……………….RONALD WILSON REAGAN: A SOLDIER’S PLEDGE
HT Conservative Infidel
………………………..A TRIBUTE TO OUR ARMED FORCES
More than 600 American soldiers told military medical staff that they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003, but the Pentagon failed to act on that information, it was revealed Thursday.
According to reporting by The New York Times, Pentagon officials said the department will now expand its outreach to veterans and establish a toll-free hotline for reporting potential exposures and seeking medical evaluation or care.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered an internal review of military records after the Times published an article in October about how US troops encountered degraded chemical weapons from the 1980s that had been hidden or used in makeshift bombs.
Truth comes out: Pentagon acknowledged that more than 600 American soldiers told military medical staff that they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003
US forces came upon hidden caches of warheads, shells and aviation bombs in Iraq between 2004 and 2011. Pictured here are Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians working in Afghanistan in 2002
The initial newspaper report disclosed that 17 service members had been injured by sarin or sulfur mustard agent, and several more came forward after the story appeared, the Times said Thursday.
The Army’s Public Health Command collects standardized medical-history surveys, known as post-deployment health assessments, which troops fill out as they complete combat tours.
Those who responded ‘yes’ to a question about exposure to such warfare agents – ‘Do you think you were exposed to any chemical, biological and radiological warfare agents during this deployment?’ – were asked to provide a brief explanation.
The review ordered by Hagel showed that 629 people answered ‘yes’ to that question and also filled in a block with information indicating chemical agent exposure, Col. Jerome Buller, a spokesman for the Army surgeon general, told the newspaper.
‘Secretary Hagel ordered the department to examine the medical records for all servicemembers assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Units where exposures were reported to have occurred, as well as the Post-Deployment Health Assessment data for all servicemembers who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘The review has determined thus far that 734 troops reported potential exposure. The actual extent of that exposure is not yet clear,’ Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement to Stars and Stripes.
About 5,000 chemical weapons were recovered or destroyed in Iraq following the 2003 invasion.
A Times investigation last month revealed that US forces came upon hidden caches of warheads, shells and aviation bombs between 2004 and 2011.
But the Bush administration reportedly covered up the existence of the 30-year-old weapons, some of them designed by the US, which did not fit into the narrative that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.
Most of the warheads were mustard agents in 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets developed by Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war which raged between 1980 and 1988.
Many of the shells recovered by American troops after the 2003 invasion would leak liquid during transportation, exposing the soldiers to the potentially-lethal fumes.
Hidden: Between 2004 and 2011, soldiers found thousands of rusty chemical munitions throughout Iraq, most of them buried. Pictured on the left are troops handling weapons in Kandahar, Afghanistan
A U.S. Army Third Infantry Division soldier loads materials discovered in an explosives laboratory hidden in a home April 15, 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq
Symptoms ranged from disorientation and nausea to blindness and large blisters.
A Navy explosive-ordnance disposal technician, who was not named because he remains on active duty, told the Times this week that he was burned on his left forearm in 2006 when a mustard agent spilled on him as he was carrying shells outside Samarra.
After he went to an Army doctor seeking treatment, an officer in his battalion ordered him to stop talking about the chemical shells.
Cmdr Ryan Perry, a Navy spokesman, told the newspaper that they do not condone the silencing of service members, adding the the sailor had reached out to the Navy about the 2006 chemical episode in recent days.
Each person who answered the health questionnaire would have received a medical consultation at the end of their combat tour, Buller said.
It was not clear why the military did not take further steps, such as including compiling the data as it accumulated over more than a decade, tracking veterans with related medical complaints, or circulating warnings about risks to soldiers and to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans who believe they were exposed can call a Pentagon hotline at 1-800-497-6261, which previously had been used for Gulf War veterans reporting illnesses.
Unauthorized and potentially counterfeit, dangerous surgical devices and medical supplies have flowed unchecked into the Department of Veterans Affairs supply chain and into VA operating rooms, according to internal agency correspondence from a major supplier who blamed new procurement rules.
