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Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Mattis defends border deployment during visit to troops | Bolton aide exits WH after clash with first lady | House blocks Yemen war resolution | Report warns of erosion in US military superiority

Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Mattis defends border deployment during visit to troops | Bolton aide exits WH after clash with first lady | House blocks Yemen war resolution | Report warns of erosion in US military superiority

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: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump attends Army-Navy game Overnight Defense: Senate Armed Services chair eyes Russia, China threats | Pushes Trump not to cut defense budget | Mattis says US looking for more Khashoggi evidence Mattis: Investigation into killing of Khashoggi is ongoing MORE on Wednesday traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to visit some of the thousands of active duty troops ordered there by President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoaquín Castro: Trump would be 'in court right now' if he weren't the president or 'privileged' Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference Comey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony MORE.

Mattis used the opportunity to defend the Trump administration's hastily-planned deployment of 5,800 troops – made ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections – insisting that the deployment would make for good training, the Associated Press reported.

"In terms of readiness, it's actually, I believe, so far improving our readiness for deployments," Mattis told reporters en route to visit troops in Texas at the U.S.-Mexico border.

He added that he's heard from military officers that the deployment has been "very good training," as it serves as practice for wartime activities such as loading and unloading aircraft.

Just like 1916: The former Marine Corps general also likened the deployment to former President Woodrow Wilson's 1916 border deployment to counter the late Mexican revolutionary Gen. Francisco "Pancho" Villa.

Wilson deployed tens of thousands of National Guard and active duty troops to the border to prevent a Mexican military raid into the United States.

"That's over a century ago, and the threat then was Pancho Villa's troops -- revolutionary raiding across the border into the United States," Mattis said.

He also pointed out that former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMedia once hated HW — before using him to jab Trump Republicans missed best shot on keeping promise to cut spending California AG Becerra included in Bloomberg 50 list MORE had ordered National Guard troops to be used in border missions.

However, neither president ordered the missions shortly before an election.

Trump's plan: Trump directed that the Pentagon deploy the troops in anticipation of a caravan of several thousand Central American migrants making their way through Mexico to the U.S.

Democrats and immigration rights advocates have accused Trump of using the deployment as a political stunt designed to stoke anti-immigrant fears ahead of the midterm elections. Critics have also said the deployment is detrimental to the U.S. military, calling it is a waste of time and resources.

Trump has said little about the border deployment since last week's elections.

Costs still unknown: The Pentagon has been unable to provide a cost estimate for the deployment, but estimates from outside organizations puts the figure somewhere between $42 million and $110 million if Trump follows through with threats to send up to 15,000 troops.

Roughly 2,100 National Guard troops were already at the border as part of Operation Guardian Support, which began in April. That operation is estimated to cost $182 million, the Pentagon said in May.

Mattis would not provide an estimate of how much the current mission will cost, saying that preliminary figures are "not anywhere near right."

He added, "very quickly we'll know the real cost. So we'll keep you posted as the real costs come in."

What troops are doing now: Mattis said that within 10 days the 5,800 troops at the border will have finished all tasks initially requested by Customs and Border Protection. Additional tasks, however, may be added, with the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security working those out.

Deployments are scheduled to last until Dec. 15, but Mattis did not say how soon the mission might end.

In speaking with senior U.S. commanders and addressing troops, Mattis said their mission is to "back up" Customs and Border Protection. "Right now that's our role and that's all our role is," he said.

"The eyes of the world right now -- certainly all of the Americans -- are on you," Mattis said. He added that they are part of a "non-traditional" mission.

Asked by a soldier what the long-term plans for the military mission are, Mattis said it is "somewhat to be determined."

Mattis explains name change: Mattis also told reporters that the Pentagon last week announced they would no longer refer to the U.S. military mission at the southern border as "Operation Faithful Patriot" because he felt calling the troop deployment an "operation" was misleading.

"When the name of the mission first came in, I had given instructions, 'I do not want to put this mission in some arcane military terms,'" Mattis said. "'If what we're doing is laying wire, don't talk about implementing a barrier plan.'"

Mattis said he told defense officials, "'I want to talk to the American people because this is a highly politically visible issue and I want you to tell them what we're doing.'" 

 

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NEW REPORT WARNS OF GRAVE EROSION IN US MILITARY SUPERIORITY: U.S. military superiority "has eroded to a dangerous degree," with "grave and lasting" consequences if Washington doesn't act quickly to reverse the damage and adequately fund the Pentagon, according to new report ordered by Congress.

