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SitRep: U.S. Military Preparing for Violence in Wake of Trump Jerusalem Announcement

Marines deploying to embassies, Yemen gets worse, Tillerson's chilly reception in Europe

The US embassy in Tel Aviv on December 6. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images).
The US embassy in Tel Aviv on December 6. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images).


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Next embassy in Jerusalem. Today’s the day the Trump administration will announce the (eventual) move of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, despite the pleas of virtually every ally not to do so, FP’s Rhys Dubin and Robbie Gramer report. The Pentagon and State Department don’t appear to be thrilled about the decision, either. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert declined fully back the move on Tuesday, saying only “the issue rests with the President.”  

And the Pentagon is preparing for the worst. A U.S. Central Command spokesman told FP’s Paul McLeary, “we have contingency plans in place, in the event that violence breaks out,” while the U.S. Africa Command would only say they’re involved in “prudent planning” in the event of violence. U.S. officials said that additional teams of U.S. Marines have been dispatched to several U.S. embassies in the Middle East as a precaution.

Euros stiff Rex. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Brussels for a visit with European officials on Tuesday, and received a chilly reception from allies unhappy with Washington, and unsure how long Tillerson will even be in charge. European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini used the occasion to lay into the Trump administration’s policy choices, criticizing its decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and decertify Tehran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.

The hits keep coming. On Tuesday, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) sent Tillerson’s deputy, John Sullivan, a letter expressing “significant concerns” over Tillerson’s plans to redesign the State Department and urging Tillerson and his deputy to lift the department’s hiring freeze, FP’s Robbie Gramer writes.

Here they come. Now that Sen. John McCain has lifted his hold on confirming Trump administration nominees for top Pentagon posts, critical policymaking seats are beginning to fill up. And meet and greets in the press room are beginning to happen. On Tuesday, newly-minted Secretary of the Army Mark Esper stopped by to introduce himself to the media. Several days ago, David Trachtenberg, the new principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy also popped in briefly.

Interrogation unit withers. After U.S. forces detained an American citizen in Syria who had been fighting with the Islamic State this past September, many expected the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group — an interagency team formed by the Obama administration to head over to begin interrogations.

But the Trump administration never deployed the team, Politico reports. “The group’s exclusion rattled those who work for it, who fear its days could be numbered under a president who has openly endorsed the torture of terror suspects. In the last week alone, two members of the group’s critical research arm announced their departure, and warned colleagues the organization was in danger.”

Pentagon won’t lift freeze on Pakistan aid. Frustrated with Islamabad’s refusal or inability to fully tackle Taliban leadership along the Afghanistan border, the Pentagon continues to withhold military funding, FP’s Emily Tamkin and Dan De Luce report.

The Coalition Support Fund wasn’t a part of recent talks between the two countries, and Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, a Pentagon spokesman, said the fund is still frozen, and that “Secretary Mattis has not yet made a decision on the certification required” by Congress to release the $400 million in counterterrorism funds for Pakistan in fiscal 2017.

Houthis solidify control over Yemen capital. The Saudi-led coalition intensified air strikes on Yemen Wednesday as the Houthi movement tightened its grip on the capital after it killed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who switched sides in the civil war.

Returning from the Middle East on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said “the situation for the innocent people there, the humanitarian side, is most likely to (get) worse in the short term.”

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Sorry, Lindsey. The Defense Department would like you to know that, contra Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) expressed wishes earlier this week, it will not be evacuating U.S. dependents from South Korea in preparation for an imminent war with North Korea, thank you very much.

Manafort back in trouble. Paul Manafort has managed to land himself in trouble for his associations with Russian intelligence once again, potentially violating his bail agreement by ghost-writing an op-ed defending his work on behalf of ousted Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich with a man who Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office says is linked to Russian intelligence. Talking Points Memo obtained a copy of the piece, co-written with former Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Voloshyn.

Ban hammer. The International Olympic Committee has banned Russia from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in response to Moscow’s state-run program concealing a massive doping program for Russian athletes.

Assassination plot. British intelligence says it broke up a jihadi plot to assassinate Prime Minister Theresa May, arresting two men charged with planning the attack. Authorities accuse Naa’imur Zakariyah Rahma and Mohammed Aqib Imran of plotting to kill May after creating a distraction at the prime minister’s residence with an improvised explosive device.

Fat Leonard strikes again. The latest Navy officer to face bribery charges as part of the Fat Leonard scandal is the captain of a destroyer squadron from the USS Carl Vinson’s strike group. Prosecutors allege Capt. John F. Steinberger took gifts of fancy meals, travel, and the service of prostitutes from southeast Asian defense contractor “Fat” Leonard Francis.

Canada vs Boeing. The feud between Boeing and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Department of National defense just went up to 11 after  Canada announced it will buy Australia’s old F-18 hand-me-down jets rather than purchase new F/A-18s direct from the defense contractor. Ottawa was expected to buy F/A-18s from Boeing to replace its aging CF-18 fleet but decided to spite the company after Boeing sued Canada’s Bombardier for allegedly dumping artificially cheap jets on the commercial market.

Sonic weapon mystery. Doctors treating the victims of the so-called “sonic” weapon attacks against U.S. diplomats in Cuba say they’ve found evidence of damage to white matter tracts in the brains of victims. The findings are significant because they cast doubt on the possibility that the weapon used involved acoustics as sound has never been documented to affect white matter.