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News Wrap: Pentagon calls for stepped up Islamic State campaign

October 27, 2015 at 6:50 PM EST
United States Secretary of Defense Ash Carter prepares to testify at a Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing on "United States Strategy in the Middle East" in Washington October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron     - RTX1TGBO
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Navy tested the waters in part of the South China Sea, and touched off verbal combat with China. An American destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese-built island in disputed waters.

It’s part of the Spratly Islands, where Vietnam and the Philippines also have claims. Beijing rejects those claims, and it roundly criticized the U.S. action.

LU KANG, Spokesman, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through interpreter): If any country has any illusions about carrying out any actions to interfere in or obstruct China’s legal, reasonable and fair activities on our territory, I urge those countries to abandon these illusions. It may make China come to the inevitable conclusion that maybe we do have to strengthen and quicken the building up of our capacities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Washington, the State Department said the U.S. has a right to freedom of navigation in the area.

The Defense Department, meanwhile, has awarded Northrop Grumman its biggest contract in more than a decade for the next generation long-range bomber. The announcement late today involves a potential 100 stealth bombers, at a cost of up to $80 billion.

GWEN IFILL: Pentagon leaders called today for stepping up the campaign against Islamic State forces. At a Senate hearing, they talked of new moves in the Middle East involving both air and ground components.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told senators this morning the shift in strategy would involve a beefed-up U.S. air campaign and possibly frontline combat support.

ASHTON CARTER, Secretary of Defense: We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground.

GWEN IFILL: The new chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Joseph Dunford, agreed it may be time to put American combat boots on the ground.

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: If it had operational or strategic impact and we could reinforce success, that would be the basic framework within which I would make a recommendation for additional forces to be co-located with Iraqi units.

GWEN IFILL: The two leaders said they hope to target two key locations, Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-declared capital in Syria, and the militant stronghold Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in Western Iraq.

The new approach comes as the Obama administration deals with the failures so far of its campaign against ISIL. In particular, the U.S. military had hoped to train 5,400 moderate fighters in Syria, but actually fielded only a few dozen. The focus now is on supporting Kurdish militias and others and on ramping up airstrikes.

Carter said that effort will intensify despite Russia’s new air campaign in support of Syrian President Assad.

ASHTON CARTER: We are not cooperating with Russia and we’re not letting Russia impact the pace or scope of our campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, Republican Presidential Candidate: The strategy has completely fallen apart.

GWEN IFILL: But several Republican senators, including presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham, argued it’s too little, too late.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: So, what you have done gentlemen, along with the president, is you have turned Syria over to Russia and Iran. This is a sad day for America, and the region will pay hell for this, because the Arabs are not going to accept this. The people in Syria are not going to accept this. This is a half-assed strategy at best.

GWEN IFILL: Any changes in U.S. strategy still need President Obama’s formal approval. Indications are that could come as early as this week.

Separately, Russia announced it has invited Iran to join international talks on Syria’s future. They are scheduled in Vienna later this week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The earthquake death toll in Afghanistan and Pakistan climbed today to nearly 380. The quake was centered deep under the Hindu Kush mountain range near the Afghan city of Fayzabad. Rescuers struggled today to reach the hardest-hit areas, and teams went out on foot to assess damage and casualties. Pakistani helicopters ferried out some of the injured, but supply drops may not begin for some days.

GWEN IFILL: Back in this country, the FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into a sheriff’s deputy who tossed a girl from her desk at a South Carolina high school. Officials say the girl disrupted class and refused an order to leave.

With that, the white deputy is seen flipping the black teen and dragging her away. Another student recorded the scene. The incident drew nationwide condemnation today, and the chair of the local school district trustees joined it.

JAMES MANNING, Board of Trustees, Richland School District Two: What happened yesterday, what we all watched on that shamefully shocking video, is reprehensible, unforgivable and inconsistent with everything that this district stands for, what we work for and what we aspire to be.

GWEN IFILL: Black parents in the school district said there’s a long history of discrimination. The girl has been charged with disturbing school and released to her family. The deputy has been placed on leave.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama offered a defense of the police today, as they face increased scrutiny over their treatment of minorities. He spoke to a national meeting of chiefs of police in Chicago and said he rejects attempts to divide officers from their communities.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of society and our criminal justice system.

(APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
And I know you do your jobs with distinction no matter the challenges you face. That’s part of wearing the badge. But we can’t expect you to contain and control problems that the rest of us aren’t willing to face or do anything about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president spoke as the Justice Department reported that ambush attacks on police held steady between 1999 and 2013, at about 200 a year. There have been questions about whether such attacks are now on the rise.

GWEN IFILL: CIA Director John Brennan says he was outraged when he learned his personal e-mail account had been hacked. Word of that hacking emerged last week.

I asked Brennan about it today at a forum co-sponsored by George Washington University and the CIA.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA Director: I certainly was concerned about what people might try to do with that information. I was also dismayed at how some of the media handled it. The implication of some of the reporting was that I was doing something inappropriate or wrong or a violation of my security responsibilities, which was certainly not the case.

GWEN IFILL: The hacked data included Brennan’s contact list and his wife’s Social Security number.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For Americans under the age of 75, there’s good news today about life and death. The American Cancer Society reports that the death rate in that age group, under 75, from all causes fell more than 40 percent between 1969 and 2013.

The research found deaths from strokes dropped by 77 percent during that period. At the same time, heart disease fatalities were down nearly 70 percent. The study also said that deaths from unintended injury fell by 40 percent.

GWEN IFILL: On Wall Street, stocks skidded after crude oil hit two-month lows. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 40 points to close at 17580. The Nasdaq fell four points, and the S&P 500 slipped five.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Abby Wambach, the all-time leading goal scorer in international soccer history, is retiring. Wambach announced her decision today, after President Obama honored the U.S. women’s team at the White House for winning the women’s World Cup in July. Wambach’s final game will be December 16.

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