Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Pentagon policy chief resigns at Trump's request | Trump wishes official 'well in his future endeavors' | Armed Services chair warns against Africa drawdown after trip

Happy Wednesday 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: The policy chief at the Pentagon is on his way out at the request of President Trump.

CNN first reported Wednesday morning, followed by Trump tweeting confirmation, that John Rood was leaving his job as under secretary of Defense for policy. It's a post he has held since January 2018.

"I would like to thank John Rood for his service to our Country, and wish him well in his future endeavors!" Trump tweeted, alongside a retweet of a Bloomberg News reporter saying Rood was pressured to resign after losing the confidence of some in the administration.

Under secretary of Defense for policy is one of the highest ranking civilian jobs in the Pentagon, serving as the principal defense policy advisor to the Defense secretary.

Rood's resignation is effective Feb. 28.

The why: Trump's tweet didn't say why he wanted Rood gone, and the Pentagon isn't saying either.

In his resignation letter to Trump, Rood wrote that it was his "understanding from [Defense] Secretary [Mark] Esper that you requested my resignation."

Asked at a briefing about the process and motivation behind the ouster, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman would not comment.

"The president can make a decision to go a different direction, so I'm not going to speculate on the motivations," Hoffman told reporters, adding that the resignation letter "speaks for itself."

Rood played a role in the Ukraine aid drama at the center of Trump's impeachment. He certified to Congress in May that Ukraine had taken necessary anti-corruption steps to merit giving them $250 million, undercutting Trump's argument that he held up the aid over concerns about corruption.

But Rood was also a source of frustration in the administration beyond the Ukraine aid issue. Foreign Policy reported in December that current and former officials blamed him for an exodus of staffers from the Pentagon, alleging he created a toxic work environment.

Rood also reportedly clashed with other administration officials on Trump priorities including peace talks with the Taliban and harder-line cost-sharing negotiations with South Korea and Japan.

Asked specifically about whether the Ukraine issue prompted the dismissal, Hoffman said he has "no information that would lead me to that conclusion."

Allies lament departure: Part of Rood's job included acting as a main Pentagon contact for U.S. allies and partners.

A number of foreign defense officials publicly lamented his departure Wednesday.

"Sorry to be losing John Rood as my US opposite number," tweeted British defense official Angus Lapsley. "He has been a good friend to [U.K.-U.S.] defence links and to @nato. He helped clear the way for some great bilateral work on carriers and next generation technologies. It all goes on of course, but thanks John and all the best."

"It is a sad day," tweeted Estonia defense official Kadri Peeters. "Since 2018 January, USDP Rood has been instrumental in enhancing the defense cooperation between the US and Estonia, Baltics & NB8. It is exceptional to see such a passion and kindness. Thank you for keeping your door always open for us, and until we meet again!"

Empty offices: Rood's departure adds to a growing list of vacancies at the Pentagon.

The person who will be filling in once Rood leaves has been filling in as Rood's deputy after that official left, highlighting how many jobs are open right now.

James Anderson, who has been performing the duties of the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy since David Trachtenberg left in July, will serve as acting under secretary for policy when Rood is gone.

 

RECESS TRAVEL: Congress being on recess this week means several lawmakers are taking official trips to various places around the country or world.

Among those leading a congressional delegation is Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who used a stop in Africa as a platform to warn against a U.S. military drawdown on the continent.

"The takeaway from our meetings over the past few days was clear: any reduction in U.S. military presence in West Africa would have real and lasting negative consequences for our African partners," Inhofe said in a statement. "At each meeting, they reiterated how helpful the U.S. presence has been to building their own capacities to defeat the growing radical Islamic terrorist threat in West Africa."

Inhofe led a delegation to Uganda, Ghana and Mauritania that also included Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) along with Reps. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.).

Inhofe, who was instrumental in the establishment of U.S. Africa Command in 2007, has previously warned about a drawdown in Africa amid Defense Secretary Mark Esper's review of force posture there.

Timing: Inhofe's latest comments come after Esper reportedly got an earful from another backer of U.S. forces in Africa, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

NBC News reported that Graham told Esper at this past weekend's Munich Security Conference that he could "make your life hell" if the Defense secretary withdrew forces from West Africa.

Graham denied using those words, but also said Esper "knows my view that for the time being these forces are leveraging the French presence which is vital to our counterterrorism mission in Africa."

Earlier: On Tuesday, Inhofe's office released statements about the delegation's stop in Iraq.

According to the release, it was the first congressional trip to Iraq since the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport.

There, the delegation met with Lt. Gen. Pat White, the commander of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

"Meeting with General White in Baghdad made it even more clear--the strike against Soleimani was the right call," Inhofe said in a Tuesday statement. "The briefings highlighted how his removal seriously disrupted Iran's state supported terrorist networks in Iraq. While we must remain clear-eyed about the resurgence of violent extremist organizations, we've made meaningful progress on our shared security goals, specifically with our Iraqi partners."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Deputy assistant secretary of Defense for China Chad Sbragia testifies before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on "China's Military Power Projection and U.S. National Interests" at 9:10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2vMc0yH

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Navy does not recommend punishment for ex-War College president over ethics allegations: report

-- The Hill: Opinion: Donald Trump is ending endless war

-- Reuters: U.S. special envoy discusses Taliban deal with re-elected Afghan president

-- Stars and Stripes: Daegu Army base restricts access, imposes self-quarantine after South Korean church linked to coronavirus

-- Associated Press: Yemen's Houthi rebels impeding UN aid flow, demand a cut

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