Overnight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated
Happy Friday 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 Mark Milley news cycle continues unabated.
The latest chapter in the saga is a new report from The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser that said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Milley feared former President Trump could take military action against Iran in his final days in office that could launch a full-scale war.
Glasser said her reporting on Milley came as part of a book about Trump she and her husband, New York Times reporter Peter Baker, are working on that’s due to come out next year.
In her telling, the subject of Iran was repeatedly raised at White House meetings with Trump after his election loss, and Milley repeatedly argued against strikes.
“If you do this, you’re gonna have a f—— war,” Milley would say, according to Glasser.
Trump convened an Oval Office meeting on Iran on Jan. 3, at which point then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-national security adviser Robert O’Brien argued it was “too late to hit them,” according to the report. Milley also walked through the potential consequences, and Trump agreed, Glasser wrote.
Trump escalates attacks: Following the New Yorker report, Trump issued another statement attacking Milley, his second in two days against the man he, again, chose to make Joint Chiefs chairman.
In the latest statement, Trump said that “if he said what was reported,” Milley “perhaps should be impeached, or court-martialed and tried.”
What violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice exactly does Trump think Milley violated that would warrant a court martial? He didn’t say.
REUTERS REPORTER KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN
Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Danish Siddiqui was killed in Afghanistan on Friday.
Siddiqui, who worked for Reuters, was killed while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters near a border crossing with Pakistan, an Afghan commander told the news outlet.
“We are deeply saddened to learn that our photographer, Danish Siddiqui, has been killed in Afghanistan,” Reuters President Michael Friedenberg and editor-in-chief Alessandra Galloni said in a statement posted to Twitter.
“We are urgently seeking more information, working with authorities in the region, and support Danish’s family and colleagues. Danish was an outstanding, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, a devoted husband and father, and a much-loved colleague. Our thoughts are with his family at this time,” Friedenberg and Galloni said.
Official condolences: In response to Siddiqui’s death, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan wrote on Twitter that “media working in #Afghanistan & journalism itself in the country is under increasing threat.”
“Our deep condolences to family & friends of @dansiddiqi. A painful reminder of mounting dangers faced by media in Afghanistan. Authorities must investigate this & all killing of reporters,” the mission said.
The White House later Friday also sent its condolences, with press secretary Jen Psaki tweeting, “Our condolences to @dansiddiqui’s family, loved ones, and colleagues at @Reuters. Journalists should be able to do their vital work safely and free from repression or fear of persecution. The senseless violence in Afghanistan must stop.”
MILITARY HITS 70 PERCENT VACCINATED
Seventy percent of active-duty service members are now at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, the Pentagon said Friday.
The announcement came in a tweet from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who added that 62 percent of active-duty troops are fully vaccinated.
“Our healthcare professionals are administering COVID vaccines as fast as we receive them,” Austin said in a video attached to the tweet.
“All the available vaccines have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for a simple reason: they are safe and they are effective,” Austin added. “I got my shots, and I hope you will too. It will take all of us to control this virus.”
Context: Friday’s update is a bit more than the end of June, when officials said 68 percent of active-duty troops were at least partially vaccinated.
The 70 percent milestone lags behind what officials suggested earlier this year was a goal to have the entire force vaccinated by mid-July.
And it also comes after earlier reports of vaccine hesitancy in the military. Military officers testified in February they were seeing about one-third of service members decline to take the shots.
Wider context: The news also comes as the country is seeing a new wave of COVID-19 cases fueled by the unvaccinated and the more transmissible delta variant.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky warned of rising cases on Friday, stating that COVID-19 is “becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated” and that vaccinated people are protected against severe disease.
“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Walensky said during a White House press briefing. “We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage, because unvaccinated people are at risk.”
ON TAP FOR MONDAY
The Senate Armed Services Committee will begin marking up the National Defense Authorization Act with closed-door markups in the strategic forces subcommittee at 5:30 p.m. and cybersecurity subcommittee at 6 p.m. https://bit.ly/3hKOHek
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