Overnight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost 'several billion' dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn't discussed alleged bounties with Putin

Overnight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost 'several billion' dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn't discussed alleged bounties with Putin
© Greg Nash

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: The Pentagon has put some meat on the bones of President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE’s plan to pull thousands of troops from Germany.

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Esper confirms plans to drop below 5,000 troops in Afghanistan | State Department says it's cleared of wrongdoing in emergency arms sales before investigation's release 400 'hard-core' Taliban prisoners to be released ahead of Afghan peace talks Esper says officials still don't know source of Beirut blast MORE announced Wednesday morning that roughly 11,900 U.S. troops will be leaving Germany, dropping the number of troops there from about 36,000 to 24,000.

Roughly 5,600 of the troops will be repositioned elsewhere in Europe — including Belgium, Italy, Poland and “opportunities to put forces into the Baltics” — while some 6,400 would come back to the United States.

Of the troops heading back stateside, many will begin conducting rotational deployments back into Europe.

"These changes will unquestionably achieve the core principles of enhancing U.S. and NATO deterrence of Russia, strengthening NATO, reassuring allies and improving U.S. strategic flexibility," Esper said.

How much will it cost: The exact cost remains to be seen, but Esper estimated it will be in the single-digit billions.

“It’ll take several billion dollars, I’d say single digits, but that’ll be spread out over time, obviously," he told reporters at the Pentagon.

In answering the cost question, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten, who was speaking alongside Esper, suggested that more details than just costs are still up in the air.

“What we have right now is really a concept, a concept that we've shared with our allies, shared with the Congress, and we've shared inside the department fairly widely,” Hyten said. “We now have to turn it into plans.”

Trump undercuts Esper: Esper framed Wednesday’s announcement as a strategic realignment of forces that had been in the works for months and struggled to answer questions on how that squares with Trump’s previous comments that he wanted out of Germany to punish Berlin for not spending more on defense.

“We're following, in many ways, the boundary east, where our newest allies are. So into the Black Sea region, we talked about additional forces into Poland, and I think there are opportunities to put forces into the Baltics,” Esper said. “That's why it's a strategic laydown that enhances deterrence, strengthens the allies, reassures them.”

But less than an hour after Esper was done talking, Trump was back to tearing into Germany for their defense spending.

"We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills,” Trump told reporters while departing the White House. “It’s very simple. They’re delinquent.”

NATO reaction: When Trump first said in June he would slash the number of troops in Germany, that was news to NATO.

Esper has since filled allies in on the plans, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that Esper’s announcement “underlines the continued commitment by the United States to NATO and to European security.”

“Peace and security in Europe is important for the security and prosperity of North America, and as we face a more unpredictable world, we are stronger and safer when we stand together,” Stoltenberg said in a statement. “The U.S. has consulted closely with all NATO Allies ahead of today’s announcement.”

Lawmaker reaction: U.S. lawmakers were far less rosy than Stoltenberg.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Trump slams 'rogue' Sasse after criticism of executive actions From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters MORE (R-Utah) called the drawdown a “grave error” and a “slap in the face at a friend and ally.”

Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseBig Ten conference officially cancels fall football season due to coronavirus Ex-NFL receiver Rep. Anthony Gonzalez: Big Ten skipping football season could be 'catastrophic' for athletes Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (R-Neb.) said Trump shows a “lack of strategic understanding.”

“Once more, now with feeling: U.S. troops aren’t stationed around the world as traffic cops or welfare caseworkers – they’re restraining the expansionary aims of the world’s worst regimes, chiefly China and Russia,” Sasse said in a statement. “We should be leading our allies against China and Russia, not abandoning them. Withdrawal is weak."

Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryBottom line Overnight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost 'several billion' dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn't discussed alleged bounties with Putin Lawmakers torch Trump plan to pull 11,900 troops from Germany MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said parts of the plan are “troubling.”

"The administration’s plans to redistribute U.S. forces across Europe are complex and will have long-lasting consequences,” Thornberry said in a statement. “While some of the proposed moves clearly have merit, other aspects - such as an arbitrary limits to the number of troops stationed in certain countries — remain troubling.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Trump pushed to restore full National Guard funding | Watchdog faults Pompeo on civilian risk of Saudi arms sales Lawmakers push Trump to restore full funding for National Guards responding to pandemic Overnight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response MORE (D-Wash.) said he is “very concerned” about “an arbitrary cap” on the number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany.

