Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, 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 six-part series was based largely on private interviews with the officials done by a government watchdog the Post obtained through the dom of Information Act.
In the interviews, U.S. officials frequently acknowledged a lack of understanding, strategy and progress in a war they regularly described publicly as being on the cusp of success.
“After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan,” retired Navy SEAL Jeffrey Eggers, a White House staffer in the Bush and Obama administrations, said in a private interview.
Interviewees also describe a deliberate disinformation campaign meant to spin discouraging statistics as evidence the United States was prevailing in the war.
“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel and senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, said in an interview.
“Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone,” he added.
In 2015, Ret. Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who served as a top advisor on the war during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” according to the Post.
Context: The United States has about 13,000 troops fighting in America’s longest war. Most are focused on training Afghan forces to fight the Taliban, while a smaller number of special forces conduct counterterrorism operations against groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration was close to a deal with the Taliban that would have seen U.S. troops withdraw in exchange for assurances from the insurgents that they would not allow Afghanistan to be a safe haven for terrorists to plan attacks on the United States.
The deal crumbled after Trump invited Taliban leaders to Camp David and then disinvited them. But this past weekend, U.S.-Taliban talks resumed for the first time since the scuttled Camp David meeting, with Trump’s envoy for the talks meeting with Taliban officials in Qatar.
Trump has expressed a strong desire to withdraw from Afghanistan with or without a deal with the Taliban. But U.S. military officials have consistently warned against a “premature” withdrawal from the country, assuring that progress was being made.
About the documents: The interviews were conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for its “Lessons Learned” series of reports.
SIGAR has published seven Lessons Learned reports based on the interviews and other research, but those omitted the most blunt language and grim judgments found in the raw interviews published by the Post, boiling them down into more bureaucratic assessments.
The Post obtained more than 2,000 pages of unpublished notes and more than 400 interview transcripts after suing SIGAR for them twice. Numerous names are redacted, and the Post has sued for the names to be revealed. While a decision is still pending, the newspaper wrote that it chose to publish them now amid U.S.-Taliban negotiations.
“We didn’t sit on it,” Sopko, whose office has issued some of the harshest official assessments of the war, told the Post. “We’re firm believers in openness and transparency, but we’ve got to follow the law… I think of any inspector general, I’ve probably been the most forthcoming on information.”
Sopko also told the Post the documents show “the American people have constantly been lied to” on Afghanistan.
Reaction: Those who have been pushing for an end to so-called forever wars held up the Post’s report as evidence that it is time to bring troops home from Afghanistan.
“This vital investigation goes to show that Congress and the American people have been grossly misled about the nearly two decade-long war in Afghanistan. It’s long past time to bring our troops home and end what has become an endless war,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) tweeted.
“We’ve spent $2 trillion on a war our own government knew we couldn’t win, and still lack the courage to end the conflict,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in his own tweet. “We need to withdraw from Afghanistan.”
“Given these costs in American lives and funds, it is deeply troubling to read a report of interviews with U.S. government officials that appear to contradict the many assurances we have heard at committee hearings that the continuing war in Afghanistan has a coherent strategy and an end in sight,” Gillibrand wrote.
“The committee owes it to the American public to hold hearings to examine the questions raised by this reporting and provide clarity with respect to our strategy in Afghanistan, a clear definition of success, and an honest and complete review of the obstacles on the ground,” she added.
AMAZON ACCUSES TRUMP OF ‘IMPROPER PRESSURE’: Amazon is accusing President Trump of exerting “improper pressure” to influence the Pentagon to award a lucrative cloud-computing contract to Microsoft instead of Amazon, which was a clear front-runner before Trump began intervening in the process over the summer.
In a court filing made public on Monday, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s cloud-computing arm, alleged Trump engaged in “public and behind-the-scenes attacks” to steer the contract away from AWS out of spite for his “perceived political enemy — Jeff Bezos,” the CEO and owner of Amazon, as well as The Washington Post.
“The publicly available record of President Trump’s statements and actions demonstrates that he repeatedly attacked and vilified his perceived political enemy – Mr. Bezos, the founder and CEO of AWS’s parent company, Amazon, and who separately owns the Washington Post and then intervened in this procurement process to thwart the fair administration of DoD’s procurement of technology and services critical to the modernization of the U.S. military,” Amazon wrote in the filing.
Amazon is asking the court to declare that the award was not doled out legally, and is seeking to prevent the Pentagon from moving forward with Microsoft. If Amazon wins its challenge, the Department of Defense (DOD) would have to start the bidding process over.
