Overnight Defense: Pentagon hails Fallujah's recapture | Texts to VA suicide hotline went unanswered

THE TOPLINE: The fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) notched a win over the weekend with the full liberation of Fallujah, the first city the terrorist group captured when it rose to prominence in 2014.

On Monday, the Pentagon confirmed the accomplishment and congratulated Iraq on its success.


"I congratulate Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Iraqi people for their progress in freeing the city of Fallujah from the grip of ISIL," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a written statement, using an alternate acronym for the group.

Iraqi forces were backed up by U.S. airpower in retaking the city.

Despite the celebration, challenges remain in the thousands of civilians who are now refugees after fleeing the city.

Military forces also will now face the task of retaking Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq.

For more, click here.

ANOTHER GOP NATIONAL SECURITY ALUM BACKING CLINTON: A former George W. Bush national security official is the latest Republican to publicly back Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump has discussed possible pardons for three eldest children, Kushner: report McCaskill: 'Hypocrisy' for GOP to target Biden nominee's tweets after Trump Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate MORE over Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE for president.The Hill's Kristina Wong has the story:

Kori Schake, a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institute and a former senior defense and National Security Council official under former president George W. Bush, will be casting her vote for Clinton this fall, her sister tweeted on Saturday.

"For the first time ever @KoriSchake and I are casting our vote for the same candidate -- She is voting for @HillaryClinton," her sister, Kristina Schake, a Democrat and deputy communications director for the Clinton campaign, tweeted.

Kori Schake served as director for defense strategy and requirements on the National Security Council during Bush's first term, deputy director for policy planning at the State Department during his second term, and as a senior policy adviser for Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSen.-elect Mark Kelly visits John McCain's grave ahead of swearing-in McCain, Kristol battle over Tanden nomination Biden's favorability rating rises while Trump's slips: Gallup MORE's (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign.

Schake told The Hill it wasn't a hard decision for her to make.

"I was going to write in my nephew, or write in [former Indiana Gov.] Mitch Daniels, [but] I am actually worried Trump could get elected," she said.

Read the rest here.

MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT VA SUICIDE HOTLINE: Almost 30 percent of text messages sent as a test to a crisis hotline for suicidal veterans went unanswered, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Monday.

"Our tests of text messages revealed a potential area of concern," the report reads.

The GAO report follows a scathing inspector general report from February that found some calls to the hotline were going to voicemail or didn't receive immediate attention.

The inspector general report prompted backlash in Congress, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in turn promised to fix issues in answering calls to the hotline.

The GAO report also addressed the wait time for callers and noted that the VA is working on its response times to those calling the hotline.

But no similar attention has been placed on responding to text messages, it added. 

The hotline received about 13,000 texts in 2014 and 16,000 in 2015, and VA officials told the GAO that 87 percent received a response within two minutes in both years.

As part of its report, the agency sent 14 test text messages to the hotline. Of those, four went unanswered, for a rate of 28.6 percent of texts unanswered, though the GAO specified its sample is "nongeneralizable."

Click here to read more.

AFRICA ATTACKS ON RISE: The number of attacks by militant Islamist groups in Africa has more than quadrupled in the past six years, according to research published Monday.

The Hill's Wong has more:

Militant Islamist attacks grew from just 171 across Africa in 2009, to 738 attacks in 2015, according to new analysis by IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

Deaths from the attacks have grown from 541 in 2009 to 4,600 fatalities -- an increase of more than 750 percent.

Experts say there are three new trends causing this rise: Collaboration between Boko Haram and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS); competition between al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ISIS for territory and recruits; and the continuing resilience of al Qaeda's Somalia branch, al-Shabab.

Read more here.

TURKEY APOLOGIZES FOR DOWNING RUSSIAN PLANE: Turkey's president has apologized to Moscow for shooting down a Russian military jet near the Syrian border last year, officials from both countries said Monday.

The November incident inflamed relations between the two countries and threatened to involve the United States, a NATO ally of Turkey's. Monday's apology could pave the way for improving relations between Moscow and Ankara.

After the incident, Moscow placed sanctions on Turkey and demanded an apology, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan initially rebuffed.

On Monday, Erdoğan, faced with an economy crippled by sanctions, sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he "expressed his deep regret for what happened and said that he is ready to do all possible to restore the traditionally friendly ties between Turkey and Russia," according to a Kremlin statement.

Read more here.



The Senate Armed Services Committee will host a hearing on "Improving Strategic Integration at the Department of Defense" at 9:30 a.m. at the Hart Senate Office Building, room 216. Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal will testify. http://1.usa.gov/28Uo9qv

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will host a hearing on global efforts to defeat ISIS at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, will testify. http://1.usa.gov/28SsIfn



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