Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Border deployment 'peaked' at 5,800 troops | Trump sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | Senators offer bill to press Trump on Saudis | Paul effort to block Bahrain arms sale fails

Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Border deployment 'peaked' at 5,800 troops | Trump sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | Senators offer bill to press Trump on Saudis | Paul effort to block Bahrain arms sale fails
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Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, 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: After the fanfare of deploying U.S. troops to the southern border late last month, the mission appears ready to wind down.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Thursday the deployment has "pretty much peaked" at 5,800 troops.

That came after the commander in charge of the mission, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, told Reuters he is looking next week at whether to begin sending forces home.

Buchanan also said he would look at possibly shifting some troops to new border positions.

Flashback: President TrumpDonald John TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy MORE at one point said 15,000 troops could be sent to the border, a number that would be more than the official count for those in Afghanistan.

The official authorization was never for 15,000. But it did get to 7,000, which it now appears the deployment won't reach.

The order also had the deployment lasting until Dec. 15.

Fodder for critics?: Critics, particularly Democrats and immigrant rights activists, have accused Trump of using the military for a political stunt to whip up his base for the midterm elections.

Before the midterms, Trump argued the deployment was necessary to stop a caravan of Central American asylum-seekers that are headed to the U.S. border. He has said little to nothing about the caravan or the deployment since the election.

The news that the deployment is wrapping up quickly could give fodder to the critics. Most of the military's task has been to lay down barbed wire. 

 

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TRUMP SANCTIONS 17 SAUDIS: The Trump administration took its most sweeping action yet Thursday to respond to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, announcing sanctions against 17 Saudis for their alleged role in his death.

Among those being sanctioned are Saud al-Qahtani, a former top aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who the Treasury Department says was part of the "planning and execution" of the operation that led to Khashoggi's death, as well as a top subordinate and the Saudi consul general in Istanbul.

"The Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi," Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinBolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran Trump called out for 'my favorite dictator' while awaiting Egyptian leader at summit: report Romney opposes Trump taking executive action to reduce capital gains taxes MORE said in a statement. "These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions."

Any U.S. assets belonging to the individuals are frozen by the sanctions, and Americans are banned from doing business with them. The sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, which is aimed at human-rights violators.

Timing: The Trump administration announcement came hours after the Saudi government said it indicted 11 people in Khashoggi's death.

Five people face the death penalty in the case, but the Saudi public prosecutor did not reveal their identities.

Riyadh's statement was largely consistent with its previous claims that Khashoggi's killing was the result of an extraction mission gone awry, but it admitted for the first time that the journalist's body was dismembered and removed from the consulate in Istanbul.

Neither the Saudis nor Trump administration placed blame on Prince Mohammed, a close ally of the Trump administration whom some foreign officials believe was responsible for the operation.

Lawmakers say not enough: U.S. lawmakers said Thursday the sanctions are a good start, but more needs to be done.

"I have a lot of concerns about the trajectory that Saudi Arabia is on right now, and I think a price needs to be paid," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.) said in a statement. "The administration's sanctioning today of 17 individuals who were involved is a significant step in that process that hopefully will involve additional action as well."

"Important action from @USTreasury today to hold those responsible for #JamalKhashoggi murder responsible," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceMystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp House panel advances bill to protect elections from foreign interference MORE (R-Calif.) said on Twitter. "More should be done to protect Saudi dissidents and journalists – including a review of all Saudi diplomatic activities, posts and personnel in the United States."

The harshest critics, though, largely Democrats, said the Trump administration's response appears to be blindly accepting the Saudi version of events.

"The sanctions announced by the Treasury Department are an important, but insufficient step towards holding Saudi Arabia accountable for the state-sponsored murder of Virginia resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi," Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Air Force nominee: Setting up Space Force would be 'key imperative' MORE (D-Va.) said in a statement. "I am disturbed that following repeated Saudi lies about what happened to Jamal, the administration appears to be following the Saudi playbook of blaming mid-level officials and exonerating its leadership."

"This is a good first step," Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezAs NFIP reauthorization deadline looms, Congress must end lethal subsidies Senate Democrats warn Trump: Don't invite Putin to G-7 Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (D-N.J.) said on Twitter. "But w/ Saudi Arabia's announcement of seeking death sentences for 5 suspects & absent a transparent investigation, this announcement looks like a coordinated attempt to sweep this case under the rug. I expect full accountability & will work to ensure it."

"These sanctions are an appropriate response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but today's action does not put this issue to rest," House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine House chairman subpoenas Trump's Afghanistan negotiator Giuliani tears into Democrats after House opens probe into whether he pressured Ukraine to target Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. "It remains unclear whether the Trump administration has determined who is responsible for this horrific incident. Until responsibility is confirmed, this matter is unresolved and deserves Congress's scrutiny. In addition, we have yet to receive answers as to what initially motivated the Trump administration to try to sweep this incident under the rug. Congress and the American people need answers."

And there's a bill: By the end of the day Thursday, senators introduced a bill aimed at forcing President Trump to do more.

