THE TOPLINE: The general in charge of U.S. military operations in the Middle East was on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, where lawmakers pressed him on operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), troop levels in Afghanistan, civilian casualties and more.
The Hill's Ellen Mitchell reports:
The head of U.S. Central Command said on Wednesday that the Pentagon is reviewing whether to send additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan.
"We are in the process of going through a review of our posture in Afghanistan and how we have to look at that going forward," Gen. Joseph Votel told lawmakers.
Votel would not give additional details on the review during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on security challenges in the Middle East, saying its findings are "pre-decisional."
VOTEL ADDRESS CASUALTIES: Votel also spoke about reports of an increase in civilian casualties, particularly the 200 or so deaths in Mosul when a building collapsed after a U.S. strike.
Also from Mitchell:
He agreed with an official's comments made Tuesday that "there is a fair chance that our operations may have contributed to civilian casualties," but added that the investigation continues and "there's still much to learn" from the initial assessments.
"We acknowledge our responsibility to operate at a higher standard," he told lawmakers. "We take every allegation seriously and we are executing a well developed process to assess and if necessary investigate these allegations."
Votel stressed that though the nature of the fight and the Pentagon's approach to it have evolved over the two-and-half-year operation, "We have not relaxed the rules of engagement."
GOP DEFENDS TRUMP'S RULES OF ENGAGEMENT: Republican lawmakers are defending the Trump administration from criticism about an increase in civilian casualties from air strikes in Iraq and Syria, arguing that rules of engagement under former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden: Democrats' spending plan is 'a bigger darn deal' than Obamacare Harris stumps for McAuliffe in Virginia Biden to stump with McAuliffe Tuesday MORE were too strict.
They say the rules should be loosened because they have resulted in missed opportunities to strike Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets and have discounted the judgment of the commanders in the field.
"They missed targets because they had to go back and have an NSC [National Security Council] that met for weeks," Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday. "I think you need to tell the military commanders what you expect and then let them do their job. Now, that does not mean there will never be a mistake, of course."
MCCAIN, GRAHAM PAN POTENTIAL SHORT-TERM FUNDING BILL: With the deadline to fund the government coming up in a few weeks, defense hawks are coming out strong against the potential for another stopgap funding measure.
The Hill's Jordain Carney has the story:
A pair of Senate Republicans are signaling they will not support a short-term funding bill ahead of next month's deadline to avoid a government shutdown.
GOP Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics MORE (S.C.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Meghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' Our military shouldn't be held hostage to 'water politics' MORE (Ariz.) -- two of the Senate's most vocal defense hawks -- said separately that they would oppose a continuing resolution (CR) over concerns about its impacts on the Pentagon.
"It would decimate the ability to defend the nation and it would put the lives of our men and women in uniform at risk," McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, told The Hill.
Graham separately told reporters that he wouldn't back a CR, even if it funded the government through the end of the end of September, over similar concerns.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:
The commander of U.S. Transportation Command will testify before the House Armed Services Committee at 9 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. http://bit.ly/2nZ3VhN
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) to be Air Force secretary at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. http://bit.ly/2na7kZo
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 10 a.m. at Dirksen 419. http://bit.ly/2odr0MZ
A House Armed Services subcommittee and a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a joint hearing on Russia's violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty at 10:30 a.m. at Rayburn 2172. http://bit.ly/2nvxDNN
-- The Hill: Senate Intel panel 'within weeks' of completing initial Russia review
-- The Hill: Top general: ISIS 'extraordinarily savvy' in cyber
-- Miami Herald: Pentagon picks national security lawyer to run Guantánamo war court
-- Reuters: Inside Mosul, a huge blast, then screams, dust and horror
-- Associated Press: Syrian experts visit critical dam spillway near main Islamic State base