Happy 100th Birthday The American Legion

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, March 18, 2019 which is Awkward Moments Day, National Sloppy Joe Day, Goddess of Fertility Day, and Act Happy Day.

This Past Weekend in Legion History:

· March 15-17, 1919: The American Legion is formed in Paris, France, at the American Officers Club, an old mansion at 4 Rue Gabriel, and Cirque de Paris, an amusement hall. Organizers, who originally expected about 300 to attend, are astounded when hundreds more pour in. Officially, 463 register for the caucus, but more than 1,000 are believed to have been there at some point during the weekend.

· The first session of the Paris Caucus is scheduled to start at 10 a.m., but confusion reigns, and the meeting does not begin until 2:55 p.m. Lt. Col. Eric Fisher Wood, a Plattsburgh Camp alum, presides. Among the recorded attendees are Pvt. Harold Ross, who goes on to become editor of The American Legion Magazine and, following that, founder of The New Yorker magazine; future Secretary of the Treasury Capt. Ogden Mills; and future father of American military intelligence, Col. William Donovan. The first four 15-member committees of The American Legion are: Convention, Permanent Organization, Constitution and Name.

· The committee tasked with naming the new organization reports 12 nominations:

· Comrades of the Great War

· Veterans of the Great War

· Liberty League

· Army of the Great War

· Legion of the Great War

· Great War Legion

· The Legion

· The American Legion

· American Comrades of the Great War

· Society of the Great War

· The Great Legion

· American Comrades

· March 15, 1959: World War II “Purple Heart Girl” Frances Langford, a Hollywood singing and acting star, pays tribute to The American Legion’s 40th birthday on her NBC TV network show “Frances Langford Presents. The one-hour episode features such guests as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny and Julie London.

· March 15, 1969: The U.S. Postal Service officially issues a 6-cent commemorative stamp to honor The American Legion’s 50th anniversary. Sales of the stamp begin on March 17, the 50th anniversary of the end of the Paris Caucus that formed the organization.

· March 15, 1969: Legionnaire President Richard M. Nixon flips the switch to permanently light the Tomb of the Unknowns and the amphitheater temple façade at Arlington National Cemetery. Nearly $200,000 was raised for the project, promoted as The American Legion’s 50th anniversary Gift to the Nation.

· March 15-17, 2019: The American Legion celebrates its 100th birthday in Paris, France, throughout the United States and around the world.

· March 16, 1926: Sgt. Stubby dies in his sleep. The only known canine to become an official – rather than honorary – member of The American Legion, the celebrated bull terrier was a stray who wandered into a training camp of the 102nd Infantry Division at Yale University in the spring of 1917. Attracted to the availability of regular chow from the soldiers, he closely befriended Cpl. Robert Conroy. Stubby soon learned to salute officers with his paw, was smuggled overseas and served alongside Conroy in the Yankee Division. He is recorded as having been involved in no fewer than 17 battles. He famously alerted his unit of a mustard gas attack in time to save them. Gassed himself in one German assault during the war, the Army designed a custom gas mask for him. He located wounded troops on the battlefield and comforted the dying. He was wounded by a grenade and, after recovering in the rear, returned to the front where he was in fact credited with rousting a German from the bushes and chasing him – barking and snapping – to his unit where he was taken prisoner. Following the war, Stubby made headlines nationwide, met with top military leaders and presidents of the United States. He marched in the first American Legion National Convention in Minneapolis in November 1919 and was made an official member of Eddy-Glover American Legion Post 6 in New Britain, Conn. Also after the war, he served as the Georgetown University football team mascot. Stubby wore a medal-covered vest and harness, with which he could carry a U.S. flag, in his appearances at veterans event, including several early American Legion national conventions. Included on his vest are distinguished guest badges from early American Legion national conventions and the Iron Cross from the German he captured. He was later stuffed and displayed at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where his vest is today kept. An animated movie, “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero,” debuted in theaters nationwide in April 2018.

