Entries in Iraq (26)


Obama: War in Iraq Ends 'This Month'

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama said Monday he has no doubt Iraq will succeed as an independent, post-war nation, but that history will judge America’s decision to invade the country nearly nine years ago.

Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stood side-by-side following a morning meeting at the White House where they discussed the final days of U.S. troop presence in Iraq and future relations between the two countries.

“As we end this war and as Iraq faces its future, the Iraqi people must know that you will not stand alone,” Obama told al-Maliki during a joint news conference. “You have a strong and enduring partner in the United States of America.”

About 6,000 U.S. troops remain in advance of the Dec. 31 withdraw deadline, down from 170,000 at the peak in 2007.

Obama said that the United States will maintain a “strong diplomatic presence” inside Iraq—including about 16,000 people working in the embassy in Baghdad, but that all troops will leave the country and all military bases will close.

Following a joint press conference, Obama and al-Maliki visited Arlington National Cemetery, where nearly 4,500 Americans killed during the war are buried.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Veterans: A Look at Those Who've Served

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- America has been at war with Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade, and during that time, more than two million Americans have been deployed overseas.

Friday, on 11-11-11, as the country celebrates Veteran's Day, the millions of Americans who have not worn the country's uniform will take a moment to honor and remember those who have.

Here's a look at America's veterans, by the numbers.

Those Who Have Served: 2,333,972

In the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 2.3 million American military personnel had been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or both, as of Aug. 30, 2011.  Of that total, 1,353,627 have since left the military and 711,986 have used Veteran Affairs health care between fiscal year 2002 and the third-quarter fiscal year 2011.

According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, nearly half -- or 977,542 -- of those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan have been deployed more than once.

Those in Uniform Right Now: 2,317,761

There are currently 2,317,761 men and women in uniform.  Of this total number, 1,348,405 have been deployed since the Sept. 11 attacks.  About 58.2 percent of those currently in uniform have served a deployment since 9/11.

Population: 0.75 percent

According to the 2010 Census, the population of the United States is 308,745,538.  Including active duty, national guard and reserves, the population of Americans in uniform is 2,317,761, meaning that less than 1 percent, 0.75 percent to be exact, of the country's population is a member of the military.

Unemployment Rate: 11.5 percent

While members of the military make up a tiny fraction of the country's population, the unemployment rate for America's veterans far exceeds the national average.  About 11.5 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are unemployed, compared with 9 percent of Americans nationwide.  And that number is on the rise.

In 2007, 6.1 percent of current-war veterans were unemployed.  In 2009, the unemployment rate for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars had risen to 10.2 percent.  It is now more than two percentage points higher than the national average.

According to a Labor Department report released last week, Iraq and Afghanistan vets have higher unemployment rates than living veterans from previous wars because of their young age.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Marines Will No Longer Allow Rolled-Up Sleeves

Sgt. Heather Golden/US Marine Corp(WASHINGTON) -- On the same day that the Marine commandant lifted a ban on wearing KIA bracelets, another fashion edit is raising howls from within the ranks.

Beginning next Monday, Oct. 24, Marines won’t be allowed to roll up the sleeves of their uniforms. Marine regulations currently allow for sleeves to be rolled up on camouflaged uniforms, and doing so is a matter of pride for Marines who feel it makes them look distinctive from the other services.

Marine regulations even have precise instructions for how those sleeves are to be rolled: "The camouflage utility coat will be worn outside the trousers. Sleeves may be rolled up at the option of local commanders. When authorized, utility sleeves will be rolled with the inside out, forming a roll about three inches wide, and terminating at a point about two inches above the elbow. ”

A Marine official says the Marine Uniform Board decided to make the change after Marine leaders observed that “deployed Marines were operating with sleeves down…their intent with this decision is to have one uniform policy, a single look.”

So the board has decided that “the Marine Corps will roll sleeves down and remain sleeves down year-round, beginning on Monday, 24 October. There will be official guidance released soon directing the uniform change.”

