The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill

President Donald Trump signed a landmark bill on June 6, 2018, to replace the troubled Veterans Choice Program and expand private health care options amid a fight between the White House and Congress over how to pay for it.

The bill, the VA Mission Act, would also expand caregivers assistance to the families of disabled veterans and order an inventory of the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ more than 1,100 facilities with a long-term view to trimming excess.


“This is a very big day,” said Trump, who made veterans care one of the signature issues of his run for the White House. “All during the campaign, I’d say, ‘Why can’t they just go out and see a doctor instead of standing on line?’

“This is truly a historic moment, a historic time for our country,” he continued, before signing the bill at a White House Rose Garden ceremony. “We’re allowing our veterans to get access to the best medical care available, whether it’s at the VA or at a private provider.”

In his remarks, Trump did not mention that funds to pay for the bill have yet to be identified, or that the White House and Congress are at odds on funding mechanisms. The bill’s projected costs over five years are also in dispute.

At a Senate news conference in May 2018, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and a key sponsor of the bill, and Sen. Jon Tester, the ranking member of the committee, put the total costs at $55 billion, although other estimates have it at $52 billion.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill
Sen. Johnny Isakson

Isakson acknowledged that the bill isn’t paid for but said he is working with Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to add funding for the bill that would likely balloon the deficit. The White House has argued for funding the bill by cutting other programs.

A White House memo obtained by The Washington Post said that simply adding funding is “anathema to responsible spending” and would lead to “virtually unlimited increases” in spending on private health care for veterans.

Shelby said on June 5, 2018, that going along with the White House would result in cuts of $10 billion a year to existing programs, including some at the VA.

“If we don’t get on it, we’re going to have a hole of $10 billion in our [appropriations],” said Shelby, who predicted “some real trouble” in reaching agreement, according to a Washington Post report.

Critics of the bill have warned that over-reliance on private-care options could lead to the “privatization” of VA health care, but Trump said, “If the VA can’t meet the needs of the veteran in a timely manner, that veteran will have the right to go right outside to a private doctor. It’s so simple and yet so complicated.”

In his remarks at the ceremony of less than 20 minutes, Trump also noted that it was the 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy when U.S. troops “stormed into hell.”

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill
A LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944.

“They put everything on the line for us,” he said and, like all veterans, “when they come home, we must do everything that we can possibly do for them, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The issue of funding has plagued the existing Veterans Choice Program since it was enacted in response to the wait-times scandals of 2014 in which VA officials were caught doctoring records to show better performance.

The Choice program allowed veterans who lived more than 40 miles from a VA facility or had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment to have access to private care, but the program was time limited and Congress has struggled to come up with money for extensions.

The program was again due to run out of funding May 31, 2018, but the VA said there was enough money remaining to keep it in operation until Trump signed the VA Mission Act.

The new bill called for $5.2 billion in funding to keep the existing Choice program in operation for a year while the VA worked through reforms to consolidate the seven private-care options into one system while eliminating the 30-day, 40-mile restrictions.

However, a Government Accountability Office report on the Veterans Choice Program released June 4, 2018, cast doubt on the VA’s ability to implement the reforms called for under the VA Mission Act.

The GAO said veterans could wait up to 70 days for private-care appointments under the Choice program because of poor communication between the VA and its facilities and “an insufficient number, mix, or geographic distribution of community providers.”

Trump touts ridding VA of corruption, poor performers

Ahead of the signing ceremony, the White House put out a statement citing Trump’s accomplishments in his first 500 days in office. Veterans programs topped the list.

Trump “worked with Congress to forge an overwhelming bipartisan vote of support” for the VA Mission Act, the statement said. The vote in the House was 347-70; the Senate vote was 92-5.

The VA Mission Act and other veterans legislation will “bring more accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs and provide our veterans with more choice in the care they receive,” the White House statement said.

In his remarks, Trump hailed passage of the VA Accountability Act, which is aimed at getting rid of poor performers, and lashed out at civil service unions for opposing reform.

“Four years ago, our entire nation was shocked and outraged by stories of the VA system plagued by neglect, abuse, fraud and mistreatment of our veterans,” he said in a reference to the wait-times scandals.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill
World War II veteran, Sgt. Maj. Raymond Sylvester.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Felix Fimbres)

“And there was nothing they could do about it. Good people that worked there, they couldn’t take care of the bad people — meaning ‘You’re fired, get the hell out of here,’ ” Trump said.

More accountability “made so much sense but it was hard,” he said. “You have civil service, you have unions. Of course, they’d never do anything to stop anything, but they had a very great deal of power.

“So we passed something that hasn’t been that recognized, and yet I would put it almost in the class with Choice. Almost in the class with Choice. VA Accountability — passed. And now, if people don’t do a great job, they can’t work with our vets anymore. They’re gone,” Trump said.

The VA has more than 360,000 employees serving the health care needs of about nine million veterans annually. Most of them are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, which opposed the VA Mission Act.

The AFGE said that the act amounts to “opening the door to privatization of the country’s largest health care system.”

The major veterans service organizations (VSOs) also initially feared privatization but came round to backing the VA Mission Act as a catalyst for improving care while preserving the VA’s role as the main provider of health care.

In a statement after the signing ceremony, Keith Harman, national commander of the 1.7 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars, said, “The VFW and other veterans service organizations worked closely with Congress and the White House to help create a carefully negotiated bipartisan deal with the fingerprints of veterans who rely on the VA all over it.”

Bill also addresses caregivers, excess VA facilities

In addition to expanding private-care options, the bill would also address long-time concerns of the VSOs on the restrictions in the current program to provide small stipends to family members who care for severely disabled veterans.

The program has been limited to post-9/11 veterans, but the bill was aimed at expanding caregivers assistance over two years to veterans of all eras.

Advocates had argued that caregivers assistance saves the VA money by allowing disabled veterans to remain at home rather than relying on more expensive in-patient treatment.

“The more veterans and their caregivers who are eligible for support, the closer we are to fulfilling our promise to care for those who’ve sacrificed so much on our behalf,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, a chief sponsor, said in a statement.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that more than 41,000 caregivers could be added to the rolls under the new bill over the next five years at a cost of nearly $7 billion.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill
Omaha VA Medical Center

In reference to the caregivers section of the bill, Trump said, “If you wore that uniform, if at some point you work that uniform, you deserve the absolute best and that’s what we’re doing.”

In a statement, Delphine Metcalf-Foster, national commander of the Disabled American Veterans and herself a former caregiver to her late husband, said in a statement:

“This new law will not only extend support to thousands more deserving family caregivers that severely injured veterans rely on, but also make a number of reforms and improvements to strengthen the VA health care system and improve veterans’ access to care.”

The bill also ordered up a VA asset review in which the president would set up a nine-member Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, with representatives from VSOs, the health care industry, and federal facility managers.

Opponents have likened the commission to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) at the Pentagon on the hot-button issue of base closings.

