Entries in U.S. Troops (13)


The End of the Surge: Troops Return to Fort Bragg

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- With Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement that 33,000 troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan, the surge announced by President Obama in 2009 is officially over.

But what that means for the troops and their families was on display earlier this week in Fort Bragg,  N.C., as 300 personnel from the 82nd Airborne Division -including the 1st Brigade Combat Team and the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade -returned home from their deployments in Afghanistan.

For six months, members of the combat team – known as “the Devils in Baggy Pants” – had been stationed in southern Ghazni Province on the infamous Highway One between Kabul and Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold that was literally riddled with IEDs.  The team’s job:  to clear the highway and keep it safe.

“The purpose of the surge in Ghazni was to knock the Taliban on their heels,” said Sgt. Michael MacLeod.  “The 1st Brigade was the glove on that hand.”

In those six months, the team killed or captured at least 400 enemy combatants and  was awarded at least 165 Purple Hearts, as well as more than 100 awards for valor.

Throughout their yearlong deployment, the Combat Aviation Brigade – known as “Pegasus” – completed more than 2,500 Medevac missions and flew more than 175,000 hours, more than any other combat aviation brigade since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom.

But last week as all 300 paratroopers set foot once again on U.S. soil, the statistics and awards faded away as they saw their loved ones waiting for them with signs and smiles and cheers to welcome them home.

“You crave a moment so bad, and then when it’s there, it’s almost seemed like it wasn’t real,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Ortiz, “like a happy ending to a bad movie.  It was the perfect ending to whatever we went through out there.”

1st Lt. Dan Loeffler dropped out of college his senior year to enlist in the Army after Sept. 11, 2001.

After a six-month deployment in one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan, Loeffler boarded a C-17 military transport aircraft in September, returning to the U.S. after the successful completion of his fifth deployment.

At Fort Bragg to welcome him home were his wife and two children Allyson, 6 and Hayley, 2.

Maj. Clydellia Prichard-Allen of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade is a 21-year Army veteran and was responsible for drafting letters to the family members of paratroopers who lost their lives at war. Her unit suffered six losses.

“Each loss was a portion of your heart being taken out,” she said.

In May, she was at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan when Obama made a secret visit on the anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden to announce that the surge would finally come to a close this year.

Sgt. 1st Class Ortiz of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, who sent a video a day home to his wife and children, struggled to hold back tears as he embraced his pregnant wife and two daughters.

Ortiz and his wife’s third child – a daughter – is expected to be born on Veteran’s Day.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Karzai Demands $2 Billion a Year from US Following Troop Withdrawal

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Fearful that most financial support will dry up once the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai is seeking a promise of $2 billion annually from Washington as part of the strategic partnership agreement the two countries are presently putting together.

The funds, if approved by Congress, would start after the scheduled military pullout in 2014 and be used to bolster Afghan security forces.

While the U.S. would not object to providing billions to support the recruitment and training of Afghanistan's army and police, putting an actual dollar figure on an aid package might turn off lawmakers and the American public that would like to see a clean ending to the war that began in October 2001.

In the short term, this new demand by Karzai could further complicate the goal to finish the strategic partnership agreement by the time he and President Obama meet next month in Chicago for a NATO summit.

Karzai's latest condition comes from a position of strength since relations with Washington have been severely strained by various incidents this year, including the deaths of 17 civilians allegedly at the hands of an U.S. Army sergeant and the burning of Qurans at Bagram Air Field, which enraged the Afghan population.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Staying the Course in Afghanistan Despite Koran Controversy

U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Dexter S. Saulisbury(WASHINGTON) -- While relations between the U.S.-led coalition and Afghan government may never be the same again due to last week's burning of Korans at Bagram Airfield, the Obama administration has no intention of speeding up its withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan.

The incident has led to unprecedented violence directed at American and NATO troops, with four U.S. service members killed and Marine Gen. John Allen, who commands coalition forces in Afghanistan, pulling all advisors from Afghan ministries to protect them from further attacks.

On Monday, the Pentagon sought to calm fears that the U.S. has suddenly lost its determination to carry out the long-term goal of defeating al Qaeda and keeping the Taliban from reclaiming its hold on Afghanistan.

Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters, "Anyone who believes they can weaken our resolve through these cowardly attacks is severely mistaken.  There is much at stake in Afghanistan, and our commitment to our mission and our strategy will not waver."

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for fueling the anti-American fervor in Afghanistan, as well as the killings of a U.S. major and colonel last Saturday inside the heavily fortified Interior Ministry in Kabul.  The shooter, identified as a driver who worked there, remains at large.

There was more violence Monday as a car bomb exploded outside a NATO base in Jalalabad that left nine Afghans dead.  No coalition troops were among the fatalities.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Last US Troops Leave Iraq, Ending Bloodiest US War Since Vietnam

Khalid Mohammed-Pool/Getty Images(BAGHDAD, Iraq) -- In the end, there was no decisive battle, no peace treaty. The United States' bloodiest conflict since Vietnam ended with a border crossing.

