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Defense Overnight: National Guard troops activated in 16 states | Generals tamp down election fears | Taiwan approved for $600M drone sale

Defense Overnight: National Guard troops activated in 16 states | Generals tamp down election fears | Taiwan approved for $600M drone sale
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Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: Happy Election Day!

More than 3,600 National Guard service members have been activated across the country ahead of possible civil unrest after the polls close.

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At least 16 states have Guard troops at the ready for a range of missions, from cybersecurity support to assisting at polling locations out of uniform. They are also on standby in case of protests on election night or later this week.

The National Guard is involved with election-related activities since federal law prohibits active-duty military from enforcing order domestically.

Continued use: Guard service members have been used frequently throughout the year to help with the coronavirus pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes and to help quell summer protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Now, with concerns over possible violence after the polls close, troops have been on standby since earlier this month, and governors have activated more troops in the past week.

Where they’ll be: Guard troops have been either activated or put on standby in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The states that so far have the largest number of the civilian soldiers and airmen on standby include Massachusetts and Texas, with 1,000 each. The smallest number in use is in Wyoming, where only one soldier has been activated to help with election cybersecurity.

Several other states have not disclosed how many of the troops could be used, including Illinois, Oregon, Florida and Pennsylvania.  

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Read more about the breakdown by state here.

 

TOP GENERALS TAMP DOWN ELECTION FEARS IN PRIVATE CALL WITH NEWS ANCHORS: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley reportedly held an off-the-record video call with top Pentagon officials and network anchors over the weekend to dispel fears that the military might play a role in the presidential election.

The Defense Department on Tuesday confirmed the existence of the call.

“We can confirm the off the record meeting took place but we’re not going to confirm the content because … well … it was off the record,” a Joint Staff spokesperson told The Hill.

What happened on the call?: Milley used Saturday's call, first reported by Axios, to stress that the military would have no role in any potential transfer of power, according to a network anchor who participated.

An official also reportedly told anchors that images of uniformed National Guard troops were not cause for alarm as the governors had requested them.

Two sources from two separate networks also confirmed to The Hill that the meeting happened.

Context: Milley, along with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, has repeatedly stressed in public that the U.S. military would remain apolitical as questions swirl around military involvement in the presidential election. 

In August, Milley told lawmakers he saw no role for U.S. troops to play in resolving any electoral dispute. 

The concerns stem from President Trump’s reluctance to confirm that he will accept the results of the election or commit to a peaceful transition of power.

Trump has also cast doubt on the integrity of mail-in ballots despite no evidence of widespread fraud. In a White House press briefing in September, he said “we’re going to have to see what happens” when asked to commit to a peaceful transition.

An unclear election: Former Vice President Joe Biden has also said that he was “absolutely convinced” troops would “escort” Trump from the White House if he lost the election but refused to leave. 

All this comes with the backdrop of Trump repeatedly using or threatening to use the military in domestic issues.

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Over the summer, the commander in chief said he might deploy active-duty troops to quell widespread protests against racial injustice and police violence. Following that, Esper held a Pentagon news conference announcing his opposition to using active-duty troops against protesters.

 

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION APPROVES $600M DRONE SALE TO TAIWAN: The Trump administration has approved selling Taiwan up to four advanced surveillance drones worth an estimated $600 million, according to a formal notice sent to Congress on Tuesday.

Selling Taipei the General Atomics-made MQ-9 SeaGuardian drones and associated equipment and training will “counter threats to Taiwan by improving Taiwan’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities,” a State Department official said.

The approval is the first one for a drone sale since the Trump administration loosened the U.S. rules for drone exports in July.

“This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” the notice to Congress said. “The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, economic and progress in the region.”

Expected to go through: Tuesday's notice kicks off a 30-day clock during which lawmakers can block the sale if they choose to, something that is not expected given broad bipartisan support for Taiwan’s defense.

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Backdrop: The formal notice of the sale comes as voters are casting their ballots in a presidential election that was marked by President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden both seeking to portray themselves as tough on China.

U.S.-China relations have plunged to new lows during the campaign as Republicans sought to deflect blame for the coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging the United States onto China, where the first cases of the virus were detected in 2016.

Another massive sale: The drone sale is also the third package of arms sales to Taiwan the Trump administration has advanced in as many weeks.

Last week, the administration announced approval for a $2.4 billion sale of 100 Boeing-made Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems and 400 Harpoon Block II Surface Launched Missiles. The week before, the administration approved $1.8 billion in sales of air-to-ground missiles, truck-mounted rocket launchers and reconnaissance pods that can be attached to Taiwan’s fighter jets.

China views such arms sales to Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory, as highly provocative. In response to the other recent arms sales, China announced sanctions against U.S. defense contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

 

ICYMI

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– The Hill: Law enforcement braces for unrest after Election Day

– The Hill: Top Senate Democrat warns of disinformation, interference around Election Day

– The Hill: Officials express confidence in voting security amid early technical glitches

– The Hill: UK raises terror threat level to 'severe' following attacks in France and Austria

– The Hill: ISIS claims credit for Vienna attack, contradicting earlier reports of suspect's identity

– The Hill: South Korean lawmaker says North building submarine capable of firing ballistic missiles

– The Washington Post: As Election Day arrives, a fight about military ballots takes center stage

– Military Times: Pentagon study says not enough rape cases are going to trial with proper evidence

– Stars and Stripes: Langley takes over Marine mission in Europe, Africa following Neary’s relief