“By the secretary’s own admission, this plan was not drafted in consultation with U.S. allies or with the military services, but instead all parties – including Congress – were notified after decisions had already been made,” Smith said in a statement. “Not only does the plan fail to consider major logistical issues, questions about deterrence and implementation of the National Defense Strategy, and concerns about implications for U.S. efforts in Africa and elsewhere, but also it will almost certainly result in significant costs to the department.”

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Overnight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled MORE (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the drawdown a “self-inflicted wound.”

“This is the type of move [former Defense] Secretary [James] Mattis was able to stand up to in the past, but this Administration seems to be unraveling under the strain of the pandemic,” Reed said in a statement. Today we heard just a thin outline of an irrational and ill-conceived proposal. Now Congress has an obligation to dig into this issue on a bipartisan basis and the Administration needs to be more forthcoming about its rationale and cost estimates.”

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage Bottom line MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on Republicans to “to stand up to the president and put an end to this abdication of his oath to protect the United States from enemies foreign and domestic."

“Champagne must be flowing freely this evening at the Kremlin,” Menendez said in a statement. “The Trump administration's decision to withdraw forces from Germany is not only an affront to one of our closest allies, but will ultimately weaken U.S. efforts to counter Kremlin aggression in Europe.”

At least one key lawmaker is one board. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeLincoln Project expands GOP target list, winning Trump ire Trump's contempt for advice and consent Senate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  MORE (R-Okla.) reiterated his support for the plan after Esper’s announcement.

“As I said last week after I was briefed, any plan for realigning our posture in Europe must maintain a strong forward presence, sustain force projection, and take care our military families,” Inhofe tweeted Wednesday. “The concept @EsperDOD outlined today adheres to these principles.”

TRUMP HASN’T RAISED BOUNTIES WITH PUTIN: Trump has confirmed that he has never raised the issue of Russia’s alleged bounties against U.S. troops in his conversations with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinFauci: 'I seriously doubt' Russia's coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective Overnight Health Care: Russia claims it has coronavirus vaccine amid skepticism | Trump announces deal with Moderna for vaccine doses | Most states facing shortage of ICU doctors: research CNBC's Jim Cramer on 'Chernobyl II' Russian coronavirus vaccine: 'I'm gonna pass' MORE.

In an interview with Axios on Tuesday, Trump said the issue wasn’t discussed in a call with Putin last week, nor has the pair ever discussed it.

“That was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly that’s an issue that many people said was fake news,” Trump said of last week’s call.

“I have never discussed it with him,” Trump added.

Background: Reports first surfaced late last month that the U.S. intelligence community concluded months ago that a unit in Russia’s military intelligence agency offered payments to Taliban-linked militants to incentivize the killing of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.

A firestorm erupted on Capitol Hill over the report, with lawmakers demanding more information both on the intelligence and on what Trump knew.

Administration officials have played up an apparent split between intelligence agencies on their level of confidence in the intelligence to argue the allegation is uncorroborated and therefore didn’t merit being verbally briefed to Trump.

Reports have said the information was included in written intelligence given to Trump known as the President’s Daily Brief.

Trump dismisses arms, too: Even before the revelations about the bounty intelligence, U.S. military officials have accused Russia of providing the Taliban with weapons and other support since as early as 2017.

But Trump dismissed that, too, in the Axios interview.

Read a quote from retired Gen. John Nicholson, who commanded U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan from 2016 to 2018, Trump said Nicholson “didn’t have great success.”

Trump also likened Russia’s support to the Taliban to the covert U.S. operation that supported the mujahideen, the predecessors to the Taliban, when they were fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

“Well, we supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia, too,” Trump said. “I’m just saying, we did that too.”

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Pentagon chief information officer Dana Deasy will hold a press briefing at 8:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3jSkTLL

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoEngel: IG report shows Pompeo's 'sham' use of emergency declaration in arms sales Overnight Defense: Trump pushed to restore full National Guard funding | Watchdog faults Pompeo on civilian risk of Saudi arms sales Pelosi on 'disturbing situation' in Hong Kong: 'The world is watching' MORE will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 8:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3hU6k8N

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Anthony Tata to be under secretary of Defense for policy at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3geVh9B

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on recommendations from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/3f8zzmh

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the COVID-19 response in Africa at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/33dAoYV

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman; Air Force Maj. Gen. Lee Payne, Defense Health Agency assistant director for combat support; and Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, medical advisor to the Department of Defense Coronavirus Task Force, will brief the media about COVID-19 testing at 2:15 p.m. https://bit.ly/3jSkTLL

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