Friday, May 30, 2014

Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Pfc. Jacob H. Wykstra, 21, of Thornton, Colorado, died May 28, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained as a result of an aircraft accident. The incident is under investigation.

He was assigned 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colorado.

For more information, media may contact the Fort Carson public affairs office at 719-526-4143 or 719-526-7525.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hagel: Post-2014 Troop Level to Protect Afghan Progress

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2014 – President Barack Obama’s post-2014 troop commitment in Afghanistan was “the right decision,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said yesterday.

The deadline for ending America’s combat mission in Afghanistan has been set since NATO met in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2010, Hagel told reporters traveling with him.

Hagel was speaking while en route to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, the first stop on the secretary’s 12-day trip that will also take him to five countries in Asia and Europe.

In his May 27 announcement of the post-2014 U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, the president presented a “comprehensive, thoughtful, focused [and] clear articulation of what America's security interests are around the world,” Hagel said.

“One particular point he made is important,” the defense secretary said. “You don't lead with your military in foreign policy. The military is an instrument of power -- it's an important instrument of power -- but our foreign policy is based on our interests around the world. It's based on who we are [and] international law. It's based on our standards, our values.”

Defense leaders had “significant input” as the president considered manning levels in Afghanistan, Hagel said.

After the 2010 NATO summit, the department began weighing manpower, capability and capacity requirements for the post-2014 mission, the secretary said.

“It was to be, as the president noted … a train, assist [and] advise mission, as well as a continued counter-terrorism mission,” Hagel said.

Helping the Afghan people build a free, transparent [and] democratic government capable of defending and supporting itself was at the center of mission planning, he noted.

“It has always been the focus of the United States’ role in Afghanistan to help the Afghans build their institutions, their capabilities, their capacities,” the defense secretary said.

The president’s announced troop levels in Afghanistan, with 9,800 U.S. troops at the start of 2015, to draw down to roughly half that amount by 2016, and a normal embassy presence by the end of 2016, is sufficient to help build and maintain existing progress, Hagel said.

The defense secretary said the Afghanistan mission will be a central point of discussion next week as he attends a NATO ministerial in Brussels.

Later in June, another NATO meeting will focus on developing the specifics of NATO’s contributions to the post-2014 mission, he said.

“Italy, Germany and Turkey have all agreed to be framework nations in this regional approach for 2015 in Afghanistan,” Hagel said.

This will continue to be a NATO mission, he said. Many of the non-NATO nations participating in the International Security Assistance Force mission have expressed interest in having a continuing role in Afghanistan, the defense secretary noted.

“So, there will be a specific conference on this part of post-2014 after the NATO ministerial,” Hagel said.

Concerns that Afghanistan might unwind into deep instability after ISAF troops leave means that over the next two years the core objective of the Afghan mission will be protecting and expanding the development of Afghan security forces, he said.

“The progress that has been made by the Afghan army has been remarkable, by any measurement, any standard, any metrics,” the defense secretary told reporters.

“We're building with them, helping them build their own institutions and their own capabilities, their own capacities to deal with threats that will continue,” he said.

Everyone in the defense leadership -- starting with the commanders on the ground -- has great confidence that the Afghan security forces will continue developing and improving their abilities, Hagel said.

“There are no guarantees in anything in life,” he said, “but we are confident that the decisions that we have made -- and the decisions that we have made specifically over the next two years -- will help the Afghans get to where they need to be to support themselves, defend themselves, govern themselves and secure their country for their future.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

AF honors fallen hero with ship renaming

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The Air Force decided May 23, to honor a fallen hero by naming the service’s newest pre-positioning vessel after Capt. David I. Lyon.

“It's a fitting tribute to have the Air Force’s newest pre-positioning vessel named after an Air Force logistician and true American patriot who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “Captain Lyon answered the call by saying ‘send me,’ and exemplified the core value of service before self. I'm extremely proud that this great airman's story will become part of the legacy of this proud ship and its crew."

Lyon, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and member of the 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron out of Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, died Dec. 27, 2013 in Kabul, Afghanistan, when a vehicle-born improvised explosive device was detonated near his convoy. Serving a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, Lyon was performing a combat advisory mission with Afghan National army commandos and working with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan.

Lyon was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Purple Heart and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

The dedication of the Motor Vessel David I. Lyon continues the long-standing tradition of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command by having a ship dedicated to national heroes. Lyon is the fifth Airman to receive this honor.

The MV David I. Lyon will provide responsive and agile combat support by prepositioning munitions afloat within theaters of operation in support of multiple combatant commander war-fighting and operational plan requirements. The MV David I. Lyon will provide enduring capacity for sea-based munitions movement equivalent to 78 fully loaded C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft.

While Lyon was working in Afghanistan, his wife, Capt. Dana Lyons was serving at Bagram Airfield.

When told about the decision to honor her husband with the ship renaming, she said she “was in awe and deeply honored.”

“It is quite an honor that the logistics community and the Air Force recognized the man I knew him to be … humble and selfless,” she said. “Dave’s favorite thing about being in the Air Force was feeling like he was in the fight and making a difference in the world. He would be very much honored and happy about having this vessel named after him because it allows him to still deliver to the warfighter … his legacy will live on and the mission will continue despite him being gone.”

Two Individuals Plead Guilty to Conspiring to Launder Bribes Received in Afghanistan

Two individuals have pleaded guilty for their roles in a scheme to launder approximately $250,000 in bribes received from Afghan contractors in Afghanistan.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee Edward L. Stanton III and United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee William C. Killian made the announcement.

