Overnight Defense: Trump surprises with plan to withdraw from Syria | Plan leaves lawmakers stunned, angered | Turkey approved for Patriot missile system sale | Deal pushes funding fight to February

Happy Wednesday 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: Lawmakers were blindsided, and the Pentagon appeared caught off guard, too.

It's a sentence that's been written many times during the Trump presidency, and on Wednesday, it happened again.

The issue this time: President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE is withdrawing all U.S. forces from Syria.

In a tweet Wednesday morning after news reports began surfacing on the plans, Trump declared victory against ISIS in Syria.

"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.


Later, the White House confirmed in a statement that the administration has "started returning United States troops home" but emphasized that coalition efforts in Syria would continue. It also reiterated Trump's claim that "the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate."

"These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

"We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign," her statement said. "The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders."

Trump video: On Wednesday evening, Trump released a video on Twitter defending his decision.

In the video, the president invoked the memory of service members who died fighting in the Middle Eastern country while explaining his decision.

"They're all coming back and they're coming back now. We won, and that's the way we want it and that's the way they want it," Trump said while looking up and pointing to the sky.

At the Pentagon: When news reports were first coming out on Trump's plan to withdraw from Syria, the Pentagon only said in a statement that "at this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region."

When Trump tweeted, the Pentagon said it had "nothing additional at this time."

Hours later, the Pentagon released a four-sentence statement.

"The coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over," chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in the statement. "We have started the process of returning U.S. troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign.

"For force protection and operational security reasons we will not provide further details. We will continue working with our partners and allies to defeat ISIS wherever it operates."

Jeers: For the most part, lawmakers were not pleased, both by the fact that the they were not notified beforehand and by the withdrawal itself.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamScarborough sounds alarm on political 'ethnic cleansing' after Trump rally The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants GOP rattled by Trump rally MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a Trump ally, said a withdrawal would be "an Obama-like mistake."

"After visiting Syria earlier this year, it is abundantly clear the approximately 2,000 American troops stationed there are vital to our national security interests," Graham said in a statement. "An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia. I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world.

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.) called Trump's decision "in many ways even worse" than Obama's withdrawal from Iraq that critics say allowed for the growth of ISIS. Corker accused Trump of abandoning the Syrian Democratic Forces "six to eight weeks" away from clearing ISIS from its territory.

"I doubt there's anybody in the Republican caucus in the Senate that just isn't stunned by this precipitous decision," Corker told reporters. "My sense is that it's been a shock throughout the administration that this type of decision was made. ... It's hard to imagine that any president would wake up and make this kind of decision with this little communication, with this little preparation."

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDHS chief to Pelosi: Emergency border funding 'has already had an impact' The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants Trump faces new hit on deficit MORE (D-Calif.), on track to be Speaker next year, drew a link between Trump's decision and the court appearance of his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

"It is premature for the president to declare a sweeping victory against ISIS when, just a few weeks ago, our military led more than 250 coalition-conducted airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria," Pelosi said in a statement. "All Americans should be concerned that this hasty announcement was made on the day after sentencing in criminal proceedings began against the President's former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who admitted that he was a registered foreign agent for a country with clear interests in the Syrian conflict."

Flynn has admitted he failed to register as a foreign agent for the Turkish government as part of a plea deal with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE.

Cheers: Trump did receive some praise from lawmakers who never supported the deployment.

"I am happy to see a President who can declare victory and bring our troops out of a war," Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump faces new hit on deficit Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Health care moves to center stage of Democratic primary fight | Sanders, Biden trade sharps jabs on Medicare for All | Senate to vote on 9/11 bill next week | Buttigieg pushes for cheaper insulin MORE (R-Ky.) said in a tweet. "It's been a long time since that has happened."

Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House Democrat says he still gets told to 'go back' to China Ted Lieu: Trump a 'racist ass' MORE (D-Calif.), a frequent Trump critic, tweeted that he "applaud[s] the decision by @realDonaldTrump to withdraw US troops from Syria."

"Neither the Obama Administration nor the Trump Administration had a strategy," Lieu added. "Neither Administration could articulate why we were in Syria, what the end state would be, and how we would achieve it."

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Health care moves to center stage of Democratic primary fight | Sanders, Biden trade sharps jabs on Medicare for All | Senate to vote on 9/11 bill next week | Buttigieg pushes for cheaper insulin Health care moves to center stage in Democratic primary fight MORE (D-Conn.) said he was "glad to hear the troops are coming back," but questioned Trump's larger Syria strategy.

