TRANSGENDER BAN LOOPHOLE? President Trump’s surprise tweets last month announcing an end to an Obama-era policy allowing transgender troops to serve openly were unequivocal: “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

But after four weeks of behind-the-scenes work on guidance to implement the president’s ban, it appears there may be a chance that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will have some leeway in deciding which transgender service members may stay, according to a draft memo described to the Wall Street Journal. The memo, which is not final, would halt any further admission of transgender recruits into the military, and end payments for gender reassignment surgery, and other medical treatments associated with transition from one gender to another. But the criteria for whether currently serving troops can remain in uniform would be based on their deployability, not their gender status.

“Mattis under the new policy is expected to consider ‘deployability’ — the ability to serve in a war zone, participate in exercises or live for months on a ship — as the primary legal means to decide whether to separate service members from the military,” the paper reports. “Legal” being the key word. The legality of discharging military members who came out at the urging of the Pentagon is already prompting lawsuits.

The White House is expected to send the 2 1/2-page memo to Mattis “in coming days,” according to officials who spoke to the Journal. It reportedly gives the Pentagon six months to prepare to fully implement the new ban.

‘UNCONSCIONABLE’: The Palm Center’s Aaron Belkin put out a statement last night blasting the decision. “It is unconscionable that the Commander-in-Chief would take aim at his own, loyally serving troops for political reasons at a time when the military needs to focus on real threats,” he said. “Imposing one set of standards for transgender troops, and another set of standards for everyone else is a recipe for disruption, distraction and waste.”

TIME TO ARM UKRAINE? Mattis is in Kiev, Ukraine, today, meeting with President Petro Poroshenko and commemorating the nation’s Independence Day. “It's not easy making a democracy. It's not easy making a sovereign state, especially right now with the way Russia has been violating territorial integrity,” Mattis said on his flight across the Atlantic. Mattis told reporters that in his meetings with Poroshenko he will underscore U.S. support for Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity” as well as reaffirm U.S. commitment to help train, equip and advise efforts to build the capacity of Ukraine’s military.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain is urging the U.S. to take the next step and provide lethal defensive assistance to Ukraine. “Earlier this week, President Trump took a step forward when he changed course and departed from his predecessor's failed policy in Afghanistan,” McCain said in statement. “The President now has the same opportunity with regard to Ukraine.”

McCain argues that arming Ukraine will actually lower the level of violence. “Raising the cost of aggression may help to change Vladimir Putin's calculus, pressure Russia to fully comply with the Minsk agreements, and, ultimately, create more stable security conditions on the ground that are essential for peace.”

The Kremlin yesterday said Putin, Poroshenko and the presidents of France and Germany all agreed on a conference call Tuesday to try to secure a lasting cease-fire in time for the beginning of the new school year.

AFGHANISTAN REASSURANCE: Armed with Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy, U.S. commander Gen. John Nicholson issued a strong statement of reassurance at a news conference in Kabul today. “The United States and our NATO Allies and partners are with you. We will stay with you,” Nicholson said. “We stand with your security forces against terrorists and the enemies of Afghanistan. They are the enemies of the entire world.”

Nicholson noted that the Afghans “are not asking us to do their fighting for them,” and said the recent activation of the Afghan National Army Special Operations Corps would double the number of Afghan commandos. “These brave soldiers have never lost a battle. And they never will.” A strategy guided by conditions on the ground and not arbitrary timelines means the Taliban cannot prevail militarily, he said.

“To the Taliban, I say you have a simple choice: Stop fighting against your countrymen. Stop killing innocent civilians. Stop bringing hardship and misery to the Afghan people. Lay down your arms and join Afghan society. Help build a better future for this country and your own children,” Nicholson said.

Good Thursday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.

NUCLEAR CRUISE MISSILE CONTRACTS: The Air Force awarded $1.8 billion to two defense contractors for development of a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile. The Long Range Standoff weapon, or LRSO, could be used by its nuclear bomber fleet, including the B-21 Raider bomber now being developed, the service said. "Deterrence works if our adversaries know that we can hold at risk things they value,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon each won $900 million to develop and demonstrate the new missile over the next four and a half years. “LRSO will provide the next generation strategic deterrent missile for the air-launched portion of the nuclear triad," said David Helsel, Lockheed’s program director.

The LRSO will replace the current AGM-86B ALCM beginning in the late-2030s. “The LRSO is expected to have improved military capability compared with the ALCM, including stealth,” said Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. “Approximately 1,000 LRSOs are planned, of which around 500 will be equipped with the new W80-4 warhead currently in early stages of development (the remaining missiles will be used for test-flights and spares over the life of the program),” Kristensen said in an email to the Washington Examiner.

