Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract

Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract
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THE TOPLINE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE on Thursday said a U.S. Navy vessel shot down an Iranian drone in a "defensive action" in the Strait of Hormuz.

Trump said the USS Boxer shot down the drone after it got within 1,000 yards, "ignoring multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship's crew."

"The drone was immediately destroyed," Trump said. "This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters."

The Pentagon's statement: The Pentagon said the Iranian drone was within a "threatening range" of the Boxer.

"At approximately 10 a.m. local time, the amphibious ship USS Boxer was in international waters conducting a planned inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz," chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.


"A fixed wing unmanned aerial system (UAS) approached Boxer and closed within a threatening range. The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew."

New tensions: The incident marked the latest escalation of tensions between the two sides, after Iran last month shot down a U.S. surveillance drone that it claimed was flying over Iranian airspace, a move that nearly prompted a retaliatory strike from the U.S.

U.S. officials have insisted the U.S. drone stayed in international airspace and called Iran's action an "unprovoked attack." 

Trump said at the time he came within minutes of launching a military strike against Iran but decided the estimated 150-person death toll was not a proportional response. 

A fever pitch: U.S.-Iran tensions have been at a fever pitch since May, when the Trump administration announced the deployment of a carrier strike group to the region because of unspecified threats from Iran.

Since then, tensions have continued to spike after attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf region that the United States blamed on Tehran.

Iran has also breached two key limits of the 2015 nuclear deal. Trump withdrew the United States from that Obama-era deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran. 

Hope for talks? Even as Trump has threatened military action on Iran, he has expressed a willingness to talk. He also held that he is not looking for regime change, adding his main concern is Iran's nuclear program.

Trump's nominee to be Defense secretary, Mark Esper, also said this week that "we need to get back on the diplomatic channel" with Iran.

Esper touted a plan, dubbed Operation Sentinel, for U.S. allies to escort vessels transiting through the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.


PENTAGON SENDING 500 MORE TROOPS TO SAUDI ARABIA: The Pentagon is preparing to deploy 500 troops to Saudi Arabia as it beefs up its military presence in the Middle East amid escalating tensions with Iran.

CNN reported, citing two U.S. defense officials, that the troops are expected to go to the Prince Sultan Air Base located near the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The New York Times later confirmed the report.

Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told The Hill there is "no official announcement at this time," adding that "U.S. Central Command continually works to manage our force posture in the region and will continue to do this in cooperation with our partners and allies in the region."

Part of last deployment: The Pentagon announced last month it was sending an additional 1,000 troops to the region for defensive purposes, specifically citing tensions with Iran.

"The United States does not seek conflict with Iran," former acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanEsper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Defense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall MORE said during the announcement. "The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests." 

The 500 troops going to Saudi Arabia are part of this deployment, according to CNN, and will join a small number of troops and support personnel already on site. 

Timing: The relationship between Washington and Tehran was further strained in recent weeks when Tehran announced it had exceeded limitations on its uranium enrichment imposed by an Obama-era nuclear pact. President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2018, but international observers said Iran was in compliance with the deal until recently. 

The deployment also comes as bipartisan members of Congress express frustration with Trump's response to Saudi Arabia following the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and bombing campaign in Yemen against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, which has contributed to a humanitarian crisis in the country.


TRUMP MULLS NEW TURKEY SANCTIONS: President Trump on Thursday said that he has not yet decided on whether to impose congressionally mandated sanctions on Turkey over the NATO ally's possession of a Russian-produced missile air defense system.

"We're looking at it, and see what we do. We haven't announced that yet," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. 

The possible sanctions: Lawmakers have urged Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey since Friday, when the country took delivery of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system.

The sanctions would fall under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which penalizes U.S. partners that buy Russian military equipment.

What the administration has already done: The administration on Wednesday officially removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program in retaliation for the S-400 purchase, releasing a statement that said the advanced stealth fighter jet "cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities."

What Trump said: Trump up until Thursday has been quiet on possible sanctions.

He again blamed the Obama administration for the situation, saying that it "made some very big mistakes with regard to Turkey."

Trump on Tuesday incorrectly claimed that the previous administration would not sell Ankara the U.S.-developed Patriot air and missile defense system, driving the country to instead buy the S-400.

Both administrations, however, have tried to sell Turkey the Patriot over other foreign systems, but Ankara rejected the offers as Washington refused to include the system's sensitive missile technology.


TRUMP TO REQUEST REVIEW OF PENTAGON CLOUD COMPUTING CONTRACT: President Trump said Thursday he'll ask the Department of Defense to look "very closely" at the Pentagon's cloud computing contract that is expected to be awarded to Amazon.

"I'm getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. "They're saying it wasn't competitively bid.

"Some of the greatest companies in the world are complaining about it, having to do with Amazon and the Department of Defense," Trump continued. "And I will be asking them to look at it very closely to see what's going on because I have had very few things where there's been such complaining."

What's at issue: Bloomberg first reported on Wednesday that Trump has asked for more information on the $10 billion deal, which the Pentagon is expected to award next month. Amazon is considered the favorite to land the contract, though Microsoft is also in the running.

It's unclear whether Trump would go as far as canceling the contract or directly intervene, but he has long been critical of Amazon and its owner, Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosHillicon Valley: Officials worry about Nevada caucus technology after Iowa | Pelosi joins pressure campaign on Huawei | Workers at Kickstarter vote to unionize | Bezos launches B climate initiative Overnight Energy: Green groups to sue over Trump rollback of Obama water rules | GOP climate plan faces pushback from right | Bezos launches B climate initiative Bezos launching initiative that commits billion to combat climate change MORE.

Trump reportedly learned of letters from Republican members of Congress to the White House and military leaders that claim the contract excludes some companies, including Oracle and IBM. 

The background: Oracle has waged a months-long battle against the cloud computing contract. Oracle claims the procurement process was set up to favor Amazon, alleging potential conflicts of interest between Department of Defense employees and Amazon Web Services (AWS). A federal judge last week shot down Oracle's claims, handing a win to the Pentagon in a decision that argued Oracle "cannot demonstrate prejudice" in the procurement process.

The highly anticipated decision paved the way for the Pentagon to award the contract -- known as Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) -- to either AWS or Microsoft's cloud-computing service, Azure, likely by August. 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCheese, wine importers reeling from Trump trade fight Peace Corps' sudden decision to leave China stirs blowback Lawmakers raise concerns over Russia's growing influence in Venezuela MORE (R-Fla.) last week sent a letter to Trump's national security adviser, John BoltonJohn BoltonOvernight Defense: Dem senator met with Iranian foreign minister | Meeting draws criticism from right | Lawmakers push back at Pentagon funding for wall We should listen to John Bolton The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms MORE, asking the White House to delay the contract over concerns the procurement process has been unfair and biased in favor of Amazon. 



Brig. Gen. DeAnna Burt, the director of operations and communications at Air Force Space Command will speak at the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute Space Breakfast Series at 8:30 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. 

The Aspen Security Forum in Aspen Colo., has a number of high profile speakers on Friday. Events can be watched live at aspensecurityforum.org/media/live-video.

Defense Innovation Unit Director Mike Brown and Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers will speak on "Technology and National Security: A New Era of Innovation," at 12:30 p.m.

Susan Rice, former assistant to President Obama for national security affairs, will discuss "Assessing Trump's Foreign Policy," at 1:45 p.m.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley will speak at 3:30 p.m.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad will discuss "Is Peace Possible in the Forever War?" at 4:15 p.m.



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