Overnight Defense: Trump says no plans to send 120K troops to counter Iran | Pentagon, coalition general at odds over Iranian threat | Spending bill includes $15M to study Space Force
Happy Tuesday 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: Tuesday kicked off with major news that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense: Pentagon dipping into missile, spy plane funds for border wall | Pompeo briefs European allies on Iran | Preps for meeting with Putin | B-52s conduct first mission to deter Iran | Lawmakers set for clash on nuke policy Pentagon’s .5B wall transfer to include pulls from intercontinental missile, spy plane upgrades B-52s conduct first mission of counter-Iran deployment MORE last week reportedly presented the White House with a plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the event that Iran escalates tensions.
According to a New York Times report, national security adviser John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonOil tanker headed for US sabotaged Pompeo heading to Brussels before Russia trip Juan Williams: Trump’s scorecard is rife with losses MORE issued an order for the plans and the proposal does not include a ground invasion, which would require many more troops.
The plan was ordered to prepare in the event that Iran attacks American forces or accelerates the development of nuclear weapons, according to the Times, citing administration officials.
It is largely driven by Bolton, who has pushed for more aggressive action against Iran under both Trump and former President George W. Bush.
Trump cries ‘fake news’: President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawsuit alleges Trump campaign paid women less than men Graham encourages Donald Trump Jr. to plead the 5th Crunch time for Senate disaster aid talks MORE later on Tuesday dismissed the report as “fake news,” but said that if it came to it, “we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
“I think it’s fake news,” Trump told reporters at the White House as he departed for a trip to Louisiana. “Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
The background: The president campaigned against U.S. entanglement in foreign wars and has frequently asserted while in office that the U.S. should not serve as the world’s police force.
But tensions between Washington and Tehran have flared in recent weeks, raising questions about whether the Trump administration is preparing for a military conflict.
Earlier this month, Bolton announced the deployment of a U.S. carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East. Officials cited a “credible threat” from Iran to explain the decision but have not elaborated on the threat.
Trump has also ratcheted up sanctions on Iran in recent weeks, eliminating waivers on the country’s oil sales and imposing fresh penalties on its metals sector in an effort to cripple Tehran’s economy.
Iran says no war: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that his country would not go to war with the United States despite increased tension.
“There won’t be any war. The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance,” he said, according to Reuters.
He said, however, that he also would not work with the U.S. on a nuclear agreement, Reuters reported, citing state media.
CENTCOM, US-LED COALITION AT ODDS OVER LEVEL ON THREAT FROM IRAN: The deputy commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria has seen “no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces” in the two countries, he said Tuesday.
British Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika told Pentagon reporters that in terms of militia groups that receive funding from Iran, the coalition has found “no change in their posture since the recent exchange between the United States and Iran, and we hope and expect that that will continue.”
“There are a range of threats to American and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria,” Ghika said via video stream from Baghdad. “We monitor them all. Iranian-backed forces is clearly one of them and I am not going to go into the detail of it, but there are a substantial number of militia groups in Iraq and Syria and we don’t see an increased threat from many of them at this stage.”
Centcom has different view: Following Ghika’s comments, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) released a statement refuting that there was no increased threat.
“Recent comments from [Operation Inherent Resolve’s] Deputy Commander run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region,” Centcom spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement to The Hill.
“U.S. Central Command, in coordination with Operation Inherent Resolve, has increased the force posture level for all service members assigned to OIR in Iraq and Syria. As a result, OIR is now at a high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq.”
A reminder: The U.S. military sped up the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to the region in response to what Bolton has called a “credible threat” from Iran.
The administration also last week deployed B-52s to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar as part of the U.S. response to “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.
In addition, the Pentagon announced Friday it was sending a Patriot missile battery and the USS Arlington amphibious transport dock to the region.
On the same page? Asked about the disconnect between his assertion of no increased threats and recent statements from the White House and Pentagon, Ghika said that “we’re on exactly the same page.”
“I don’t think I’m out of step with the White House at all,” he added.
DEFENSE SPENDING BILL INCLUDES $15M TO STUDY SPACE FORCE: A House defense spending bill would provide $15 million to study plans for a Space Force rather than funding the establishment of the military branch as President Trump requested.
The bill would allocate $15 million to “study and refine plans for the potential establishment of a Space Force as a branch of the Armed Forces,” according to draft bill text released Tuesday by House Democrats.
The text adds that “nothing in this provision shall be construed to authorize the establishment of a Space Force.”
Asked for comment, a House Appropriations Committee spokesman highlighted remarks from Defense subcommittee Chairman Pete Visclosky at a May 1 hearing with acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
“The details for the actual implementation of Space Force are yet to be developed as I understand it and is evidenced by the request for transfer authority for funding for a five-year period with an additional two-year option as part of a legislative proposal,” Visclosky said at the hearing. “It’s easy to spend money this year and then we’re stuck.”
What the administration wanted: The Trump administration has proposed creating a Space Force that sits in the Department of the Air Force in a structure similar to the Marine Corps’ relationship to the Navy.
To begin setting up Space Force headquarters, the administration requested $72.4 million for fiscal 2020. The Pentagon has projected it would cost a total of $2 billion over five years to set up the service and $500 million annually to run it.
The idea to put a space military service under the Department of the Air Force follows a plan the House passed in 2017 for a space corps.
The concerns: Lawmakers in both parties have expressed concerns about the specifics of the Trump administration’s proposal.
Among the concerns are that the new service would be too top-heavy, as well as proposals to grant broad authority to transfer funding and waive civil service rules.
There have also been questions about the accuracy of the Pentagon’s price projection.
The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated setting up a new space military service under the Air Force could cost $1.1 billion to $3 billion up front, with annual costs of $820 million to $1.3 billion.
Also in the bill: The defense spending bill would also limit the amount of money the Pentagon is allowed to transfer between accounts after it unilaterally shifted money for Trump’s proposed border wall.
The inclusion of the provision in the fiscal 2020 defense spending bill comes after the Pentagon broke decades of precedent by transferring money without congressional leaders’ approval to build the wall.
“The bill ensures that our service members are trained and equipped to do their jobs safely and effectively and that they are prepared for future military needs,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHouse panel defies Trump, approves B foreign ops spending bill A good week for the nation’s family planning program Dems reject Trump’s State Department cuts in B spending bill MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
“We have the most capable and advanced military in the world, and this bill honors their mission by adequately funding programs to care for service members and their families, and by protecting defense funding from being stolen for the president’s wasteful wall.”
Overall, the bill would provide $690.2 billion for the Pentagon in fiscal 2020, an increase of $15.8 billion over fiscal 2019.
The total is split between $622.1 billion in base budget funding and $68.1 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
Lt. Gen. David Allvin, the director of strategy, plans, and policy for the Joint Staff will discuss “Global Integration and 21st Century Conflict: From Strategy to Action,” at 9:30 a.m. in Arlington, Va.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing on “DOD Inspector General Report on Excess Profits by TransDigm Group, Inc.” at 10 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2154.
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Systems Vice Adm. William Merz will speak about maritime security at 10 a.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson and Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy David Trachtenberg will speak before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on “The Future of Arms Control Post-Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty,” At 10:15 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419.
A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hear from outside experts on “The Conflict in Libya,” at 2 p.m. in Rayburn 2172.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of James Byrne to be deputy Veterans Affairs secretary at 2:30 p.m. in Russell Senate Office Building room 418.
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