On Tuesday, Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos said Marines will be allowed to wear KIA bracelets honoring fallen fellow service members while in uniform. This uniform allowance is effective immediately.

A recent Marine Corps Times article generated controversy when it brought to light how some unit commanders were not allowing their Marines to wear bracelets to commemorate those killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Marines of all ranks were wearing the popular bracelets, though they technically violated regulations that ban Marines from wearing jewelry while in uniform.    

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Amos said that he was allowing their use. "We are acknowledging the close personal nature of our 10 years at war and the strong bonds of fidelity that Marines have for one another, especially for those fellow Marines who we have lost,” said Amos.

“There’s not really a ban on the KIA bracelet specifically,” says the spokesperson for the Marines.  “There are regulations for wearing the uniform and specifically jewelry, and Marines are not allowed to wear bracelets. This falls under that spectrum.  Now, the KIA bracelet will be lumped into the same category as the POW/MIA bracelets, which are approved for wear.”    

According to the statement, effective immediately, “Memorial bracelets memorializing prisoners of war, missing in action, killed in action, and those who died of wounds or injuries sustained in a combat theater are authorized.”

Some senior Pentagon officials have been spotted wearing the bracelets, most notably former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Iraq War Vet Dies in Unlikely Air Tank Explosion

Zigy Kaluzny /Getty Images(ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.) -- An Iraq war veteran planning a diving expedition with two friends in Florida was killed Sunday morning when the scuba tank he was carrying exploded.

Russell Vanhorn III, a 23-year-old former Marine originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was carrying the tank into the parking lot of an apartment complex in St. Petersburg, Fla., when it ruptured. Vanhorn was treated for severe traumatic injuries at St. Petersburg General Hospital and pronounced dead shortly after.

"The explosion was so big it damaged vehicles within 100 feet of the incident," said, Lt. Joel Granata of St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue. "I've never seen anything like this."

St. Pete Fire and Rescue says Vanhorn was preparing for a scuba diving trip with two friends who live in the one-story apartment complex. They were both inside the apartment when the explosion occurred and were not injured.

"When we arrived we noticed the front door of the apartment was blown out, and the man was in the doorway -- half in, half out," said Granata.

The blast caused damages to several vehicles in the apartment complex parking lot, including broken windows and chipped paint. One car even suffered a door being blown out completely.

Granata said fire and police investigators along with a local dive master reported to the scene immediately. They inspected the remaining scuba supplies, checked pressures and bled the air out of a remaining nine tanks that were inside the apartment. The Tampa Bomb Squad also reported to the scene as a precaution.

The St. Petersburg Times reports that Vanhorn learned to scuba dive at Camp Pendleton while serving in the Marine Corps. The Times quotes Vanhorn's father as saying that his son aspired to begin a career in scuba diving with another friend from Iowa.

Jill Heinerth, a technical diving expert and legal consultant, said this particular scenario is unusual but added that scuba tank explosions are not unheard of.

"Pressurized tanks can explode for a number of reasons," said Heinerth. "If a tank were to fall over for instance, and the oxygen valves move to an on position and let's suppose there's a source of ignition like a car that's running, if these mix then you've got all the right components for a massive explosion."

Heinerth stressed the importance of following the federal scuba guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Divers should have their tanks visually inspected by a certified technician once a year and every five years a hydrostatic test must be performed. If divers are using anything other than air in their tanks then they should have the tank oxygen cleaned annually by certified technicians.

Heinerth also recommended that people get their tanks filled at a reputable air fill station or dive shop to ensure they have clean air and that it's filled properly, this will lessen contamination that could potentially lead to an explosion.

Puetz said the St. Petersburg Police are investigating to determine if the tank was properly filled with oxygen, had proper attachments and determine if Vanhorn was carrying the tank when the explosion occurred or if he had set it down at the moment.

Vanhorn's friends have had to vacate their apartment, which police have boarded up.

Vanhorn is expected to be laid to rest in his hometown.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President, First Lady Honor Service Members Killed in Iraq, Afghanistan

Leslie E. Kossoff-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama and the first lady Saturday morning visited the section of Arlington National Cemetery where the U.S. service members who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are laid to rest to pay tribute to them.

