12 February, 2019 06:31

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, February 12, 2019 which is International Darwin Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, National Lost Penny Day and Extraterrestrial Culture Day.

This Day in History:

  • On February 12, 1912, Hsian-T’ung, the last emperor of China, is forced to abdicate following Sun Yat-sen’s republican revolution. A provisional government was established in his place, ending 267 years of Manchu rule in China and 2,000 years of imperial rule. The former emperor, only six years old, was allowed to keep up his residence in Beijing’s Forbidden City, and he took the name of Henry Pu Yi.
  • On this day, German General Erwin Rommel arrives in Tripoli, Libya, with the newly formed Afrika Korps, to reinforce the beleaguered Italians’ position. In January 1941, Adolf Hitler established the Afrika Korps for the explicit purpose of helping his Italian Axis partner maintain territorial gains in North Africa. “[F]or strategic, political, and psychological reasons, Germany must assist Italy in Africa,” the Fuhrer declared. The British had been delivering devastating blows to the Italians; in three months they pushed the Italians out of Egypt while wounding or killing 20,000 Italian soldiers and taking another 130,000 prisoner.
  • On this day in 1809, Abraham Lincoln is born in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Lincoln, one of America’s most admired presidents, grew up a member of a poor family in Kentucky and Indiana. He attended school for only one year, but thereafter read on his own in a continual effort to improve his mind. As an adult, he lived in Illinois and performed a variety of jobs including stints as a postmaster, surveyor and shopkeeper, before entering politics. He served in the Illinois legislature from 1834 to 1836, and then became an attorney. In 1842, Lincoln married Mary Todd; together, the pair raised four sons.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

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CNN: A close call makes clear that ISIS won’t give up its last stronghold easily

By Ben Wedeman, CNN Senior International Correspondent
Updated 6:22 AM ET, Tue February 12, 2019
Eastern Syria (CNN)The unmistakable sound of automatic machine gunfire pierced the early morning, sometime before 7 am. While it was not unusual to wake up to the cacophony of war — be it coalition bombing from airstrikes or gunfire — this was different.
For days, I’d been traveling with fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who launched a last offensive to oust ISIS from its only remaining enclave in Syria over the weekend.
Since sundown on Saturday, coalition airstrikes had been pounding the last remnants of the jihadi group’s so-called "caliphate." Now we were holed up in a war-torn building just a kilometer from the town SDF fighters were working to liberate: Baghouz Al-Fawqani.
We scrambled to the rooftop for a better vantage point. There was little to see, save for explosions in the distance which appeared to be a combination of airstrikes and shelling from the US, British and French positions toward the town. As we watched, we heard rounds coming in our direction. Zing came one, then another, then another.
On this cold winter morning, ISIS were taking advantage of the mist at daybreak to launch a counterattack. We ducked behind a wall as bullets continued to fly over our heads. The morning before, coalition airstrikes had suppressed any possible assaults. But now, the gunfire appeared to be intensifying.
The soldiers around us became agitated by the onslaught. One of them got on a walkie-talkie for more information about the assault. Then a huge blast rocked somewhere nearby and gray smoke started billowing from the side of our building.
Retreating to the building’s stairwell, it occurred to us that we might be in danger of being overrun by ISIS — one of their tactics is to encircle during an attack rather than come from the front.
We weighed our options and decided it was time to move back. We pulled back about five kilometers to another house in a safer area to reassess, eat breakfast and drink tea. As we shared a meal with the soldiers, it was clear that their earlier confidence of a quick and easy battle was shaken.
Until Monday morning, the operation had seemed to be working on schedule. The battle’s first 24 hours saw little resistance from ISIS and buoyed the confidence of the SDF fighters we traveled with. Commanders had told us over tea that they might take the town by Monday or Tuesday.
But the morning’s events had brought a harsh truth home: ISIS was not going to give up easily, and its fighters certainly weren’t going to be defeated quickly.
Later in the day, we came across an assembly point where people fleeing the town are checked, given medical assistance and food and water. It’s here that men are separated from women and questioned to identify any potential ISIS members or sympathizers.
Most remarkable was the sheer number of residents escaping Baghouz Al-Fawqani. I counted 21 trucks loaded with people destined for refugee camps. A local official managing the convoy estimated that about 700 people were leaving.
SDF officials had been telling us for days that the total number of people in Baghouz Al-Fawqani was only about 1,500 residents, with 500 ISIS fighters — but clearly that number is much bigger. SDF spokesman Mustrafa Belli later told me that they had underestimated the number of civilians and that they likely numbered the thousands.
One of the fleeing civilians, an older woman, told me that the town’s residents were being used as human shields. A man who had fled told me the entire town had been shelled and little shelter remained. Another said those that remained were resorting to eating the grain for their livestock.
When I asked about ISIS, one resident described fighters from all over the globe — some appeared to be European while others looked to be Russian and Chechen, as well as others from Central Asia, he said.
As I spoke with these exhausted and disoriented townspeople, I thought back to US President Trump’s remark that he hoped to announce a victory against ISIS in Syria, in the coming days.
His statement may have galvanized SDF commanders as their last offensive began. But the reality is that this is not an operation that works on a timetable. It will take as long as necessary — maybe even weeks.
And as fighting intensifies and soldiers push forward, nobody on the ground is making predictions anymore.

