- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
With Adam Rawnsley
Trump policy fallout. There was stunned silence in the Pentagon Wednesday after President Trump overturned military policy in three quick Tweets during morning rush hour. Civilian and military officials refused comment on the president’s decision to ban transgender personnel from military service, as they heard about President’s plan just like everyone else, and had no plan how to move forward.
Both the White House and Pentagon referred reporters to the other throughout the day as the lead on the issue. But some military officials said privately that the abrupt decision puts currently serving transgender troops in a tough spot, since just a year ago the Pentagon said they can serve openly and receive medical services for gender reassignment procedures. Those who came out are now left wondering if they were duped into torpedoing their careers to serve the political whim of the Commander in Chief.
This might get ugly. If there’s one thing for certain, this is going to court. One transgender Marine who served two combat deployments told the Air Force Times, “I have never described myself as trans; I’m a mother—-ing Marine…That‘s all that matters. Don’t tarnish my title with your bigotry and fear of the unknown.”
Another, Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland, said, “I would like to see them try to kick me out of my military. ”I would challenge them [in court]. You are not going to deny me my right to serve my country when I am fully qualified and able and willing to give my life.”
Known unknowns. One person who did know about the President’s plan was Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “When Trump made this decision [Tuesday], the secretary of defense was immediately informed,” White House spokeswoman Huckabee-Sanders said Wednesday. Mattis is out of town on vacation this week.
Politico got the tick tock on Trump’s decision-making, and it appears the ban announcement was his way to settle an internal House Republican fight over transgender troops that threatened funding for his border wall.
Line of the day. From the same story: “This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,” a senior House Republican aide told Politico. The source reportedly added that although GOP leaders asked the White House for help on a few issues, they weren’t expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump’s ban decision.
Numbers for context. The transgender issue is being pushed by Republicans as a cost-saving measure, but the Defense Department spends 10 times as much on Viagra than it spends on healthcare services for transgender troops.
Tanf. Defense Department rules forbidding anti-Islamic State rebels in Southern Syria from fighting the Assad regime has led one faction, Shohada Al Quartyan, to leave the U.S. base in At-Tanf, according to CNN. The group had been carrying out independent offensives against the Assad regime but a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said it has told Shohada Al Quartyan leader that “if they choose to pursue other objectives, the coalition will no longer support their operations.
India and China at the brink. Let’s not forget that China and India remain at the brink of open warfare over a remote Himalayan pass, one of the worst border disputes between the two countries in three decades. The New York Times takes note of the regional dynamics: “The conflict shows no sign of abating, and it reflects the swelling ambition — and nationalism — of both countries. Each is governed by a muscular leader eager to bolster his domestic standing while asserting his country’s place on the world stage as the United States recedes from a leading role.”
Don’t Dump the Deal…Yet. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), told David Ignatius from the Washington Post on Wednesday that he sides with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster when it comes to how to handle the Iran nuclear deal.
Corker opposed the 2015 agreement that the Obama administration championed but he said Washington needs to tread carefully when it comes to jettisoning the accord. “You can only tear the agreement up one time. So when you’re going to tear it up… wait until you have your allies aligned with you. Radically enforce it,” Corker said. — Jesse Chase-Lubitz
Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to email@example.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
Drones. China is working on a new sea-skimming drone that flies inches above the surface of the ocean like an anti-ship cruise missile in an attempt to sneak up on and destroy enemy ships, Popular Mechanics reports. China claims the weapon packs a 2,000 pound warhead and flies at speeds that would give enemy ships just 59 seconds to respond once detected on radar.
No Rexit. “I’m not going anywhere” — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denying reports he plans to resign soon over frustrations with the Trump White House over policy and personnel.
Sanctions. Congress is still working on a bill to apply additional sanctions against Iran and Russia, leading to criticism from the intended targets of the legislation. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened to “take any action that is necessary for the country’s expedience and interests,” if the bill becomes law. In Russia, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma’s foreign relations committed, called for retaliation against the bill that would be “painful for the Americans.” But even third parties have hesitation about the bill, including the European Union, which is worried that the sanctions could apply to European companies working on Russian gas pipelines bringing energy to Western Europe.
Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country has finally signed a long-discussed $2.4 billion agreement with Russia to buy Russian S-400 air defense systems. The move puts NATO in an awkward position and leaves many wondering about where Ankara’s allegiances lie, although Greece has already purchased Russian S-300 systems. Some experts believe the sale may be an attempt by Erdogan to convince Moscow to get rid of the remaining sanctions left in place after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that it claims crossed into its airspace in 2015.
Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is threatening to expel journalists from Al Jazeera, accusing the channel of inciting violence near the disputed Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem. Netanyahu says he’ll seek the legislation from the Knesset if law enforcement authorities lack the authority to carry out the expulsion.
Yemen. A U.N. report seen by Reuters alleges that a Saudi helicopter was responsible for an attack on a civilian boat full of Somali refugees that killed 42 people. The U.N. says the attack, which took place off the coast of Yemen, violated international law.
Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents killed 39 Afghan troops in an overnight raid in Kandahar Province in what locals are calling a “massacre.” The attack comes amidst a rising tide of violence across the country and many believe the Taliban is using the attacks in Kandahar to create supply routes back into Pakistan.
Venezuela. The U.S. has sanctioned senior Venezuelan officials amid continuing unrest and protests against the Maduro government. The sanctions target 13 officials, many of them from domestic security agencies. The Trump administration has criticized Maduro’s government for its violent crackdown on protesters with President Trump recently calling him a “dictator.”
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