Overnight Defense: Marines find human remains after training accident | Fourth service member killed by COVID-19 | Pompeo huddles with Taliban negotiator

Overnight Defense: Marines find human remains after training accident | Fourth service member killed by COVID-19 | Pompeo huddles with Taliban negotiator
© US Marine Corps

Happy Tuesday 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 Marines Corps has found the amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) that sank off the coast of Southern California last week, killing nine service members, the service said Tuesday.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group found the AAV on Monday, according to a I MEF news release.

The Navy’s Undersea Rescue Command also found human remains on board by using an underwater remotely operated video system from a merchant ship, the release added.

What happened: The AAV, which is used for amphibious troop transports, sank Thursday after taking on water during a training exercise off the coast of San Clemente Island.

The vehicle sank to a depth of about 385 feet, Tuesday’s release said.

Who was lost: One Marine, identified as 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Seven other Marines and a Navy sailor were reported missing after the accident. Officials announced Sunday they are presumed dead.

Those presumed dead were identified as Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21.

The Navy’s plans now: The Navy is expediting sending equipment to recover the remains, as well as bring up the AAV, with the equipment expected to be in place by the end of the week, the news release said. 

Two other Marines were injured in the accident. Sixteen service members were on board the vehicle at the time of the incident.

The cause of the incident is under investigation.

 

4TH SERVICE MEMBER KILLED BY COVID-19: A fourth U.S. service member has died from the coronavirus, the first such case since May, according to the Pentagon.

Data published Monday by the Defense Department listed the death of the individual, who was in the Army, but no other information.

The Pentagon on Friday last updated its COVID-19 data — which includes confirmed cases of the disease, hospitalizations, recoveries and deaths of DOD personnel, contractors and family members — indicating that the service member died over the weekend.

The Army did not immediately respond to a request for more information.

There have now been 68 coronavirus-related deaths within the DOD community, including 43 civilians, 14 contractors and seven dependents, according to the Pentagon data.

The numbers now: The last service member to die of complications related to COVID-19 was 34-year-old Army reservist Sgt. Simon Zamudio, who was not on active orders at the time of his death.

Army Capt. Douglas Linn Hickock, a New Jersey National Guardsman, became the first service member to die of the illness in March. That was followed by the April death of Navy Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., a 41-year-old aviation ordnanceman and one of the more than 1,000 sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt who contracted the virus.

In total, the Pentagon has reported 41,361 coronavirus cases as of Monday. 

 

POMPEO, TALIBAN OFFICIAL HUDDLE ON AFGHAN PEACE PROCESS: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers Overnight Defense: House Democrats unveil stopgap spending measure to GOP opposition | Bill includes .6B for new subs | Trump issues Iran sanctions after world shrugs at US action at UN Navalny calls on Russia to return clothes he was wearing when he fell ill MORE on Monday discussed the Afghan peace process with the Taliban’s chief negotiator, Mullah Baradar Akhund, according to a Taliban spokesman.

The virtual meeting included discussions over Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government, spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted. 

“Both sides talked about the inception of intra-Afghan negotiations” and emphasized that “release of the remaining prisoners are essential for commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations,” Shaheen wrote.

The State Department declined to comment.  

Earlier: The meeting came after Afghan security forces ended the siege of a major prison in eastern Afghanistan by Islamic State militants in which hundreds of prisoners escaped, Reuters reported. It was not immediately known if any of the escapees include any of the prisoners the Taliban is demanding be released, according to the newswire. 

Release of the prisoners has been a major challenge in the peace talks, which were set to have started in March, the newswire noted.

What each side wants: An agreement between the U.S. and Taliban earlier this year for U.S. troop withdrawal called for Afghanistan to free up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for the release by the insurgents of up to 1,000 government detainees, Reuters noted. 

The Taliban has released around 1,000 detainees, and under U.S. pressure the Afghan government has freed around 4,600 Taliban prisoners named on a list compiled by the insurgents, the newswire reported.

More US troops to leave by the election?: Trump - in a recently released interview with Axios reporter Jonathan Swan - said the U.S. military will draw down to between 4,000 and 5,000 troops in Afghanistan  by November.

“We’ll be down now in a very short period of time to 8,000; then we’re going to be down to 4,000,” Trump said. “We’re negotiating right now. We’ve been there for 19 years – 19 years.”

The Pentagon has reduced the number of U.S. forces in the country from roughly 13,000 to about 8,500, as agreed upon in a Feb 29 deal between the Taliban and the United States.

Defense officials have maintained that for Washington to draw down beyond that, the Taliban would first need to live up to a commitment to reduce violent attacks, which has not yet happened.

  

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The United States Institute of Peace will hold a webinar on “Pakistan's National Security Outlook,” with Moeed Yusuf, Pakistani special assistant to the prime minister on national security and strategic policy planning; and former State Department Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson, at 10:30 a.m. 

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will hold a webinar on “Why Did the United States Invade Iraq?” with former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at 11 a.m. 

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers Official: Pentagon has started 'prudent planning' for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May US issues Iran sanctions to enforce UN action ignored by international community MORE; Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran; and Wendy Sherman, former undersecretary of state for political affairs, will all speak at the Aspen Security Forum beginning at 12 p.m. 

 

ICYMI

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