The panel would meet in 2022 and 2023 to issue recommendations on “the modernization or realignment of Veterans Health Administration facilities.”

At a Senate news conference in May 2018, Carlos Fuentes, the VFW’s National Legislative Services director, said comparing AIR to BRAC is misleading.

“Under BRAC, DoD moves its assets, including service members and their families. VA can’t force veterans to move,” Fuentes said.

At a panel discussion last month in the House, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said that the average age of a building at the VA is more than 50 years.

He said the VA has more than 6,000 buildings in its inventory, and about 1,100 “are not even utilized. So we’re paying millions of dollars to keep up empty buildings — makes no sense.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

Articles

ISIS attacked US forces in Syria in a complex and coordinated attack

U.S. forces in southern Syria came under attack by Islamic State militants around midnight local time on April 8, joining with local partner forces to repel the assault in an hours-long fight that required multiple airstrikes and left three U.S.-backed Syrian fighters dead.


U.S. special-operations advisers were on the ground near the al-Tanf border crossing when a force of 20 to 30 fighters with the Islamic State, the terrorist group also known as ISIS or ISIL, attacked in what a U.S. Central Command spokesman called a “complex and coordinated” attempt to take the base from the coalition.

Also read: Here’s how the U.S. hit that Syrian airbase

“U.S. and coalition forces were on the ground in the area as they normally are, and participated in repulsing the attack,” said Air Force Col. John J. Thomas, a spokesman for Central Command, according to the Associated Press.

“There was close-air support that was provided, there was ground support that was provided, and there was med-evac that was supported by the coalition,” Thomas added. No Americans were killed or wounded.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill
Marines train for attacks like this. (Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph A. Prado)

“Clearly it was planned,” Thomas told reporters at the Pentagon. “The coalition and our partner forces had the resources to repulse that attack. A lot of them wound up being killed and the garrison remains controlled by the people in control before being attacked.”

“Ultimately the attackers were killed, defeated, or chased off,” Thomas said.

U.S. forces at al-Tanf, on Syria’s southern border with Jordan and Iraq, had initially withdrawn to avoid potential retaliatory action after the U.S. strike on an Assad regime airfield in western Syria.

The attack came from ISIS fighters disguised as U.S.-backed rebels, carrying M-16 rifles and using vehicles captured from U.S.-supported rebel groups. They struck first with a car bomb at the base entrance, which allowed some of the attackers to infiltrate the base. Many of the ISIS fighters were wearing suicide vests.

“Around 20 ISIS fighters attacked the base, and suicide bombers blew up the main gate, and clashes took place inside the base,” Tlass al-Salama, the commander of the Osoud al Sharqiya Army, part of the U.S.-backed moderate rebel alliance, told The Wall Street Journal.

Salama’s force sent reinforcements to the base, but they came under attack from other ISIS fighters.

Related: Mattis warns Syria against using chemical weapons again

U.S. special-operations forces and their Syrian partners who had moved out of the base quickly returned, and they initially repelled the attack on the ground in a firefight that lasted about three hours.

Coalition pilots also carried out multiple airstrikes amid the fighting, destroying ISIS vehicles and killing many of the terrorist group’s fighters.

“It was a serious fight,” a U.S. military official said April 10. “Whether or not it was a one-off, we will have to see.”

U.S. special-operations forces had been training vetted Syrian opposition troops at al-Tanf for more than a year. The Syrian opposition fighters in question were operating against ISIS in southern Syria and working with Jordan to maintain border security.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill
A fighter with the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces sits atop a vehicle before a battle. (Photo from SDF via Facebook)

The pullback from al-Tanf to safeguard against reprisals was just one step the coalition took in the aftermath of the U.S. strike on Shayrat airfield, which was believed to be the launching point for a chemical weapons attack on a Syrian village April 4.

The coalition also reduced the number of air missions it flew, out of concern Syrian or Russian forces would attempt to shoot down U.S. aircraft. The U.S. presence in Syria has increased in recent months, as Marines and other units arrive to aid U.S.-backed fighters.

ISIS may become more active in southern Syria as U.S.-backed forces close in on Raqqa, the terrorist group’s self-proclaimed capital located in northeast Syria. Top ISIS leaders have reportedly fled the city in recent months.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

New protective gear saves soldier’s life

Less than a week after receiving his new Integrated Head Protective System, or IHPS, the neck mandible saved the soldier’s life in Afghanistan.

The armor crewman was in the turret manning his weapon when a raucous broke out on the street below. Amidst the shouting, a brick came hurdling toward his turret. It struck the soldier’s neck, but luckily he had his maxillofacial protection connected to his helmet.

The first issue of this mandible with the IHPS helmet went to an armored unit in Afghanistan a couple months ago, said Lt. Col. Ginger Whitehead, product manager for soldier protective equipment at Program Executive Office Soldier.


The neck protection was designed specifically for turret gunners to protect them from objects thrown at them, she said. She added most soldiers don’t need and are not issued the mandible that connects to the IHPS Generation I helmet.

A new Gen II helmet is also now being testing by soldiers, said Col. Stephen Thomas, program manager for soldier protection and individual equipment at PEO Soldier.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill

A new generation of Soldier Protection System equipment is displayed during a media roundtable by Program Executive Office Soldier during the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Oct. 15, 2019.

(Photo by Gary Sheftick)

About 150 of the Gen II IHPS helmets were recently issued to soldiers of the 2-1 Infantry for testing at Fort Riley, Kansas. The new helmet is lighter while providing a greater level of protection, Whitehead said. The universal helmet mount eliminates the need for drilling holes for straps and thus better preserves the integrity of the carbon fiber.

The new helmet is part of an upgraded Soldier Protection System that provides more agility and maneuver capability, is lighter weight, while still providing a higher level of ballistic protection, Thomas said.

The lighter equipment will “reduce the burden on soldiers” and be a “game-changer” downrange, Thomas said at a PEO Soldier media roundtable Tuesday during the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.

It will allow soldiers flexibility to scale up or scale down their personal armor protection depending on the threat and the mission, he said.

The new soldier Protection System, or SPS, is “an integrated suite of equipment,” Thomas said, that includes different-sized torso plates for a modular scalable vest that comes in eight sizes and a new ballistic combat shirt that has 12 sizes.

The idea is for the equipment to better fit all sizes of soldiers, he said.

The ballistic combat shirt for women has a V-notch in the back to accommodate a hair bun, Whitehead said, which will make it more comfortable for many female soldiers.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (center) holds the Ballistic Combat Shirt.

(US Army)

The modular scalable vest can be broken down to a sleeveless version with a shortened plate to give an increased range of motion to vehicle drivers and others, she said.

The new SPS also moves away from protective underwear that “soldiers didn’t like at all” because of the heat and chafe, Whitehead said. Instead the new unisex design of outer armor protects the femoral arteries with less discomfort, she said.

