“Ninety percent of what we do is about having a worthwhile mission and good leaders. Ten percent is the other stuff.” Many of you have heard that there are plans to shut down some of the “amenities” throughout Afghanistan. This is not rumor. It is fact. This is a warzone – not an amusement park.
From the moment GEN McChrystal and I arrived in Afghanistan last summer, we began looking for ways to do things more efficiently across the battlefield – the optimization of ISAF. This effort includes moving and reallocating resources to better accomplish our mission.
By Dion Nissenbaum | McClatchy Newspapers
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — By American standards, the boardwalk at Kandahar Airfield isn’t much to write home about.
There’s no roller coaster, mirror maze or carousel with unicorns. There’s no cotton candy to buy, no candied apples, and no annoying mimes trying to get out of imaginary boxes.
But this little square of Western culture in the Taliban heartland has served for years as a rare oasis for international forces embroiled in the ongoing Afghan war.
The Kandahar boardwalk now has a Burger King, Subway sandwich shop, three cafes, several general stores, a Cold Stone Creamery, Oakley sunglasses outlet, hockey rink (thanks to the Canadians, of course), basketball court, and tiny stage where members of Bachman-Turner Overdrive (the 70s band that brought the world “Takin’ Care of Business” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”) recently performed on a cool southern Afghanistan evening.
The most recent addition is a TGI Friday’s, complete with the Americana kitsch, Rihanna videos playing on the flat screen behind the bar (which serves no alcohol), fried mozzarella sticks, and a life-size Yoda action figure with a light saber looking down on patrons from on high.
“The intent, it seems, is to create a surreal slice of Western material comfort where inhabitants can momentarily forget that they are living in one of the world’s most benighted countries,” Julius Cavendish recently wrote in The Independent.
Well, now’s the time to say goodbye to all that.
By order of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, ISAF is shutting down most of these reminders of home.
“This is a war zone — not an amusement park,” Command Sgt. Major Michael T. Hall recently wrote on the ISAF blog.
The decision is likely to prove unpopular with ISAF forces working and living in southern Afghanistan.
Where else will they pick up their “Taliban Hunting Club” T-shirts?
“Some will say the decision to do away with these amenities is meant only to make things harder for deployed service members, but nothing could be farther from the truth,” Hall wrote. “Closing these facilities will free up much-needed storage facilities at both Bagram and Kandahar, space which is critical as 30,000 additional American and up to 7,000 international troops flow into Afghanistan over the next several months.”
That’s all well-and-good, but where are soldiers supposed to get their hand painted, $280 Afghanistan U.S. v. Taliban chess sets featuring (for the Americans) Bush as king, the Twin Towers as rooks, and the Statue of Liberty as the queen v. (for the Taliban/insurgents) Osama bin Laden as king, a woman in a burqa as queen and suicide bombers as bishops?
Privately, some ISAF officials say the closure is as much about perception as logistics.
Rock concerts, hockey games and Americana kitsch in the Taliban heartland might not create the impression McChrystal is trying to convey that the U.S. has no intentions of transforming Afghanistan into the U.S.
But not all is lost. The new order exempts the Green Beans coffee house, AT&T phone stores, fitness centers, some Afghan-run stalls and a few other essentials for ISAF forces.
“We have an important mission here in Afghanistan, and its one the world is watching and paying attention to,” Hall wrote. “We have a responsibility to outfit our troops with everything they need to be successful. Efficiently providing troops what they need to accomplish the mission is the right thing to do.”
JPOST – By YAAKOV KATZ
Commander of the United States Military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. David Petraeus telephoned IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on Wednesday night to reassure Israel that comments attributed to him regarding supposed Israeli intransigence were spun out of context.
Last week, Petraeus gave testimony before the Senate’s Armed Services Committee. A 56-page report which CENTCOM had submitted alongside Petraeus’s verbal testimony caused a storm after it claimed that Israeli intransigence was a problem for the US military and was fomenting conflict in the Middle East.
“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests,” the CENTCOM report read. “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the [Middle East] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.”
The above statement, which appeared in the report but was not said by Petraeus in his verbal testimony, was pounced upon by critics of Israel as confirmation of what many of them have said for years – that Israel is the source of instability in the region.
