By Jeremy Herb and Carlo Muñoz - 10/02/12 10:12 PM EDT
The GOP has criticized the administration for its shifting position on the attack, after officials first said it stemmed from protests of an anti-Islamic video posted online.
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has not been as vocal about the Libyan incident — he stumbled in his response the day after the attack — but it’s become the key part of a broader critique he’s made of President Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East, a policy area that appeared to tilt handily toward Obama in the presidential campaign until last month.
Romney had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Monday that called for a “new strategy toward the Middle East,” and his aides said he will give a “major foreign policy address” in the coming weeks.
Wednesday’s presidential debate is focused primarily on domestic issues, with the foreign policy debate coming later this month. But Libya could wind up getting some air Wednesday while it remains a hot topic, either in the form of a question from moderator Jim Lehrer or if Romney finds a way to bring it up.
Administration says it ‘absolutely’ did not pressure Lockheed: White House press secretary Jay Carney said the White House did not pressure Lockheed not to issue layoff notices related to sequestration. “Absolutely not,” Carney said in an Air Force One gaggle, when asked about “allegations” of political pressure from the White House. “I think the WARN Act action has been thoroughly explained and described, and individual companies like Lockheed make the decisions according to their own interests. So I would refer you to Lockheed.”
Republicans, of course, see things differently. The administration said Friday it would cover the severance costs associated with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act — which requires 60 days' notice for mass layoffs or plant closings — if companies lay off workers under sequestration, but only if the companies don’t send WARN notices related to the looming spending cuts, which could be avoided by Congress.
Republican lawmakers questioned the legality of that directive, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he’d try to block those payouts if they were to occur.
Carney was not asked Tuesday about the guidance differentiating between companies that send and don’t WARN Act notices now, which helped prompt Lockheed to say two days later it was not sending the layoff notices.
Double time: Despite the rise in insider attacks, persistent readiness questions about Afghan forces and the ongoing threat of Taliban double agents inside the country's military and police forces, DOD has been steadfast in its plan to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan by 2014. But NATO forces aren't sure if two more years in Afghanistan is two years too many.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen claims the alliance could speed up its withdrawal from the country, well ahead of the two-year deadline set by the White House. In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Rasmussen raised the idea of European troops coming home early: "If the security situation allows, I would not exclude the possibility that in certain areas you could accelerate the process."
But the NATO chief said the alliance would hold off on any decision over withdrawals until Gen. John Allen, head of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, provides his recommendations to the White House. Those recommendations could come as soon as this fall, DOD spokesman George Little said on Tuesday. That said, Little was adamant that "there is absolutely no daylight" between U.S. and NATO plans to stay the course in Afghanistan. Further, Little told reporters at the Pentagon Rasmussen's comments to The Guardian were taken out of context.
The alliance's forces in the country total just over 120,000 boots on the ground, along with the remaining 68,000-man American force left in Afghanistan after this summer's initial drawdown. The last of the 32,000 U.S. surge forces the White House sent into southern Afghanistan in 2009 arrived home earlier this month.
Footing the bill: It's been less than a year since the last U.S. units rolled out of Iraq, but the situation in the country continues to deteriorate into terrorist violence and sectarian bloodshed. That worsening situation prompted the Pentagon on Tuesday to pay for extended security and counterterrorism training in the county out of its own pocket.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld approved the $1.7 million for U.S-led training missions, which would extend those operations for another three months. That 90-day stipend, he added, will be a "temporary bridge" until DOD number crunchers submit their budget proposal for fiscal 2013 early next year, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Tuesday.
Little said the funding transfer was not a "zero-sum trade," noting that ongoing U.S. military operations or current Pentagon programs would not be negatively affected by the move. The Pentagon has also deployed a unit of U.S. Special Operations Forces into Iraq to assist security forces with intelligence and counterterrorism operations. The unit was sent at the request of the Iraqi government.
DOD's decision to extend Iraqi training operations comes as U.S. forces are starting to find themselves drawn back into the country, as militant terror groups continue to threaten the government's hold on power. On Monday, a chain of coordinated bombings shattered several Shiite neighborhoods and Iraqi security outposts across the country, leaving 26 dead.
Locked up: On Tuesday, the Department of Justice became the proud owners of a new maximum security prison, courtesy of the State of Illinois. The sale of the Thomson Correctional Center has renewed arguments on Capitol Hill over White House's desire to close Guantánamo Bay and bring terror detainees stateside.
Sen. Dick Durbin (R-Ill.) praised the sale, which cost the government $165 million under the terms of the deal reached with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Durbin said refurbishing the prison, which has been closed since April 2010, would create 1,100 new jobs in the state. But the buy also opens the door for foreign terror suspects to be brought stateside, according to two top House Republicans.
GOP Reps. Hal Rogers (Ky.), who heads the House Appropriations Committee, and House Appropriations Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee chief Frank Wolf (Va.) said the White House was clearly supporting a prisoner swap by going ahead with the transfer. Rogers and Wolf led the Republican effort in the House to shut down the Thomson facility sale earlier this year.
Thompson was one of the sites being considered to house suspected terrorists in the U.S. as part of the White House's plan to shutter the Guantánamo Bay facility. The White House had repeatedly said it planned to close the Guantánamo Bay prison within President Obama's first term in office, but has acknowledged it will not be able to keep that promise.
Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers just as much during June 12 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, "We will not move people from Guantanamo, regardless of the state of the law, to Thomson. That is my pledge as attorney general," Holder said at the time.
In Case You Missed It:
— Court extends block on detention
— GOP slams prison purchase
— NATO eyes quicker Afghan
— Defense revenues drop 1 percent
— State will cooperate on Libya
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