SitRep: U.S. Military Preparing for Violence in Wake of Trump Jerusalem Announcement
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Next embassy in Jerusalem. Today’s the day the Trump administration will announce the (eventual) move of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, despite the pleas of virtually every ally not to do so, FP’s Rhys Dubin and Robbie Gramer report. The Pentagon and State Department don’t appear to be thrilled about the decision, either. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert declined fully back the move on Tuesday, saying only “the issue rests with the President.”
And the Pentagon is preparing for the worst. A U.S. Central Command spokesman told FP’s Paul McLeary, “we have contingency plans in place, in the event that violence breaks out,” while the U.S. Africa Command would only say they’re involved in “prudent planning” in the event of violence. U.S. officials said that additional teams of U.S. Marines have been dispatched to several U.S. embassies in the Middle East as a precaution.
Euros stiff Rex. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Brussels for a visit with European officials on Tuesday, and received a chilly reception from allies unhappy with Washington, and unsure how long Tillerson will even be in charge. European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini used the occasion to lay into the Trump administration’s policy choices, criticizing its decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and decertify Tehran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.
The hits keep coming. On Tuesday, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) sent Tillerson’s deputy, John Sullivan, a letter expressing “significant concerns” over Tillerson’s plans to redesign the State Department and urging Tillerson and his deputy to lift the department’s hiring freeze, FP’s Robbie Gramer writes.
Here they come. Now that Sen. John McCain has lifted his hold on confirming Trump administration nominees for top Pentagon posts, critical policymaking seats are beginning to fill up. And meet and greets in the press room are beginning to happen. On Tuesday, newly-minted Secretary of the Army Mark Esper stopped by to introduce himself to the media. Several days ago, David Trachtenberg, the new principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy also popped in briefly.
Interrogation unit withers. After U.S. forces detained an American citizen in Syria who had been fighting with the Islamic State this past September, many expected the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group — an interagency team formed by the Obama administration to head over to begin interrogations.
But the Trump administration never deployed the team, Politico reports. “The group’s exclusion rattled those who work for it, who fear its days could be numbered under a president who has openly endorsed the torture of terror suspects. In the last week alone, two members of the group’s critical research arm announced their departure, and warned colleagues the organization was in danger.”
Pentagon won’t lift freeze on Pakistan aid. Frustrated with Islamabad’s refusal or inability to fully tackle Taliban leadership along the Afghanistan border, the Pentagon continues to withhold military funding, FP’s Emily Tamkin and Dan De Luce report.
The Coalition Support Fund wasn’t a part of recent talks between the two countries, and Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, a Pentagon spokesman, said the fund is still frozen, and that “Secretary Mattis has not yet made a decision on the certification required” by Congress to release the $400 million in counterterrorism funds for Pakistan in fiscal 2017.
Houthis solidify control over Yemen capital. The Saudi-led coalition intensified air strikes on Yemen Wednesday as the Houthi movement tightened its grip on the capital after it killed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who switched sides in the civil war.
Returning from the Middle East on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said “the situation for the innocent people there, the humanitarian side, is most likely to (get) worse in the short term.”
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Sonic weapon mystery. Doctors treating the victims of the so-called “sonic” weapon attacks against U.S. diplomats in Cuba say they’ve found evidence of damage to white matter tracts in the brains of victims. The findings are significant because they cast doubt on the possibility that the weapon used involved acoustics as sound has never been documented to affect white matter.