On Wednesday, though, Petraeus poured cold water on the written testimony and in an appearance at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, told reporters that his testimony had been spun by bloggers.
“There’s a 56-page document that we submitted that has a statement in it that describes various factors that influence the strategic context in which we operate and among those we listed the Mideast peace process,” he said according to a transcript of the press conference which appeared on the website of the American Spectator. “We noted in there that there was a perception at times that America sides with Israel and so forth. And I mean, that is a perception. It is there. I don’t think that’s disputable. But I think people inferred from what that said and then repeated it a couple of times and bloggers picked it up and spun it. And I think that has been unhelpful, frankly.”
The report, he continued, included additional “perceptions” in the Middle East, which CENTCOM is responsible for, including the fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust as well as Israel’s right to exist.
“So we have all the factors in there, but this is just one, and it was pulled out of this 56-page document, which was not what I read to the Senate at all,” he said.
During the brief press conference and following a question by American Spectator reporter Philip Klein, Petraeus revealed that he had called the IDF chief of staff, who he referred to as “Gabi,” and reassured him that the reports were inaccurate.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office confirmed that the two had spoken and officials said that the fact that Petraeus referred to Ashkenazi as “Gabi” was a likely sign of the close ties between the two generals…
American Forces Press Service – By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
WASHINGTON, March 25, 2010 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today announced changes to the Pentagon’s regulation on homosexuals serving in the military that he said make the Defense Department’s enforcement of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law “fairer and more appropriate.”
On Feb. 2, Gates announced he’d ordered a review to understand the implications of a possible repeal of the 17-year-old law that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. President Barack Obama has called on Congress to repeal the law.
The initial 45 days of that review, he said, produced findings that “would enforce the existing law in a fairer and more appropriate manner” and are supported by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and Vice Chairman Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright and the service chiefs.
“Today, I have approved a series of changes to the implementation of the current statute,” Gates told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. “They were developed with full participation of the department’s senior civilian and military leadership, and the changes are unanimously supported by Chairman Mullen, Vice Chairman Cartwright and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
The changes include:
— Only a general or flag officer may separate an enlisted member believed at the conclusion of an investigation to have engaged in homosexual conduct. Under previous policy, a colonel — or for a captain in the Navy and Coast Guard – could order separation.
— A revision in what’s needed to begin an inquiry or a separation proceeding. Information provided by a third party now must be given under oath, “discouraging the use of overheard statements and hearsay,” Gates said.
— Certain categories of confidential information — such as information provided to lawyers, clergy and psychotherapists — no longer will be used in support of discharges. Information provided to medical personnel in furtherance of treatment, or to a public-health official in the course of seeing professional assistance for domestic or physical abuse also is excluded, as well as information obtained in the process of security-clearance investigations, in accordance with existing Pentagon policies.
“These changes reflect some of the insights we have gained over 17 years of implementing the current law, including the need for consistency, oversight and clear standards,” the secretary said. “I believe these changes represent an important improvement in the way the current law is put into practice — above all, by providing a greater measure of common sense and common decency to a process for handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved.”
The military services have 30 days to conform their regulations to the changes. The new policies, however, took effect immediately upon Gates’ announcement, meaning that they apply to all open cases, he said.
“All separations from this point forward will take place under the revised regulations,” he said. “As of my signature, every case that is currently still open will be dealt with under these new regulations. So, they will be reinitiated by a flag-rank officer.”
The intent for open, ongoing investigations is not to restart the proceedings, but to carry them forward with regard to the types of information allowed in the new policy, he said.
“As far as the services are concerned, every case that is open as of this morning will be reinitiated and evaluated under the new regulations that I’ve just set forth,” Gates said.
The secretary also stressed that the policy changes are not an attempt to change the law, but rather to be prepared to offer Congress reliable information should the law be repealed.
The Pentagon’s top lawyer, Jeh Johnson, and Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, head Gates’ working group charged with studying the potential implications of the law’s repeal. The panel will report its findings by Dec. 1. The group will spend the next several months traveling to military installations to learn how servicemembers and families will react to a potential repeal.
“There is a great deal we don’t know about this [potential repeal of the law] in terms of the views of our servicemembers, in terms of the views of their families and influencers,” Gates said. “There is a lot we have to address in terms of what would be required in the way of changed regulations. There are a lot of unanswered questions in terms of the implementation of this proposed change.
