IAVA Daily Brief 10.30.09
Posted by Terrell Frazier on October 30
Here are some of today's top stories and happenings at IAVA. Prefer to receive real-time updates about major stories and legislation that IAVA is tracking? Follow us on Twitter @IAVAPressRoom.
1) In Shift, Military Covers Family Expenses to See Loved Ones Return to Dover
When President Obama was on hand for the return of 18 fallen Americans at Dover Air Force Base last night, 14 families of the fallen were also in attendance. Their presence reflects another change that occurred when the Pentagon lifted the ban on media coverage at Dover this past April, the Pentagon would now pay for the travel and lodging for families that chose to be on hand when their loved ones returned to Dover. The change has led to a significant number of families choosing to travel to Delaware than before the change in policy. Prior to the policy change, families were allowed to attend the dignified transfers at Dover, but they did so at their own expense. House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that he was overwhelmed by what he saw when he accompanied President Barack Obama to Dover Air Force Base to meet the dead bodies of Americans killed in Afghanistan this week.
2) Pentagon Pressed on IEDs in Afghanistan
Concerned by the growing number of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan caused by Improvised Explosive Devices, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.) on Thursday pressed the Army general in charge of combating the deadly explosives to step up his efforts. Hunter said he’s been told repeatedly that Task Force Odin (Observe, Detect, Identify, and Neutralize), a battalion established in 2007 in Iraq to ferret out networks that make IEDs, as the explosives are known, would deploy to Afghanistan “soon,” but he said it hasn’t happened yet and wanted to know why. Testifying during the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing, Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz explained that he helps fill requests from the commanders in theater – and that he tries not to manage the war from thousands of miles away.
3) Passports Linked to 9/11 Found Along Afghan Border
Pakistani soldiers battling their way into a Taliban stronghold along the Afghan border have seized passports that may be linked to 9/11 suspects, as they confront an enemy skilled in operating in a mountainous terrain with endless ways to wage a guerrilla war. The military on Thursday took foreign and local journalists for a first look inside the largely lawless territory since it launched a ground offensive here in mid-October. The U.S.-backed operation is focused on a section of the tribal region where the Pakistani Taliban are based and are believed to shelter al-Qaida.
Wednesday’s gun battle that left eight people dead at a U.N. guesthouse brought the total the number of aid workers killed in Afghanistan to 23 this year. The vast majority of attacks are on Afghan nonprofits, not international organizations or international worker. The United Nations halted operations while it reviewed security. U.N. flights to and from Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan were suspended at least until Saturday. The attack on U.N. workers in Kabul was particularly shocking for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan since its officials have made a point of emphasizing the organization’s impartiality. The United Nations has tried to impress on Afghans that it does not support any side in the conflict and is unlike the foreign military forces here.
The UK Telegraph reports that the US military is cutting back on recreational activities including salsa and karaoke nights at major Afghan bases to toughen resolve and free up space on supply flights. According to the outlet Gen. Stanley McChrystal began purging recreational activities soon after arriving in Afghanistan. The latest move, which is so far confined to US troops, is also an attempt to dispel the perception that those on large airbases have a soft life compared to those on the front line.
Two new U.N. audits reveal that tens of millions of dollars allocated to the Afghan election commission for the country's August election are currently unaccounted for, ProPublica reports. The audits were commissioned after the U.S. Agency for International Development accused the United Nations of failing to safeguard more than $263 million in USAID funds over a six-year period. According to the audits, the United Nations generally failed to provide oversight for U.S. money, which amounted to between $100 million and $150 million of the roughly $300 million spent on the election.
In a new column on the New York Times, columnist and noted activist Nicholas Kristof argues that, instead of dispatching more troops to Afghanistan, the Obama Administration should focus on building schools. He argues that despite the surge in violence, organizations have successfully been building schools across the country and that such development is one way to stabilize the society.
A top German general said Thursday that a NATO investigation of an airstrike against a pair of hijacked Afghan tanker trucks showed the attack was appropriate even though it led to civilian casualties. Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan, who is the general inspector of the German army, also said that the exact death toll could no longer be confirmed. James Appathurai, a NATO spokesman in Brussels, said he could not comment on the report.
The Defense Department on Thursday identified the seven soldiers killed Oct. 27 in Arghandab Valley in southern Afghanistan when their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.
