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Army Gen. Mark Milley arrives to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 10. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Top U.S. military officers have warned against a Senate bill aimed at sweeping changes across the military justice system, including how sexual harassment, assault and other serious crimes within the ranks are prosecuted, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The military chiefs claim in letters written in May to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and released Tuesday that the proposed bill would "undermine military leadership," per WSJ.

  • Sexual assaults jumped across all four military services to 20,500 last year — a rise of almost 38% from 2018 — survey results the Pentagon released in May show.

Details: If passed, the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act would strip commanders of their authority to decide whether to try serious criminal cases in court, instead allowing independent military prosecutors to make those decisions.

  • The bipartisan bill, led by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), has enough support to overcome the chamber’s 60-vote threshold to advance most legislation.

What they're saying: “It is my professional opinion that removing commanders from the prosecution decisions, process, and accountability may have an adverse effect on readiness, mission accomplishment, good order and discipline, justice, unit cohesion, trust, and loyalty between commanders and those they lead,” chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley wrote.

  • "Large scale removal of commanders’ authority could cause sailors to doubt the capabilities of their commanders or to believe that their commanders operate without the full trust of their superiors,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday noted.
    • “I have seen no evidence that there is a lack of trust among victims for all crimes for which the punishment exceeds one year of confinement.”
  • Yes, but: “[I]n the specific and limited circumstance of sexual assault, I remain open-minded to all solutions," Milley added.
  • He asked that any changes to commanders’ authority “be rigorously analyzed, evidence-based, and narrow in scope, limited only to sexual assault and related offenses.”

The other side: Gillibrand called the comments from the military leaders disappointing but unsurprising.

  • “The chain of command has always fought to protect the status quo, just as they are doing here,” she said, per the WSJ. “Their arguments are recycled talking points from the battles for progress in the past and are void of any coherent argument beyond the vapid 'good order and discipline.'"

Of note via the WSJ: "[I]t is unusual for military leaders to offer such detailed arguments against pending legislation."

What to watch: A comparable House bill is set to be introduced on Wednesday.

Go deeper

Milley says top Trump officials knew of calls to Chinese counterpart

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley told senators on Tuesday that top Trump officials, including chief of staff Mark Meadows, were briefed on calls he made to reassure his Chinese counterpart that former President Trump would not launch a surprise attack in his final days in office.

Why it matters: Some Republicans have accused Milley of disloyalty and demanded he resign in the wake of the revelations, which were first reported in Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's new book. Milley insisted in his testimony the calls were completely appropriate and intended to de-escalate the possibility of conflict with China.

Scoop: Milley's blunt private blame for the State Department

Photo: Rod Lamkey-Pool/Getty Images

In a classified briefing with senators on Tuesday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley directly blamed the State Department for a botched evacuation from Afghanistan, saying officials "waited too long" to order the operation out of Kabul's airport, two sources with direct knowledge of the briefing told Axios.

Why it matters: Those private remarks were far more blunt than Milley's public testimony, in which the nation's top general said the issue of whether the order should have been given earlier is an "open question that needs further exploration."

Generals contradict commander

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley testifies on Tuesday. Photo: Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden sold his strategy for getting out of Afghanistan on uniformity of support. On Tuesday, the people in uniform contradicted him.

Driving the news: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, testified they recommended keeping 2,500 troops in Afghanistan to prevent the collapse of Afghan security forces.

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