Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia

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: The U.S. military carried out an airstrike in Somalia on Friday, its second such action in a week after a months-long gap in strikes.

In a statement, Pentagon spokesperson Cindi King said U.S. forces conducted a strike against militants from the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab terrorist group near Qeycad, Galmudug.

Limited information: U.S. forces, which were largely withdrawn from Somalia during the Trump administration, were "conducting a remote advise and assist mission in support of designated Somali partner forces," King said, adding "there were no U.S. forces accompanying Somali forces during this operation."

The statement provided no further details of the strike, citing "operational security."

The Pentagon statement came after the Somali government announced the strike, saying in a statement it "destroyed al Shabaab fighters and weapons with zero civilian casualties."

A quick one, two: The strike is the second the U.S. military has conducted in Somalia under the Biden administration. The first happened Tuesday.

Prior to Tuesday, the U.S. military had not launched an airstrike in Somalia since Jan. 19, the day before President Biden took office.

Some background: Shortly after his inauguration in January, Biden initiated a review of the policy on drone strikes and commando raids in places such as Somalia that are not considered conventional war zones. Amid the review, he also imposed temporary limits on such strikes.

Under the limits, approval for most strikes has to be routed through the White House.

Who is authorizing these? The Pentagon has said Tuesday's strike was authorized by U.S. Africa Command chief Gen. Stephen Townsend, saying he had authority to order the strike under "collective self-defense."

"The strike ... was ordered by Gen. Townsend under his existing authorities to act in the defense of our Somali partners, who were under attack by al Shabaab," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Wednesday about the Tuesday strike. "He had the authorities to do this. He ordered this on his own."

By contrast, the Pentagon's statement Friday cited authorities under the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"U.S. forces are authorized to conduct strikes in support of combatant commander-designated partner forces under the 2001 AUMF," King said.

Lawmakers irked by explanation: The explanation of "collective self-defense" for Tuesday's strike irked some lawmakers who have been pushing to rein in presidential war powers.

"We're troubled that no one in the administration sought the required legal authorization from Congress for Tuesday's drone strike in Somalia especially with no American forces at risk-and apparently, did not even check with our Commander-in-Chief," Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a joint statement Thursday.

"We need to reestablish a system of checks and balances in our national security to make Congress a part of these decisions about war and peace and put the interests of the American people front and center."

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who came to America as a Somali refugee as a child, similarly wrote a letter to Biden on Friday questioning the "collective self-defense" justification.


Pentagon officials would have to recuse themselves from decisions involving their former employers for four years under an amendment approved as part of the annual defense policy bill.

The law right now requires Pentagon officials to recuse themselves from decisions involving former employers for two years.

But Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced Friday the Senate Armed Services Committee agreed to her amendment to increase the recusal period during its closed-door consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) earlier this week.

"I was glad to see a bipartisan group of my Senate Armed Services Committee colleagues approve my plan to toughen up ethics standards at the Pentagon," Warren said in a statement. "In the future, when defense officials want to spin through the revolving door between industry and government, they'll be banned from working on issues pertaining to their former employer, clients, or competitors for four years instead of two."

Context: But its inclusion comes after Warren has been pushing Pentagon nominees to go beyond the current legal requirement for recusals.

Under Warren's questioning at his confirmation hearing, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin agreed to recuse himself for the entirety of his tenure from decisions involving Raytheon Technologies, where he sat on the board of directors before becoming Pentagon chief.

Warren also recently secured similar commitments from Air Force Secretary nominee Frank Kendall and Heidi Shyu, who was recently confirmed as under secretary of Defense for research and engineering after Warren lifted a hold she placed on Shyu until getting that commitment.

More to come: While Warren's recusal amendment made it into the NDAA, Warren's office had said before the committee's markup of the bill that she would push for far broader ethics reforms, such as banning Pentagon officials from working for defense contractors for four years after they leave the department.

On Friday, Warren vowed to continue "fighting until all of the stronger ethics standards in my Department of Defense Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act are made into law."


The State Department on Friday announced that its second-top diplomat will lead the U.S. delegation for nuclear talks with Russia and set to take place in Geneva next week.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will lead the U.S. team for the first Strategic Stability Dialogue with Russia, a key meeting to discuss efforts at nonproliferation between the two nuclear powers.

The bilateral meeting will take place on Wednesday.

An earlier commitment: The meeting follows a commitment made between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin and announced during their first face-to-face summit in Geneva last month.

The agreement to engage in dialogue over arms control and nuclear nonproliferation is being viewed as a promising step toward global safety and security despite deep disagreements and acrimony between Washington and Moscow.

Who is also going: Sherman will be joined by Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins, who was confirmed by the Senate for her post Wednesday.

Jenkins was nominated by the president in January for her position but her confirmation vote was ultimately delayed by a hold from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is blocking confirmation votes in the Senate for at least 11 other State Department nominees.


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