· March 17, 1919: Lt. Col. Thomas W. Miller of Delaware, a former member of Congress who enlisted as an infantryman in the Army after an unsuccessful re-election campaign, brings the final day of the Paris Caucus to order. Without a gavel to start the meeting, he pulls from his pocket an 1873 silver dollar, which he always carries with him, and raps it on a table. The day’s business includes choosing the organization’s name, membership eligibility criteria, establishment of an executive committee and the preliminary drafting of a preamble to The American Legion Constitution. Miller would later serve as a national Legislative Committee co-chairman, would co-author the organization’s federal charter, serve on the National Executive Committee both for Delaware and Nevada, and in 1968 would be elected Past National Commander by a vote of the 50th American Legion National Convention in New Orleans.

· After much debate on the final day of the Paris Caucus, in a motion reportedly accelerated by hunger just before lunchtime, “American Legion” is chosen and adopted as a temporary name for the association.

· March 17, 1919: On the evening after the final session of the Paris Caucus, the first American Legion Executive Committee gathers, chaired by Milton J. Foreman of Chicago, with George A. White of Oregon as secretary and Richard C. Patterson as assistant secretary.

· March 17, 1944: The American Legion’s Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 unanimously passes in the Senate.


· Gov’t Exec: Nurses Picket VA Headquarters to Protest Private Care and Vacancies

· Military.com: Why Do So Many Medals of Honor Go to Irish Troops? Here’s One Theory

· Steamboat Pilot: Routt County veteran fights for better veteran healthcare in rural Colorado and nationally

· Military.com: US Bars Entry to International Criminal Court Investigators

· Military Times: US-backed forces admit to ‘difficulties’ defeating ISIS in Syria

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Gov’t Exec: Nurses Picket VA Headquarters to Protest Private Care and Vacancies

By Eric Katz

March 15, 2019

About 100 Veterans Affairs Department nurses from across the country rallied outside the department’s Washington, D.C., headquarters on Friday to protest the leadership of Secretary Robert Wilkie, the department’s 49,000 vacancies and the Trump administration’s crackdown on their union, National Nurses United.

While administration officials have said they have no interest in privatizing the Veterans Affairs Department, many of its health care employees don’t believe those claims, and fear the department is under attack and facing an existential threat.

The nurses protesting in Washington insisted the Trump administration and Wilkie are being dishonest when they call privatization a “myth,” citing the longstanding vacancies and ongoing reform efforts. Several nurses who spoke to Government Executive pointed to the implementation of the Mission Act, which Trump signed into law last year, as evidence VA is committed to shifting funds from its own hospital network to private sector care for veterans.

“He’s lying!” Irma Westmoreland, a nurse based at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., who took leave to attend the rally, said of Wilkie. “I take him by his actions…He’s not authorizing hiring.” Westmoreland referred to Wilkie’s recent testimony to Congress in which he said VA would hire more medical care providers in certain prioritized fields, but it would be unrealistic to backfill every authorized position.

The nurses, wearing red shirts, formed a picket line outside the headquarters’ main entrance and chanted about fighting back and helping veterans. Employees leaving the building for lunch or returning to the office looked confused and surprised as they navigated around the protestors. Security guards stepped outside to monitor the event.

Several nurses highlighted the divergent standards applied to VA nurses and those in the private sector. Under the Mission Act, the department will only pay for veterans to receive private care at pre-approved facilities, but the nurses said that still could lead to inadequate care for the veterans.

Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal called for a $6.5 billion funding increase and would allocate $8 billion directly to Mission Act implementation. Wilkie recently predicted that some opponents of the department’s approach would “claim falsely and predictably that [the moves] represent a first step toward privatizing” VA. He boasted the implementation would “revolutionize VA health care as we know it,” but maintained that expanding choice for veterans would not hamper services within the government-run network.

Erin McLeod, a nurse from San Diego who came to Washington to support her union, said the Mission Act itself was privatization.

“As they chip away at our VA system, they are privatizing more and more,” McLeod said. “Where does the money come from [to send veterans to the private sector]? From the hospital funding. So it’s less funding to do the work we’re already doing so they can send veterans out to the community.”

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McLeod and others hoped their protest would increase pressure on the administration to adequately fund and staff the department, and focus management on the needs and recommendations of rank-and-file workers.

“I’m 100 percent sure that the people in this building don’t really know what’s going on at the bedside,” McLeod said. Wilkie failed to realize, she added, that the 49,000 vacancies “impedes us from providing the best possible care.”

