29 October, 2019 13:43

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, October 29, 2019 which is National Cat Day, National Hermit Day, National Oatmeal Day and International Internet Day.

Today in Legion History:

· Oct. 29, 1942: Congress approves a change in The American Legion’s federal charter that will make eligible for membership World War II personnel and honorably discharged veterans who served in the U.S. military beginning Dec. 7, 1941.

This Day in History:

· 1998: Nearly four decades after he became the first American to orbit the Earth, Senator John Hershel Glenn, Jr., is launched into space again as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery. At 77 years of age, Glenn was the oldest human ever to travel in space. During the nine-day mission, he served as part of a NASA study on health problems associated with aging.

· 1618: Sir Walter Raleigh, English adventurer, writer, and favorite courtier of Queen Elizabeth I, is beheaded in London, under a sentence brought against him 15 years earlier for conspiracy against King James I.

· 1929: Black Tuesday hits Wall Street as investors trade 16,410,030 shares on the New York Stock Exchange in a single day. Billions of dollars were lost, wiping out thousands of investors, and stock tickers ran hours behind because the machinery could not handle the tremendous volume of trading. In the aftermath of Black Tuesday, America and the rest of the industrialized world spiraled downward into the Great Depression.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· NBC: Kurdish informant provided key intel in operation that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

· Stripes: Two prisoners were captured in Delta Force’s al-Baghdadi raid

· Military Times: California blackouts could hurt veterans, VA secretary warns

· Defense News: Senate Dems likely to block defense spending in border wall dispute

· Military Times: Veteran’s suicide at Florida cemetery raises additional concerns over VA outreach, response

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NBC: Kurdish informant provided key intel in operation that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The informant proved to U.S. intelligence that he had direct access to Baghdadi this summer by turning over the ISIS leader’s used underwear and a sample of his blood.

Oct. 28, 2019, 2:30 PM EDT / Updated Oct. 28, 2019, 8:23 PM EDT

By Richard Engel and Daniel Arkin

Kurdish-led forces allied with the United States provided information — including used underwear for a DNA analysis — that was key to the operation that killed the Islamic State group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Kurdish forces in Syria said Monday.

In an interview with NBC News, Gen. Mazloum Abdi of the Syrian Democratic Forces said his intelligence service had a source deep in al-Baghdadi’s inner circle who described a room-by-room layout of the terror leader’s compound on the Turkish border, including the number of guards, floor plan and tunnels.

Kurdish intelligence operatives who managed the source passed that information to American forces, giving U.S. Special Ops a better understanding of al-Baghdadi’s safe house before striking it, according to Abdi.

Abdi said the unidentified source was on location during the raid and left with the attacking U.S. forces.

The source, whom Abdi described as one of al-Baghdadi’s security advisers, proved to U.S. intelligence that he had direct access to al-Baghdadi this summer by turning over the ISIS leader’s used underwear and later a sample of his blood.

U.S. intelligence tested those samples and got positive DNA matches for al-Baghdadi, kicking the hunt into high gear. The informant stole the underwear about three months ago and the blood sample was taken roughly one month ago, a Kurdish official said.

In an address to the nation live from the White House, Trump said the Kurds did not play a military role in the "dangerous and daring" raid, but provided "some information that turned out to be helpful."

For many Kurdish people, the brief acknowledgment — coming after Trump thanked Russia and other nations — did not sufficiently recognize their role in the raid, as well as the 11,000 men and women the Kurdish-led forces have lost in the almost five-year fight against ISIS.

The perceived lack of recognition only adds to hardening feelings among Kurds in northern Syria, furious over Trump’s decision to withdraw, a move that critics see as a betrayal of the longtime U.S. allies and one that cleared the way for Turkey’s incursion in the region.

Abdi nonetheless praised the raid early Sunday, adding that there was "joint intel cooperation on the ground and accurate monitoring" for five months.

