Overnight Defense & National Security — White House hits back at report on US forces

It's Friday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup

The White House is firmly denying a report that the Biden administration is prepared to propose scaled-back troop deployments and military exercises in Eastern Europe as the U.S. and Russia are poised to meet about Moscow’s security demands.

More on the Biden administration’s pushback and the report that set it off, plus NATO’s response to Russia’s security demands as tensions over Ukraine simmer. 

For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Write me with tips at emitchell@thehill.com.

Let’s get to it.

White House denies troop withdrawal report

The White House is seen from the Washington Monument on Friday, September 24, 2021.

The White House is pushing back on an NBC News report that the Biden administration is prepared to propose scaling back troop deployments and military exercises in Eastern Europe next week as the U.S. and Russia are poised to meet about Moscow’s security demands.

An administration official told NBC that it is "compiling a list of options for force posture changes in Europe to discuss with Russia" at the talks, adding that the U.S. is prepared to discuss specific moves if Russia is willing to scale back its own presence.  

Russia would have to take equivalent steps to scale back its own military presence in the region beyond scaling back troops in Ukraine, officials told the outlet. 

‘Not accurate’: “It is not accurate that the administration is developing options for pulling back U.S. forces in Eastern Europe in preparation for discussions with Russia next week, which we told NBC while they were reporting this story,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne told The Hill in a statement. 

“In fact, we have been clear with Russia, publicly and privately, that should Russia further invade Ukraine we would reinforce our NATO Allies on the eastern flank, to whom we have a sacred obligation,” she continued. “We are firmly tightly lashed up with our NATO Allies as we address this crisis together, on the principle of ‘nothing about you without you.’” 

Further denials: A senior State Department official told reporters later on Friday that the administration also is “not weighing cuts to troops in Europe,” as the NBC report suggests. 

“The administration is not discussing with Russia the number of troops stationed in the Baltics and Poland and, contrary to an unnamed official quoted in this erroneous report, the administration is not compiling a list of force posture changes to discuss in the upcoming talks. There are three key assertions in the report that’s been circulating [and] those three assertions are false,” the official said. 

Upcoming talks: Officials from Washington and Moscow are expected to meet on Monday as fears grow that Russia may be planning to invade Ukraine, a move that would be similar to 2014, when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula. 

That meeting will be followed by a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday and a Thursday meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) permanent council, of which Russia is a member. 

Russia’s demands: Russia laid out its demands for the U.S. and NATO last month, in which demanded the alliance deny Ukraine membership to NATO and to roll back its military deployments. 

Notably, Moscow is also proposing that the U.S. not establish any military bases in former Soviet states that are not part of the alliance, nor develop bilateral military cooperation with them.  

Read the full story here 


NATO rejects demands to stop expansion 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday said the military alliance will not stop its expansion across Europe, denying demands from Russia amid the ongoing security saga with Ukraine.   

“We will not compromise on core principles, including the right for every nation to decide its own path, including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be a part of,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, according to The Associated Press.    

Worries persist: Stoltenberg said that NATO is willing to discuss arms control but will not allow Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinOvernight Defense & National Security — US delivers written response to Russia Don't let Putin close his new Iron Curtain Briefing in brief: Biden committed to naming Black woman to Supreme Court MORE to restrict how the alliance protects member countries.  

He also said NATO is still worried over Russia’s military buildup, which along with its new demands “sends a message that there is a real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe.”   

Read more about that here 

US SAYS CHINA'S AFRICAN DIPLOMACY OFFERS 'CHOICES'

The Biden administration is not pushing for countries in Africa to choose between a relationship with the U.S. or China, the State Department said on Thursday in response to reports that Beijing was appointing its own special envoy for the imperiled region of the Horn of Africa.   

“We are committed to promoting peace, security and prosperity in the Horn and we'll work with all partners who share our objectives in that,” spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing with reporters.   

“We don't ask our partners to choose between the United States and any other country, [and] that includes the PRC [People’s Republic of China]. What we seek is not to make them choose but to give them choices.” 

A new envoy: Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Russia-Ukraine talks yield agreement to meet again in two weeks Overnight Defense & National Security — US delivers written response to Russia MORE on Thursday announced the appointment of a U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, to take over for veteran diplomat Jeffrey Feltman, who held the inaugural position since April.

The position is viewed as a critical indication of U.S. attention to the region despite worsening conflicts — including the devolving civil war in Ethiopia, the rollback of a democratic transition in Sudan and tensions and fighting between countries in the region related to the instability.

Read the full story here 

White House taps Army general for Centcom

The White House has nominated Army Lt. Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla to lead the U.S. Central Command (Centcom). 

The Senate received a nomination for Kurilla on Wednesday and referred it to the Senate Armed Services committee, according to congressional records. However, the records don’t specify what position Kurilla is nominated for.

If confirmed, Kurilla would replace Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who has helmed Central Command since March 2019. 

His background: Kurilla, a native of Elk River, Minn., currently serves as the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps in Fort Bragg, N.C., a role he has held since 2019.  

Prior to that role, Kurilla served as chief of staff to the U.S. Central Command. He previously served as the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. 

New responsibilities: Kurilla would oversee military operations across 21 nations in Northeast Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia. 

Timing: His nomination comes amid several attacks on U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq this week alone. This week, forces launched strikes against bases near Grear Village in Syria and shot down two drone attacks targeting troops in Iraq. 

Meanwhile, American troops are still in Iraq in an advisory role, part of an agreement to formally end the combat mission against ISIS. 

Read the full story here 


ON TAP FOR MONDAY

 

WHAT WE’RE READING


That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for latest coverage. We'll see you on Monday.