SHUTDOWN? NO THANK YOU: House Speaker Paul Ryan is downplaying Trump's threat to shut down the federal government in order to force funding of his Mexico border wall. “I don't think a government shutdown's necessary and I don't think most people want to see a government shutdown, ourselves included,” Ryan said yesterday, adding the House has already done its work on that issue. “The House already has passed funding for border security including building physical barriers like a wall in the places that are necessary.”

But the Wisconsin Republican said a short-term continuing resolution will likely be needed to prevent a shutdown. "We're going to need more time to complete our appropriations process, particularly in the Senate," Ryan said. “I don't think anyone's interested in having us shut down. I don't think it's in our interest to do so.”



HASC HEARING ON SHIP COLLISIONS: House Armed Services has called a hearing on Sept. 7 to look into collisions involving the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald following a summer of deadly military mishaps that have raised questions about the readiness of U.S. forces. “When I see this happening, it is horrific, it is surprising because ships don't collide, but it is not inexplicable,” said Bryan McGrath, a naval expert and managing director of the FerryBridge Group consulting service. “I think the Navy is simply spread too thin.” The committee said it will examine underlying problems of Navy readiness that might have caused the separate collisions, which left seven Fitzgerald sailors dead and as many as 10 dead from the McCain. The witnesses will be Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, who is the commander of Naval Surface Forces, and John Pendleton from the Government Accountability Office.

Two separate Marine Corps aviation crashes killed 19 service members in July and August, prompting the service to ground all aircraft for 24 hours. Also, an Army Black Hawk helicopter went down in the ocean Aug. 15 during night training and all five crew members were lost. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Armed Services chairman, called the incidents "unprecedented" and said they are proof that the military is in crisis after years of constrained budgets and high operations tempo. Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said there is a worrisome possibility it is directly related to stress on the force but the issues surrounding military mishaps this summer are interlocking and complex, and the findings might not point to any quick fix. "It's hard to draw stark lines from cause A to effect B when it comes to readiness," she told the Washington Examiner. "It is measured in different ways by each service and often it is in the eye of the beholder or consumer."

BODY FOUND NOT FROM McCAIN: The Navy says remains found by the Royal Malaysian Navy are not those of a McCain sailor, according to a statement from the 7th Fleet. The Malaysian ship discovered the remains while searching the area where the guided-missile destroyer collided with a merchant vessel. The determination was made following medical examinations of the remains, which will be returned to Malaysian authorities, the statement said. Meanwhile, CNN is reporting the names of five of the missing sailors, based on local reports.

MISSISSIPPI YARD GETS FITZGERALD CONTRACT: Huntington Ingalls will receive the contract to repair the Fitzgerald at its Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard, according to the Navy. The contract will be issued before the end of the year but the Navy said it still has not determined the cost or time needed to repair the ship, which had severe damage to its hull and deadly flooding to its compartments.

WILL TRUMP STUMBLE INTO A WAR?: Voters are worried Trump will inadvertently draw the United States into an “international conflict.” A new George Washington University Battleground poll of 1,000 registered voters found 66 percent of respondents fear Trump’s “words or actions” could result in a new conflict overseas and among them, 51 percent felt strongly about that fear, while 30 percent disagreed.

Among voters, 70 percent said Trump’s behavior is “not what [they] expected from a president,” while 54 percent said Trump is doing “too much” for the wealthy and big corporations and not enough “for our families.” The poll included some encouraging numbers for Trump: 51 percent of voters said they believe the president is keeping his campaign promises while 52 percent believe Trump is trying to make “major reforms,” and has been stymied by “Washington elites” who have failed to pass his agenda.

SURRENDER OR DIE: The deputy commander of the counter-Islamic State coalition is ending his tour in Iraq with a message for the several thousand terrorists still holding out against Syrian and Iraqi forces. "Surrender or die," said British Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, echoing a declaration made over the weekend by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. "That's a pretty stark statement, but it is the truth," Jones told Pentagon reporters from the coalition's Baghdad headquarters.

Jones, who is wrapping up his time as the No. 2 military commander on the ground, says the Islamic State is now under tremendous pressure, losing on all fronts and surrounded on all sides. "The expectation has always been that we would see [Islamic State] increasingly squeezed into the middle Euphrates valley, and that is where the military defeat will be completed."

TRUMP AIMS AT ISIS ONLINE: With the momentum of recent military gains in Iraq, Trump said the U.S. will focus on combating the Islamic State's online recruiting efforts. "I will tell you, we are going to start working very hard on the Internet because they are using the Internet at a level that they should not be allowed to use the Internet," Trump said during a bill-signing event with the American Legion in Reno, Nev., yesterday. The terrorist organization was pushed out of Mosul this summer and continues to lose ground in the three-year-old war with the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, but it has also proved adept at using the Internet to attract followers, distribute propaganda and orchestrate foreign attacks. The group most recently claimed responsibility for a terror attack in Spain last week that killed 14 and involved a dozen suspects who may have been partly radicalized online.