"Thanks to everybody who participate in this great mission," he said on Twitter, tagging Trump in the post.

Trump said al-Baghdadi killed himself and three of his children, detonating a suicide vest as U.S. forces closed in on the compound in northwestern Syria.

He also acknowledged other nations he claimed played a part in the operation, including Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

The Syrian Democratic Forces are led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has long angered the Turkish government. Turkey views the YPG an extension of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey and the United States.

Stripes: Two prisoners were captured in Delta Force’s al-Baghdadi raid

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 28, 2019

WASHINGTON — Army commandos captured two Islamic State fighters in the raid of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s northwest Syria compound that led to the death of the ISIS founder and leader, the top U.S. general said Monday.

The adult males were transported to a “secure location” after their capture, said Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The fighters and other information collected Saturday during the Delta Force raid on the compound could provide the United States invaluable insight into future ISIS plans. News reports, including from the Washington Post citing unnamed U.S. officials, indicated former ISIS members provided information about al-Baghdadi’s location since ISIS lost the last bits of territory that the group controlled in eastern Syria.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said al-Baghdadi’s death would not mean an end to ISIS, an organization still intent on reconstituting its so-called caliphate, which at its height in 2014 stretched across eastern Syria and northern Iraq in an area about the size of the United Kingdom. But the operation presented a warning to terrorists who continued to threaten the United States, he said.

“Al-Baghdadi’s death will not rid the world of terrorism or end the ongoing conflict in Syria, but it will certainly send a message to those who would question America’s resolve and provide a warning to terrorists who think they can hide,” said Esper, who briefed reporters alongside Milley at the Pentagon, a day after President Donald Trump announced al-Baghdadi was killed. “The United States, more than any other nation in the world, possesses the power and the will to hunt to the ends of the earth, those who wish to bring harm upon the American people.”

Esper credited Trump with ordering the operation some seven months after the United States announced the Syrian Democratic Forces had liberated the last of ISIS-controlled territory in Syria. The raid sent a roughly 100-soldier Delta unit on eight helicopters through hostile territory into the facility about 4 miles south of Turkey’s border in the Idlib province in Syria. The area is hundreds of miles from the lands that al-Baghdadi once controlled and has been largely dominated in recent years by anti-Syrian regime forces, including al-Qaida aligned groups, which opposed ISIS.

Trump on Sunday said al-Baghdadi had attempted to flee the compound after the U.S. commandos attack, and he was chased into a dead-end tunnel by a military dog before setting off an explosive vest, killing himself, three children and wounding the canine. Milley and Esper confirmed many of those details on Monday, but they declined to characterize al-Baghdadi as “screaming, crying and whimpering” like “a coward” in his final moments, as Trump said repeatedly during a Sunday news conference to announce the terrorist leader’s death.

They also declined to provide the name of military dog that chased down al-Baghdadi, because the canine remained in the Middle East on duty attached to a classified unit. When asked for its name, Milley said he would not release it "to protect [the dog’s] identity." Later Monday, Trump tweeted a photograph of the canine, a Belgian Malinois, but he did not reveal its name.

Milley and Esper were photographed alongside Trump and other top administration and military officials watching the raid from the White House Situation Room. Milley said Trump might have learned such details by talking with service members present on the raid, but the general said he had not yet talked to those troops.

Al-Baghdadi’s remains were removed from the compound after his death and were transported to a secure location where his identity was verified through DNA forensics, Milley said. His body was then disposed of “appropriately,” the general said, declining to confirm al-Baghdadi was buried at sea as U.S. special operations forces had done after killing a previous most-wanted terrorist, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Milley did confirm the Pentagon on Monday was reviewing video and photographic evidence captured during the raid and could release imagery in the coming days. Trump, too, hinted Monday that he hoped to release some video from the mission.

