OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senate report reignites torture debate

One of the key issues for those on both sides of the torture debate is whether the enhanced interrogation provided information that led to the killing of 9/11 terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Some Republicans and intelligence officials argue that the president wouldn’t have been able to order the bin Laden killing without the intelligence the techniques produced.

But Feinstein said earlier this year that suggestions “the operation was carried out based on information gained through the harsh treatment of CIA detainees” was inaccurate.

Afghan SITREP: With less than two years to go until all U.S. combat troops are out of Afghanistan, DOD's latest war report to Congress paints a challenging outlook for the country heading into the White House's 2014 deadline. 

Insurgent attacks by Taliban forces have increased countrywide despite the Obama administration's decision to surge more than 30,000 troops into country three years ago, according to the DOD report. In 2009, the number of Taliban attacks peaked at just over 2,500 that year. Three years later, attacks against U.S. and coalition troops topped out at nearly 3,500 in June, the report states. 

While Afghan National Security Forces are taking on a large number of combat operations on their own, only a "small percentage" of Afghan units are able to operate completely independent of U.S. support, a DOD official said Monday. U.S. efforts to get Taliban fighters to lay down their arms and ally themselves to the Afghan government has also dropped off significantly, with three of the four regional commands in Afghanistan posting drops in "reintegrated" Taliban fighters, according to the report. 

However, DOD officials explained that the analysis contained in the report, known as the Section 1230 report after the legislative language in the 2008 defense bill that mandated it, did not mean Washington's strategy to hand off control to Kabul by 2014 was offtrack. 

On the increased violence, DOD officials said the attacks were evidence the Taliban and other insurgent groups are fighting back hard to regain territory lost during the 2009 surge. Moreover, U.S., Afghan and allied forces have been able to maintain security gains in the country's major cities, like Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad, and within many of Afghanistan's most densely populated areas, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

With Taliban reintegration, DOD officials claimed the report did not reflect the numbers of Taliban fighters who had gone through informal reintegration, where they agree to stop fighting but do not go through the formal reintegration process. 

Despite those explanations, lawmakers remained concerned that Afghanistan will slide down the slippery slope of sectarian violence now taking place in Iraq, where U.S. forces withdrew only a year ago. DOD officials admitted Monday's report did highlight the challenges facing Kabul and Washington in the run-up to 2014, but those challenges are "what we would expected right now," said DOD officials. 

House moves to conference Tuesday: The House on Tuesday evening will pass a motion to go to conference and instruct conferees on the defense authorization bill.

The motion will start the formal process on the authorization bill’s conference committee, which has been worked on at the staff level since before the election.

The Senate passed the Pentagon policy bill last week, and both the House and Senate Armed Services committees are looking to quickly wrap up the conference to get the final bill passed.

Aides say that the committee won’t likely approve the final report until early next week.

Neither side sees any issues halting the conference committee, but the defense bill has a number of contentious issues, including the handling of terror detainees, the military’s use of biofuels and social issues within the military.

Iraq backtrack: On Monday, the Pentagon denied reports that thousands of U.S. troops were heading back into Iraq as part of the Pentagon's efforts to keep tabs on Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. 

State-run Iranian news outlet Press TV reported that 3,000 U.S. troops had arrived in Iraq, with 17,000 more headed to the Gulf nation, as DOD weighs its options on how to respond should Syrian President Bashar Assad unleash his chemical weapons stockpiles against rebel forces fighting to overthrow the longtime leader. 

But DOD spokesman Lt. Col. Wesley Miller told The Hill on Monday he was unaware of any information indicating that additional American forces have been sent to Iraq for any reason.

"Our [troop] numbers have been fairly stable at about 200 military personnel since December 2011," Miller said, noting those 200 troops have been assigned to Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I) since 2011.

All U.S. combat forces were withdrawn from Iraq last December. Aside from the handful of American forces at OSC-I, Washington and Baghdad could not reach an agreement on a postwar American force for the country.

That decision has resulted in a tenuous security situation in Iraq, punctuated by rampant sectarian violence that threatens to tear the nation apart, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told the Hill last Tuesday. 

Sen. Inouye hospitalized: Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) is in the hospital as his doctors are monitoring his oxygen intake, the senator said in a statement Monday.

“For the most part, I am OK,” said Inouye, who is also chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee.

“However, I am currently working with my doctors to regulate my oxygen intake,” he said. “Much to my frustration, while undergoing this process, I have to remain in the hospital for my own safety and to allow the necessary observation. I will be back on the Hill as soon as my doctors allow it. Thank you all for the kind words and continued support.”

Ayotte to speak at two defense events: Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteAudit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years No, the US did not spend million on a gas station in Afghanistan MORE (R-N.H.) is staying busy on the D.C. speaking circuit.

Ayotte is speaking on the future of defense spending Tuesday hosted by Concerned Veterans for American and the Weekly Standard. Wednesday she’ll appear at the American Enterprise Institute to talk about national security, Benghazi and the "fiscal cliff."

Ayotte has seen her profile rise in the past year as a surrogate for Mitt Romney and a key Republican voice on defense issues, where she’s frequently joined Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump considering pardon for boxing legend after call from Sylvester Stallone GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos MORE (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP sold Americans a bill of goods with tax reform law Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller Rand Paul under pressure as Pompeo hunts for votes MORE (R-S.C.) in a new trio.

Part of her seriousness on defense issues can be attributed to her willingness to take think tank speaking gigs — this week is definitely not the first time she’s booked back-to-back events.

— Jordy Yager contributed.


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