The bogus supplies gained a foothold when the department started using reverse auctions to fulfill some contracts, according to both department officials and a 2012 memo from Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest medical device business.
In the memo, the company told the VA it was getting surgical supplies bought from unauthorized distributors through the so-called “gray market,” and said those supplies raised serious questions about patient safety, according to emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Officials also warned the VA that an ongoing corporate investigation into the gray market showed how some unauthorized sellers were passing off products stolen from other hospitals.
“We do not believe that the VA intended for its efforts to utilize new procurement tools such as reverse auctions to result in these outcomes,” a company official wrote.
The Johnson & Johnson memo included a list of seven gray market surgical supply purchases by agency medical centers in a half-dozen states. But the company made clear there were more examples across the VA.
The warnings were issued months after the VA had a fierce internal debate over using reverse auctions, which have sellers compete to offer goods or services at the lowest price.
A top contracting official, Jan Frye, had put a halt on reverse auctions earlier in 2012, citing a “groundswell” of complaints from VA suppliers. But within weeks, the VA reversed after fierce lobbying from FedBid, the politically connected contractor handling the VA’s reverse auction platforms.
An inspector general’s report earlier this year issued a scathing rebuke to the VA over its dealings with FedBid, and said a VA procurement official, Susan Taylor, had improper contacts with FedBid. The inspector general recommended FedBid be disbarred. Ms. Taylor resigned soon after the report.
Emails obtained by The Times show concerns about reverse auctions persisted.
According to Johnson & Johnson, a South Carolina VA facility received a delivery of “trocar” surgical devices from an unauthorized distributor that was sent to VA without a box and was instead wrapped in yellowed packaging and rubber bands.
“The product being sold may not have been stored properly (high temperature, high humidity, no pest control, etc.), which could create patient risk,” Paul B. Smith, government account director for the company, told the VA, explaining the results of an ongoing company investigation.
An internal VA advisory group also raised an alarm in 2012 in a closed meeting with VA’s senior procurement council, which is composed of the agency’s top acquisition officials. The group recommended that VA stop purchasing “clinically oriented products” through reverse auctions.
Among other issues, the advisory group said FedBid had blocked access to names and contact information for contracting officers. And FedBid officials weren’t qualified to handle clinical purchases, according to the group.
“They do not possess the clinical expertise to position themselves between the buyer and vendor,” the industry group wrote in a report, adding that some VA suppliers refused to participate in reverse auctions.
“As a result of limited participation, FedBid in some cases sourced products from unauthorized distributors,” the report stated. “This has both resulted in significantly increased costs and encouraged the use of ‘gray market’ or counterfeit products.”
In an email statement to The Washington Time, a FedBid spokesman said the company had “established measures to protect against unauthorized sellers and will suspend or remove sellers who attempt to undermine the integrity of the marketplace.”
The company also said that government contracting officers ultimately have a responsibility to ensure they’re buying the right products.
“As with every procurement process, whether it is a reverse auction, single source contract, or open tendering, each buyer has the responsibility to ensure that they are purchasing the right products for their customer,” FedBid spokesman Andres Mancini wrote in an email.
In an email on Friday responding to questions from The Times placed earlier this week, a VA spokeswoman said Johnson & Johnson raised the issue in 2012 with the Veterans Health Administration, which prompted the agency to initiate a validation process among small business suppliers.
Spokeswoman Genevieve Billia noted in an email that VA couldn’t say how often it finds counterfeit material, but noted, “VA has a process in place to identify such items that come in, sot that they do not get to the patient.”
In September, two years after Johnson & Johnson contacted the VA, the agency inspector general’s office issued a report substantiating several of the concerns.
Contractors taking part in reverse auctions needed only to “self certify” that they’re authorized distributors of official surgical products sought by VA, according to auditors. The lack of more stringent requirements put VA at risk of buying from unauthorized distributors, according to the report.
In a written response to the inspector general’s report this year, VA officials agreed with a recommendation to ensure against the purchase of gray market items.