The president and Michelle Obama made their way to section 60 of Arlington, where they met with a family visiting a grave and walked a row of grave sites hand in hand.  They also took a few minutes to greet others at the cemetery, shaking hands and taking pictures.

Section 60, located in the southeast part of the cemetery, is the burial ground for military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This was the president’s third visit to the section.

After the visit, the president and first lady traveled to a Washington, D.C.-area service event.  They will participate in a number of 9/11 memorials and tributes on Sunday.

The two wars launched by the United States after 9/11 have claimed the lives of 6,213 military personnel.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Poll: Sense of Security Rebounds at 10th Anniversary of 9/11

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Confidence in the country’s safety from terrorism has rebounded sharply in the past year to near its highs, with most Americans expressing satisfaction with the steps the country’s taken in response to 9/11.  But there are two major exceptions: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Overall, support for the country’s response is broad, albeit not deep.  Sixty-seven percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll are satisfied with the way the United States has responded to the attacks, and 64 percent think the country is safer now than it was before 9/11, up sharply from its low -- 48 percent -- a year ago.

Still, likely reflecting the continued sense of risk, far fewer think the country is “much” safer -- 26 percent -- or are “very” satisfied with the U.S. response -- 18 percent.

The two boldest and costliest actions taken by the United States, moreover, are controversial.  This poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds that just 52 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has been effective at reducing the risk of terrorism, and fewer than half -- 46 percent -- say the war in Iraq made the U.S. safer from terrorist attacks.

Larger majorities, however, say a variety of other actions -- from enhanced airport security to increased wiretap and surveillance efforts to the killing of Osama bin Laden this spring -- have been effective at reducing the threat of future terrorism.

It is worth noting that the results of this latest poll come as a new possible terror threat against major U.S. cities has been uncovered.  According to intelligence officials, the CIA has developed information indicating that at least three individuals entered the county in August by air with the intent to launch a vehicle-borne attack against Washington, D.C. or New York around the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Officials say the alleged terror plot was initiated by new al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's successor, who had pledged to avenge bin Laden's death earlier this year in a U.S. raid.

In light of the threat, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said on Thursday that security measures would be ramped up across the city as it prepares for the anniversary of the attacks this Sunday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Iraq War Veteran Dies After Being Ejected From a Roller Coaster

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision(GENESSEE COUNTY, N.Y.) -- U.S. Army Sgt. James Hackemer, an Iraq War veteran and double amputee, died in a tragic roller coaster accident at Darien Lake Theme Park in upstate New York, according to ABC News affiliate WKBW-TV in Buffalo.

At approximately 5:30 p.m. Friday, Hackemer was ejected from the park's "Ride of Steel" as it was operating. Hackemer was in the very front of the ride, according to Genesee County Sheriff Sgt. Greg Walker. The restraints on the roller coaster are a lap bar and seat belt.

Hackemer was reportedly at the park with his children and sister. His children were not with him on the ride at the time of the accident, but a relative said he was accompanied by a college-age nephew.

Hackemer had lost both his legs in combat in Iraq.

A spokesperson for Darien Lake Theme Park issued a statement to WKBW Friday evening with first word of the accident:

"An incident occurred at approximately 5:30 p.m. on Ride of Steel at Darien Lake Theme Park Resort. An adult male guest came out of the Ride of Steel roller coaster, and we are saddened to report that the guest has passed. We are currently investigating the situation with our safety experts and local authorities. Meanwhile, the attraction and surrounding area is closed pending the investigation. Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of the guest."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Passengers Help Soldier Propose in Houston Airport

KTRK/ABC News(HOUSTON) -- A soldier returning from Iraq proposed to his girlfriend in Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, with a little help from his fellow airline passengers.

Each passenger brought a single rose to Army Lt. George Dalton's girlfriend, Lauren Raabe, while she was waiting in the baggage claim area for him. Finally, as Raabe struggled to hold the growing bouquet, Dalton came from behind a small group of revelers accompanying the group and greeted his girlfriend with a kiss.

