OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Former defense leaders pile on Trump criticism | Esper sends troops called to DC area home | US strikes Taliban in Afghanistan

OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Former defense leaders pile on Trump criticism | Esper sends troops called to DC area home | US strikes Taliban in Afghanistan
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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: The floodgates are open.

Former senior defense officials are piling on criticism after former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump insulted UK's May, called Germany's Merkel 'stupid' in calls: report Mattis urges people to wear masks in PSA about 'nasty little virus' Dozens of GOP ex-national security officials to form group to back Biden: report MORE's blistering rebuke of President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops MORE's use of the military and his handling of protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's death.

Former White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE said Friday he agrees with Mattis, who on Wednesday released a statment that accused the president of deliberately dividing the nation and condemned the use of force against activists assembled near the White House on Monday.

Law enforcement, backed by National Guard troops, used smoke canisters and chemical irritants to disperse peaceful protesters a short time before Trump and administration officials walked to nearby St. John's Church for a photo-op.

"I think we really need to step back. I think we need to look harder at who we elect," Kelly said during an interview with former Trump communications director Anthony ScaramucciAnthony ScaramucciRepublican operatives pushing GOP turnout for Biden with new super PAC President sinks amid stumbles over protests Sunday shows preview: Protests against George Floyd's death, police brutality rock the nation for a second week MORE.

Kelly, a four-star general and former Homeland Security secretary for Trump, offered his most extensive comments yet about the controversy surrounding the president's conduct in recent weeks.

Asked what his counsel would have been on the clearing of protesters on Monday, Kelly said he “would’ve argued against it. Recommended against it."

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff head weighs in: Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey also joined the dissenting voices of retired generals who have criticized Trump.

"The idea that the president would take charge of the situation using the military was troubling to me," Dempsey told NPR Thursday.

He added, "The idea that the military would be called in to dominate and to suppress what, for the most part, were peaceful protests — admittedly, where some had opportunistically turned them violent — and that the military would somehow come in and calm that situation was very dangerous to me."

Clinton’s Pentagon chief adds voice: William Perry, who was Defense secretary during the Clinton administration, told Politico that the U.S. military "was never intended to be used against American citizens, and it was never intended to be used for partisan political purposes."

"I support the right of protesters to demonstrate peacefully, and deplore the suggestion that our military should be used to suppress them," Perry said.

But defense leaders won’t testify on the subject: Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperHouse panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal House panel votes to ban Confederate flag at Pentagon property Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown MORE and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley have refused to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on the military’s role in responding to nationwide protests against police violence and racial injustice, a House aide said Friday.

“Staff was advised that [Department of Defense] leadership has refused to testify next week as requested,” the aide said. “In addition, an informal briefing with the secretary of the Army was cancelled for today.”

The Pentagon said it had no comment.

Why they were called in: House Armed Services Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithHouse panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown MORE (D-Wash.) called Tuesday for Esper and Milley to testify before his panel after Trump threatened to deploy active-duty troops to quell protests across the country and protesters in Lafayette Square outside the White House were forcefully cleared from the area just before Trump walked through the area to a photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Esper and Milley, who was wearing combat fatigues, accompanied Trump during the Monday church visit.

That same day, on a call between Trump and governors, Esper advocated for the state leaders to “dominate the battlespace” in reference to the protests.

 

ESPER ORDERS TROOPS OUTSIDE DC BACK HOME: Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday ordered the remaining active-duty soldiers who had been on standby in the Washington, D.C., area back to their home bases after several days of peaceful protests in the nation’s capital.

The troops from the 91st Military Police Battalion based in Fort Drum, N.Y., will return to their state, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthy'Principal legacy' a useful concept in removing monuments and renaming bases and buildings Overnight Defense: Army to drop photos from soldier records to reduce racial bias | House defense bill backs B pandemic preparedness fund | Bill targets potential troop drawdowns Army to drop photos from soldier records to quell racial bias MORE told reporters at the Pentagon, as reported by multiple news outlets.

A small active-duty contingent of the Arlington, Va.-based "Old Guard" — the Army's official ceremonial unit and escort to the U.S. president — will remain on standby if D.C. law enforcement needs help, he noted.

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell confirmed McCarthy’s comments to The Hill.

