9 September, 2019 08:30

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, September 9, 2019 which is National Teddy Bear Day, I’m On Top Of It Day, Care Bears Share Your Care Day and National Boss/Employee Share Day. (I shared an egg McMuffin with my boss.)
This Day in History:

  • On September 9, 1776, the Continental Congress formally declares the name of the new nation to be the “United States” of America. This replaced the term “United Colonies,” which had been in general use.
  • 1971: Prisoners riot and seize control of the maximum-security Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, New York. Later that day, state police retook most of the prison, but 1,281 convicts occupied an exercise field called D Yard, where they held 39 prison guards and employees hostage for four days. After negotiations stalled, state police and prison officers launched a disastrous raid on September 13, in which 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed in an indiscriminate hail of gunfire. Eighty-nine others were seriously injured.
  • On this day in 1942, a Japanese floatplane drops incendiary bombs on an Oregon state forest—the first and only air attack on the U.S. mainland in the war.
  • 1967: Sergeant Duane D. Hackney is presented with the Air Force Cross for bravery in rescuing an Air Force pilot in Vietnam. He was the first living Air Force enlisted man to receive the award, the nation’s second highest award for bravery in action.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

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AP: Trump calls off secret Camp David meeting with Taliban, Afghan leaders
By: Jonathan Lemire and Deb Riechmann, The Associated Press   22 hours ago
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Saturday he canceled a secret weekend meeting at Camp David with Taliban and Afghanistan leaders after a bombing in the past week in Kabul that killed 12 people, including an American soldier, and has called off peace negotiations with the insurgent group.
Trump’s tweet was surprising because it would mean that the president was ready to host members of the Taliban at the presidential retreat in Maryland just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. More than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to go after the Taliban, which were harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for 9/11.
Canceling the talks also goes against Trump’s pledge to withdraw the remaining 13,000 to 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and close U.S. involvement in the conflict that is closing in on 18 years.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s diplomat talking to the Taliban leaders for months, has said recently that he was on the “threshold” of an agreement with the Taliban aimed at ending America’s longest war. The president, however, has been under pressure from the Afghan government and some lawmakers, including Trump supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who mistrust the Taliban and think it’s too early to withdraw American forces.
“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” Trump tweeted Saturday evening.
“They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations,” he wrote.
On Thursday, a Taliban car bomb exploded and killed an American soldier, a Romanian service member and 10 civilians in a busy diplomatic area near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The bombing was one of many attacks by the Taliban in recent days during U.S.-Taliban talks.
The Defense Department says Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Morovis, Puerto Rico, was killed in action when the explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was the fourth U.S. service member killed in the past two weeks in Afghanistan.
“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump tweeted. “If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?”
It remains unclear if the U.S.-Taliban talks are over or only paused. Trump said he called off the peace negotiations after the bombing, but Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy negotiating with the Taliban, was meeting with leaders of the insurgent group in Doha, Qatar, on both Thursday and Friday.
The State Department and the White House declined to respond to requests for clarification. There was no immediate response from the Afghan government as Kabul woke up hours after Trump’s announcement.
Many in the Afghan government, which has been sidelined from the U.S.-Taliban talks, and among the Afghan people have been skeptical of the negotiations, fearing there was little if nothing in the deal to stop the Taliban from continuing its attacks against civilians. The two shattering Taliban car bombings in Kabul in the past week, which the insurgent group said targeted foreigners but killed far more civilians, renewed those fears.
Longtime Afghanistan watchers, including former U.S. officials, apparently didn’t see this twist coming. After word emerged that a Washington visit by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had been postponed, some assumed Ghani had been trying to make a last-minute effort to meet Trump to express concerns about the nearing deal.
“Whatever was the reason for inviting Taliban leaders to Camp David and whatever the real reason for pulling the plug, the peace process has been disrupted at least for the moment,” said Laurel Miller, Asia director for International Crisis Group.
“After all the violence during many months of negotiations, it’s difficult to see why last Thursday’s attack would be the sole reason for changing course. This could be a blow to the credibility of the U.S. commitment to the peace process. Hopefully it can be brought back on track because there’s no better alternative,” Miller said.

