Overnight Defense: Iran fallout; 'Mixed' grades for Afghan fighters

THE TOPLINE: Washington is grappling with a whirlwind weekend of U.S.-Iran developments.

On Saturday, the United States lifted sanctions on Iran after the United Nations' nuclear watchdog certified Tehran fulfilled its end of the nuclear agreement.

That same day, five Americans were released from Iranian custody in a prisoner swap and the United States placed new sanctions on Iran for ballistic missile tests. On Sunday, the U.S. paid $1.7 billion to Iran to settle an outstanding claim.

Republicans are raising questions about the prisoner swap and the settlement payment. And Democrats vowed to stay vigilant to ensure Iran complies with the nuclear deal.

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Tuesday, the White House rejected claims that the payment and swap were tied. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said critics are wrong to call it a "ransom" for the American prisoners.

He also said the United States will press Iran for information on the whereabouts of missing American Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent.

Levinson's family expressed disappointment that they have no information on his whereabouts despite the prisoner exchange. They also claimed they only heard about the swap from news reports.

 

GENERAL DETAILS 'MIXED' PROGRESS OF AFGHAN FORCES: Afghan National Security Forces had "mixed results" in their first year fighting the Taliban on their own, a U.S. brigadier general said Tuesday.

The forces did "fairly well" at deliberate planned operations, but had trouble when responding to crisis, Army Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffnerr told reporters.

In addition, the Afghan National Army faces a shortfall of 25,000 troops, a gap it hopes to close over the next six months, he said.

The Taliban is attempting to regain control of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, which was the focus of the military surge that President Obama ordered in 2009 but began to draw down in 2011.

The Afghan army corps in charge of the area needs to be rebuilt due to corruption and poor leadership, Shoffner added.

 

MCCONNELL PRESSES DEMS ON REFUGEE BILL: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: Dems dig in over Zika funding Business groups ramp up pressure to fill Ex-Im board Senate Dems: No August break without Zika deal MORE (R-Ky.) pressured Democrats on Tuesday ahead of a procedural vote on legislation that would freeze the acceptance of new refugees from Syria and Iraq.

"I would urge colleagues across the aisle to treat this issue with the seriousness that it deserves," McConnell said. "This debate should be driven by facts and common sense, not fear mongering about targeting widows and orphans or other straw man arguments that the White House has made from time to time."

The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote Wednesday on a House-approved bill that would effectively halt the acceptance of refugees until the administration can certify they aren't a national security threat. Republicans will need 60 votes to move the legislation forward in the Senate, requiring at least six Democratic votes.

It's unclear whether Senate Democrats will allow a debate on the bill, or whether they will seek to halt the legislation by voting against the procedural motion.

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidOvernight Finance: Obama signs Puerto Rico bill | Trump steps up attacks on trade | Dodd-Frank backers cheer 'too big to fail' decision | New pressure to fill Ex-Im board Iowa poll: Clinton up 14 on Trump, Grassley in tight race with Dem Lynch meeting with Bill Clinton creates firestorm for email case MORE (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he would "have more to say" about the legislation Wednesday.

 

UN: NEARLY 19,000 CIVILIANS KILLED IN IRAQ SINCE 2014: At least 18,802 civilians were killed in Iraq from the beginning of 2014 to Oct. 31, 2015, according to a United Nations report released Tuesday.

In addition to the deaths, another 36,245 civilians were wounded.

The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report, based largely on information from victims, survivors and witnesses, cautions that the number of casualties could be higher, because it's difficult to verify incidents and the number who died from secondary causes is unknown.

The 46-page report also details a slew of other abuses by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), including forcing 3,500 people, mostly Yezidi women and children, into slavery.

Some casualties and abuses against civilians were also caused by the Iraqi security forces and associated forces, according to the report. Associated forces include militia and tribal forces, popular mobilization units and the Kurdish Peshmerga force.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

-- ISIS magazine cheers San Bernardino, Paris attacks

-- GOP chairman wants details on Benghazi suspect

-- Reid: Congress must stay vigilant on Iran

-- Gates: Cruz 'at odds with reality' on ISIS

 

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