Overnight Defense: Milley talks Afghanistan, election disputes in interview from quarantine | US military strikes Taliban to defend Afghan forces | Trump administration advances Taiwan arms sales

Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense.  I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentag...


Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, 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: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyTop general dodges on Afghanistan plans after Trump tweet Top general: ‘Zero’ role for US military in electoral disputes The Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by Facebook – Big week: Barrett hearings, Trump returns to blitz campaign trail MORE may still be at home quarantining after exposure to the coronavirus, but he gave a wide-ranging interview to NPR that aired Monday.

In the interview, Milley made clear he sees “zero” role for the U.S. military in resolving any disputed election.

“This isn’t the first time that someone has suggested that there might be a contested election,” Milley said. “And if there is, it’ll be handled appropriately by the courts and by the U.S. Congress. There’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election. Zero. There is no role there.”

Milley has previously told Congress he saw no role for the military in resolving any electoral disputes.

But his latest comments come as President TrumpDonald John TrumpDes Moines mayor says he’s worried about coronavirus spread at Trump rally Judiciary Committee Democrats pen second letter to DOJ over Barrett disclosures: ‘raises more questions that it answers’ Trump asks campaign to schedule daily events for him until election: report MORE has continued to refuse to say he will accept the results of November’s election or commit to a peaceful transition of power.

On Afghanistan: Meanwhile, Milley dodged questions on a timeline for U.S. withdrawals from Afghanistan after Trump said all U.S. troops “should” be “home by Christmas.”

“We’re on a plan to do a responsible, deliberate drawdown to about 4,500 here very shortly,” Milley said. “And then future drawdowns will be determined by the president. And I’m not going to disclose specific numbers and what those are. The whole agreement and all of the drawdown plans are conditions-based, and I expect that we’ll have further discussions on the conditions and ensure that they warrant.”

“The key here is that we’re trying to end a war responsibly, deliberately, and to do it on terms that guarantee the safety of the U.S. vital national security interests that are at stake in Afghanistan,” he continued.

Trump last week sowed confusion about the U.S. plan in Afghanistan by tweeting that “we should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas.”

The wording of the tweet made it unclear if Trump had actually ordered a withdrawal or was trying to appeal to voters in the final stretch of the presidential campaign by claiming he is fulfilling his promise to end so-called forever wars.

Further stoking confusion, the tweet came hours after national security adviser Robert O’Brien announced a drawdown to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan by early 2021.

Milley during the NPR interview dismissed O’Brien’s announcement as speculation in the first comments from a military official since the confusion last week.

“I think that Robert O’BrienRobert O’BrienMeadows: Decision expected later Monday on Trump return to White House National security adviser says Trump will stay a Walter Reed for ‘another period of time’ Trump aide Hope Hicks tests positive for COVID-19 MORE or anyone else can speculate as they see fit. I’m not going to engage in speculation,” Milley said. “I’m going to engage in the rigorous analysis of the situation based on the conditions and the plans that I am aware of and my conversations with the president. And then when we get to the point where we have further discussions and further decisions, those will be appropriately made public.”

Related part one: The U.S. military also announced Monday airstrike against the Taliban in support of Afghan forces who came under attack in Helmand province, a spokesman said Monday.

In a tweet, U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said the U.S. military has conducted “several targeted strikes” to defend Afghan forces “over the past two days,” which he described as “consistent” with the U.S. agreement with the Taliban.

“The Taliban need to immediately stop their offensive actions in Helmand Province and reduce their violence around the country,” Gen. Scott Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement issued from Leggett’s Twitter account. “It is not consistent with the US-Taliban agreement and undermines the ongoing Afghan Peace Talks.”

The U.S.-Taliban agreement, signed in February, allows the United States to come to the defense of its Afghan partners, but the U.S. military has largely refrained from publicizing its strikes since the deal was signed.

Related part two: Milley’s decision to grant an interview to NPR could be seen as part of the military’s efforts to signal it remains ready and capable despite Milley and most of the rest of the Joint Chiefs of Staff being in quarantine.

The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell took a look at those efforts over the weekend. Read up on them here.

In the NPR interview, Milley described how he and the other chiefs are able to work from home. 

“We all have various SCIFs, special compartmented information facilities, built into our houses,” he said. “And we all have all the same communication systems we have in the Pentagon. We have all the multiple . We have the phones. We can go to any level of security and so on. So we’re quite able to operate and maintain our daily duties and oversee the responsibilities that we have on a daily basis.”

When an NPR reporter jokingly asked if Milley is watching movies, eating junk food and wearing sweats, Milley replied he’s “not doing any of that.”

“I’m definitely not watching old movies. I have a full day every day,” Milley said. “I can reach anywhere in the world in an instant and I’ve got all of the screens and capabilities right here, so yeah, and I get a lot of work done right here, actually.”

ADMINISTRATION ADVANCES TAIWAN ARMS SALES: The Trump administration has sent Congress several arm sales to Taiwan to review, a congressional aide confirmed to The Hill.

The aide did not confirm the specific sales, but Reuters, which first reported the informal notifications, said they include a Lockheed Martin-made truck-mounted rocket launcher called a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), Boeing-made air-to-ground cruise missiles called Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) and external sensor pods for F-16 fighter jets.

The State Department declined to comment Monday ahead of the formal notification.

“As a matter of policy, the department does not comment on or confirm proposed defense sales until they have been formally notified to Congress,” a State Department spokesman said.

Context: The Trump administration is moving forward with the weapons sales with just three weeks to go before the U.S. presidential elections, in which both Trump and Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump asks campaign to schedule daily events for him until election: report White House pushes to hold next week’s canceled debate Trump hoping to strike last-minute nuclear arms deal with Putin before election: report MORE have sought to portray themselves as tough on China.

U.S.-China relations are also near their lowest point as Trump and his Republican allies seek to deflect blame for the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the United States onto China, where the first cases of the virus were detected in late 2019.

Approval of the sales would undoubtedly anger Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and objects whenever the United States announces a new arms sale there.

Beijing has also been stepping up military activity around the island recently amid several high-ranking visits to Taiwan from Trump administration officials, including from under secretary of state Keith Krach and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The virtual 2020 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting will kick off with a pre-recorded speech from Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense: Top military officers quarantine after positive COVID case | Distracted pilot, tech issues led to F-35 crash OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Suicide rate among active troops rises | Armed Services head predicts budget fight Suicide rate among active duty troops increases as COVID-19 raises new fears MORE at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3drYZMv

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday will speak at Defense One’s “State of the Navy” event at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/3dx1Cgh

The Stimson Center will host a webinar on “Great Power and Great Responsibility in U.S. Arms Transfers” at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/3iTaBZS

ICYMI

— The Hill: Trump slight against Gold Star families adds to military woes

— The Hill: Trump silence on Nagorno-Karabakh weighs on Armenian-American voters

— The Hill: Wildfire burning on Army base in Colorado

— The Hill: North Korea unveils large intercontinental ballistic missile at military parade

— New York Times: Trump’s campaign talk of troop withdrawals doesn’t match military reality

— Foreign Policy: Trump taps loyalists for top Pentagon liaison jobs

— Washington Post: Afghans stunned, worried by Trump tweet to bring home U.S. troops early

— Military.com: Supreme Court set to hear arguments in military rape cases



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Newsrust: Overnight Defense: Milley talks Afghanistan, election disputes in interview from quarantine | US military strikes Taliban to defend Afghan forces | Trump administration advances Taiwan arms sales
Overnight Defense: Milley talks Afghanistan, election disputes in interview from quarantine | US military strikes Taliban to defend Afghan forces | Trump administration advances Taiwan arms sales
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