Today is our 4,720th day in Afghanistan and our 82nd day in Iraq.
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: 2,343
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,125
There have been no new casualties in Iraq.
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 563, 656, 425, 000 .00
It's primary day here in Massachusetts. (your mileage may vary) So let's talk a little bit about voting today. Like all of us, soldiers overseas are eligible to vote, too, and they usually account for a significant volume of absentee ballots. Except this year, that volume is down significantly from years past
. The Pentagon thinks it's because there's fewer troops deployed overseas, but with all the roadblocks the GOP has put in place to block voter access, you never know.
The number of military and overseas voters who have downloaded Federal Post Card Applications from the DoD website is down by more than half compared the 2010 midterm elections, Defense Department officials said.
But that’s not necessarily an indication that voter turnout among the military and overseas absentee voter population will be low, officials said. For one thing, the number of troops deployed has decreased, which reduces the number of absentee voters. Other factors are in play as well.
In the past, the rate of military voter registration and election participation has been higher than in the general population, noted Matt Boehmer, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
This year, through the end of August, 27,386 FPCAs had been downloaded, according to FVAP data. That’s less than half the 57,197 FPCAs downloaded during the same eight-month period in 2010, the last mid-term election. Mid-term elections generally garner lower voter turnouts than presidential elections.
During the same time period leading up to the 2012 presidential election, about 341,000 FPCAs were downloaded.
FPCAs are used to register to vote, as well as to request absentee ballots for that election year. The goal is to make it easier for troops and their spouses living away from their voting jurisdiction either in the U.S. or overseas, and civilians overseas, to vote by absentee ballot.
Over the last few years, states have made strides in changing their own processes to make it easier to vote by absentee ballot, officials said. For example, in 2010, only three states offered online registration tools for absentee voters. Now, 17 states provide this option.
Boehmer said the lower numbers of downloads does not concern him, since more absentee voters are likely going straight to their states’ sites for registration and voting materials.
“If their state has an online system, that’s where we want them to go. We promote the use of states’ online systems,” Boehmer said.
If the state doesn’t have an online system, then absentee voters can download a FCPA can get the process going more quickly.
“I think it’s truly conceivable that the numbers have shifted, that more people are using the Federal Voting Assistance Program portal to get to the [states’ portals],” said Bob Carey, president of the nonprofit National Defense Committee, and a former FVAP director.
Boehmer said FVAP’s core mission is to ensure that troops, their family members and overseas civilian voters are aware of the tools available to them — whether it’s quickly finding a state voter registration deadline date online, or calling FVAP’s toll-free line with a question.
“We have so many things in terms of voting assistance. If we’re helping connect voters with states’ online systems and they wouldn’t have known if not for FVAP, then we have done our job,” he said.
Changing gears, I have a seemingly random story about a General being demoted and removed from his command for certain inactions. There's a couple of significant things from this - a General was removed for failing to take action
regarding a sexual assault case, so maybe there are slowly but surely starting to be ramifications at the command level...because I'm seeing more of these stories in the military press. Maybe some incremental change is finally happening.
A two-star general has been demoted to one star and will retire after he received punishment for failing to pursue a sex assault claim in his command, the Army announced Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. Michael T. Harrison, former commander of U.S. Army Japan, will retire as a brigadier general, according to a news release from the Army.
Army Secretary John McHugh directed that Harrison be retired at the lower rank, the release states.
“Maj. Gen. Harrison was investigated and disciplined for failing to properly address a sexual assault allegation in his command,” the release states.
“Under Federal law, officers retire at the highest grade in which they have served satisfactorily, and the Secretary of the Army has the responsibility to make retirement grade determinations for all officers.” according to the release. “In this case, the Secretary determined that Maj. Gen. Harrison’s highest grade of satisfactory service was as a Brigadier General.”
Harrison was suspended from his duties in June by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and McHugh. The Army provided no details about the alleged sexual assault case.
We will visit Iraq today. There's been some more action around another dam
, since water is just as strategic in the desert as oil. I think I'm more disturbed that the byline on the story is from Tblisi, Georgia...what's that about?
TBILISI, GEORGIA — The U.S. military said Sunday it launched airstrikes around Haditha Dam in western Iraq, targeting Islamic State insurgents there for the first time in a move to prevent the group from capturing the vital dam.
The strikes represented a broadening of the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State militants, moving the military operations closer to the border of Syria, where the group also has been operating.
Speaking in Georgia where he's meeting with government and defense officials, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that if the dam were to fall into the militant's hands "or if that dam would be destroyed, the damage that that would cause would be very significant and it would put a significant additional and big risk into the mix in Iraq" including U.S. interests there.
At the same time, however, Hagel rejected the suggestion that the Haditha strikes opened up a new front in the war against the Islamic State group or that it represented an escalation of the U.S. military operations. He spoke at a press conference with Georgia Defense Minister Irakli Alasania.
Alasania, meanwhile, said Georgia expects to provide some assistance in the campaign against the Islamic State, saying that training and carrying out military exercises with the Iraqi forces are "things that come to our mind." He said Georgia can play a supporting role and there are plans to discuss the matter further.
U.S. officials said that while the Anbar Province dam remains in control of the Iraqis, the U.S. offensive was an effort to beat back militants who have been trying to take over key dams across the country, including the Haditha complex. Hagel said the Iraqi government had asked the U.S. to launch the airstrikes and that Iraqi forces on the ground conceived the operation.
Anbar has for some time been a contested region between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants backed by allied Sunni tribes. The situation deteriorated significantly in late December, and the militants took over parts of Ramadi and Fallujah.
The Iraqi government and allied tribes launched an offensive on Jan. 26 to wrest control of the cities back from the militants and sporadic clashes have continued around Fallujah and in some parts of Ramadi, with only limited success by Iraqi security forces. U.S. airstrikes could greatly boost their hand now.
"The dam is a critically important facility for Iraq," Hagel said, adding that the U.S. is continuing to explore all options for expanding the battle against the Islamic State into Syria.
Finally this morning, we'll take a brief look on the humanitarian front. Another American has been infected with Ebola
and is on his way home for treatment. (Rumour has it that it's another New Englander, but that has not been confirmed.) In any case, since the United States has never missed an opportunity to "help"....we're sending in troops.
The Pentagon will send and staff a 25-bed field hospital to Monrovia, Liberia, as part of President Obama’s plan to provide assistance in containing the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said Monday the facility mainly will be used to treat health care workers.
Warren did not provide details on which unit or command will be involved in the mission, estimated to cost $22 million.
He added, however, that “no U.S. personnel will be providing patient care.”
President Obama said Sunday he planned to send U.S. military assets and personnel to help contain the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
In an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Obama said the move is crucial because if the U.S. does not “make the effort now,” the virus could mutate and pose “a serious danger” to the country.
In addition to setting up the field hospital isolation units, the plan — still in the works — may include providing troops to provide security for public health workers, according to the president.
“If we do that, then it’s still going to be months before this problem is controllable in Africa, but it shouldn’t reach our shores,” Obama said.
The Ebola outbreak, which began in Guinea earlier this year, has infected 3,707 people as of Aug. 31 and killed 1,848, according to the World Health Organization.