Rancorous debate over voting in the disputed Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Thursday once again postponed a parliamentary vote on a new election law. Parliament convened on Thursday afternoon, but the most important item, a debate on a law to cover voting the January 16 parliamentary elections, was not on the agenda. Debate over the conduct of elections in the city has forestalled a vote on the law several times in recent weeks.
Iraq announced the arrests of dozens of military and security personnel on Thursday over Baghdad suicide bombings that killed 155 people, trying to calm public outrage at the government's apparent inability to protect its people ahead of January elections and the pending U.S. troop withdrawal. Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a military spokesman for the Iraqi capital, told The Associated Press that 11 army officers and 50 security officials have been taken into custody over Sunday's bombings — the worst attacks in Iraq in over two years.
A new law meant to protect the voting rights of deployed troops and other Americans overseas is forcing at least a dozen states to consider holding their primaries earlier or to negotiate another plan that federal officials will accept. Ballots must be sent to certain voters at least 45 days before an election under a requirement included in a major defense bill signed Wednesday by President Barack Obama. It leaves states with 2010 primaries in August and September in a bind because the deadline for distributing November ballots will pass by the time many certify the results of the primary.
Even as the Air Force prepares to toughen physical fitness standards for airmen, it’s proposing to do away with mandatory physical training. That means commanders no longer would have to provide airmen at least 270 minutes per week to exercise during duty hours. But airmen would still have to be prepared to pass more stringent PT tests twice a year. If approved, the Air Force would be the first of the military services to eliminate mandatory PT.
The National Football League will honor veterans and active duty military members in a month-long remembrance. In a release Thursday, the league said teams will honor veterans and the armed services with a number of pre-game and in-stadium initiatives this month, including a visit to wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington on Nov. 7 by Redskins players and officials. The NFL, will continue to offer its Game Pass HD service free of charge at USO Centers for military members stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Germany, Italy, Korea and Japan.
The recommended mailing date for the most economical postage to overseas U.S. military personnel is fast approaching. The U.S. Postal Service recommends that anybody sending mail to people stationed overseas military installations, including Iraq and Afghanistan, send it by Nov. 13.
The military will be required to submit a report on the number of troops who have been cut off from their children by family members overseas during the last two years, according to an amendment in the newly approved Defense Authorization Bill. Though it stops short of requiring the Defense Department to implement new policies to assist servicemembers affected by international child abduction, the amendment is intended to spur such a move, according to sponsor Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.
Two senior Democratic lawmakers with central roles on defense issues are stepping up their pressure on President Obama to resist Pentagon recommendations for a troop surge in Afghanistan. Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Pennsylvania Rep. John P. Murtha, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, each drew parallels between the president’s coming decision and past presidential decisions that led to two U.S. strategic military debacles: the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam.
Two Florida lawmakers propose an expansion of Post-9/11 GI Bill coverage to include reimbursement for the cost of college preparation classes. Reps. Adam Putnam, a Republican, and Ron Klein, a Democrat, are sponsors of the bill, called the Test Prep for Heroes Act. The bill would have the Post-9/11 GI Bill cover reimbursement for classes that help students get ready for college preparation tests. The new education benefit program already covers up to $2,000 for licensing and certification tests, and up to $1,200 for the cost of tutoring, but it does not cover classes and courses that help prepare for college placement tests.
The Senate will convene at 10:00 a.m.
SENATE FLOOR ACTIVITY of INTEREST
Morning business with Senators permitted to speak for up to 10 minutes each.
There will be no roll call votes on Friday.
FUTURE COMMITTEE HEARINGS of INTEREST
November 5, 2009 Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Hearing on cooperation between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service. 10:00 a.m.; 418 Russell
THE HOUSE of REPRESENTATIVES
The House is not in Session
HOUSE FLOOR ACTIVITY of INTEREST
No issues today
HOUSE COMMITTEE HEARINGS of INTEREST
No issues today
FUTURE HOUSE COMMITTEE HEARINGS of INTEREST
Cancelled: November 4, 2009 Veterans‚ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Hearing: “Gulf War Illness: What Lies Ahead for Veterans?” 10:00 a.m.; Cannon 334
November 5, 2009 Veterans‚ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity Hearing: Adaptive Housing Grants 1:00 p.m.; 334 Cannon HOB
November 19, 2009 Veterans‚ Affairs Subcommittee on Health Hearing: Review of VA Contract Health Care: Project HERO 10:00 a.m.; 334 Cannon
December 3, 2009 Veterans‚ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity Roundtable 1:00 p.m.; 334 Cannon HOB
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