Overnight Defense: Pompeo certifies military aid for Saudi coalition in Yemen | Trump authorizes sanctions on election meddlers | Taliban set for new talks with US

Overnight Defense: Pompeo certifies military aid for Saudi coalition in Yemen | Trump authorizes sanctions on election meddlers | Taliban set for new talks with US
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Happy Wednesday 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: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoForeign Relations Democrat calls on Iran to release other American prisoners Documentary groups challenge Trump administration's vetting of immigrants' social media Iran releases American graduate student in prisoner swap MORE said Wednesday he made a certification allowing the U.S. military to continue refueling coalition aircraft in the Yemen civil war.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law last month requires the Trump administration to certify that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are taking steps to end the war, alleviate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and protect civilians.

The first certification was due Wednesday. The NDAA also requires certifications 180 days and 360 days after it was signed into law.

“I certified to Congress yesterday that the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments,” Pompeo said in a statement Wednesday.

What would have happened without the certification: If Pompeo could not make the certification, the U.S. military would be required to stop refueling coalition aircraft.

Pompeo could have also submitted a justification to Congress to waive the certification on the basis of national security.

Background on the war: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading a coalition in Yemen’s civil war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels that began in 2015. The United States supports the coalition with aerial refueling, intelligence sharing and billions of dollars in arms sales.

U.S. lawmakers' patience with the Saudi coalition is wearing thin as the civilian death toll increases, largely blamed on coalition airstrikes. The United Nations pegs the civilian death toll at least at 6,660 as of Aug. 23.

Outrage increased last month after the coalition struck a school bus and killed 40 children. The outcry prompted a rare admission from the coalition that the strike was “unjustified.”

Pentagon endorses State Department decision: In a separate statement, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThreatening foreign states with sanctions can backfire Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court MORE said he endorsed Pompeo’s certification.

"I endorse and fully support Secretary Pompeo's certification to the Congress that the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are making every effort to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and collateral damage to civilian infrastructure resulting from their military operations to end the civil war in Yemen,” Mattis said. 

“The Saudi-led coalition's commitment is reflected in their support for these UN-led efforts. Alongside the Department of State we are actively engaged with Mr. Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy, to achieve a negotiated end to this fighting."


TRUMP AUTHORIZES SANCTIONS AGAINST ELECTION MEDDLERS: President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday allowing sanctions on foreign companies, organizations or individuals the government determines to have interfered in U.S. elections.

The order is the latest effort by the Trump administration to address fears that Russia is looking to meddle in the November midterm elections, much like it did during the 2016 presidential race.

“This clearly is a process put in place to try and ensure we are doing every possible thing we can to prevent any interference in our election,” Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE told reporters.

Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on whether Moscow interfered in the 2016 election, triggering criticism from lawmakers in both parties that his administration has not done enough to deter Russia and other state actors from running online disinformation campaigns or hacking into state voting systems.

Wednesday’s order is designed to address those concerns by showing the president and his team are taking the threat seriously.


HURRICANE WATCH: President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE said Wednesday his administration is getting "tremendous accolades" for its preparations for Hurricane Florence, which is bearing down on the Southeastern U.S. 

"We're getting tremendous accolades from politicians and the people but we are ready," Trump said during a reception for Congressional Medal of Honor recipients at the White House. 

The president said the hurricane is going to be "one of the biggest ever to hit our country" but said his staff is closely coordinating with state and local officials in the Carolinas and Georgia, where Florence is expected to make landfall. 

Trump is seeking to show his team is better prepared than it was during Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people last fall in Puerto Rico, even as he defends his handling of that storm. 

Background: The Navy has already evacuated 30 ships and numerous aircraft in Virginia, and National Guard troops are being activated as Hurricane Florence bears down on the east coast.

In South Carolina, more than 750 Guard personnel are now on state active duty orders for Florence response after 564 were added Monday.

North Carolina, meanwhile, has activated 200 of its guardsmen, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Monday.


TALIBAN SET FOR NEW TALKS WITH US: Taliban officials are set for a second round of talks with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, possibly beginning this month, according to unnamed Taliban sources.

Officials with the militant group told The Associated Press that a meeting in July with U.S. envoy Alice Wells ended with a promise to meet again in September, with Taliban fighters hoping to secure a diplomatic re-entry into Afghanistan daily life and politics.

U.S. officials refused to confirm or deny the existence of a September meeting, the AP confirmed. The unnamed official, who spoke to the AP from the Taliban's political office in Qatar, said that recognition of the Taliban's political office and the organization itself as a political body were prerequisites to peace.

American forces are also hoping to secure the release of two hostages, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, who were taken in 2016, according to the AP.

A new strategy: In July, it was reported that the Trump administration had ordered U.S. troops to withdraw from remote regions of the country to avoid Taliban and other militant attacks.

Last year, the president announced an overhaul of the U.S.'s strategy in Afghanistan, America's longest-running war, citing "frustration" over a lack of achieved stability in the country.

“The American people are weary of war without victory. I share the American people’s frustration,” Trump said last August, adding that, “in the end, we will fight and we will win.” 



Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair will discuss the next steps in battling global extremism at 8:30 a.m. at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on oversight of U.S. sanctions policy at 10 a.m. at Rayburn House Office Building room 2172.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on evolving threats to the homeland 10:30 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 342. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee will meet to consider H.R. 6157, which includes the fiscal year 2019 Department of Defense spending, at 11:30 a.m. in the Capitol Visitor Center HC-5. 

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq Ryan Crocker; and former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks will take part in a conversation on the global refugee crisis for Human Rights First beginning at 11:30 a.m. in Washington, D.C.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will meet to mark up Resolution 1017, which requests President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo turn over documents on the president’s communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin, at 12:30 p.m. in Rayburn 2172. 

Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, and head of Army Futures Command Gen. John Murray will speak before a House Armed Services subcommittee at 1:30 p.m. in Rayburn 2020 



The McKeon Group has hired former House staffer-turned lobbyist John Chwat as senior vice president.

Chwat will work closely with former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeonHoward (Buck) Philip McKeonBottom Line Trump pick brings scrutiny to 'revolving door' between Pentagon, industry Bottom line MORE (R-Calif.), CEO of the Alexandria, Va., firm.




-- The Hill: Trump authorizes sanctions against foreign governments that interfere in US elections

-- The Hill: Former NSA chief refutes report claiming Trump asked him to publicly deny Russia collusion

-- The Hill: Putin: Russia knows real identities of suspects in UK poisoning case

-- The Hill: Secretive Russian GRU tests Trump with brazen tactics

-- Defense News: F-35 operational testing delayed until latest software delivers

--Reuters: U.S. Republicans seek sanctions on Iraqi militias with Iran ties