Further adding to the tension between the administration and the workforce is the impasse between the department and the 11,000 nurses represented by NNU. Wilkie last year disapproved of a contract proposed by an arbitrator designated by the Federal Service Impasses Panel after VA and the union negotiated for more than two years. Wilkie took issue with more than 350 provisions of the proposed contract, citing sections of VA statute that prohibit the department from negotiating over clinical competence, compensation or direct patient care issues.

The nurses have challenged Wilkie’s decision in district court suit, while also seeking remediation on some provisions of the contract through the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The union said Wilkie overstepped his statutory authority by deeming the provisions of the contract illegal.

“VA is committed to reaching an agreement that puts veterans and VA beneficiaries first,” Curt Cashour, a department spokesman, said last year, “and we will continue working with NNU to do just that.”

Jack Tennant, a nurse who cares for veterans at a facility outside of Washington, saw the labor-management disagreement and the increased access to private care as a two-pronged approach from the administration.

Wilkie is seeking to strip “unions of their power so we can’t fight back and push back against privatization,” Tennant said. “As a veteran, I can tell you I get my care there and the private sector just can’t compete. They don’t know what veterans have gone through to provide the care that they need.”

The nurses planned to go to Capitol Hill later on Friday to push for expanded bargaining rights for VA medical professionals, protections from violence against VA workers and other legislative proposals.

Military.com: Why Do So Many Medals of Honor Go to Irish Troops? Here’s One Theory

16 Mar 2019

Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla. | By Howard Altman

James Bradley McCloughan watched as President Donald Trump placed the Medal of Honor around his father’s neck, commemorating a series of selfless, heroic acts that saved the lives of fellow soldiers during the Vietnam War,

As the president read the citation during the July 2017 ceremony, the son — a Michigan state policeman — heard for the first time the story of his father’s bravery under fire.

"It’s something that you just don’t bring up for two reasons," medal recipient James Charles McCloughan explained in an interview Thursday. "No. 1, you don’t want to go there. You’ve been through it. Once is enough.

"No. 2, people might not believe you if you told them, anyway."

McCloughan, 72, and fellow Medal of Honor recipient Robert O’Malley, 75, were guests of honor at Thursday evening’s opening of the Irish Veterans Congressional Medal of Honor exhibit at the Tampa History Center downtown.

Sponsored by Irish Veterans Post 2, the exhibit honors the contributions of the Irish and Irish-Americans to the nation’s defense. It was created in conjunction with the Congressional Medal of Honor Convention coming to Tampa Oct. 22-29.

The new exhibit also features the Medal of Honor awarded to Ireland-born Navy sailor Michael Gibbons for his actions May 11, 1898, at the Battle of Cienfuegos during the Spanish-American War. Gibbons took part in a dangerous mission to cut underwater communications cables linking the coastal Cuban city to the Spanish military command.

Of the 3,515 Medals of Honor awarded by the United States, some 2,018 have gone to Irish-Americans, according to Patrick McDermot of Irish Veterans Post 2, created in Tampa in 2017.

Spc. 5 James C. McCloughan speaks during his Medal of Honor Hall of Heroes induction ceremony Aug. 1, 2017, at the Pentagon.

To help explain the numbers, McCloughan turned to history.

"If you go back to the culture of the Irish you know we’ve been fighting each other and fighting the Scottish and so on and so forth for years and years and years," he said.

His own family’s military history dates to the Picts, who lived in Scotland during the early Medieval period.

"You learn to stick up for your rights and the rights of others," said McCloughan, of Michigan, who taught high school sociology and psychology after leaving the military.

"When you go into the service, maybe you are thinking about serving your country but I’m going to tell you what once you get there you just worried about surviving and then helping as many of your brothers survive as possible."

Heritage, then, may help explain McCloughan’s own extraordinary actions as an Army private first class during the Vietnam War nearly half a century ago.

Over the course of a hellish 48 hours in May 1969, McCloughan rushed into a sea of bullets, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars to rescue his fellow soldiers and fight off the enemy.

He was a combat medic with Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade. He was wounded three times during the battle and was credited with saving the lives of 10 Americans from enemy fire and patching up dozens more.

Surrounded by superior forces and running out of supplies, McCloughan volunteered to hold a blinking strobe light in an open area to help guide in a nighttime resupply drop, exposing himself to enemy fire.