PEO Soldier has also come out with a new integrated hot-weather clothing uniform, or IHWCU, made of advanced fibers, Thomas said. It’s quick-drying with a mix of 57% nylon and 43% cotton.

In hot temperatures, the uniform is “no melt, no drip,” he said.

Two sets of the IHWCU are now being issued to infantry and armor soldiers during initial-entry training, he said, along with two sets of the regular combat uniform.

The new hot-weather uniform is also now available at clothing sales stores in Hawaii, along with those on Forts Benning, Hood and Bliss, he said. All clothing sales stores should have the new uniform available by February, he added.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships are getting hellfire missiles

The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship will be armed and operational with deck-launched HELLFIRE missiles by 2020, a key step in a sweeping strategic move to expand the attack envelope across the entire fleet of surface ships, senior service officials said.


Current HELLFIRE LCS testing and development, described as an integral part of the ship’s Surface-to-Surface Missile Module, has resulted in 20 successful hits out of 24 total attempted missile shots, Capt. Ted Zobel, Program Manager, PEO LCS, said recently at the Surface Navy Association symposium.

Testing and integration, which embarked upon LCS 5 in August of 2017, is slated to continue this year as a lead into to formal production; The complete procurement of SSMMs will complete in 2023, Zobel said.

Integrating the HELLFIRE onto the LCS is a significant strategic and tactical step for the Navy as it accelerates its combat posture transition toward the prospect of near-peer warfare.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill
The littoral combat ship the future USS Omaha (LCS 12) passes underneath the Coronado Bridge as the ship transits the San Diego Harbor to the ship’s new homeport, Naval Base San Diego. Littoral Combat Ship the future USS Omaha (LCS 12) arrives at its new homeport, Naval Base San Diego. Omaha will be commissioned in San Diego next month and is the sixth ship in the LCS Independence-variant class. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Miranda Williams/Released)

This kind of confrontation, naturally could span a wide envelope of mission requirements for the LCS, calling upon littoral, coastal patrol, surveillance and countermine mission technologies as well as anti-submarine operations and a fortified ability to wage “blue” or open water maritime warfare with longer-range strike weapons.

While not quite the scope of the now-in-development over-the-horizon missile currently being fast-tracked for the emerging Frigate and, quite possibly, the LCS – a HELLFIRE offers a much wider offensive attack range to include enemy aircraft, helicopters, drones, small boats and even some surface ships.

Furthermore, the HELLFIRE, drawing upon Army-Navy collaboration, is engineered with different variants to widen potential attack methods. These range from blast-frag warheads to high-explosive rounds or even missiles with an augmented metal sleeve for extra fragmentation.

While the LCS does not have Vertical Launch Systems, Navy officials tell Warrior Maven that the HELLFIRE fires from canisters beneath the surface of the ship.

Often fired from helicopters, drones and even ground-based Army Multi-Mission Launchers, the Longbow HELLFIRE can use Fire-and-Forget millimeter wave radar with inertial guidance; millimeter wave seeker technology enables adverse weather targeting. Many HELLFIREs also use semi-active laser homing targeting.

It is accurate to call it a short-to-medium-range weapon which can reach relevant combat distances beyond the most close-in threats – while stopping short of being an over-the-horizon weapon.

Its targeting options open up various airborne interoperability options, meaning an MH-60R ship-based helicopter – or even a drone – could function as a laser designator for the weapon should it seek to target enemy ships on-the-move.

Also Read: McCain takes aim at Littoral Combat Ship, wants new fleet

The Navy has made particular efforts, in fact, to integrate HELLFIRE technology, sensors and fire control with other assets woven into the LCS. Not only could an MH-60R offer a laser spot for the ship launched weapon, but the helicopter can of course fire the HELLFIRE itself.

A ship launched variant, however, would need to further integrate with ship-based layered defense technologies to optimize its attack options against enemy aircraft and ships, particularly in a maritime combat environment potentially more difficult for helicopters to operate in.

LCS-launched HELLFIREs are engineered to operate as part of a broader ship-wide technical system connecting things like variable-depth sonar, deck guns, vertical take-off drones such as the Fire Scout and small boat mission capabilities such

as 11-meter Rigid Inflatable Boats, or RIBs.

As part of this, the LCS is equipped with a 57mm gun, .50-cal Machine Guns and a defensive interceptor missile called SeaRAM.

Arming the LCS to a much greater extent is also likely to bear upon the longstanding discussion regarding the ship’s survivability. While many advocates for the LCS champion its 40-knot speed and technical attributes such as its integrated mission packages, adding more substantial weapons clearly impacts the debate by massively increasing the ship’s survivability and combat capability.

The anti-submarine mission package includes an MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter, light weight towed torpedo decoy system, Multi-Function Towed Array and several kinds of submarine-hunting sonar. The LCS utilizes waterjet propulsion and a combined diesel and gas turbine engine.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill
An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 approaches the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard during flight operations. Bonhomme Richard, commanded by Capt. Daniel Dusek, is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed amphibious ready group and is currently operating in the 7th Fleet Area of Operations.

Some of the features and technologies now being developed for the Navy’s new Frigate could be back-fitted onto the existing LCS fleet as well; these include an over-the-horizon offensive missile as well as a survivability-enhancing technique called “space armor,” which better allows the ship to function if it is hit by enemy firepower.

A strengthened LCS, as well as the new Frigate of course, offer a key component of the Navy’s widely discussed “distributed lethality” strategy, which aims to better arm the fleet with offensive firepower and position the force to be able to defeat technologically-advanced near-peer adversaries.

This includes an emphasis upon open or “blue” water combat and a shift from some of the key mission areas engaged in during

the last decade of ground wars such as Visit Board Search and Seizure, counter-piracy and counter-terrorism.

Many LCS are already in service, and the platform is cherished by the Navy for its 40-knot speed, maneuverability and technological versatility.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. strikes Taliban after Afghan security personnel killed in attacks

The United States has conducted a “defensive” air strike against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province after a checkpoint manned by Afghan forces was attacked.


“The US conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an #ANDSF checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack,” U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Sonny Leggett said in a tweet.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill

The strike came just hours after Taliban militants killed at least 20 Afghan security officers in a string of attacks and on the heels of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “very good” chat with the Taliban’s political chief.

The wave of violence is threatening to unravel a February 29 agreement signed in Doha between the United States and the Taliban that would allow allied forces to leave Afghanistan within 14 months in return for various security commitments from the extremist group and a pledge to hold talks with the Afghan government — which the Taliban has so far refused to do.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has warned he was not committed to a key clause in the deal involving the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

The Taliban said it would not take part in intra-Afghan talks until that provision was met.

And on March 2, the militant group ordered its fighters to resume operations against Afghan forces, saying that a weeklong partial truce between the Taliban, U.S., and Afghan forces that preceded the Doha agreement was “over.”