CHILDREN OF ISIS: The Islamic State is using an American child in its latest propaganda video. The boy spoke clear English while issuing a threat to Trump. "My message to Trump, the puppet of the Jews: Allah promised us victory, promised you defeat," the boy says in the video. "This battle is not gonna end in Raqqa or Mosul. It's gonna end in your lands. ... So get ready, for the fighting has just begun." The 10-year-old boy says his father is an American soldier who "fought in Iraq," according to SITE Intel Group, a firm that analyzes terrorist communications and threats. The boy moved from America to Syria with his mother two years ago, he adds.

Later, the State Department condemned the apparent use of an American child in the propaganda video. "Any child used in that capacity in an ISIS video regardless of what is being done, it's sick," spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters. "It's sick and it's depraved."

RUSSIAN RETALIATION: Russia is planning to retaliate against the United States over sanctions against entities doing business with North Korea, a senior official warned, the latest in a string of threats from Moscow following sanctions approved by Washington. "Washington has made the same mistake again," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said late Wednesday in a statement. "In the meantime, we will get down to charting the retaliatory measures that are inevitable in this situation."

The threat came after the Treasury Department targeted four individuals and one Russian company involved, variously, in supporting the North Korean nuclear weapons program or defying sanctions that restricted the transport of oil into the country.

KEEP AWAY: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley met officials at a key nuclear inspections agency yesterday, drawing a rebuke from Iranian officials. Haley met with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, to discuss "monitoring and verification efforts and Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal," according to a summary of the meeting. But Iranian officials argued that the meeting undermined "the independence and credibility" of the inspectors and warned the IAEA not to share extra information about the regime's nuclear program.

"Any contribution to the destructive approach of the US Administration to undermine ‘successful implementation' of the [nuclear deal], or sharing any information on Iran and its nuclear activities, which is not included in regular updates that Director General provides to the IAEA Board of Governors, with any third party including the U.S. government's envoy will not be in conformity with the above-mentioned provision," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a letter to the IAEA.

TRUMP’S SHOUT OUT TO GATES: How the president feels about you depends a lot on how you feel about him. That was evident yesterday as Trump recognized distinguished guests at his American Legion speech in Reno, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “Where is Bob Gates?” Trump said from the podium. “Bob Gates has been so great. I'll tell you, he started off saying bad things about me and then he said great things, and now I like him.” Gates is the person who recommended to Trump that he name Rex Tillerson secretary of state.

During his Reno speech Trump also called Medal of Honor recipient Donald Ballard, a Vietnam veteran, to the microphone, not knowing what he would say. “There is no greater love than someone that loves this country. And I believe we have elected the right leader to lead us out to drain the swamp,” Ballard said. “I'm with you. I was with you before you were elected.”

“Thank you so much,” Trump said feigning relief. “See, that's very risky of me. That could ruin the whole day for me. If he got up and said the opposite I would be in trouble. So, thank you, Don. That was very risky.”

THE RUNDOWN

Wall Street Journal: Kim Jong Un shown ordering more warheads after Tillerson's praise for 'restraint'

Reuters: Russia sends nuclear-capable bombers on mission near South Korea, Japan

Task and Purpose: Amid 7th Fleet turmoil, sailors open up about the Navy’s silent threat: Sleep deprivation

AP: Qatar restores diplomatic ties to Iran amid regional crisis

Defense News: Northrop’s fix for F-35 and F-22 communications problem involves Global Hawk drones

USNI News: Marine Corps awards AAV survivability upgrade production contract

Washington Post: Army suspends drill sergeants at Fort Benning amid allegation of sexual assault

Reuters: As Syria war tightens, U.S. and Russia military hotlines humming

USA Today: Pakistan's ambassador: We want to work with Trump to end war in Afghanistan

Defense News: Pakistan alarmed over Trump’s Afghanistan policy

War on the Rocks: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the limits of U.S. influence

Daily Beast: Shady North Korean military contractor found a home on YouTube

Stars and Stripes: 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team brings out big guns in last Europe exercise

Foreign Policy: Time is up on Rex Tillerson

The American Conservative: Robert E. Lee at West Point

Calendar

THURSDAY | AUG. 24

1:30 p.m. 1300 Wilson Blvd. PSA Captains of Industry roundtable lunch with Rear Adm. David Hahn, chief of naval research and director of innovation, technology requirements, and test and evaluation. ndia.org

WEDNESDAY | AUG. 30

12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Iran’s nuclear, regional and proxy challenges. heritage.org

THURSDAY | AUG. 31

11 a.m. 46870 Tate Rd. C4ISR August luncheon with Capt. Jason Lopez, the program manager of the Naval Aviation Training Systems Program Office. ndia.org