Overnight Defense: Trump announces new US ambassador to Afghanistan | Pentagon officially withdraws plan to end ‘Stars and Stripes’ | Biden says Trump doesn’t understand national security, intel officials ‘don’t trust’ him
Happy Thursday 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.
THE TOPLINE: Ahead of the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Trump on Thursday announced his intent to nominate a new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, looking to fill a role left empty since the previous ambassador stepped down in January.
The president said he intends to nominate William Ruger, a Naval reserve officer and think-tank senior researcher to represent America in Afghanistan.
Who is the nominee?: Ruger is a veteran of the U.S. war in Afghanistan who now serves as the vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute. He is also vice president for foreign policy at the philanthropic organization Stand Together, also founded by Charles Koch.
He has held academic positions at Texas State University and the University of Texas at Austin.
Why this matters: The announcement comes ahead of the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the deadliest attack on U.S. soil in American history. The news also comes as the president seeks to draw down American forces in Afghanistan that were first sent to the region in response to the attacks.
Ruger is a supporter of Trump’s push to “end endless wars,” saying in a statement last year that while the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was “necessary and just” to punish the Taliban government for supporting Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, it is time to remove U.S. troops from the region.
Coming negotiations: The president’s nomination also comes as the Taliban and Afghanistan government are set to begin peace talks on Saturday in Doha, Qatar.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who will leave for Doha on Thursday night, welcomed the negotiations, calling it an “opportunity” that “must not be squandered.”
“The United States recalls the commitment by the Afghan government and the Taliban that terrorists can never again use Afghan soil to threaten the United States or its allies,” the secretary said in a statement. “Now is the time for peace for Afghanistan.”
The intra-Afghan talks mark a major milestone in implementing the withdrawal agreement the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in February.
PENTAGON OFFICIALLY WITHDRAWS PLANS TO END ‘STARS AND STRIPES’: The Pentagon has reversed its decision to shut down the U.S. military’s independent newspaper, Stars and Stripes, following pushback from President Trump.
Acting Defense Media Activity Director Col. Paul Haverstick announced the decision Thursday, telling employees that the organization rescinded plans to stop publishing Stars and Stripes at the end of this month and dissolve by the end of January, a reporter for the paper wrote on Twitter.
The original plan: The future of Stars and Stripes has been in doubt since February when the Pentagon proposed shifting $15.5 million in federal funding away from the outlet, roughly half of the money it needs to run annually.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper defended the decision at the time, saying that the proposal was part of an effort to invest that money “into higher-priority issues.”
Pushback flips script: Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers pushed back at the plan, and earlier this month a group of senators sent a letter to Esper calling on him to reinstate necessary funding for the newspaper to continue operating.
Days later, Trump tweeted that his administration would not cut funding to the outlet which was first published during the Civil War and continuously published since World War II.
“The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to @starsandstripes magazine under my watch. It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!” Trump tweeted.
Coincidence? Unlikely: Trump’s reversal of his own administration’s plans comes as he endures scrutiny following a report in The Atlantic that said he disparaged fallen U.S. service members as “losers” and “suckers.” The White House has vehemently denied the allegations as reported by the magazine.
The president is also facing blowback from reportedly telling White House economic adviser Peter Navarro that “his generals” were “p——” who “care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals,” according to excerpts from Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book.
Military members and veterans represent a key group of Trump supporters as he faces reelection in two months.
BIDEN SAYS NATIONAL SECURITY OFFICIALS DON’T TRUST TRUMP: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said that national security officials “don’t trust” President Trump in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper that aired Thursday.
Biden referenced comments Trump made to journalist Bob Woodward for his upcoming book “Rage” in February and March at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
“You wonder why people in the intelligence community wondered from the very beginning whether you could share data with him, ’cause they don’t trust him. They don’t trust what he’ll say or do,” Biden said. “He seems to have no conception of what constitutes national security, no conception of anything other than, what can he do to promote himself?”
More condemnation: Biden also referenced Trump’s alleged remarks reported by The Atlantic last week claiming the president called American soldiers killed in World War I “losers” and suckers.”
Trump has denied making the remarks, which were later confirmed by sources to several outlets including The Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Fox News.
“They’re heroes. They really are heroes. Duty, honor, country,” Biden said. “He talks about can you repeat four words in a row or whatever his little IQ test or dementia test he took, he doesn’t understand duty, honor, service, country. He doesn’t get it. Or if he gets it he doesn’t care about it.”
Biden has sharply condemned the reported remarks before, invoking his late son Beau, who served in the Iraq War.
“All the people with him, the people who died. They’re suckers? I mean I can’t fathom,” Biden told Tapper in reference to his son.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley will conduct a live virtual observance ceremony at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in honor of the 184 people killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon at 7:30 a.m.
President Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, will participate in a memorial service to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, beginning at 9:45 a.m. at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pa.
— The Hill: Air National Guard identifies three victims killed in Tennessee plane crash
— The Hill: Whistleblower alleges top DHS officials sought to alter intelligence products to fit Trump’s comments
— The Hill: Microsoft warns Russia, China and Iran targeting US election
— The Hill: Trump reportedly said he protected Saudi crown prince from Congress: ‘I saved his ass’
— Military Times: Will major veterans suicide prevention legislation pass this year, or get stalled by political fights?
— The Associated Press: In a year of restrictions, virus changes Sept. 11, too
— The Washington Post: The Trump administration is considering moving U.S. Africa Command. It won’t be cheap or easy
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.