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OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Deal keeps US troops in Afghanistan after 2014

US, AFGHANISTAN SIGN SECURITY DEAL: The United States and Afghanistan signed a security agreement Tuesday that would allow U.S. troops to remain in the country to help train and advise local forces after the coalition’s combat mission ends in December.

The 10-year-deal would allow 9,800 troops to remain in the country past December, but it would halve by the end of the year, and reduce to an embassy presence by the end of 2016, when President Obama ends his presidency. 

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The deal also allows the U.S. to leave some bases open, and would provide troops with immunity from being prosecuted under Afghan law. The president and other top U.S. officials hailed the signing of the agreement, which had been delayed for months due to uncertainty over Afghanistan’s presidential elections. 

"Today we mark an historic day in the U.S.-Afghan partnership that will help advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan," Obama said in a statement.

The signing came a day after new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was sworn in after a months-long election battle with his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, who took a post as chief executive under a power-sharing agreement. 

Both Afghan candidates had vowed to sign the status of forces agreement during the campaign, something the previous president, Hamid Karzai, resisted.

"The new Afghan government took an important step forward today by signing a bilateral security agreement with the United States and a Status of Forces Agreement with NATO," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a statement. 

A number of Republicans have blamed the current unrest in Iraq and the rise of Islamic militants there on the failure of the United States and Iraqi government to agree on a status of forces agreement after the U.S. combat mission ended there.

"After 12 years of investment and partnership, today's decision by the Afghan government to approve the Bilateral Security Agreement is a welcome one," said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey. 

He praised the Afghan National Security Forces for securing the nation during the uncertain election outcome. 

"The tenacity and unity displayed by the ANSF — their success, through two elections and protracted political uncertainty — is enormous. While they are excellent fighters, their forces are still maturing at the institutional level and our efforts there over the next year will be key to the long-term sustainability of their forces," he said. 

 

INTEL OFFICIALS: WH IGNORED ISIS THREAT: Senior intelligence officials on Tuesday pushed back after President Obama appeared to suggest that they had underestimated the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS.)

Officials told the New York Times that the White House was too distracted by other foreign policy troubles to heed their warnings about ISIS.

"Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” one senior American intelligence official told the newspaper.

The sniping follows an interview with "60 Minutes" on Sunday in which the president suggested the intelligence community was to blame for the U.S. not acting against ISIS sooner.

"I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria," said Obama.

 Republicans seized on the remarks, accusing Obama of trying to shirk responsibility.

White House officials denied that the president was trying to shift blame. Press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama meant that “everybody,” from the White House to the intelligence community, underestimated how quickly ISIS would gain a foothold.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, came to the president’s defense on Tuesday, accusing critics of “attempting to stoke a conflict between the President and the Intelligence Community that does not exist."

He said Obama was only agreeing with Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert Clapper140 national security leaders call for 9/11-style panel to review Jan. 6 attack The biggest example of media malfeasance in 2020 is... Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community MORE that the terror group’s growth in Syria and the collapse of the Iraqi military took both the intelligence community and White House by surprise.

 

SANDERS WANTS ARAB BOOTS ON THE GROUND: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Arab nations must step up their fight against ISIS by deploying ground troops to take on the terror organization.

“The war against ISIS, a brutal and dangerous organization, cannot be won unless the Muslim nations which are most threatened — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Iran and Jordan — become fully engaged, including the use of ground troops,” said Sanders, who is weighing a 2016 presidential bid, in a statement.

He also disagreed with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who last week said the U.S. might have “no choice” but to send ground troops into Syria to fight ISIS.

“The use of U.S. combat troops in Syria could well get us into a Mideast quagmire and perpetual warfare in the region,” said Sanders.

“Instead of spending tens of billions on war in the Mideast, we should be investing in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and creating millions of decent-paying jobs here at home.”

 

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