By Carlo Muñoz and Jeremy Herb - 12/17/12 11:57 PM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced his death on the Senate floor Monday evening. "I rise today with a heavy heart. My friend Dan Inouye just died," he said. "We'll all miss him and I wish I were capable of saying more, but that's all I can say." Inouye’s final word was “Aloha,” according to his office.
“It’s very sad. We knew he wasn’t feeling well, but still his death is a shock,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), informed by reporters about the senator’s passing, remained silent for several seconds. "Such an extraordinary man," Wyden said as they headed toward the Senate floor together.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he didn’t know that Inouye’s illness was that serious. “I said a little prayer in memory,” Graham told reporters Monday evening. “He was a class act in the Senate. When you disagreed, you couldn’t help but like him because he was never disagreeable. It’s the beginning of the end of an era that I think we’ll miss.”
Inouye served as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and Defense Appropriations subcommittee, and was president pro tempore of the Senate, putting him third in line for the presidency.
Tehran sails west: Iranian naval officials are setting their sights on the Atlantic, which if successful, would put Tehran's fleet much closer to the shorelines of the United States and its Western European allies.
Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari told the state-run news agency Press TV on Sunday that Iranian warships could be ordered to sail west, in an attempt to protect the country's interests in the region.
"We are ready to extend our presence in these areas and even in the Atlantic Ocean,” the high-ranking Iranian naval officer said.
While it remains unclear whether the Iranian navy has the means to push its fleet into the Atlantic, that potential Atlantic could raise temperatures among a number of NATO members in Western Europe.
Iranian advances in naval power include a significant expansion of the country's Soviet-era attack submarine fleet and the addition of long-range missiles to its formidable arsenal of small attack boats that regularly patrol the Straits of Hormuz and other contested waterways in the Gulf.
In response, members of the House Armed Services Committee in March set aside millions of dollars in the chamber's version of the fiscal 2013 defense spending bill for weapons specifically designed for a potential conflict with Iran. A House-Senate version of that legislation, including the weapons funding aimed at the Iranian threat, is expected to be delivered to the White House this week.
NDAA conference to finish Tuesday: All signs are pointing to the conference report for the Defense authorization bill wrapping up on Tuesday, according to industry and congressional sources.
The House-Senate conference committee appears to have hammered out most of their differences on Pentagon policy bill that authorizes more than $600 billion in defense spending.
Committee aides and lawmakers are staying tight-lipped on how the conference landed on contentious issues like indefinite detention, biofuels, cuts to the Air Guard and other weapons programs and several social issues. But those compromises should come to light Tuesday when the committee heads file the report.
Congressional aides say the timeline for the final bill is to get it to the House Rules Committee on Wednesday, and on to the House floor Thursday and the Senate floor Friday. The schedule could get pushed up slightly if necessary for time reasons, one aide said.
Taliban bombs US facility in Afghanistan: At least two Afghan workers were killed and dozens were injured in a brazen suicide bombing at a U.S. contractor facility near the Afghan capitol of Kabul on Monday.
The attack in the Afghan capital blew apart large sections of the compound’s exterior wall and collapsed a roof on a building inside, The Associated Press reported.
A suicide bomber drove a vehicle with explosives to the wall of the compound and detonated it, according to the AP, although Afghan police could not confirm that report.
A Taliban spokesman took responsibility for the attack, telling reporters a suicide car bomber targeted the company’s compound because it was working with the government.
In a separate attack on Monday, 10 girls in eastern Afghanistan were killed by the accidental triggering of an old landmine, U.S. officials said. The blast in Nangarhar Province occurred when the girls apparently walked onto a minefield from the 1990s.
"It was a British-made anti-tank mine," said Abigail Hartley, the manager of the U.N. mine program, told the AP. The mines were used when Afghan resistance fighters were battling Soviet forces.
U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Allen said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened” by the girls’ deaths. He noted that Afghanistan is one of the “most heavily mined countries on earth.”
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