OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Military advisers headed to Iraq

THE TOPLINE: President Obama on Thursday announced he is sending 300 military advisers to Iraq to boost government security forces against a formidable Sunni insurgency.

The U.S. will also establish joint operations centers to share intelligence, the president said in comments delivered from the White House. He stressed that “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists.”

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Obama said the al-Qaeda inspired group, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has captured key cities and is threatening Baghdad, “poses a threat to the Iraqi people, to the region and to U.S. interests.”

The president is also dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to Europe and the Middle East to coordinate an international response to the deteriorating security situation.

Reaction on Capitol Hill fell along partisan lines.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the administration’s plan “underestimates the seriousness of the threat.”

He said the U.S. must launch drone strikes to halt the extremist group’s progress.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) endorsed the president’s overall approach, but urged caution before green-lighting aerial attacks.

“Extreme caution is the word of the day,” he told reporters following a classified briefing.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a possible presidential candidate in 2016, urged the White House not to team up with Iran in a bid to quell the violence.

“I am deeply concerned, as all of us should be, that our people on the ground will become pawns in a sectarian conflict that we cannot control,” he said in a Senate floor speech.

 

BERGDAHL BLAME GAME. GOP senators are blaming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for Congress’s inability to prevent President Obama from swapping five Taliban commanders for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. 

In a letter led by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), eight Republican senators rebuked Reid for not allowing a vote on an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that would have explicitly barred Obama from transferring prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay detention center.

“Because of your actions, members were not able to get a straightforward, focused vote on barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees,” the senators wrote. “The end result was that the bill only contained a reporting provision (which the president broke) and not a strict prohibition on transfer of detainees as was previous law.”

The administration is already supposed to give lawmakers a 30-day notice before the transfers or releases of detainees, but it failed to do so in the "Taliban Five" case.

On Thursday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) introduced a measure that would prohibit the transfer of “dangerous” Guantanamo Bay detainees as an amendment to a spending bill being considered in the Senate.

“This amendment is focused on making sure that the terrorists held at Guantanamo ... are not put in a position where they can get back in the fight,” Ayotte said on the Senate floor Thursday. “It’s just a matter of common sense.”

Her amendment would prevent the administration from transferring or releasing detainees deemed too “dangerous.” She said it would also end detainee transfers to countries who haven’t “honored their commitment” in the past.

 

RUSSIA REDUX? While the U.S. national security establishment is focused on the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Russian troops have begun massing at the Ukrainian border again, NATO warned Thursday. 

"I can confirm that we now see a new Russian military buildup — at least a few thousand more Russian troops deployed to the Ukrainian border, and we see troop maneuvers in the neighborhood of Ukraine," said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a London speech. 

As many as 40,000 Russian troops had been deployed on the border after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March, leading to a tense standoff. Last month, though, U.S. officials reported Russian troops had begun returning home. 

"If they're deployed to seal the border and stop the flow of weapons and fighters that would be a positive step. But that's not what we're seeing," Rasmussen said. 

"I consider this a very regrettable step backwards and it seems that Russia keeps the option to intervene further," he added. 

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

-Obama official won’t rule out airstrikes in Syria

-VA clinic wait-time estimates keep rising

-Senators fear plan will muzzle whistleblowers

-GOP senators: Obama’s foreign policies ‘weakened’ US

-Rep. McCaul: Benghazi suspect can be interrogated at sea for a month

 

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