“We need to do this thoroughly and professionally,” he continued. “We need to do this right, and I think doing it hastily is very risky and does not address some of the concerns that have been expressed by the chiefs of staff of the services, and a number of questions that have been raised.”
Many American Soldiers Turn to Prescription Drugs to Treat Psychological Distress
ABC News – By MARTHA RADDATZ and MICHAEL MURRAY
After years on the battlefield or in the trenches, many American soldiers are showing signs of psychological distress. An increasing number of soldiers are turning to medication to alleviate their symptoms.
From the isolated outposts of Afghanistan to the bloody streets of Fallujah in Iraq, U.S. troops have been fighting, dying and suffering unbearable emotional scars. A 2008 Rand Corporation study found under 20 percent of soldiers reported psychological distress in some form.
Some have unfortunately committed suicide, but ABC News has been told that an increasing number — at least 8 percent of the force — are now using pills to treat themselves. Some are turning to antidepressants, such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, which are prescribed right on the front lines.
“We are sending soldiers into the field, into combat missions, who are suicidal,” said former Air Force psychologist Jason Prinster. “And we are prescribing medication that has significant side effects.”
He also told ABC News that the Army’s culture of treating physical injuries as more serious than psychological ones can lead to bad operating procedure, in his opinion. “If your leg is broken, if you have a physical problem, you can stay inside the wire. If you are anxious, afraid, hopeless, it’s not OK,” he said.
Soldiers say the side effects can affect their combat readiness; some medications cause sluggishness and disorientation. Army Sgt. Chuck Luther told ABC News that “some would make me more depressed, some would make me jittery.”
Soldier Said He Was Given Prescriptions, No Therapy
Luther was an Army sergeant based in Taji, Iraq. He told ABC News he didn’t get therapy for his emotional problems, just drugs to help him make it through his deployment.
“Mortars would come in … suicide bombers. It was taking a toll on me … and then seeing fellow soldiers being killed in front of you.”
ABC News asked Col. John Looper, an Army psychologist stationed in Iraq, what he thought of the prescriptions. “If the treating clinician feels that a given service member might be restored to full functioning with a course of antidepressant medication or anti-anxiety medication, we have the wherewithal to do that,” he told us.
The military is making an effort to provide therapy to service members having mental health issues, but given the remoteness of some bases, it is not always possible, and remains a real concern.
Senate Refuses to Exempt Veterans from Health Bill’s New Tax on Prosthetics and Other Medical Devices; Also Refuses to Exempt the Disabled and Children
CNS News – By Terence P. Jeffrey
The Senate defeated three separate amendments offered to the health-care reconciliation bill on Wednesday night that would have abolished or limited the impact of a new tax on medical devices—including prosthetics, such as artificial limbs—that was enacted in the new health-care law President Barack Obama signed on Tuesday.
One of those bills would have completely repealed the new tax, another would have exempted those in veteran’s health programs and members of TRICARE (the government insurance plan for military personnel, veterans and their families) from its impact, and a third would have exempted children and the disabled, including disabled veterans.
“Let me tell you, I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will stand up for the wounded warriors,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), as he introduced his amendment, which exempted military personnel, veterans and their families from the the medical devices tax. “I hope they will stand up and realize that these folks should not be hammered with higher costs on medical devices. We owe them a debt of gratitude not more taxes.”
“Who are the folks who will bear the burden of this tax?” asked Sen. Pat Roberts (R.-Kan.), who sponsored the amendment that would have killed the tax entirely. “People with disabilities, diabetics, amputees, people with cancer, just to name some of the people—and more—who will see their costs go up because of this tax. We do not want to do this. Why would we want to do this on those who are most vulnerable?”
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.), who sponsored an amendment to exempt children and the disabled from the tax, pointed out that his proposal would not only prevent the tax from increasing the cost of prosthetic limbs for wounded troops but also that it would prevent the tax from increasing the cost of incubators for prematurely born babies…
Army Times: Rethink alcohol ban in war zones, Webb says
Times Live (NZ): Nato, Russia clash over Afghanistan drugs
HBO: The Pacific
Newsweek: Rebirth of a Nation
National Post: Professors slam scholarships for children of dead soldiers