OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Panetta ends combat ban for women

The Associated Press reported that the service chiefs would explain their plans for implementation to the Defense secretary in May, at which point it’s quite possible that former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) will be at the helm.

There are still plenty of unresolved issues surrounding the decision, such as whether women will have to meet the same physical standards as men and what happens with the Selective Service, for which only men are currently required to register.

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The Selective Service issue could be resolved first. The law that established the female ground combat ban in 1994 says that the Pentagon must provide in a report “a detailed analysis of legal implication of the proposed change with respect to the constitutionality of the application of the Military Selective Service Act to males only.”

The services are also able to request exemptions to the ban until 2016, so some of the 230,000-plus jobs currently closed to women might not all open.

Nonetheless, Democrats gave a near-universal thumbs-up to the move Wednesday,

Statements from lawmakers flooded in, from the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), to the two House freshmen who became the first female combat veterans to serve in Congress, Reps. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).

Inhofe calls leak of ban ‘unacceptable’: Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was not pleased Wednesday about the news the ban on women in combat would be lifted, as he blasted the Pentagon in a statement for the “unacceptable” leak before Congress was briefed. Inhofe also was skeptical about ending the ban, saying he did not believe it would be a “broad opening” of combat roles for women, citing a report that found “series practical barriers which must be resolved.”

The statement showed Inhofe flexing his muscle as the new top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Other Republicans were more supportive, including Inhofe’s predecessor, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

“I respect and support Secretary Panetta’s decision to lift the ban,” McCain said in a statement, though he added that the “rigorous physical standards” of special forces units had to be maintained.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said she was “pleased” by the news, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said he welcomed the review by the services.

Immunity a done deal?: The sticky issue of who U.S. troops in Afghanistan would answer to after the administration's 2014 deadline has been resolved — at least to one top Senate Democrat.

Fresh off a recent visit to the country, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said on Tuesday that a deal to grant American forces immunity from Afghan courts after 2014 was "largely resolved." 

Blumenthal, who just returned from a visit to Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and Israel, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and American commanders to discuss the issue of U.S. troop immunity and other matters concerning the administration's 2014 troop drawdown and the overall postwar strategy for Afghanistan.

If finalized, U.S. forces left behind in Afghanistan would not be subject to criminal prosecution by Afghan courts for counterterrorism or other combat operations conducted in the country after 2014. 

The issue of troop immunity had been a sore subject for Washington and Kabul, with the U.S. pressing for a deal while Afghans demanded any pact would not violate the country's sovereignty.

So, how did the details of an immunity plan fall into place after months of tenuous negotiations between the United States and Afghanistan? Despite his confidence, that was a question Blumenthal would not answer. 

When could a deal go into place? No response. 

How did the U.S. and Afghanistan deal with the issue of detainees and other matters that had stalled previous immunity talks? Silence. 

How many American troops would the deal cover after 2014? Crickets. 

"I found our conversation with [Afghan] President Karzai very encouraging, as well as our conversations with some of the commanders in the progress that is being made," he said during a press conference Tuesday. 

With less than two years to go until all American combat units come home from Afghanistan, we will have to wait and see what an eventual immunity deal ends up looking like, if one ends up getting done. 

Sanchez officially taking new subcommittee: Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) has made it official that she will become the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee’s biggest subcommittee, the Tactical Air and Land Forces panel.

Sanchez told The Hill Wednesday that she had accepted the new subcommittee assignment, although she would remain a member on her previous panel, Strategic Forces.

The Hill first reported two weeks ago that Sanchez would move into the new post, which she had the first opportunity to take based on seniority.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

— White House: Al Qaeda leadership is in fact 'decimated'

— DOD: Grassroots resistance to Taliban ‘growing’

— Gen. Allen NATO nomination to proceed

— Air Force chief: Lackland scandal ‘stunning’

— Group questions Hagel ethical record


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