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AAV Weekend Edition
Author: TriSec    Date: 12/19/2015 13:22:19

Hi all.

Last weekend before the holiday - we're hoping the store is going to be busy today. (It really hasn't been). This Christmas borders on the surreal, but I digress.

Since Tuesday was horribly botched by yours truly, we're going to post some of those stories that I really wanted to, with a minimum of commentary.

Muslims are always in the news, and as it turns out they're also in the military. The Pentagon reports that more than 5,000 troops have self-identified as Muslim. They expect that the actual number is much higher, as not all soldiers report which prophet they follow. The military is generally conservative and GOP-voting...but there is probably going to be a larger subset than usual voting for the other side this time around, I would think.

Despite recent rhetoric against the fastest-growing religion in the world, Islam has contributed a great deal to the U.S., including in the military, Defense Department figures show.

Muslims have played an essential part in guarding the homeland and fighting for its interests in war-torn countries the world over, fighting in all major U.S. wars, including the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War, according to military officials.

More recently, Muslims have also served in the Gulf War, Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan, ABC News reported.

Here's what the numbers tell us.

There are 5,896 self-identified Muslims currently serving in the military, according to the Department of Defense. This is out of a total of 1,313,940 active-duty and 826,106 guard and reserve members, respectively.

The Department of Defense offers service members the opportunity to identify their faith for inclusion in the Dependent Eligibility Enrollment System, and on their identification tags.

If you’re wondering why -- it’s for a very practical reason: for burial practices and religious services in the event of death.

It’s important to note that of the 2.2 million in uniform, active or reserve, 400,000 service members have not self-reported their faith. So the total number of Muslims currently serving in the U.S. military is likely higher.

Heading into Syria now, there's an update on how we're doing with training and supporting the rebel group we've chosen. Here's a clue: We suck.

IRBID, Jordan -- The main Western-backed Arab rebel group in Syria appears on the verge of collapse because of low morale, desertions, and distrust of its leaders by the rank and file, threatening U.S. efforts to put together a ground force capable of defeating the Islamic State and negotiating an end to the Syrian civil war.

"After five years of this war, the people are just tired ... and so are our fighters," said Jaseen Salabeh, a volunteer in the Free Syrian Army, which was formed in September 2011 by defectors from the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Free Syrian Army, or FSA, some of whose members are trained by the Central Intelligence Agency, is the biggest and most secular of the scores of rebel groups fighting the Assad government. Although defeating the Islamic State is the focus of Western attention, the U.S. believes there can be no lasting peace in Syria, and no elimination of the Islamic State there, as long as Assad remains in power.

In order to deal with both the Islamic State and the future of Assad, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have brokered a plan to bring the Syrian government, which Russia supports, and all "moderate" rebel groups to the negotiating table in Vienna next month. The aim is to build a coalition to wage a counterterrorism campaign against the Islamic State militants and prepare for democratic elections within the next 18 months.

With an estimated 35,000 fighters, the FSA remains the biggest rebel group and is a key element in the U.S. strategy. Islamic State fighters are believed to number about 30,000 but spread over a wider area of both Syria and Iraq.

If the FSA can't be relied on as a strong partner, however, the U.S. and its Western partners would have to turn to an assortment of smaller hardline Islamic militias -- backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- that the West fears are too militant to reconcile with the secular government. Kurdish rebels, known as the YPG, have fought well in Kurdish areas but are not considered a viable option in Arab parts of the country.

Unlike the Islamic State and other more extremist groups, however, the FSA has failed to achieve any significant victories or create a "liberated" zone of its own. On many occasions, its former fighters say, FSA units have cooperated closely with the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, which is strong in the north and shares the same battlespace as the FSA in southern Syria.

"The lack of battlefield success has mitigated against them," Ed Blanche, a Beirut-based member of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies and an expert on Middle Eastern wars, said of the FSA. "They haven't been getting significant (outside) support because they haven't been showing results."

I have two "Cost of War" stories this morning, which by the way is passing through:

$ 1, 658, 434, 800, 000 .00

It turns out that $437m just doesn't buy a lot of ship anymore. You may have heard that the Navy's newest ship had to be towed back to port after the engines broke down during a routine cruise?

The littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee, the Navy's newest ship that was commissioned in Milwaukee in November, broke down at sea Friday and had to be towed more than 40 nautical miles to a base in Little Creek, Va., the Navy Times reported.

The ship, constructed at the Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard in Marinette, suffered an engineering problem while in route from Halifax, Canada, to Mayport, Fla., and ultimately its home port of San Diego, according to a post on the Navy Times website.

The cause of the problem on the ship -- which was towed to the Joint Expeditionary Base at Little Creek, Va. -- is being evaluated by the ship's crew and technical consultants, according to the Times.

Initial indications are that fine metal debris that collected in the lube oil filter caused the system to shut down, but the cause is not known, the Times reported.

"Reporting of a complete loss of propulsion on USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) is deeply alarming, particularly given this ship was commissioned just 20 days ago," Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has voiced serious reservations about the LCS program in the past, said in a statement to the Times.

"U.S. Navy ships are built with redundant systems to enable continued operation in the event of an engineering casualty, which makes this incident very concerning."

At the time of its commissioning critics said the $437 million ship still hadn't met expectations.

Finally today, be thankful that you're not stationed on Guam. As an island, everything there is more expensive. But the US military just restructured a food contract, and now they are no longer shipping fresh foods to the island at government expense (and subsidy.) Instead, private suppliers are shipping items on their own dime and passing the cost along to the consumers. You can imagine what's happened.

Prices for fresh produce at commissaries in Guam have skyrocketed since Nov. 1 when a new contract started requiring the supplier rather than the Defense Department to pay for shipping goods, according to military families stationed there.

"I have been astonished at the prices here in Guam," Kelsey Pauxtis-Thomas, a pregnant Navy wife who was moved to Guam with her husband early this fall, told Military.com. "I expected high but not like this.

"In the short time we've been here, we've seen organic lettuce go from $3.99 to almost $11. Fresh berries are at a premium skyrocketing as high as $9. Here in Guam, most everything is frozen and thawed upon arrival including dairy, milk and bread. Fresh vegetables and fruit are becoming a luxury item instead of a staple," she said. "At seven months pregnant, I shouldn't be stressed about my grocery budget."

Shoppers at the Orote commissary on Guam Naval Base said that among the high produce prices this month was $7.47 per pound for some bell pepper varieties and up to $10.69 a bag for packaged, pre-washed lettuce.

Under the previous fresh fruits and vegetables contract, the Defense Commissary Agency paid about $48 million a year for sending fruit and vegetables by airlift or cargo ship to commissaries in Japan, Korea and Guam. The new contract, however, eliminates that taxpayer subsidy and instead requires the contractor to pay shipping. That cost is then passed on to the commissary and ultimately the shoppers in the price of the products.

A sign in the Orote commissary warns shoppers that prices might increase as a result of the change.

"Starting November 1, due to a new produce contract with a local supplier, some prices may increase while others decrease or stay the same," the sign reads. "We ask for your understanding during this transition."

So, ever onward.

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