Happy Thursday 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 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has asked the Pentagon to find military installations near 11 major airports that could potentially house up to 220 U.S. citizens quarantined due to the coronavirus, according to a Defense Department statement released Thursday.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper is expected to support the request for the locations, which would be used “should HHS facilities become filled.”
The statement notes that the military facilities would house up to 20 people each “as they undergo a period of quarantined observation,” but would be third in line to place individuals as “HHS already has primary and secondary locations identified that are not DOD facilities.”
Numbers growing as Americans evacuate: Several planes carrying American evacuees from Wuhan, China – the epicenter of the growing coronavirus outbreak – landed in the United States on Wednesday and Thursday.
The passengers will be quarantined for 14 days at airbases in California, Texas and Nebraska, the states where they landed.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday that there are now 28,060 confirmed cases of coronavirus in China, with 564 deaths.
Outside China, there are 225 cases in 24 countries, with one death, the WHO said.
In the United States, the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus has remained at 11 throughout the week.
Where?: The identified DOD installations and the airports they could support include:
- Joint Bare Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, near Honolulu International Airport
- Great Lakes Training Center Navy Base, Ill., by Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport
- Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Texas, close to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
- March Air Force Base (AFB), Calif., by Los Angeles International Airport
- Travis AFB, Calif., near San Francisco International Airport
- Dobbins ARB, Ga., near Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport
- Fort Hamilton, N.Y., by John F. Kennedy International Airport
- Naval Base Kitsap, Wash., near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
- Joint Base Anacostia, D.C., by Dulles International Airport
- Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., by Newark Liberty International Airport
- and Fort Custer Training Center, Mich., near Detroit Metropolitan Airport
The Pentagon will also provide office space for several HHS personnel and their equipment through Feb. 22.
What the Pentagon’s already done: Esper last week approved an HHS request to provide housing assistance for about 1,000 overseas travelers flying from China that would possibly need to be quarantined. As of Monday, 198 of the evacuees were being housed at March AFB, according to top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.
TRUMP ANNOUNCES DEATH OF AL-QAEDA LEADER IN YEMEN: President Trump on Thursday confirmed the death of an al-Qaeda leader in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen.
Trump said the U.S. carried out a successful counterterrorism operation that killed Qasim al-Rimi, the founder and leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an affiliate of the terrorist group. One of al-Rimi’s deputies, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was also killed.
“Under Rimi, AQAP committed unconscionable violence against civilians in Yemen and sought to conduct and inspire numerous attacks against the United States and our forces,” Trump said. “His death further degrades AQAP and the global al-Qa’ida movement, and it brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security.”
About the terrorist leader: The New York Times first reported last week that the U.S. carried out an airstrike that was believed to have killed al-Rimi.
The AQAP leader has ties to the group dating back as far as before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and he has been linked to multiple other plots targeting Americans. The State Department previously offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.
A string of targets: The death of al-Rimi marks the third significant terrorist killed in a U.S. operation in recent months.
The U.S. in October killed ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and in January carried out a strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
The latter led the U.S. and Iran to the brink of military engagement before tensions simmered.
WATCHDOG SUES STATE DEPARTMENT FOR PENCE-UKRAINE RECORDS: A watchdog group is suing the State Department for any records regarding Vice President Pence’s role in the Trump administration’s recent dealings with Ukraine.
American Oversight filed the lawsuit Thursday after the State Department allegedly failed to provide documents or respond to the group after it submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in October.
What the watchdog wants: The group is requesting any briefing materials given to Pence before his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Warsaw on Sept. 1, as well as any documents pertaining to Pence’s phone call with Zelensky a few weeks later.
Earlier…: In December, the House filed two articles of impeachment against President Trump over his dealings with Ukraine. He was acquitted by the Senate on both counts Wednesday. Trump took a victory lap on Thursday with a “celebration” at the White House.
Last month the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released nearly 200 documents related to discussions surrounding the withholding of military aid to Ukraine after American Oversight filed a FOIA lawsuit. The documents showed communication between White House official Michael Duffey and other OMB aides regarding the military aid to Ukraine.
The group’s argument: “Despite the president’s nominal acquittal, it is essential that the public, Congress, and the media continue to push for transparency and accountability for those who participated in the Ukraine pressure campaign,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, in a statement.
“Mike Pence is a primary beneficiary of the truncated Senate trial. There are stones left unturned and questions that need answering. The public has a right to know what the vice president’s role was in the Ukraine scheme,” Evers added.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana will speak at a Hudson Institute discussion on “NATO and the New Decade: Assessing the Transatlantic Alliance,” at 12:15 p.m. in Washington, D.C.
— The Hill: Former CIA chief: Not ‘right’ for Haspel to applaud at State of the Union
— The Hill: GAO report urges DHS to publish key security plans ahead of 2020 elections
— The Hill: Trump administration delaying arms transfers worth $30M to Ukraine: report
— Defense News: Here’s how much money the Pentagon found through internal savings — and where it’s going
— Associated Press: Iraq considers deepening military ties with Russia
— Stars And Stripes: Soldier’s court-martial in limbo after married judge had ‘intimate relationship’ with prosecutor’s wife