OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Iranian fighter tangles with US drone

Last November, Iranian fighter jets opened fire on an American surveillance drone during an intelligence-gathering operation near the country. The U.S. aircraft did return to base unharmed, DOD said at the time.

The closest the Iranian Phantom got to the Air Force drone and its escort team during Tuesday's incident was 16 miles, Little noted on Thursday. At no time during the incident did the U.S. aircraft cross into Iranian airspace, with the entire incident taking place over international waters, he added.

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Iran's nuclear ambitions have only raised the stakes in the increasingly tense situation in the Persian Gulf.

On Thursday, President Obama sought to defuse those tensions ahead of his upcoming trip to Israel, which has suggested military action against Iran's nuclear facilities.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV that aired Thursday, Obama reiterated that a nuclear Iran is a “red line” for the administration, and said all options were on the table to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“Right now, we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close,” Obama said, according to The Associated Press.

Tehran has claimed its nuclear enrichment work was driven by strictly peaceful purposes, while the U.S., Israel and others argue Iran's ongoing nuclear work is putting the country on the path to acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The Obama administration is pursuing a strategy of severe economic and political sanctions to disrupt Iran's nuclear program. However, the White House has been steadfast in its claims that all options, including military action, remain on the table.

Lawmakers just say ‘no’ to BRAC: Think lawmakers are going to be more open to new rounds of base closures in 2014 after rejecting the Pentagon’s requests last year? Not by the sound of Thursday’s House Armed Services hearing.

House lawmakers made clear at the Readiness subcommittee hearing they are still “adamantly opposed” to restarting the Base Closures and Realignment Commission (BRAC), in what amounted to a pre-emptive strike against a potential request in the 2014 budget.

The Pentagon hasn’t said yet whether it will include a BRAC request in its 2014 budget proposal, which will be released on April 8.

But if BRAC is included, it will likely have as much hope as the 2013 request for two new BRAC rounds that Congress rejected last year, lawmakers said Thursday.

“I cannot imagine in my mind any basis on which Congress would pursue a BRAC,” Readiness subcommittee Chairman Rob Wittman (R-Va.) told The Hill after the hearing.

DOD officials made the arguments at the hearing that the military has excess infrastructure that needs to be cut, and that the savings generated would help deal with the Pentagon’s budget problems.

But that did little to sway House members, who one by one said why they didn’t want another BRAC.

Dunford goes big in Afghanistan: The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is pushing for a 13,000-man force to remain in the country after the White House's deadline to have all American combat troops stateside by 2014.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham voiced their support to deploy 13,600 American forces in Afghanistan, backed by a 6,000 to 7,000-man NATO force.

Dunford and Cunningham briefed the plan to House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and panel member Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who visited Afghanistan this week, according to committee aides.

The postwar plan backed by Dunford and Cunningham falls in line with recommendations made by former Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis, who outlined that 13,600 U.S. force to lawmakers on March 5.

Gen. John Allen, former head of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, suggested as little as 6,000 U.S. soldiers or as many as 20,000 could remain in the country after 2014.

The White House has reportedly championed a postwar U.S. force of between 8,000 and 10,000 troops. Administration officials have also floated the notion of leaving no American soldiers behind after the withdrawal deadline.

American ground commanders are already planning for a "gentle" drawdown of U.S. forces in the country, in preparation for the final 2014 withdrawal.

"Commensurate with our troop strength, there will be a gentle reduction" in American air support and artillery units in southern Afghanistan, as well as teams that uncover and clear improvised explosive devices, to allow Afghan forces to pick up those missions, Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

Abrams, who heads Regional Command-South, noted those units will not completely disappear from the battlefield, "but it'll be an overall reduction of our force over time."

Armed Servikces leaders question sexual assault reversal: House Armed Services leaders were the latest to ask Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to address questions about an overturned sexual assault verdict at a case in Aviano Air Base in Italy.

McKeon and ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) headlined a letter with 18 committee members asking Hagel to provide answers on both the case and the underlying authority a commander has to single-handedly toss out verdicts.

The issue is poised to be a major policy discussion in this year’s Defense authorization bill, with calls on both the House and Senate sides for changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

It was a key topic at Wednesday’s Senate Armed Services hearing on sexual assault, where the top DOD civilian lawyer said he was going to take a look at the policy with an open mind.

The Aviano case has fueled the latest calls for reforming the way the military handles sexual assault.

“That decision has raised significant concerns among Members of Congress regarding not only the appropriateness of the decision, but also the rationale for the underlying statutory authority upon which the decision was based. We share those concerns,” McKeon and Smith wrote to Hagel.


In Case You Missed It:

— Obama: Iran still year away from nuke

— Libya detains Benghazi attack suspect

— CR amendments target military biofuels

— Senators seek to reverse military tuition cuts

— GOP may subpoena Benghazi survivors


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