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
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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 CheneyOvernight Defense: Trump says he has 'many options' on Iran | Hostage negotiator chosen for national security adviser | Senate Dems block funding bill | Documents show Pentagon spent at least 4K at Trump's Scotland resort Liz Cheney calls for 'proportional military response' against Iran Liz Cheney says world is more stable, 'safer' under Trump 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."

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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 ThornberryNegotiators kick off defense bill talks amid border wall, Iran debates Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight House rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall 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 InhofeNegotiators kick off defense bill talks amid border wall, Iran debates House rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Republicans wary of US action on Iran 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 TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest 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: 8chan owner defends platform before Congress | Facebook launches dating feature | New York City sues T-Mobile | Top NSA cyber official names ransomware as 2020 threat | Blue Dog Dems urge action on election security 8chan owner defends platform in testimony before Congress Conservatives lash out at CNN for hiring Andrew McCabe MORE (R-Ala.), Jim CooperJames (Jim) Hayes Shofner CooperTaylor Swift 'obsessed' with politics, says she's cautious about celebrity support backfiring for Democrats The evolution of Taylor Swift's political activism Live coverage: House Oversight examines Trump family separation policy MORE (D-Tenn.), Doug LambornDouglas (Doug) LambornOvernight Energy: Democrats grill BLM chief over plans to move headquarters | EPA moves to end its use of animal testing | Top NOAA official defends Trump over Alabama forecast Democrats grill BLM chief over plans to move officials out of DC Overnight 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 MORE (R-Colo.), and Dutch RuppersbergerCharles (Dutch) Albert RuppersbergerMaryland state senator denies sending tweet calling Ilhan Omar 'illegal' Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid 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 KinzingerBolton returns to political group after exiting administration Overnight Defense: Trump ousts Bolton in shocker | Fallout, reaction from GOP senators | Senate spending talks in chaos | Dems eye vote to nix Trump border emergency The Hill's 12:30 Report: Bolton out as national security adviser 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. 

 

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