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Author: TriSec    Date: 04/24/2012 10:20:55

Good Morning.

Today is our 3,852nd day in Afghanistan.

We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:

US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,938
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1024

We find this morning's cost of war passing through:

$ 1, 325, 360, 060, 000. 00

This made the news late last week and got some traction...but it's faded almost as quickly as it arrived. Nevertheless, I felt it had to be mentioned today. Again some US troops have been accused of doing unsavory things with deceased Muslims. There is photographic proof; (included at the link, please use your judgement.) But at what point is it no longer a few bad apples, but an entirely bad crop?

US troops posed with body parts of Afghan bombers

The paratroopers had their assignment: Check out reports that Afghan police had recovered the mangled remains of an insurgent suicide bomber. Try to get iris scans and fingerprints for identification.

The 82nd Airborne Division soldiers arrived at the police station in Afghanistan's Zabol province in February 2010. They inspected the body parts. Then the mission turned macabre: The paratroopers posed for photos next to Afghan police, grinning while some held — and others squatted beside — the corpse's severed legs.

A few months later, the same platoon was dispatched to investigate the remains of three insurgents who Afghan police said had accidentally blown themselves up. After obtaining a few fingerprints, they posed next to the remains, again grinning and mugging for photographs.

Two soldiers posed holding a dead man's hand with the middle finger raised. A soldier leaned over the bearded corpse while clutching the man's hand. Someone placed an unofficial platoon patch reading "Zombie Hunter" next to other remains and took a picture.

The Army launched a criminal investigation after the Los Angeles Times showed officials copies of the photos, which recently were given to the paper by a soldier from the division.

"It is a violation of Army standards to pose with corpses for photographs outside of officially sanctioned purposes," said George Wright, an Army spokesman. "Such actions fall short of what we expect of our uniformed service members in deployed areas."

Wright said that after the investigation, the Army would "take appropriate action" against those involved. Most of the soldiers in the photos have been identified, said Lt. Col. Margaret Kageleiry, an Army spokeswoman.

The photos have emerged at a particularly sensitive moment for U.S.-Afghan relations. In January, a video appeared on the Internet showing four U.S. Marines urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. base triggered riots that left 30 dead and led to the deaths of six Americans. In March, a U.S. Army sergeant went on a nighttime shooting rampage in two Afghan villages, killing 17.

The soldier who provided The Times with a series of 18 photos of soldiers posing with corpses did so on condition of anonymity. He served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne's 4th Brigade Combat Team from Ft. Bragg, N.C. He said the photos point to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops.

He expressed the hope that publication would help ensure that alleged security shortcomings at two U.S. bases in Afghanistan in 2010 were not repeated. The brigade, under new command but with some of the same paratroopers who served in 2010, began another tour in Afghanistan in February.

The will to stay in Afghanistan appears to be waning in some quarters. Just like Iraq, it's the US that is doing the bulk of the occupying, but we've had some allies come in and out with us, albeit in small numbers. Remember as we neared the end in Iraq, one after another country decided they'd had enough, and pulled their troops out?

Australia has decided that the time has come in Afghanistan; they're leaving sooner than planned.

SYDNEY — Australia expects to pull most of its troops out of Afghanistan nearly a year earlier than planned, the prime minister announced Tuesday, saying Australian soldiers have nearly completed their mission to transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces in the decade-long war.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard cited security improvements and the death of Osama bin Laden and many of al-Qaida’s senior leaders among the reasons behind the accelerated withdrawal, which will likely see most troops home by the end of 2013. But one opposition lawmaker suggested the strategy was an attempt by Gillard to win over war-weary voters ahead of federal elections.

“This is a war with a purpose. This is a war with an end,” Gillard said in a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra. “We have a strategy, a mission and a time frame for achieving it.”

Australia has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, the largest force provided by any country outside NATO. The soldiers’ primary objective has been training an Afghan National Army brigade to take responsibility for security in Uruzgan province.

