17 December, 2018 08:50

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, December 17, 2018 which is National Maple Syrup Day, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Pan American Aviation Day and Wright Brothers Day.
This Weekend in Legion History:

  • Dec. 15, 1919: American Legion department commanders and adjutants gather in Washington, D.C., for what is known as the first “Rehab Washington Conference,” predecessor of today’s annual Washington Conference where members meet with congressional representatives to seek improvements in federal health care and benefits for veterans.
  • Dec. 16, 1919: The American Legion scores its first legislative victory in Washington. Newly elected National Commander Franklin D’Olier and his fellow Legionnaires from across the country are invited to dinner by members of the House of Representatives. The Legion, on its own, brings along several severely disabled veteran patients of Walter Reed Army Hospital. The disabled veterans speak at the dinner about their conditions and scant government support they receive – $30 a month for a full service-connected disability. The following day, revisions are made to the Sweet Bill, increasing compensation for totally disabled veterans by $50, to $80 per month. The amended bill, much to the surprise of its original sponsors, passes before Christmas.

This Day in History:

  • 1903: Near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright make the first successful flight in history of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. Orville piloted the gasoline-powered, propeller-driven biplane, which stayed aloft for 12 seconds and covered 120 feet on its inaugural flight.
  • 1944: During World War II, U.S. Major General Henry C. Pratt issues Public Proclamation No. 21, declaring that, effective January 2, 1945, Japanese American “evacuees” from the West Coast could return to their homes.


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VoA: US, Taliban to Meet Monday in UAE
December 16, 2018 3:15 PM
A Pakistan-arranged meeting between U.S. and Taliban officials will be held Monday in the United Arab Emirates to push a political settlement to the war in Afghanistan.
The special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, will lead the U.S. team at the talks in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the gulf state, a senior Pakistani official privy to the development confirmed to VOA on Sunday.
The official, requesting anonymity, said Islamabad has facilitated the dialogue after President Donald Trump wrote to Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier this month seeking his cooperation in bringing the Taliban to the table for peace negotiations.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a brief statement sent to VOA, has confirmed participation of its political negotiators in Monday’s meeting with American officials, but said that representatives of the host country, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia will also be in attendance.
Initially, it was Khan who disclosed on Friday that Pakistan-aided talks between U.S. and Taliban officials would take place on December 17, though he would not say where.
The Pakistani prime minister, while speaking in the northwestern city of Peshawar, explained his country has agreed to assist in Afghan peace efforts because Washington has changed its position by requesting help, instead of saying Islamabad is not doing enough, as U.S. leaders have previously insisted.
A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday hailed Khan’s remarks and support for a political reconciliation in the war-ravaged neighboring country.
"The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans," the spokesperson told VOA.
"Special Representative Khalilzad has met, and will continue to meet, with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan," noted the U.S. embassy official.
In his speech on Friday, Khan said that if peace were achieved in Afghanistan, his country will be the immediate beneficiary in terms of security, economic stability and regional connectivity.
Khalilzad, is visiting regional countries to gather support for Afghan peace talks. He is 14 days into an 18-day visit to the region and has already visited Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium.
Since taking office in September, the Afghan-born U.S. special envoy has held two meetings with the Taliban in Qatar, where the insurgent group operates its so-called "political office."
But those talks have been for the sake of talks, say insurgent and Pakistani officials.
Demands, accusations
Pakistani officials privy to Khalilzad’s interaction with the Taliban have told VOA that until now no progress has been achieved because the insurgents adamantly demand "a date or timeframe" for all U.S. and NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban decides to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process.
Washington has long maintained Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan with covert support from the country’s intelligence agency. Washington has been urging Islamabad to use its influence to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.
Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan and continue to pose serious battlefield challenges for U.S.-backed Afghan security forces.
The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan 17 years ago and the war with the Taliban has since killed nearly 150,000 people, including Afghan civilians, security forces, insurgents and more than 2,400 American soldiers, according to an American University study released recently.
The longest war effort in U.S. history has also cost Washington nearly one trillion dollars. The Taliban has expanded its insurgent activities and currently controls or hotly contests about half of Afghanistan. The conflict is said to have killed more Afghan civilians and security forces in 2018 than in any other year.
WaPo: Trump administration tries to head off Turkish assault on Kurds in Syria
Top administration officials, including President Trump, scrambled this week to head off a Turkish attack against U.S. Kurdish allies in northern Syria, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced an imminent assault.
In a telephone call Friday with Erdogan, Trump discussed Turkey’s concerns and the two “agreed to continue coordinating to achieve our respective security objectives in Syria,” the White House stated. The call followed contacts earlier this week between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph F. Dunford Jr. and their Turkish counterparts.
On Wednesday, Erdogan said Turkey would carry out a cross-border operation in “a few days” against the YPG, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units that forms the bulk of the U.S.-backed ground force fighting against the Islamic State in Syria. It is known by the U.S. military as the Syrian Defense Forces, or SDF. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters to be terrorists allied with separatist Kurds in Turkey.
The situation is “still tense and Turkish rhetoric is worrisome,” said a U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid inflaming the issue. The official expressed some optimism, following the high-level calls, that ongoing U.S. and NATO efforts to address Ankara’s concerns would calm the situation.
The YPG has been an issue between the United States and Turkey since the start of the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State in Syria. U.S. forces recruited, trained and armed the Kurdish fighters to serve as ground troops in conjunction with withering U.S. airstrikes targeting the Islamic State. Those operations have driven the militants in Syria southward into a small pocket of organized resistance near the Iraqi border, according to administration officials.
U.S. officials initially described the alliance as “tactical” and temporary, saying that villages would be restored to local leadership as soon as the Islamic State threat was vanquished and their security could be assured. Since then, however, the Kurds have set up governing structures in the cleared areas and shown little sign of leaving.
Erdogan accused the United States of “delaying tactics” in keeping its pledge. The SDF, under U.S. overwatch, is now spread over most of Syria east of the Euphrates River, including towns along the Turkish border.
Tensions have been building since late October, when Turkey shelled Kurdish fighter positions near the Syrian town of Kobane — a strike Ankara insisted was in response to a cross-border YPG attack.
Turkey has expressed skepticism over a U.S. plan, described by Dunford earlier this month, to train about 40,000 local fighters, presumably non-YPG, to take over security tasks in the cleared areas. The Turks have similarly questioned U.S. military observation posts set up along the border this month that the Defense Department has said are for Turkish protection.
“We want to be the people who call the Turks and warn them if we see something coming out of an area that we’re operating in,” Defense spokesman Col. Robert Manning III said.
Erdogan dismissed that description as false. “It is clear that the purpose of U.S. observation points in Syria is not to protect our country from terrorists, but protect terrorists from Turkey,” he said Wednesday in a speech, according to Turkish media reports. U.S. troops, Erdogan said, have been interspersed among the SDF near the border “in case Turkey uses its legitimate right of self-defense.”
In a statement Friday, the U.S. coalition command repeated that the observation posts were to “address the security concerns” of Turkey, and that any reports stating otherwise were “false and designed to sow confusion and chaos.”
Federal Times: How feds would be impacted by a Christmas shutdown
By: Jessie Bur   2 days ago
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Thousands of federal employees may soon have to contend with being forced to stay home or having to work without pay, as Congress has only a week left to pass a funding package for several large federal agencies and general government appropriations.
Congress has yet to indicate a likely solution for fully funding the government into 2019, due largely to the fact that President Donald Trump has indicated he will not sign appropriations legislation without at least $5 billion for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
According to data compiled by the Senate Appropriations Committee staff of Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., a partial shutdown would mean that 420,000 federal employees would have to work without pay, a number that constitutes approximately 20 percent of the federal workforce.
Employees that have to work without pay during a shutdown are generally considered essential personnel whose continued work is necessary for public safety, national security or other critical government operations.
Because one of the agencies yet to be funded is the Department of Homeland Security, up to 88 percent of personnel at that agency would be required to work without pay.
Federal law enforcement and correctional officers would also be heavily impacted.
An additional 380,000 employees, making up 18 percent of the workforce, would be furloughed, meaning that they would be out of work for as long as Congress fails to pass appropriations.
A majority of those employees would come from the Department of Commerce or IRS, though significant numbers of feds from NASA, the National Park Service, the Forest Service and the Department of Transportation would be out of work.
A partial shutdown would also impact the thousands of federal contractors that work at the agencies, though their pay and work in the face of the shutdown are dependent on the companies they work for.
Congress has a few options available to avert the Dec. 21 shutdown, the most likely including:

