Overnight Defense: Senate Dems block bill to restrict refugees

THE TOPLINE: Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked legislation 55-43 that would crack down on the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the United States.

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake MORE (D-Nev.) sought approval of a handful of amendments to the legislation, including one on Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE's push to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.

Republicans ripped the attempt to link the bill to the GOP presidential front-runner.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (R-Texas) called the effort "ridiculous" and said Democrats were trivializing the refugee issue "by bringing the circus to town on the floor of the Senate."

The refugee legislation, which passed the House late last year, would "pause" the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the U.S. until the Obama administration certifies that they aren't a national security threat. Sixty votes were needed to move forward.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRepublicans are avoiding gun talks as election looms The Hill's 12:30 Report Flake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan MORE (R-Wis.) slammed Senate Democrats, calling their decision to block the legislation "irresponsible."

"Our approach balances security and compassion, and it was backed by a veto-proof majority in the House," he said.


MORE TRAINERS TO IRAQ? The United States might send more trainers to Iraq to help local forces retake Mosul from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a U.S. defense official said Wednesday. 

"The reason we need new trainers or additional trainers is because that's really the next step in generating the amount of combat power needed to liberate Mosul," said Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the ISIS effort.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter floated sending more trainers for the Iraqi army and police forces during a press conference on Tuesday en route to Paris. 

"I expect the number of trainers to increase, and also the variety of the training they're giving," Carter said.

There are currently 3,670 U.S. troops in Iraq, according to the Pentagon. 

Warren said several more Iraqi brigades need training in preparation for the offensive on Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq that ISIS captured in June 2014.

"Hundreds" more additional trainers are needed, but not all of them would be from the United States, Warren said. The total number still needs to be worked out with the Iraqi government. 

"We don't have a solid number yet as we continue to work the analysis of the force generation process," he said.

Warren left open the possibility of more troops being needed to support the trainers.


DOD HITS BACK AGAINST AFGHANISTAN IG REPORT: Inspector general reports that cast a task force meant to rebuild Afghanistan's economy as a waste of taxpayer money are flawed, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.

But the official also acknowledged the Defense Department has struggled with economic development missions.

"I personally am skeptical that the Department of Defense is the natural home for that mission," Brian McKeon, principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, told a Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel Wednesday. "We have struggled with this challenge over the last decade or more, and as a government we need to develop a functioning mechanism so that we are prepared for future contingencies."

Still, senators and the inspector general continued to blast the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), saying it has little to show for the more than $800 million appropriated for projects in Afghanistan.

"No one can say with any credibility that the programs were effective," Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko said.

The task force formed in 2006 to help stabilize the economy in Iraq and later shifted gears to Afghanistan. It disbanded in March.

The hearing comes after a series of SIGAR reports alleged the task force spent $43 million on a compressed natural gas station and $150 million on private villas and security guards, among other costs.


US ISIS STRATEGY OVERLOOKING AL QAEDA: The U.S. strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is completely overlooking al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, and may be strengthening the affiliate, according to a new report.

"The likeliest outcome of the current strategy in Syria, if it succeeds, is the de facto establishment and ultimate declaration of a Jabhat al Nusra emirate in Syria," the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said on Wednesday. 

"This emirate, even before it is declared, will function as a central node in the global al Qaeda network, supporting other al Qaeda affiliates with resources and highly-trained fighters and technicians, and exporting violence into the heart of the West," it said.

The report is the first in a series the think-tank will put out examining options to destroy ISIS and al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, said ISW founder and president Kimberly Kagan.

ISIS and the Nusra Front (JAN) have the same objective of overthrowing existing governments in the Muslim world, attacking the West and spreading their ideology globally, said ISW fellow and analyst Jennifer Cafarella, one of the report's authors. 

"ISIS is attempting to spark a global movement, JAN is trying to grow one," she said. She added that JAN is trying to build a foundation of local legitimacy and a base from which to launch attacks.

Another claim from the report is that ISIS is an existential threat to the U.S., despite contrary statements by the administration.

The authors of the report argue that while Salafi-jihadist groups cannot militarily destroy the U.S., they can destroy the idea of the United States and the values it stands for.

ISIS attacks in the U.S. can lead to "exaggerated xenophobia and anti-Muslim calls for closing our borders" and "calls to restrict civil liberties," said the report's lead author, Frederick K. Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. 

"The threat comes from our reaction to our actions," he said. "We must not act in that way. ... We must not allow ISIS attacks to turn into a wave of anti-Muslim hysteria."



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