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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

Oct 14, 2021 - World

Taliban press Biden to release frozen Afghan assets as economy shrivels

Afghans wait outside a bank in hopes of withdrawing cash, watched by a Taliban fighter. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty

With the Afghan government and economy starved of cash, the Taliban are pressing their claim to the roughly $8 billion in Afghan foreign reserves that have been frozen by the U.S.

Why it matters: Afghanistan is barreling into a humanitarian crisis, and donor countries and international institutions have cut off the aid that accounted for some 75% of the previous government’s budget.

California governor declares drought emergency for entire state

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speakinng to reporters in Los Angeles in September. Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) extended a drought emergency declaration to cover the entire state on Tuesday.

Why it matters: "California is experiencing its worst drought since the late 1800s, as measured by both lack of precipitation and high temperatures," per a statement from the governor's office. This past August was the driest and hottest one on record, "and the water year that ended last month was the second driest on record," the statement added.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Reports: Brazil leader to be accused of crimes against humanity over COVID

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Brazilian Senate panel will recommend President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with "crimes against humanity," alleging his COVID-19 pandemic response led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, per the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The latest: The lawmakers initially said Bolsonaro should be charged with mass homicide and genocide, but lawmakers updated the report to replace these recommendations with the new charge, its lead author, Sen. Renan Calheiros, told the NYT.