Entries in Soldiers (7)


Obama Notifies Congress of Troops Deployed to Libya and Yemen

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has taken the formal step of notifying Congress that he has deployed troops “equipped for combat” to Libya and Yemen to defend U.S. citizens and property, pursuant to the War Powers Resolution.

“Although these security forces are equipped for combat, these movements have been undertaken solely for the purpose of protecting American citizens and property,” the president wrote in a letter to Congress. “These security forces will remain in Libya and in Yemen until the security situation becomes such that they are no longer needed.”

A security force from the U.S. Africa Command deployed to Libya Wednesday to support security of U.S. personnel after the killing of four Americans in an attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. An additional security force arrived in Yemen Thursday after the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a.

“These actions have been directed consistent with my responsibility to protect U.S. citizens both at home and abroad, and in furtherance of U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive,” the president wrote. “I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution. I appreciate the support of the Congress in these actions.”

Consistent with the War Powers Resolution, the president has to notify Congress when he dispatches combat-equipped troops to a foreign country.

This situation differs from the U.S. involvement in Libya last year, when the president was criticized for not notifying Congress.

No combat-equipped troops were sent to a foreign country in that instance, whereas these are now boots on the ground.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


White House Disputes 'Auto-Pen' Used for Letters to Soldiers’ Grieving Families

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- The White House Thursday disputed the suggestion that the president had used an auto-pen to sign condolence letters to the families of Navy SEALs killed in a Chinook crash in Afghanistan last year.

“The President personally signs every letter to the families of fallen service members in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, “and he has said many times that it is one of the most difficult parts of his job and a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform.”

The story that the president used an auto-pen to sign form letters was first posted in a blog from The Gateway Pundit, which -- relating concerns and frustrations of a grieving family -- posted letters from the president to Karen and Billy Vaughn, parents of the late SEAL Aaron Carson Vaughn, and letters to other parents of SEALs killed in that Aug. 6, 2011 crash, asserting that the letters were “form letters -- signed by an electric pen.”

Tweeted Donald Trump Thursday with a link to the Gateway Pundit story, “Too busy playing golf? @BarackObama sends form letters with an electronic signature to the parents of fallen SEALs.”

The Chinook crash killed 30 Americans and eight Afghans, representing the deadliest single incident in the war. Later that month, President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta traveled to Dover and attended the dignified transfer ceremony.

The White House did not dispute that the letters were form letters, but that apparently is not unique to this president. A 2003 Newsweek story reported that the sympathy letters grieving families had received from President George W. Bush were “form letters. With the exception of the salutation and a reference to the fallen soldier in the text, the letters the families shared with me are all the same.”

But in December 2008, John Solomon of the Washington Times reported that as part of a private effort to comfort the families of those killed in war and during 9/11, then-President Bush sent personal letters to the families of “every one of the more than 4,000 troops who have died in the two wars, an enormous personal effort that consumed hours of his time and escaped public notice.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in 2004, was criticized for using an auto-pen to sign condolence letters to the families of fallen troops. At the time he issued a statement saying, “I wrote and approved the now more than 1,000 letters sent to family members and next of kin of each of the servicemen and women killed in military action. While I have not individually signed each one, in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members, I have directed that in the future I sign each letter.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rick Santorum's Comments on Women in Combat Arouse Public

DoD photo by Staff Sgt. James Lieth, U.S. Air Force(WASHINGTON) -- Rick Santorum’s comments that “the front line of combat” is not the best place for women appear to put the Republican presidential candidate on the other side of public and expert opinion.

Santorum raised some eyebrows by saying women should not be in combat because of the “the types of emotions involved.” Now, Santorum says, he is also concerned about “physical strength and capability” of women in combat situations.

First, on those “emotions,” Santorum says he was not talking about the emotions of women.

“I was talking about men’s emotional issues; not women,” Santorum told ABC News. “I mean, there’s a lot of issues. That’s just one of them.”

What emotional issues? Santorum says he believes that the men serving with women would put the protection of women in their unit above the overall the mission.

“So my concern is being in combat in that situation instead of being focused on the mission, they may be more concerned with protecting someone who may be in a vulnerable position, a woman in a vulnerable position,” Santorum said.

A number of recent studies have concluded that the U.S. military should stop excluding women from ground-combat units, which some believe denies them a chance to climb the ranks as quickly as their male counterparts.

Three-quarters of Americans believe that women should be allowed to engage in direct combat, according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll released in March, a sharp rise from the early 1990s when only 45 percent supported such a move. Politically, Democrats and independents are more in favor of lifting these requirements, but even a majority of Republicans, 62 percent, thought this should be the case and the poll found that in no political group was a majority opposed.

