Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Trump weighs leaving some troops in Syria to ‘secure the oil’ | US has pulled 2,000 troops from Afghanistan | Pelosi leads delegation to Afghanistan, Jordan

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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: Some U.S. troops may staying in east Syria after all, but only to “secure the oil.”

President Trump said Monday that Israel and Jordan had asked him to leave a limited number of troops in Syria.

He also said he doesn’t believe it will be necessary to leave U.S. troops in Syria except to secure oil fields.

“I don’t think it’s going to be necessary. I don’t want to leave any troops there. That’s very dangerous territory,” Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting. “I don’t think it’s necessary other than we secure the oil. It’s a little different section, but we need to secure the oil.”

{mosads}Trump also continued defending his decision to withdraw, saying “we never agreed to protect the Kurds.”

“We supported them for 3 1/2, four years. We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “Where’s an agreement that said we have to stay in the Middle East for the rest of humanity, for the rest of civilization to protect the Kurds? It never said that.”

Earlier: The New York Times reported Sunday that Trump was leaning toward a plan to keep about 200 U.S. troops in east Syria to prevent ISIS, Syria and Russia from accessing the oil fields in the area.

That would be in addition to the 150-or-so troops administration officials have said would stay at the al-Tanf garrison in south-central Syria.

Asked about plans to station troops near oilfields, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters traveling with him in Afghanistan that “there has been a discussion about possibly doing it.”

“There has been no decision with regard to numbers or anything like that,” Esper said, adding that the option to leave troops by oilfields had not yet been presented to Trump.

Onto Iraq: Over the weekend, Esper confirmed that the troops leaving Syria would be moving to western Iraq.

Esper didn’t rule out the possibility of conducting counterterrorism missions in Syria from Iraq, but said those details would be worked out over time.

Despite Esper’s Sunday comments, in a tweet Monday, he only said that the United States would “temporarily reposition” troops leaving Syria “in the region outside Syria until they return home.”

Military action against Turkey?: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Trump “is fully prepared” to use military force against Turkey should it be “needed.”

“Where we see American interests at stake or fundamental norms around the world that need to be enforced, we’ll use all the powers that we have,” Pompeo told CNBC’s Wilfred Frost on “Closing Bell.”

“We prefer peace to war. But in the event that kinetic action or military action is needed, you should know that President Trump is fully prepared to undertake that action.”

Pompeo would not say what would warrant a military response to Ankara, but noted that “we’ve done it before,” when the Trump administration struck Syria government facilities in 2017 and 2018 after the regime of President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians.

“We did it, and the world should know that we will continue to do that,” Pompeo said before adding that the administration would prefer to use economic or diplomatic means instead.

He added that did not want to “get out in front of the president’s decision about whether to take the awesome undertaking of using America’s military might.”

In Congress: There will be a slew of activity in Congress this week on Syria.

Special envoy James Jeffrey is scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, followed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning and a Senate Appropriation Committee subpanel chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday afternoon.

But legislation on Syria appears to be hitting a wall in the Senate.

The Hills Jordain Carney reported over the weekend there’s little sign the Senate will be able to act quickly, despite widespread opposition to Trump’s strategy.

And there are already deep divisions within the caucus about what, if anything, should pass, complicating the chance of any bill getting through the GOP-controlled chamber.

Read more from Carney here.

Meanwhile, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) joined with several of his European counterparts Monday to condemn Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria and express “regret” at Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the area.

“We, the Chairs of the Foreign Affairs Committees of the Parliaments of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the European Parliament and the House of Representatives of the United States of America, jointly condemn in the strongest terms the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria. We consider the intrusion as a military aggression and a violation of international law,” Engel said in the joint statement with his counterparts in the European legislative branches.

“We deeply regret the decision of the president of United States to withdraw American troops from northeastern Syria which marks another landmark in the change of American foreign policy in the Near and Middle East,” the statement added. “The turmoil caused by the Turkish offensive may contribute to a resurgence of Islamic terrorism and undermines years of effort and investment to bring stability and peace in this part of the world. Therefore, we hope the United States will take up its responsibility in Syria again.”

Engel has previously condemned Trump’s withdrawal and Turkey’s invasion, authoring a House-passed resolution opposing the moves and a bill that would impose sanctions on Turkey. But releasing a joint statement with foreign counterparts is unusual for a House member.


MEANWHILE, IN AFGHANISTAN: Even as the uproar over Trump’s withdrawal from Syria continues, the U.S. military has been quietly drawing down in Afghanistan, the top U.S. general there confirmed Monday.

Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, told reporters that about 2,000 U.S. troops have left over the past year, bringing the total to about 12,000.

The draw down comes despite the fact that peace talks with the Taliban, on which U.S. officials have said the troop presence is contingent, have stalled.

