OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Republicans slam Obama on Iraq

The Topline: Republicans slammed the White House on Monday over the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq, calling on the administration to do more to help the Iraqis push back against the affiliate groups.

GOP lawmakers also put the blame for al Qaeda’s gains on President Obama, faulting his decision to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.

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Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement over the weekend that al Qaeda’s gains in Fallujah were “as tragic as they were predictable.”

“When President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America's enemies and would emerge as a threat to U.S. national security interests,” the senators said. “Sadly, that reality is now clearer than ever.

The White House defended its strategy in Iraq, daring Republican lawmakers to argue that U.S. troops should return to fight in the country.

“I don't think I've heard members of Congress suggest this, but if members were suggesting that there should be American troops fighting and dying in Fallujah today, they should say so. The president doesn't believe that," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday.

Republican lawmakers have not said that the U.S. should re-insert troops in Iraq — a debate bitterly fought in 2011 when Obama announced that all troops would leave after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would not grant U.S. troops immunity.

But the lawmakers argued that the U.S. could still be doing more to aid the Iraqis in their fight against the al Qaeda affiliate groups.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said he was “dismayed” by Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement that the al Qaeda threat was “Iraq’s battle to fight.”

“When our allies fight al Qaeda for us, and the United States sits on the sidelines, not only do our allies notice, but so do our adversaries,” McKeon said in a statement.

A McKeon aide said there were “a range of options short of boots on the ground that could be helpful to the Iraqis today and certainly would have been if we had been consistent with our support of Iraq over the last few years.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who is an Iraq veteran, said that the U.S. should provide limited air power.

“While we cannot reintroduce ground soldiers in Iraq after leaving, I do support robust intelligence operations and, in some cases, limited air power in assisting the Iraqi government,” Kinzinger said.

Carney said Monday that the Obama administration accelerate the deliveries of arms shipments to the Iraqi government, and would provide an additional shipment of Hellfire missiles as early as this spring.

The U.S. will also be providing the Iraqi government 10 surveillance drones in the upcoming weeks, and 48 additional unmanned aircraft later this week.

Longtime Armed Services staffer dies: John Chapla, a longtime House Armed Services aide and Army lieutenant colonel, died on Sunday after a long struggle with cancer. He was 66.

Chapla, who served in the Army in the 1960s, was an Armed Services aide for two decades. He became the lead staffer on military personnel issues, working with lawmakers and the Pentagon on everything from wounded warriors care to troop compensation and sexual assault prevention and prosecution.

“With over a 50-year career spanning both the Army and the House Armed Services Committee, John faithfully served the American people and was a champion for all who served,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement.

“He shaped two decades worth of defense authorization bills, from the post Cold War drawdown, to the war on terrorism, and the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. As lead professional staff member for the Military Personnel subcommittee, John dealt with challenging and complex political issues with his no-nonsense, just-the-facts approach.”

The committee says it is planning to host a celebration of Chapla’s life.

White House doesn’t set Afghan timeline: The White House is not setting a timeline for Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement, but warned Monday that the “clock is ticking.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that an agreement must be signed in “weeks and not months,” or else the U.S. would plan to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

Karzai has said he plans to wait until the spring presidential elections there before signing the agreement, and rebuffed U.S. demands he sign it before the end of 2013.

Afghanistan also plans to release 88 prisoners over U.S. objections, which also threatens to further erode U.S.-Afghan relations.

Odierno to speak on future of the Army: Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno will talk about the future of the Army at a National Press Club luncheon on Tuesday.

Odierno will likely talk about the recent budget deal, which gave the Pentagon some sequester relief, and its impact on the Army, as well as recent events in Iraq.

Odierno served as commanding general of U.S. and NATO forces in Iraq from September 2008 through September 2010.

 

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