Overnight Defense

OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Pentagon unveils policies reversing Trump’s transgender ban l Top US military officer calls Russia, Ukraine over ‘concerns’ about troop buildup

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Happy Wednesday 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 Pentagon on Wednesday unveiled rules reversing Trump administration policies that largely barred transgender individuals from serving in the military, following through on an executive order President Biden signed shortly after taking office.

The new Defense Department policies, released on the International Transgender Day of Visibility, will allow transgender people who meet military standards to enlist and serve as their preferred gender. The regulations will also give wider access to health care and assistance with gender transition and aim to prevent discrimination against transgender military members, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

“Secretary of Defense [Lloyd Austin] strongly believes that the all-volunteer force thrives when it is composed of diverse Americans who can meet the high standards for military service, and an inclusive force that strengthens our national security posture,” Kirby said.

Earlier: The new rules, which will be effective in 30 days, follow a two-month review at the Pentagon in the wake of Biden’s order, which “sets the policy that all Americans who are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States should be able to serve.” 

The order revoked President Trump’s 2017 and 2018 orders banning transgender military service and immediately stopped the military from forcing out any service member on the basis of gender identity.

The rules before: Prior to the Trump-era ban, transgender troops were covered by a 2016 Obama administration policy that allowed them to serve openly.

But in 2017, Trump blindsided Department of Defense (DOD) leadership when he tweeted he would reverse the open service policy and would “not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

The move results in multiple lawsuits, but in 2019, after the Supreme Court paved the way for the policy to take effect, the Pentagon issued rules that barred most transgender people from serving unless they did so according to their biological sex.

New regulations: The new policies announced Wednesday are similar to those developed under Obama in 2016, according to the Pentagon.

About 2,200 service members have been medically diagnosed with gender dysphoria, but as many as 8,000 service members may self-identify as transgender.

DOD does not anticipate the changing policies will add much cost to the military’s annual health care budget — only several million dollars on top of the roughly $50 billion it spends annually. 

Lawmaker response: Following the announcement, House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) in a statement commended Biden for “seeing our transgender troops for who they are, demanding they receive equal treatment under the law, and for appreciating the many contributions they make to our national security.”



The U.S. military’s top officer on Wednesday spoke to his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts to discuss “concerns” over a buildup of Russian forces and aggression in eastern Ukraine, the Pentagon confirmed.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley spoke by phone with Ukraine Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Ruskin Khomchak about the security environment in Eastern Europe, Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Milley also spoke by phone with Russia’s top officer, Chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, and the two “exchanged their views on issues of mutual concern,” Kirby said.

What prompted the calls: The Pentagon is “concerned about recent escalations of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine,” including Friday’s violation of a July 2020 ceasefire between the two countries, which led to the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers.

The U.S. is also aware of Ukrainian military reports regarding Moscow’s troop movements on the border between the two countries.

Kirby said the Biden administration has reached out to Russia “to try to gain a little bit more clarity on what exactly is going on” and is also “discussing our concerns about this” with NATO allies.

The background: Moscow in 2014 seized and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in a conflict that Kyiv asserts has killed 14,000 people.

The tensions seem to have recently amplified, with unverified videos posted online this week showing a large amount of Russian hardware moving into Crimea. 

Other outreach: National security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Head of the Presidential Office Andriy Yermak.

“Mr. Sullivan affirmed the United States’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and Euro-Atlantic aspirations in the face of continued Russian aggression,” Kirby said.



The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement will hold a virtual Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems Summit, with Navy Rear Adm. John Fuller, deputy director for force protection, Joint Chiefs of Staff, beginning at 9:50 a.m.



Tags Adam Smith Donald Trump Jake Sullivan Joe Biden Lloyd Austin Mark Milley

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