Overnight Defense: Trump announces Korea summit, defends Syria withdrawal in State of the Union | Pentagon official sides with Mattis on Syria withdrawal | 250 troops relocating at border ahead of migrant caravan | House panel advances Yemen resolution

Overnight Defense: Trump announces Korea summit, defends Syria withdrawal in State of the Union | Pentagon official sides with Mattis on Syria withdrawal | 250 troops relocating at border ahead of migrant caravan | House panel advances Yemen resolution
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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: There were several tidbits related to defense and foreign policy in President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? MORE’s State of the Union address last night.

Perhaps the most newsy was the confirmation of when and where Trump’s second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be: Feb. 27 and 28 in Vietnam.

The location was expected after several reports said as much, but Trump made it official last night.

The section of the speech on North Korea also included this eyebrow-raising line: “If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea."

Syria and Afghanistan: Trump also devoted a portion of the speech to defending his planned withdrawal in Syria and his desire to draw down in Afghanistan.

“As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said, to some applause in the chamber.

For Afghanistan, Trump said the United States will be able to reduce its troops presence amid “progress” in negotiations with the Taliban.

“In Afghanistan, my administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban,” Trump said. “As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counterterrorism.”

For Syria, he said “virtually” all territory has been retaken from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home,” he said.

What about the emergency?: One closely watched aspect of the speech was whether Trump would declare or threaten to declare a national emergency, giving him access to military construction funds to build a border wall.

Trump did neither. But he did vow to build the wall.

“I will get it built,” he said.

INF: Trump also mentioned last week’s announcement setting in motion the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, saying he had “no choice” on the matter.

“Decades ago, the United States entered into a treaty with Russia in which we agreed to limit and reduce our missile capability,” he said. “While we followed the agreement and the rules to the letter, Russia repeatedly violated its terms. It’s been going on for many years. That is why I announced that the United States is officially withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF Treaty. Perhaps — we really have no choice. Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t — in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.”

TRUMP DEFENDS SYRIA WITHDRAWAL TO COALITION: The afternoon after Trump defended his Syria policy in the State of the Union, the president headed to the State Department to deliver a similar message to the global anti-ISIS coalition.

During the speech, Trump said a formal announcement that all territory has been retaken from ISIS will come as soon as next week.

“It should be formally announced some time, probably next week, that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate, but I want to wait for the official word. I don’t want to say it too early,” Trump said in the speech at the State Department.

“Rest assured we will do what it takes to defeat every ounce and every last person within the ISIS madness and defend our people from radical Islamic terrorism,” he added later.

Pentagon opposition: Hours before Trump’s Wednesday speech, yet another defense official showed daylight between the department and Trump on Syria.

This time it came from Owen West, assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

West was asked by Rep. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment 2020 Democrats urge Israel to reverse decision banning Omar, Tlaib visit 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally MORE (D-Mass.) whether former 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 was “wrong” for opposing the withdrawal.

“No, sir,” West replied.

West also said that while U.S. troops do not need to be “co-located” with partner forces to keep pressure on ISIS, it will be more difficult to do so.

“Militarily, we will be less effective,” he said.

Maj. Gen. James Hecker, vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, similarly said it will be “a very difficult situation” to keep pressure on ISIS after withdrawing.

“What we need to do is work with our allies, work with the [Syrian Democratic Forces], work with the surrounding countries, whether that be Iraq, Jordan or Turkey, on how we can keep the pressure on,” Hecker said.

Pressed by Moulton whether he agrees a withdrawal does not keep pressure on ISIS, Hecker said there “will be a decrease” in pressure by leaving Syria.

BORDER SHUFFLE: About 250 of the 4,350 U.S. troops deployed to the southern border are being moved from Arizona to Texas.

The Pentagon said Wednesday the shuffle is happening “in response to migrant caravan activity currently approaching the Texas border.”

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanWhy Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary Five questions for Trump's new defense secretary on first major tour Trump says media is part of vetting his nominees: 'We save a lot of money that way' MORE “has authorized the repositioning of approximately 250 active duty military personnel from current border security support missions in Arizona to the vicinity of the Eagle Pass” ahead of the caravan’s arrival, spokesman Capt. Bill Speaks said in a statement.

The Pentagon said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had requested the move.

The troops being moved, which include military police, medical personnel and engineers, are not newly added and come from “existing authorities and in accordance with previously-approved requests for support,” Speaks said.

About the caravan: The deployment to the border happened in the first place in response to a caravan of asylum seekers in October.

On Tuesday, Trump talked about caravans during his State of the Union speech.

“As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States,” he said.

The line drew groans from Democrats before Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Pelosi hits Trump, Netanyahu for 'weakness' amid tensions over Omar and Tlaib In Hong Kong, the need for peaceful persistence MORE (D-Calif.) waved them off.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role Juan Williams: Trump, his allies and the betrayal of America Trump taps Texas Rep. Ratcliffe to replace Dan Coats as top intelligence official MORE also said in a statement Tuesday that roughly “2,000 aliens have arrived in northern Mexico as part of a 'caravan' seeking to cross the border into Texas.”

YEMEN RESOLUTION ADVANCES: The Yemen war powers resolution is one step closer to the House floor.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday advanced the resolution, which would require President Trump to withdraw U.S. forces from the Yemen civil war.

The Democratic-led panel voted 25-17 along party lines to send the war powers resolution to the full House, setting the stage for Democrats to confront Trump over his support for Saudi Arabia in the conflict.

“Our country’s strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, despite some bumps in the road, has been a valuable one,” committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelDemocrats slam alleged politicization of Trump State Department after IG report Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China Liberal Democrat eyes aid cuts to Israel after Omar, Tlaib denied entry MORE (D-N.Y.) said. “But neither the threats facing the Saudis nor America’s partnership with the kingdom mean that the Saudis should have a blank check. We cannot look the other way when it comes to the recklessness with which the Saudi-led coalition has conducted its operations.”

The vote came after the committee’s first hearing of the new Congress, in which lawmakers heard from four experts on U.S. policy in the Arabian peninsula.

The GOP side: Republicans who opposed the resolution argued that while the Saudis must improve their conduct in Yemen, withdrawing military support would take away U.S. leverage and set a bad precedent by relying on a war powers resolution when U.S. troops are not in direct combat.

“I am alarmed that we are abusing a privileged war powers procedure to address questions where U.S. forces are not involved in combat,” said Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulTrump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China Top Foreign Affairs Republican: 'It would benefit all of us' for Omar, Tlaib to visit Israel Trump imposes new sanctions on Russia over chemical weapons use MORE (R-Texas), ranking member of the committee. “Not only does it fail to meaningfully address the security cooperation issues we face in the region, it also creates a dangerous precedent that could disrupt U.S. security cooperation with partners all around the world.”


The House Appropriations Committee’s subpanel on military construction will hold a hearing on quality of life in the military with testimony from the top enlisted officers of each military branch at 10 a.m. at the House, room 140. https://bit.ly/2DVixbR

Africa Command commander Gen. Thomas Waldhauser and Southern Command commander Gen. Craig Faller will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 10:15 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2RI1tdm

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold an organizational meeting at 2 p.m. at the Senate, room 116. https://bit.ly/2t5Iv6u

The Afghan ambassador the United States, Roya Rahmani, will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at 4 p.m. https://bit.ly/2t6O4BF


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