Overnight Defense: Supreme Court allows transgender ban to be enforced | Trump missile defense plan faces reality check | Experts warn of persistent ISIS threat

Overnight Defense: Supreme Court allows transgender ban to be enforced | Trump missile defense plan faces reality check | Experts warn of persistent ISIS threat
© Greg Nash

Happy Tuesday 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 Supreme Court on Tuesday granted the Trump administration's request to allow it to temporarily enforce its restrictions on transgender people serving in the military.

The justices stayed district court injunctions that blocked the new policy pending a ruling in the 9th Circuit on the government's appeal.

The court, however, did not agree to review the government's appeals of the court orders.

The background on the decision: Solicitor General Noel Francisco jumped the normal course of judicial order in November by submitting his request before the regional appeals courts had ruled on the issue.


He urged the justices to immediately take the case and issue a ruling this term, arguing the lower court's decision blocked a policy that's "necessary to place the Department of Defense in the strongest position to protect the American people."

He said the Department of Defense review found that continuing to allow transgender people who have transitioned or seek to transition to serve in the military poses a threat to military effectiveness and readiness.

Earlier this month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a preliminary order blocking the ban. The unsigned order said the district court had erred in finding the policy was the equivalent of a blanket ban on transgender service.

The court said the new policy will allow at least some transgender people to continue to serve and receive gender transition-related medical care. The court's decision was not a final determination on the merits of the case.

But the policy could still not go into effect because courts in the other three lawsuits against it also issued nationwide injunctions.

Where we are now: The military's transgender policy still cannot change because one nationwide injunction remains in place, a Pentagon official, who asked not to be identified, said.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Lt. Col. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the department is "pleased" with the Supreme Court's decision and that it will "continue to work with the Department of Justice regarding next steps in the pending lawsuits."

Trump first announced in July 2017 via Twitter that he was banning transgender people from the military, saying "the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military."

The policy then-Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | 'We probably weren't that good at' nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week James Mattis: Afghanistan papers not 'revelatory' Overnight Defense: Watchdog to audit company's border wall contract | Pentagon to step up vetting of foreign students after Pensacola | Report finds former defense official sexually harassed staffers MORE ultimately issued in March disqualified from service anyone who has already transitioned or seeks to transition in the future, as well as anyone who has a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria. But it included exemptions for active-duty military members already serving openly and those willing to serve in accordance with their sex assigned at birth.  


IN AFGHANISTAN, SECOND US SERVICE MEMBER KILLED IN 2019: A U.S. service member was killed Tuesday in Afghanistan, officials said, becoming the second U.S. service member to die in the country this year.

No additional details were released from Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. The mission said in a statement that the incident is under investigation. 

The Pentagon did not immediately release the service member's name, pending notification of next of kin.

Just last week... This is the second reported U.S. service member death from Afghanistan after Sgt. Cameron Meddock, 26, of Spearman, Texas, died last week.

Meddock was injured while supporting the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan known as Operation Freedom's Sentinel, the Pentagon said. He was transported to Landstuhl, Germany, for medical attention where he died.

The background: The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and also conduct counterterrorism missions against groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Reports emerged last month that said President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE is expected to drastically cut the number of troops deployed in the war – now in its 18th year – but no decision has yet been made. 


OVER THE WEEKEND – EXPERTS WARN OF PERSISTENT ISIS THREAT: The suicide bombing in Syria this past week at a restaurant said to be popular among U.S. service members put into focus the persistent threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), experts said.

The town in northern Syria where the bombing took place was considered a success story for stabilization after it was retaken from ISIS in 2016. As recently as July, U.S. senators toured the area without body armor.

But Wednesday's blast in Manbij's bustling city center shattered that perception at a time when President Trump has been touting the decimation of ISIS and plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

What happened: Four Americans -- two U.S. service members, a civilian employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency and an American military contractor -- were killed in the suicide bombing. ISIS took credit for the attack, which was the single-deadliest for Americans in Syria since U.S. troops were deployed in 2015.

The attack came roughly a month after Trump announced he would withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. At the time of the announcement, Trump said ISIS had been "defeated."

Pressure from lawmakers: Lawmakers who oppose withdrawal have seized on the recent attack to renew their calls for Trump to reverse course, while Trump's supporters on the Syria decision have said it shows why U.S. forces must leave.

Hours after the attack, Vice President Pence said "ISIS has been defeated," though in a statement later that day he said, "We have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities."

Pentagon confirms ISIS still a threat: A Pentagon statement Friday acknowledged that "ISIS remains a threat."

"As Wednesday's attack demonstrates, ISIS remains a threat," acting chief Pentagon spokesman Charles Summers Jr. said. "We will continue to hit the remnants of ISIS hard to destroy any residual networks and ensure its enduring defeat."

Administration and military officials say about 99 percent of the physical territory ISIS once held has been taken back by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces.

American forces and their local partners continue to battle ISIS in its remaining pockets of territory along the Middle Euphrates River Valley. Between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12, U.S. forces conducted 575 strikes in Syria, according to a biweekly summary of strikes.

The latest Pentagon estimate for the number of ISIS fighters remaining in Syria is between 13,100 and 14,500, including 4,000 to 6,000 in the U.S. military's area of operation, according to a November inspector general report.


TRUMP'S MISSILE DEFENSE PLAN FACES REALITY CHECK: President Trump's grand plans for the next generation of missile defense don't line up with his administration's new Missile Defense Review, with many of his promised technologies still years away from fruition, missile defense officials and experts say.

Trump, in unveiling the long-overdue document this past week, said he would "accept nothing less" than cutting-edge missile systems likely to require billions of dollars in investments.

"Our goal is simple, to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, anytime, anyplace," Trump told an audience at the Pentagon on Thursday while unveiling the report.

But officials have acknowledged that "some of those experiments" the president touted -- including striking enemy missiles shortly after they launch or relying on space-based interceptors -- wouldn't be in use for at least a decade.

Space defense still far off: One such difference was the highly talked up space-based missile defense layer, or the idea of using earth-orbiting interceptors to track and shoot down missiles. At the Pentagon, Trump and his acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary MORE put an emphasis on the technology, speaking as though it was coming very soon. 

Pentagon officials later that day told reporters that the review does not commit to deploying interceptors in space, instead proposing a six-month study to assess the feasibility of doing so. 

"You'll see experiments in 2021, 2022, on-orbit experiments with, I'll say highly developed metal systems ... and I think you'll see operational systems in the mid and latter part of the 2020s," Rood told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon.

Dems expected to push back: The long-awaited review -- initially scheduled for release in late 2017 -- will drive the administration's Pentagon funding request for the fiscal 2020 budget. It also provides an outline for how the United States will deter and counter missile threats from Iran, North Korea, Russia and China as well as rouge nations.

The question remains of whether a Democratic-controlled House will readily fund the advanced technologies Trump seeks as they look to slash defense spending across the board.


The top Democrats from the House and Senate Armed Services committees indicated as such on Thursday.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons House passes defense bill to establish Space Force, paid family leave for federal workers Pentagon leaders: Trump clemencies won't affect military order and discipline MORE (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House panel, said he worried that the review's space interceptor plans could lead to wasted dollars. 

Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedGabbard calls for congressional inquiry over Afghanistan war report Gillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers' Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members MORE (D-R.I.), meanwhile, said space-based capabilities "are certainly worth exploring," but without unlimited resources Congress "must weigh investments among competing national security priorities."



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