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Overnight Defense: NATO expanding troops in Iraq

Overnight Defense: NATO expanding troops in Iraq
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Happy Thursday 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: NATO expanding troops in Iraq

NATO will expand its security training mission in Iraq by thousands of troops following a deadly rocket attack on a military air base earlier this week.

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The 30-member alliance will increase its personnel in Iraq from 500 to around 4,000, a move to prevent the war-torn country from becoming a breeding ground for terrorists, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced Thursday.

“ISIS still operates in Iraq and we need to make sure they’re not able to return,” Stoltenberg told reporters at the end of a two-day virtual NATO defense ministers meeting.

What the increase means: He said NATO’s efforts will now include more Iraqi security institutions and areas beyond Baghdad, though their presence “is conditions-based and increases in troop numbers will be incremental.”

He added that the Iraqi government had made a request for the expanded mission, which will begin in the coming months.

The forces already there: NATO has been in Iraq since 2004 to train Iraqi security forces. Its current training mission, which began in 2018, is meant to help the Iraqi forces prevent ISIS from resurging. 

The increase in NATO troops could possibly ease pressure on U.S. forces in Iraq, where about 2,500 troops are based for a mission separate from the alliance.

Will the US also increase?: A senior Defense official told reporters earlier this week that the Pentagon “welcomes NATO’s increased focus on Iraq,” but would not say if the U.S. would add more troops to the training mission.

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Response to attack: Plans for an expanded NATO footprint follows the rocket attack Monday on Erbil International Airport, a military air base in northern Iraq, which killed a civilian contractor and injured nine people, including a U.S. service member.

The militant Shia group Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed credit for the attack, though the Biden administration has not publicly confirmed who is responsible for the strike.

The State Department on Wednesday vowed “consequences for any group responsible for this attack.”

 

Suspended head of Army War College faces sexual misconduct investigation

The suspended head of the Army War College is being investigated over allegations of sexual misconduct, numerous outlets reported Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Maranian “was suspended from his duties for an allegation of inappropriate touching unrelated to his current position,” Army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told Military.com in a statement.

Special agents from Army Criminal Investigation Command are investigating the allegation, Smith added.

Further details: Task and Purpose reported that Maranian is under investigation over alleged abusive sexual contact with an Army civilian, and that a military protective order was issued against him on Feb. 9, the day he was suspended.

“No further information will be released at this time to protect the integrity of the investigative process,” Smith said. “These are allegations at this time, and MG Maranian is presumed innocent until and if proven otherwise.”

A long-time problem: The Army for years has struggled to curtail sexual harassment and assault within the ranks, an effort that was ramped up following an independent review at Fort Hood in Texas that found leadership failures allowed unchecked and widespread sexual assault and violence.

New pledges: Army Secretary John Whitley, the service’s top civilian leader, last week called on the force to combat “corrosive behavior” including discrimination, extremist views and sexual harassment.

And Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinBiden pledges to end 'scourge of sexual assault in the military' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Johns Hopkins University - CDC announces long-awaited guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans Will Lloyd Austin stand up to the generals? MORE during his nomination hearing pledged to “fight hard to stamp out sexual assault.”

 

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Biden shifts approach to Saudi leaders

President BidenJoe BidenCNN: Bidens' dogs removed from the White House Federal judge rules 'QAnon shaman' too dangerous to be released from jail Pelosi says Capitol riot was one of the most difficult moments of her career MORE is shifting the U.S. approach to Saudi Arabia by turning away from the priority diplomatic access given to certain Saudi officials during the Trump administration, which gave the kingdom a prominent role in America’s Middle East policy.

Biden is expected to speak at some point with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, signaling a downgrade in relations with the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, an outsize figure on the world stage.

‘Recalibrate’ relationship: The pointed emphasis that Biden will communicate with the Saudi king, a move described by White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiOvernight Defense: Report urges sweeping changes to Capitol security | Biden touts female general nominees on International Women's Day | US stands by Saudis after 'heinous' Houthi attacks Overnight Health Care: After a brutal year, is the US getting close to normal? | CDC says it's safe for vaccinated people to gather indoors | Biden to give prime-time address on anniversary of pandemic lockdown On The Money: House to vote on COVID-19 relief by Wednesday | Answers for your stimulus check questions | Dow sets new record as Nasdaq hits correction MORE as an effort to “recalibrate” the relationship between Washington and Riyadh, indicates the president is taking steps toward his commitment to more forcefully confront Riyadh over its human rights abuses while still working together on shared goals.

How Trump handled it: The crown prince played a prominent role in the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East, reportedly exchanging WhatsApp messages with former White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerBiden to speak with Saudi king 'soon' as pressure builds for Khashoggi report Biden to speak with Saudi king ahead of Khashoggi report: report Former Trump officials eye bids for political office MORE, helping pave the way for the Abraham Accords, opening relations between Israel and Gulf and African nations.

But the crown prince also alienated Washington over his alleged role in ordering the killing and dismemberment of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in October 2018.

Trump notably downplayed the crown prince’s role in Khashoggi’s killing in an effort to maintain strong bilateral ties, writing in an extraordinary statement that “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t” have knowledge of the plot against the journalist who wrote for The Washington Post.

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Rolling back: Biden’s director of national intelligence, Avril HainesAvril HainesTo win the climate battle, we need the intelligence community The intelligence community must evolve with the information age Duckworth calls for Russian bounties intelligence to be declassified MORE, has committed to declassifying the U.S. intelligence report on Khashoggi’s death that reportedly concluded Crown Prince Mohammed personally ordered the killing.

Biden administration officials have welcomed the Abraham Accords from the Trump era as a positive development, but already taken steps to roll back U.S. support for Saudi actions viewed as contributing to human rights atrocities.

Read the rest here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW 

The House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security will hold a hearing on “A Pathway for Peace in Afghanistan: Examining the Findings and Recommendations of the Afghanistan Study Group,” with former Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteOvernight Defense: NATO expanding troops in Iraq Overnight Defense: New START extended for five years | Austin orders 'stand down' to tackle extremism | Panel recommends Biden delay Afghanistan withdrawal Study group recommends Biden delay Afghanistan withdrawal MORE (R-N.H.), and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, at 10:30 a.m. 

U.S. President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronUnder Draghi's lead, Italy takes Europe another step away from populism Syrian president Assad tests positive for coronavirus French lawmaker killed in helicopter crash MORE will participate in a Munich Security Conference virtual event on “A New Transatlantic Agenda,” at 11:15 a.m. 

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The Hudson Institute will hold a virtual discussion on “The Future of U.S. Seapower: A View from Congress,” with Rep. Joe CourtneyJoseph (Joe) D. CourtneyLawmakers gird for spending battle over nuclear weapons Overnight Defense: NATO expanding troops in Iraq South Carolina Republican tests positive for coronavirus hours after speaking on House floor MORE (D-Conn.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's seapower and projection forces subcommittee; and Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.), ranking member of the subpanel, at 12 p.m.  

 

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