Overnight Defense: Trump labels elite Iranian military unit a terrorist group | Iran hits back with terrorist label for US Central Command | US troops, contractor killed in Afghanistan blast

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: The Trump administration took an unprecedented step Monday to ramp up its pressure on Iran.

The administration is officially labeling Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a "foreign terrorist organization."

It's the first time the United States has applied the label, which comes with sanctions, to an entire government entity.

"This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences," President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE said in a statement Monday. "We will continue to increase financial pressure and raise the costs on the Iranian regime for its support of terrorist activity until it abandons its malign and outlaw behavior."

The designation will take effect one week from Monday, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBill Maher says he's 'glad' David Koch is dead Trump spurs new wave of economic angst by escalating China fight Trump on North Korean projectile launches: Kim 'likes testing missiles' MORE told reporters at the State Department shortly after Trump issued his statement.

Potential pitfalls: Reports of Trump mulling the move against the Guard have surfaced since the early days of his presidency, and past administrations also considered doing it.

But they held off amid warnings from the Pentagon and intelligence community that the designation could complicate military and diplomatic work by prohibiting contact with foreign officials who have worked with the Guard.

There have also been fears of retaliation against U.S. military personnel abroad, and U.S. commanders reportedly issued a warning to their troops ahead of Monday's announcement.

In particular, in Iraq, where U.S. troops continue working to prevent the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's resurgence, Shiite militias with ties to the Guard operate in close proximity to U.S. forces.

There are also potential complications in Lebanon, where the Guard has close ties to Hezbollah, whose political wing is part of the Lebanese government.

Trump's rebuttal: Despite those concerns, administration officials argued Monday the designation is necessary to protect Americans by draining the IRGC of its resources. Last week, the administration released updated numbers of Americans killed in Iraq by Iran-backed militias, placing the toll at 603.

"The IRGC has been threatening American troops almost since its inception," Brian Hook, the administration's special envoy for Iran, said at the State Department. "What endangers American troops in the Middle East is an IRGC that operates with impunity and never has its ambitions checked in the Middle East."

Pompeo also warned that Iran should "think more than twice about" attacking U.S. personnel.

Nathan Sales, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, insisted the designation "will not impede our diplomacy." He also stressed that the administration takes "force protection very, very seriously," while declining to elaborate on specific steps the administration is taking to protect U.S. personnel in the wake of the announcement.

Iran's response: In anticipation of the move, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Sunday that Trump "should know better than to be conned into another US disaster," suggesting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a driving force in the decision.

"#NetanyahuFirsters who have long agitated for [foreign terrorist organization] designation of the [Guard] fully understand its consequences for US forces in the region," Zarif tweeted. "In fact, they seek to drag US into a quagmire on his behalf."

Shortly after Trump made the move official, Zarif sent a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani requesting he reciprocate by designating U.S. Central Command a terrorist group.

Central Command is in charge of the U.S. military forces in the Middle East.

Later Monday, Iran's Supreme National Security Council, headed by Rouhani, announced it made the designation for Central Command.

Israel's response: In a Hebrew tweet Monday, Netanyahu thanked Trump for "responding to another important request of mine," adding it "serves the interests of our countries and countries of the region."

"We will continue to work together in every way against the Iranian regime, which threatens the State of Israel, the US and world peace," Netanyahu tweeted in Hebrew.

An English tweet an hour later also thanked Trump, but did not take credit for his decision like in the Hebrew one.

"Thank you, President @realDonaldTrump for your decision to designate the Islamic revolutionary guards as a terrorist organization. Once again you are keeping the world safe from Iran aggression and terrorism," Netanyahu wrote in the English tweet.

In Congress: Iran hawks in the United States have long agitated for designating the Guard a terrorist organization, arguing that it is both an accurate label and will send a strong message to Tehran.

On Monday, those hawks unsurprisingly applauded Trump.

"Today's announcement should be followed by measures to hold the IRGC accountable for its malign activities, incl ballistic missile proliferation, Iran's drive for nuclear weapons, the war in Yemen, human rights atrocities, bolstering the Assad regime & financing Hezbollah," Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzIs this any way for NASA to build a lunar lander? GOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 MORE (R-Texas) tweeted.

