OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: McCain wants military muscle in Nigeria search

The Topline: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) called on the White House to deploy military assets, including special forces, to help locate nearly 300 young Nigerian girls kidnapped by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

“I would use every tool that we have to rescue these young girls,” McCain told reporters on Wednesday. “That means it would be done surgically, it could be done in a way that is very efficient.”

McCain also said those operations could be carried out without the consent of the Nigerian government, which critics say botched initial efforts to rescue the missing schoolgirls.

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“We are worried about the opinion of [Nigerian President] Goodluck Jonathan?” McCain asked.

The senator called the kidnappings a “crime against humanity” and said the sole focus should be on rescuing the young girls from “horrific” conditions.

Asked about McCain’s comments, White House press secretary Jay Carney cautioned observers to “not get ahead of ourselves.”

He said the U.S. had deployed unarmed drones in the search but that U.S. military personnel in Nigeria were only acting in an advisory role. Carney added that the administration at this time was “not actively considering the deployment of U.S. forces.”

The White House also defended Nigeria’s control of the search operation.

"Nigeria is a sovereign nation. The girls were abducted in Nigeria. They are Nigerian and it's entirely appropriate that Nigeria would lead the effort to find them," said Carney.

Warthog saved? The Senate Armed Services Committee will find some way to preserve the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft fleet when the panel convenes next week to draft its annual defense policy bill, vowed Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Ayotte said that committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) “is committed to preserving the A-10 during this year’s defense authorization,” during a press conference championing the aircraft, commonly referred to as the “Warthog.”

On Tuesday, Levin criticized a provision in the House version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that would keep the fleet airborne for at least another year by allocating $635 million from the Overseas Contingency Operations budget.

Ayotte said Levin has “good ideas” on how to fund the fleet. And she said she would offer an amendment to preserve the fleet if language was not included in the bill.

“If [Levin] refuses Sen. Ayotte’s request, he will have to hire someone to start his car in the morning,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joked.

Manning may move. The Defense Department may transfer convicted WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning out of a military prison so that she can receive treatment for her gender disorder.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has given the Army permission to hammer out a transfer plan for Manning with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, two Pentagon officials told the Associated Press.

"No decision to transfer Pvt. Manning to a civilian detention facility has been made, and any such decision will, of course, properly balance the soldier's medical needs with our obligation to ensure Pvt. Manning remains behind bars," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

Manning has served three years of a 35-year sentence at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., after being found guilty of 20 offenses, including wrongfully possessing and transmitting national defense information.

She has been diagnosed several times with gender dysphoria, or the sense of being a woman in a man’s body. Transgender people are banned from serving in the military and the Pentagon doesn’t provide hormone therapy.

Afghan visit. A bipartisan group of female House members wrapped up a trip to Afghanistan where they met with female soldiers.

The group consisted of Reps. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), Martha Roby (R-Ala.), Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.).

The delegation spent Mother’s Day visiting with “military moms,” female soldiers who have children back home, as well as “female Members of Parliament, those involved in recruiting women into the Afghan military and police, Afghan women journalists, and leaders of organizations focused on advancing the role of women in civil society,” Tsongas said in a statement.

“The situation in Afghanistan remains fragile and highly complicated, yet there is a growing sense of confidence, deeply rooted in the recently held and very positive national elections,” she added. “This transition year will be critical to the country’s capacity to secure its future.”

 

On tap Thursday: 

Two congressional hearings are set to dominate Capitol Hill on Thursday.

At 10:00 a.m. embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will appear before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The appearance was originally scheduled to serve as a general update on the department’s health system but likely will focus on recent reports that some VA facilities had secret wait lists to hide how long veterans were waiting to receive treatment. 

At the same time, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs will convene a hearing titled “#BringBackOurGirls: Addressing the Threat of Boko Haram.” The hearing will include witnesses from the Defense and State Departments as well as the Agency for International Development and address the mass kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

 

In case you missed it:

-US using drones to find kidnapped Nigerian girls

-Sen. Tester defends Shinseki’s record at VA

-Rice: ‘Hard to imagine’ new Benghazi information coming out

-White House: Ukraine not close to civil war, election ‘on track’

-Hillary Clinton skeptical Iran will deliver on nukes

 

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