Australia had originally planned to withdraw its soldiers by the end of 2014, though Gillard had hinted at an early exit in November when she said the troops’ mission could be finished before then. The U.S. plans to withdraw all of its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Gillard said she expects Afghan President Hamid Karzai to announce in the next few months the transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces in Uruzgan and other provinces. Once that process starts, it will take 12 to 18 months to complete. Based on that timeframe, most of Australia’s troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2013.

Still, Gillard declined to give a specific date for the conclusion of the withdrawal, saying the start of the process is dependent upon Karzai’s announcement.

“When this is complete, Australia’s commitment in Afghanistan will look very different to that which we have today,” Gillard said. “We will have completed our training and mentoring mission. ... And the majority of our troops will have returned home.”

Australia will consider keeping some special forces soldiers in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and will help fund the ongoing costs of Afghan security forces, Gillard said. The prime minister said she and Karzai will sign a partnership agreement at a meeting of NATO nations’ leaders in Chicago next month.

“Australia has an enduring national interest in ensuring that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for terrorists,” Gillard said.

Australia’s military deployment in Afghanistan maintains bipartisan political support, but opinion polls show the popularity of the commitment among the Australian public has plummeted amid the rising the death toll. Thirty-two Australian soldiers have been killed in the conflict.

Wrapping up this morning...we'll switch back to the United States and a growing problem among our returning vets. While the editorial here is from California, it's easy to extrapolate it to anyplace in the US. Regrettably, this has been an ongoing problem since at least Desert Storm, maybe even Vietnam.

Tens of thousands of veterans are coming home to California after serving with honor in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many are carrying the physical and mental wounds of war.

The least our country can do is to give them the help they have earned. But in Northern California, it is taking ridiculously, unconscionably long for veterans to get their claims for disability benefits completed.

Worse still, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, even as it acknowledges the problem, isn't doing enough to fix it. That became all too clear at a congressional hearing Wednesday.

At the VA's Northern California claims office in Oakland, the average wait for veterans seeking benefits for service-related injuries and mental health problems (including post-traumatic stress disorder) is 313 days, well above the national norm. It has a backlog of more than 34,000 cases, 80 percent of which are at least 4 months old. That's the second-worst backlog of any of the nearly 60 VA regional claims offices across the country.

The backlog is so bad that new cases are being shipped to offices in Nebraska and Oklahoma for processing. Some veterans have had to get repeat medical exams because their initial tests are too old.

Wait, it gets worse.

Claims handled by the Oakland office often have "quality" issues, forcing them to be re-examined two or three times before a decision, Tom Murphy, the head of VA's compensation services, told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

Under questioning from Rep. Jerry McNerney, a Democrat from Pleasanton, Murphy said that workers made incorrect decisions in more than one in four cases.

Given all those problems, it's inexplicable why the Oakland office isn't one of the 12 regional claims offices across the country that the VA announced Monday will receive sweeping upgrades in the next several months to speed up claims under a $300 million "transformation plan" that includes a new computer system and quality-control teams.

When McNerney demanded to know why Oakland is being left out, Murphy replied, "I cannot explain it."

That's unacceptable.

In a letter sent Thursday to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, McNerney and 15 other California representatives, including Doris Matsui of Sacramento, urged him to reconsider and put the Oakland office on the list for the complete overhaul.

The VA does plan to retrain all workers at the Oakland office in June, but there's no guarantee that will be enough, and it does nothing to ease the backlog.

The Oakland office, which has a branch in Sacramento, is responsible for more than 837,000 veterans who live in 48 of California's 58 counties, stretching from the Oregon border to the Bay Area and through the Central Valley. Offices in Los Angeles and San Diego cover the rest of the state.

The members of Congress also demanded that Shinseki send immediate help to the Oakland office to "improve its processing of claims, erase this shameful backlog, and serve the veterans who so nobly served our country."

Our Northern California veterans deserve nothing less.

And I can't resist an extra story today. You know about the grassroots "welcome home" parade movement. I have recently reached out to the city of Waltham, and two councilors have responded favorably to such an idea in this city. The wheels may turn slowly, but they have started to turn. Stay tuned!

20 comments (Latest Comment: 04/25/2012 00:59:07 by BobR)
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