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Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told senators Sunday that a previous assessment of how soon terrorist groups will likely reconstitute in Afghanistan will speed up because of what's happening there now, according to three sources on the phone call.

Why this matters: Protecting the U.S. against terrorist threats to the homeland was an original reason for engaging the U.S. in this 20-year war.

  • Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban much faster than President Biden or his top military leaders predicted.

Behind the scenes: On a Sunday phone call between top Biden officials and senators from both parties, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Milley whether, in light of recent events, they will revise an assessment to Congress in June of a "medium" risk of terrorist groups reconstituting in Afghanistan within two years.

  • Milley responded "yes" — that he would have to assume that timeline would get moved up and that he would be happy to brief senators in a classified setting.
  • The three Biden officials on the call were Secretary of State Antony Blinken — who had already been sent out to face tough questioning on the Sunday shows — alongside Austin and Milley. 

Between the lines: Sources on the call described a surreal experience, listening in on the Biden officials brief them on the situation while checking their cellphones and seeing real-time chaos unfolding in Kabul.

  • Reports were firing across Twitter of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fleeing Afghanistan, while U.S. military scrambled to evacuate the embassy in Kabul. The chaos was the opposite of the orderly, safe withdrawal that Biden had promised.
  • Senators from both parties pressed Milley and Austin on efforts to evacuate U.S. personnel and the many thousands of Afghans who helped Americans in the war effort and are desperate to escape to save their lives from Taliban vengeance. 
  • A source on the call said the sad reality is there is no way they can evacuate by Aug 31 the more than 20,000 Afghans who want to escape the country. Many of them aren't in Kabul, the source said, and "if you're not in Kabul now, how do you get to Kabul?
  • "Two takeaways for me," the source said. "We're gonna leave tens of thousands of people behind ... and the timeline in terms of threats has accelerated."

This is a developing story ... more to come.

Go deeper

Nov 3, 2021 - World

Pentagon review finds no violation of law in drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians

Photo: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

An independent Pentagon investigation into the U.S. drone strike that mistakenly killed 10 Afghan civilians on Aug. 29 did not find evidence of criminal negligence or violation of law, according to the official tapped to lead the review.

The big picture: The botched operation was the result of "execution errors combined with confirmation bias and communication breakdowns," Lt. Gen. Sami Said, the inspector general of the Air Force, said at a press conference Wednesday. The full report is classified to protect sources and methods, according to Said.

2 hours ago - World

Report: LGBTQ+ Afghans' lives "dramatically worsened" under Taliban rule

Taliban fighters in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this month. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images

LGBTQ+ Afghans have been threatened, attacked and "faced an increasingly desperate situation and grave threats to their safety" since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last August, per a report published Wednesday.

What they're saying: "We spoke with LGBT Afghans who have survived gang rape, mob attacks, or have been hunted by their own family members who joined the Taliban, and they have no hope that state institutions will protect them," per a statement from study co-author J. Lester Feder.

4 hours ago - World

Canadian Indigenous group finds 93 suspected unmarked graves

A makeshift memorial honoring the 215 children whose remains were found in a mass grave in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, last May. Photo: Cole Burston/AFP via Getty Images

Indigenous leaders in Canada's western province of British Columbia said Tuesday they believe they've found 93 unmarked graves near a former boarding school.

The big picture: Hundreds of mass graves have been found at the grounds of former residential schools for Indigenous children since last May, when the remains of 215 children were uncovered at one such site in B.C.