Overnight Defense: Top general says countering Iran in Syria isn't US mission | Trump, Boeing reach 'informal' agreement for new Air Force One | Chair warns of Russian mercenaries in Syria

Overnight Defense: Top general says countering Iran in Syria isn't US mission | Trump, Boeing reach 'informal' agreement for new Air Force One | Chair warns of Russian mercenaries in Syria
© Getty Images

THE TOPLINE: The general in charge of U.S. Central Command said Tuesday that countering Iran is not a mission of the American-led coalition fighting ISIS.

Asked by Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyLiz Cheney calls Ayanna Pressley's comments at Netroots Nation 'racist' Lawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei Cheney blasts Ocasio-Cortez over DHS dissolution MORE (R-Wyo.) about what the United States can do in Syria to address threats posed by Iran, Gen. Joseph Votel replied: "As you know, countering Iran is not one of the coalition missions in Syria."

Still, Votel added, the coalition's relationships with the government of Iraq and with the Syrian Democratic Forces "put us in a position where we can impede Iran's objectives of establishing lines of communication through these critical areas and trying to connect Tehran to Beirut, for example."

ADVERTISEMENT

Votel's clarification during a House Armed Services Committee hearing comes after Trump administration officials have said the U.S. military will stay in Syria past the defeat of ISIS in part to prevent Iran from gaining influence in the region.

Specifically, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month laid out a U.S. strategy in Syria that includes an indefinite stay for troops.

The Hill's Rebecca Kheel has the rest here.

 

THORNBERRY: US SHOULD BE 'ALERT' ABOUT RUSSIAN MERCENARIES IN SYRIA: The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday the United States needs to be "alert" about Russia using mercenaries to hide its activities in Syria and elsewhere.

"I do think that we ought to be alert for the potential that Russia uses some sort of mercenary forces as a way to camouflage their activities, not only in Syria, but we may well see it in other places," Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryHillicon Valley: Intel chief creates new election security position | Privacy groups want role in new tech task force | Republicans urge Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud contract Republican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract House and Senate head for showdown on must-pass defense bill MORE (R-Texas) told reporters.

Thornberry's comment came after a committee hearing with Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, in which he repeatedly refused to identify the composition of the force that struck U.S.-backed forces in Syria this month, prompting a U.S. airstrike that reportedly killed and injured hundreds.

At issue is an incident in Deir ez-Zour province, where forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and U.S.-backed forces have been converging to eliminate Syria's last remaining pockets of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters. The United States and Russia have agreed to "deconflict" the area by having each of its forces stay on separate sides of the Euphrates River.

Read more here.

 

MILITARY EXERCISE IN SOUTH KOREAN MAY BE FURTHER DELAYED: The idea of further delaying joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises following the Winter Olympics was raised during a delegation's trip to South Korea last week, a senior congressional staffer said Tuesday.

"There was a conversation about that," the senior staffer for Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Trump says US will not sell Turkey F-35s after Russian missile defense system purchase MORE (R-Okla.) told reporters Tuesday during a background meeting. "I think that we would think that we should move forward, continue to do our very legal and very regular military exercises with Korea and make sure we're looping in the Japanese at every appropriate juncture."

Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led a delegation on a trip last week that included stops in Hawaii, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Guam and Alaska.

Last month, the U.S. agreed to South Korea's request to delay a pair of annual joint military exercises known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve in an effort to decrease tensions on the peninsula during the Winter Olympics.

Joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which Pyongyang considers rehearsals for invasion, are typically a time of heightened tensions on the peninsula, with North Korea often conducting missile tests in response.

The Hill's Rebecca Kheel has the rest here.

 

TRUMP, BOEING REACH 'INFORMAL' AGREEMENT FOR NEW AIR FORCE ONE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE has reached an "informal" agreement with Boeing to produce two new Air Force One planes for $3.9 billion, the White House announced Tuesday. 

"President Trump has reached an informal deal with Boeing on a fixed-price contract for the new Air Force One Program," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement. 

The White House said the contract will save taxpayers $1.4 billion compared to original cost estimates for the new presidential aircraft. 

Fox News first reported the agreement on Tuesday.  

Trump frequently railed against the price tag for a new Air Force One during the presidential campaign, arguing that Boeing was charging the U.S. government too much.

"Costs are out of control," Trump tweeted in Dec. 2016. "Cancel order!"

Read more about that here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

Gen. John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command will speak at the Association of the United States Army on air and missile defense at 7 a.m. in Arlington, Va.

Reps. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersHillicon Valley: Trump rails against 'terrible bias' at White House social media summit | Twitter hit by hour-long outage | Google admits workers listen to smart device recordings Trump officials defend use of facial recognition amid backlash Republicans say they're satisfied with 2020 election security after classified briefings MORE (R-Ala.), Jim CooperJames (Jim) Hayes Shofner CooperLive coverage: House Oversight examines Trump family separation policy House panel OKs space military branch Overnight Defense: Officials approved sending Saudis nuclear technology after Khashoggi killing | Space Command pick warns of challenges ahead | Lawmakers clash over bill blocking low-yield nukes MORE (D-Tenn.), Doug LambornDouglas (Doug) LambornOvernight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales 58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill The GOP is making Ocasio-Cortez more popular MORE (R-Colo.), and Dutch RuppersbergerCharles (Dutch) Albert RuppersbergerCongress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid House passes bill to establish DHS cyber 'first responder' teams House Appropriations passes defense bill that would limit funds for border wall, pull US support from Yemen war MORE (D-Md.) will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on strategic national security in space and the fiscal 2019 budget at 8 a.m. in Washington. 

Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel Kinzinger GOP lawmaker decries 'send her back' chants: 'This ugliness must end' House panel advances bill to protect elections from foreign interference GOP lawmakers say Trump wrong to criticize Biden in Japan MORE (R-Ill.), will speak on Iran's forces in Iraq and Syria at noon at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. 

A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on Zimbabwe after the fall of Robert Mugabe with testimony from outside experts at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Rayburn 2172. 

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Marines treated after unknown substance found in envelope

-- The Hill: Opinion: Russian information warfare has been in the works for 50 years

-- The Hill: Opinion: Working with Hezbollah: The elephant in US-Lebanon policy

-- The New York Times: UN links North Korea to Syria's chemical weapons program

-- Defense News: Sweeping legislation aims to fix the US surface Navy