Even after al-Baghdadi’s demise, American forces, which Trump ordered in recent weeks to withdraw from Syria, will remain in the country, including some of them aimed at ensuring ISIS cannot return to power. The United States will not return forces to areas of northeastern Syria along Turkey’s border where it evacuated special operators ahead of a Turkish invasion aimed at Kurdish troops who led the anti-ISIS fight. But Esper said some troops, including ones who operate from armored vehicles, had moved into areas farther south to protect U.S.-held oil fields, which ISIS once used to finance its worldwide terrorist operations.

That move is designed to deny ISIS access to those oil fields, but it also blocks Russian or Syrian regime forces from gaining control of them, Esper said, adding more U.S. forces could be moved into that area around Deir al-Zour.

Esper said those oil fields could be used by the Syrian Democratic Forces to help finance their operations, including maintaining prisons holding thousands of ISIS fighters. He added the mission of American troops there would not be indefinite.

“At the end of the day my expectation is that we will have fewer [troops in Syria] than we had before,” he said. “And they will be going home.”

Military Times: California blackouts could hurt veterans, VA secretary warns

By: Leo Shane III   19 hours ago

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Ongoing power outages in California are causing serious worries among top Veterans Affairs leaders across the country, who say thousands of veterans lives could be endangered by the problem.

In a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the blackouts “could create significant life-threatening issues for the region’s veterans and their families” as well as supplemental VA health care services in the state, which is home to more than 1.6 million veterans, the most of any state.

“Power outages could become dangerous for veterans receiving in-home care and those who rely on power for the refrigeration of life saving medications like insulin,” the letter states. “With so many veterans dependent upon these necessities, the uncertainty these power outages pose is extremely troubling.”

Veterans aren’t the only ones facing problems. Nearly 3 million people in California are facing total or partial blackouts as utility companies shut down power in areas prone to wildfires. It’s the latest round in an escalating series of power problems in the state in recent months, and could last for several days.

Newsome in recent days has blamed the power problems on “mismanagement by some of the largest investors on utilities” and urged utility companies to find ways to mitigate the problems.

Wilkie in his letter noted that while VA medical facilities in the state have back-up generators to ensure they aren’t left in the dark, many local medical providers that veterans rely upon for treatment are facing hardship because of the blackouts.

He requested regular updates from the state on the status of the power outages, given the potential impact on the veterans population.

Defense News: Senate Dems likely to block defense spending in border wall dispute

By: Joe Gould  14 hours ago

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WASHINGTON ― Key Senate Democrats signaled Monday their caucus is likely to filibuster a proposed 2020 defense spending bill, which Senate Republican leaders plan to offer for a vote this week.

In a Senate floor speech Monday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dared Democrats to hold up the bill, accusing them of blocking a troop pay raise, “for the sake of picking a fight with the White House," even after the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“Imagine the spectacle if the same Senate Democrats who give lengthy speeches criticizing the administration’s actions in Syria block the funding that our commanders need to keep up the missions,” McConnell said. “Imagine the embarrassment if Senate Democrats filibuster funding for our men and women in uniform just days after this past weekend’s heroics.”

“Imagine the supreme irony if the same democrats who want to impeach the president for supposedly delaying military assistance for Ukraine literally themselves delay military assistance for Ukraine by blocking the funding legislation,” McConnell said.

The action promises a repeat of when, in September, Democrats voted against closing debate on the defense spending bill and Republican leadership used similar messaging, that Democrats are playing politics with needed resources for U.S. troops.

Bipartisan spending negotiations to reconcile competing spending allocations, called 302(b)’s, for long-delayed 2020 appropriations bills stretched over the weekend and into Monday. Democrats have been unhappy with the Republican-led Senate’s proposed allocations, saying they shortchange spending Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies to pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall.

Democrats said they still need to reach agreements with Republicans on the allocations, the sequencing of the votes on the remaining appropriations bills, what provisions constitute deal-killing poison pills and how floor amendments will be offered.

Asked if, without those agreements, Democrats would vote against closing debate on the Senate’s defense spending bill, Sen. Richard Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat and the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee’s top Democrat, said, "Of course.