He is also credited with using a grenade to take out an enemy rocket-propelled grenade position, fighting and killing enemy soldiers, treating a number of casualties, keeping two critically wounded comrades alive through the night, and getting the wounded and dead ready to be evacuated at daylight.

Fellow honoree O’Malley received the Medal of Honor for his actions as a Marine corporal in 1965, when he ran cross an open rice paddy in South Vietnam and charged an enemy trench. Wounded three times, he gathered up his battered and wounded squad, led them to a helicopter to be flown out, and remained on the ground, and used gunfire to keep the enemy covered until all the wounded could board their helicopters.

That year, O’Malley became the first Marine awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.

Steamboat Pilot: Routt County veteran fights for better veteran healthcare in rural Colorado and nationally

Kari Dequine Harden

March 17, 2019

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Healthcare benefits for veterans aren’t just handed over. They must be constantly fought for, as Jim Stanko knows firsthand.

Today, Stanko, who served in the U.S. Army after being drafted in the early 1970’s, dedicates a significant amount of time and energy to ensuring veterans receive the healthcare they need — and earned.

Stanko is a third generation rancher, operating a centennial ranch with a cattle and hay operation, on Routt County Road 33, but addressing the challenges facing veterans in rural areas, in particular, is the work closest to Stanko’s heart.

It was in the 1980’s, when he was working at the Routt County Extension Office, Stanko became involved in healthcare issues facing veterans. His office was next door to the local Veterans Affairs office. He soon joined the American Legion and became commander of Post 44 in 1995. He also became a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars.

One of the first issues Stanko worked on was bringing a telehealth clinic to Craig.

With the closest VA hospital located in Grand Junction, Stanko saw a need for veterans, especially the World War II vets, to get care closer to home.

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The telehealth clinic in Craig was the first of its kind in Colorado, Stanko said, and "set a standard for the state and the country." It provided a place where a nurse practitioner covers basic care, can draw blood, monitor vital signs and teleconference with VA doctors in Grand Junction for additional needs.

Because of his work with the telehealth clinic, Stanko was appointed to the Colorado Board for Veterans Affairs in 2006. He has served as chairman for the past two years.

Through his work on the state board, they were able to utilize money from tabacco lawsuits to establish a veteran trust fund for grants.

Stanko and Post 44 applied for one of the first grants, allowing them to provide transportation for veterans to and from Grand Junction or wherever they received treatment.

They’ve gotten that funding for about 15 years, Stanko said, though it is never guaranteed and must be applied for on an annual basis.

Six years ago, Stanko was appointed to the American Legion’s Veteran Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission.

He just returned from his sixth lobbying trip to Washington D.C., where Stanko and a group of other veterans from across the country held meetings with every congress member.

He personally met with Reps. Scott Tipton, Doug Lamborn, Ken Buck and Sen. Cory Gardner — thus "covering almost all of rural Colorado."

While there are numerous legislative issues the American Legion advocates for, Stanko pointed to three at the top of his priority list.

First is support for the VA’s suicide-prevention efforts. An estimated 20 veterans end their lives every day, and most were not receiving care or support through the VA — support that may have saved them — according to the American Legion’s Legislative Agenda.

Access to mental health care isn’t readily available, Stanko said. And they are seeing a lot of younger veterans returning with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

While there may have not been any veteran suicides in Routt County in recent years, there are a lot of young veterans returning from service, and the "potential is there." Stanko wants to be proactive on the preventative measures, like expanding mental health treatment.

A second important issue is improving healthcare for female veterans. Women now make up about 30 percent of the military, Stanko said. And a large percentage don’t enroll for benefits, according the American Legion, with one of the factors being "limited gender-specific treatment services."

Stanko has been involved in visits to hospitals with suggestions on how they can "better accommodate women veterans." And hospitals in Denver and Grand Junction have responded as a result, he said. They’ve created separate areas within the VA hospitals and adapted other components to better serve women. "I can say I’ve been a part of the group getting the VA to recognize and establish better healthcare accommodations for women," he said.

Stanko’s biggest push is for the implementation of the VA Mission Act. In 2014, the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act, known as the Choice Act, was passed, but it was rife with problems, Stanko said.

In order to get care from chosen or local providers, there were numerous layers through which to navigate — both for veterans and providers. And providers often weren’t seeing the reimbursements they were promised.

The intent was to allow veterans to choose their healthcare providers, but the actual execution was poorly designed, Stanko said.

