THE TOPLINE: U.S. military advisers began working to shore up Iraqi government forces against an advancing Sunni extremist group.
Approximately 40 of the 300 troops President Obama approved last week are already in the country and an additional 90 will arrive soon to establish a joint operations center with local forces in Baghdad, according to Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.
Another 50 troops will arrive in coming days, Kirby said.
He called the extremist group, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a “legitimate threat” to the capital city of Baghdad.
On Capitol Hill, two senior GOP senators expressed displeasure that the Obama administration was able to secure legal immunity for the incoming troops, but failed to strike a similar bargain before all U.S. forces left Iraq in 2011.
“It’s interesting that [immunity’s] OK now when, according to their narrative, it was impossible to get before,” said Sen. John McCainJohn McCainSenate committee to vote Monday on Tillerson Trump fails to mention Clinton in inaugural address Hillary Clinton under microscope at inauguration MORE (R-Ariz.).
He said the White House has “done almost nothing” to improve the security situation in Iraq.
NEW AFGHAN COMMANDER PICKED: President Obama has nominated Army Gen. John Campbell to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
If confirmed by lawmakers, Campbell will likely be the final combat commander in Afghanistan as the U.S.-NATO international mission draws to a close in December.
Campbell has served as the Army vice chief of staff since 2013. He would replace Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was tapped earlier this month by President Obama to be the Corps’ next commandant.
The current Marine chief, Gen. James Amos, warned that the Taliban has become “more desperate” to inflict American troop casualties as the U.S. transitions to an advisory role in the country.
"As we come down in size, there are [fewer] opportunities to interdict us, and they become more desperate," he said.
Amos noted that earlier this week three Marine combat engineers were killed by a roadside bomb while patrolling one of the last remaining Marine bases in Afghanistan.
"It took the wind out of us," according to Amos. "It was a rude awakening."
VA BILL CONFERENCE UNDERWAY: Lawmakers assigned to fixing the Veterans Affairs Department’s scandal-ridden healthcare network have begun deliberations.
The 28 House and Senate lawmakers held a long round of opening speeches before concluding the session and moving negotiations behind closed doors.
Several GOP senators blasted a recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that concluded that the VA reform bills passed by the House and Senate could cost upwards of $40 billion to implement.
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said the estimate was not “realistic” but added that the bipartisan panel likely would have to look “outside” the VA to fund the final compromise bill.
“It’s very difficult inside of the VA budget itself to find the necessary offsets because there are not many discretionary dollars available to use as an offset,” he told reporters after the committee’s first meeting
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
-Levin: Still no floor time for defense bill
-Whistleblower: Phoenix VA hid deaths
-Kerry presses Kurds to help save Iraq
-Poll: 52 percent disapprove of Obama on Iraq
-House Democrats fear ‘another Vietnam’