The Pentagon announced on Thursday that it will end a decades-old rule and allow women to serve in battalions closer to the front lines. The changes would open up 14,000 support jobs to women in ground-combat units.

The new rule still bars women from serving directly in combat roles. Still, given the technology and the landscape today, many observers say those lines are blurred. Women already serve in dangerous support roles in war zones such as Afghanistan, as pilots flying combat aircrafts or on combat ships. In recent years, two women have been given the prestigious Silver Star for valor in a combat zone.

A study by the Rand Corporation in 2007 found that support units, where women were serving with direct combat units based on proximity and those returning from the battlefield in Iraq, believed that the military’s current policy, if implemented strictly, was “a backward step in the successful execution of the mission” and that it “could even prevent women from participating in Army operations in Iraq, which would preclude the Army from completing its mission.”

A review by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission last year concluded that restrictions on combat roles “seems obsolete” in today’s age.

“The nature of the current battlefield makes it impossible to apply strictly the existing rules for excluding women from combat without serious reduction in combat capabilities, degrading the professional development and thus status of women, and producing a potentially serious reduction in overall readiness,” another study in 2008 by the Strategic Studies Institute stated.

Adm. Eric T. Olson, the top commander of U.S. special operations and a Navy SEAL himself, told ABC News in July that he’s ready to see female SEALs in combat roles.

Still, some experts say the recent studies focus on diversity, but don’t take into account the realities on the ground.

Elaine Donnelly, who served as a member of the 1992 presidential commission on the assignment of women in the armed forces, says it’s a cultural issue and that Santorum’s concerns are legitimate. The commission voted against sending women in close combat because “that would [be] endorsement of violence against women,” she said.

“It’s not an equal opportunity or diversity issue. It’s a matter of effectiveness,” Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, told ABC News. If a soldier is injured and his support soldier is a woman, “that man dies because she’s not going to be able to meet the physical requirements and it doesn’t matter how brave and courageous she is. ...We respect women in the military, but when you’re talking about direct ground combat, if you start making diversity the most important factor then you put lives at risk.”

Women were barred from partaking even in non-combat positions until 1994, when President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, Les Aspin, lifted that rule.

The number of women in the military has jumped since the 1970s, when the United States ended the draft. Since 1973, the number of women who have joined the military has risen rapidly. The share of women among the enlisted ranks has increased from two percent to 14 percent, and the share among commissioned officers has jumped four percent to 16 percent, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

The Pentagon wouldn’t comment directly on Santorum’s comments, but spokesman George Little said there’s “a broad consensus” in the military that they should maintain the goal of opening more positions to women.

“I believe that men and women can serve ably on the battlefield men and women of the U.S. military are focused on the mission and in protecting our nation’s interest. And I think that’s a value that we have regardless of gender,” Little said Friday. “The presumption is that going forward that we’re going to find as many opportunities for women as possible.”

As of Sept. 30, women comprised roughly 15 percent of the U.S. armed forces, with their numbers reaching 205,000. Of the 2.4 million ever deployed in support of Iraq and Afghanistan, 280,000 have been women and 144 of them have been killed in those two countries while 865 have been wounded.

A number of U.S. partners in the battlefield allow women to serve in combat roles, including Canada, Israel, France and Germany.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


What’d He Say? Debate Heckler on Booed Orlando Soldier

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images(HANOVER, N.H.) -- Tempers flared on stage at Tuesday night’s Bloomberg/Washington Post debate, as GOP rivals bashed each other’s economic policies.  But it was Rick Santorum’s remark about fathers taking responsibility for their children that resulted in an outcry from a young man in the crowd.

A stage audience member told ABC News, “A guy stood up and he yelled, ‘Why didn’t you guys say anything when the gay soldier was booed.’  He was sitting about four rows back facing the stage.  Then he yelled the f-word.”

The commotion caused Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, who was next in line to answer a question, to say, “I’m sorry, Charlie.  A little distraction.”

The interruption was in reference to last month’s debate in Orlando, when a gay soldier was booed by audience members after posing a question about ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’

In the aftermath of the Florida incident, many of the candidates told ABC News that in retrospect, someone should have stood up for the member of the military.

So far, none of the candidates have addressed Tuesday night’s disruption.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NATO: Afghan Army’s Desertion Rate Double Last Year

Lance Cpl. Dexter S. Saulisbury/U.S. Marine Corps (WASHINGTON ) -- More and more Afghan soldiers are choosing not to respond to the call to duty.