Miller described the reduction as a way to “optimize the force,” while Esper said a negotiated settlement is still the “best path” to end the war.

“Until that is accomplished we will continue to pursue an aggressive military campaign against the Taliban and terrorist groups that continue to conduct violence against the people of Afghanistan,” Esper said.

Pelosi makes unannounced trip: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was also in Afghanistan on a previously unannounced trip at the same time as Esper.

Such trips are usually not announced beforehand for security reasons.

Pelosi led a congressional delegation to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Esper, top U.S. military commanders and diplomats, senior Afghan government officials and civil society leaders, her office said in a statement Sunday.

“Meeting with and hearing directly from our troops and diplomats on the ground is essential for Congress to conduct effective oversight of our mission in Afghanistan,” Pelosi said in a statement. We will return to Washington strengthened with the facts and the first-hand knowledge we have gathered at this critical time for our nation’s Afghanistan policy and inspired by the courage of our servicemembers and diplomats on the front lines.”

The group’s trip also took them to Jordan the day before. There, they discussed Trump’s Syria withdrawal, Pelosi said.

“With the deepening crisis in Syria after Turkey’s incursion, our delegation has engaged in vital discussions about the impact to regional stability, increased flow of refugees, and the dangerous opening that has been provided to ISIS, Iran and Russia,” she said in a statement.

The delegation included Engel, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and the lone Republican on the trip.


IMPEACHMENT LATEST: House Democrats have shuffled the dates of scheduled depositions in their impeachment inquiry because of events honoring Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who died last week.

An official working on the inquiry said that due to the events honoring Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee before his death, no depositions would be held Thursday and Friday.

William Taylor, a career foreign service official who has served as chargé d’affaires for Ukraine since June, is expected to testify Tuesday; and Laura Cooper, a top Pentagon official, is expected to testify Wednesday.

Other officials who had been expected to testify this week include Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the director for European affairs at the National Security Council (NSC); Tim Morrison, who took over Fiona Hill’s role as the senior director for European and Russian affairs on the NSC; and Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev.

Acting OMB director won’t comply: In addition to the scheduling issue, some administration officials are vowing not to comply with subpoenas.

Acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Russ Vought said Monday he and OMB’s associate director for national security programs will not cooperate with the House’s impeachment inquiry.

“I saw some Fake News over the weekend to correct,” Vought tweeted.

“As the WH letter made clear two weeks ago, OMB officials – myself and Mike Duffey – will not be complying with deposition requests this week. #shamprocess” he added.

The White House wrote a letter to Congress last week that barred former and current White House employees from testifying on Capitol Hill about their time in the administration.

While Vought’s appearance was rumored, Duffey’s name was on an internal Democratic witness list that was circulated around late last week.

Trump wants GOP to defend him more: Trump is urging Republicans to offer him a tougher defense on impeachment amid a few signs of GOP discontent with his administration.

At a Cabinet meeting, Trump praised Democratic unity while criticizing his own party for not sticking together.

“The two things they have: They’re vicious and they stick together,” he said of Democrats. “They don’t have Mitt Romney in their midst. They don’t have people like that.”

Republicans have largely defended Trump against the impeachment inquiry, but many have ripped him over the last two weeks for his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria.

Schumer warns on whistleblower: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is warning top intelligence community officials that President Trump could expose a whistleblower at the center of the House impeachment inquiry.

Schumer sent a letter to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and Inspector General Michael Atkinson on Monday saying he’s “concerned” Trump might disclose the individual’s identity and wants to know what steps are being taken to protect the person.

“In light of the President’s ill-advised statements, his lack of respect for the rule of law and his well-documented habit of condoning violence by his supporters, I am concerned that he may disclose the whistleblower’s identity or cause it to be disclosed by others in the Administration,” Schumer wrote in the letter.



House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and committee ranking member Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) will discuss U.S. foreign aid and international affairs spending at 8 a.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://bit.ly/33GxI2M

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will speak at a Heritage Foundation event at 9 a.m. https://cs.pn/2oRHoZL

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on human rights in South Asia. The first panel, with testimony from State Department officials, will be 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. The second panel, with testimony from outside experts, will be 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2318. https://bit.ly/2MAsGPO

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on Turkey’s incursion in Syria at 2:30 p.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. https://bit.ly/2qtIqv7

A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Protecting the Good Friday Agreement from Brexit” at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2172. https://bit.ly/33MQshd

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on ship and submarine maintenance at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2118. https://bit.ly/35WGImy



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Tags Adam Schiff Bennie Thompson Charles Schumer Donald Trump Elijah Cummings Eliot Engel Joseph Maguire Kay Granger Lindsey Graham Mac Thornberry Mark Esper Mike Pompeo Mitt Romney Nancy Pelosi Nita Lowey
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