Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop withdrawal from Somalia | 13th US service member dies from COVID-19 | Trump loyalists added to DOD advisory board

 Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop withdrawal from Somalia | 13th US service member dies from COVID-19 | Trump loyalists added to DOD advisory board

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: President TrumpDonald TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE has ordered the Pentagon to withdraw nearly all of the 700 U.S. troops stationed in Somalia by early next year, the Defense Department announced on Friday.

Trump “has ordered the Department of Defense and the United States Africa Command to reposition the majority of personnel and assets out of Somalia by early 2021,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

What we’re doing there: For more than a decade the United States has helped quell local al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab, and more recently the local ISIS organization. U.S. forces train and assist local security forces to fight the militant groups and also carry out airstrikes.

The move follows acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller’s surprise visit to Somalia the day after Thanksgiving, where — among rumors of a drawdown — he assured partner forces of U.S. help in fighting the terrorist groups.

Details scarce: The Pentagon on Friday stressed that the United States “is not withdrawing or disengaging from Africa” and officials “remain committed to our African partners and enduring support through a whole-of-government approach.”

The Department of Defense did not say how many troops would leave the country or to where they would be moved, but that some forces “may be reassigned outside of East Africa.” Those remaining “will be repositioned from Somalia into neighboring countries in order to allow cross-border operations by both U.S. and partner forces to maintain pressure against violent extremist organizations operating in Somalia.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that forces would transfer to bases in Kenya and Djibouti and enter Somalia for shorter counterterrorism missions.

For context: The announcement marks Trump’s latest move to pull troops from overseas conflicts before leaving office in January.

In November he ordered 2,000 U.S. troops to be pulled from Afghanistan and 500 from Iraq by mid-January, going against the recommendations of military and national security leaders.

Against recommendations: The withdrawal from Somalia, meanwhile, goes against the plan of recently ousted Pentagon chief Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Former Navy secretary reportedly spent .4M on travel | Ex-Pentagon chief Miller to testify on Jan. 6 Capitol attack | Austin to deliver West Point commencement speech Trump's Navy secretary spent over M on travel during pandemic: report Court declines to dismiss Amazon challenge against JEDI decision MORE, who advocated for a leaner force presence in Africa by pulling troops from more northern countries in the Sahel region.

The inspectors generals of the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development had also advised against such a decision, last month warning that Somali forces are not able to resist terrorist threats within the country without the support of U.S. forces. 

THE LATEST MILITARY COVID-19 DEATH: A 33-year-old Navy reservist died of COVID-19 this week, becoming the 13th U.S. service member killed in the pandemic.

The Navy announced the sailor’s death earlier in the week, but it was first noted in the Pentagon’s online chart of COVID-19 cases connected to the department with Friday’s update.

Builder 2nd Class Nathan Huff Bishop died Tuesday at a local hospital in Canton, Ohio, the Navy said in a statement.

Bishop, an Ashland, Ohio, native who was assigned to the Navy Operational Support Center in Akron, was not in an activated status at the time of his death, according to the Navy.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family [and] friends,” the Navy said.

The numbers now: Bishop is the second sailor killed by the coronavirus, and the other was the military’s only active-duty death to date.

Navy Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., a 41-year-old aviation ordnanceman, died in April after being one of more than 1,000 sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier who contracted the virus.

Six Army reservists and five guardsmen have also died from the disease.

In total, the Pentagon has reported 125,947 cases of COVID-19 connected to the department, according to Friday’s update of the online chart.

Friday’s figures include 83,557 cases among service members as well as 22,553 cases among civilians, 12,198 cases among dependents and 7,639 cases among contractors. There have been 82 civilian deaths, eight dependent deaths and 33 contractor deaths, according to Friday’s chart.

TRUMP LOYALISTS ADDED TO PENTAGON ADVISORY BOARD AFTER LATESTS PURGE: Top Trump allies Corey LewandowskiCorey LewandowskiThe Memo: The mystery of post-presidency Trump Trump frustrated with pace of super PAC Dozens of Trump appointees 'burrow' into Biden government MORE and David Bossie are among nine new members of a Pentagon advisory board installed after the administration fired the previous members.

The purge at the Defense Business Board, which provides Pentagon leaders with outside advice on business management issues, was first reported Friday by Politico.

Timing: It is the latest shake-up at the Department of Defense (DOD) following President Trump’s loss to President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit On The Money: Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report | GOP targets jobless aid after lackluster April gain MORE in November’s election.

The Biden administration can replace them when he takes office, but their appointment marks Trump's latest effort to inject politics into the Pentagon in the waning days of his presidency.

"I’m proud to welcome each of these new members to the Defense Business Board and I look forward to their contributions to help guide the Department’s business efforts in the coming years,” acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, whose installation kicked off the Pentagon shake-up, said in a statement Friday. “These individuals have a proven record of achievement within their respective fields and have demonstrated leadership that will serve our Department, and our nation well.”

The new roles: Lewandowski served as the president's campaign manager for part of his 2016 White House bid and joined the 2020 campaign as a senior adviser.

Bossie was a deputy campaign manager in 2016 and in November was tapped to lead Trump’s legal efforts challenging the results of the 2020 election. He is also the president and chairman of conservative advocacy group Citizens United. He and Lewandowski have co-written books together.

The other new members of the board are Henry Dreifus, Robert McMahon, Cory Mills, Bill Bruner, Christopher Shank, Joseph Schmidt, Keary Miller, Alan Weh and Earl Matthews. 

They are replacing Chairman Michael Bayer, Vice Chair Atul Vashisitha, Arnold Punaro, John O'Connor, David Venlet, Paul Dolan, Scott Dorn, David Walker and David Van Slyke. 

Forced out: A Pentagon news release on the changes said the fired members "had been serving in expired positions," but Politico reported that at least three told the publication that their terms were not close to expiring.

The Defense Business Board purge comes about a week after a similar shake-up was reported at the Defense Policy Board, another key DOD advisory group. The director of the Defeat ISIS Task Force was also ousted this week.

The Pentagon purge started shortly after the election with Trump’s firing of Mark Esper as Defense secretary. The next day saw the departure of three other top officials who were replaced with Trump loyalists.


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