Senate Democrats Demand Answers From Sec. Esper And General Milley On Scale Of U.S. Troop Deployment To Middle East Following Recent Airstrike

January 8, 2020

In New Letter To Sec. Of Defense Esper And Army General Milley, Senate Dems. Request Regular Congressional Briefings And Documents Detailing Deployment Of U.S. Troops To Middle East Following Recent Airstrike, And Make Clear That Deliberate Targeting Of Iranian Cultural Sites Is Unlawful

Senators’ Call For Greater Transparency Comes On Heels Of Reported Deployment Of 4,000+ Troops From 82nd Airborne Division And Unknown Number From 75th Ranger Regiment

Senate Dems. To Esper And Milley: Underscore To U.S. Troops And The American People That Deliberate Targeting Of Iranian Cultural Sites Would Be Unlawful 

Washington, D.C.— Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Democratic Whip and Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and U.S. Army General Mark Milley, requesting that Congress be provided with regular briefings and documents detailing the number of troops the administration has deployed and plans to deploy in support of contingency plans with respect to Iran. The Senators’ letter comes amid the reported deployment of at least 4,500 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force and an unknown number of soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment.

The Senators emphasize that while they recognize the need for operational security, it is paramount that the administration be transparent with the American people about how many troops this Administration plans to deploy and has deployed. The Senators request regular briefings and documents detailing the military units and members of the Armed Forces supporting these contingency plans, with an initial response no later than January 10th.  

In light of President Trump’s recent comments that he may pursue retribution against Iran by ordering the military to target Iranian cultural sites, Senators Schumer, Durbin, and Reed also called on Secretary Esper and General Milley to underscore throughout the entire U.S. military chain of command that international law prohibits the deliberate targeting of cultural sites and such orders should not be followed.

Senate Democrats’ Letter to Secretary Esper and General Milley can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Esper and General Milley:

We write to express our deep concern over the lack of information from the Department of Defense as it concerns the potential threat from Iran and what the Department is doing in response. We also write to condemn the President’s comments threatening to target Iranian cultural sites. As the Department’s leaders, we urge you to correct the few, incomplete, and evasive updates that the Department has provided, as well as make clear to the chain of command that they may only execute lawful orders.

Over the last few days, the Department of Defense has released information and the media has reported on the new deployment of at least 4,500 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force and an unknown number of soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment.  The administration has also provided a classified War Powers notification to Congress which is generic, vague, and entirely inconsistent in its level of detail when compared with prior notifications by this and earlier administrations. While recognizing the need for operations security, we similarly believe there is a requirement to be transparent with the American people about how many troops this Administration plans to deploy in support of contingency plans. 

As such, we ask that you provide Congress with regular briefings and documents detailing the military units and members of the Armed Forces that:

  • Have been deployed or are currently in the process of deploying to support contingency plans with respect to Iran;
  • Are being notified of a possible deployment to support contingency plans related to Iran;
  • Are having their tour in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility extended;
  • Are having their tours extended at supporting functional combatant commands; and
  • Are DoD civilian personnel and contractors that are being deployed to support the aforementioned service members.

Please provide an initial response no later than January 10th, and please continue to update this request for information on an ongoing basis as new decisions are made.

We also note with grave concern the President’s repeated comments that he may pursue retribution against Iran by ordering the military to target Iranian cultural sites. When members of the press noted that as a general matter, international law prohibits the deliberate targeting of cultural sites, the President responded, “And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.” So far, no Department official has clarified the legality of strikes on cultural sites. As you know, directing such an attack would constitute an unlawful order, and any personnel executing the order could be prosecuted for war crimes. As a result, we urge you to underscore to the American people and the chain of command that international law prohibits the deliberate targeting of cultural sites, and that such an order would be unlawful and should not be followed.

As the Department’s leaders, you have pledged under oath to be clear and accurate in your updates to Congress, as well as lawful in your conduct. Nothing could be more important at this moment. Thank you for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to your prompt response.

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