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8:39 am, December 18, 2014

Pentagon & Beyond

National Security Correspondent J.J. Green has traveled three continents covering intelligence, terrorism, and security issues. From Afghanistan to Africa, Iraq to Ireland, there isn't anywhere J.J. won't go, nor anyone he won't talk with, to get the stories affecting the defense and national security communities.

F-35 pilot training set to begin

Reuters is reporting that "the U.S. Air Force on Monday approved the formal start of pilot training on the A-model of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at a Florida military base, paving the way for 36 expert pilots to be trained next year as instructors for the new stealth warplane." This looks to be a way to stop the automatic budget cuts, the could be brought on by the "fiscal cliff" from digging into the program.

Obama urges suit dismissal

The Obama administration is urging a federal court to dismiss a damage lawsuit over the drone-strike killings of three U.S. citizens in Yemen last year, including an al-Qaida cleric. The Associate Press is reporting that, In a court filing Friday, the Justice Department said the issue is best handled by the government's political branches, not the judiciary. U.S.-born al-Qaida leader Anwar al- Awlaki (ahn-WAHR' al-aw-LAH'-kee) and al-Qaida propagandist Samir Khan were killed in a drone strike in September 2011. Al-Awlaki's son, Abdulrahman, was killed the following month.

Karzai coming to Washington

President Hamid Karzai says he will meet President Barack Obama in Washington next month to discuss a postwar U.S. role in his country. At a news conference with visiting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Karzai said he and Mr. Obama will discuss how many U.S. troops will remain after the Western combat mission ends in December 2014. Immunity from Afghan laws for those remaining Americans is said to be of great importance" to Obama administration, but Karzai said he has his own priorities in negotiating a postwar U.S. role.

New PM for Mali

Mali's new prime minister has vowed to deal with a growing concern over insurgents in the north after his predecessor was forced out of office and placed under house arrest by soldiers responsible for a military coup earlier this year. The international community is considering backing a military intervention, including Malian soldiers, to wrest the country's north from the hands of radical Islamists. Diango Cissoko was chosen as the new prime minister in Mali's transitional government.

Secret space mission underway

The military launched a rocket into orbit on yesterday on what appears to be a mystery mission. The Air Force launched the unmanned spacecraft on top of an Atlas V rocket. It's a small, top-secret version of the space shuttle and it is the second flight for this the X-37B space plane. The craft circled the planet for seven months in 2010. A second X-37B spacecraft spent more than a year in orbit.

Lawmakers endorse defense cuts

Eleven Republicans and 11 Democrats sent a letter yesterday to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders pushing strategic reductions in the long term Pentagon budget. The Associated Press is reporting, a bipartisan group of House members says any budget deal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts should include "substantial defense savings." The lawmakers noted that organizations of various political leanings have backed cuts of $550 billion in projected military spending. They also cited retired Adm. Mike Mullen's argument that the nation's debt is the greatest threat to national security.

Officer Ethics Review Underway

Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey says ethics training for senior leaders is adequate but should begin earlier in an officer's career and be reinforced more frequently. That comes in response to a request by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for a review of ethics training following a series of highly publicized ethical lapses by top military officers. Dempsey also suggests that the number of staff they have be reviewed as well.

DoD's legal chief resigns

Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon's top lawyer has resigned and says he will return to private practice. Johnson is leaving at the end of December after four years that included a number of controversial legal issues including the escalation in the use of drone strikes and the repeal of the Pentagon's ban on openly gay military service. He left the New York City- based law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP, to take the Pentagon job, and is expected to return there.

Defense budget passes

The Senate has voted for a broad $631 billion defense bill, that among other things, calls for accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and tightens sanctions on Iran. The legislation which passed 98-0, would authorize money for weapons, aircraft and ships and provide a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel.

Serviceman's remains coming home

Missing in Vietnam since 1971, Army Sgt. John R. Jones, of Louisville, Ky., is coming home. His remains will be buried Dec. 6, in Arlington National Cemetery. On June 4, 1971, Jones was part of a U.S. team working with indigenous commandos to defend a radio-relay base, known as Hickory Hill, in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. When enemy forces attacked the site, Jones and another serviceman took up a defensive position in a nearby bunker. The following morning, Jones was killed by enemy fire.

