Overnight Defense: 2,700 sailors evacuating coronavirus-stricken carrier | Military to send ships, aircraft for counter-narcotics effort amid pandemic | Trump alleges Iranian plot for 'sneak attack' on US troops in Iraq

Overnight Defense: 2,700 sailors evacuating coronavirus-stricken carrier | Military to send ships, aircraft for counter-narcotics effort amid pandemic | Trump alleges Iranian plot for 'sneak attack' on US troops in Iraq
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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: Nearly 3,000 sailors will be taken off the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in the coming days, Navy leaders said Wednesday.

The announcement comes after the ship's captain penned a letter pleading for help to end a coronavirus outbreak on board.

"We think that there was a communications breakdown potentially with the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt, but when we became aware yesterday morning of these concerns we made sure that we were meeting expectations," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said at a Pentagon briefing.

"I think the misunderstanding, perhaps, was the requirement at speed to get people off the ship," he added later.

As of Wednesday, 93 sailors on the Roosevelt have tested positive for the virus, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said. Of those, 86 had symptoms, while the rest were asymptomatic. About 24 percent of the crew has been tested, with 593 tests coming back negative, he added.

Modly said nearly 1,000 of the carrier's 4,800 sailors have already been taken off the ship, which docked in Guam last week.

The Navy expects 2,700 will be off the ship "in the next couple of days," he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, officials in Guam said sailors who test negative for the virus will be quarantined in hotels on the island.


Trump adds border, counter-drug missions to Pentagon's coronavirus plate: Trump administration officials announced Wednesday that the U.S. military would send naval ships and aircraft to the Caribbean as part of an enhanced counternarcotics operation.

President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE and other top officials discussed the operation at the top of a White House coronavirus briefing Wednesday evening. Trump said it was important not to let drug cartels "exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives."

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperMilley and China — what the Senate really needs to know Biden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war MORE said that the Pentagon would deploy additional ships, aircraft and security forces to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility as part of the operation.

"At a time when the nation and the Department of Defense are focused on protecting the American people from the spread from the coronavirus, we also remain vigilant to the many other threats the country faces," Esper told reporters.

"Today, at the president's direction, the Department of Defense in close cooperation with our interagency partners, began enhanced counternarcotics operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea," he continued.

Earlier Wednesday, military officials also said they will send an additional 540 troops to the southern border "very soon" to aid federal border agents in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Army North head Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson told reporters at the Pentagon that the increase is "specifically related to COVID-19."

The military has been working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection to provide the extra troops "so as to be able to help them enforce their orders to secure against potential COVID positive migrants coming over the border," U.S. Northern Command lead Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy said. 

"As we look at trying to seal off the external potential for COVID exposure to our U.S. citizens, there's actually an increased demand signal, not a decreased demand signal for securing the southern border," O'Shaughnessy added.

The United States has far more confirmed cases of coronavirus than Mexico at 206,000 cases compared to Mexico's 1,215.


MEANWHILE ... IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Trump on Wednesday warned Iran and its proxies against carrying out what he alleged is a planned "sneak attack" on U.S. troops in Iraq.

"Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops and/or assets in Iraq. If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!" Trump tweeted.

It was not immediately clear what information Trump was referring to and what the alleged sneak attack would entail.

The White House and National Security Council had no immediate comment when asked for elaboration on the tweet.

At a White House press briefing later, Trump said "we just have information that they were planning something, and it's very good information."

"It was led by Iran, not necessarily Iran, but by groups supported by Iran, but that to me is Iran. And we're just saying, don't do it. Don't do it. It will be a very bad thing for them if they did it," he said.

What Iran's saying: Gen. Qassem Soleimani's replacement as commander of Iran's expeditionary Quds Force, Esmail Ghaani, visited Baghdad this week. A U.S. drone strike killed Soleimani in January. Iraqi officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday the visit was meant to unify Iraq's divided political leaders.

Iran's Foreign Ministry also railed Wednesday against the U.S. deployment of the Patriot air defense system to Iraq, which the U.S. military did to protect against any future Iranian missile strikes.

In a statement, the ministry warned that such "warmongering measures amid the outbreak of coronavirus ... would create tensions, and could steer the regional situation towards instability and catastrophic conditions."



New America will host an online event to release a report on U.S. hostage and detainee policy at 12:15 p.m. https://bit.ly/2UB2UPu



-- The Hill: Thousands of workers furloughed on US bases in South Korea after deal falls through

-- The Hill: Coast Guard directs cruise ships with infected passengers to stay offshore 'indefinitely'

-- Task and Purpose: Listen to Trump, Esper, and Milley speak straight to troops and their families about COVID-19

-- Stars and Stripes: Air Force Academy moves up graduation after cadet deaths

-- Bloomberg: Pentagon seeking 100,000 body bags for civilians in crisis