  • Pass full fiscal 2019 appropriations for all agencies currently without it. This option seems unlikely if Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on spending for the border wall.
  • Pass another continuing resolution for all agencies currently without funding, kicking the can into next year and the responsibility of a new Congress with a Democrat-controlled House.
  • Pass full appropriations for all agencies except DHS, the agency that oversees the border wall at the heart of the debate. This option would require the passage of a continuing resolution for DHS or risk a Homeland Security-specific shutdown.

Army Times: Trump says he’ll review murder case against former Green Beret
By: The Associated Press   17 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that he will be “reviewing” the case of a former U.S. Army commando being charged with murder, raising questions about the possibility he could jeopardize the ongoing military legal proceedings.
Trump tweeted that “at the request of many” he will examine allegations that Mathew Golsteyn hunted down and killed a suspected bomb-maker in Afghanistan. The president tweeted that Golsteyn is a “U.S. Military hero” who could face the death penalty “from our own government.”
Any review or intervention by Trump could constitute unlawful command influence and could threaten the case against the former Green Beret.
In a statement Sunday, Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said that "the allegations against Major Matt Golsteyn are a law enforcement matter. The Department of Defense will respect the integrity of this process and provide updates when appropriate."
Trump and other senior military and administration leaders have issued statements about military criminal cases in the past, triggering legal appeals and other complications as the courts work to insure impartial proceedings. The president, however, does have broad authority to pardon criminal defendants.
An Army statement on Friday said Golsteyn was charged with killing the Afghan during Golsteyn’s 2010 deployment to Afghanistan. Golsteyn was leading a team of Army Special Forces troops at the time, and believed that the bomb-maker was responsible for an explosion that killed two U.S. Marines.
The Golsteyn case has bounced around since 2011 when he told the CIA in a job interview that he’d shot and killed the man.

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