Jimmy W. Dennis, 44, formerly of Clarksville, Tennessee, and a former First Sergeant with the U.S. Army, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Samuel H. May Jr. of the Western District of Tennessee to conspiracy to launder approximately $250,000 in bribe payments he received from Afghan contractors in Afghanistan.   Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 4, 2014.

James C. Pittman, 45, of Rossville, Georgia, pleaded guilty last Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge William B. Carter of the Eastern District of Tennessee for his role in this conspiracy.   Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 8, 2014.

According to pleadings filed at the time of the guilty pleas, from March 2008 through March 2009, Dennis was an Army Sergeant assigned as a paying agent in the Humanitarian Aid Yard (HA Yard) at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.   Dennis was a member of the team in the HA Yard that purchased supplies from local Afghan vendors for distribution as part of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program for urgent humanitarian relief requirements in Afghanistan.   Dennis and a partner entered into an agreement to steer contracts to certain Afghan vendors in return for approximately $250,000 in cash bribes.  

Further according to court pleadings, Dennis smuggled the bribe money back to the United States hidden in packages addressed to his wife, his father and a former Army friend, Pittman.   Dennis sent $80,000 to $100,000 to his father from Afghanistan in packages that contained toy “jingle trucks,” colorfully decorated trucks or buses in Afghanistan and Pakistan.   Dennis hid the money in the rear compartment of the toy trucks.   Dennis also shipped a hope chest to his father containing approximately $100,000 in cash in a concealed compartment.

Also according to court documents, while on leave, Dennis met with Pittman, advised him that he had obtained money through kickbacks, and asked him for help laundering the funds.   Pittman, owner of a landscaping business, agreed to “run through his company” these bribery proceeds.  After returning to Afghanistan, Dennis sent approximately $60,000 to Pittman contained in toy jingle trucks.   Dennis also arranged for his father to send approximately $20,000 to Pittman, who returned it in the form of purported salary checks from Pittman’s company.

These matters are being investigated by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the FBI, the Army Criminal Investigative Division, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and the Air Force Office of Special Investigation.   The prosecution is being handled by Trial Attorney Daniel Butler of the Criminal Division and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frederick Godwin of the Western District of Tennessee and James Brooks of the Eastern District of Tennessee.

Obama Announces New Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2014 – As U.S. troops move to a train-and-advise mission in Afghanistan, the reduced presence will allow the United States to address emerging threats in North Africa and the Middle East more effectively, President Barack Obama said today in West Point, New York.

Speaking during the commencement ceremony for the U.S. Military Academy, the president announced a new counterterrorism initiative he has called on Congress to support.

“Earlier this year, I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel,” Obama said. “Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.”

These additional resources, he explained, will provide flexibility to different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who have gone on the offensive against al-Qaida, supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia, working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya, and facilitating French operations in Mali.

“A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria,” Obama said. “As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering any time soon. As president, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian war, and I believe that is the right decision.”

The president acknowledged that this doesn’t mean “we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people.”

“In helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos,” Obama said. “So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors -- Jordan and Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq -- as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders.”

Obama said he will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.

“We will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab world to push for a political resolution of this crisis,” he said, “and to make sure that those countries, and not just the United States, are contributing their fair share to support the Syrian people.”

The president noted these partnerships won’t eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect the United States.

“When we have actionable intelligence,” he said, “that’s what we do, through capture operations like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice or drone strikes like those we’ve carried out in Yemen and Somalia.”

There are times when those actions are necessary, Obama said, and the United States cannot hesitate to protect its people.

“But as I said last year, in taking direct action we must uphold standards that reflect our values,” he added. “Our actions must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield. I also believe we must be more transparent about both the basis of our counterterrorism actions and the manner in which they are carried out.

“We have to be able to explain them publicly, whether it is drone strikes or training partners,” he continued. “I will increasingly turn to our military to take the lead and provide information to the public about our efforts.”

The president praised the intelligence community for its “outstanding work” protecting sources and methods, but noted “when we cannot explain our efforts clearly and publicly, we face terrorist propaganda and international suspicion, we erode legitimacy with our partners and our people, and we reduce accountability in our own government.”

This issue of transparency, Obama said, is “directly relevant” to American leadership and efforts to strengthen and enforce international order.

“After World War II, America had the wisdom to shape institutions to keep the peace and support human progress -- from NATO and the United Nations to the World Bank and [the International Monetary Fund],” he said. “These institutions are not perfect, but they have been a force multiplier. They reduce the need for unilateral American action and increase restraint among other nations.”

As the world changes, Obama said, this architecture must change as well.

“At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy spoke about the need for a peace based upon, ‘a gradual evolution in human institutions,’” he said. “Evolving these international institutions to meet the demands of today must be a critical part of American leadership.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hagel Expresses Support for Afghanistan Troop Decision

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today said he strongly supports President Barack Obama’s decision to maintain a limited U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends there later this year.

“This presence, which is contingent on a signed bilateral security agreement, will help ensure that al-Qaida cannot reconstitute itself in Afghanistan,” the secretary said in a statement, “and it will help us sustain the significant progress we have made in training and equipping the Afghan national security forces.”

The secretary commended Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, “for his exceptional leadership of this mission, which he has kept on a path to success in the face of many challenges.”

The United States also appreciates the continued contributions of its International Security Assistance Force partners, Hagel added, noting that he will meet them with next week at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

“And as we bring America's longest war to a responsible end this year, all Americans are grateful for the sacrifice and service of the men and women who deployed there over the past 13 years,” Hagel said. “Everyone who has served in Afghanistan should be proud of what they accomplished, and the Afghan people should be confident of America's enduring support for them.”