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 TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated 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 MoultonJared Kushner's brother made last-minute donation to Beto O'Rourke Senate campaign The Hill's Morning Report - Boeing crisis a test for Trump administration We could have less than 5 years to save the North Atlantic right whale MORE (D-Mass.) whether former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief under investigation over Boeing ties | Trump uses visual aids to tout progress against ISIS | Pentagon, Amnesty International spar over civilian drone deaths Pentagon watchdog probing whether acting chief boosted Boeing Overnight Defense: Judge says Trump can't implement transgender policy | Trump floats admitting Brazil to NATO | Mattis returning to Stanford 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 ShanahanWhite House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated Overnight Defense: Top Marine warns border deployment could hurt readiness | McSally aims for sexual assault reforms in defense bill | House to vote on measure opposing transgender ban | New warning over F-35 sale to Turkey On The Money: Trump rolls dice on uncertain economy | 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington | Watchdog group pushes 2020 candidates for 10 years of tax returns 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference MORE (D-Calif.) waved them off.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Nunes sues Twitter for 0 million | Trump links tech giants to 'Radical Left Democrats' | Facebook settles suits over ad discrimination | Dems want answers over spread of New Zealand shooting video Nielsen calls for greater public-private collaboration on cyber threats The Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms 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 EngelHillicon Valley: Kushner accused of using WhatsApp, personal email for official work | White House rejects request for Trump-Putin communications | Facebook left 'hundreds of millions' of passwords unsecured | Tech pressured to root out extremism White House rejects Dem request for documents on Trump-Putin communications The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP 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 McCaulThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today Sixteen years later, let's finally heed the call of the 9/11 Commission  GOP lawmakers urge State Dept. to label cartels as terrorist organizations 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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