Overnight Defense: Marine commandant condemns California shooting suspect | Smith running for Armed Services gavel | Army secretary says troops 'getting training' on border

Overnight Defense: Marine commandant condemns California shooting suspect | Smith running for Armed Services gavel | Army secretary says troops 'getting training' on border
© Getty Images

Happy Thursday 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: The commandant of the Marine Corps on Thursday condemned the ex-Marine suspected of carrying out a mass shooting in California, calling his actions "despicable."

"Heartfelt condolences to those suffering from the tragic & senseless act of violence #ThousandOaks. That ex-Marine's despicable actions run counter to what the vast majority of veterans are rightfully known for: serving w/ honor then making positive contributions to society," Robert Neller, the commandant, wrote in a tweet.

ADVERTISEMENT

Authorities on Thursday identified the suspected shooter as Ian David Long, a 28-year-old former Marine. Long was in the Marine Corps from 2008 through 2013 and spent seven months in Afghanistan. 

What we know so far: Authorities said Long stormed the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Wednesday night and opened fire, killing 12 people.

Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said Thursday that Long had several contacts with authorities, including once when he was reported for disturbing the peace, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Dean said authorities called mental health professionals because Long was "irate and acting irrationally" during that incident, according to the Times. The mental health professionals determined he didn't need to be taken into custody.

 

ARMY SECRETARY SAYA TROOPS GETTING TRAINING ON BORDER: Army Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday that the more than 7,000 active duty troops deployed to the U.S. – Mexico border are "getting training" out of the mission.

"When you look at the mix of the forces going there, it's logistics and aviation and engineers and I will tell you... they're getting training out of that," Esper said during a forum at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

"They are deploying. They are putting their equipment on trains and whatnot or convoying and they are deploying to a location, and they are offloading, and, in many cases, these troops are performing the missions that they were designed to perform."

By the numbers: There are currently more than 5,600 active duty troops – the majority from the Army - deployed to the southern border in California, Arizona and Texas in support of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

About 1,300 troops were sent to California, 1,500 to Arizona and 2,800 to Texas, according to the latest Defense Department numbers, released Thursday.

The Pentagon expects it will eventually send more than 7,000 troops as part of the mission formerly known as Operation Faithful Patriot. The Defense Department dropped the name on Tuesday, the day of the midterm elections, with no explanation. 

Background: President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichelle Obama says not always easy to live up to "we go high" Georgia certifies elections results in bitterly fought governor's race Trump defends border deployment amid fresh scrutiny MORE ordered the Pentagon to deploy the troops last month in anticipation of a shrinking caravan of several thousand Central American migrants traveling through Mexico to the border but still weeks away from the United States. The deployment is expected to last until mid-December.

Critics blasted the decision as an unnecessary political show ahead of the midterms and a drag on military resources and readiness. 

No degradation yet, Esper says: Esper said he doesn't yet see a degradation of readiness by the units deployed but added that "time will tell" how the mission will affect the Army.

"I don't see, necessarily, with the units I'm referring to, seeing a degradation of readiness," he said. "Everything else we'll have to see over time. I don't want to speculate on this or that, but that's kind of where, as I see things right now, where it stands."

And Trump administration moves to restrict asylum claims at border: The Trump administration said Thursday it is moving ahead with a plan to clamp down on asylum claims, a controversial move designed to escalate President Trump's broader efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. 

The Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security published a joint rule prohibiting certain people caught crossing the U.S. southern border from Mexico between ports of entry from claiming asylum. 

The president is also expected to sign an accompanying directive specifying which migrants would be subject to the new asylum limits, senior administration officials said. The officials did not say to whom the ban would apply. 

Trump plans to sign the measure Friday morning before leaving Washington for a trip to Paris.  

 

SMITH ANNOUNCES RUN FOR ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump defends border deployment amid fresh scrutiny Pentagon official: Trump's Space Force could cost up to billion Trump faces new hurdles on foreign policy MORE (D-Wash.) has formally announced his bid to run for chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

As the committee's current ranking Democrat, Smith has been expected to run for and win the gavel, but Thursday's announcement makes the bid official.

"During the 115th Congress, it has been an honor to serve as the ranking member of the House Committee on Armed Services and represent the Democratic caucus on national security matters," Smith wrote in a letter to his colleagues. "As we begin to organize for the 116th Congress, I am asking for your support to serve our caucus as chairman of the Committee on Armed Services."

Dems take control: Democrats won control of the House in Tuesday's midterm elections and come January will hold committee gavels for the first time in eight years.

Leading up to the election, Smith listed some of his priorities for the chairmanship as conducting more vigorous oversight of special operations around the world, finding ways to rein in defense spending, working to roll back President Trump's plans to expand and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and protecting LGBT troops.

What Smith wants: In his letter Thursday, Smith said that "much more must be done to conduct vigorous oversight" of the Trump administration.

"Specifically, we must look to eliminate inefficiency and waste at the DOD; boost oversight of sensitive military operations and ensure that the military works to avoid civilian casualties; protect our environmental laws nationwide; advance green technology in defense; take substantial steps to reduce America's overreliance on nuclear weapons; and promote greater transparency in national security matters," he wrote.

He also said the military needs to "reflect the United States in all of its diversity."

"We need inclusive armed services that can attract the best, most talented people without arbitrary and discriminatory barriers that narrow the field of people who can serve their country," he wrote.

He also pledged to ensure the military can respond to new and evolving threats and that service members have access to quality benefits and healthcare.

 

BANNED FROM FLYING: The Marine Corps. announced this week that two pilots have been banned from flying amid an investigation that they flew a phallic-shaped pattern in Southern California last month.

Maj. Josef Patterson, a Marine spokesman for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, said Tuesday that any discipline for the two aviators will be determined after the investigation, according to ABC News. He also said the pilots will provide support from the ground while they are banned from flying.

"The Marines and Sailors of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing will perform at the highest levels expected of professional warfighters, and uphold our core values of honor, courage and commitment," Patterson said in a statement, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Flight tracking software catches pilots: Images reportedly showing the flying pattern were posted to Twitter late last month by an aviation enthusiast using flight-tracking software, ABC reported.

The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing said in a statement last month that an investigation into the flight pattern had been opened, according to the Marine Corps Times.

"A T-34C aircraft assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, flew an irregular flight pattern over the Salton Sea that resembled a phallic image," the statement read. "An investigation to uncover the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident is ongoing."

  

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Hackers impersonating journalists targeted Saudi critic in DC: report

-- The Hill: US imposes new sanctions on Russia over Crimea

-- The Hill: Opinion: Partisan rancor undermines our ability to act on China

-- The Hill: Opinion: Support Marines' families, not Iran's terror-sponsors

-- Defense News: Space expertise isn't necessary to run the Space Development Agency, says Pentagon deputy

-- Reuters: U.S. House freshman class includes most veterans in nearly a decade