The Washington Post reports that at least one in seven Afghan soldiers walked off the job during the first half of 2011, according to NATO statistics.

More than 24,000 soldiers deserted their jobs between January and June—nearly twice as many as in the same period in 2010.

June saw 5,000 soldiers—nearly 3 percent of the 170,000-strong force—leave their positions.

Afghan and coalition officials are confident they can restore loses and reach their goal of expanding the army to about 200,000 soldiers, despite the recent rise in desertions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Spending Day behind Closed Doors, Will Host Iftar Dinner

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- After spending Tuesday in Dover, Del., paying tribute to the 30 U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan over the weekend, President Obama is expected to spend Wednesday behind closed doors at the White House.

Obama will meet separately with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. The president, who continues to wrestle with the struggling economy, was originally scheduled to meet with Geithner on Tuesday, but their meeting was postponed for Obama’s Dover trip.

Wednesday evening, the president will host his third Iftar dinner at the White House celebrating Ramadan. The dinner continues a tradition started under President Clinton and continued by President George W. Bush. Invited guests include elected officials, religious and grassroots leaders in the Muslim American community, and leaders of diverse faiths.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Women Fighting and Dying in War, Despite Combat Exclusion Policy

Jupiterimages/Comstock(WASHINGTON) -- By this Memorial Day, nearly 150 U.S. female troops have made the ultimate sacrifice in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, with over 700 wounded. Although Department of Defense policy precludes women from being assigned to ground combat-infantry units, women have for years served in combat situations where they're just as vulnerable.

Marine Lance Corp. Angelica Jimenez, 26, was one of them.

On June 25, 2005, Jimenez was riding in the back of a truck carrying 14 female Marines near the Iraqi hotbed of Fallujah. The all-female unit was tasked with searching and questioning Iraqi women at security checkpoints, ensuring they were not armed with explosives. Since females were not allowed to sleep at the checkpoints as their male counterparts were, every day the women would be driven to and from an American base, making them a visible target each time they hit the road. It was only a matter of time before their luck would run out, and that night, it did.

A car approached their convoy, moments before it ran straight towards the women's truck. Packed with explosives, it detonated on impact, enveloping all 14 women in a deadly fireball. Most of the women were severely burned. Two women died immediately, one later that night, in what would become the deadliest attack on servicewomen since 1991.

Jimenez was knocked unconscious. She remembers waking up, directly in the line of insurgent fire, her flak jacket covered in blood, her M-16 gone.

Since 1994, the Department of Defense's combat exclusion policy prohibits the assignment of women to any unit below brigade level when the unit's primary mission is direct combat on the ground. However, according to DOD spokesperson Eileen Lainez, the policy does not "preclude women from being involved in ground combat."

Blurring the lines further, the Army precludes women from being "assigned" to ground combat infantry units, but allows them to be "attached" to such units, where they often perform the same roles their male counterparts would.

The policy defines ground combat as "engaging the enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile force's personnel." Genevieve Chase, veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and founder of American Women Veterans, found herself in that situation while serving in 2006 in the hotspots of Helmand and Bagram, where counterinsurgency strategy emphasizes building relationships with locals including Afghan women who won't talk to a male stranger.

"In both Iraq and Afghanistan, female troops have worked from day one outside the wire," Chase told ABC News. "In war, you do what you can. You can't withhold somebody because of their gender. If you are in charge of an aid station with three female medics, and this infantry unit needs another medic, you're sending them a medic. Rules in combat are very different."

But while Chase served alongside men and carried the same weapons, the policy precluded her from having the same combat training as the infantrymen.

The policy also precludes female officers from leading ground combat units. Not only does the rule prevent women from gaining the experience they need to win promotions to the military's top ranks, Chase said, it does not always reflect reality on the battlefield.

Recently, the congressionally mandated Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended that the DOD rescind the combat exclusion policy. Commission chair retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles said rescinding the policy is one way the military can get more qualified women into its senior leadership ranks.

Today, women make up about 15 percent of active-duty service members; 18 percent of National Guard and reserves; 10 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans; and 10 percent of those who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.

The idea of women serving in ground combat infantry units has been controversial throughout U.S. history. Arguments against women serving in combat center around the physiological and purported emotional differences between men and women, as well as the interaction between men and women that could distract from a mission.

Chase agrees there will have to be a thorough review on whether to rescind the policy, and that rescinding without a plan as to how to implement changes would be premature. But, she added, "It's long past time to revise the current policy so that it accurately reflects the capacity with which women have and will continue to serve in our armed forces. It gives combatant commanders the ability to truly build the most cohesive, well-trained and effective teams for their respective missions."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio