OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: The pre-election sequester finale

The dueling letters, obtained by The Hill, highlight the frustration that many defense-focused lawmakers have felt as the issue of defense cuts and sequestration has been overtaken by a larger debate on taxes and spending.

McKeon referenced this when he wrote that he had “taken your suggestion to heart about the need to examine all aspects of our budget to find a solution to this crisis.”

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“Unfortunately, while we all would like to resolve sequestration, many of the solutions available to Congress are outside the jurisdiction of this committee,” he said.

The Smith letter also harkens back to the last major hearing on sequestration the committee held, in which acting OMB Director Jeffrey Zients got into a near-shouting match with several Republicans after he insisted that the gridlock on sequestration was the fault of the GOP.

Smith issued a statement afterward expressing “displeasure with the tone” of the hearing. The DOD officials at Thursday’s hearing will likely not lead to the same clashes — at least, not between lawmakers and the witnesses anyway.

McKeon concerned over DOD-State communication: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said that he was concerned about the lack of communication and intelligence-sharing between the Pentagon and State Department in the wake of attacks on U.S. embassies and facilities in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere.

McKeon made the comments after the House Armed Services Committee was briefed Wednesday evening by officials with the Joint Staff on the attacks, in which U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed.

“We do not send military personnel until the State Department requests it, and I don’t know if these departments even talk,” McKeon told reporters. “That’s the thing that really has me concerned — how much communication there is, how much sharing of intel.”

McKeon said he’s waiting until the full House is briefed Thursday by top State, Intelligence and Defense officials on the attacks before he decides whether hearings are necessary in the Armed Services Committee.

Sound advice: As the debate over whether the White House should adjust its Afghan war plan or stick to its goal of pulling U.S. forces from the country in 2014, one top Senate Republican had some advice for the party's presidential hopeful.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney would be wise to move away from the 2014 deadline and focus on possibly extending the American mission in the country. Romney's focus in Afghanistan, according to Graham, should be "about what we leave behind" in the country, not just ending the war as soon as possible.

Doing that, according to the South Carolina Republican, would sacrifice "all the hard fought gains" made by coalition forces in over a decade of war. How would a possible Romney administration do that? Listen to the generals, Graham said. "And if [they] need to change the timetable in Afghanistan, that is what we will do," he added.

Attacks hitting home: For what seems like months now, reports of U.S. and NATO soldiers dying at the hands of Afghan soldiers have flooded news reports and TV broadcasts across the United States and the rest of the world. While the impact of those killings has been felt on the battlefield, those deaths have hit hardest on the home front.

"It does have an effect, an effect that stretches all the way back home," International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Deputy Chief of Staff of Operations Australian Army Brig. Gen. Roger Noble said of the attacks. Such attacks "erode trust" not only between Afghan and coalition forces, but the trust of Americans on the progress of the Afghan war — which, according to Noble, is precisely why the tactic has become a favorite of Taliban fighters.

"Here on the ground, we are going to keep doing what we do, but be more careful about it," Noble said regarding the impact of the attacks has been to American and NATO soldiers on the ground. When asked if the media reaction to ISAF's response to the attacks has blown out of proportion, Noble replied: "I think [we're] making too much of it." 

ISAF commander Gen. John Allen has suspended all Afghan training missions and limited joint ISAF-Afghan combat missions in response to the attacks. Those moves, while somewhat drastic, are examples of "prudent military action" taken in response to a change in enemy tactics. To date, 51 coalition soldiers have died at the hands of rogue recruits to the Afghan National Security Forces or Taliban infiltrators in the country's security forces.


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— McCain: US should consider quicker withdrawal

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— Panetta: Pacific shift not to ‘contain China

— Lawmakers want to suspend troop withdrawals

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