"I've been saying this for years," Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP senator says he suggested Greenland purchase to Trump, met with Danish ambassador It's time to empower military families with education freedom Cotton warns China: Crackdown on Hong Kong would be 'grave miscalculation' MORE (R-Ark.) said in his own tweet. "The IRGC has planned terrorist attacks in the United States, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, in addition to killing hundreds of Americans & thousands of Iraqis in cowardly roadside bombings. Starting today, we call the IRGC by its true name."

 

THREE US TROOPS KILLED IN AFGHAN IED BLAST: Three U.S. troops and one contractor were killed Monday by an improved explosive device near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Another three U.S. troops were injured in the blast and were evacuated to receive medical care, Resolute Support said in a statement.

The names of those killed were not released, pending next-of-kin notification.

The Taliban took credit for the attack near Bagram, which is one of the largest U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

Monday's deaths bring to seven the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year.

Context: The attack comes as the United States continues to try to negotiate peace with the Taliban and underscores the difficulty for prospects of success in that effort.

On top of Monday's attack, the Taliban has killed dozens in near daily attacks on Afghan forces.

There are about 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan with a dual mission of training, advising and assisting Afghan troops in their fight against the Taliban and conducting counterterrorism missions against groups such as ISIS.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Senate Armed Services Committee has three hearings scheduled:

-- Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardon and Marines Commandant Gen. Robert Neller will testify before the full committee at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2Un01lN

-- A subcommittee will have a closed-door hearing on U.S. Special Operations Command's effort to adapt to the future at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/2KnpCY6

-- Another subcommittee will have a hearing on Air Force modernization with officer testimony 3 p.m. at the Russell Senate Office Building, room 232A. https://bit.ly/2YXjOb4

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has two hearings scheduled:

-- A subcommittee will hold a hearing on the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act's implementation with expert testimony at 10 a.m. at Dirksen 419. https://bit.ly/2KjGL54

-- The full committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the nominees to be special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and deputy director of the Peace Corps at 3 p.m. at Dirksen 419. https://bit.ly/2KjfmAb

The Senate Appropriations Committee has two hearings scheduled:

-- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will testify before the state, foreign operations and related programs subcommittee at 2:30 p.m. at Dirksen 138. https://bit.ly/2GaNoma

-- Defense officials will testify about the fiscal 2020 budget request for military construction and family housing before the military construction subcommittee at 2:30 p.m. at Dirksen 124. https://bit.ly/2UnXMzJ

Over at the Senate Budget Committee, Pentagon comptroller and acting deputy secretary of Defense David Norquist will testify at 2:30 p.m. at Dirksen 608. https://bit.ly/2UFHC3J

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has two hearings scheduled:

-- U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark GreenMark GreenTackling China in modern Cold War New policy at Interior's in-house watchdog clamps down on interactions with press Senate leaves for five-week August recess MORE will testify before the committee at 9:30 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2Kjbyij

-- The committee will mark up various bills at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2172. https://bit.ly/2ImuU3t

The House Appropriations Committee has two hearings scheduled:

-- The defense subcommittee will have a closed hearing on Special Operations Command at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2KkykXf

-- Army Secretary Mark Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will testify before the defense subcommittee at 2 p.m. at the House, room 140. https://bit.ly/2I7nwtC

The House Armed Services Committee has two hearings scheduled:

-- A subcommittee will hold a hearing on Special Operations Command's budget request at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2212. https://bit.ly/2uWlyDq

-- Nuclear security officials will testify before a subcommittee on their priorities for fiscal 2020 at 2:30 p.m. at Rayburn 2118. https://bit.ly/2YVsZbW

Former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe enemy of my enemy is my friend — an alliance that may save the Middle East Democratic governors fizzle in presidential race A lesson of the Trump, Tlaib, Omar, Netanyahu affair MORE and former Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces Five takeaways from Pentagon chief's first major trip Esper given horse in Mongolia as US looks for new inroads against China MORE will testify before the House Oversight Committee about climate change and national security at 10 a.m. at Rayburn 2154. https://bit.ly/2UfHMiR

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 will speak at the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado at 10:45 a.m. Watch live at defense.gov/live.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Secrecy behind Saudi nuclear talks infuriates Congress

-- The Hill: US pulls troops out of Libya amid rise in violence

-- The Hill: Opinion: Designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard as terrorists will have consequences for America

-- The Hill: Opinion: Let's talk color symbolism: South Korean version

--Bloomberg: U.S. nuclear-armed sub may cost more than Navy says, GAO warns

-- Defense News: Do border deployments hurt readiness or not? Key Senate Democrats demand answers from DoD