanating out of Afghanistan” and he will lead U.S. efforts to create plans for logistical, financial and technical support to Afghan forces once the drawdown is complete. Details on that are still to be worked out.

  Additional changes: As part of the new arrangement, Austin also approved the establishment of U.S. Forces Afghanistan Forward to be led by Navy Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, a one-star Navy SEAL officer.

  Vasely will be the senior U.S. military officer in Kabul and oversee a smaller security mission while reporting to McKenzie, Kirby said.

  He will also be supported by Brig. Gen. Curtis Buzzard, who will lead the Defense Security Cooperation Management Office Afghanistan based in Qatar.

  Meanwhile, Bagram emptied: U.S. troops vacated Bagram on Thursday night, leaving its once most important airfield.

  Bagram was the U.S. and NATO’s biggest military facility in Afghanistan. Kirby said last month that it would be turned over as part of withdrawal, though he did not confirm the timing.


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  – Military Times: Military needs commanders who truly don’t support sexual assault, commission concludes

  – The New York Times: U.S. Leaves Its Last Afghan Base, Effectively Ending Operations