Background: While it’s relatively common for companies to protest government contract award decisions in court, Amazon’s case in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is unprecedented as one of the largest companies in the country takes on the president himself over allegations of improper intervention and personal animus.
The cloud-computing contract, dubbed the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract – or JEDI – is worth up to $10 billion and enables one company to develop the cloud infrastructure across the entire DOD. The contract will allow Microsoft to develop cloud-computing infrastructure for the U.S. military for up to 10 years, ending in October 2029. The deal bolsters Microsoft’s position in the multi-billion dollar cloud-computing “wars.”
Amazon is the No. 1 player in the cloud-computing space with an approximately 48 percent market share. And the military has given AWS, which provides cloud-computing for the CIA, its highest data-management certification, while Microsoft’s certification is one level lower.
Industry watchers were stunned by the Pentagon’s decision to award the contract to Microsoft, arguing that Amazon seemed to be best-positioned to take on the task. But Microsoft is also a popular cloud-computing partner for the federal government, and the Pentagon has maintained that the company was simply best-equipped to create the DOD’s cloud infrastructure.
Pentagon response: A DOD spokeswoman on Monday said there were “no external influences” on the decision to award the JEDI contract to Microsoft over Amazon.
“This source selection decision was made by an expert team of career public servants and military officers from across the Department of Defense and in accordance with DOD’s normal source-selection process,” said Elissa Smith. “There were no external influences on the source selection decision. The department is confident in the JEDI award and remains focused on getting this critical capability into the hands of our warfighters as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Smith declined to comment on specific claims in litigation “at this time.”
IMPEACHMENT LATEST: The House Judiciary Committee held the latest impeachment hearing Monday, with testimony from Democratic and Republican counsel on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
The hearing, which was an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to try to win the public relations battle ahead of the impending vote on impeachment, repeatedly grew heated.
The drama started minutes into the hearing, when a pro-Trump protester stood up in the public seating area and yelled accusations that Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) was committing treason by trying to remove President Trump from office.
Fireworks also flew when Republicans on the committee accused a Democratic counsel impugning Trump’s motives.
The Judiciary hearing began to go off the rails almost immediately after it began as GOP members began making points of order demanding a minority hearing.
A little more than an hour into the hearing, Republicans expressed outrage at Democratic counsel Barry Berke’s evidence, as Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) accused him of impugning Trump.
Johnson interrupted Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) as he attempted to recognize Republican counsel Stephen Castor, with Johnson accusing Berke of violating Rule 17 of the House of Representatives, which deals with decorum and debate.
“The witness has used language which impugns the motives of the president and suggests that he’s disloyal to his country, and those words should be stricken from the record and taken down,” Johnson said.
A full rundown of the hearing, which was still happening as of publishing time, is at TheHill.com’s liveblog.
Nadler dismisses GOP requests: Separate from Monday’s hearing, Nadler has dismissed a Republican request for eight witnesses to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry, including House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and the whistleblower who first brought forward the allegations about President Trump’s contacts with Ukraine.
Nadler in a letter Monday to the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), took issue with the witnesses the Republicans intended to call.
“[T]he Committee has previously tabled motions with regards to these matters … and I see no reason to reconsider these requests,” Nadler wrote, adding that there is “no need” to hear from Schiff and the whistleblower.
Nadler also shot down other witnesses Republicans requested, including Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and witnesses related to unfounded GOP-claims of Ukrainian interference during the 2016 election.
Nadler said five of Collins’s remaining requests were previously made by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, and that he concurs with Schiff’s earlier “assessment” that hearings “will not serve … as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations” into 2016 interference and the Bidens.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has three hearings scheduled:
— A subcommittee hearing on U.S. policy in Haiti at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2LDjMjy
— A subcommittee hearing on political and religious human rights challenges in China 1:30 p.m. at Rayburn 2200. https://bit.ly/2Yz1Mft
— A subcommittee hearing on the way forward in Iraq at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2172. https://bit.ly/2P4OPqq
A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on diversity in recruiting and retention at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2118. https://bit.ly/2YzQDLb
— The Hill: Impeachment, Ukraine, Syria and warheads color Washington visit by Russian top diplomat
— The Hill: Trump, Russian foreign minister to meet Tuesday
— The Hill: Military bases increase security after shootings in Hawaii, Florida
— The Hill: US to ask UN Security Council to discuss recent North Korean missile launches
— The Hill: Opinion: ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘The Dotard,’ redux
— The Hill: Opinion: Israel needs US-made weapons to contain Iran’s aggression
— Associated Press: Pensacola gunman got around a ban on foreigners buying guns
— New York Times: NATO conference is canceled after U.S. ambassador barred a Trump critic