Released Wednesday by the independent National Defense Strategy Commission, the report warns that America has reached a "crisis of national security," due to a combination of political, financial and international issues and might struggle to win if faced with numerous conflicts at the same time.

"The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict," the report states. "It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia. The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously."

"U.S. military superiority is no longer assured and the implications for American interests and American security are severe," they write.

Who wrote the report: The commission -- a bipartisan committee put together in July 2017 as ordered in the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- consists of up of 12 individuals. House and Senate Armed Services Committee leadership, two Democrats and two Republicans, hand picked three individuals each to the commission.

The group was led by Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador and undersecretary of defense for policy from 2005 to 2009, as well as Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations from 2007 to 2011.

What caused the looming emergency: The authors found that a swirling combination of issues led to what some leading voices in the U.S. national security community have dubbed an emergency.

Competitors, especially China and Russia, "are pursuing determined military buildups aimed at neutralizing U.S. strengths."

Threats from Iran and North Korea have also worsened, as have dangers posed by transnational threat organizations such as radical jihadist groups.

The report also blames "political dysfunction and decisions made by both major political parties" for shortfalls, particularly the creation of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), which led to reductions in planned defense spending.

More dollars needed: Overall, the Pentagon simply needs more resources to push back on an impending crisis and fund the administration's National Defense Strategy, released last year.

"Available resources are clearly insufficient to fulfill the strategy's ambitious goals, including that of ensuring that DOD can defeat a major-power adversary while deterring other enemies simultaneously," the authors write.

The funding now available is not enough to take on nuclear and conventional modernization simultaneously and fix long-accumulating readiness shortfalls.

The report is particularly critical of the Pentagon's often-touted plans to fill resource gaps through savings found by organizational reform. They say it is "unrealistic to expect that such reforms will yield significant resources for growth, especially within a time frame appropriate to meet the challenges posed by China and Russia."

 

HOUSE BLOCKS RESOLUTION TO END US MILITARY SUPPORT IN YEMEN WAR: House Republicans have officially blocked a vote on a resolution that would end all U.S. military support to the Saudi Arabia-led-coalition in Yemen's ongoing war.

On Wednesday afternoon, the House approved 201-187, largely on party lines, a rule for floor debate on an unrelated bill that would take the gray wolf off the endanger species list. Included in the rule was a provision that strips the Yemen resolution of its so-called privilege status.

Privilege means the sponsors of the resolution could theoretically have forced a vote on it. Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaOvernight Defense: Senate Armed Services chair eyes Russia, China threats | Pushes Trump not to cut defense budget | Mattis says US looking for more Khashoggi evidence Push to pay congressional interns an hour gains traction with progressives Dems rally for Green New Deal MORE (D-Calif.), backed by top Democrats, introduced the resolution in September and invoked the War Powers Act to give it privilege status.

"Let's be very clear: This is unprecedented in American history," Khanna said on the House floor Wednesday. "What the majority is saying is that if the president of the United States and the Speaker believe we should be in war, we should be at war."

The lead up: On Friday night, the Trump administration announced the U.S. military would no longer provide aerial refueling for Saudi coalition planes, one of the most visible and controversial aspects of U.S. support for the coalition.

The Pentagon and Riyadh framed the announcement as a Saudi decision, saying they now have the capability to refuel their own planes.

But the decision came after mounting congressional pressure. U.S. lawmakers have been increasingly concerned about the civilian death toll in the war. U.S.-Saudi relations have also come increasing under scrutiny after the October killing of U.S.-based journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.

Critics of U.S. support for the Saudis were pleased with the decision on aerial refueling, but said all U.S. military support for the coalition must end.

The United States provides the coalition other logistics and intelligence, as well as billions of dollars in arms sales.

Republicans' argument: Republicans argued Khanna's resolution was unnecessary after Friday's announcement.

They also argued Democrats could revive the issue as they have vowed to do when they take control of the House in January.

"In a few short weeks, the Democrats will assume the majority. They'll be able to hold all the hearings and markups and votes that they want on this matter," Rep. Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseGOP struggles to find right Republican for Rules The Hill’s 12:30 Report — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Trump says Cohen should go to jail | Nation prepares for Bush 41 funeral | Congress delays votes Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Mattis defends border deployment during visit to troops | Bolton aide exits WH after clash with first lady | House blocks Yemen war resolution | Report warns of erosion in US military superiority MORE (R-Wash.) said on the House floor. "So forcing this type of vote now in the remainder of this Congress, in my humble opinion, is unnecessary."