“Taliban fighters attacked at least three army outposts in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz last night, killing at least 10 soldiers and four police,” said Safiullah Amiri, a member of the provincial council.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill

upload.wikimedia.org

Another attack killed six soldiers in the same northern region, Amiri added.

Washington has said it would defend Afghan forces if they came under Taliban attack.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

US taxpayers have reportedly paid an average of $8,000 each and over $2 trillion total for the Iraq war alone

The human costs of war are huge and crippling. The financial costs can be, too.


According to a new estimate by the Costs of War co-director Neta Crawford, US taxpayers have paid nearly $2 trillion in war-related costs on the Iraq war alone.

Newsweek estimated that the total for the Iraq War comes out to an average of roughly $8,000 per taxpayer. The figure far exceeds the Pentagon’s estimate that Americans paid an average of $3,907 each for Iraq and Syria to date. And in March 2019, the Department of Defense estimated that the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria combined have cost each US taxpayer around $7,623 on average.

The Costs of War Project through Brown University conducts research on the human, economic, and political costs of the post-9/11 wars waged by the US. Stephanie Savell, a co-director of the Cost of Wars Projects, told Insider it’s important for Americans to understand exactly what their taxes are paying for when it comes to war-related expenses.

“As Americans debate the merits of U.S. military presence in Iraq and elsewhere in the name of the U.S. war on terrorism, it’s essential to understand that war costs go far beyond what the DOD has appropriated in Overseas Contingency Operations and reach across many parts of the federal budget,” Savell said.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill
Iraqi Freedom

Breaking down the financial costs of the Iraq War

The Pentagon had been allotted approximately 8 billion in “emergency” and “overseas contingency operation” for military operations in Iraq from the fiscal year 2003 to 2019, including operations fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. However, Savell says the actual costs of the war often exceed that of the Congress-approved budgets.

“When you’re accounting for the cost of war, you can’t only account what the DOD has spent on overseas contingency funds,” Savell told Insider. “You have to look at the other sets of costs including interest on borrowed funds, increased war-related spending, higher pay to retain soldiers, medical and disability care on post-9-11 and war veterans, and more.”

According to their estimates, the cost of the Iraq War to date would be id=”listicle-2645054426″,922 billion in current dollars — this figure includes funding appropriated by the Pentagon explicitly for the war, spending on the country by the State Department, the care of Iraq War veterans and interests on debt incurred for the 16 years of the US military’s involvement in the country.

Crawford says that war-related spending in Iraq has blown past its budget in the 16 years military forces have been in the country, estimating a nearly 2 billion surplus in Iraq alone.

The increases to the Congressionally approved budgets were used to heighten security at bases, for enlistment and reenlistment bonuses, to increase pay to retain personnel, and for the healthcare costs of servicemembers.

Aside from the Defense Department costs, the State Department added approximately billion to the total costs of the Iraq War for USAID on Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, 9 billion has been spent on Iraq war veterans receiving medical care, disability, and other compensation.

The US has gone deep into debt to pay for the war. That means it has interest payments.

As expected, that taxpayer dollars are going towards war-related expenses including operations, equipment, and personnel. But a surprising amount of the costs are to pay off the interest on the debt the US has accrued since going to war.

“People also need to know that these wars have been put on a credit card, so we will be paying trillions on war borrowing in interest alone over the next several decades,” Avell told Insider.

Since the US launched its “Global War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan — and later Yemen, Pakistan, and other areas — the US government has completely financed its war efforts borrowing funds. A Cost of War Projects report estimated the US government debts from all post-9/11 war efforts “resulted in cumulative interest payments of 5 billion” on a trillion debt.

The financing method departs from previous international conflicts, where the federal government either raised taxes or issued war bonds to finance war-related expenses. According to Boston University political scientist Rosella Cappella-Zielinski, tax payments accounted for 30% of the cost of World War I and almost 50% of the cost of World War II.

Borrowing from both domestic and foreign sources, Crawford estimates the US has incurred 4 billion in interest on borrowing to pay for Pentagon and State Department spending in Iraq alone.

While the money spent on the Iraq War may seem staggering, the Costs of War estimates the US has spent over .4 trillion total on all of its “War on Terror” efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the related violence in Pakistan and Syria.

Defense Department spokesperson Christopher Sherwood told Insider that the Defense Department dedicates id=”listicle-2645054426″.575 trillion for war-related costs, with an average of spending .2 billion per month on all operations for the fiscal year 2019.

Sherwood said that the department’s costs go towards war-related operational costs, such as trainings and communications, support for deployed troops, including food and medical services, and transportation of personnel and equipment.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill
Press conference in Al Fadhel

upload.wikimedia.org

The human costs of the Iraq War are even harder to track

The US invaded Iraq in 2003 on the belief that Saddam Hussein had, or was attempting to make, “weapons of mass destruction” and that Iraq’s government had connections to various terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. Although the invasion initially had overwhelming support from the American public and the approval of Congress, it is now considered one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in US history.

189,000 soldiers were killed in direct war deaths and 32,223 injured, Cost of War estimated. Meanwhile, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of service members due to war-related hardships remain difficult to track.

The Costs of War Project believes calculating the total costs of war — economic, political, and human — is important to ensure that Americans can make educated choices about war-related policies.

“War is expensive — in terms of lives lost, physical damage to people and property, mental trauma to soldiers and war-zone inhabitants, and in terms of money,” Cost of War researcher Heidi Peltier wrote.

In 2016 and leading up to 2020, President Donald Trump has campaigned on a promise of pulling American troops out and ending “these ridiculous wars” in the Middle East. However, Trump deployed more troops to the country after an attack on the US embassy in Iraq.

The Pentagon originally requested less than billion of that amount for Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria — however, the Crawford believes that budget may be blown after more troops were sent into a war zone that was meant to be winding down.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Through the cockpit windscreen, Capt. Robert Morgan saw flashes of light from the wings and engine cowling of a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 at his 12 o’clock and closing at an incredible rate. Each wink of light from the fighter’s wing root meant another 20mm cannon shell was heading directly at his B-17F Flying Fortress at over 2,300 feet per second.

Having no room to dive in the crowded formation of B-17 bombers of the 91st Bomb Group, he pitched up. The Luftwaffe fighter’s shells impacted the tail of the aircraft instead of coming straight through the windscreen.


Over the intercom Morgan heard his tail gunner, Sgt. John Quinlan, yelling that the aircraft’s tail was shot to pieces and what was left was in flames.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

It was January 23, 1943. Morgan and his nine crewmen aboard the “Memphis Belle” had just fought their way through a swarm of Luftwaffe fighters, dropped their bombs on a Nazi submarine base in the coastal city of Lorient in occupied France and were fighting to survive the return trip to the Eighth Air Force base in Bassingbourn, England. Morgan began calculating if the crew should bail out and become prisoners of war before the tail tore completely off the bomber trapping the crew in a death spiral culminating in a fiery crash.