The White House and the Defense Department announced today that President Obama will order an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq, more than doubling the 1,400 who are currently there.
On Wednesday, in his first post-election press conference, the president said he will be seeking from Congress a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to engage in warfare against the Islamic State, which is now operating out of territory it has seized in Iraq and Sryia.
At the end of 2011, as he headed into the 2012 election year, President Obama removed all U.S. troops from Iraq, and declared the war there over.
That war had been authorized by an AUMF that Congress approved on Oct. 11, 2002.
Since Obama declared that Iraq War over, Iraq has seen the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). ISIS is a terrorist group that sprang from al Qaeda, was expelled from al Qaeda, and then went on to take control of a large territory in Iraq and Syria. Its aim is to create a caliphate in the region that now includes Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced the troop deployment this afternoon. The additional 1,500 personnel he said will be in “a noncombat role to train, advise, and assist Iraqi Security Forces, including Kurdish forces.”
“U.S. Central Command will establish two expeditionary advise and assist operations centers, in locations outside of Baghdad and Erbil, to provide support for the Iraqis at the brigade headquarters level and above,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman told National Public Radio. “These centers will be supported by an appropriate array of force protection.”
On Dec. 14, 2011, Obama traveled to Fort Bragg to announce that he had brought all troop home from Iraq and that he war was over.
“It’s harder to end a war than begin one,” Obama said then. “Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq–all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering–all of it has led to this moment of success. Now, Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home. This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making.”
In his ensuing reelection campaign, the president repeatedly took credit–at rallies–for fulfilling the promise of his first campaign to end the Iraq war.
“I’ve kept the commitment that I’ve made,” Obama said, for example, at an Oct. 24, 2012 rally in Iowa. “I told you we would win the war in Iraq. We did.”
“I mean what I say and I say what I mean,” Obama said on Nov. 5, 2012. “I said I’d end the war in Iraq. I ended it.”
On Jan. 21 of this year, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, issued an audio statement making a direct and unambiguous threat to the United States.
“Our last message is to the Americans,” he said. “Soon we will be in direct confrontation, and the sons of Islam have prepared for such a day.”
On Wednesday, Obama explained why he believed he needed a new war authorization.
“With respect to the AUMF, we’ve already had conversations with members of both parties in Congress, and the idea is to right-size and update whatever authorization Congress provides to suit the current fight, rather than previous fights,” Obama said Wednesday.
“In 2001, after the heartbreaking tragedy of 9/11, we had a very specific set of missions that we had to conduct, and the AUMF was designed to pursue those missions,” said Obama. “With respect to Iraq, there was a very specific AUMF.”
“We now have a different type of enemy,” said Obama. “The strategy is different. How we partner with Iraq and other Gulf countries and the international coalition–that has to be structured differently. So it makes sense for us to make sure that the authorization from Congress reflects what we perceive to be not just our strategy over the next two or three months, but our strategy going forward.”
As of the end of August, there was no communication between the White House and the Pentagon concerning a strategy to fight the Islamic State, the Department of Defense (DoD) said in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Not only did the president not have a strategy, as he candidly admitted on August 28, the White House did not talk about developing a strategy with his Defense Department prior to launching airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq on August 8.
This contradicts comments by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest trying to explain Obama telling reporters on August 28, “We don’t have a strategy yet.”
The White House attempted to blame the Pentagon for delaying the development of a strategy.
On August 29, Earnest insisted that what Obama meant is that he was then-waiting for the Pentagon to make recommendations on what to do.
“The Pentagon is developing plans or military options for the president to consider if he decides that it’s necessary to do so,” he said. “But at this point, the president hasn’t made any decisions and hasn’t ordered any military action in Syria.”
In a response to a FOIA request filed by Dr. Larry Kawa as a concerned private citizen, DOD’s Office of Freedom of Information said that as of the end of August, it could not locate any paper or electronic communication documents between the president and the Pentagon mentioning a strategy to fight the Islamic State (IS, ISIS and ISIL).
