Russia has claimed control of the salt mining town of Soledar, but Ukraine says the fierce fighting is still ongoing. The town has been the focus of the war in Ukraine this week.
We’ll discuss what Russia and Ukraine are saying about Soledar and why Moscow hopes to seize the town for a larger push toward Bakhmut.
Plus, House Republicans are divided on impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and a top GOP lawmaker renews an inquiry into the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This is Defense & National Security, your guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Brad Dress. Subscribe here.
Moscow touts win after brutal combat in Soledar
Russia says it won a big battle in Soledar, a small salt mining town in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine that has seen some of the most brutal fighting in the war.
Control of the town, which has been leveled from artillery strikes, will allow Russian forces to block Ukrainian supply routes, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.
Soledar also gives the Russian army an advantage against the bigger prize of Bakhmut, which lies just a few miles away.
Dispute: Ukraine denies Russia has taken control of the town and says fighting is ongoing.
“The tough battle for Donetsk continues,” Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky said on Friday. “The battle for Bakhmut and Soledar, for Kreminna, for other towns and villages in the east of our state continues.”
A symbolic victory: Taking Soledar itself, a small settlement, is more of a symbolic victory for Russia, which has struggled to make gains in the war and has lost territory to Ukrainian counter-offensives.
Still, it does give Russia a chance to assault the larger Bakhmut from a different direction after forces have repeatedly failed to capture the city.
Bakhmut in question: Bakhmut is an important transportation hub in Donetsk, but winning control of the city would not mark a huge gain for Russia.
Branislav Slantchev, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, said Russia must make gains elsewhere to hold Bakhmut.
“A lot of people are criticizing this pressure on Bakhmut and Soledar because even if they take them, if the Ukrainians achieve their goals in the north [Russia] can’t defend them,” he told The Hill this week.
Related: Why Russia is fighting so hard for Ukraine’s Bakhmut
House GOP probes chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting a wide array of information and documents related to the U.S. withdrawal of Afghanistan in August 2021.
McCaul says Afghanistan inquiries have been rebuffed by the Biden administration thus far — but as the new chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he said he would not allow for any future noncompliance.
“It is absurd and disgraceful that the Biden administration has repeatedly denied our longstanding oversight requests,” he said in a statement.
Fulfilling a promise: Republicans have long hinted at a larger investigation into the Afghanistan withdrawal.
GOP lawmakers last year said they would issue subpoenas and force U.S. officials to sit for depositions.
In October, ahead of an expected Republican takeover of the House, McCaul requested the Biden administration preserve related records and documents.
Big GOP concerns: Last summer, Republicans on the Foreign Affairs Committee, then in the minority, released a report slamming Biden officials for the chaotic exit.
The report faulted the administration for sloppy evacuations, understaffing and poor planning ahead of the exit.
Biden’s compliance: The State Department said it was committed to working with the congressional committee.
A spokesperson also noted the department has provided more than 150 briefings to bipartisan members since the withdrawal and has “responded to thousands of requests for information and letters.”
Republicans divided on impeaching DHS chief
Republicans have filed articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, delivering on a campaign promise for the party.
- Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) filed articles of impeachment this week against Mayorkas.
- Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) noted he previously filed articles against Mayorkas in 2021.
- Still, the GOP — while irate over his job performance — is divided on how to proceed next.
‘We need to have hearings on this’: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) pumped the brakes on eager Republicans.
McCaul said Mayorkas has “done a terrible job” but the public should see the evidence before any further proceedings.
“We need to have hearings on this and we need to gather evidence and facts,” McCaul said.
McCarthy pause: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also said he supports a more deliberate approach.
In November, McCarthy said the GOP will investigate every action and “any failure will determine whether we can begin impeachment inquiry.”
Some support: About 20 Republicans have backed Fallon’s resolution to impeach Mayorkas.
Fallon, who says Mayorkas lied two separate times when he claimed the southern border was secure, said he doesn’t want to preclude investigations.
But he is pushing for them to get started right away.
“Because this is an emergency,” he said. “This is break glass.”
MAYORKAS PUSHED FOR $500M IMMIGRATION HOUSING CONTRACT
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has waded into some more controversy.
The Washington Examiner reported on two contracts awarded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2021 to a nonprofit called Endeavors, one worth $87 million and another worth $530 million.
Email pressure: In April 2021, a DHS aide raised concerns about the legality of awarding the $530 million contract for housing immigrant children to Endeavors.
In an email obtained by The Examiner, Mayorkas replied they should look into what rules are followed closely.
Some concerns: Federal laws generally require a “full and open competition” for contract awards.
A spokesperson for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told The Examiner the contracts were awarded to Endeavors without an open, competitive bid because of an “unusual and compelling emergency.”
Also, a former member of President Biden’s administration team familiar with DHS policy, Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, joined Endeavors months before the contracts were awarded to the nonprofit.
ON TAP FOR TUESDAY
- The U.S. special representative for subnational diplomacy, Ambassador Nina Hachigian, will deliver remarks on the role of cities in advancing national and foreign policy initiatives. The event is co-hosted by the Brookings Institution’s Center for Sustainable Development and the Meridian Center and will begin at 4 p.m., with event access available online.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly to discuss U.S.-U.K. relations in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The event begins at 9 a.m. at CSIS headquarters in Washington, D.C.
- George Washington University is hosting an event in D.C. at the Elliott School of International Affairs at 9 a.m. to discuss “What Makes Ukraine Resilient in the Asymmetric War?”
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Putin rips deputy trade minister for ‘fooling around’ with military equipment
- McCarthy invites Biden to deliver State of the Union on Feb. 7
- Schumer backs special counsel in Biden documents case: ‘Let’s see how it plays out’
- Democrats in tough spot with Biden documents case
THE HILL OP-ED
The B-21 Raider is the right capability at the right time
That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage.
Programming note: We’ll be off Monday for MLK Day and will return on Tuesday.
Have a good weekend!