Overnight Defense: Hurricane-hit bases to lose funds to Trump wall | Lawmakers split on funding delayed projects | Iran to release crew members from seized ship

Overnight Defense: Hurricane-hit bases to lose funds to Trump wall | Lawmakers split on funding delayed projects | Iran to release crew members from seized ship
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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, 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: Hurricane-ravaged bases in Florida, North Carolina and Puerto Rico are among the military sites that will lose funds because of the Trump administration's decision to redirect $3.6 billion from military construction projects to a wall on the Mexican border.

The Pentagon on Wednesday announced the specific cuts that will take place because of the redirection of funds, though it cast the changes as delaying projects, not ending them.


"We've got an emergency on the Southwest border that we need to address. All of these projects are important," a senior defense official told reporters at the Pentagon.

What the Pentagon is banking on: They added that the Defense Department will work with Congress to replenish or "backfill" funding to finish the projects, but admitted that such a move wasn't guaranteed.

"We're very focused right now on working with Congress to get the backfill that we need... If there's things that progress that don't work out we'll adjust and we'll plan as we need to."

The GOP-controlled Senate has already agreed to fund the deferred projects in its annual National Defense Authorization Act, but the Democratic-led House said it will not do the same in its version of the bill.

The official acknowledged that with this divide the department has "a lot of work ahead of us." 

The details: A total 127 military construction projects are being put on hold due to the administration's decision, half of which are overseas and half of which are planned U.S. projects. 

The list, released a day after Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTalks stall on defense costs with South Korea Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Trump floats testifying in impeachment hearing MORE formally approved the decision to divert billions away from the construction plans to pay for 175 miles of barrier on U.S.-Mexico border, includes projects across 23 states, 19 countries and three territories.

About $1.1 billion would be cut from projects in the continental United States, while $700 million would come from efforts in U.S. territories and $1.8 billion from projects for overseas bases.

Most targeted are those that would tackle less pressing needs including parking areas, roads, and a dining facility, but the list also includes planned schools, target ranges, a missile field expansion, maintenance facilities and even a crash rescue station and a cyber operations facility.

The hurricane impacted bases: Impacted at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida is a $17 million crash rescue station project.

Two projects worth a combined $41 million at Camp Lejeune, N.C., will also be deferred, as will 10 projects worth more than $402.5 million across five Puerto Rico bases.

Tyndall, Camp Lejeune and the Puerto Rico bases were all devastated in hurricanes in the past two years and are still rebuilding billions of dollars worth of damage.

The senior defense official stressed that the projects on the list for the three locations "are not going to be delayed because of how far out into the future they are," and that clean-up efforts at the bases are still funded and ongoing.  

Lawmaker pushback: The official said that earlier in the day the Pentagon finished notifying lawmakers of the specific projects in their districts that will be ransacked to free up the billions of dollars, as well as the governments of countries that house U.S. bases abroad.

Lawmakers on Wednesday voiced their displeasure with the administration's decision, though the GOP was hesitant to call on Trump to find alternative means to pay for his promised wall.

"We continue to face a very real crisis at the southern border. I regret that the president has been forced to divert funding for our troops to address the crisis," House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pentagon watchdog says Syria withdrawal hurt ISIS fight | Vindman testifies on third day of public hearings | Lawmakers to wrap up defense bill talks this week Lawmakers expect to finish defense policy bill negotiations this week Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill MORE (R-Texas) said in a statement.

Esper is mum: Esper, who is traveling to Stuttgart, London and Paris this week, sidestepped questions on the topic when asked by reporters traveling with him.

He declined to comment on concerns from lawmakers on construction projects in their states being sidelined, citing ongoing talks with lawmakers.  


IRAN TO RELEASE CREW MEMBERS OF SEIZED UK SHIP: Iran will release seven of the 23 crew members of the seized British-flagged Stena Impero tanker, though no release date has been set, Iranian state television reported on Wednesday.

Reuters first reported that Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi had told the Iranian outlet that the seven released crew members would include Indian citizens and that they would be permitted to leave the tanker on humanitarian grounds.

"We have no problem with the crew and the captain and the issue is violations that the vessel committed," Mousavi said.

What happened: The Stena Impero, owned by a Swedish company but sailed by the United Kingdom, was detained on July 19 by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz. It has 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality.

The Iranians cited marine violations when they seized the ship, which came two weeks after the U.K. had detained an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar. The British released the Iranian ship in August.

Timing up in the air: Stena Bulk, the Swedish owner of the vessel, said in a statement that the company is "very pleased that for seven crew members their ordeal may soon be over," though it is also cautious as it awaits official confirmation.

"We view this communication as a positive step on the way to the release of all the remaining crew, which has always been our primary concern and focus," Erik Hanell, the company's president and chief executive, said in a statement.

The additional 16 crew members would stay onboard to safely operate the vessel, according to the company.

The background: The incident is one of several seizures or interceptions in the past few months by Iranian forces of vessels they often accuse of smuggling fuel.

The actions have added to already high tensions between Washington and Tehran, which began deteriorating last year when President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Obama-era nuclear pact, leading Iran to surpass the deal's limits on its uranium enrichment.

The administration has since adopted a "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran, slapping sanctions on Iran's oil industry, metals sector, foreign minister and supreme leader to force it back to the negotiating table.

The U.S. has also sought to build a Western coalition to counter what it calls Iranian aggression in the Strait of Hormuz, with several countries signing on including the U.K. and Australia.

Adding fuel to the fire, the Trump administration on Tuesday announced sanctions against the Iranian Space Agency.



Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford will discuss the U.S. military and defense strategy in conflict areas around the world and the current state of cooperative efforts with U.S. allies at 6:30 p.m. at the Council on Foreign Relations




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