The Pentagon searched for communication that would have occurred between the beginning of January thru the end of August.
“On August 28, 2014 President Obama stated in a national press conference that he ‘does not have a strategy yet’ in regards to ISIL/ISIS in Syria,” said Kawa in his FOIA request. “He blamed the Pentagon for the delay. I would like clarification of any correspondences in this regard between the Pentagon and the office of the President or executive branch.”
Kawa told Breitbart News that he spoke to the Pentagon FOIA agent in charge of handling his request in an effort to confirm that before the end of August, there was no communication between Obama and the Pentagon concerning a strategy on ISIS.
“Per DOD FOIA agent Charles Marye, any such documents would have appeared. If there were any meetings that were classified, their existence would also have appeared but did not,” said Kawa.
“In conclusion, the Pentagon is 100 percent certain that there have been no discussions either classified or unclassified regarding strategy on ISIS or ISIL,” he continued.
The Pentagon’s FOIA office searched for communication involving the Secretary of Defense, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the White House, and the National Security Council, according to Kawa.
FOIA Agent Marye did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
America’s plans to fight Islamic State are in ruins as the militant group’s fighters come close to capturing Kobani and have inflicted a heavy defeat on the Iraqi army west of Baghdad.
The US-led air attacks launched against Islamic State (also known as Isis) on 8 August in Iraq and 23 September in Syria have not worked. President Obama’s plan to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State has not even begun to achieve success. In both Syria and Iraq, Isis is expanding its control rather than contracting.
Isis reinforcements have been rushing towards Kobani in the past few days to ensure that they win a decisive victory over the Syrian Kurdish town’s remaining defenders. The group is willing to take heavy casualties in street fighting and from air attacks in order to add to the string of victories it has won in the four months since its forces captured Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, on 10 June. Part of the strength of the fundamentalist movement is a sense that there is something inevitable and divinely inspired about its victories, whether it is against superior numbers in Mosul or US airpower at Kobani.
In the face of a likely Isis victory at Kobani, senior US officials have been trying to explain away the failure to save the Syrian Kurds in the town, probably Isis’s toughest opponents in Syria. “Our focus in Syria is in degrading the capacity of [Isis] at its core to project power, to command itself, to sustain itself, to resource itself,” said US Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, in a typical piece of waffle designed to mask defeat. “The tragic reality is that in the course of doing that there are going to be places like Kobani where we may or may not be able to fight effectively.”
Unfortunately for the US, Kobani isn’t the only place air strikes are failing to stop Isis. In an offensive in Iraq launched on 2 October but little reported in the outside world, Isis has captured almost all the cities and towns it did not already hold in Anbar province, a vast area in western Iraq that makes up a quarter of the country. It has captured Hit, Kubaisa and Ramadi, the provincial capital, which it had long fought for. Other cities, towns and bases on or close to the Euphrates River west of Baghdad fell in a few days, often after little resistance by the Iraqi Army which showed itself to be as dysfunctional as in the past, even when backed by US air strikes.
Today, only the city of Haditha and two bases, Al-Assad military base near Hit, and Camp Mazrah outside Fallujah, are still in Iraqi government hands. Joel Wing, in his study –”Iraq’s Security Forces Collapse as The Islamic State Takes Control of Most of Anbar Province” – concludes: “This was a huge victory as it gives the insurgents virtual control over Anbar and poses a serious threat to western Baghdad”.
The battle for Anbar, which was at the heart of the Sunni rebellion against the US occupation after 2003, is almost over and has ended with a decisive victory for Isis. It took large parts of Anbar in January and government counter-attacks failed dismally with some 5,000 casualties in the first six months of the year. About half the province’s 1.5 million population has fled and become refugees. The next Isis target may be the Sunni enclaves in western Baghdad, starting with Abu Ghraib on the outskirts but leading right to the centre of the capital.