But Khanna says time is running out: Khanna said it was imperative not to wait until January. 

"500,000 children will die in a matter of months. They don't have aid. They don't have nutrition," he said. "And when the history of Congress is written, they're not going to say [Rep.] Jim McGovern [D-Mass.] did this or Ro Khanna did this or Newhouse did this. They're going to say how the did the Congress not allow a vote while hundreds of thousands of kids were not allowed food and medicine."

 

BOLTON'S AIDE IS OUT AFTER CLASH WITH FIRST LADY: Top National Security Council official Mira Ricardel is exiting the White House after an extraordinary, high-profile clash with first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpJohn Kelly was always doomed to fail as chief of staff Trump to help impoverished nations educate their children Internet gambling addiction is a looming crisis MORE.

The White House said she will move to another administration post.

"Mira Ricardel will continue to support the President as she departs the White House to transition to a new role within the Administration. The President is grateful for Ms. Ricardel's continued service to the American people and her steadfast pursuit of his national security priorities," said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The background: First lady Melania Trump's office on Tuesday released a blistering statement about Ricardel, saying she "no longer deserves the honor" of serving the White House.

The eruption comes after a report by The Wall Street Journal that Trump had chosen to oust Ricardel from her position at the first lady's request.

The first lady's staff clashed with Ricardel during a trip to Africa last month over plane seating.

Ricardel also denied requests from Melania Trump's staff to use National Security Council (NSC) resources, people familiar with the matter told the Journal. The staff also reportedly told the president that they suspect Ricardel is the starter of unflattering stories about Melania and her team.

Tensions also at the Pentagon: Ricardel -- one of Bolton's first senior-level hires after he became head of the NSC in April -- has also tussled with Defense Secretary James Mattis and his staff over Pentagon appointments and policy coordination, according to those familiar with the clashes. 

Those tensions, which began early in the Trump administration, gained wider attention earlier this fall.

Prior to the 2016 election, Ricardel was named head of Pentagon appointments on Trump's transition team. At the time, she reportedly stopped Mattis from hiring certain officials over concerns about their party affiliation or their earlier support for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonComey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony Clinton among VIPS attending pre-wedding celebrations for daughter of India’s richest man Comey’s confession: dossier not verified before, or after, FISA warrant MORE.

It was "not a secret that when [Ricardel] was the head of personnel there was some disagreement about who should come in," an administration official told The Hill last month.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: Trade talks, Cohen sentencing memo take center stage Meadows says 'too early to tell' if special House election should be held in North Carolina Kobach ‘very concerned’ voter fraud may have happened in North Carolina MORE (R-Ky.) and Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Ken BuckKenneth (Ken) Robert BuckOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Mattis defends border deployment during visit to troops | Bolton aide exits WH after clash with first lady | House blocks Yemen war resolution | Report warns of erosion in US military superiority Lawmakers push for House floor debate on war authorization House conservatives to air grievances in new 'Swamp' docu-series MORE (R-Colo.) will speak at the American Conservative Fifth Annual Foreign Policy Conference at 8:30 a.m. in Hart Senate Office Building, room 902. 

Gen. Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff will speak at the National Defense Industrial Association's Defense Leaders Forum Luncheon at 10:45 a.m. in Arlington, Va. 

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Syria Special Envoy James Jeffrey, and Michael Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, will speak during the Defense One Summit beginning at 12 p.m. at the Newseum in Wasington D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Congressional panel warns of national security threat from Chinese tech

-- The Hill: Bill cementing cybersecurity agency at DHS heads to Trump's desk

-- The Hill: Trump says he will decide Nielsen's fate 'shortly'

-- The Hill: Study: US has spent nearly $6T on war since 9/11

-- The Hill: NATO: Russia jammed GPS signals during exercise with US troops

-- The Hill: House GOP moves to block resolution that would end US military involvement in Yemen civil war

-- The Hill: Former Navy officer pleads guilty in 'Fat Leonard' scandal

-- The Hill: UAE backs 'early' UN peace talks to end Yemen conflict

-- Reuters: Fight against Islamic State in last Syria stronghold may end soon: U.S. envoy

-- Defense News: Smith aims to scrap Trump's nuclear weapons policy