Overnight Defense: Three-star general to lead Pentagon's Puerto Rico efforts | Joint Chiefs chair confirmed to second term | ISIS releases purported message from leader

Overnight Defense: Three-star general to lead Pentagon's Puerto Rico efforts | Joint Chiefs chair confirmed to second term | ISIS releases purported message from leader
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THE TOPLINE: The military command in charge of aid and restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands announced Thursday it would send a three-star general to coordinate the government's response to the devastated U.S. territories.

U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) is sending Army Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, head of the NORTHCOM's Joint Force Land Component Command, to serve as the Pentagon's primary liaison to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"Lt. Gen. Buchanan is scheduled to arrive later today in Puerto Rico and is expected to link with FEMA and Puerto Rico officials to lead U.S. Northern Command's efforts in response and recovery," NORTHCOM said in a statement.

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Also on Thursday, Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan pledged to Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló that the Pentagon "will stay aligned with FEMA's plan to stabilize the situation and sustain life in Puerto Rico." 

Speaking to Rosselló by phone, Shanahan "made clear supporting the territory's citizens is a top priority, and DoD will deploy all needed resources to do so," according to a Pentagon statement on the call.

The Pentagon has been steadily increasing its help to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after both territories were slammed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the past month.

Read more here.

 

The Pentagon appointment comes after the White House earlier Thursday announced that President Trump has agreed to waive the Jones Act. The waiver will temporarily lift shipping restrictions on Puerto Rico and enable the island to receive necessary aid.

The waiver from the shipping law, which requires American-made and -operated vessels to transport cargo between U.S. ports, will only last for 10 days and goes into effect immediately.

Read more on that here.

 

Some GOP senators, though, say a temporarily easing isn't enough and want to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the act.

Read more here.

 

JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN CONFIRMED TO SECOND TERM: Gen. Joseph Dunford has been confirmed for a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking military officer in the country.

The Senate approved Dunford by voice vote Wednesday night, hours after the Senate Armed Services Committee did the same and a day after his confirmation hearing.

Dunford's easy confirmation was expected, as he's highly respected by both Republicans and Democrats.

Dunford has been Joint Chiefs chairman since 2015 when he was nominated by former President Obama. In May, President Trump nominated him for a second term.

Read the rest here.

 

ISIS LEADER REPORTEDLY ALIVE: The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has released audio of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after months of speculation over whether he's still alive.

The date of the recording is unclear, but Baghdadi makes reference to North Korean threats against Japan and the U.S., according to multiple reports.

"The North Koreans have begun threatening America and Japan with nuclear power, and the Americans, Russians and Europeans live terrified in fear of strikes from the mujahideen," he said in the recording, according to Newsweek.

The 46-minute recording, released Thursday by the ISIS-linked Al-Furqan news organization, is Baghdadi's first since November.

The Hill's Rebecca Kheel has more here.  

 

SENATE APPROVES HUNTSMAN AS RUSSIA AMBASSADOR: President Trump's choice to be the next ambassador to Russia easily cleared the Senate on Thursday.

The chamber approved Jon Huntsman's nomination by a voice vote as part of a slate of Trump picks, before wrapping up their work for the week.

The fast floor action comes after Huntsman cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

"This particular ambassadorship requires a great deal of poise, intellect, and experience, and I have no doubt that Jon is just the man for the job," Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Senate panel to vote Thursday on Trump's pick to lead IRS Romney: Trump's remarks at Putin summit 'disgraceful and detrimental to democratic principles' MORE (R-Utah) said after the Senate's action.

Huntsman's nomination comes amid a rocky point in the U.S.-Russia relationship.

Moscow expelled more than 700 diplomats earlier this year after Congress easily passed legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia and block Trump's ability to unilaterally lift existing sanctions.

Multiple congressional committees, as well as special counsel Robert Mueller, are also investigating Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election and potential contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Huntsman said at his confirmation hearing that there is "no question" Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Read more here.

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: US preparing major drawdown of diplomats in Cuba

-- The Hill: Pentagon, State officials opposed Trump's decision to include Chad in travel ban

-- The Hill: Puerto Rico aid supplies trapped at San Juan port

-- The Hill: North Korea rejects claim that Otto Warmbier was tortured

-- Defense News: Army to halt WIN-T, its battlefield network backbone

 

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com, and Ellen Mitchell, emitchell@thehill.com.

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