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: The Pentagon has ordered military bases and combatant commands to withhold coronavirus case numbers, citing operational security concerns.
“As we continue to grapple with the novel nature of COVID19, we are constantly assessing and adapting not only how we respond to combatting the virus, but also how we share critical public health information with our communities,” Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said in a statement on Monday.
“We will not report the aggregate number of individual service member cases at individual unit, base or Combatant Commands. We will continue to do our best to balance transparency in this crisis with operational security.”
What the Pentagon will share: Farah said that the Defense Department and each military service will continue to offer a daily, public update of the full number of cases in all services and of civilians, contractors and dependents.
The Pentagon’s thinking: Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week told Reuters that he wants the Pentagon to withhold “mission-specific information” to protect operational security.
“What we want to do is give you aggregated numbers. But we’re not going to disaggregate numbers because it could reveal information about where we may be affected at a higher rate than maybe some other places,” Esper said.
The numbers so far: As of Monday morning, 569 active-duty service members have contracted the illness, as had 220 civilian personnel, 190 family members and 64 contractors.
More on the coronavirus pandemic…
Hospital ship arrives in New York: One of the Navy’s floating hospitals pulled into New York harbor Monday, bringing 1,000 hospital beds to a city being slammed by the coronavirus.
The USNS Comfort will treat non-coronavirus patients sent to it from local hospitals, freeing up beds at those hospitals to deal with coronavirus patients.
The Comfort left its home port in Norfolk, Va., on Saturday.
“This great ship behind me is a 70,000-ton message of hope and solidarity to the incredible people of New York, a place I know very well, a place I love,” President Trump said Saturday as he saw off the ship.
The Comfort’s West Coast counterpart, the USNS Mercy, began accepting patients in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Changes for Marines boot camp: The Marine Corps is temporarily pausing sending new recruits to its Parris Island, S.C., training installation over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, the service said Monday.
“The preservation of our Marines, recruits and their families is the highest priority for Marine Corps Recruiting during this national emergency,” Marines Commandant Gen. David Berger said in a statement. “With that in mind, we’ve paused this week’s shipping of new recruits to Parris Island and will revise our overall shipping plan to ensure we are able to meet the nation’s needs while protecting its next generation of Marines.”
Recruits who are already at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island will continue their training “with continued emphasis on personal and environmental cleanliness and social distancing,” the Marines said in a news release.
Parris Island is one of two locations that provide basic training for the Marines. Male recruits from east of the Mississippi and all female recruits from the entire country are trained there.
According to The Washington Post, dozens of recruits and staff members have tested positive for the virus after a “wave in testing” over the weekend.
Defense bill delayed: The House Armed Services Committee has postponed marking up the annual defense policy bill in order to follow the guidelines meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The committee had been scheduled to mark up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on April 30, but the markup will now be pushed back to a yet-to-be determined date.
“The House Armed Services Committee has been, and will continue to be, in strict compliance with the guidance we have received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Sergeant at Arms and the House Attending Physician,” Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement Monday.
“Given the new 30-day extension of the administration’s guidance, the committee has postponed the previously scheduled markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. A new markup date will be announced at a later time,” he added.
MEANWHILE … IN NORTH KOREA: North Korea is testing missiles and slamming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again.
On Sunday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said projectiles flew about 230 kilometers from the North Korean coastal city of Wonsan into the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan on Sunday morning.
The Japanese Defense Ministry also said two ballistic missiles fell in the sea outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
On Monday, North Korea’s states news agency KCNA described the launch as a successful test of super-large multiple rocket launchers.
Also Monday, KCNA carried a statement from the director general of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry saying statements from Pompeo made Pyongyang uninterested in resuming dialogue with the United States.
“Hearing Pompeo’s reckless remarks, we dropped the interest in dialogue with further conviction, but have become more zealous for our important planned projects aimed to repay the U.S. with actual horror and unrest for the sufferings it has inflicted upon our people,” the statement said.
Trump recently sent North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a letter offering help fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
But comments Pompeo made after last week’s G-7 teleconference calling on all nations to continue applying diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea “seriously impaired the signboard of dialogue put up by the U.S. president as a decoy to buy time and create the environment favorable for himself,” the North Korean statement said.
“The point is that no matter how excellent and firm the relationship between the top leaders of the two countries is, it can not reverse the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK, and the resumption of dialogue much touted by the U.S. is nothing but a decoy to keep us from going our own way,” it said.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Atlantic Council will hold a virtual panel discussion on great power competition between the United States, Russia and China at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/2QWIuhs
— The Hill: Pentagon signs $84M deal to buy 8,000 ventilators
— The Hill: Schumer praises choice of Defense inspector general to oversee corporate lending fund
— The Hill: Opinion: Americans should consider this a preparation drill for ‘The Big One’
— The Washington Post: Key in Trump’s deal with the Taliban: Ex-prisoners whose release in 2014 unleashed Republican furor
— Associated Press: Afghan officials say Taliban attacks kill 11 troops, police
— Federation of American Scientists: Pentagon asks to keep future spending secret
— Navy Times: An outbreak on a Navy warship — and an ominous sign of a readiness crisis
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