"The implementation was sort of on the spur of the moment to make people feel better. It just didn’t work."

It has since been replaced with the 2018 Mission Act, which addresses many of the insufficiencies, Stanko said. But, it still has to be funded.

The hope is to see implementation by June, he said. Under the Mission Act, veterans will first go to the VA hospital. If the VA hospital can’t provide the immediate and necessary services, then the VA will assign the patient to a local or outside provider.

Another important component of the Mission Act, Stanko said, is the stipend provided to at-home caregivers. But, part of that battle has been getting the stipend to apply for older, pre-September 11, 2001, veterans.

For decades, Stanko has put in countless hours toward advocating for his fellow veterans, in addition to running a ranch.

"It’s a passion for me," he said. "I’ve always felt living in rural areas has often given us the short straw in getting the benefits veterans deserve."

In addition to his annual trip to D.C., Stanko keeps track of everything happening legislatively as the state and national level and attends town halls with local representatives.

Looking forward, he wants to see more young veterans get involved. "They don’t always realize the benefits they are getting are because of the veterans who came before."

Military.com: US Bars Entry to International Criminal Court Investigators

16 Mar 2019

The Associated Press | By Matthew Lee

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States will revoke or deny visas to International Criminal Court personnel seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere, and may do the same with those who seek action against Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.

Pompeo, acting on a threat delivered in September by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, framed the action as necessary to prevent the international body from infringing on U.S. sovereignty by prosecuting American forces or allies for torture or other war crimes.

"We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation," Pompeo said.

U.S. officials have long regarded the Netherlands-based ICC with hostility, arguing that American courts are capable of handling any allegations against U.S. forces and questioning the motives of an international court.

The ICC and its supporters, including human rights groups that denounced Pompeo’s announcement, argue that it is needed to prosecute cases when a country fails to do so or does an insufficient job of it.

The visa restrictions would apply to any ICC employee who takes or has taken action "to request or further such an investigation" into allegations against U.S. forces and their allies in Afghanistan that include forced disappearances and torture.

Pompeo said the restrictions "may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without the allies’ consent," he said.

The Hague-based court, the first global tribunal for war crimes, said it would continue to operate "undeterred" by the U.S. action.

The ICC prosecutor has a pending request to look into possible war crimes in Afghanistan that may involve Americans. The Palestinians have also asked the court to bring cases against Israel.

Speaking directly to ICC employees, Pompeo said: "If you are responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of U.S. personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan, you should not assume that you still have or will get a visa or will be permitted to enter the United States."

That comment suggested that action may have already been taken against the ICC prosecutor who asked last year to formally open an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants, as well as U.S. forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003.

The prosecution’s request says there is information that members of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies "committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period."

The United States has never been a member of the ICC. The Clinton administration in 2000 signed the Rome Statute that created the ICC but had reservations about the scope of the court’s jurisdiction and never submitted it for ratification to the Senate, where there was broad bipartisan opposition to what lawmakers saw as a threat to U.S. sovereignty.

When President George W. Bush took office in 2001, his administration promoted and passed the American Service Members Protection Act, which sought to immunize U.S. troops from potential prosecution by the ICC. In 2002, Bolton, then a State Department official, traveled to New York to ceremonially "unsign" the Rome Statute at the United Nations.

This past September, Bolton said the ICC was a direct threat to U.S. national security interests and he threatened its personnel with both visa revocations and financial sanctions should it try to move against Americans. Pompeo said Friday that more measures may come.

The ICC said in a statement it was established by a treaty supported by 123 countries and that it prosecutes cases only when those countries failed to do so or did not do so "genuinely." Afghanistan is a signatory.

"The court is an independent and impartial judicial institution crucial for ensuring accountability for the gravest crimes under international law," the statement said. "The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law."

Supporters of the court slammed Pompeo’s announcement.

Human Rights Watch called it "a thuggish attempt to penalize investigators" at the ICC.

"The Trump administration is trying an end run around accountability," it said. "Taking action against those who work for the ICC sends a clear message to torturers and murderers alike: Their crimes may continue unchecked."

Amnesty International described the move as "the latest attack on international justice and international institutions by an administration hellbent on rolling back human rights protections."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents three people before the ICC who say they were tortured in Afghanistan, called the decision "misguided and dangerous" and "an unprecedented attempt to skirt international accountability for well-documented war crimes that haunt our clients to this day."

