OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senate to grill pick for Afghan war chief

THE TOPLINE: The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday morning will hold a hearing on a number of crucial military nominations, chief among them Army Gen. John Campbell’s selection to command U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

If confirmed, Campbell could be the last U.S. commander in the country as the Obama administration winds down combat operations there this December and transitions to an advisory mission.

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Republicans, and even skeptical Democrats, likely will grill the four-star at the confirmation hearing on President Obama’s plan to draw down to only a few hundred troops by the end of 2016.

The hearing comes amid violence in Afghanistan over the results of the recent presidential election.

In addition to Campbell, the panel will hear from Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel, tapped to take over U.S. Special Operations Command, and Navy Adm. William Gortney, whom the administration wants to run NORAD.

 

F-35 FUTURE? Don’t be surprised if Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel makes an announcement Thursday on the fate of the nearly $400 billion and counting F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a full week after the entire jet fleet was grounded.

Hagel is set to meet pilots at Eglin Air Force Base, where a June 23 blaze aboard one of the planes sparked an investigation of the F-35’s engines. The Marine Corps version was due to participate in a pair of air shows in Great Britain this weekend.

 

ISIS A THREAT TO US, HAGEL SAYS. Hagel called Sunni fundamentalist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) a threat to the United States during a meeting with troops on Wednesday. 

"This country should not make any mistake on this, nor anyone in Congress — this is a threat to our country," Hagel said while meeting with troops at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia.

"It is a threat to the United States. It is a threat, clear threat to our partners ... and it is imminent," he added.

Hagel said the Pentagon was getting daily assessments from troops deployed on the ground in Iraq, and the "finality of those assessments will be completed in the next few days."

The administration has said that review will form the basis for the next steps it takes to help Iraq in its fight against ISIS. 

"In the meantime, we're doing everything we can, as I said in those two general areas: protect our people and assist [Iraqi Security Forces] in their efforts to defeat [ISIS]," Hagel said.

 

VA PICK WINS OVER SANDERS. Robert McDonald, the Obama administration’s choice to run the troubled Veterans Affairs Department, has received the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, met with McDonald for about an hour on Tuesday and left the sitdown “impressed” by his military and private sector background.

He predicted McDonald would make a “very good secretary at the VA.”

Sanders’s House counterpart, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), would also like some face time with McDonald.

A White House official said McDonald has just started his meetings with senators and that the administration is working to set up a get-together with Miller and House Veterans Committee Ranking Member Mike Michaud (D-Maine).

 

INHOFE: OBAMA DISRESPECTS MILITARY. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Wednesday accused President Obama of disrespecting the nation’s military by not visiting the Texas border amid a surge in young migrants entering the U.S. illegally.

The Pentagon has been temporarily housing at military bases several thousand of the approximately 52,000 unaccompanied children who have arrived from Central America in recent months.

"President Obama’s failed policies and campaign tactics have driven the unprecedented flow of unaccompanied minors across the southern border. In response, he has turned to our military bases, like Ft. Sill in Oklahoma, for help with housing these children," said Inhofe, the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"The President's failure to visit the border during his trip to Texas disrespects our military and their limited resources he is calling up to manage a crisis he created," he added.

During a visit to Texas on Wednesday, Obama met with Gov. Rick Perry (R) and other local officials and faith leaders to discuss the crisis, but did not visit the border. 

The Pentagon has agreed to house up to 3,600 children at military bases for 120 days. On Tuesday, the Pentagon said it was discussing plans with the Department of Heath and Human Services to house up to 5,000 more children.

In addition to Fort Sill, the Pentagon is housing children at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme in California. HHS will reimburse the Pentagon for housing the migrants, Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said. 

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

-Iraq to UN: Terrorists took over former chemical weapons site

-VA apologizes for whistleblower retaliation

-Hagel urges Congress to reverse defense cuts

-Kerry does damage control as rockets fly

-Snowden applies to extend Russian asylum

 

Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com, and Martin Matishak, mmatishak@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill, @kristina_wong, @martinmatishak 

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