The order for the troops to depart came as D.C. had peaceful protests on several consecutive days, with the Metropolitan Police Department making no arrests related to the protests on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

The active-duty forces have been in the capital region since Monday, part of a total 1,600 troops at the ready outside the city if needed after protests swept the country over the death of George Floyd, the unarmed black man who died last week after during an arrest by the Minneapolis police.

The active-duty troops were never used to respond to unrest.

 

MEANWHILE, IN AFGHANISTAN, US STRIKES TALIBAN: U.S. forces in Afghanistan conducted two airstrikes against the Taliban over the last day, a spokesman said Friday — the first U.S. strikes on the insurgents since a cease-fire that marked the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of May.

U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett tweeted Friday that an overnight strike targeted 25 armed Taliban fighters who were “executing a coordinated attack” on an Afghan forces checkpoint in Farah province in western Afghanistan.

Another strike in the afternoon targeted Taliban fighters attacking an Afghan forces checkpoint in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan, he added.

“We reiterate: All sides must reduce violence to allow the peace process to take hold,” Leggett tweeted.

A faltering agreement: The Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban in February that has the U.S. military on track to draw down to 8,600 troops by mid-July.

The Taliban has refrained from attacking U.S. forces since the deal’s signing, but has stepped up attacks on Afghan forces in the ensuing months.

Officials have stressed the deal allows the U.S. military to come to the defense of its Afghan partners if attacked by the Taliban.

Earlier: U.S. Air Forces Central Command has stopped releasing its monthly summaries of the number of airstrikes conducted in Afghanistan because of ongoing talks with Taliban, with the last report coming in February.

The U.S. military has also stopped releasing data on the number of Taliban-initiated attacks.

U.S. Forces Afghanistan last publicized a strike against the Taliban in March, days after the withdrawal agreement was signed.

 

AIR FORCE CHIEF OF STAFF NOMINEE SAYS HE NAVIGATES ‘TWO WORLDS’ AS AFRICAN AMERICAN: Gen. Charles Brown, commander of Pacific Air Forces and President Trump's nominee to be the next Air Force chief of staff, said in a video released Friday that he navigates "two worlds" as an African American and that he's "thinking about how I can make improvements" institutionally.

"As the commander of Pacific Air Forces, a senior leader in our Air Force, and an African American, many of you may be wondering what I'm thinking about the current events surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd," Brown said.

The general said he has been thinking about living in "two worlds, each with their own perspective and views."

"I'm thinking about how my nomination provides some hope, but also comes with a heavy burden. I can't fix centuries of racism in our country, nor can I fix decades of discrimination that may have impacted members of our Air Force," he said.

Brown said he is thinking about how he can make improvements both "personally, professionally, and institutionally," so that current and future airmen "appreciate the value of diversity."

The background: Trump nominated Brown in March to be the next Air Force chief of staff. The Senate Armed Services Committee advanced his nomination after he appeared before the panel in May, but his nomination was reportedly held up by a senator. That legislative hold has since reportedly been released.

If confirmed, Brown would become the first African American to sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff since Colin PowellColin Luther PowellJuan Williams: Time for boldness from Biden Trump's tough talk on China sparks fears of geopolitical crisis Looking forward to pro sports after COVID blackout MORE, who was chairman from 1989 to 1993.

 

TRUMP REPORTEDLY ORDERS THOUSANDS OF TROOPS HOME FROM GERMANY: President Trump has directed the Department of Defense to send 9,500 troops home from Germany, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, which would bring the total stationed there down to 25,000.

A defense official told the Journal the plan, which was ordered by national security adviser Robert O'Brien, has been underway since September and is not related to rising tensions between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, who also served as Trump's ambassador to Germany, has advocated for the reduction of troops in Germany and pushed for Berlin to spend more on its own defense.

When asked, National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot did not confirm the move to The Hill, but said Trump “continually reassesses the best posture for the United States military forces and our presence overseas.”

“The United States remains committed to working with our strong ally Germany to ensure our mutual defense, as well as on many other important issues,” Ullyot said.

 

ICYMI

—The Hill: Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump's power under Insurrection Act
 
—The Hill: 2 National Guardsmen injured by lightning striking Lafayette Square

—The Hill: Trump hits John Kelly for defense of Jim Mattis
 
—The Hill: Ohio governor says National Guard member suspended over 'white supremacist' posts