Military Times: Pentagon weighs troop cuts as Shanahan makes surprise visit to Afghanistan
By:Tara Copp1 day ago
KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. is considering what cuts to U.S. force levels could support peace negotiations in Afghanistan while balancing risk there, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Sunday.
Shanahan made the surprise visit, his first since becoming acting defense secretary, to meet with U.S. and Afghan leaders to discuss the nascent peace talks and assess the risks tied to a potential drawdown. Shanahan was named acting secretary in December by President Donald Trump to replace former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned.
Shanahan’s visit comes days after the top U.S. negotiator for peace talks with the Taliban, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that the two parties have agreed in principle to framework where the Taliban would agree to prevent any terror groups from operating under their control, and the U.S. would begin a draw down of forces.
"It always gets back to assurances," Shanahan said. "There’s risk-taking but there have to be assurances. and putting in place the mechanisms to get people the confidence to take the risk," Shanahan said.
However, the Taliban have not agreed to meet with the Afghan government, which is a necessary component of a final peace deal.
Shanahan said he would take information gathered during his time in Kabul to NATO, where he is expected at a defense ministerial later this week, and back to the White House. Trump has previously pressed for a withdrawal of forces, who have been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001.
“I think the U.S. military has strong security interests in the region. It’s presence will evolve out of those discussions,” Shanahan said. “We are going to leave it to the teams to start to look at what mix, combination makes the most sense.”
In December, multiple news outlets reported that the White House was considering withdrawing as many as 7,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan; and last week the Taliban said that as part of the negotiations with Khalilzad those forces would be withdrawn by May.
Shanahan said that’s not the case.
“I have not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan,” Shanahan said.
Defense News: Another government shutdown looms. But why is the fully funded Pentagon concerned?
By:Joe Gould andAaron Mehta18 hours ago
WASHINGTON — With the possibility of another government shutdown coming Friday, the Pentagon is bracing for a potential delay to its planned fiscal 2020 rollout and the associated long-term fallout.
Compared to the government agencies that may once again go dark, the impact on the Department of Defense, which is fully funded thanks to a previous budget agreement, seem small. But any delay in rolling out the FY20 budget increases the chances of negotiations blowing past the end of the fiscal year and creating a situation where the DoD must operate under a continuing resolution.
Asked if he was concerned another shutdown could delay the budget, Army Secretary Mark Esper acknowledged that could be an issue.
“I think everybody who has been around Capitol Hill and Congress for a long time, as I’ve been, realizes there is a timing to this that is built into the system, if you will," Esper told reporters Feb. 8. "So you have to, of course, be a little bit concerned as things get dragged on, what that means for the next year, the fiscal year, passing it on time.”
During an earlier appearance alongside the secretaries of the Air Force and Navy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Esper and his colleagues identified timely and stable budgets as the most important thing the Congress can provide to help the military, a theme to which he returned when talking to the press.
“I can’t foot stomp that enough about how important it was to have a timely budget. We really thank Congress not just for the funding we got last year but for the timeliness,” he said. “Look, I talk to members from both sides of the Hill and both parties, and they all understand it and they share their view. They want to help as well, make sure we have a timely budget that’s sufficient.”
However, Esper insisted that any delay will not impact his service’s budget layout, saying: “The Army’s priorities are the Army’s priorities. So that won’t change that.”
Hi comments come as budget negotiations over President Donald Trump’s demand for a border wall appear to have stalled, raising the likelihood of a government shutdown at the end of the week.
Two sticking points have emerged: Democratic negotiators are reportedly saying they will not agree to more than $2 billion for border barriers — less than half the $5.7 billion Trump is seeking — and they want to cap the number of beds at immigration centers in a bid to force the Trump administration to prioritize the detention of violent criminals.
“I think the talks are stalled right now. I’m hoping we can get off the dime later today or in the morning because time is ticking away,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a key Republican negotiator, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Of the Friday deadline, Shelby said, “I’m not confident were going to get there. I’m hoping we will get there,” warning, “We’ve got to start movement.”
Is it a done deal? No, it isn’t, and we could end up in a train wreck.
Appearing beside Shelby, a key Democratic negotiator, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he is uncertain there will be a deal, but insisted lawmakers on his side were deal-makers and not “bomb throwers."
“Is it a done deal? No, it isn’t, and we could end up in a train wreck,” Tester said. “It’s happened before. But I don’t think anybody has an appetite for government shutdown, and I think everybody wants to make sure borders are secured.”
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaneytold Fox that Trump may take what Democrats offer and supplement it by reprogramming other funds and potentially declaring a national emergency to access still other funds.