After giving her the remainder of the huge bouquet of red roses, Dalton told her he had something else for her -- and got down on one knee.

"I don't really know what to say," said Dalton. "Will you marry me?"

Raabe smiled and immediately said yes.

Dalton coordinated the plan with his parents in Houston over Skype while he was in Iraq. When he got on the plane, he asked the flight attendants to help him carry it out.

"They were really helpful," said Dalton to ABC News affiliate KTRK. "They made an announcement and asked for everybody to take a rose and bring it down here to the baggage carousel and she'd be here."

He said the planning kept him on edge.

"I've been nervous for the past couple of hours," said Dalton. "I haven't been able to eat or think about anything else."

Dalton is home for two weeks from a tour in Iraq. The couple said they would marry when he completes his tour, which should be in a few months.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Osama Bin Laden Is Dead, But Costly War on Terror Goes On

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment(WASHINGTON) -- Osama bin Laden's death puts an end to a chapter that has cost the United States thousands of lives, billions of dollars and countless resources.  But it's unlikely to end the U.S. war against terrorism or reduce the resources spent on such missions, though how they are allocated will likely change.

U.S. Navy SEALs killed -- in the words of former President Bill Clinton -- "public enemy number one" in a top-secret, risky operation in Abbotabad, Pakistan Sunday night.

The mission itself was unlikely to have cost the U.S. military a substantial amount, experts say.  It was conducted by 40 SEALs in the dead of night with four helicopters and lasted about 40 minutes.  Any costs associated with the mission would come from the Department of Defense's overall operations and maintenance budget.

It's the hunt leading up to the raid that experts believe was more costly, and likely included aerial predators, unmanned surveillance aircraft, satellite imagery and other high-tech means to pin down bin Laden's location.

The costs of pursuing bin Laden over the years are virtually impossible to calculate.  His pursuit has cost the United States trillions of dollars, two wars and thousands of lives.

Domestically, the defense budget has ballooned at an average rate of nine percent per year since 2000.  Overseas, Congress has appropriated more than $1 trillion for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere since the 9/11 attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The United States spends about $100 billion per year for military aid in Afghanistan, and provides another $6 billion in economic assistance.

The United States has also upped its assistance to Pakistan despite increasingly tense relations with the country.  Since 2001, Congress has approved about $20 billion for Pakistan in direct aid and military reimbursements, an amount that lawmakers now say will require more accountability.  Bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan and the military there did not assist in the operation to kill him, U.S. officials say.

Bin Laden's death, though huge for the United States, is unlikely to ease the financial burden, observers say.

"The only way you're going to ease the burden -- you're going to make a real impact financially -- is if troops are brought back out of Afghanistan," said Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle East affairs at the Congressional Research Service.  "That's where the money is....Everything else will be small potatoes."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Coincidence? Bin Laden News Comes Amid Significant Anniversaries

CNN via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Timing is everything.  But what about coincidences of timing?

May 1, 2011 will be noted in the history books as the date President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

It is eight years to the day from another significant date in the United States’ so-called war on terror.  It was on this date in 2003 that former President George W. Bush delivered a speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, with a large banner announcing “Mission Accomplished” hung over the aircraft carrier.

Bush was announcing what he then called the end of combat operations in Iraq.  But the speech was soon followed by an increase in violence from the Iraqi insurgency, and many thousands more casualties followed the speech, which was quickly considered a major political misstep.

The coincidences of timing do not end there.  History notes that Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, but the news was not announced until May 1 and newspaper headlines did not report his death until May 2 -- 66 years ago to this day.

And finally, Monday is Holocaust Remembrance Day.  In Israel it is also a federal holiday to commemorate the memories of the six million Jews and six million others killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.  That date was selected to honor the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, where Jews unsuccessfully fought against their Nazi oppressors in Poland.

As Israel follows the Hebrew, or lunar, calendar, the holiday falls on a different date every year.  This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day is Monday, May 2.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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