Military.com: Pentagon Suspends Mental Health Counseling Referral Services for DoD Civilians

8 Sep 2019
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
The Defense Department on Sept. 1 abruptly suspended its Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which offers referrals for hundreds of thousands in the civilian workforce for health care, mental health counseling, legal matters and other support services. And while officials say there’s an agreement in place to resume the service, it’s not clear when it will start up again.
The suspension of the program went mostly under the radar, with no public announcement from the DoD, although at least one DoD agency advised its staff that they should call 911 in an emergency while the suspension is in effect.
In a posted statement on its website, the Defense Logistics Agency said EAP services provided by Federal Occupational Health (FOH), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "were unexpectedly suspended as of 9/1/2019 while DoD is implementing new contracting mechanisms."
"DoD is working to rectify the situation and allow EAP services to resume as soon as possible. If this is a medical emergency, please call 911 or your health care service provider," the DLA statement said.
Related: Mental Health Disorders in Troops Far Below National Average
DLA officials said the alert was meant for internal staff, and questions on the suspension, the contracts and Federal Occupational Health should be directed to the DoD.
There was no immediate response from the DoD, but Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb confirmed late Friday in an emailed statement that the EAP had been suspended, and the suspension affects DoD civilians at the Pentagon, the military branches, defense agencies and DoD field activities.
The Defense Department is the government’s largest employer, with more than 700,000 civilians in the workforce worldwide.
Babb’s statement said EAP referral services, provided through an arrangement with the Department of Health and Human Services and Federal Occupational Health, would be resumed shortly, but could not say when.
The statement also suggests that a restoration of services under the current arrangement would be temporary while the DoD looks for a "long-term solution" to providing employee assistance.
"DoD’s Employee Assistance Program was previously administered through interagency agreements [with HHS]," Babb said. "Those services were temporarily suspended September 1.
"The health, safety and welfare of our civilian employees is a priority, and DoD is committed to continuing the services previously provided by the Employee Assistance Program," she added. "To minimize the disruption in service, HHS has agreed to temporarily resume Employee Assistance Program services to DoD. DoD is developing long-term solutions to provide this important support to DoD civilian employees."
A spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 250,000 civilians at the DoD, said Thursday the union had received word from the Defense Department that the Employee Assistance Program would be resumed, but "it may take a couple of days for the services to get turned back on."
Federal Occupational Health has a unique status within the government bureaucracy and bills itself as the largest provider of occupational health services in the federal government, serving more than 360 federal agencies and reaching 1.8 million federal employees.
FOH is a "non-appropriated agency" within the Program Support Center of HHS, and as such it "operates like a business within the government and charges government agencies for the services it provides them," according to the FOH website.
FOH, through the Employee Assistance Program, offers initial assessments, short-term counseling, referrals and follow-up support services for health care, family and relationship issues, workplace problems, alcohol and drug dependence, depression and other issues that can affect job performance, according to the site.

Military.com: Two Years After Nude Photo Scandal, Marines Assess Gender Issues in the Corps

