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Overnight Defense: Army seeks help in search for missing soldier | Biden vows to restore allies' respect


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 Army is asking for the public’s help in its search for a soldier missing from Fort Hood, Texas, exactly one year after another soldier disappeared from the same base.  

“We are seeking your help in locating Sgt. Elder Fernandes,” read an alert from Fort Hood’s Twitter account as well as other Army accounts. “Our primary concern is to ensure his safety and wellbeing.”

Police in Killeen, the town next to Fort Hood, said Fernandes, 23, had not been heard from by his family since Monday and was reported missing Wednesday.

The available details: Family members told police that he was last seen by his staff sergeant on Monday afternoon when he dropped him off at his home in Killeen. 

His mother, Ailiana Fernandes, told NBC News that he had been in the hospital for four or five days before he went missing, though she did not know why he was hospitalized.

A pattern: The disappearance of Fernandes, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist with the 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade, is the third such disappearance at Fort Hood in a year.

Spc. Vanessa Guillén, 20, went missing from the base in late April and her remains, found June 30 buried 20 miles away from Ford Hood near a lake, were discovered after the story gained national media attention.

Authorities suspect another soldier, Aaron Robinson, in Guillén’s death, though Robinson killed himself July 1 after he was confronted by police.

His girlfriend, Cecily Ann Aguilar, has been charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence by assisting in discarding Guillén’s body. She pleaded not guilty earlier this month.

Fernandes also went missing one year after Fort Hood soldier Pfc. Gregory Wedel-Morales, 24, went missing. Wedel-Morales was reported missing Aug. 20, 2019.

Wedel-Morales’s remains were found in June in a field in Killeen and his death is under investigation.

 

BIDEN VOWS TO RESTORE ALLIES’ RESPECT: Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Democratic National Convention What we’ll remember from the 2020 Biden convention Chris Wallace labels Biden’s acceptance speech ‘enormously effective’ MORE on Thursday night vowed to restore global respect for the U.S. and military integrity if elected in November.

“I take very personally the profound responsibility of serving as commander in chief,” Biden said in his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, capping the week-long Democratic convention.

“I’ll be a president who will stand with our allies and friends and make it clear to our adversaries that the days of cozying up to dictators are over. Under President Biden, America will not turn a blind eye to Russian bounties on the heads of American soldiers, nor will I put up with foreign interference in our most sacred democratic exercise: voting.

“And I’ll always stand for our values of human rights and dignity, and work for a common purpose of a more secure peaceful and prosperous world.”

Other military voices back Biden: Iraq War veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) also spoke in support of Biden on Thursday night, ripping President Trump‘s handling of the U.S. military and nicknaming him the “coward in chief.” 

Americans “have a coward in chief who won’t stand up to Vladimir Putin, read his daily intelligence briefings or even publicly admonish adversaries for reportedly putting bounties on our troops heads,” Duckworth said during the virtual convention, referencing reports last month that Russia had paid Taliban-linked fighters to target U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 

Duckworth, who lost both her legs when her helicopter was shot down by an insurgent, contrasted Trump with Biden, saying the presidential nominee would “never let tyrants manipulate him like a puppet.”

“He would never pervert our military to stroke his own ego … or threaten them against Americans peacefully exercising their constitutional rights,” Duckworth said. 

“Joe Biden understands the sacrifices because he’s made them himself. Joe knows the fear military families live because he’s felt that dread of never knowing if your deployed loved one is safe,” she added, referring to Biden’s deceased son, Beau Biden, who was deployed to Iraq while serving in the Army National Guard.

 

NAVY MEMO CITES ‘PROBLEMATIC’ REQUEST FOR POMPEO TO GET MILITARY HOUSING: The U.S. Navy flagged a “problematic” request from the State Department in 2018 asking for Secretary Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: GOP national security officials back Biden | Trump says troops in Iraq will come home ‘shortly’ White House officials voted by show of hands on 2018 family separations: report Trump vows to bring all US troops home from Iraq ‘shortly’ MORE to receive military housing, according to a memo obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight.

The May 2018 document noted there “might be a negative public perception relating to a civilian Secretary of State displacing a uniformed member of the military in a tight housing market.”

What the Navy said: A Navy attorney, whose name was redacted from the memo obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, pointed out that the housing request was made “through informal channels.” The memo also said the houses Pompeo requested were very limited in number and already occupied.

“Such residences are extremely scarce, are specifically aligned to identified Navy billets (such as Chief of Naval Operations; Commandant of the Marine Corps), and are all currently occupied,” the memo reads.

Unclear terms: The attorney also noted that it’s unclear if Pompeo was planning to pay for the housing himself or if it would be budgeted by the State Department.

What’s happened since: A State Department spokesperson told The Hill on Friday that the request was made to save on security costs after the State Department and Pentagon approved housing for Pompeo following an assessment that found “the Secretary’s previous housing arrangement provided a more challenging location to secure for a cabinet officer who is fourth in line to the Presidency.”

“The Secretary resides in an environment that provides 24/7 controlled access, which benefits and contributes to his overall safety and security,” acting Assistant Secretary Todd Brown said in a statement. “This is a commonsense solution to a security challenge.”

Pompeo lives in Northern Virginia on Fort Myer base, which falls under a different category than the Navy housing mentioned in the memo. The State Department said Pompeo pays fair market price for the “modest” home.

Already under scrutiny: Pompeo has come under scrutiny from congressional Democrats following President Trump‘s dismissal of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who was fired at Pompeo’s request in May.

Linick was looking into at least two investigations involving Pompeo, including potential misuse of federal funds by the secretary and his wife, and his role in justifying a presidential executive order for a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan without congressional approval.

 

IRAN UNVEILS NEW MISSILES AFTER US TRIGGERS SNAPBACK SANCTIONSIran unveiled a new cruise missile as well as a ballistic missile that it claims has a range of nearly 870 miles after the Trump administration announced its intent to reinstate sanctions on Tehran.

“The surface-to-surface missile, called martyr Qassem Soleimani, has a range of 1,400 km and the cruise missile, called martyr Abu Mahdi, has a range of over 1,000 km,” the country’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami said in a televised speech, Reuters reported Thursday.

Iranian officials said the weapons “will further strengthen Iran’s deterrence power,” as images of the armaments were shown on state TV.

Do the names sound familiar?: The missiles are named after Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi militia commander, who were both killed in a U.S. drone strike in January while their convoy was traveling in Iraq near Baghdad’s airport.

The strike prompted retaliation from Iran, which fired ballistic missiles at an Iraqi base housing U.S. forces.

Context: The January strikes came amid steadily increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran that had been building since 2018 when President Trump withdrew the United States from the Obama-era nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Iran’s unveiling of the new missiles this week came almost immediately after the Trump administration announced that it had notified the United Nations that the U.S. is starting the process to reinstate all U.N. sanctions on Tehran that had been lifted under the 2015 deal.

The snapback sanctions will extend an arms embargo on Iran that was set to expire in October and further restrict the country from conducting ballistic missile testing, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

 

ICYMI

– The Hill: Duckworth blasts Trump as ‘coward in chief’

– The Hill: Satellite images appear to catch Chinese submarine entering underground base

– The Hill: Poisoning of Putin opponent could test US-Moscow relationship

– The Hill: Susan Rice says she’s qualified to serve in Biden Cabinet

– The Hill: Barr opposes possible Trump pardon for Snowden

– Military Times: Postmaster pledges veterans’ prescriptions won’t be hurt by mail service changes

– Stars and Stripes: Life and death at Fort Hood, the Army’s most crime-ridden base



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