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Overnight Defense: National Guard activated to fight coronavirus | Pentagon 'fairly certain' North Korea has cases | General says Iran threat remains 'very high' after US strikes

Overnight Defense: National Guard activated to fight coronavirus | Pentagon 'fairly certain' North Korea has cases | General says Iran threat remains 'very high' after US strikes
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Happy Friday 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: Roughly 400 National Guard personnel have been activated in six states to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus, with another 600 expected to join them within 24 hours, the National Guard Bureau announced Friday.

"As of this morning, about 400 Air and Army National Guard professionals in six states -- Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island and Washington -- are providing personnel in support of civil authority at the direction of their governors in response to COVID-19," the National Guard said.

"As other states are requested to support civil authorities, those numbers will change rapidly. By the end of the day we expect that number to approach 1,000."

A national emergency: President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE on Friday declared a national emergency over the coronavirus outbreak. The move will free up more federal aid to go to states and municipalities battling the spread of the deadly illness, which the World Health Organization classified as a pandemic on Wednesday. 

More than 135,000 cases have been reported globally -- including more than 1,700 in the United States -- as well as more than 5,000 deaths.

State and local leaders have so far largely taken measures into their own hands to help halt the spread of the virus, with 33 states declaring emergencies, starting with Washington state on Feb. 29.

What the Guard will do: The Guard's efforts to combat the illness include training personnel on coronavirus response, identifying and preparing Guard facilities for use as isolation housing and compiling state medical supply inventories, according to the statement. 

In addition, the Guard will provide such assistance as logistical support, disinfection and cleaning, transportation of medical personnel, call center support and meal delivery.

As a precautionary measure, the military arm has also canceled events, exercises and conferences, it noted.

"The National Guard's first priority is to protect our people while saving lives," the release states.

And Pentagon 'fairly certain' NK has virus: The top U.S. general in South Korea said Friday he is "fairly certain" North Korea has coronavirus infections, despite public claims from the isolated nation that it has been spared from the outbreak that originated in neighboring China.

Gen. Robert Abrams said that while North Korea says it does not have any COVID-19 cases, Pyongyang's military appears to have "fundamentally been on lockdown for about 30 days."

"It is a closed-off nation, so we can't say emphatically that they have cases. But we're fairly certain they do," Abrams told Pentagon reporters from South Korea via video conference.

Abrams added that North Korean forces did not fly any airplanes for 24 days, but recently "they started routine training again."

 

IRAN THREAT 'HIGH': The top U.S. commander for the Middle East said Friday the threat from Iran remains high even as he touted the success of retaliatory U.S. airstrikes on an Iran-backed militia in Iraq that officials blamed for killing two U.S. troops this week.

"We are confident that we have effectively destroyed these facilities," Gen. Frank McKenzie, the leader of U.S. Central Command, told reporters at a briefing Friday. "We assess success at all sites, and we're very comfortable with the level of damage that we were able to achieve."

Sending a signal: While McKenzie said he thinks the strikes "are going to send a signal that we're not going to tolerate" attacks from Iranian proxy forces, he said the threat from Tehran "remains very high."

"I think tensions have actually not gone down," he said. "I still think they are actively seeking ways to achieve destabilization that would allow them to escape the strictures of the maximum pressure campaign."

Details on retaliatory strike: The Pentagon announced Thursday night that it conducted retaliatory airstrikes against five weapons storage facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq.

All strikes were carried out by manned aircraft that returned to base safely, McKenzie said Friday. He declined to elaborate on the type of weapons fired and where the aircraft are based.

McKenzie said each target stored weapons that "would enable lethal operations against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq" and that the strikes were "designed to destroy Iranian supplied advanced conventional weapons."

What prompted it: The strikes were done in retaliation for a Wednesday night rocket attack U.S. officials blamed on Kataib Hezbollah that killed two U.S. troops and a British service member.

The Pentagon on Friday identified the slain Americans as Army Spc. Juan Miguel Mendez Covarrubias, 27, of Hanford, Calif., and Air Force Staff Sgt. Marshal D. Roberts, 28, of Owasso, Okla. The British have identified their service member as combat medic Lance Cpl. Brodie Gillon.

Iraq unhappy with move: The Iraqi military on Friday condemned the U.S. strikes, saying the unilateral action violated Iraqi sovereignty. Five Iraqi security force members and one Iraqi civilian were killed, it added.

McKenzie could not confirm the fatalities, saying that poor weather conditions are delaying that assessment. Still, he said U.S. officials "expect there are going to be fatalities," even as he said "we believe the collateral damage is going to be very low."

He also said he has "no information" on whether a commander from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed in the strike, as has been rumored on social media.

Asked about Iraq's anger over the strikes, McKenzie said U.S. officials consulted the Iraqis after Wednesday night's rocket attack and they "knew a response was coming."

More details: Kataib Hezbollah is part of an umbrella group in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). While the U.S. considers it an Iranian proxy threat, Iraq has been working to fold the PMFs into its security forces.

McKenzie said he couldn't say whether Tehran directed Wednesday's attack, but added that "morally, there's a very strong connection" between Kataib Hezbollah and Iran. 

Last year: U.S. officials previously blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a rocket attack in December that struck a base near Kirkuk, killing one U.S. contractor and wounding four U.S. service members. The attack set off a series of events that brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war.

The U.S. military responded to the December attack by striking five Kataib Hezbollah targets in Iraq and Syria. That led to supporters of the militia storming the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

That, in turn, was followed by a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iran then retaliated with a missile strike on Iraqi military bases with U.S. troops that gave more than 100 Americans brain injuries.

 

PENTAGON SEEKS TO REVISIT WAR CLOUD DECISION: The Pentagon on Thursday said it hopes to reevaluate its decision to award a $10 billion cloud-computing contract to Microsoft over Amazon, court documents filed late Thursday show.

The surprising announcement is only the latest twist in a years-long saga over the lucrative contract, and it could signal a potential victory for Amazon, which is suing to halt or overhaul the contract after it was awarded to Microsoft last year.  

Amazon claims the process was improperly influenced by President Trump, who publicly and privately indicated that he did not want the contract to go to Amazon, which is owned by a frequent target of the president's criticism, Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosBlue Origin takes one small step toward being a competitor to SpaceX Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize Hillicon Valley: Twitter lacked adequate cybersecurity protection ahead of July hacks, regulator says | Twitter, Facebook clamp down on New York Post article about Hunter Biden | YouTube bans COVID-19 vaccine misinformation MORE

In the U.S. Court of Federal Claims filings on Thursday, the Pentagon asked a federal judge for “120 days to reconsider certain aspects of the challenged agency decision." 

“DoD [the Department of Defense] does not intend to conduct discussions with offerors or to accept proposal revisions with respect to any aspect of the solicitation other than price scenario,” the filing reads.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: US retaliates with missile strikes in Iraq

-- The Hill: Judge orders Chelsea ManningChelsea Elizabeth ManningHistory is on Edward Snowden's side: Now it's time to give him a full pardon Hillicon Valley: Justice Department announces superseding indictment against WikiLeaks' Assange | Facebook ad boycott gains momentum | FBI sees spike in coronavirus-related cyber threats | Boston city government bans facial recognition technology Justice Department announces superseding indictment against Wikileaks' Assange MORE's release from jail

-- The Hill: CIA employee in DC area shows signs of coronavirus: report

-- The Hill: Jerry Falwell Jr. says coronavirus is North Korea-China weapon to hurt Trump