Asked to respond to McConnell’s accusation Democrats were being hypocritical, Durbin said, “Everybody has their version of events, and our version is this president had months to reach an agreement on the current fiscal year, and he’s too busy to do it. He’s too busy making phone calls.”

The Senate has not yet passed any spending bills, while the House has passed 10 of 12 spending bills, including its defense appropriations bill.

This week, Senate Republicans plan to advance an appropriations package that includes measures for the Appropriations subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies; Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; and Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

However, with talks dragging and the likelihood that impeachment proceedings against Trump will dominate congressional business, lawmakers have acknowledged they will likely need a stopgap spending measure that extends after the last funding patch expires Nov. 21, to avoid a government shutdown.

Military Times: Veteran’s suicide at Florida cemetery raises additional concerns over VA outreach, response

By: Leo Shane III  19 hours ago

Another suicide on a Veterans Affairs campus in Florida earlier this month was the 35th such death at a public department space in less than two years, but officials insist it still does not represent a trend among struggling veterans.

The death, which happened at the Bay Pines National Cemetery, occurred the week of Oct. 7, less than 20 days after VA facilities nationwide conducted a “stand down” to discuss new outreach and emergency response protocols with staff. Part of that work was designed to help employees intervene with veterans in public spaces on VA campuses who may be showing signs of suicidal behavior.

The cemetery sits on the sprawling VA campus just northwest of St. Petersburg and is about a 10-minute walk from the Bay Pines VA medical center. The two sites share security and emergency response staff, with personnel conducting rounds throughout the area for signs of problematic activity or veterans in need of assistance.

Local officials released few details of the suicide but said they are reviewing site procedures to see if improvements need to be made. But they added that “proper monitoring and response procedures were followed” in this case.

At least six veterans have died by suicide in public areas at Bay Pines in the last six years. The frequency of the incidents — and the face that the deaths are more visible than veterans suicides that occur at home or while in medical care — have drawn increased scrutiny from lawmakers, who are pushing legislation to ensure Congress is informed when any such death occurs.

In the most recent case, that alert did not happen. Officials at the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee said they were not made aware of the Bay Pines cemetery suicide until being contacted by Military Times.

Members of Congress have also expressed concern that the seemingly increasing number of deaths on VA campuses may point to problems in how employees interact with veterans. But VA officials note that the number of on-campus suicides has decreased in the last few years, even if the number happening in public areas has grown.

VA Press Secretary Christina Mandreucci said since the start of 2018, staff at department campuses have successfully intervened in almost 90 percent of suicide attempts on VA campuses (419 of 466 attempts). Of the 47 deaths, 12 occurred during inpatient care.

“At this time, there is no identified trend demonstrating increasing suicide deaths among veterans in active inpatient care, seeking or recently treated for care, and veterans who die by suicide on VA grounds who are not seeking care,” she said.

Earlier this summer, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie testified on Capitol Hill that investigators have found many of the veterans who die by suicide on department campuses choose the site not as a protest against VA, but instead because their know staff will be able to handle response to the deaths in a professional manner.

But that’s not true in all cases. A suicide note left by a retired Marine Corps colonel who died by suicide at Bay Pines in December 2018 made clear he had multiple complaints against the department, and earlier this year a veteran killed himself in front of dozens of witnesses in the waiting room of a VA outpatient clinic in Austin, Texas.

About 17 veterans die by suicide each day, according to the latest data released by the department. About four more active-duty, guard and reserve also take their own lives daily.

Mandreucci said the department is currently updating the guidance for staff following a suicide on campus, to assist future response and prevention efforts. In addition, “for all events that occur on VA medical facility grounds, VA reviews each event to identify opportunities for further enhancing veteran safety.”

That is part of the review still going on at Bay Pines, where officials said they are investigating “to see if changes are warranted” in the wake of the latest death. No timeline has been released for that work.

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