Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. We’re Rebecca Kheel and 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: First it was going to be a full withdrawal. Now it’s going to be some “mechanized” reinforcements.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed Friday the United States will send some “mechanized” reinforcements into eastern Syria to protect against possible attacks by ISIS fighters on oil fields held by U.S. partner forces.
“The United States will maintain a reduced presence in Syria to deny ISIS access to oil revenue as we reposition for the next phase of the defeat ISIS campaign,” Esper said at a NATO defense meeting in Brussels.
Esper said that the military is “considering how we might reposition forces in the area in order to ensure we secure the oil field,” currently held by Syrian Kurdish fighters, and is working to “strengthen our position” at Deir Ezzoir. He added that the reinforcements “will include some mechanized forces.”
He would not go into details as to the number of troops to be sent, but a mechanized force would likely include tanks and other combat vehicles and several hundred more military personnel. The U.S. presence in Syria up until this point has not included such equipment.
What this means: The decision would also mean the Trump administration has backtracked on President Trump‘s decision earlier this month to pull almost all of the 1,000 U.S. troops out of northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey’s invasion into the country.
Lawmakers, including Republicans who fiercely back Trump, have slammed the move as upending the security of the region, potentially allowing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to resurge and abandoning the Kurds, who helped the United States fight the terrorist group.
Trump still insists fight is over: Trump, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter on Friday that U.S. troops would be returning to the United States and claimed that the U.S. military mission in Syria is finished.
Esper also told reporters the U.S. mission in Syria has always been to prevent the reemergence of ISIS and that “remains unchanged.”
“If ISIS has access to the [oil], and therefore the means to procure arms or to buy fighters or whatever else they do, then it means it makes it more difficult to defeat ISIS,” he said.
The comments mark a rapidly shifting U.S. strategy in Syria following Trump’s announcement that all troops in the country would return stateside.
IMPEACHMENT LATEST: House Democrats have subpoenaed three Trump administration officials for depositions as part of their impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, lawmakers announced Friday.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) issued subpoenas for two officials with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and one State Department official.
Schiff subpoenaed Michael Duffey, OMB’s associate director for National Security Programs, and OMB Acting Director Russell Vought to give depositions on Nov. 5 and 6, respectively.
Duffey is considered a key figure in the administration’s decision to withhold aid from Ukraine.
The administration gave Duffey the authority to stall Ukraine aid after career civil servants in the White House raised concerns that they did not have the legal power to delay such funds, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.
Democrats also issued a subpoena to T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a State Department counselor, for a Nov. 6 deposition. Brechbuhl previously told the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry that he would not appear voluntarily.
Brechbuhl is one of the officials named by William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, in his detailed 15-page opening statement that was obtained by The Hill and other outlets when he testified behind closed-doors on Tuesday.
Taylor named Brechbuhl as someone he brought his concerns to amid the withholding of nearly $400 million Ukraine security aid.
“Here’s the problem: He’s a Never Trumper,” the president told reporters at the White House in response to a question about Taylor’s explosive testimony from earlier this week.
“His lawyer is the head of the Never Trumpers,” the president added.
“They’re a dying breed, but they’re still there,” Trump said of Republicans who do not support his agenda.
NBC News reported last week that lawyer John Bellinger, a former George W. Bush administration official who has been an outspoken critic of Trump, would represent Taylor and another witness in the impeachment probe: Pompeo’s former chief of staff, Michael McKinley.
Trump attacked Taylor and Bellinger earlier this week on Twitter by labeling them “Never Trumpers,” while adding that he didn’t know Taylor. Trump also said this week that Republicans who do not support his agenda are “human scum.”
Trump dismisses need for impeachment team: Trump also dismissed the need for a bolstered team to defend him against House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
“Here’s the thing. I don’t have teams. Everyone’s talking about teams. I’m the team. I did nothing wrong,” Trump told reporters outside the White House before leaving for an event in South Carolina.
The comment came as part of a lengthy rant against the impeachment inquiry, which Trump derided as a “phony deal” focused on a “perfect” call he had with the Ukrainian president. He went on to say that if anything came of this inquiry, he thinks it could plunge the country into economic downturn.
“I will say this: If anything ever happened with this phony witch hunt that the Democrats are doing … I really believe you’d have a recession, depression the likes of which this country hasn’t seen,” Trump said, questioning how Democrats could impeach “one of the most successful presidents.”
ON TAP FOR MONDAY
The House Rules Committee will prepare the Protect Against Conflict by Turkey Act, which would sanction Turkey for its offensive in Syria, for floor debate at 5 p.m. at the House, room 313. https://bit.ly/2pXSgFh
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