"I just have no idea what his plan is," Murphy said. "When he had troops there at least I knew that he had some long-term plan. If we move the troops out, are we putting more State Department personnel in? Are we putting more development dollars into the areas where you have some American interests at stake?"

Russia reacts: One of the reasons lawmakers oppose a withdrawal is that they say it would cede influence in Syria to Iran and Russia.

By Wednesday afternoon, Russia was praising the withdrawal, saying the move creates hopes for "a political solution" in Syria's civil war.

"A milestone story which might evolve from this decision is a real prospect for a political solution," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Wednesday.

The Turkey connection: Trump's decision comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to launch a new assault against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria. Those forces make up the bulk of the SDF, but Ankrana considers them terrorists connected to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

On Monday, Erdoğan said he got "positive answers" from Trump during a Friday phone call on Syria.

In the call with reporters Wednesday, the administration official denied Erdogan swayed Trump's decision.

"The president made his own decision," the official said.


PATRIOT MISSILES TO TURKEY: While the administration isn't saying Turkey is the reason for the Syria withdrawal, there were non-Syria developments that signaled a thaw in U.S.-Turkish tension.

Notably, the State Department on Tuesday night notified Congress that it has approved a possible deal to sell Turkey a Patriot air and missile defense system.

The sale, if complete, could lead to Turkey scrapping intentions to buy the Russian-made S-400 long-range air-defense system, officials say.

At issue: The potential S-400 sale has long worried the Trump administration, adding to tensions between the two countries.

Turkey has said since last December it intended to buy the S-400, a sale that worried NATO members because the system is not interoperable with its defense systems, including the F-35. Turkey is a partner in the U.S.-led Joint Strike Fighter program to build the F-35.

The S-400 could also provide a way to steal F-35 technology should the aircraft be synced with it, officials feared.

Turkey has not indicated whether it would give up on the S-400 sale.


SHUTDOWN WATCH: Congressional leaders agreed to a deal Wednesday that will keep the government open until Feb. 8 and push a fight over President Trump's wall on the Mexican border into next year, when he will have to negotiate with a Democratic House.

The agreement puts a bow on a victory that congressional Democrats really scored last week, when Trump said he would embrace a partial government shutdown over his demand for $5 billion in wall funding. Both parties felt that Trump's remarks ensured that he would get the blame for any government shutdown.

The stopgap spending measure -- which covers seven unfinished appropriations bills -- was expected to pass the Senate Wednesday evening. The House could approve it on Thursday.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynGOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school MORE (Texas) told reporters Wednesday afternoon that Trump is expected to sign the bill, despite it falling short of his demands expressed at a fiery White House meeting with Democratic leaders last week.


AIRMEN SUE OVER HIV POLICY: Two active-duty airmen on Wednesday sued the Pentagon over its policy on HIV, saying they were unfairly discharged after they were denied waivers to serve.

The lawsuit, filed as Roe and Voe v. Mattis, challenges the Pentagon's current deployment policies. The policy identifies service members living with HIV as non-deployable if they first test positive while on active duty, pending a waiver.

The policy also bars anyone living with HIV from enlisting or being commissioned.

Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN filed the lawsuit against the Pentagon in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of the airmen, who they say were given discharge orders just days before Thanksgiving.

About the airmen: Both airmen tested positive for HIV last year during Air Force screenings and quickly started antiretroviral treatments. Doctors and commanding officers recommended the two be returned for duty, according to the lawsuit.

But the Pentagon found the two "unfit for continued military service," and told them they would be discharged.

The Washington Post reported that the two were not offered alternative jobs, which they said they would have accepted.

"Anyone willing to put their life on the line to defend our country deserves respect, not discrimination," Peter Perkowski, the legal and policy director of OutServe-SLDN, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

"These Airmen are acknowledged leaders and good at their jobs. They have served honorably for many years. They have the support of their commanders and medical personnel, who state that having HIV will not affect their ability to do their jobs. There is simply no justification for this decision."

Background: The Pentagon's new "Deploy or Get Out" policy, announced in February, says that anyone who cannot be deployed outside the United States for 12 months or more will be separated from the military, which means service members with HIV face immediate discharge under the new Trump administration policy.

This is the third time this year that service members have sued the Pentagon over its policy on HIV.

In May, Lambda Legal and Outserve-SLDN filed lawsuits on behalf of Sgt. Nick Harrison, an Army National Guard sergeant seeking to become a judge advocate general (JAG) and an unnamed Air Force veteran.

And in August the two firms also filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kevin Deese and an anonymous client who the Navy and Air Force refused to commission as officers based on their HIV-positive status after they graduated from their respective military academies.



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