A moment later, Quinlan reported that the fire in the tail had gone out. The “Memphis Belle” and its crew would survive the mission; the crew’s eighth and the bomber’s ninth.

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(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

They would have to survive 17 more missions to complete the required 25 to rotate home. All would be flown during a period of World War II when the Luftwaffe was at the height of its destructive powers.

Against all odds, the “Memphis Belle” crew flew those missions, their last to once again bomb the U-boat pens at Lorient on May 17, 1943, before returning safely to England for the final time. Bottles of Champagne were uncorked and radio operator Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Hanson collapsed onto the flightline and kissed the ground.

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(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

For the “Belle” itself, it was only mission 24 and the plane had to fly once more with an alternate crew on May 19.

The B-17 and its crew would be the first to return alive and intact to the U.S. They were welcomed as heroes and immediately embarked on a 2 ½-month, nationwide morale tour to sell war bonds. The tour was also to encourage bomber crews in training that they too could make it home. It made celebrities of both the “Belle” and its crew.

Ironically, the two and a half months of press conferences, parties and glad-handing officers and politicians was about the same amount of time during the “Belle’s” combat tour that 80 percent of the 91st Bomb Group’s B-17s and their crews were lost to German fighters and anti-aircraft fire.

“Eighty percent losses means you had breakfast with 10 men and dinner with only two of those 10,” Morgan said in an interview after the war. During the totality of the air war over Europe more than 30,000 U.S. Airmen aboard heavy bombers, like the B-17, would be killed.

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(U.S. Air Force photo)

Seventy-five years to the day after that 25th mission, the Museum of the U.S. Air Force will honor the bravery of those bomber crews, some of the first Americans to take the fight to the Nazis in WWII, when they unveil for public display the largely restored B-17F, Serial No. 41-24485, “Memphis Belle” as part of a three-day celebration, May 17-19, 2018.

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Download the Museum Brochure Here

According to the museum curator in charge of the “Memphis Belle” exhibit, Jeff Duford, the weekend will include more than 160 WWII re-enactors showcasing their memorabilia, WWII-era music and vehicles, static displays of other B-17s, flyovers of WWII-era aircraft and presentations of rare archival film footage. The “Memphis Belle” will be the centerpiece of an exhibit documenting the strategic bombing campaign over Europe.

“The ‘Memphis Belle’ is an icon that represents all the heavy bomber crewmen who served and sacrificed in Europe in World War II,” Duford said, “In many ways the ‘Memphis Belle’ is the icon for the United States Air Force.

“You look at the U.S. Marines, they have this wonderful icon of the flag being raised over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and everyone recognizes that. It symbolizes service and sacrifice and tenacity and teamwork. Well, the Air Force has that symbol too, and it’s this airplane. It demonstrates teamwork. The crews had to work together. The planes in formation had to work together. The formations had to work together with the fighter escorts.”

The service and sacrifice of the young men still leaves Duford awestruck even after working on the “Belle” project for a decade.

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(U.S. Army photo)

“How does one climb inside of this aircraft knowing that they are probably not going to come home? And they don’t do that one time; two times; three times; 10 times – they have to do it 25 times,” said Duford. “Once they got inside the airplane, they had no place to run. There were no foxholes to be dug. The skin on those airplanes is so thin that a bullet or flak fragment would go through it like a tin can because that’s essentially what it was.

“The odds were that every 18 missions, a heavy bomber was going to be shot down. So when you think the crew had to finish 25 missions to go home, statistically it was nearly impossible. It was one-in-four odds that a heavy bomber recruit would finish their 25 missions. Those other three crew members would’ve been shot down and captured, killed or wounded so badly they couldn’t finish their tour.”

The fact the “Memphis Belle” crew survived their tour was of great value to the U.S. Army Air Forces in maintaining support for the daylight strategic bombing campaign over Europe, which was still, in fact, an experiment.

“Back then, there was no book on high altitude strategic bombing. The generals didn’t know any more than we did. They had to figure bombing strategy as we went along,” said Morgan in a book he would write after the war, “The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle”.

The B-17 was named the “Flying Fortress”, because it was bristling with .50 caliber machine guns covering every angle of attack by German fighters, save one. The theory was that all that defensive firepower would be amplified by heavy bombers flying in tight formations, called “boxes”, enabling them to protect each other from attacking fighters.

While the German Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters sometimes paid a price for attacking the formations, they soon developed tactics that exploited a design weakness in B-17Fs, like the “Memphis Belle”.

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German Luftwaffe models used in fighter pilot training show the fields of fire covered by the machine guns of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

While twin .50 caliber machine guns in top and belly turrets and the tail and single .50 cal. gunners protected the bomber, the 12 o’clock position was covered by a lone .30 caliber machine gun – no match for the German fighters. Because the bomber formations had to fly straight and level to initiate their bombing run, the Luftwaffe fighter pilots began attacking the formations head on. The ensuing carnage was ghastly.

“The secret to the B-17 was the capability of flying in tight formations, so tight that the wings were often almost touching,” wrote Morgan. “We were able to put out an amazing amount of firepower… but, I also positively feel that was a bit of divine intervention for our crew.”

While the addition of Allied fighter escorts helped fend off some German attackers, the fact that the B-17s had to fly at 25,000 feet or lower to maintain any semblance of accuracy on target put them in the range of the deadly German 88mm anti-aircraft gun. No amount of machine guns or friendly fighters could counter the dense flak approaching targets while flying straight and level.

Bomber crews had to just grit their teeth and pray.

“They felt like they were a great crew. They were tightly knit, confident and dedicated to what they were doing,” said Duford. “However, being in those formations, flying straight and level with enemy anti-aircraft and fighter aircraft, there certainly was a little bit of luck for them too.”

Luck, both good and bad, was also a factor in the “Belle” crew, despite not being the first crew to complete 25 missions, being the one to return to the U.S. for a bond and morale tour.

The “Belle’s” selection for the morale tour was the result of a film project about the strategic bombing campaign that was the brainchild of USAAF Gen. Hap Arnold and a Hollywood director, William Wyler, who had volunteered to serve his country in the best way he knew how.

It was hoped that a film documenting a bomber crew as they successfully completed a combat tour would calm new recruits, who were hearing stories of the carnage overseas, and assuage the doubts of the public, press and politicians that strategic bombing was a failure.

Wyler, an immigrant who was born in the Alsace region of modern-day France when it was part of the German Empire prior to World War I and who would go on to win three Best Director Academy Awards, including one for “Ben-Hur”, was commissioned as a major and headed to England with a film crew to document the fight in skies over Europe.

Wyler and his cameraman flew with B-17 combat crews and began filming missions of a B-17F of the 401st Bomb Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group named “Invasion II”. His staff also began interviewing and making publicity photographs of the crewmembers, as they drew closer to completing 25 missions.