After nearly nine years, $800 billion, 4,500 American dead and an estimated 100,000 Iraqi dead, the war in Iraq is over—at least for the U.S. military. Shortly after 7:30 a.m. local time, the last U.S. combat troops crossed from Iraq into Kuwait along the same roads that the U.S. used to invade the country in 2003.

One and a half million American men and women served in Iraq since that first force arrived, back when the campaign was expected to be quick and greeted warmly. But even today, the legacy of the war is in many ways still unknown: The U.S. is leaving an Iraq where sectarian, regional, and political groups still show willingness—and sometimes a desire—to resolve their differences violently, and where many of the vital issues created by the invasion are still unsettled.

Saddam Hussein is gone and the country and its armed forces have improved in many ways since the peak of the war, in 2007. But Iraq is still struggling to shake off the weighty baggage of decades of dictatorship and conflict. Many Iraqis are hopeful for the future, but just as many are anxious, as their devastated country faces a power vacuum and an expected explosion of oil wealth and construction projects.

For the U.S., a war launched in the aftermath of 9/11 became one of its most controversial. Repeated and extended deployments strained the military and the country's budget.

More recently, because of the costs and struggles of the Iraq war, the U.S. has changed how it intervenes overseas, shunning large-scale invasions for relatively small interventions that aid local insurgent groups.

Still, today the final commander in Iraq said the war was worth it.

"If you're a loved one of someone that was killed in action or seriously wounded in action, there are no words that can make you ever believe that this was worth it," Gen. Lloyd Austin said Saturday in Camp Adder, from where the final combat troops left.

"However, if you really think about what's happened here—we removed a brutal dictator that killed, tortured hundreds of thousands of people over time and it provided the Iraqi people opportunities that they have not seen in their lifetime," Austin said. "If you consider the fact that we have a young democracy in a very critical region, a region that's critical to the United States of America—yes, it was worth it."

Inside the seat of power in Baghdad—the same heavily fortified Green Zone that the U.S. made its headquarters after the invasion—the government expressed thanks for the sacrifices of U.S. troops. But it is struggling with sectarian tensions and a tenuous power-sharing agreement that reflect the fragility of the political process here.

As the U.S. departed Iraq, a line of more than 100 U.S. vehicles, and nearly 500 soldiers headed out to make history.

Some of the soldiers were on their fourth deployments to Iraq, but many more on their first.

A significant number of the soldiers were just children when the war began.

As the troops crossed the border, they were greeted with the rising sun in Kuwait.

"I'm very proud of what we've been able to accomplish since I've been here, and my time here, my first deployment, it's nice to be going home, especially before the holidays," said Specialist David Trudeau.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Considering Reducing Military Involvement in Afghanistan in 2012?

ISAF/Pfc. Cameron Boyd(WASHINGTON) -- Is the U.S. preparing to "cut and run" from Afghanistan sooner than originally intended?

There are reports that the Obama administration is exploring ways to move up the timetable of transferring the coalition's security responsibilities to Afghanistan's army and police from 2014 to next year.

Such a plan holds greats risks, since it's generally accepted that the Afghan military is still weak, understaffed and under-equipped and could be easily overcome by a resurgent Taliban intent on retaking control of the country.

However, the White House is mindful that the public has grown weary of the 10-year-long war that seems to have accomplished its goals of killing Osama bin Laden, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, wiping out al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan and at least establishing a quasi-democratic Afghan government.

Political talking points aside, al Qeada and the Taliban are far from finished with the war-torn country. U.S. deaths in Afghanistan have risen dramatically over the past few years. The cost of paying for the war continues to harm the American economy.

One senior defense official also said that an end to direct military involvement in Afghanistan doesn't mean the war will suddenly come to a halt, adding, "It's not like we're...going to move to train, advise and assist and just let the Afghans do everything on their own and we're not fighting bad guys."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Now Says It Is in 'Negotiations' with Iraq over Troops Post-2011

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department Wednesday said it is now engaged in “negotiations” with Iraqi leaders about whether the United States will maintain a troop presence there beyond 2011, something that, until now, the U.S. characterized as informal discussions. The wording is only significant because the Iraqi legislature has yet to formally authorize negotiations -- yet this shows the U.S. is prepared to move ahead anyway as the clock ticks down to the end of the year.
“We are currently in negotiations with the Iraqi government about what that post-2011 relationship might look like. Those discussions are ongoing, and you can understand that I won't comment on the detail,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters Wednesday.
Her comment attracted little attention during the briefing, but a senior State Department official later confirmed that this is a new U.S. policy.
In fact, Nuland was asked about this very subject just Tuesday and took a very different line.
“I think our public position and our private position hasn't changed, that our plan is to withdraw by the end of the year. Were the Iraqi government to come -- to come forward and make a request for some continued security assistance, we would be prepared to look at it,” she told reporters at the time.
What changed? One official said this was calling a spade a spade, since “informal” discussions on the matter had been held with Iraqi leaders since early August. A senior official says the U.S. believes there is now enough consensus among Iraqi leaders that they may want some extended U.S. troop presence after a Status of Forces Agreement, which authorizes U.S. troops to operate in Iraq, expires at the end of the year.
The negotiations are being led by Jim Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. U.S. officials have held informal discussions with Iraqi leaders on the matter since Aug. 2, but only Wednesday did the U.S. decide to characterize those talks as “negotiations,” despite the fact that the Iraqi legislature has yet to formally authorize such action.
The official denied that the U.S. has decided to push the issue ahead because the Iraqi political paralysis has shortened the timeline for talks so that a decision can be made by the end of the year. The official didn’t rule out U.S. troops leaving the country and returning again later next year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pentagon Unsure of Quality of Soldiers' Body Armor 