“He would prefer legislation because it’s the right way to go and is the proper way to spend money in this country,” Mulvaney said. “But if that doesn’t happen, the president proceeds. His No. 1 priority is national security. He will then look at the National Emergencies Act as a way to do his job.”
Trump, who has largely stayed out of the latest talks, added pressure Sunday with a tweet questioning whether Democrats are negotiating in good faith.
“I don’t think the Dems on the Border Committee are being allowed by their leaders to make a deal,” the tweet reads. “They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!”
Military.com: Military Mulls Medical Personnel Cuts Even as Suicide Rates Rise
11 Feb 2019
Military.com | By Gina Harkins
The Defense Department is weighing the option of cutting thousands of uniformed medical personnel, including psychologists and other mental-health professionals, even as military leaders grapple with rising suicide rates among troops.
With the National Defense Strategy pushing for a more lethal force, Pentagon leaders areconsidering slashing as many as 17,000 uniformed medical corpsbillets across all the services.
The move, which could go into effect in October 2020, would open more slots for troops in combat-arms specialties or other warfighting jobs.
Thousands of those uniformed personnel serve as psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, counselors and nurses. And, as the number of active-duty troops taking their own livesreaches a six-year high, military advocates say now is not the time to consider cuts to those fields.
"Suicide and mental health are our top priority at [Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America] because of the serious impact these issues are having on our community," said Jeremy Butler, the new chief executive officer for the organization, which represents and advocates for post-9/11 vets. "I am concerned about any cut in resources signaling that DoD is not making these matters as high a priority as we do."
Military officials stress that there is no immediate plan to cut those billets, though the review to trim the size of the overall medical corps is ongoing.
"Any reforms that do result will be driven by the Department’s efforts to ensure our medical personnel benefits that service members, retirees and their families deserve," said Angel Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Air Force surgeon general.
Ed Gulick, a spokesman for Navy Medicine, said about a quarter of the Navy Department’s 1,600 mental-health personnel are embedded with the Navyand Marine Corps fleets, and they hope to expand the program.
"Navy Medicine has found that embedding mental health providers directly into Navy and Marine Corps operational units has had a powerful effect on decreasing stigma and making care more accessible to our service members," he said.
Just waiting for sailors to get help at a hospital or clinic is a barrier to care, said Capt. Tara Smith, with the Navy’s Suicide Prevention Branch. Embedding providers at the unit level moves the care closer to the troops in need, she added.
Still, suicide remains a serious problem across the active-duty force. Last year, 321 active-duty troops committed suicide, marking a six-year high. Fifty-seven Marines, 68 sailors, 58 airmen and 138 soldiers took their own lives.
Despite efforts by military leaders to end the stigma that seeking help with mental-health problems will derail your career, problems still exist, said one wounded combat veteran. Since he currently works for a veterans service organization, he spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to appear to be advocating for changes to the medical corps.
While there are benefits to talking about military-related stressors with someone else in uniform, he said there’s still the fear that it will later be used against you, which leaves some seeking help outside the military.
"That perception that it’s going to affect your career is still real," he said. "And to be frank, I don’t think the services know how the hell to fix the issue as it relates to mental health and suicide."
Service leaders say they remain committed to ending that fear. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters last week that leaders will continue to try "every trick in the book to try and get this under control."
"It’s such a difficult problem," he said. "… The [programs] that show the most hope are those where we really get down to small-unit cohesion so that our sailors all feel like, no matter what the situation they may be confronting — a professional challenge, a personal challenge, whatever, that they are part of some kind of a team."
The Air Force, which Lopez said currently has about 1,600 uniformed mental-health professionals, is working toward an end goal of never losing another airman to suicide. Its suicide-prevention program is designed not only to provide maximum support to airmen and their families, but to commanders leading their troops as well, said Brig. Gen. Michael Martin, director of Air Force Integrated Resilience.
"It is about a culture of care and respect established by commanders and senior enlisted leaders that arms airmen at all levels with the training and tools for the decisive edge when their wingmen are in crisis," he said.
As the 2020 budget-planning process, which will decide the outcome for the number of billets the uniformed medical corps will see in the year ahead gets under way, Gulick said the goal is to balance support for the National Defense Strategy while also being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.
"Our priority remains to ensure our medical personnel are trained, equipped and ready to support the operational forces, while delivering outstanding care to our beneficiaries as we maximize our military and private-sector care network to provide timely access to great care," he said.