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Mop-up operations begin after military victory over ISIS

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With Connor O’Brien

Editor’s Note: This edition of Morning Defense is published weekdays at 10 a.m. POLITICO Pro Defense subscribers hold exclusive early access to the newsletter each morning at 5:30 a.m. To learn more about POLITICO Pro’s comprehensive policy intelligence coverage, policy tools and services, click here.

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— The White House and Syrian Democratic Forces make it official: ISIS has been ousted from its last pocket in Syria, but the threat remains.

— Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan’s nomination for Pentagon chief is on hold while an ethics investigation plays out.

— It’s defense hearings galore on Capitol Hill this week.

HAPPY MONDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we’re always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at, and follow on Twitter @dave_brown24, @morningdefense and @politicopro.

MOP-UP WORK BEGINS: “U.S.-backed Syrian fighters cleared explosives in the last area retaken from the Islamic State group on Sunday, a day after declaring military victory over the extremists and the end of their self-styled caliphate,”The Associated Press reports.

“A spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who goes by the nom de guerre Mervan The Brave, said Baghouz village where the militants made their final stand is ‘full of all kinds of explosives.’ He said SDF forces were clearing the area and have detonated land mines and suicide belts left behind by the militants.”

The report came a day after the SDF, White House and Pentagon all acknowledged what President Donald Trump declared on Friday, that SDF fighters had ousted the group from its final stronghold in Syria.

On Saturday, the White House released a statement from Trump warning that the fight isn’t over yet.

“We will remain vigilant against ISIS by aligning global counterterrorism efforts to fight ISIS until it is finally defeated wherever it operates. The United States will defend American interests whenever and wherever necessary. We will continue to work with our partners and allies to totally crush Radical Islamic Terrorists.”

And then he threw in this: “While on occasion these cowards will resurface, they have lost all prestige and power. They are losers and will always be losers.”

Some perspective: Army Lt. Gen. Paul LaCamera, coalition commander, said “the end of the so-called physical caliphate is a historic military accomplishment,” AP reports.

But he warned that ISIS fighters “are preserving their force and are waiting for the right time to re-emerge.”

NOMINATION ON PAUSE: “Patrick Shanahan’s expected promotion to permanently head the Defense Department has stalled amid an ethics investigation and a series of unimpressive public performances, according to four people with knowledge of internal White House discussions,” writes Daniel Lippman, Gabby Orr and your Morning D anchor.

Shanahan, who has served as the Pentagon’s acting chief since Jim Mattis resigned in December, has also been hampered by the deadly crashes of two airliners manufactured by his former employer, Boeing — the company that’s also at the heart of his ethics problems.”

“The IG investigation has slowed the process down and there are quite a few of us who want to see the report before moving forward, including President Trump,” a senior White House official said. “He’s paying close attention, as he has always done with those he’s considering for top positions.”

“Another challenge for Shanahan comes Tuesday, when he appears before the House Armed Services Committee, whose chairman, Washington state Democrat Adam Smith, is a critic of Trump‘s policies. Shanahan will almost certainly face harsher questioning than he did before the Senate, especially since the Pentagon released its list of construction projects that could be deferred to pay for the wall.”

“Next week is going to go way worse,” said a Senate Republican source. “If Shanahan didn’t do well in a Republican hearing, he’s definitely not going to do well in a Democratic-dominated Adam Smith hearing.”

THIS WEEK: Get set for a flurry of hearings as Pentagon officials head to Capitol Hill Tuesday through Thursday.

— 9:30 a.m.: Army leaders before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
— 10 a.m.: DoD leaders before the House Armed Services Committee.
— 1 p.m.: Coast Guard budget before the House Appropriations’ homeland security subcommittee.
— 2 p.m.: Navy leaders before the HASC seapower subcommittee.
— 2 p.m.: Military installations and base closing overview before the House Appropriations’ defense subcommittee.

— 10 a.m.: Navy, Marine leaders before SASC seapower subcommittee.
— 10 a.m.: Army leaders before Senate Appropriations’s defense subcommittee.
— 10 a.m.: Pacific commanders before HASC.
— 10 a.m.: Pentagon budget before the House Budget Committee.
— 2:30 p.m.: Military space leaders before SASC strategic forces subcommittee.

— 9:30 a.m.: Nuclear weapons officials before SASC.
— 10 a.m.: Nuclear weapons officials before HASC strategic forces subcommittee.
— 10 a.m.: Pentagon leaders talk science and tech before HASC intel and emerging threats subcommittee.

TRANSGENDER BAN TARGETED: The House is slated to vote Thursday on a resolution rejecting Trump‘s move to bar transgender individuals from serving in the military.

The resolution’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), said Trump’s proposed ban on transgender troops “will inject intolerance into our military, demean their sacrifice and cast doubt on our commitment to that promise.”

“This resolution says to the thousands of trans servicemembers keeping us safe and every other American that their government not only sees them, hears them, and fights with them, but that they count in this country,” Kennedy said in a statement.

NETANYAHU VISIT CUT SHORT: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Trump late this morning, but plans to fly home immediately after rather than continue with his four-day visit, Reuters reports, after a rocket launched from Gaza struck a home in Tel Aviv and wounded seven people.

MISSILE TEST: “The Pentagon is about to attempt what’s likely to be the most challenging test yet of the U.S. military’s ability to shoot down an incoming missile from an adversary such as North Korea or Iran, according to three people familiar with the plans,” per Bloomberg.

MORE ON F-15X: “The decision to buy new Boeing F-15s reflects the Pentagon’s desire to keep two American companies making fighter jets into the next decade — and not the acting defense secretary’s ties to the company, a senior defense official said Friday,” Defense One writes.

BIG BOEING CONTRACT: “Boeing Co. has been awarded a $4.1 billion U.S. defense contract related to the expansion and improvement of the ground-based midcourse missile defense system, the Pentagon said on Friday,” per Reuters.

MILCON CUTS: The American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Berger is out with a new interactive map with the projects most likely to be deferred to pay for Trump’s border wall.

SOLDIERS ID’D: “Two Americans, a special operations soldier and an explosive ordnance disposal specialist on his first overseas deployment, were killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan on Friday amid volatile U.S.-Taliban peace talks and an alienated Afghan government,” Newsweek reports.

NAVY ACCESS: “The U.S. signed an agreement with Oman that gives its navy access to two Arabian Sea ports, allowing American warships and aircraft carriers greater control over a strategic international waterway threatened by nearby Iran,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

SANCTIONS CONFUSION: “President Trump sparked confusion across Washington on Friday by calling off an upcoming round of large-scale economic sanctions against North Korea in a dashed-off tweet,” The Washington Post writes.

Trump was referring to a future round of previously unknown sanctions scheduled for the coming days, said administration officials familiar with the matter. The officials declined to specify what those sanctions would entail.”

Never gonna give them up:Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio said Sunday he did not believe President Donald Trump would ever convince North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to relinquish his nuclear weapons,” per CNN.

MAJOR DONATIONS FROM U.N. PICK: “If Ambassador Kelly Craft ends up before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the ritual grilling of presidential nominees, she’ll be looking back at some of her favorite Republican senators,” writes POLITICO’s Lauren Gardner.

— U.S. vessels sail through Taiwan Strait, defying China: Wall Street Journal

— China protests possible Trump move to sell F-16s to Taiwan: Bloomberg

— Russian air force planes land in Venezuela carrying troops: report: Reuters

— U.S. air strikes kill a dozen Afghans, battle intensifies in Taliban strongholds: Reuters

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