Overnight Defense: US nearing halfway point of Afghanistan withdrawal | Army soldiers mistakenly raid olive oil factory

Happy Tuesday 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: The U.S. military is nearly at the halfway point in pulling its forces from Afghanistan only a month into the effort, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday.

U.S. Central Command estimates that it has completed “between 30 to 44 percent of the entire retrograde process,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. 


He added that the Defense Department has shipped roughly 300 C-17 aircraft loads of material out of Afghanistan and has turned nearly 13,000 pieces of equipment over to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction since the withdrawal began on May 1.

A fast timeline: President Biden in April ordered all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked America’s longest conflict. Several reports, however, have indicated the withdrawal could be completed as soon as July.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that the withdrawal is “slightly ahead” of schedule, but he did not offer further details of the pace.

Hand it over: Washington has also officially handed over six facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, according to a Centcom statement released earlier Tuesday.

Agence France-Presse reported earlier Tuesday that U.S. forces will be handing over their main Bagram Air Base to Afghan forces in roughly 20 days, though Kirby would not confirm the report.

“I’ve seen the press report on Bagram. I’m obviously not going to get ahead of specific retrograde milestones,” Kirby said.

He added that Bagram — which was built by the Soviet Union in the 1980s and serves as the U.S. and NATO forces’ biggest military facility in Afghanistan — will be turned over as part of the withdrawal, but he would not confirm the timing, citing operational security.




A group of 39 House Democrats on Tuesday introduced a new bill to ensure that transgender dependent of active duty service members have access to needed health care. 

Led by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), the Armed Forces Transgender Dependent Protection Act would prevent the Defense Department from stationing service members and their transgender dependents “in states or countries that prohibit or otherwise restrict gender affirming healthcare and treatments” for them. 

“Despite the progress that we have made in our fight for LGBTQ equality, service members and their transgender dependents continue to face hurdles that threaten their development,” Panetta said in a statement announcing the bill.

Context: Republicans in more than 30 states across the country have passed or advanced legislation targeting transgender Americans, particularly students, in the past several months. Democrats and LGBT advocates have deemed such legislation as discriminatory and several lawsuits are expected to ensue.

Earlier on Tuesday, the first day of Pride Month, Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a law that prohibits transgender student athletes from playing on teams that align with their gender identity.

A pushback: The Biden administration has taken steps to show support for LGBT rights. 

President BidenJoe BidenBiden congratulates election of new Israeli president amid agreement to oust Netanyahu Trump DOJ seized phone records of New York Times reporters ‘Blue’s Clues’ hosts virtual Pride parade with help of former ‘Drag Race’ contestant MORE in January signed an executive order lifting the ban on transgender service members implemented during the Trump administration.

An extra step: But the Democratic lawmakers want to make sure the Pentagon goes a step further and install protections for the dependents of service members.  

“Across America, Republican-led states have embarked on the discriminatory mission of legislatively outlawing medical treatment for trans Americans,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “Ensuring that transgender children and spouses of active duty service members can access medically necessary treatment is a question of dignity, fairness, and civil rights.”



U.S. soldiers accidentally raided an olive oil factory in Bulgaria during a larger NATO exercise last month, U.S. Army Europe and Africa revealed Tuesday.


During Exercise Swift Response 21 — a drill across Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania meant to deter Russian military aggression — soldiers assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade simulated seizing and securing the decommissioned Cheshnegirovo airfield in Bulgaria by entering and clearing bunkers and structures.

What went wrong: But during the course of the exercise on May 11, soldiers “entered and cleared a building next to the airfield that they believed was part of the training area, but that was occupied by Bulgarian civilians operating a private business,” according to an Army statement. “No weapons were fired at any time during the interaction.”

Apologies in order: Army officials “sincerely apologize to the business and its employees,” and said they are “fully investigating the cause of this mistake.”

The statement added that the Army would “implement rigorous procedures to clearly define our training areas and prevent this type of incident in the future.”

Caught on film: A video of the mistaken seizure was posted to Twitter by Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, who reported that the factory owner had filed a lawsuit after the mix up.




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