Votel to brief on Kunduz hospital strike
With Louis Nelson
HAPPENING TODAY — VOTEL TO BRIEF ON KUNDUZ HOSPITAL STRIKE: Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel is set to brief reporters at 11 a.m. on the military investigation into the U.S. airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Sixteen service members have been disciplined for the October strike that killed 42 people, but none will face criminal charges, reports W.J. Hennigan of the Los Angeles Times.
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“One officer was suspended from command and ordered out of Afghanistan,” Hennigan writes. “The others were given lesser punishments: Six were sent to counseling, seven were issued letters of reprimand, and two were ordered to retraining courses.” Votel isn’t expected to release the names of the 16 troops. More here.
MEANWHILE, JOE BIDEN HAS LEFT IRAQ: The vice president was in Baghdad Thursday for an unannounced visit, meeting for nearly 90 minutes with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The visit comes amid political turmoil there that threatens to undermine the U.S.-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State, as Defense Secretary Ash Carter warned yesterday.
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carter said he was “increasingly concerned about political, economic and diplomatic challenges in both Iraq and Syria affecting the pace of the military campaign.” In Iraq, he said, “political ambitions have created discord, and, in some instances, ethno-sectarian competition has increased — creating an added burden and distraction for Prime Minister Abadi’s government before the task of defeating ISIL is complete.” Carter’s testimony is here.
During the hearing, Carter sparred with SASC Chairman John McCain over the right strategy for Syria, with the Arizona Republican repeating his call for a ground force made up mainly of troops from Arab allies to take on ISIL. Carter responded that such a force would be ideal, but that he had no indication from Arab countries that they’d be willing to commit to it. The Pentagon chief also accused Congress of using its power of the purse to micromanage the U.S. war plan in Syria in ways that risk “inhibiting results.” Our hearing recap is here.
HAPPY FRIDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we’re filling in for Jeremy Herb, while he shows Vegas how to play pool. (Here’s the photographic evidence.) Send tips and pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, and follow us on Twitter @abwrig and @jeremyherb.
TOP STORY — GOP DEFENSE HAWKS PUSH FOR ELECTION-YEAR SPENDING SPREE: Following the House Armed Services Committee’s 16-hour markup Wednesday of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, the panel was taking heat from multiple fronts for its plan to siphon money from military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay for more weapons purchases, as we report for POLITICO:
“The GOP hawks, led by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas, are using the annual National Defense Authorization Act to press for $18 billion beyond what the Obama administration had requested for the military, aiming to increase the size of the armed forces and buy more fighter jets, warships and other equipment. It’s a blueprint for ‘rebuilding the military’ in a year when those words have become a buzz phrase for Republican presidential contenders and congressional candidates alike.
“But it also chops funds that the Pentagon had proposed to spend in hotspots like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and to beef up defenses in Europe. The House Republicans hope that the next president will be forced to make up that money by asking Congress for extra funding to shore up a war-spending account known as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund.”
— Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, on the HASC approach: “You’re taking money out of the warfighter’s pocket oversees and putting it into basically the base budget. … You’re shorting the warfighter. The way to do this is not take it out of [war spending] — just go ahead and add $18 billion to the topline.”
U.S., ISRAEL AT ODDS OVER AID DEAL, via Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times: “President Obama has proposed granting Israel the largest package of military aid ever provided by the United States to another nation, but he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remain deeply at odds over a figure for the assistance despite months of negotiations.
“American officials have balked as their Israeli counterparts insisted on more generous terms for a new 10-year military aid package that could top $40 billion. The divide, which could have broad national security implications for both the United States and Israel, is exacerbated by the pent-up animosity between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu, which has been stoked by their radically divergent views of the nuclear deal with Iran.”
MAKING MOVES — WALDHAUSER TAPPED TO HEAD AFRICOM: The president has nominated Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser to lead the U.S. Africa Command. His nomination was expected. If confirmed by the Senate, Waldhauser would succeed Army Gen. David Rodriguez, who’s been in the post three years.
Now the Joint Staff’s director for joint force development, Waldhauser has led Marines in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. His nomination comes as AFRICOM is grappling with a number of challenges, including an Islamic State presence in Libya and other terrorist threats across the continent.
INDUSTRY INTEL — TRADE GROUP ASKS PENTAGON TO ALTER $17.5B CONTRACT PROCESS, via POLITICO’s Ellen Mitchell: A pair of trade associations has sent the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, a letter objecting to what they deem a “flawed” selection process for an upcoming $17.5 billion information technology contract. The IT Alliance for Public Sector and the Professional Services Council argue against language in the final solicitation for the ENCORE III program, calling the Pentagon’s plan to award it according to the Lowest Price Technically Acceptable bids “the incorrect source selection process.”
Encore III is a five-year contract for IT goods and services in 19 areas. The Defense Information Systems Agency will award contracts to multiple companies, which can then compete for task orders as they are released. The associations’ full letter is here.
How the man in charge of Medicare plans to win back doctors’ hearts and minds. In an exclusive interview for POLITICO’s new ‘Pulse Check‘ podcast, CMS acting head Andy Slavitt dishes on the Obama administration’s dramatic changes to physician payment and talks about how rising drug prices are health care’s latest major challenge — and an opportunity. To listen to the full interview and ensure you don’t miss upcoming ‘Pulse Check’ episodes, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. http://apple.co/1YTVD60
— With the Iraqi government struggling to function amid infighting among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, some argue that the country would do better split into three nations: NYT
— North Korea fails in its attempts to launch two intermediate-range ballistic missiles: NYT
—The Islamic State takes responsibility for attacks against the Turkish military, including strikes against artillery pieces and a tank: The Washington Post
— Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is urging unity among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations amid an uptick in Chinese activity in the South China Sea: Reuters
— U.S. Special Operations forces have killed 40 Islamic State operatives responsible for instigating, plotting or funding attacks, including those in Paris and Brussels: The Daily Beast
— India’s effort to build a homegrown defense industry hits a roadblock: Defense News
— NATO leaders warn Sweden and Finland that their paths to membership in the alliance may not automatic: Defense News
— Outgoing U.S. European Command chief Gen. Philip Breedlove says Russia’s resurgence means EUCOM needs to return to war planning: Stars and Stripes
— The Senate Armed Services chairman criticizes Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) for blocking the confirmation of Eric Fanning to be Secretary of the Army: Military Times
— The military files new charges against a man at the center of a Washington Post investigation into alleged sexual misconduct at the U.S. Naval Academy: Washington Post