"It reeks of the very totalitarian practices that are characteristic of the worst human rights abusers, and is a blatant effort to intimidate and retaliate against judges, prosecutors, and advocates seeking justice for victims of serious human rights abuses," it said.

Military Times: US-backed forces admit to ‘difficulties’ defeating ISIS in Syria

By: Philip Issa and Andrea Rosa, The Associated Press18 hours ago

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BAGHOUZ, Syria — U.S.-backed forces fighting to recapture the last Islamic State group outpost in Syria admitted on Sunday they were facing “difficulties” defeating the extremists, saying they were being slowed by mines, tunnels and concerns over harming women and children among the militants.

The battle to capture the extremist group’s last patch of territory in eastern Syria — a collection of tents covering foxholes and underground tunnels in the village of Baghouz — has dragged on for weeks amid an unexpected exodus of civilians from the area.

The sheer number of people who have emerged from Baghouz, nearly 30,000 since early January according to Kurdish officials, has taken the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces by surprise. Most have been women and children whose existence in a labyrinth of underground caves and tunnels was unknown to the fighters.

In the last two weeks, many fighters appeared to be among those evacuating. But an unknown number of militants and civilians remain inside, refusing to surrender.

"We are facing several difficulties regarding the operations," SDF commander Kino Gabriel told reporters outside Baghouz on Sunday.

He cited the large number of mines and explosive devices planted by ISIS and the existence of tunnels and hideouts beneath the ground that are being used by the militants to attack SDF forces or defend themselves.

The camp is all that remains of a self-declared Islamic "caliphate" that once sprawled across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq. But a declaration of victory and the group’s territorial defeat has been delayed as the military campaign sputtered on in fits and starts.

A final push by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces started on Jan. 9 but has been paused on several occasions, mainly to allow for civilians to evacuate and fighters to surrender.

Underscoring the struggles faced by the SDF as they try to flush the out extremists, three ISIS fighters emerged from Baghouz on Friday acting as though they wanted to surrender only to blew themselves up, killing six people.

The campaign has also been hindered by bad weather. Intermittent storms have at times turned the battlefield to mud and ISIS militants have mounted counteroffensives on windy days, burning tires and oil to try to force the SDF back with smoke.

On Sunday, dozens of men and women were seen walking around the besieged IS encampment in Baghouz, as SDF fighters watched from a hilltop close by.

The camp, looking much like a junkyard, was littered with damaged vans and pickup trucks parked between tents where people appeared to be moving about.

On the hilltop lookout north of Baghouz, an SDF sentry, lying flat on his stomach with his rocket launcher trained on the camp, cautioned an approaching comrade not to get too close. “There are snipers,” he said of the ISIS camp.

Gabriel said the camp was approximately 0.25 square kilometers in size — much the same area it was five weeks ago, when the SDF said it was finally going to conclude the battle.

In the middle of the camp stands a pair of two-story compounds, showing little sign of damage. Several houses that appeared habitable can be seen as well.

With operations now stretching into the spring, Gabriel faced pointed questions from the press over whether ISIS would be able to resupply itself with water and goods, despite the siege.

He said he was not aware of any smuggling tunnels still in operation, and that ISIS was cut off from the outside world.

"I don’t think we will be seeing more ISIS terrorists appearing in this pocket, he said.

A commander participating in operations on the western side of the enclave said he did not believe ISIS was fleeing to the other side of the Euphrates River either, where Syrian government forces and their allies are holding positions.

Gabriel said 29,600 people have left Baghouz since Jan. 9, among them 5,000 fighters — far greater than the SDF had initially estimated remained inside.

He said the SDF no longer estimates how many people remained in Baghouz but added that recent evacuees told the fighting forces that another 5,000 were still inside.

The force and the Kurdish-led authorities that administer northeast Syria have banned in recent days journalists from interviewing evacuees from Baghouz.

The evacuees are now living in detention-like camps in the self-administered region that international humanitarian organizations say are vastly overcrowded and underserved. They say disease is rampant in the camps and medical care is desperately needed.

“The Daesh terrorists are starting to feel hunger and thirst and we are seeing this in the people who are coming out of the camp,” said Gabriel, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.


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