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 CheneyThe GOP's commitment to electing talented women can help party retake the House GOP launches anti-BDS discharge petition Republicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments 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 ThornberryOvernight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon Key Republican 'convinced' Iran threats are credible Overnight Defense: Trump seeks 7M for Pentagon in .5B border funding request | US general says focus in Venezuela is on intel | Biden backs ending US support for Saudi-led war in Yemen 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 InhofeOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief Iran, Venezuela puts spotlight on Trump adviser John Bolton 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 TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' 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 RogersTrump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact FBI official sees 'tide change' in how platforms handle extremist content America must leap at opportunities to bolster national security in space MORE (R-Ala.), Jim CooperJames (Jim) Hayes Shofner CooperTop Armed Services Republican: 'I don't think anybody is satisfied' with Space Force proposal Bipartisan group asks DHS, ICE to halt deportations of Iraqi nationals Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief under investigation over Boeing ties | Trump uses visual aids to tout progress against ISIS | Pentagon, Amnesty International spar over civilian drone deaths MORE (D-Tenn.), Doug LambornDouglas (Doug) LambornThe GOP is making Ocasio-Cortez more popular Finally, a presidential EMP order that may save American lives Don’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall MORE (R-Colo.), and Dutch RuppersbergerCharles (Dutch) Albert RuppersbergerGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Overnight Defense: Trump says he may cancel G-20 meeting with Putin | Three service members killed in Afghanistan | Active-shooter drill sparks panic at Walter Reed Panic at Walter Reed after exercise mistaken as active shooter 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 KinzingerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Alabama abortion bill revives national debate GOP lawmaker on China trade war: 'It's not great for farmers' Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill 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