Donald Trump isn't the only one saying the military doesn't win anymore.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee blasted top Pentagon officials Thursday for what they see as inaction against resurgent Taliban forces in Afghanistan, weak responses to Iranian aggression, questionable progress in battling the Islamic State group and a too-passive approach to rebuilding the force for the fights of tomorrow.

The comments came during Defense Secretary Ash Carter's first appearance on Capitol Hill to defend the White House's fiscal 2017 budget request, a nearly $583 billion plan that he defended as "meeting our needs."

But Republicans on the panel have criticized both the president and Pentagon for not pushing for more, to address training and equipment shortfalls identified by the services.

Those issues lead to criticisms on a host of non-budget issues and testy exchanges with members, particularly with committee chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

He grilled Carter over the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan, questioning why American troops aren't conducting offensive operations against Taliban forces amid what multiple generals have called a worsening security situation in the country.

"You see this as a threat to our security, you say the situation is deteriorating, and yet you still don't give our troops the authority to target Taliban forces," he said.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. said military officials are reviewing the planned drawdown of U.S. forces from the country later this year as well as lessons learned from the 2015 fighting season. That drew a quip from McCain: "Welcome to 2016." from McCain.

Senators also bristled at Carter's response to the detention 10 U.S. sailors in January after Iranian forces accused them of crossing into their territorial waters.

Carter called the move "outrageous" and said none of the explanations offered by Iranian officials since has justified their actions. But when pressed by lawmakers for a stronger U.S. response, Carter offered no new public moves beyond regional security plans, adding that the Pentagon has made sure Iran knows that Pentagon leaders are unhappy.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., criticized military officials' rhetoric praising the U.S. military as the most skilled and powerful in the world, saying that praise overlooks recent shortfalls in training and equipment that have eroded American advantages.

For his part, Carter listed budget uncertainty as the biggest national security threat in years to come, and repeated his plea for lawmakers to find a long-term solution to sequestration budget caps.

Both he and Dunford will appear before the House Armed Services Committee to discuss the budget request — and other topics — on March 22.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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