OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: GOP sounds alarm on sequestration

The Topline: Thirty Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee are urging the leaders of the House-Senate budget conference to reach a deal that spares defense spending from sequestration.

The Armed Services Republicans sent a letter on Thursday to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), where they argued that defense spending should be set — at a minimum — at spending levels above sequestration.

“Through this season of fiscal conflict and uncertainty, one position has been consistent — the minimum level of funding that should be provided for National Defense in fiscal year 2014,” wrote the committee members, led by Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.).

Of course, all of the budgets reverse sequestration in 2014 — Republicans through other spending cuts, and Democrats through new revenues. The current budget impasse exists because each party disagrees with the other’s solution for replacing the sequester.

If sequestration remains on the books, the Pentagon’s 2014 proposed budget would be cut by $52 billion.

And while the 30 Armed Services Republicans are clamoring for the sequester to be reversed due to military cuts, some of their Tea Party colleagues in the House have openly cheered the automatic budget cuts to both discretionary and defense spending as the first real spending reductions they’ve won.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), one of the senior Republicans on the committee, noted the disconnect between the Armed Services panel and the rest of the House at a sequester hearing last month.

“Most of us on the committee — some of us will disagree on how we got to sequestration, we disagree on a way forward — but we're at least unified in the fact that we need to do away with sequestration,” Forbes said. 

Levin lobbies Karzai on postwar deal: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is pressing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to finalize a postwar pact with Washington or risk sacrificing the gains made by U.S. forces over the past decade. 

The Michigan Democrat met with Karzai earlier this week in Kabul as part of his recent trip to the country. During their conversation, Levin emphasized the political, economic and security gains made in the country since U.S. operations began in Afghanistan in 2001. 

"I believe that the continued assistance and engagement of the United States and other countries is warranted and will help preserve these achievements," Levin said in a statement issued Thursday. 

That said, "we will not able to provide such assistance unless an acceptable [postwar deal] is reached in the near future," Levin told Karzai, according to the statement. 

The Senate defense panel chief's visit to the country comes on the heels of a preliminary postwar deal reached between Karzai and Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this month. 

At the time, however, Karzai noted the issue of immunity for U.S. forces in country after the 2014 deadline remained unanswered. 

"We don’t have a common understanding on this, and such an issue is beyond Afghan government authority," Karzai told reporters during an Oct. 14 joint briefing with Kerry in Kabul. 

Lack of immunity for U.S. troops was a crucial factor in the failed attempt to set up a postwar security deal in Iraq, and it set the stage for the wave of sectarian violence against Iraqi forces and civilians in the country. 

Smith demands drone disclosures: The White House should acknowledge and justify the drone strikes it launches against terrorist targets in the Middle East, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday.

Ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said the Obama administration would be able to make a better case to the public — and rebut criticisms in the Muslim world — about the necessity of its drone program if it laid out why people were targeted.

“Unfortunately far too often, we don’t make it clear why we’re doing this,” Smith said at a discussion on drones and counterterrorism at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Thursday. “If an attack happens, I think there has to be at least a one-paragraph justification." 

For years, the U.S. declined to even acknowledge its drone program, which has operated primarily in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Before President Obama delivered a speech in May on counterterrorism, the administration did disclose it had killed four U.S. citizens in drone strikes, including Muslim cleric and al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki.

“I think the administration sometimes believes that they assemble all the different facts, they give a speech, and then it’s done,” Smith said. “It’s a more constant process of justifying and explaining your actions. A message has to be repeated.”

Smith said he supports the U.S. drone program and strikes like those against al-Awlaki, who was killed in a 2011 strike in Yemen. “I make no apologies for the fact that we targeted Anwar al-Awlaki. He was targeting us. That is the classic definition of self-defense,” Smith said.

Soldiers wounded in latest base shooting: At least two service members were shot near a Navy base in Millington, Tenn., early Thursday afternoon when a gunman opened fire.

The two service members were taken to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries, and the shooter was in custody, Millington Fire Chief Gary Graves said at a press conference.

Both victims had single gunshot wounds, reportedly to the leg and foot. The shooting occurred near Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Millington, Tenn., at the National Guard armory, which is on Navy property, Graves said.

The Millington base was put into lockdown, which was later lifted. The U.S. Navy confirmed in a tweet that a shooting had taken place.

The Navy tweeted that the alleged shooter has been taken into custody, and it’s not an “active-shooter situation.”  

The suspect is a National Guardsman, the Navy said in a statement. The Associated Press, citing an unidentified law enforcement official, reported that the shooter was a Navy recruiter who had been relieved of duty. Graves said the shooter was being held by the Millington police department.

 

In Case You Missed It: 

— Pirates capture two US sailors 

— Gitmo lawyers spar over prison cell searches 

— White House dances around spying claims 

— State Department condemns terror attack in Mali 

 

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