Overnight Defense: Pentagon preps to lift transgender ban

THE TOPLINE: The Pentagon announced on Monday that it intends to lift the ban on transgender troops serving openly in the military. 

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the creation of a working group that will work over the next six months to study the implications of lifting the ban. 

"At my direction, the working group will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified," Carter said. 

Carter also announced a new policy elevating any decisions to discharge transgender troops up to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson. 

"The Defense Department's current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions," Carter said in a statement. 

"Moreover, we have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines -- real, patriotic Americans -- who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that's contrary to our value of service and individual merit," he added. 

The announcement comes just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states. 

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithThe robbing of a wildlife refuge in Nevada House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday MORE (Wash.), top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, welcomed news of the change in a statement. 

"The brave men and women who serve in our military should not be excluded from the rights and freedoms that they risk their lives to protect. It's that simple," he said. 

"Incorporating the presumption that transgender individuals can serve openly, without adverse impact on the military effectiveness and readiness, is a step in the right direction," he added. 

Groups advocating for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender troops also praised the news. 

"We are thrilled the Department of Defense will finally be taking the necessary steps to allow our transgender service members to serve openly and honestly," said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association.


US COULD TRAIN UKRAINIAN ARMY: The United States is considering providing training to Ukrainian regular army and special operations forces who are fighting Russian-backed separatists, the Army's top commander in Europe said Monday. 

The efforts would involve about 300 U.S. soldiers at a training center in western Ukraine, which would be far from the front lines in that country's year-long fight against the separatists. The training would begin in November. 

A training program would represent a deepening of the U.S.'s military support for Ukrainian forces, after Moscow invaded the country last year and annexed the peninsula of Crimea.

About 300 U.S. forces are in western Ukraine training three battalions of Ministry of Interior's National Guard forces. That training wraps up in November.

"What is under consideration is what I call 'Phase Two,' which would begin in late November. If approved, then we would begin to train Ministry of Defense army units, starting in November," Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges told reporters Monday at the Pentagon. 

"But a final decision has not been made on that yet," he said. 

U.S. military support for Ukraine has been a flashpoint between Congress and the administration. The White House has refrained from providing lethal military assistance to Ukrainian forces out of concern that Moscow would retaliate. 

The U.S. has provided only non-lethal military aid to Ukraine, and imposed several rounds of sanctions on Moscow. 


STATE HELD BACK BENGHAZI EMAILS: The State Department has withheld two of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to visit Georgia next week Former NY Rep. Claudia Tenney to face Anthony Brindisi in House rematch Powell takes on Trump over Confederate flag MORE's emails related to the deadly 2012 siege in Benghazi, Libya, from congressional investigators.

A spokesman for the House Select Committee confirmed that the panel has not received copies of two Sept. 29, 2012, messages between Clinton and her top aides.

The development, first reported by Politico, came to light last week when the State Department responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit from the conservative group Judicial Watch.

"As non-final drafts, the bodies of these messages consist in their entirety of information that is pre-decisional and deliverable in nature," State Department official John Hackett wrote in the agency's court filing, according to Politico.

"Release of this material could reasonably be expected to chill the frank deliberations that occur when senior staff are preparing points or other draft remarks for use by senior Department officials in addressing a matter of public controversy," he added.

The messages to Clinton, who was then serving as secretary of State, reportedly mention the talking points then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice used on news shows after the siege, when she falsely said the attack developed from a spontaneous protest.

The administration quickly walked back those remarks, but Republican lawmakers accused her and others in the administration of trying to protect President Obama during his reelection campaign by downplaying terrorism's role in the assault.

The Sept. 29 date of the withheld messages suggests that the conversation may not have been about the talking points themselves, but the brewing controversy around them.

The revelation that two messages were not turned over to Congress is sure to increase tensions between State and Benghazi panel Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyMore than two dozen former prosecutors, judges, active trial lawyers support DOJ decision to dismiss Michael Flynn case Sunday shows preview: As states loosen social distancing restrictions, lawmakers address dwindling state budgets John Ratcliffe is the right choice for director of national intelligence — and for America MORE (R-S.C.).

On Friday, he ridiculed the 3,600 emails from Rice, Mills and Sullivan the department recently delivered to the panel.

"But you know what we got last week? We got 3,600 pages, half of which were press clippings, including articles about Richard Gere," he said. "So if that is their idea of complying with congressional investigations, then we are going to be at this a long time."


F-16S TO IRAQ: The U.S. delivered the first batch of F-16 fighters to the Iraqi government to be used in the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Brett McGurk, the administration's deputy special presidential envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), confirmed the deliver on Twitter.

"After years of preparation & training in the U.S., Iraqi pilots today landed the 1st squadron of Iraqi F16s in #Iraq," he said.

Iraq ordered 36 of the $65 million fighter aircraft, but deliveries were held up due to security concerns that ISIS could overrun Balad Air Base, about 45 miles from Baghdad, where the jets landed.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. would assist the Iraqi government in keeping the jets out of the terror group's hands.

He also stressed that Baghdad's forces would fly the planes.

"If they are going to be flown in combat over the skies of Iraq, they will be flown by Iraqi pilots," according to Kirby.



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