ISIS killing takes spotlight at Pentagon chief's confirmation hearing

ISIS killing takes spotlight at Pentagon chief's confirmation hearing
© Francis Rivera

The brutal killing of a Jordanian pilot allegedly burned alive by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is expected to be the focus on Wednesday's confirmation hearing for Ashton Carter, President Obama's pick to lead the Pentagon. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, signaled at the outset of the hearing that he would press Carter for his views on the war against ISIS. 

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Noting the group's killing of Muath al-Kasasbeh, a 26-year-old pilot captured when his F-16 crashed in Syria in December, McCain said in his prepared remarks, "I hope that this heinous crime finally leads us to put in place what thus far has been lacking: a comprehensive strategy to achieve the President’s stated goal to degrade and destroy ISIL." 

In his own opening statement, Carter signaled that he wants to talk about getting Congress to get rid of defense spending caps created through the budget process known as sequestration.

“I very much hope that we can find a way together out of the wilderness of sequester,” Carter plans to say, according to his prepared remarks. 

But the ugly images of al-Kasasbeh's death released in a Tuesday video by ISIS are expected to draw many questions from senators about the administration's plans for dealing with the terrorist group. Two Japanese hostages were also beheaded by ISIS in recent weeks. 

The administration has not sent Congress a request for a new authorization of military force against the group. 

Carter in his statement pledges to end excessive spending at the Pentagon.

“The taxpayer cannot comprehend, let alone support the defense budget, when they read of cost overruns, lack of accounting and accountability, needless overhead, and the like. This must stop,” he will say, according to his remarks. 

Carter said he will also advocate for acquisition reform, which he became familiar with as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Carter, 60, served as deputy secretary under Secretary Chuck Hagel and when former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was at the Pentagon.

McCain indicated he was in broad agreement with Carter on excessive Pentagon spending. 

In his opening statement, McCain also said rolling back defense budget caps is necessary and also called for reform on how the Pentagon buys major weapons systems. 
 
"Many of our military’s challenges today are the result of years of mistakes and wasted resources," McCain said. 
 
He listed major weapons program with cost overruns, including the Army’s Future Combat System, Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, Comanche helicopter, and the VH-71 Presidential Helicopter, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), the Littoral Combat Ship, the Gerald Ford Class Nuclear Aircraft Carrier and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. 
 
"The result has been the slow degradation of America's defense technological advantage, which we will lose altogether if we persist with business as usual in our acquisition policies," McCain said.
 
"This must change. And it will be a priority for this Committee, and for me personally, to change it." 
 
— This story was updated at 9:57 a.m.