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Overnight Defense: Acting Pentagon chief visits Afghanistan | US, Taliban peace talks intensify | Trump tweets in Persian to send message to Iran | Defense world pays tribute to Walter Jones
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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.
THE TOPLINE: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan made his first visit to a warzone Monday since taking over as Pentagon chief last month.
In an unannounced stop -- which is typical for warzone trips -- Shanahan visited Afghanistan, where he sought to assure the government of continued U.S. support.
While there, Shanahan affirmed that he has no orders to draw down the number of U.S. troops on Afghanistan.
He also stressed the terms of peace in Afghanistan are for the Afghans to decide.
"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like. It's not about the U.S., it's about Afghanistan," he said.
Timing: Shanahan's trip comes as the Trump administration's efforts to negotiate a peace agreement with the Taliban kick into high gear.
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad announced last month that the United States reached a preliminary framework for an agreement with the Taliban.
On Friday, Khalilzad added that the United States is aiming to reach a peace agreement by the Afghan elections in July.
The State Department announced Sunday that Khalilzad is heading back on the road to further his work to "facilitate a peace process that protects U.S. national security interests and brings all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue through which they can determine a path for their country's future."
Khalilzad's trip, which started Sunday will include stops in Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the State Department.
On the lighter side: The internet got a kick out of Shanahan's all-black outfit while touring Afghanistan.
Military news site Task and Purpose joked that Shanahan "showed up to Afghanistan looking like a Bond villain."
U.S. Forces Afghanistan hopped into the fray, replying to a tweet that asked whether Shanahan was "a ninja or a stagehand" by saying Shanahan is "neither."
"He's the guy in charge of the most powerful military in the world," U.S. Forces Afghanistan tweeted.
Later: The marquee event during Shanahan's trip abroad is the NATO defense ministerial later this week.
Shanahan is sure to face questions from allies jittery about a host of issues, including the potential Afghan drawdown, the definite Syria withdrawal, the downfall of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and others.
A Pentagon statement on Shanahan's trip said he will "reinforce the need for equitable burden sharing, discuss implementation plans for key NATO summit outcomes and reinforce U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance."
TRUMP, IRAN TRADE JABS ON REVOLUTION'S ANNIVERSARY: Monday is the 40th anniversary of when followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini toppled the Shah of Iran. Trump's Twitter account put out a tweet in Persian to slam the Iranian government.
"40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure. The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future," reads the tweet, which the president also sent out in English.
Administration line: Trump's national security advisor also used the phrase "40 [years] of failure" in his own tweets earlier Monday.
In 2017, Bolton said he hoped Iran's revolution "will not last until its 40th birthday,"
"After 40 years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has failed to fulfill its promises to uphold and safeguard the rights of its citizens. The 40th anniversary of the Iranian regime only serves to highlight four decades of failure and broken promises," Bolton tweeted Monday.
"It's been 40 yrs of failure," he added in a second tweet. "Now it's up to the Iranian regime to change its behavior, & ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country. The U.S. will support the will of the Iranian people, & stand behind them to ensure their voices are heard."
In Tehran: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech in Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) square to mark the occasion.
During the speech, Rouhani touted Iran's military strength and vowed to overcome U.S. pressure.
"We will not let America become victorious... Iranian people have and will have some economic difficulties but we will overcome the problems by helping each other," he said.
Jones, who hadn't voted since September because of illness, entered hospice care in January after breaking his hip.
Jones at first championed the invasion of Iraq, in 2003 leading an effort to change the name of French toast and french fries in the House cafeterias to "freedom toast" and "freedom fries" over France's lack of support for the war.
But he later felt intense regret over that support. He posted dozens of pictures of soldiers killed this century from Camp Lejuene outside his D.C. office and said in 2017 that he signed more than 12,000 letters to families of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Defense remembrances: In the defense community, Jones was also known as a strong advocate for the Marine Corps.
On Sunday night, Marines commandant Gen. Robert Neller tweeted out the service's "deepest condolences."
"The Honorable Rep. Jones was a dedicated public servant for 34 years and a tireless advocate for Marines and their families. God bless him & his family," Neller added.
The bipartisan leaders of the House Armed Services Committee, of which Jones was a member, also offered their condolences Monday.
"Walter Jones is no longer with us, but he has left an indelible imprint on the work of the House Armed Services Committee and on his country," committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement. "During the twenty-four years he served in Congress, he was a tireless advocate for American servicemembers, someone who was always willing to put principle above partisanship and a wonderful colleague."
"Walter Jones' service to his country will be remembered for his dogged advocacy for his constituents, his love for the Marine Corps, his willingness to ask tough - even unpopular- questions, and his unflinching patriotism," committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thonberry (R-Texas) said in his own statement. "He will be missed."
US, SOUTH KOREA SIGN COST-SHARING PLAN: The United States and South Korea signed a preliminary agreement over the weekend that would increase South Korea's contribution for the cost of keeping U.S. troops on the peninsula.
The deal, which is known as a "special measures agreement," would see South Korea pay 1.0389 trillion won, or about $920 million, for a year. That's less than the $1.6 billion Trump was reportedly demanding, but more than the 960 billion won a year it paid under the previous agreement.
The agreement still needs approval by South Korea's parliament before it's final.
Why it matters: Inking the deal, after the previous agreement lapsed at the end of December, takes away an irritant in the alliance ahead of Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
But unlike previous special measures agreements with South Korea, the new one is only for a year, not five years. That means the United States and South Korea could be back at the negotiating table in a few months.
About the summit: Over the weekend, we took a look at Trump's upcoming summit with Kim and the decidedly low expectations senators have for the outcome.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander, and Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2tfqH8X
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