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3:39 pm, November 20, 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.

Afghanistan drawdown announced

President Barack Obama has announced that 9800 troops will be left behind next year when all combat troops pull out of Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a statement, "I strongly support the president's decision to maintain a limited U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after our combat mission ends there later this year." Hagel said the move will do two things: "it will help ensure that al-Qaida cannot reconstitute itself in Afghanistan, and it will help us sustain the significant progress we have made in training and equipping the Afghan national security forces."

White House holds meeting on foreign policy

White House officials held private meetings last week aimed at soothing lawmakers' concerns over the U.S. posture in Syria, determining the future of the American military presence in Afghanistan, and defense spending. Based on anonymous reports from some in attendance, a May 20th meeting didn't turn out too well. At several points during the meeting with Chief of Staff and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, the participants began to leave one by one.

Hagel delivers commencement advice

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addressed Naval Academy graduates last week during their commencement ceremonies and he gave them three pieces of advice. One, "connect with people on a personal level", two, "try to understand perspectives that are different from yours" and three, "be humble". He also cautioned them about pressure saying, "Once you take up your duty stations and the responsibility of leadership, you will find yourselves under tremendous pressures you've never experienced."

Nuclear missile base flunked security drill

According to an internal Air Force review obtained by The Associated Press, armed security forces at a nuclear missile base failed a drill last summer that simulated the hostile takeover of a missile launch silo because they were unable to speedily regain control of the captured nuclear weapon. The AP's Robert Burns writes, "the previously unreported failure, which the Air Force called a `critical deficiency,' was the reason the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana flunked its broader safety and security inspection."

Aegis Ashore test successful

The Missile Defense Agency, the U.S. Navy, and sailors at the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex and Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) successfully conducted the first flight test involving components of the Aegis Ashore system. During the test, a simulated ballistic missile target was acquired, tracked, and engaged by the Aegis Weapon System. The primary purpose of the test was to confirm the functionality of Aegis Ashore by launching a land-based SM-3.

How much damage has Chinese hacking done to the US government?

A government report indicates more than 40 Pentagon weapons programs and nearly 30 other defense technologies have been compromised by cyber intrusions from China. The cybersecurity firm Mandiant issued a report last year alleging links between a secret Chinese military unit and years of cyber-attacks against U.S. companies. Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse Electric Co., Allegheny Technologies, U.S. Steel Corp., the United Steelworkers Union and Solar-World are just six companies the Justice Department says were victims of Chinese hacking. U.S. officials suggest there are many more amounting to billions of dollars in economic losses.

Russian troops still on Ukraine border

The Pentagon says Russia is not withdrawing its troops from the Ukraine border, despite Moscow's claim that the order to pull out has been given. Rear Adm. John Kirby says small numbers of Russian troops have gone back and forth to forward operating bases near the border, but the U.S. has seen no movement of Russian troops back to their home bases. NATO says Russia has 40,000 troops along the border.

Military personnel disciplined for sexual assaults

The Pentagon has revealed the U.S. military fired or disciplined nearly 500 workers for sexual harassment. In a 12-month period, and nearly 13 percent of the complaints filed involved repeat offenders. The report on May 15th was the first such report on sexual harassment. It says there were 1,366 reports in the last year.

Unrest in Africa growing

The Pentagon says almost 300 Marines have been moved to a naval air station in Sicily in response to the growing unrest in Africa. There is trouble in Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya and Nigeria. The U.S. is using surveillance drones in the search for the kidnapped Nigerian girls. Officials say at least one Global Hawk surveillance drone is in use, in addition to manned MC-12 aircraft.

Drone being used in Nigeria

The Pentagon is using drones to help search in northeastern Nigeria for school girls kidnapped by the terror group Boko Haram, although they will not call them drones. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren explains, "as a general rule we don't discuss our use of unmanned aircraft." He indicates there are security concerns, continuing, "there are sensitivities surrounding where they are based out of." Warren says they are being used to collect intelligence and conduct surveillance.

US commits dozens to help in Nigerian search

We are getting a clearer picture of how much help the U.S. is giving Nigeria to help in the search for almost 300 school girls kidnapped by terror group Boko Haram. The Pentagon says 16 DoD personnel are a part of a government-wide team of 30. The team includes planners and advisers already in Nigeria that have been redirected to assist the government. France, Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, as well as representatives of Britain and the EU are all helping in the search.

Hagel not happy

The House Armed Services Committee is rejecting many cost-savings proposals from the Pentagon including closing excess military bases and retiring aging aircraft. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is displeased about this budget bill, according to Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby. Hagel plans to talk to lawmakers again about the need for another round of base closings, which was also denied by the budget.

Alternative jet fuel prices reported

The Government Accountability Office said a recent report that the Department of Defense paid $150 per gallon for alternative jet fuel HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) which is made from algae. That's more than 64 times the current market price for standard carbon-based fuels. The report indicated only a small amount of the fuel was purchased for testing.

Russian claims troops are leaving Ukraine's border

The Pentagon says if Russian troops were really pulling back from the border with Ukraine, then "we would know," a spokesman told the Associated Press. He says that doesn't seem to be happening. Russian President Vladimir Putin says his troops have been moved away from the border region. Putin has also called on Ukraine's military to stop its operations against pro-Russia activists who have seized government buildings and police stations in at least a dozen towns in eastern Ukraine.

Iran threatens US Navy

Iran says it will target U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf if a war breaks out. An Iranian military official says the country could sink a U.S. aircraft carrier like the USS Nimitz and that the country is practicing on a replica. A spokesman from the Pentagon says they have no doubt Iran could sink the replica it has built, but Col. Steve Warren says sinking a U.S. aircraft carrier is another matter entirely and he has no confidence in Iran's capability to sink one.

Pentagon spending plan unveiled

Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has released a $601 billion spending plan that saves the Cold War era U-2 spy plane from the chopping block and also would force the Pentagon to keep the A-10 Warthog in storage. It's all a part of a plan resulting in smaller military budgets after 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ironically, though, the plan also denies the Pentagon's request for another round of military base closures to get rid of unnecessary facilities and save $1.4 billion.

Thousands missing in Afghanistan landslide

War isn't the only tragedy in Afghanistan. On Friday, a landslide triggered by heavy rain buried approximately one-third of a remote northeastern village, killing at least 350 people and leaving more than 2,000 missing. Villagers reportedly looked on helplessly and the governor appealed for shovels and other equipment to help dig through the mass of mud that flattened the homes in its path.

Alcohol key in military fight against sexual assault

The Pentagon has released its annual report on sexual assault. The report, which includes a multi-faceted strategy to prevent sexual assault, indicates that alcohol often plays a significant role in the commission of sexual assault. The report says alcohol impairs one's ability to identify a sexual assault threat and is sometimes used as a tool to reduce the victim's resistance or totally incapacitate a victim. The strategy against sexual assault includes five elements: prevention, investigation, accountability, advocacy and assessment of the program.

Pentagon warns of security gaps in Afghanistan

The Department of Defense provided Congress on Wednesday the April 2014 "Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan". It says although the Afghani security forces continue to make progress, four key high-end capability gaps will remain after the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission ends on Dec. 31, 2014: air support, intelligence enterprise, special operations, and Afghan security ministry capacity. International funding and coalition force assistance will be critical to sustaining the force going forward.

Egypt facing hurdles in Washington

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Egypt has made progress in its democratic transition, but must address "disturbing" developments if its government is to have the confidence of the Egyptian people and others. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was very explicit about his concerns. He said he would not approve sending funds to the Egyptian military, denouncing a "sham trial" in which a court sentenced 683 people to death.

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