The bill was introduced by Menendez and Sens. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenators pressure Trump to help end humanitarian crisis in Kashmir Congress set for chaotic fall sprint Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess MORE (R-Ind.), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedIs the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? Trump moving forward to divert .6B from military projects for border wall GOP lawmakers call for provisions barring DOD funds for border wall to be dropped MORE (D-R.I.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Graham: US should consider strike on Iranian oil refineries after attack on Saudi Arabia MORE (R-S.C.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Defense spending bill advances over Democratic wall objections Democrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA MORE (D-N.H.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret Collins The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Congress passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance Senators say Trump open to expanding background checks MORE (R-Maine).

The bill would suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, prohibit U.S. refueling of Saudi coalition aircraft in the Yemen civil war, sanction those blocking humanitarian access in Yemen, sanction those supporting the Houthis in Yemen, require a report on those harming civilians in Yemen, sanction those responsible for Khashoggi's death and require a report on human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Post response: The Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a columnist, slammed the U.S. and Saudi governments for "asking the world to take their word" on the results of the investigation.

"In announcing actions against 'those responsible' for Jamal Khashoggi's murder, the Saudi and U.S. governments are asking the world to take their word for it that this settles the matter," Post publisher and CEO Fred Ryan said in a statement.

"From the start, the Saudi 'investigation' has been an effort to shield those ultimately responsible for this heinous crime when there is every reason to believe that it was authorized at the highest levels of the Saudi government," he continued.

"Many important questions about Jamal's tragic murder have gone unanswered. The U.S. government should be demanding an independent investigation that gets to the truth about the murder of an innocent journalist," he added.

 

Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLiz Cheney says world is more stable, 'safer' under Trump Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate Paul calls into Wyoming TV station to talk Cheney feud MORE DENIED: The Yemen civil war has become tied up with the Khashoggi crisis as lawmakers look for a way to respond.

Looking to seize on that, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tried to block an arms sale to Bahrain by invoking their position in the Saudi-led coalition in the war.

But the argument failed and Paul's resolution was easily rejected. Even many who oppose arms sales to the Saudis voted to end Paul's effort.

The Senate voted 77-21 Thursday to table the resolution that would have blocked the $300 million artillery sale, effectively killing the effort.

"I rise today to call for an end to the U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen," Paul said on the Senate floor Thursday. "Your tax dollars are supporting this war, so I think there ought to be a debate. So that's what I stand up today to do, is to force a debate on whether or not we should be involved with aiding and abetting the Saudi coalition in this war in Yemen."

What's for sale: The Trump administration notified Congress on Sept. 28 that it intends to sell Bahrain 120 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System pods and 110 Army Tactical Missile System pods.

The notification said the artillery is needed to improve Bahrain's "security for its critical oil and natural gas infrastructure."

White House stance: On Thursday, the White House said it "strongly opposes" Paul's effort, saying the weapons are necessary to defend against Iran.

"The utilization of this ground-based system would enhance Bahrain's ability to protect itself against threats to territorial sovereignty, particularly from Iran," the statement of administration policy said. "Furthermore, this system will bolster a Bahraini defense infrastructure that supports United States activities and priorities related to countering Iran's regional destabilizing activities and anti-piracy efforts in the Arabian and Red Seas."

 

OUT OF AFRICA: The Pentagon announced Thursday that it will cut by hundreds the number of U.S. troops deployed to Africa on counterterrorism missions over the next several years.

"The Department of Defense announced today the realignment of Counter-Violent Extremist Organization personnel operating in U.S. Africa Command to support priorities outlined in the National Defense Strategy," the Pentagon said in a statement. "Over the next several years, the realignment projects a reduction of less than 10 percent of the 7,200 military forces serving in Africa Command."

The Pentagon said the counterterrorism missions in areas such as Somalia, Djibouti and Libya would largely remain the same.

Djibouti is home to the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa and serves as a launch point for military operations elsewhere in the region. U.S. forces in Somalia and Libya conduct operations against al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Missions in other areas, such as West Africa, will shift from tactical assistance to advising, assisting, liaising and sharing intelligence, according to the statement.

Why: The announcement comes as the Pentagon seeks to shift its focus from counterterrorism to so-called great power competitions with Russia and China.

The shift in military focus to Russia and China was called for in the National Defense Strategy released early this year.

But...: While the military is drawing down in Africa to align with the strategy, U.S. military leaders have also warned that Russia and China are growing their presence in Africa.

The announcement also comes after a deadly ambush in Niger last year prompted questions about both why U.S. troops are in Africa and whether the Africa missions were underresourced.

Some U.S. lawmakers said they were unaware of the U.S. presence there until the ambush and argue that the presence was unnecessary.

Others, though, particularly Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeIs the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall Gun debate to shape 2020 races MORE (R-Okla.), said the incident shows a need for more U.S. troops in Africa.

Inhofe has been a key backer of U.S. forces in Africa, having been instrumental in the creation of U.S. Africa Command and arguing this year for a new advisor brigade to be sent to Africa.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion on "Russian Nuclear Strategy after the Cold War" at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2zd2LGx

The Hudson Institute will host a panel on "Implications of U.S.-China Tensions in the Indo-Pacific" at noon. https://bit.ly/2DCtsZk

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will discuss its new study, the "Korea Strategic Review 2018: Moon Jae-in and the Politics of Inter-Korean Détente," at 1:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/2KaR7AA

 

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