However, on April 17, 1943, the reality of war spoiled the Hollywood ending during their 23rd mission to Bremen, Germany. Invasion II crashed after being hit by flak over Borhmen, Germany, setting the cockpit and wing on fire. The crew managed to bail out, but all became prisoners of war.

Wyler regrouped and found a plane and crew with the 324th Bomb Squadron that was also close to completing their combat tour. The “Memphis Belle”, named for Morgan’s girlfriend, Margaret Polk of Memphis, Tennessee, and its crew took center stage.

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The crew of the 358th Bomb Squadron Boeing B-17F ‘Hell’s Angels’ completed its 25th mission on May 13, 1943.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

While the crew of “Hell’s Angels” completed their tour on May 13, 1943, four days before the “Belle”, there was no film of that plane and crew. Consequently, it was the “Belle” and its crew that would fly mission 26 back to the U.S. and receive a hero’s welcome.

Wyler’s film, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress”, would be released and distributed by Paramount Pictures the following year.

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(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo)

It was a film that came with a high price tag. One of Wyler’s cinematographers, 1st Lt. Harold J. Tannenbaum, a veteran of World War I, was killed in action during the filming when the bomber he was in was shot down over France on April 16, 1943.

Until the end of the war, the “Belle” was used as a training aircraft, but instead of being torn apart for scrap like most of the other 12,700 B-17s built during the war, the city of Memphis, Tennessee, put the aircraft on display for nearly 50 years.

The historic aircraft came to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in October 2005, when work began on a careful, multi-year conservation and restoration effort including corrosion treatment and the full outfitting of missing equipment.

Casey Simmons arrived shortly after the “Memphis Belle” as a restoration specialist for the museum.

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(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

From the beginning, it was apparent that priority one in the restoration was getting it right. His first assignment was to fabricate a glycol heater that was missing from inside the left wing. No visitor to the museum would ever see it.

“I know it’s there and that’s cool because it’s going to get all the parts that it needs to be a complete aircraft,” said Simmons. “When you don’t have the part you try and find a part from another airplane or you go to the blueprints and make the part completely from scratch.”

While the museum has other B-17s in its collection, the “Memphis Belle” requires a whole other level of patience and dedication.

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(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

“Other restoration projects are typically a general model of a certain aircraft. So it represents a lot of them. This one is a specific aircraft, so you have to get it right; exactly to the rivet,” said Simmons.

The museum specialist did not try to restore the “Belle” to how it rolled off the Boeing line, but utilized films, photos and records from its time in combat to bring the B-17F back to fighting trim, scars and all.

“There are certain damage spots on the “Memphis Belle” that were fixed over time, so we have to make sure that those show up on the aircraft the way they were,” said Simmons. “If they put five rivets in an area as opposed to the standard four that are supposed to be there, we have to get that correct… When you go through video footage, old film footage, or photographs, and you do find a little glimpse of what you’re looking for, that’s a big moment. We have to get it right for those bomber crews.”

The bravery of those bomber crews continued after all the whoopla back home died down. Even Morgan was eager to get back in the fight.

While on a morale tour stop in Wichita, Kansas, Morgan caught a glimpse of the future of strategic bombing, the still secret B-29 Superfortress. He volunteered immediately to train on the new bomber and earned command of his own squadron of B-29s that deployed to Saipan in the Pacific Theater.

On November 24, 1944, his 869th Squadron of the 497th Bomb Group was the first, other than Doolittle’s Raiders in 1942, to bomb Tokyo. He would go on to complete another 24 combat missions in the B-29 before the end of WWII. He retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1965 as a colonel.

While the restoration and display of the “Memphis Belle” will ensure the story of the dedication, bravery and airmanship of its 10 crewmembers that returned home safely in 1943 honors all the Airmen that fought in WWII, Duford is particularly enthusiastic that the exhibit will allow Museum of U.S. Air Force visitors to learn the story of the little known 11th crewmember of the “Memphis Belle”.

As much as any Airman, he embodied the spirit and sense of duty shared by all the heavy bomber crews.

“It’s the story of one of the waist gunners, Emerson Scott Miller,” said Duford. “You don’t see him in any of the war bond photos and you don’t see his name listed as one of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew members. He came overseas as a technician repairing the autopilot systems on B-17s. He was safe. He didn’t have to fly the missions but he decided he wanted to do more and volunteered to fly in combat. He joined the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew after they had flown about nine or 10 of their missions. So he had flown 16 of his missions when the rest of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew completed their 25th.

“Capt. Robert Morgan really wanted Scott Miller to come back on the war bond tour, but Miller hadn’t finished his 25th mission, so he had to stay. While the ‘Belle’ crew was celebrated and famous and there were parties for them, Scott Miller was still flying in combat.”

Fittingly, Miller finished his 25th mission aboard another B-17 on July 4, 1943, but for him, there were no parades, no press conferences, no meeting movie stars and no special duties.

“We got in touch with Scott Miller’s family,” said Duford. “They donated a trunk full of artifacts, and so Scott Miller has a place in the exhibit and his story will be told… He could have just simply done his duty repairing those autopilot systems and gone home safe. But he put his life on the line and then was forgotten. Now he’s going to be remembered now and for generations to come.”

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

One huge reason North Korea can never give up its nukes

While the prospect of negotiations between North Korea and the US are beginning to look very promising, experts say there is “no way” North Korea trusts the US and would ever sign off on its nuclear weapons program.


Early March 2018, South Korean president’s office, the Blue House, announced that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was willing to abandon his country’s nuclear arms if certain conditions were met. The Blue House also said North Korea would suspend provocations, like nuclear and missile testing, during negotiations.

Also read: Canned soup may be fueling North Korea’s air force

After meeting with South Korean officials, President Donald Trump seemed optimistic about the North’s proposal, and agreed to meet with Kim by May 2018, with the potential to discuss denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

However, experts remain skeptical of North Korea’s pledges to halt its nuclear weapons development.

John Mearsheimer, co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago, said there is “no way” North Korea could trust the US enough to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

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President Donald Trump.

“North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear weapons,” Mearsheimer said at a lecture hosted by the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies in Seoul on March 20, 2018, according to Yonhap. “The reason is that in international politics, you could never trust anybody because you cannot be certain of what their intentions are.”

Mearsheimer said that “there’s no way North Koreans can trust the U.S.” when it comes to a denuclearization deal. He cited examples of the US’ unsuccessful denuclearization deals in the Middle East, including Muammar Gaddafi who gave up Libya’s chemical weapons and was killed less than a decade later.

Related: War with North Korea will either be all out or not at all

“If you were North Koreans, would you trust Donald Trump? Would you trust any American presidents?”

Mearsheimer added that there was no country that “needs nuclear weapons more than North Korea,” in order to protect its leader. While the US has not explicitly stated its intention to pursue a regime change in the North, Trump and his administration have certainly alluded to the possibility.