US [dot] Army [dot] mil(WASHINGTON) -- There's a pretty good chance that soldiers currently serving overseas or ones previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan wore armor that didn't adequately protect them from bodily harm.

A new Pentagon report finds that bullet-blocking plates for body armor were improperly tested by the Army.  The plate were the products of contracts awarded between 2004 and 2006.

As a result, the military doesn't know with 100 percent certainty whether five million pieces of equipment can adequately protect American service personnel from gunfire.

The audit conducted on the armor plates, known as ballistic inserts, says that tests were either incomplete or based on inconsistent ballistic test rounds.  Some examinations weren't even done because of the necessity of rushing the bullet-block plate to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even before the audit took place, the Army said it has enhanced its testing techniques "to provide the best body armor possible to the soldier."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Ambassador to Afghanistan Promises 'Gradual Withdrawal'

US Dept of State(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration's latest strategy in Afghanistan was described this week by its new ambassador, veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker.

Crocker, the former envoy to Iraq with decades of experience in the Arab world, said right after taking his oath of office that the U.S. was on track to begin a gradual withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan -- the first such drawdown since the war began 10 years ago to destroy al Qaeda training camps and oust the Taliban regime.

While the Taliban and its allies have stayed dedicated to reacquiring power in Afghanistan, Crocker made it clear of the U.S. goal "to step back and for the Afghans to step forward and they are doing so."

The White House plans to pull out 5,000 troops by summer's end and an equal number by the conclusion of 2011, with another 23,000 on the way out during the first eight months of 2012.  That figure would encompass the 33,000 soldiers the president ordered deployed to Afghanistan in early 2010 with the entire American contingent reaching 100,000 personnel.

Even as the U.S. seeks to end its long involvement in Afghanistan, Crocker promised there would be "no rush for the exits," explaining, "The way we do this in the months ahead will have consequences far beyond Afghanistan and far into the future.  Frankly, we left the wrong way in the early 1990s, and we all know the history of those decisions: the civil war, the rise of the Taliban, sanctuary for al Qaeda, and 9/11."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Former Commander Gen. Odierno: US Should Keep Troops in Iraq If Asked

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, General Raymond Odierno said the U.S. should keep some troops in Iraq to deal with resurgent violence and to help counter Iran’s reach into the country.
“I think that if the government of Iraq requests, as you said, I think it's important that we provide them the support they think is necessary.  It is clear that Iran is attempting to influence this decision with the actions they've taken, specifically over the last several months, in continuing to support, fund, train, equip surrogates in southern Iraq and central Iraq, specifically going after the remnants of our U.S. presence inside of Iraq.  It's important that we continue to support Iraq for their external security, both for air sovereignty and also to help them in some of their security challenges to include potentially some of the Kurdish areas,” he said, adding that there is evidence of increased Iranian activity in Iraq, including the supply of weapons.
Odierno, who commanded coalition troops in Iraq from 2008-2010, has been nominated to be the Chief of Staff of the Army.
Iraq has yet to request that American troops stay beyond the end of the year when they’re scheduled to depart, as per the Status of Forces Agreement. Any decision to keep them there would be at the Iraqi government’s request and would have to be formalized in a new SOFA, which could take time.
Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin said as much, noting that if U.S. forces are going to be staying past 2011 the Iraqis have to make the request soon so that negotiators can get cracking, given the logistical issues involved in keeping the troops there.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


John Boehner Wants Details on US Troop Drawdown in Afghanistan

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- House Speaker John Boehner isn't letting President Obama off the hook on Afghanistan.

The Ohio Republican, who has been critical of nearly every move made by the White House since he took over control of the House from Nancy Pelosi last January, is now demanding that Obama explain what the planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan this July will entail.

Boehner, who was in Afghanistan with a bipartisan delegation this week to speak with U.S. military leaders there, said, "If the Obama administration insists on beginning to draw down troops in July, it must explain how the pace and scope of such a move will not undermine the tenuous progress we've made thus far."

According to Boehner, Gen. David Petraeus, who commands U.S. and NATO forces, warned that military gains in Afghanistan are "fragile and reversible."

Obama has said that the drawdown starting in July will be significant and "not a token gesture."  The U.S. and Afghan government would prefer most combat forces be out of the country by the end of 2014.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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