The Pentagon has set up interviews this week between President-elect Joe Biden's defense policy team and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, Africa and South Korea. The move comes after Biden claimed that the Trump administration was stonewalling the transition process.
In a statement Friday, the Defense Department said that the Biden team would consult with Army Gens. Austin "Scott" Miller, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan; Stephen Townsend, head of U.S. Africa Command; and Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea.
Biden's team will also have access to top officials of the National Guard Bureau and Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Kevin Fahey, and will hold roundtables with several assistant secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries of defense, including those for special operations and low intensity conflict, the DoD said.
In prepared remarks Dec. 28, Biden complained that Trump administration political appointees were setting up "roadblocks" to a smooth transition, especially at the DoD and the Office of Management and Budget.
"All of it makes it harder for our government to protect the American people," he said, calling the alleged lack of cooperation "nothing short of irresponsibility."
"We need to make sure nothing is lost in the handoff between administrations," Biden said as he prepares to take on defense issues including climate change; the border wall; the rise of China; and the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq.
The meetings with Miller, Townsend and Abrams could set a tone for the new administration once Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.
Under executive orders issued by President Donald Trump, Miller has been tasked with reducing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by Jan. 15, despite increased attacks by the Taliban. Townsend is overseeing the withdrawal of most of the 700 to 800 U.S. troops in Somalia to neighboring countries. And Abrams is caught up in the continuing dispute between the Trump administration and Seoul over how much South Korea should contribute to maintain the presence of 28,500 U.S. troops there.
The DoD has repeatedly pushed back on the Biden transition team's complaints of a lack of cooperation.
In the statement Friday, the department said that the Biden team has been provided with 168 interviews with more than 400 officials since Nov. 23. In addition, 194 requests for information have been met, and the Biden team has been provided with more than 6,000 pages of documents, according to the DoD.
However, Jake Sullivan, the former State Department official tapped by Biden to be his national security adviser, on Sunday renewed the charge that the Defense Department "has dragged its feet" in the transition process. The issue is with political appointees at the Pentagon and not with the career professionals, he said on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS program.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.