Mearsheimer added that North Korea was even less likely to give up their weapons in the current climate.

“Give up their nuclear weapons? I don’t think so, especially as security competition heats up in East Asia. You wanna hang on to those weapons.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Camp Blaz is the first new USMC base in nearly 70 years

On October 1, 2020, the United States Marine Corps activated its first new base since 1952. Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz will host roughly 5,000 Marines of III Marine Expeditionary Force on the island of Guam. The Marines will relocate from their current station in Okinawa, Japan over the next five years. 1,300 Marines will be permanently stationed at Camp Blaz while the remaining 3,700 Marines will serve as a rotational force.

The new Marine Corps strategy in the Pacific calls for a smaller, more agile and lethal force. “We have to spread out,” said the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger. “We have to factor in Guam.” Camp Blaz will allow the United States to distribute its premiere amphibious fighting force across the Pacific. Operating from Guam, the Marine Corps will be able to respond to a wider array of aggressive actions from China. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (yes, that’s actually what it’s called) is officially the largest navy in the world. While the United States more than doubles the PLAN in tonnage and outclasses it in quality, the threat of numbers cannot be ignored.

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Brig. Gen. Blaz’s official Marine Corps portrait (U.S. Marine Corps)

Camp Blaz is named for the late Brig. Gen. Vicente Tomas Garrido Blaz, the first Chamorro Marine to reach the rank of general officer. Blaz was born on Guam on February 14, 1928 and lived through the Japanese occupation of the island during WWII. After the war, he attended the University of Notre Dame on a scholarship and commissioned as a Marine officer in 1951.

Over his 29 years of service, Blaz earned the Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star Medal with a Combat “V” for valor, and the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross for his service in Vietnam. Following his retirement from the Corps in 1980, Blaz worked as a professor at the University of Guam. In 1984, he was elected to the House of Representatives as the delegate from Guam. He served in Congress until 1983 when he retired. Blaz died in 2014 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The new base that bears this Marine’s name solidifies the union between the Corps and the people of Guam. “As the Marine Corps presence on Guam grows, I am confident that we will live up to our motto of honor, courage, and commitment,” said Col. Bradley M. Magrath, Camp Blaz’s first base commander. “We will honor the history of the island of Guam, we will have the courage to defend it, and we will remain committed to preserving its cultural and environmental resources.” The Marine Corps plans to hold a formal activation ceremony in spring 2021.

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Marines conduct the first flag raising at Camp Blaz (U.S. Marine Corps)
MIGHTY TRENDING

Afghanistan wants the A-10 to come back

Afghanistan’s government wants the U.S. to redeploy the A-10 Thunderbolt to bolster efforts to fight the Taliban, according to a Military Times report.


A senior Afghan defense official said that country’s government wants the vaunted A-10, which is highly regarded for its durability and lethality in close-air-support operations, to return to Afghanistan.

No decision on A-10 deployments has been made, according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, who directs U.S. air operations in Afghanistan. “The discussions of what forces we move to Afghanistan or drawdown from Iraq and Syria are all ongoing,” Bunch said.

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(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chris Drzazgowski)

After the liberation of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria in July and October, respectively, operations against ISIS in those two countries, in which the A-10 played a major role, have begun to wind down.

President Donald Trump has also started to pursue an expansion of U.S. operations in Afghanistan over the later half of 2017 and the Air Force may see increased operations in Afghanistan as a part of that expansion.

In September, the Air Force chief of staff said the force was “absolutely” reviewing greater involvement following Trump’s decision on Afghanistan strategy.

The Air Force has deployed six more F-16 fighter aircraft — bringing the total to 18 F-16s — and a KC-135 tanker aircraft to Afghanistan in recent months. And the air war in the country has already intensified. (Though the Pentagon has begun classifying previously available data about military operations in Afghanistan.)

The numbers of weapons released by U.S. combat aircraft in Afghanistan have hit highs not seen since the 2010 surge. Air Forces Central Command data released in October showed 751 weapons dropped in September, eclipsing the 503 released in August and setting a new five-year high. (Data released in November adjusted September’s total down to 414 and recorded a new high — 653 — in October.)

Now Read: Watch how the A-10 Warthog’s seven-barrel autocannon works

U.S. forces in Afghanistan have also turned their attention to the Taliban’s involvement in the drug trade in an effort to cut into the insurgent group’s financing. Advanced F-22 fighters, joined by B-52 bombers and Afghan A-29 Tucano propeller aircraft, attacked drug labs in November.

Since then, about 25 Taliban drug labs in northern Helmand province — a hotbed for Afghan drug production — have been destroyed, costing the Taliban almost $16 million in revenue, according to Bunch, who said the air campaign against Taliban financing had only “just begun.”

In 2017, area under opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 63% over the previous year, according to U.N. data. Even though eradication increased 111% during that period, the number of opium-poppy-free provinces declined from 13 to 10.

The Taliban has gotten heavily involved in the drug trade. The insurgent group has also expanded its territorial control in Afghanistan — from 11% of the country’s 407 districts in February to 13% in August.

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Dead poppies mark the destruction of a poppy field in the district of Por Chaman in Farah Province, Afghanistan, May 10. The destruction of the poppy field occurred in the presence of Farah Provincial Governor Rahool Amin, as an effort to promote positive agricultural solutions such as wheat cultivation. (ISAF photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Rylan K. Albright)

Trump’s new strategy will also deploy more U.S. troops to Afghanistan — some of whom will embed with Afghan forces closer to the fighting. That could put them in harm’s way and will likely lead to more U.S. aircraft providing close air support, at which the A-10 excels.

The Air Force backed away from plans to begin mothballing its A-10 fleet earlier this year. The Air Force has pushed Congress for additional funding to produce new wings for 110 of its 283 Thunderbolts, and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson assured lawmakers this month that money allotted for that project would keep the A-10 dominant.

“I happen to be a fan of the A-10,” Wilson told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 7.

Articles

This Air Force special operator will receive a Silver Star for valor in Afghanistan

An Air Force combat controller who risked his life during a battle to retake the northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz in 2015 will receive the Silver Star in a ceremony on Fort Bragg early April.


Tech. Sgt. Brian C. Claughsey, part of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, will be honored with the medal, the third-highest award for valor offered by the U.S. military, in a ceremony slated for April 7.

According to officials, he provided important support during operations to liberate Kunduz from Taliban control, protecting U.S. and Afghan forces while directing 17 close air support strikes from AC-130U and F-16 aircraft.

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The F-16 continues to grow as a close air support airframe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook/Released)

The Silver Star will be the latest in a lengthy history of valor from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The unit, based at Fort Bragg’s Pope Field, is the most decorated in modern Air Force history, with four of the nine Air Force Crosses awarded since 2001 and 11 Silver Stars earned by the squadron’s airmen.

The medals have come not because the unit seeks them, but because its members often serve their country in the most dangerous of positions, officials said.

