Overnight Defense: Pentagon insists US hasn't abandoned Kurds | Trump expands sanctions authority against Turkey | Ex-Ukraine ambassador says Trump pushed for her ouster

Overnight Defense: Pentagon insists US hasn't abandoned Kurds | Trump expands sanctions authority against Turkey | Ex-Ukraine ambassador says Trump pushed for her ouster
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Happy Friday 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: Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Senate Dems urge Esper to oppose shifting Pentagon money to border wall MORE insisted Friday the United States had not abandoned Kurdish allies by pulling U.S. troops from northeast Syria.

The Kurdish forces have since come under attack by Turkey, which had pressed the White House to remove the U.S. troops.

"To be clear, we are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces and U.S. troops remain with them in other parts of Syria," Esper told reporters at the Pentagon.

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Esper also knocked Turkey's "impulsive" decision to invade Syria as putting the Kurdish partners "in harm's way" and a move that will "further destabilize" a region ravaged by civil war and the recent fight against ISIS.

"We oppose and are greatly disappointed by Turkey's decision to launch a unilateral military incursion into northern Syria," Esper said.

"The impulsive action of [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] to invade northern Syria has put the United States in a tough situation."

What about ISIS prisoners?: New Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who spoke alongside Esper, said the SDF is still guarding the ISIS prisoner camps, and that U.S. forces are still working with the group in the counter-ISIS campaign.

He added that the United States "has no legal responsibility for those detainees."

Milley also said Turkey has conducted airstrikes with fixed-wing manned aircraft, and conducted artillery strikes, but added that ground forces have been "relatively limited."

Earlier: Before the briefing, the Pentagon released a statement on Esper's Thursday call with Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar showing he warned Turkey of "serious consequences" if it does not halt its military operation.

Esper "made it clear that the United States opposes Turkey's uncoordinated actions" in northeast Syria, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement Friday.

Esper told Akar that the Turkish strikes "place at risk the progress" in combating ISIS, and that its action "risks serious consequences for Turkey," Hoffman said.

"The Secretary also reiterated his strong concern that, despite U.S. force protection measures, Turkey's actions could harm U.S. personnel in Syria," Hoffman added, saying Esper "strongly encouraged" Turkey to discontinue actions "to increase the possibility that the United States, Turkey and our partners could find a common way to deescalate the situation before it becomes irreparable."

New sanctions authority, but no new sanctions: Shortly after the Pentagon briefing, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinSecurity for Trump's Mar-a-Lago visits cost local taxpayers million On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Senate approves Trump trade deal with Canada, Mexico | Senate Dems launch probe into Trump tax law regulations | Trump announces Fed nominees Senate Democrats launch investigation into Trump tax law regulations MORE announced Trump will sign an executive order expanding the administration's ability to impose sanctions on Turkish officials as the president faces growing criticism over his decision to pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria.

Mnuchin said that the executive order does not itself contain new sanctions but gives Trump the authority to enact them.

"The president is concerned about the ongoing military offensive and potential targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure, ethnic and religious minorities, and the president wants to make very clear that it is imperative that Turkey not allow even a single ISIS fighter to escape," Mnuchin told reporters at the White House.

The new powers will allow the Treasury Department to sanction individuals and entities in Ankara involved in human rights abuses or undermining security in northern Syria.

"These are very powerful sanctions. We hope that we don't have to use them, but we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to," Mnuchin told reporters. 

In Congress: The Senate Armed Services Committee announced Friday that Esper and Milley will brief the panel on the situation in Syria behind closed-doors at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

 

MORE TROOPS DEPLOYING TO SAUDI ARABIA: The Pentagon announced Friday the U.S. will deploy additional personnel, aircraft and missile defense equipment to Saudi Arabia in response to Iranian aggression.

The U.S. will send two fighter squadrons, one Air Expeditionary Wing, two Patriot missile system batteries holding missiles and a launcher, and one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, Hoffman said in a statement.

"As we have stated, the United States does not seek conflict with the Iranian regime, but we will retain a robust military capability in the region that is ready to respond to any crisis and will defend U.S. forces and interest in the region," Hoffman said.

"Taken together with other deployments this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorized within the last month," Hoffman said.

Background: The new military personnel and equipment follows last month's deployment of 200 U.S. military personnel as well as missile defense and radar equipment to the Gulf nation in response to the September attacks on oil facilities, which the Trump administration has blamed on Iran.

