Overnight Defense: Almost half of border deployment sent home | Trump, Dems dig in as shutdown nears | Flynn associates charged over illegal lobbying

Happy Monday 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.


THE TOPLINE: About half of the troops that deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border are home in time for the holidays.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters at the Pentagon that 3,150 active-duty troops remain at the southern border.

"The department will continue to assess force requirements to meet CBP, Customs and Border Protection, needs," Manning said. "Whatever support the CBP and [Department of Homeland Security] needs is what we're going to provide them."


Manning would not say how many service members will remain at the border through the end of the mission, adding, "be very cautious about timelines."

The mission is now authorized to go until Jan. 31 after Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOnly Donald Trump has a policy for Afghanistan New Pentagon report blames Trump troop withdrawal for ISIS surge in Iraq and Syria Mattis returns to board of General Dynamics MORE extended it from Dec. 15 earlier this month.

By the numbers: The 3,150 troops at the border now are down from the 5,900 there at the height of the deployment.

The 3,150 figure includes 1,200 troops in California, 1,050 in Texas and 900 in Arizona.

It's also down from the 5,200 service members that Manning said last week were at that border, down from its high of about 5,900 in November.

Wall concerns: Congressional concerns about President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE's stated desire to use the military to build his proposed border wall also ramping up.

On Monday, Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question MORE (D-Md.) released a letter to Mattis saying that using defense funding for the wall would be "dangerous" and "unprecedented."

"While the president has significant discretion in determining a state of national emergency – diverting funding from our military to a project of limited value to our national security is dangerous during a time when we face competition from major adversaries," Brown wrote.

"The use of emergency executive authority – typically reserved for times of war – in order to access unlimited funding for the wall would be unprecedented," he added.


SHUTDOWN WATCH: Trump pitched using military funds to build the wall as he pushes Congress to fund it. The wall is the central issue of the current shutdown fight.

The deadline to pass a funding bill is Friday, after which there would be a partial government shutdown.

On Monday morning, Trump showed no signs of letting up his demands for $5 billion in wall funding.

"Anytime you hear a Democrat saying that you can have good Boarder Security without a Wall, write them off as just another politician following the party line," he wrote on Twitter. "Time for us to save billions of dollars a year and have, at the same time, far greater safety and control!"

Trump isolated: Trump, though, is finding himself increasingly isolated as even members of his own party admit that he has backed himself into a corner with his demands for $5 billion in funding for a wall on the Mexican border.

"Everybody is looking to him for a signal about what he wants to do, and so far it's not clear," Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas) said of the president. 

Few Republicans will criticize Trump on the record, but behind the scenes there is frustration that he has weakened the GOP's negotiating position with Democrats.

Democrats prepare for prolonged shutdown: Meanwhile, House Democrats are making plans for a prolonged shutdown, reports The Hill's Niv Elis.

"We're making contingency plans for a long-term shutdown," said one Democratic House aide, who pointed to the possibility that the partial government shutdown would last into the beginning of the new Congress, when Democrats will take over the House majority.

"If the shutdown goes until Jan. 3, we'll bring up a funding bill," the aide said.

Democrats, after they take the House majority, would likely be able to pass a bill funding the government with no money for Trump's wall. Republicans would hold the majority in the Senate, and it's unclear what they'd do since they would need some Democratic votes to overcome a filibuster in that chamber.

Reminder: The Pentagon is fully funded for the rest of the fiscal year, so it would not be affected if there is a shutdown.

But several other agencies that deal with national security would be. The Department of Homeland Security, as evidenced by the wall fight, is one of them. The State Department would also be affected.


TROUBLE IN SYRIA: Tensions with Turkey over U.S. support for the Kurds in Syria are flaring again.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country could launch a new operation against U.S-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters at "anytime," The Associated Press reported.

Erdogan also said he had been given "positive answers" from Trump on the situation in northeastern Syria when the two spoke by phone Friday and that Turkey is waiting for the United States to keep its promises.

Erdogan did not give further details on his conversation with Trump.

Trump officials working on it: Asked about what Washington is doing to prevent Turkey from launching an offensive, U.S. special envoy for Syria James Jeffery said Monday that the U.S. "at every level has reached out to the Turks," and he himself spent three days in the region for talks earlier this month.

"We understand its concerns, we're committed to Turkey's security and we've been talking extensively to the Turks," Jeffery told attendees at an Atlantic Council forum.

"We have to wait and see. I believe that the situation has calmed somewhat, I believe that we're willing to work with the Turks and people on the ground to find a way forward. ... We're very focused on Turkish security but we also are very focused on finishing the fight against ISIS. We're going to be, again, managing this and monitoring this very closely."

Flynn associates charged: Another point of contention between the United States and Turkey over the last couple years has been Turkey's demand to extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

On Monday, charges were unsealed against two associates of former national security advisor Michael Flynn for an alleged plot to secretly lobby for Gulen's extradiction.

More on the charges here, and five things to know about the case here.


SOMALI STRIKES KILL DOZENS: The U.S. military on Monday announced airstrikes in Somalia that it said killed more than 60 al Qaeda-linked militants.

U.S. Africa Command said in a statement that it carried out precision airstrikes on Saturday and Sunday in coordination with the Somali government. Saturday's airstrike killed 34 al Shabaab militants, while Sunday's killed 28.

No civilians are believed to have been killed or injured in the strikes, the military said.

Trending up: With this weekend's strikes, the Associated Press puts the number this year against al Shabaab in Somalia at 46.

That eclipses last year's total of 35 strikes, 31 against Shabaab and four against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).



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