US acquiring Israeli missile system

The U.S. military wants the "Iron Dome". Israel used the technology to knock 85% of the missiles Hamas fired at them from Gaza recently, out of the sky. Israel has agreed to give the United States the know-how needed to produce interceptors, but it is not interested in co-production yet. The United States has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to assist Israeli or joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs like David's Sling. Iron Dome was developed by Israel on its own.

Al Qaida strikes again

Gunmen shot dead a Saudi diplomat and his Yemeni bodyguard in Yemen's capital of Sanaa on Wednesday. Reuters is reporting the attack, "according to a local security source, was the work of al Qaida. The killing, the latest attack on security officials and politicians in the U.S.-allied state, underscores the challenges facing Yemen since an uprising that began last year toppled President Ali Abdullah Saleh."

Women want combat rules changed

Four servicewomen and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the U.S. Defense Department hoping to end a ban on women in combat. They claim it's discriminitory and modern warfare has already put women in combat. The ACLU argued in federal court in Northern California Tuesday that the military policy barring women from combat just because of their gender was unconstitutional. The Pentagon says it's examining the expansion of roles for women in the U.S. military.

DOJ sues KBR

The U.S. Justice Department says it's sued KBR Inc, accusing the company and a Kuwaiti subcontractor of improperly charging the federal government for the costs of delivering and installing trailers for troops in Iraq. The lawsuit came days after the Justice Department dropped a similar but unrelated case over KBR's costs for private armed security in Iraq. The latest lawsuit alleged that KBR-hired subcontractor First Kuwaiti Trading Company inflated its crane, truck and driver costs and misrepresented delays on the installation of more than 2,250 trailers.

It was murder; not suicide

In a powerful reminder of the brutality of the Pinochet military regime in Chile, an official autopsy of the remains of Salvador Allende's vice president, Jose Toha, have determined that he was murdered and did not commit suicide. Almost 40 years ago, Pinochet's government claimed he hung himself in his hospital room from a closet railing, but his family never bought it because he was taller that the railing. His body was re-interred yesterday.

F-22 crashes in Florida

The military says it doesn't appear a failure of an F-22 fighter's oxygen system caused the $190 million jet to crash in Florida. The Associated Press is reporting, that Air Force Col. David Graff said in a statement Friday that an initial review of Thursday afternoon's crash found the life system did not play a role. The pilot ejected safely before the stealth fighter jet went down in a wooded area of Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle near Panama City. No one on the ground was injured. In 2008, F-22 pilots began reporting high altitude-like problems, forcing the Air Force to acknowledge concerns about the jet's oxygen supply system.

Dunford testifies at confirmation

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, President Barack Obama's choice to be the top commander in Afghanistan said he envisions a U.S. presence in the country after American combat forces leave at the end of 2014. The Associated Press reports, "He also said the two main missions would be counterterrorism and assisting and advising Afghan security forces. Pressed on the size of the residual force, Dunford declined to provide specifics but did say 1,000 troops would be insufficient."

Pentagon tracking space junk

The U.S. military says it will station an advanced radar in Australia to help track space junk threatening satellites and is working toward placement of a new, state-of-the-art deep-space telescope developed by the Pentagon's advanced research arm DARPA.

Reuters is reporting, "The positioning of the advanced military equipment is another sign of deepening U.S. military ties with Australia and America's widely touted "pivot" to Asia. It follows an agreement last year for a rotating training presence of up to 2,500 Marines in Australia's northern tropical city of Darwin."

Is the CIA working in Benghazi?

Has the CIA been using Benghazi as a base to detain Libyans? An allegation that came to light during a speech by Paul Broadwell, who had an affair with now former CIA director David Petraeus. A CIA spokesperson says, "The CIA has not had detention authority since January 2009, when Executive Order 13491 was issued. Any suggestion that the Agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless."

Panetta Pivoting Toward Asia

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is setting off on a three-nation tour of Asian nations. He will visit Austrailia, Thailand and Cambodia, the goal is to strengthen alliances with partners in the Asia-Pacific region in order to further advance the U.S. long-term strategy of rebalancing with the Asia-Pacific. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and Commander of U.S. Pacific Command Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III will join Panetta for a portion of the trip.

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