OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Strategy questioned as ISIS advances

THE TOPLINE: The Obama administration faced questions over its strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on Wednesday as militants advanced on the Kurdish town of Kobani.

House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeonHoward (Buck) Philip McKeonTrump pick brings scrutiny to 'revolving door' between Pentagon, industry Bottom line Republican fighter pilot to challenge freshman Dem in key California race MORE (R-Calif.) urged President Obama Wednesday to rethink his strategy, given the group's recent gains in western Iraq and Kobani's possible fall. 

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“Evidence is mounting that an 'Iraq first' approach focused on airstrikes isn’t degrading ISIL," McKeon said in a statement, using an alternate name for the terror group.

He urged the president to adopt a "broader strategy" that could include the use of U.S. ground forces.

"From [Kobani] to Baghdad they are using their Syrian sanctuary to make gains," he added.

Officials, though, downplayed the strategic significance of Kobani, a Syrian town near the Turkish border and stressed that the fight against ISIS would be long.

The Pentagon said airstrikes alone would not save Kobani and that other towns could fall to ISIS as well. 

"We all need to prepare ourselves for the reality that other towns and villages — and perhaps Kobani — will be taken by ISIL," said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby. 

The U.S. and partners have conducted about 20 airstrikes in Kobani, but ISIS fighters managed to enter the Western part of the city, according to reports. 

The White House said it was "deeply concerned" by the terrorist group's advance, but denied that the potential loss was evidence that the president's strategy to "degrade and destroy" ISIS was failing. 

"We have succeeded in taking out certain elements of their command-and-control structure," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

"We have succeeded in destroying some elements of their logistical capacity, including some oil refineries. We have succeeded in shutting down some of the channels through which [ISIS] receives its financial support," he added.

"So we have made progress in degrading [ISIS].”

However, Earnest conceded that President Obama’s decision not to use U.S. ground troops to fight the radical terror group "limits our capabilities in this region." 

"That will limit the effectiveness of the United States military to have the same kind of impact on the situation in Kobani," Earnest added.


OBAMA VISITS THE PENTAGON: On a rare trip to the Pentagon, President Obama met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and combatant commanders on Tuesday, to get an update on the fight against ISIS and efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak. 

Obama warned that “draconian” cuts brought on by sequestration could hamper the military as it faces a number of new challenges.

“We also have to make sure that Congress is working with us to avoid, for example, some of the draconian cuts that are called for in sequestration,” he said.

Discussing the coalition against ISIS, Obama said he was "confident that we will be able to continue to make progress in partnership with the Iraqi government.” 

"Ultimately it’s going to be important for them to be able to, with our help, secure their own country and to find the kind of political accommodations that are necessary for long-term prosperity in the region," he said of the Iraqi government. 

The president warned that it "remains a difficult mission," and downplayed any timeline for when ISIS would be defeated. 

"As I’ve indicated from the start, this is not something that is going to be solved overnight," he said.

On the fight against Ebola, Obama said the military was essentially building "an infrastructure that does not exist" in order to facilitate the transport of personnel, equipment and supplies to deal with the deadly disease in Africa.  

The president also assured that the troops deploying to Africa would be safe, after Pentagon officials said Tuesday that several dozen troops could deal directly with blood samples that might contain the virus. 

"We are doing it in a way that ensures our men and women in uniform are safe," the president said. "That has been my top priority, and I've instructed folks we're not going to compromise the health and safety of our armed services." 

"But what’s true is, we have unique capabilities that nobody else has.  And as a consequence of us getting in early and building that platform, we’re now able to leverage resources from other countries and move with speed and effectiveness to curb that epidemic," he said. 

 

MARINES TO FIGHT EBOLA: The Pentagon is deploying 100 troops from a special Marine response force to West Africa to help fight the Ebola outbreak, officials announced Wednesday.

"These personnel will arrive in Senegal tonight and in Liberia tomorrow," said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby at a briefing on Wednesday. 

The 100 troops — mostly Marines, along with some Navy corpsmen — are part of a force of up to 3,600 U.S. troops that could deploy to West Africa to help efforts to stem the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. 

The Marine unit will provide supply and transportation assistance for the anti-Ebola effort until Army units arrive later this month to take over the possibly year-long mission. 

The troops come from a special Marine air-ground task force responding to crises in Africa, and are deploying from Morón, Spain, to Dakar, Senegal, and Monrovia, Liberia.

The outbreak has so far claimed more than 3,000 lives and could infect 1.4 million more.

The deployment was announced as news broke that the first patient diagnosed in the U.S. died. 

Thomas Eric Duncan, a 33-year-old Liberian man who contracted Ebola prior to visiting Texas last month, died on Tuesday morning.  

There are growing concernsabout the safety of U.S. troops being deployed to fight the virus after the Pentagon said Tuesday that they could come into contact with Ebola samples.

Gen. David Rodriguez, the head of U.S. Africa Command, said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday he was confident U.S. troops taking on the mission would be safe.

“I am confident that we can ensure our service members' safety and the safety of their families and the American people,” he said.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: 

— Obama calls for 'appropriate sense of urgency' on Ebola efforts

— White House: Midterm staff changes ‘routine’

— Pentagon to cut autism healthcare payments in half

— Scalise: Ball in Obama's court for Congress to give anti-ISIS authority

— House Republican 'more convinced than ever' to strike ISIS

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