Overnight Defense: 10,000 more National Guard troops to join coronavirus fight | Democrats float bill to restore Pentagon watchdog to virus oversight panel | Afghanistan releases 100 Taliban prisoners

Overnight Defense: 10,000 more National Guard troops to join coronavirus fight | Democrats float bill to restore Pentagon watchdog to virus oversight panel | Afghanistan releases 100 Taliban prisoners
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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: Another 10,000 National Guard troops are expected to be activated to help deal with the coronavirus in the next week or two, the National Guard Bureau chief said Wednesday.

"We've been accelerating at sort of more than 1,000 a day. ... We could easily get this up another [10,000] or more than that in the next week or two," Gen. Joseph Lengyel told reporters at the Pentagon.

About 28,400 Guardsmen are currently deployed throughout the United States, with Lengyel saying that figure will reach well over 30,000 "in the next couple of days."

The Guard is currently authorized to go up to 44,000 troops.

 

In other coronavirus news...

 

Latest numbers: The Pentagon said Wednesday it has had 3,160 cases of the coronavirus.

Of that, 1,975 service members currently have COVID-19, and 144 service members have recovered.

A second contractor has died, according to the figures, bringing the Pentagon's death toll to eight.

On the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the aircraft carrier at the center of a political firestorm, 286 people have tested positive for the virus, out of 93 percent of the crew that has been tested. The Roosevelt represents more than half of the Navy's total of 548 positive cases for service members.

The Navy also said 2,329 sailors from the Roosevelt have now been moved on shore.

 

Dems look to reinstate Pentagon watchdog as coronavirus oversight chair: The leadership of the House Oversight and Reform Committee is proposing a bill to allow the Pentagon's former top watchdog to lead a panel overseeing the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief effort despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO: 'Not true' that removing Trump campaign video was illegal, as president has claimed Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters MORE removing him from his role as acting Department of Defense inspector general.

A bill introduced by committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyFired State Department watchdog says Pompeo aide attempted to 'bully' him over investigations Ousted watchdog says he told top State aides about Pompeo probe Overnight Health Care: White House shifts focus from coronavirus | House Democrats seek information on coronavirus vaccine contracts | Governors detail frustrations with Trump over COVID-19 supplies MORE (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyOusted watchdog says he told top State aides about Pompeo probe House committee chair requests immediate briefing on Secret Service's involvement in clearing protesters House Democrat demands answers from Secret Service about role breaking up White House protests MORE (D-Va.) and Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchHouse Democrats object to Trump sending ventilators to Russia Hillicon Valley: House Dems push for B in state election funds | Amazon suspends over 6,000 sellers for price gouging | Google says 18M malicious coronavirus emails sent daily House Democrats push hard for mail-in voting funds MORE (D-Mass.) -- both subcommittee chairmen -- would expand the eligibility of who can chair the coronavirus relief oversight panel, allowing Glenn Fine to maintain his chairmanship.

"Pursuant to the law Congress just passed, Mr. Fine was chosen to be the chairman of the new Pandemic Response Accountability Committee--with widespread support in Congress," Maloney, Connolly and Lynch said in a joint statement Wednesday. "Yet the president almost immediately removed him for no apparent reason."

"Today, we are proposing legislation to respond directly to President Trump's abuse of authority," they added. "Our legislation would allow the chair of this new committee to be selected from any of the Inspectors General or other senior officials in inspector general offices."

The trio said they hope Congress includes the bill in the next legislative package it takes up to address the coronavirus crisis.

 

Washington returning Army Corps field hospital to FEMA: Washington will return a Seattle field hospital built by the Army Corps of Engineers to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) so it can be deployed to another state with more significant coronavirus needs, Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeMillions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks Trump rule limits states from blocking pipeline projects Inslee says Trump coronavirus response akin to if FDR called Pearl Harbor 'a hoax' MORE (D) announced Wednesday. 

Inslee warned, however, that returning the CenturyLink Field Event Center field hospital to the federal government does not mean that Washington is "out of the woods" in terms of dealing with its outbreak. 

"We have to keep our guard up and continue to stay home unless conducting essential activities to keep everyone healthy," he said in a statement. 

"We haven't beat this virus yet, and until we do, it has the potential to spread rapidly if we don't continue the measures we've put in place," he added. 

 

MEANWHILE ... IN AFGHANISTAN: The Afghan government said Wednesday it released 100 Taliban prisoners in a potential critical first step ahead of intra-Afghan negotiations.

But the Taliban told The Associated Press it hasn't verified that those released were on the list of prisoners that it agreed to with the Trump administration.

"They should be released based on our list," Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the AP. 

The release comes a day after a Taliban team withdrew from technical talks with the Afghan government over the prisoner release over what they described as the Afghan government creating pretexts not to release prisoners. The Afghan government said the Taliban were demanding the release of commanders responsible for large attacks.

Jawed Faisal, a spokesman for Afghanistan's National Security Council said Wednesday the 100 released were on the list the Taliban provided. They were released based on health condition, age and length of remaining sentence "as part of our efforts for peace and containment of COVID-19," he tweeted.

The released prisoners took an oath not to return to the battlefield and had their biometric data taken, he added.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten will brief the press at 9 a.m. https://bit.ly/2wuLKd2

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a "paper hearing" on the Energy Department's nuclear budget. Opening statements will be posted online at 9:30 a.m. and questions and answers are expected to follow in a week. https://bit.ly/34nAKuz

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Former defense leaders pile on Trump criticism | Esper sends troops called to DC area home | US strikes Taliban in Afghanistan Esper orders all active-duty troops outside DC home Esper, Milley won't testify before House panel on military response to protests MORE, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramon Colon-Lopez will host a virtual town hall at 10:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/39SOyhB

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Coronavirus cleanup crew on infected aircraft carrier using makeshift masks: report

-- The Hill: House Republicans threaten push back on Saudi Arabia amid oil market slump

-- The Hill: Opinion: Coronavirus social distancing presents special challenges to spies

-- The Hill: Opinion: When duty goes AWOL: Military leaders must take a stand on civil-military relations

-- The Washington Post: Navy prepares to send another aircraft carrier to sea as possible coronavirus surfaces in its crew

-- The Washington Post: Pentagon considers new moves, including stop-loss policy, to maintain force amid coronavirus crisis

-- Reuters: Saudi-led coalition announces ceasefire in five-year Yemen war

-- Military Times: DARPA has a crappy new idea to help soldiers