“Airmen like Brian honor the Air Force’s incredible legacy of valor,” said Lt. Col. Stewart Parker, commander of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron. “Like those who’ve gone before him, he serves our nation with no expectation of recognition.”

According to the squadron’s higher command, the 24th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Claughsey recently completed Special Tactics Officer assessment and has been selected to become an officer. He will soon attend Officer Training School before commissioning as a second lieutenant.

Col. Michael E. Martin, commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing, praised the airman after officials confirmed the coming award on Friday.

“Brian is an exemplary airman and leader — he is a prime example of the professionalism, courage, and tactical know-how of the Special Tactics operator force,” he said. “In a violent, complex operating environment, Brian decisively integrated airpower with ground operations to eliminate the enemy, and save lives.”

An official description of Claughsey’s actions said he was part of a force that deployed to Kunduz on Sept. 28, 2015, after the city had fallen to an estimated 500 Taliban insurgents.

He volunteered to ride in the lead convoy vehicle to assume close air support duties during the movement into Kunduz and immediately took control of a AC-130U when the troops were ambushed upon entering the city.

Claughsey directed precision fires on an enemy strongpoint to protect the convoy. During a second ambush, he coordinated friendly force locations with an overhead AC-130U while directing “danger close” strikes.

When a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device forced the convoy to stop in the middle of a four-way intersection, Claughsey suppressed the machine gun fire of six insurgents with his own rifle while still coordinating with the AC-130U.

He directed the crew on the plane to destroy the enemy fighters and helped shield the convoy from follow-on attacks as it made its way to the compound of the Kunduz provincial chief of police.

There, the American special operators and Afghan forces came under attack by Taliban mortar fire. According to the narrative of the battle, Claughsey maneuvered as close to the mortars’ origin as possible to pinpoint the location to an overhead F-16.

He then controlled numerous strafing runs on the mortar position to eliminate the threat.

After helping to destroy the enemy mortar position, Claughsey moved to suppress enemy fire to allow another airman to direct another F-16 strike on the other side of the compound. He then stood exposed to enemy fire to hold a laser marker in position on an enemy building, directing two “danger close” strikes on the building from the F-16.

Those strikes killed an unspecified number of enemy attackers, effectively ending the attack on the Kunduz police compound.

Claughsey, from Connecticut, enlisted in May 2008 and became a combat controller in February 2014, after two years of rigorous training, according to officials.

He has deployed twice, once to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait as part of a global access special tactics team to survey and establish airfield operations.

He has previously been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, and Air Force Combat Action Medal.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Mattis’ brother says he has ‘no anger’ about early departure

The phone call Tom Mattis got from Jim Mattis on Dec. 23, 2018 wasn’t a pleasant one, but he said his younger brother was “unruffled” by President Donald Trump’s decision to force him out early, the elder Mattis told The Seattle Times.

“He was very calm about the whole thing. Very matter of fact. No anger,” Tom Mattis told The Seattle Times. “As I have said many times in other circumstances, Jim knows who he is … many more Americans (now) know his character.”

Jim Mattis announced his resignation as defense secretary on Dec. 20, 2018, reportedly prompted in large part by Trump’s decision to withdraw the roughly 2,000 US troops deployed to Syria.


Mattis went to the White House that day in an effort to get Trump to keep US forces in the war-torn country. Mattis “was rebuffed, and told the president that he was resigning as a result,” The New York Times said at the time.

Trump initially reacted to Mattis’ resignation gracefully, tweeting that the defense chief and retired Marine general would be “retiring, with distinction, at the end of February,” echoing Mattis’ resignation letter.

But Trump reportedly bridled at coverage of Mattis and his letter, which was widely interpreted as a rebuke of Trump and of the president’s worldview.

On Dece. 23, 2018, Trump abruptly announced that Mattis would leave office two months early, sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to tell Mattis of the change. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will take over the top civilian job at the Pentagon in an acting capacity.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

Trump’s sudden move to push Mattis out was reportedly a retaliatory measure, but Mattis evinced no ire over it when he told his older brother on Dec. 23, 2018.

The Mattises are natives of Richland, Washington. Tom, who was also a Marine, still lives there, as does their 96-year-old mother, Lucille.

Tom said his brother was faithful to the Constitution and would always speak truth to power “regardless of the consequences.”

“No one should assume that his service to his country will end. And the manner of his departure is yet another service to the nation. It is the very definition of patriotism and integrity,” Tom Mattis added.

The VA just expanded private care with a $5 billion spending bill

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

(DOD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Jim Mattis — who checks in with their mother almost daily, Tom Mattis said — had no plans to return home from Christmas, according to the elder Mattis, hoping instead to visit troops in the Middle East.

But Trump’s announcement appeared to forestall that trip.

On Dec. 19, 2018, a day before his resignation, Mattis released a holiday message to US service members, telling them “thanks for keeping the faith.”

On Dec. 24, 2018, Mattis signed an order withdrawing US troops from Syria, the Defense Department said, though a timeline and specific details are still being worked on. On Christmas Day, Mattis was reportedly in his office at the Pentagon.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA seeks emergency shelter provider for 100 vets

The VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System is seeking a contractor to offer on-site contracted residential services for approximately one hundred homeless veterans per day. The Contractor shall rapidly stabilize veterans of the program through treatment, addressing mental health, physical health, substance abuse and other psychosocial problems.

Vets Advocacy, a non-profit organization dedicated to revitalizing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles Campus, is helping to amplify the search for a contractor to help provide services.

Offers are due Monday, Dec. 23, 2019.


Homeless Veteran Lives in His Car in Los Angeles

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According to the Los Angeles Times, there are 3,878 veterans who lack a “fixed, regular, or adequate place to sleep” on any given night in Los Angeles County. While the number of homeless people in L.A. has been on the rise in the past year, the good news is that the number of homeless veterans “stayed essentially flat” (and even declined in the year before.

The reason for this trend is credited largely to financial assistance from the government.

“In the past, homelessness was largely viewed as an economic problem,” Dr. Jack Tsai, an Associate Professor and Clinical Psychologist at Yale University, told The Defense Post. “But due to deinstitutionalization of those with severe mental illness and the increasing visibility of homelessness in large cities, homelessness really has become a public health problem and one closely related to mental illness.”

The Defense Post goes on to say, “Veterans are more likely than civilians to experience homelessness due to combat-related injury or illness, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, or sexual trauma while in service, according to the National Coalition to End Homelessness. These traumas, if untreated, can result in substance abuse which affects a person’s ability to earn a stable income and increases the risk of homelessness.”

This contract will provide services to 100 veterans who may be of the following eligible homeless veteran populations: males, over the age of 55, or high priority veterans with acutely elevated suicide risk factors.

Offers are due Dec. 23, 2019. The contract will be for a base and three one-year option periods beginning on or about March 1, 2020. Anyone interested can view the complete solicitation here.

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