Overnight Defense: Esper, Milley part of 'command center' for response to protests over George Floyd killing | Several West Point cadets test positive for coronavirus ahead of Trump commencement speech | UN report says Taliban, al Qaeda not breaking ties

Overnight Defense: Esper, Milley part of 'command center' for response to protests over George Floyd killing | Several West Point cadets test positive for coronavirus ahead of Trump commencement speech | UN report says Taliban, al Qaeda not breaking ties

Happy Monday 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 military is being increasingly pulled into the response to widespread protests and riots in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

During a call with governors Monday, President TrumpDonald John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus MORE pressed them to crack down on protestors, The Hill’s Brett Samuels, Reid Wilson and Morgan Chalfant reported.

One source familiar with the call said Trump told governors to “dominate” and “take back your streets.” Another source said Trump castigated them as being “weak” in response to the demonstrations.

Audio of the call published by multiple news outlets also included Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Pentagon IG to audit use of COVID-19 funds on contractors | Dems optimistic on blocking Trump's Germany withdrawal | Obama slams Trump on foreign policy House Democrat optimistic defense bill will block Trump's Germany withdrawal Overnight Defense: Famed Navy SEAL calls Trump out | Yemen's Houthi rebels free two Americans | Marines fire commander after deadly training accident MORE telling governors to “dominate the battlespace.”

“I think the sooner that you mass and dominate the battlespace, the quicker this dissipates and we can get back to the right normal,” Esper said during the call.

After the call, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump plans to use unspecified “additional federal assets” to respond to protests, as well as create a “central command center” to include Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump turns his ire toward Cabinet members Intelligence officials warned Trump that Giuliani was target of Russian influence campaign: report DOJ veteran says he's quitting over Barr's 'slavish obedience' to Trump MORE.

“What the president has said is he wants to dominate the streets with National Guard, with a police presence,” McEnany told reporters.

McEnany’s comments come after Trump, in the call with state governors, said he put Milley “in charge” of the protest response.

Asked about what Trump meant in his comments about Milley, McEnany said the four-star general has “been on point in talking about the National Guard, the effectiveness and in ensuring that they’re utilized to great effect across the country,” appearing to indicate that he would be the face of the ordered military response.

National Guard activations: Governors in 23 states and the District of Columbia have activated their National Guards to respond to the unrest.

The National Guard Bureau said Monday that 17,015 Guardsmen have been activated to respond to the protests.

Add that to the Guardsmen who have been activated to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, and the bureau says a record 66,722 Guard troops are on duty in the United States right now.

“As a uniformed member of America's military, it breaks my heart to see the country I love in such pain,” National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel tweeted Monday. “Your National Guard is here to help, and we will stay as long as we are needed.”

In Minnesota, some of the more than 7,000 Guardsmen were going home Monday, Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen said.

Calls to use Insurrection Act: Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonBarrett fight puts focus on abortion in 2020 election COVID outbreak threatens GOP's Supreme Court plans This week: Coronavirus complicates Senate's Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Ark.) said Monday that Trump should use the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty U.S. troops to cities affected by protests and riots in the wake of Floyd’s death.

Cotton, during an interview with Fox News, said that "if necessary the president should use the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military forces to these cities to support our local law enforcement and ensure that this violence ends tonight, not one more night."  

"What the president can do is say that justice will be done in accordance with law for George Floyd and we will always respect the right of peaceful protests ... but the rioting, the anarchy and the looting ends tonight. If local law enforcement is overwhelmed ... lets see how these anarchists respond when the 101st Airborne is on the other side of the street," Cotton added.

Military weapons for police: As it did after previous protests in response to police-related deaths of black men, the program that transfers surplus military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies is coming under fire.

On Sunday, Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzHillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter's handling of New York Post article raises election night concerns | FCC to move forward with considering order targeting tech's liability shield | YouTube expands polices to tackle QAnon Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize Government efforts to 'fix' social media bias overlooks the destruction of our discourse MORE (D-Hawaii) said he would offer an amendment to the annual defense policy to end the program.

“It is clear many police departments don’t train and supervise for restraint and de-escalation, and some officers are just plain racist and violent,” Schatz tweeted. “Combine this with a President who appears enthusiastic about making it worse, and weaponry transferred from DOD, and here we are.”

On Monday, Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoLeadership matters: President's words and actions show he is unfit to lead our nation Overnight Defense: Pentagon IG to audit use of COVID-19 funds on contractors | Dems optimistic on blocking Trump's Germany withdrawal | Obama slams Trump on foreign policy House Democrat optimistic defense bill will block Trump's Germany withdrawal MORE (D-Ariz.) said he would push for restrictions on the program.

“I will push for the House to restrict the program that provides military gear to police departments,” Gallego tweeted.

“It’s long past time to tailor the Pentagon 1033 Program to ensure police focus on community building and preserving human life and not on becoming an occupying force in their own neighborhoods,” he added in another tweet.

WEST POINT CADETS TEST POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS: About 15 West Point cadets who returned to campus for graduation, during which Trump is scheduled to deliver an address, have tested positive for the coronavirus, the Army said Monday.

“The Army and West Point have done meticulous planning to ensure the health and safety of the returning cadets of the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2020. There is mandatory screening for all and we’ve had a small number – about 1 ½ percent - test positive,” an Army spokesperson said in a statement. The graduating class includes about 1,000 cadets.

“This was anticipated,” the official added. “None were symptomatic, and no cadet has contracted through person-to-person contact while under the Army’s care. Those who test positive are isolated, and receive appropriate care and attention, while we continue an orderly reintegration of our cadets.”

Department-wide numbers: The Pentagon on Monday reported a total of 9,885 cumulative coronavirus cases linked to the department.

That includes 6,596 service members, including 189 hospitalizations and 3,726 recoveries.

The death toll was unchanged, standing at 36 for all Pentagon-connected people, including three service members.

UN REPORT SAYS TALIBAN, AL QAEDA KEEPING TIES: The Taliban has maintained ties with al Qaeda despite signing an agreement with the United States the Trump administration has touted as a commitment from the insurgents to break from the terror group, according to a United Nations report released Monday.

The report, prepared by the U.N.’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, says the Taliban assured al Qaeda of continuing ties even as it negotiated with the United States.

“Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network ... and al Qaeda remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage,” the report said.

“The Taliban regularly consulted with al Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties,” the report added.

The report — based on information collected from member states, regional officials and think tanks — said the monitoring team was told of six meetings between al Qaeda and Taliban senior leadership over the past 12 months.

The most notable meeting, according to the report, was one in spring 2019 where a former adviser to Taliban founder Mullah Omar reportedly met with Hamza bin Laden to “reassure him personally that the Islamic Emirate would not break its historical ties with al Qaeda for any price.”

US response: In a briefing with reporters Monday afternoon, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the agreement with the Taliban, downplayed the U.N. report, saying the Taliban has taken steps to break from al Qaeda.

"We believe that there is progress, but we will continue to monitor those activities very closely," he said.

Khalilzad would not detail any specific steps, saying they were "sensitive issues."


The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host an online event, “Future Strategy Forum: Cooperation and Conflict in the Time of COVID-19” at 9 a.m. https://bit.ly/2XOThwR

Army officials will brief the press about COVID-19 vaccine efforts at 11 a.m. Livestream at https://bit.ly/2XoOGmc.


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