The Pentagon said at the time that the equipment would "augment the kingdom's air and missile defense of critical military and civilian infrastructure."

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Esper said "it is clear" that the Iranians were responsible for the recent attacks of Saudi Arabian oil facilities. 

 

YOUR DAILY IMPEACHMENT UPDATE: Headlining the bill on Friday's impeachment inquiry proceedings was Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who appeared for a deposition before congressional investigators despite the White House telling Democrats it wouldn't cooperate with their probe.

Yovanovitch told congressional investigators that Trump recalled her to Washington after "a concerted campaign against me" that included unfounded allegations, according to a copy of her opening statement. 

Yovanovitch said that Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told her that she had "done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause."

Sullivan said President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' MORE had "lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador," Yovanovitch said in her testimony. 

She also said that the State Department had "been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018."

Yovanovitch expressed surprise at her removal, saying that while she understood "that I served at the pleasure of the President, I was nevertheless incredulous that the U.S. government chose to remove an Ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives." 

She discussed what she described as "attacks" from former New York City Mayor Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGOP senator 'open' to impeachment witnesses 'within the scope' of articles Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial Trump Jr.: If 'weaker' Republicans only call for certain witnesses, 'they don't deserve to be in office' MORE, who is acting as Trump's personal attorney, in regards to her removal. 

Almost didn't happen: The Trump administration sought to block Yovanovitch's congressional deposition, leading House Democrats to issue a subpoena for her appearance -- and ultimately compelling her to testify Friday, according to Democratic committee leaders.

Her appearance came just three days after the White House counsel issued a letter warning House Democrats that the administration will not cooperate with requests for documents or witness testimony as part of the ongoing probe. The missive raised questions as to whether Yovanovitch had been cleared by the State Department to appear on Capitol Hill or if she'd defied the White House at risk of potential retribution.

Four hours into her testimony, it became clear it was the latter.

"Last night, the Committees learned that the State Department, at the direction of the White House, directed Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch not to appear for her voluntary interview today," Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Schiff huddles in Capitol with impeachment managers Trump defenders argue president can't be removed for abuse of power MORE (D-Calif.), Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsBaltimore unveils plaques for courthouse to be named after Elijah Cummings GOP leaders encourage retiring lawmakers to give up committee posts Pelosi taps Virginia Democrat for key post on economic panel MORE (D-Md.) and Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHouse Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request House panel reinvites Pompeo to deliver Iran testimony MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement Friday afternoon.

"This is the latest example of the Administration's efforts to conceal the facts from the American people and obstruct our lawful and constitutionally-authorized impeachment inquiry." 

In response, the committee heads issued a subpoena on Friday morning for her testimony, they said.

Coming up: Next week will see another key witness in House Democrats' ongoing impeachment inquiry testify despite the State Department's objection: U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

Sondland will testify before the House on Thursday in compliance with a congressional subpoena, according to his counsel.

"Notwithstanding the State Department's current direction to not testify, Ambassador Sondland will honor the Committees' subpoena, and he looks forward to testifying on Thursday," according to a statement from Sondland's attorneys, Robert Luskin and Kwame Manley.

Sondland had been set to testify earlier this week, but his appearance was abruptly blocked by the State Department. It was the same day the White House later said it would no longer cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

Sondland's attorneys said that he does not have the power to share documents related to his official responsibilities sought by the committees because they are the property of the federal government and that it will be up to the State Department to do so.

 

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

The Association of the United States Army will host Day 1 of its annual meeting starting at 7 a.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall Overnight Defense: House passes measure to limit Trump on Iran | Pelosi vows vote to end 2002 war authorization | Officials believe Iran accidentally shot down passenger plane Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members MORE will provide a keynote at the opening ceremony at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/2B0CLim

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Graham-Trump rollercoaster hits dizzying speed

-- The Hill: Trump to tap No. 2 State Dept. official as Russia ambassador

-- The Hill: Federal judge declares Trump border proclamation unlawful

-- The Hill: Dem senator urges Pompeo to fire State official accused of retaliation, harassment

-- Associated Press: Iran says missiles strike its oil tanker off Saudi Arabia

-- Reuters: Turkey intensifies Syria campaign as Islamic State strikes Kurds

-- Washington Post: Actually, President Trump, some Kurds did fight in World War II