Overnight Defense: Pentagon sees 'combat situation' in Afghanistan

The Pentagon said Thursday that U.S. troops were in a combat "situation" -- but not a combat role -- in Afghanistan, despite a team of Green Berets getting pinned down in a firefight this week that resulted in one being killed and two injured.  

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the soldiers were in a "support backup" role, training, advising and assisting their Afghan counterparts, who lead in fighting the Taliban. 

"This is a combat situation, but they're not in the lead," Cook said during a briefing.

The team from 19th Special Forces Group came under fire on Tuesday and were pinned down for hours before another military team came to their aid. 

Two medical evacuation helicopters were initially sent, but one was waved off after taking enemy fire. The other landed safely but could not take off, Pentagon officials said, because its rotor had struck a wall. 

Cook said that helicopter has been transported to Kandahar Air Field, the largest U.S. base in the area after Camp Bastion was turned over to the Afghan government. 

HOUSE GOP REQUESTS BRIEFING ON MARJAH: Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), a retired Navy SEAL commander, and seven other Republicans are requesting a briefing from the Pentagon on the circumstances surrounding the death in Afghanistan of Special Forces Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock.

McClintock was killed after his unit was pinned down in Afghanistan, and there are claims that bureaucratic hurdles delayed backup support.

Zinke said he's heard from sources in the Special Forces community that air support and the quick reaction force (QRF) -- which provides backup and rescue to units in distress -- was delayed due to bureaucratic hurdles and the Obama administration's restrictive rules of engagement.

"I've commanded some of the finest special forces our nation has seen, and to think that these guys were abandoned by Washington while they were under fire is unthinkable and frankly against everything the U.S. military stands for," Zinke said. 

"If there was a decision to delay the QRF or call off air strikes on enemy combatants after the ground commanders ordered it, that is a clear dereliction of duty. I will be getting to the bottom of this. Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock, his family and his unit deserve for the truth to be out there, and we need to make sure this does not happen again," he added. 

McClintock was fatally wounded earlier this week after his team of Green Berets came under fire in southern Afghanistan. Two other U.S. soldiers and a "number" of Afghan troops were also injured, the Pentagon said.

Two medical evacuation helicopters were sent to evacuate the dead and wounded, but one was waved off after coming under fire and the other struck a wall while landing and could not take off. 

It wasn't until hours later that McClintock and the other casualties were recovered. 

Zinke and House Armed Services Committee colleagues sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter requesting the briefing. The signatories included Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksHouse forges ahead with Dec. 22 spending bill Conservatives fear end-of-year ‘Christmas tree’ spending bill Adoption tax credit restored after conservative backlash MORE (Ariz.), Jackie Walorski (Ind.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), Dr. Joe Heck (Nev.), Walter Jones (N.C.) and Steve Russell (Okla.).

STATE RELEASES MORE CLINTON EMAILS: The State Department released 2,900 pages of former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE's emails on Thursday, after failing to meet a court-ordered deadline last week.

Thursday's document dump is likely to be the second-to-last release of Clinton's emails by the State Department, which has been ordered by a court to have the full 55,000 pages of emails to the public by the end of the month. 

Forty-five of the emails in Thursday evening's release have been deemed classified at some level, department spokesman John Kirby said, bringing the total number of emails with now-classified information up to 1,319. At least one of the new emails has been upgraded to a level higher than "confidential."

Last week's dump, which came on New Year's Eve, fell short of a court's mandate to release 82 percent of the supposedly work-related emails. Thursday's release will bring the State Department up to that benchmark, Kirby promised.

"In just a few short days, we've been able now to catch up to the 82 percent that we were responsible for," Kirby told reporters on Thursday. "We'll continue to do the best we can moving forward."

Clinton's exclusive use of a personal email address and private server throughout her tenure as the nation's top diplomat has continued to dog her presidential campaign. Many Democrats have dismissed the issue, but Republicans insist that it is a symptom of Clinton's ambitions to flout the rules.

HOUSE DEMS URGE IRAN SANCTIONS: Seven Democratic lawmakers are urging President Obama to impose sanctions on Iran after two ballistic missile tests.

"The United States and our allies must take immediate, punitive action and send a clear message to Iran that violating international laws, treaties and agreements will have serious consequences," the lawmakers wrote to Obama in a letter this week. 

"We understand the administration is preparing sanctions against individuals and entities involved in Iran's ballistic missile program, and we urge you to announce such sanctions without further delay."

The letter was signed by Democratic Reps. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Eliot Engel (N.Y.), Albio Sires (N.J.), Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDems resurface Flynn's 'lock her up' comments after Mueller charges Virginia Dem jokes: ‘I am probably not interested’ in being Time’s 'Person of the Year' Lights, camera, SCOTUS MORE (Va.), Susan Davis (Calif.) and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.).

In October and November, Iran conducted ballistic missile tests in violation of United Nations resolutions. The administration was reportedly close to levying new sanctions on Iran in response to the missile tests, but delayed the announcement.

In their letter, the lawmakers argued that Iran's recent behavior is especially troubling given the impending implementation of the nuclear deal.

"While not all of us share the same opinion on the JCPOA, we are united in our desire to ensure it is vigilantly enforced and to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons," they wrote, using an abbreviation for the official name of the deal.

"Inaction from the United States would send the misguided message that, in the wake of the JCPOA, the international community has lost the willingness to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its support for terrorism and other offensive actions throughout the region -- including in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip," they wrote.



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