The Iraqi government and its foreign allies are drawing comfort, there having been some advances against Isis in the centre and north of the country. But north and north-east of Baghdad the successes have not been won by the Iraqi army but by highly sectarian Shia militias which do not distinguish between Isis and the rest of the Sunni population. They speak openly of getting rid of Sunni in mixed provinces such as Diyala where they have advanced. The result is that Sunni in Iraq have no alternative but to stick with Isis or flee, if they want to survive. The same is true north-west of Mosul on the border with Syria, where Iraqi Kurdish forces, aided by US air attacks, have retaken the important border crossing of Rabia, but only one Sunni Arab remained in the town. Ethnic and sectarian cleansing has become the norm in the war in both Iraq and Syria.
The US’s failure to save Kobani, if it falls, will be a political as well as military disaster. Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the loss of the beleaguered town are even more significant than the inability so far of air strikes to stop Isis taking 40 per cent of it. At the start of the bombing in Syria, President Obama boasted of putting together a coalition of Sunni powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to oppose Isis, but these all have different agendas to the US in which destroying IS is not the first priority. The Sunni Arab monarchies may not like Isis, which threatens the political status quo, but, as one Iraqi observer put it, “they like the fact that Isis creates more problems for the Shia than it does for them”.
Of the countries supposedly uniting against Isis, by the far most important is Turkey because it shares a 510-mile border with Syria across which rebels of all sorts, including Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, have previously passed with ease. This year the Turks have tightened border security, but since its successes in the summer Isis no longer needs sanctuary, supplies and volunteers from outside to the degree it once did.
In the course of the past week it has become clear that Turkey considers the Syrian Kurd political and military organisations, the PYD and YPG, as posing a greater threat to it than the Islamic fundamentalists. Moreover, the PYD is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey since 1984.
Ever since Syrian government forces withdrew from the Syrian Kurdish enclaves or cantons on the border with Turkey in July 2012, Ankara has feared the impact of self-governing Syrian Kurds on its own 15 million-strong Kurdish population.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would prefer Isis to control Kobani, not the PYD. When five PYD members, who had been fighting Isis at Kobani, were picked up by the Turkish army as they crossed the border last week they were denounced as “separatist terrorists”.
Turkey is demanding a high price from the US for its co-operation in attacking Isis, such as a Turkish-controlled buffer zone inside Syria where Syrian refugees are to live and anti-Assad rebels are to be trained. Mr Erdogan would like a no-fly zone which will also be directed against the government in Damascus since Isis has no air force. If implemented the plan would mean Turkey, backed by the US, would enter the Syrian civil war on the side of the rebels, though the anti-Assad forces are dominated by Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate.
It is worth keeping in mind that Turkey’s actions in Syria since 2011 have been a self-defeating blend of hubris and miscalculation. At the start of the uprising, it could have held the balance between the government and its opponents. Instead, it supported the militarisation of the crisis, backed the jihadis and assumed Assad would soon be defeated. This did not happen and what had been a popular uprising became dominated by sectarian warlords who flourished in conditions created by Turkey. Mr Erdogan is assuming he can disregard the rage of the Turkish Kurds at what they see as his complicity with Isis against the Syrian Kurds. This fury is already deep, with 33 dead, and is likely to get a great deal worse if Kobani falls.
Why doesn’t Ankara worry more about the collapse of the peace process with the PKK that has maintained a ceasefire since 2013? It may believe that the PKK is too heavily involved in fighting Isis in Syria that it cannot go back to war with the government in Turkey. On the other hand, if Turkey does join the civil war in Syria against Assad, a crucial ally of Iran, then Iranian leaders have said that “Turkey will pay a price”. This probably means that Iran will covertly support an armed Kurdish insurgency in Turkey. Saddam Hussein made a somewhat similar mistake to Mr Erdogan when he invaded Iran in 1980, thus leading Iran to reignite the Kurdish rebellion that Baghdad had crushed through an agreement with the Shah in 1975. Turkish military intervention in Syria might not end the war there, but it may well spread the fighting to Turkey.