Overnight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program

Overnight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program
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THE TOPLINE: It has been an eventful and tragic week in the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan.

The Trump administration is racing to finish negotiations with the Taliban that could lead to a U.S. troop withdrawal.

But even as work continues on negotiations, two U.S. troops were killed Wednesday.

The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan announced the deaths, but no further details. Per Department of Defense policy, names are being withheld until 24 hours after next of kin is notified.


The U.S. deaths come days after an attack on a wedding in Kabul killed an estimated 80 Afghans and wounded more than 150. The Afghanistan branch of ISIS took responsibility for the attack.

Peace talks: Top Trump administration national security officials conferred with President TrumpDonald John TrumpComey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Congress to get election security briefing next month amid Intel drama New York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff MORE at the end of last week on the progress in negotiations with the Taliban.

Days later, Trump's envoy for the talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, flew back out to Qatar for another round of negotiations with the Taliban.

The same day, Trump played down expectations for reaching a deal, saying of the ongoing talks with the Taliban, "I don't know whether or not that plan's going to be acceptable to me."

He also said Afghanistan is a "dangerous place" and indicated he's open to leaving a residual force in a place he said "does seem to be the Harvard University of terrorism."

"We'll always have intelligence, and we'll always have somebody there," he added.

Trump also revived a claim he could win the Afghanistan war "in a week" -- this time adding that such a plan would not involve the use of nuclear weapons.

"As I've said, and I'll say it any number of times -- and this is not using nuclear -- we could win that war in a week if we wanted to fight it, but I'm not looking to kill 10 million people," Trump said.

The remarks followed similar comments Trump made in July, when he claimed to have a plan that he didn't want to execute in which "Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth."

On ISIS: As mentioned above, ISIS's Afghanistan branch took credit for a devastating attack in Kabul over the weekend.

The attack underscored the difficulty of bringing the war to a close, as it demonstrated the likelihood that violence will continue even if the Taliban agrees to a deal.

It also was the latest data point in a growing body of evidence that ISIS is regaining strength.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dem anxiety grows ahead of Super Tuesday Pompeo expects US-Taliban agreement to be signed on Feb. 29 The Hill's Morning Report — Sanders, Dems zero in on Super Tuesday MORE acknowledged that ISIS has regained strength in some areas, but argued the terrorist group's ability to carry out attacks outside its core region is greatly diminished.

"It's complicated," Pompeo said in an interview on "CBS This Morning." "There's certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago."

"But the caliphate is gone, and their capacity to conduct external attacks has been made much more difficult. We've taken down a significant risk," he continued. "Not all of it, but a significant amount. And we're very pleased with the work we have done."

Asked Wednesday about ISIS regrouping, Trump called on other nations to take over the fight.


Trump singled out Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Turkey as countries that should do more to combat the terrorist group.

"At a certain point, all of these other countries where ISIS is around -- they've been decimated by the way, badly decimated -- but all of these countries are going to have to fight them, because do we want to stay there for another 19 years? I don't think so," Trump told reporters outside the White House.

"The United States, we're 7,000 miles away," Trump added.

The Trump administration has also been trying to convince countries, with little success, to repatriate citizens who joined ISIS for prosecution in their home countries. U.S.-backed forces in Syria are detaining an estimated 2,000 foreign fighters.

On Wednesday, Trump threatened to release the prisoners into their home countries if those countries don't take the fighters back.

"If Europe doesn't them take, I'll have no choice but to release them into the countries from which they came, which is Germany and France and other places," he said. "We beat them. You captured them. We've got thousands of them, and now, as usual, our allies say, 'Oh, no, we don't want them,' even though they came from France and Germany and other places."

Trump also appeared to rule out detaining the foreign fighters at Guantánamo Bay, alluding to cost concerns.

"So we're going to tell them, and we've already told them, take these prisoners that we've captured because the United States is not going to put them in Guantánamo for the next 50 years and pay for it," he said.


PENTAGON KILLS BILLION-DOLLAR 'KILL VEHICLE' MISSILE PROGRAM: The Pentagon has canceled a $1 billion-dollar contract with Boeing to create a next-generation weapon meant to destroy incoming missiles after technical problems derailed the project.

The Defense Department will officially shut down the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) program on Thursday "due to technical design problems," according to Missile Defense Agency spokesman Mark Wright.

The Associated Press first reported on the cancelation.  

The lead up: Boeing in May 2017 had received a $1 billion contract for RKV program, thought up as a means to shoot down missiles from North Korea or Iran.

But two years later, Under Secretary of Defense for research and engineering Michael Griffin in May ordered Boeing to stop work on the RKV as the Pentagon decided how it would move forward on the program, which had already spent just under $1.2 billion in developmental costs.

"The department ultimately determined the technical design problems were so significant as to be either insurmountable or cost-prohibitive to correct," Griffin said of the move to halt work.

He then "made the decision to terminate the program on August 14," and the U.S. military will instead hold a competition for a "new, next-generation interceptor," according to Wright.

The official reason: "Ending the program was the responsible thing to do," Griffin said in a statement. "Development programs sometimes encounter problems. After exercising due diligence, we decided the path we're going down wouldn't be fruitful, so we're not going down that path anymore.

Raytheon Co., meanwhile, which makes the interceptor's warhead, is struggling with design and manufacturing problems that increased costs, Bloomberg reported.

The background: The RKV was meant to replace the current Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), currently fitted on the nation's supply of Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI) – part of the U.S. missile defense system meant to protect the country from incoming ballistic missiles. Current EKV technology dates back to the 1990s.

The armaments, which have been tested but never used in combat, are launched from an underground silo based on U.S. soil, fly above Earth's atmosphere, and release a "kill vehicle" that knocks into the incoming threat and destroys it. The action has been described as a bullet hitting another bullet to knock it off course.

The RKV was to go on 20 new GBIs the Pentagon planned to build and then base by 2023 in Fort Greely, Alaska, where 44 interceptors are already held. Another four GBIs are in California.

The new competition, which is currently open but has no set timelines or specifications, would likely look to build a weapon to counter the hypersonic missiles now being developed by Russia and China.

Timing: The cancelation comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that he is concerned by North Korea's recent tests of short-range ballistic missiles and conceded that denuclearization talks with Pyongyang have suffered setbacks. 

"We haven't gotten back to the table as quickly as we would have hoped but we've been pretty clear all along, we know there will be bumps along the way," Pompeo said on "CBS This Morning" when asked about the current status of negotiations.

The interview came after the South Korean military said North Korea launched two projectiles on Friday, the latest in a series of tests of short-range missiles or other projectiles by Pyongyang since the end of July.


AFTER THE INF TREATY: If the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty earlier this month left any doubt, the Pentagon put it to rest this week -- We're living in a post-INF world.

The Pentagon announced Monday that it had tested a ground-launched cruise missile that would have been banned by the treaty.

The test happened Sunday afternoon at San Nicolas Island, Calif., according to a Pentagon statement.

"The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight," the statement added.

Russia's reaction: Moscow accused the United States of escalating tensions with the test.

Washington has "obviously taken the course of escalating military tensions," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday.

Dems want arms control in final defense bill: INF-range missiles -- or rather blocking them -- also featured into a Democratic letter this week.

Eighteen Senate Democrats penned a letter to the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee pushing for three arms control provisions to make it into the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Specifically, they want provisions that would deny funding to the INF-range missile, block a low-yield nuclear warhead and urge the Trump administration to extend the New START Treaty.

All three provisions were included in the House version of the NDAA, but are fiercely opposed by Senate Republicans and the White House.

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