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OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: General leading ISIS fight heads to Iraq

THE TOPLINE: Retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, who is coordinating the international effort against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), visited Iraq on Thursday to meet with local leaders.

Allen and Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, are meeting with Iraqi officials and regional leaders “on U.S. support for and cooperation with Iraq in the fight against” ISIS, the State Department said.

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The two will also head to Belgium, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey to met with a “wide range of government officials, regional partners, and multilateral institutions in support of international coalition efforts to degrade and defeat” the terrorist group.

The visit came the same day that the Turkish parliament voted overwhelmingly to allow its military to join the alliance against ISIS.

The addition of another major Muslim nation to the coalition, which already includes Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, is a boon for the U.S.-led effort as it looks to carry out more airstrikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. had pressed Turkey to join the coalition, but the country was initially reluctant. Ankara’s inclusion comes as ISIS forces have advanced toward the Syria-Turkey border. 

 

TROOPS IN ANTI-ISIS FIGHT ELIGIBLE FOR MEDAL: Pentagon officials on Thursday announced a fix that would make U.S. troops deployed to Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) eligible for certain medals.

Officials have decided to treat the new mission in Iraq as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. fight against terrorism, for the purpose of awarding honors and medals, according to a report.

“Troops deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Enduring Freedom are eligible for the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal,” Army Maj. James Brindle, a Pentagon spokesman, told the Military Times

The Hill first reported Wednesday that troops in Iraq as part of the anti-ISIS fight were not eligible for certain medals because the Pentagon had not officially designated their mission as a military campaign.

That meant that the roughly 1,700 troops now serving as “advisers” could not receive the Iraq Campaign Medal, an award for troops deployed to Iraq before Dec. 31, 2011.

Nor were they eligible for the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary or Service medals, which are for troops supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, typically referred to as the Afghanistan War. 

The new designation allows troops to earn the Global War on Terrorism medals, but not the war campaign medals given for service in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

 

PANETTA CHIDES WHITE HOUSE ON IRAQ: Leon Panetta, President Obama’s former CIA chief and Defense secretary criticized the administration in a forthcoming book for not pushing harder to get a deal to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011.

"To my frustration, the White House coordinated the negotiations but never really led them," Panetta wrote in an excerpt published by Time.

He said that without the president’s “active advocacy” an agreement was “allowed to slip away.”

The withdrawal of U.S. troops has come under scrutiny following the rise of the ISIS. Republican lawmakers believe that if troops had been allowed to stay in the country it would have prevented the group from securing a foothold.

Panetta admitted that local politics made it difficult for Iraqis to accept U.S. troops staying longer in the country. But he argued that the administration could have taken a tougher stand in negotiations.

"We had leverage," the former Cabinet official wrote. "We could, for instance, have threatened to withdraw reconstruction aid to Iraq if [then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki would not support some sort of continued U.S. military presence."

The president has said that a deal could not be reached because of Iraqi opposition to seeing American troops remain in the country.

 

GENERAL SEES 'UPTICK' IN TALIBAN VIOLENCE: The top American commander in Afghanistan said forces had seen an “uptick” in fighting against the Taliban as the U.S. draws down its troop levels.

"The last couple of weeks, there's been an uptick with the Taliban trying to make a statement as they close out the fighting season," said Army Gen. John Campbell, International Security Assistance Force commander, in a video conference on Thursday.

But Campbell said he was confident U.S. and Afghan forces would be able to hold their ground. He called local reports of fighting in southern Afghanistan’s Ghazni and Helmand provinces exaggerated, and said reports of possible beheadings there were "absolutely false." 

The uptick in violence comes as U.S. troops are preparing to draw down from the approximately 24,000 currently in the country to 9,800 by December. 

The new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, signed a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. earlier this week that allows for 9,800 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of the combat mission in 2014. They will continue to train and advise Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism missions. 

Some Republicans have accused President Obama of prematurely drawing down forces to essentially zero by 2017 as he leaves office, allowing him to end the U.S. troop presence during his tenure but risking an Iraq-like security meltdown. 

Campbell, who commanded two divisions in Iraq, pushed back against comparing the two countries, but added, "I think any military guy is going to tell you, if you could leave a force, you'd always leave a force." 

Campbell said the signing of the security agreement has boosted Afghan forces' confidence, and expressed support for the current drawdown plan.

"I feel very confident that we have a good plan,” he said. “But as any commander on the ground, you know, I reserve the right to be able to take a look at the risk to the force, risk to the mission, and then provide my assessments to my chain of command as we move forward." 

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

— Pentagon makes troops in fight against ISIS eligible for medals

— CIA sued over Senate spying

— NATO officials says Russia could stay in eastern Ukraine.

— Lawmakers question Iran's lack of cooperation with nuclear inspectors

— Senate GOP hopefuls tout military experience

 

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