7 Sep 2019
Military.com | By Gina Harkins
New Marine Corps survey data could give leaders a glimpse into whether women and others feel protected from discrimination two years after a nude-photo scandal exposed the way some men were mistreating their female colleagues.
Marines across the ranks said their service is no better or worse than those in the civilian job sector at dealing with issues such as gender relations, freedom from harassment, discrimination and fair performance evaluation. That’s according to results from the Fiscal 2018 Exit and Milestone Longitudinal Survey (EMLS), which Marines are asked to take at different stages in their careers.
"[This was] fairly interesting given our past few years with regard to gender relations," said Maj. Kerry Hogan, the Marine Corps’ first-ever survey officer, who created the EMLS. "So this is something that we would definitely want to look at for next year and the year after to see if there’s a shift in that perception."
In 2017, top Marine Corps leaders were forced to address a troubling report about a group called Marines United that shared photos of female troops online without their permission. The scandal highlighted a disturbing trend of female Marines being disrespected by men in the ranks.
The Marine Corps also continues to grapple with having the military’s worst record of sexual assaults against women, with an incidence rate of nearly 11%.
Hogan stressed that the survey doesn’t offer a full glimpse into the command climate across the Marine Corps, but rather a snapshot of how Marines feel about certain issues at a given point in time and in their careers.
But it could indicate that Marines don’t feel leaders are doing any better than anyone else when it comes to combating the problems, despite years of reforms. Following the scandal, the Corps created a task force to identify gender-related problems leading to a breakdown in unit cohesion or good order.
Hogan said Marine officials will now keep an eye on these categories as more survey data trickles in over the coming years to see whether there’s a trend specific within certain ranks or groups of Marines.
"Is there a distinct difference in responses for males versus females would … probably [be] the first question," Hogan said. "And if not, then how about when looking at freedom from harassment or freedom from discrimination … by [groups] of ranks."
One year’s worth of data from the Exit and Milestone Longitudinal Survey isn’t going to affect policy change. Hogan said it’ll take at least three years of survey data to establish a trend.
Since fiscal 2018 was the first time Marines completed the new survey, she said the data was "very preliminary."

Stripes: Alleged American ISIS sniper indicted on terrorism charges
By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 9, 2019
An American citizen who allegedly became a sniper and weapons trainer for the Islamic State in Syria has been indicted in federal court, the Justice Department said.

Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, 43, faces a possible life sentence after accusations of providing material support to ISIS and training terrorists in weaponry, said the statement released last week.

Asainov, a naturalized American citizen born in Kazakhstan, allegedly left his home in Brooklyn on a one-way flight to Istanbul, Turkey, around Christmas of 2013, according to the Justice Department.

Then, prosecutors claim Asainov entered Syria and joined ISIS as a sniper, eventually becoming an “emir” known as “Suleiman Al-Amriki” and “Suleiman Al-Kazakhi.”

Asainov taught other ISIS members how to use weapons and also tried to recruit another person from the United States to travel to Syria to join ISIS, the court filings said.

Asainov was captured by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and handed over to the FBI in July 2019.

“The defendant, a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in Brooklyn, turned his back on the country that took him in and joined ISIS, serving its violent ends in Syria and attempting to recruit others to its cause,” United States Attorney Donoghue said at the time.

Prosecutors say they have a treasure trove of incriminating messages, including photos of three dead fighters, received from a confidential informant working with New York police, the New York Post reported.

The messages by Asainov attempt to both cajole and threaten the informant to leave New York, come to Syria, and join ISIS.

“We will get you. You need to obey. You need to be punished you f–king [redacted]. We will find you and teach you how to behave,” he said in messages published by the New York Post.
In March, 2015, Asainov asked the informant for $2,800 to buy a rifle scope, and later sent photos of himself holding an assault rifle with a scope attachment, the statement said.

As many as 80 U.S. citizens or residents traveled to Syria or Iraq to join extremist groups since 2011. Six have been repatriated to face charges for joining ISIS, Voice of America reported.

