Overnight Defense: Pentagon officials estimate coronavirus crisis could last months | Three sailors aboard carrier test positive | Trump slashes Afghan aid

Overnight Defense: Pentagon officials estimate coronavirus crisis could last months | Three sailors aboard carrier test positive | Trump slashes Afghan aid
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Happy Tuesday 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: Top Pentagon leaders on Tuesday estimated that the coronavirus outbreak could last months, as the number of military service members with confirmed cases continues to climb.

"I think we need to plan for this to be a few months long, at least, and we're taking all precautionary measures to do that," Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperSenate Democrats demand to see copies of Trump's intelligence briefings on Russian bounties Overnight Defense: Top general says military must take 'hard look' at Confederate symbols on installations | Milley vows to 'get to bottom' of Russia bounty intel | Woman to join Green Berets for first time Top general vows to 'get to the bottom' of Russia bounty intel MORE said during a virtual town hall meeting at the Pentagon.

"I'm fully confident that at the end of the day, in a period of months, we will get through this."

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley estimated that it might be as late as July before the crisis abates.

"Call it three months, based on what we know from other countries," Milley said alongside Esper. "We're going to do this as long as the mission takes."

Out of lockstep: The predictions from military officials came the same week that President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE signaled he would soon work to loosen guidelines for certain areas of the United States, a move that some worry would undercut much of the advice from medical experts about steps needed to contain the spread of the virus. Trump on Tuesday said he hopes to reopen the economy by Easter.

The numbers now: As of Tuesday morning, the number of coronavirus cases in the military had surpassed 300, according to the Pentagon. Included in the tally are 174 service members, 59 civilian employees, 61 family members and 27 contractors. One contractor died Saturday.

The coronavirus pandemic has sickened more than 46,000 Americans and killed nearly 600, with dire effects on the U.S. economy, as well.

New restrictions: To help stop the spread, the Pentagon on Monday put more restrictions in place for entering the building in Northern Virginia.

Asked on Tuesday how long employees will be expected to telework, Esper replied, "it's going to be weeks for sure, maybe months."

"We're going to telework as long as necessary to make sure that we're beyond the coronavirus crisis, if you will," he added.

 

CORONAVIRUS CASES IN RANKS RISING: The U.S. Navy said three sailors on board the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Philippine Sea have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The report marks the first incident of the COVID-19 virus aboard a U.S. warship that is deployed, according to Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly.

Modly said the affected sailors have been placed in quarantine and will be flown from the ship Tuesday.

"We've identified all those folks that they've had contact with and we're quarantining them as well," he told reporters at the Pentagon. 

The ship holds a crew of 5,000 sailors as well as dozens of fighter jets and other types of aircraft.

The carrier was last in port 15 days ago in Danang, Vietnam, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday said alongside Modly.

Sailor at Gitmo also positive: A U.S. Navy sailor stationed at Guantanamo Bay has also tested positive for coronavirus, the first confirmed case at the base known for its detention center.

A statement from the base said the sailor is isolated and "currently undergoing evaluation and treatment." Officials are in the process of tracing the sailor's contacts.

Naval Station Guantanamo Bay "has developed an aggressive mitigation strategy to minimize spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of our force," according to the statement.

"The COVID-19 pandemic and associated Health Protection Conditions measures mean that, for the foreseeable future, this is not 'business as usual' aboard the installation," the statement added.

The base has announced several measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including screening all arrivals and switching to remote learning for the K-12 school there.

The naval station has a population of about 6,000 troops, family members, contractors and others.

Troops in Afghanistan also sick: Four service members in the U.S.-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan tested positive for coronavirus, officials announced Tuesday, marking the first confirmed cases among service members in the war-torn country.

Operation Resolute Support did not identify the nationalities of those who tested positive, saying that information is being withheld "pending release from the appropriate national authorities."

"The service members were newly arrived in country and were in a precautionary screening facility when they became symptomatic, were moved to isolation and were tested," Resolute Support said in a statement.

"We have taken the necessary precautions to identify and quarantine any personnel these four service members may have been in contact with," the statement added. 

New measures: Last week, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Scott Miller, announced measures Resolute Support is taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus among troops stationed there.

Among the steps, the coalition has paused deployments into the country, and in turn, some planned troop departures.

Other steps include using technology to conduct meetings rather than doing them in person and limiting base access to essential personnel.

As of Tuesday, 38 Resolute Support personnel are exhibiting flu-symptoms and are in isolation and receiving medical care, the statement said.

There is no lab to analyze coronavirus tests for troops in Afghanistan, so samples must be flown to a U.S. military testing facility in Germany or other certified civilian testing facilities.

 

MEANWHILE ... TRUMP SLASHES AFGHANISTAN AID: The Trump administration is cutting $1 billion in assistance to Afghanistan after its rival leaders failed to resolve their dispute following Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Amazon backtracks, says email asking employees to delete TikTok was sent in error Amazon asks employees to delete TikTok from mobile devices: report MORE's visit there Monday.

"The United States deeply regrets that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have informed Secretary Pompeo that they have been unable to agree on an inclusive government that can meet the challenges of governance, peace, and security, and provide for the health and welfare of Afghan citizens," Pompeo said in a statement.

He added the United States is "disappointed" in both men's conduct, saying "their failure has harmed U.S.-Afghan relations."

"Because this leadership failure poses a direct threat to U.S. national interests, effective immediately, the U.S. government will initiate a review of the scope of our cooperation with Afghanistan," he said.

More cuts coming?: In addition to cutting $1 billion this year, Pompeo said the United States is prepared to cut another $1 billion next year and will start a review of "all of our programs and projects to identify additional reductions."

Despite the aid cut, Pompeo insisted the United States is "not abandoning our partnership with Afghanistan, nor our commitment to support the Afghan security forces." To demonstrate that, he announced the United States will provide $15 million to help combat the spread of the coronavirus in Afghanistan. 

The dispute: Ghani and Abdullah have been locked in a power struggle since Afghanistan's September elections.

The nation's elections commission declared Ghani the winner last month, but Abdullah continues to dispute the results. Ghani and Abdullah held dueling inauguration ceremonies earlier this month, and Abdullah has vowed to form a parallel government.

The pair had a similar disagreement after they both ran for president in 2014. At that time, then-Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 | Park Police did not record radio transmissions during June 1 sweep of White House protesters | Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears Biden-Sanders 'unity task force' rolls out platform recommendations Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 MORE brokered an agreement that made Ghani president and Abdullah the specially created position of chief executive officer.

 

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