Defense News: Defense lawmakers set aggressive schedule for NDAA
By: Joe Gould and Leo Shane III   11 hours ago
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WASHINGTON―When Congress returns to work Monday, authorizers will aim for quick passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, even though a host of differences in the separate House and Senate versions of the bill have yet to be resolved formally.
While lawmakers have been on a five-week summer recess, staff for each chamber’s armed services committees were working to resolve non-controversial issues on the massive annual defense policy measure, clearing the way for conferees to focus on more problematic policy differences when they return this week.
And even with complicated work ahead and only 13 working days in September, aides in both chambers confirmed that leaders hope to draft a compromise conference report by Sept. 19, finalize signatures to the bill by Sept. 23 and set floor votes in each chamber before the end of September.
If successful, Congress would keep alive the legislation’s 58-year streak of successful passage into law ahead of schedule. Last year the measure was finalized in August, but typically the final legislation isn’t finished until November or December.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., has pitched the bill to fellow House Democrats as a way to coalesce around a national security position and aimed for a bipartisan bill―only to have House Republicans to shun the bill en masse for the final 220-197 vote.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said before the summer recess that he believes many of the House bill’s divisive provisions will have to come out in conference so that the bill can pass in the GOP-controlled Senate. His bill passed with a bipartisan 86-8.
Here are the biggest fights to be resolved in the days ahead:
Trump’s border wall
The White House’s recent shift of $3.6 billion in military construction funds to pay for President Donald Trump’s controversial southern border wall project could end up being the largest complicating factor in negotiations ahead.
The House bill already has language barring such funding transfers in the future, and does not include money to cover the projects which lost funding in the shift. Senate Republicans do have the money in their draft and do not include any transfer language restrictions.
Given the recent outrage from congressional Democrats over the administration’s decision, finding a common path ahead on the issue will prove difficult. Smith last week blasted the money move as “stealing from military construction projects and upending years of planning and coordination in hopes that Congress would clean up the mess.” Inhofe said he supported the decision.
The nuclear arsenal
Among a range of differences on nuclear issues, the House bill bars funding for the deployment of a low-yield variant of a submarine-launched warhead called the W76-2. It would cut the entire $19.6 million Defense Department request and $10 million Energy Department request for the program.
Republicans insist prohibiting these weapons puts the U.S. at a disadvantage against Russia, while Smith, a skeptic of nuclear spending, is among critics who say the concept of a tactical nuclear weapon is too dangerous for the U.S. to indulge.
House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said Republicans have blown the issue out of proportion. “If you look at the W76-2, it’s such a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction [of an] overall nuclear force, it’s not even a rounding error. So to make this the be-all and end-all of our nuclear arsenal is misleading,” Cooper said during the full committee markup in June.
War authorizations
The House bill contains separate provisions which bar unauthorized use of force against Iran, repeal the 2002 resolution authorizing the Iraq war, which has since been stretched to other conflicts, and bars support to the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations against the Houthis in Yemen.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have fueled fears among some congressional Democrats that the president will cross the line from tough rhetoric and into war, while Republicans argue the president needs latitude to pressure Iran into a broader Iran nuclear deal.
The Senate’s draft does not address those authorization issues, leaving Democrats and Republicans a substantial divide to bridge in the final legislation.
The military “widow’s tax”
The House authorization bill draft includes eliminating an offset problem with two separate military survivor payouts that can cost some families up to $15,000 a year. But the Senate thus far has resisted the same plan, noting the $5.7 billion price tag over the next decade.
Military advocates have made the issue their top focus in recent months, calling it an issue of fairness and honoring troops’ sacrifices. Inhofe has said publicly he is sympathetic to the idea but also has had little success getting fiscal conservatives to agree to the move.
Just getting the issue into final conference negotiations represents a victory of sorts for those outside military support groups, since the issue often gets bounced from the draft text before the negotiations begin. Now they hope they can turn that legislative momentum into a final fix.
Guantanamo prison rules
House Democrats, many of whom have long objected to continuing operations at the controversial detention facility at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, added language to their draft bill removing restrictions on transferring prisoners from the facility to mainland U.S. prisons and requires a plan to deal with ongoing legal questions surrounding the inmates there.
Republicans in both chambers have argued that the base remains a critical tool in the fight against terrorism, and inserted those restrictions in recent years to block President Barack Obama from attempting to shut down the detention center.
Now, with Congress divided, the question becomes which side is more resolute in their stance on the future of the base, and whether the impasse could be enough to undermine the entire policy bill.

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