TIME Military

U.S. Plans to Keep 1,000 Additional Troops in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Travels To Mideast
Mohammed Ashraf Ghani President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan walks with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel down a red carpet during an arrival ceremony at the Presidential Palace on Dec. 6, 2014 in Kabul. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who resigned in November, made the remarks on one of his last diplomatic trips to the country

The U.S. military will keep 1,000 more troops in Afghanistan next year than originally planned, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Saturday. The number of troops in the country will be lowered to 10,800 next year. Originally the U.S. had planned to reduce the force to 9,800 troops.

The delayed withdrawal will not affect long-term troop reduction plans, NBC News reports. In 2016, the U.S. still plans to reduce its troops to 5,500. By 2017, the U.S. will only have an embassy presence in the country.

Hagel made the remarks on a trip to Kabul to meet with Ashraf Ghani, the new president of Afghanistan, which will be one of the last diplomatic trips to the country for the defense secretary, who resigned Nov. 24.

[NBC News]

TIME Yemen

American Among Hostages Targeted in Yemen Raid

"We found the eight hostages chained. We found al-Qaida cell phones and documents"

(SANAA, YEMEN) — U.S operation forces took part in a rescue mission that freed eight hostages in a remote corner of Yemen, but a Yemeni official said Wednesday that it did not liberate five others, including an American journalist and a Briton who were moved elsewhere by their al-Qaida captors days before the raid.

Eight hostages — including a Saudi— were liberated in the joint U.S.-Yemeni operation, a rare instance of American forces intervening on the ground in Yemen. A member of the Yemeni anti-terrorism forces was quoted on a website connected to Yemen’s Defense Ministry, saying that the mission searched for a group of hostages from several nations in an eastern province, but when the commandos arrived at the cave where al-Qaida militants had chained and covered the hostages in blankets, the American and four others were already gone.

A senior U.S. official had earlier confirmed U.S. involvement and said no American was rescued, without elaborating whether the operation had intended to free one.

The mission was carried out in a vast desert area dotted with dunes called Hagr al-Saiaar, an al-Qaida safe haven where local tribes offer them protection near the Saudi border.

The operations come as U.S. drone strikes target militants amid a Shiite rebel power grab in the politically unstable, impoverished nation and fierce battles between al-Qaida and Shiite rebels.

Yemenis initially gave no mention of American involvement in the operation and said its special forces and anti-terrorism units carried out the raid alone.

However, a Yemen Special Forces member identified only as Abu Marouf gave a detailed account of the operation to the semi-official Yemen Defense Ministry online portal, named Sept. 26.

He said that his unit received intelligence information about al-Qaida militants moving hostages chained in shackles and covered with blankets in pickup trucks to Hagr al-Saiaar where they kept them in caves. He added some 30 troops, including snipers, were deployed in the early hours Tuesday some seven kilometers (four miles) from the caves, which he described as 10 meters deep and 30 meters wide.

Divided into four groups, he said he was among the main group that stormed the entrance of the cave then engaged in a shootout that ended with the killing of all seven kidnappers.

“We found the eight hostages chained. We found al-Qaida cellphones and documents,” he said, adding that the hostages said five of their companions had been moved out to an unknown location. He listed nationalities of the other hostages as an American journalist, one Briton, one South African, a Yemeni and a fifth believed to be Turkish. He did not identify them.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is considered by the U.S. to be the world’s most dangerous branch of the terror network and has been linked to several failed attacks on the U.S. homeland. Yemen has seen both foreigners and Yemenis targeted in kidnap attempts, either for ransom, political reasons or over suspicions that victims worked as spies helping Americans carry out the drone strikes.

The strikes targeting suspected militant gatherings are increasingly unpopular in Yemen due to civilian casualties, legitimizing for many the attacks on American interests. The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa has been closed several times recently over militant threats.

The site shed light on the riskiness surrounding the operation. Other Yemeni officials said that one of the main tribes in the area is led by the well-off Waqash al-Saiaari, who gave shelter to the militants. They say al-Qaida set up large training camps in the area.

Members of al-Qaida affiliates from this area were recently arrested while trying to flee the country after alleged involvement in the beheading of 16 Yemeni soldiers in August.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

 

TIME Military

U.S. Military Action Against ISIS Deemed ‘Operation Inherent Resolve’

US Department of Defense (DOD) shows an aircraft launching from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Arabian Gulf on Oct. 13, 2014.
US Department of Defense (DOD) shows an aircraft launching from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Arabian Gulf on Oct. 13, 2014. Joshua Card—EPA

Pentagon chose the name to "reflect the unwavering resolve and deep commitment of the U.S."

The operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria was finally given a name on Wednesday. U.S. Central Command has deemed the U.S. military actions against Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Syria “Operation Inherent Resolve.

According to the Department of Defense, the name is “intended to reflect the unwavering resolve and deep commitment of the U.S. and partner nations in the region and around the globe to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community.”

Since strikes began on Aug. 8, the operation has gone without a name, but the Pentagon announced Wednesday all actions against ISIS since that time will be considered a part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

And yet, military officials seemingly weren’t always in favor of the operation’s new moniker. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier in October that the name had been rejected by military officials, who said the name wasn’t the right fit for the effort. One unnamed officer was quoted as saying, “It is just kind of bleh.”

TIME Iraq

U.S. Launches New Air Strikes in Iraq to Protect Dams

The U.S. has conducted 138 airstrikes in Iraq so far

Updated 10:31 a.m.

The U.S. launched a series of airstrikes against Islamic militants in western Iraq this weekend to protect vital dams, the Pentagon said. The new airstrikes targeted fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) operating near western Iraq’s Haditha Dam and Mosul Dam.

“At the request of the Government of Iraq, the U.S. military today conducted coordinated airstrikes against [ISIS] terrorists in the vicinity of the Haditha Dam in Anbar province,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement. “We conducted these strikes to prevent terrorists from further threatening the security of the dam, which remains under control of Iraqi Security Forces, with support from Sunni tribes.”

National Security Council Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said the Haditha strikes were carried out “at the direction of the President and in coordination with the Government of Iraq.”

The Pentagon said in a separate statement that “additionally, an attack aircraft conducted one airstrike against ISIL near Mosul Dam on Saturday in support of Iraqi security forces protecting Mosul Dam.” The U.S. had previously carried out airstrikes to protect the Mosul Dam, but the operations near the Haditha Dam were new.

The Pentagon said it ordered the strikes to protect U.S. personnel and support Iraqi security forces. “We will continue to conduct operations as needed in support of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Sunni tribes, working with those forces securing Haditha Dam,” Kirby said.

This weekend’s strikes brings the total number of recent U.S. bombings in Iraq to 138.

TIME Military

Investigators: Bird Strikes Led to Fatal USAF Helicopter Crash

An impact with a flock of geese led to the deaths of four U.S. airmen in January, a board has found

A U.S. Air Force helicopter crash which killed four men was caused by “multiple bird strikes” to the aircraft, according to investigators.

Cpt. Christopher Stover, Cpt. Sean Ruane, Tech Sgt. Dale Mathews and Staff Sgt. Afton Ponce were killed in January when their helicopter crashed during a training mission in Norfolk, England. The U.S. Accident Investigation Board found the accident was caused by geese flying through the aircraft’s windshield, knocking the pilot and co-pilot unconscious. They were then unable to react when another bird hit the helicopter’s nose, disabling stabilization systems and eventually putting the aircraft in an uncontrolled and eventually fatal roll.

Only three seconds lapsed between the initial bird strike and the helicopter’s crash, investigators said.

The four men were in an HH-60G Pave Hawk assigned to the UK’s Royal Air Force. They were flying the helicopter as part of a nighttime training mission mimicking the rescue of a downed fighter pilot.

No civilians were injured during the crash, which saw the helicopter destroyed on impact. The estimated cost of the accident to the U.S. government was $40 million.

TIME Terrorism

Air Strikes Kill Dozens of al-Qaeda Members in Yemen

People inspect the wreckage of a car hit by an air strike in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda on April 19, 2014. Reuters

A "massive and unprecedented" series of joint U.S.-Yemeni airstrikes was launched against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula over the weekend, reportedly killing some 55 militants but also at least three civilians in the country’s southern and central regions

Updated 1:12 p.m. ET

Air strikes killed about 55 suspected al-Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen on Sunday, officials said, in what was called an “unprecedented” series of strikes.

According to the nation’s High Security Committee, the operation focused on “terrorist elements [who] were planning to target vital civilian and military installations.” An unnamed high-level Yemeni official told CNN that the “massive and unprecedented” strike involved commandos who are now “going after high-level AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] targets.” He said the operation was launched in collaboration with the U.S., though wouldn’t confirm the use of drones in the attack. The U.S. is known to have conducted drone strikes in Yemen.

Predawn strikes targeted a mountain ridge in the southern province of Abyan, according to the official, while Yemen’s state news agency SABA said three strikes hit an al-Qaeda training camp around 450 km south of the capital Sana‘a.

AQAP is one of the terrorist group’s most lethal wings.

TIME U.S. military

U.S. Special Ops Are Soldiers Committing Suicide in Record Numbers

American Flags Planted On National Mall To Honor Service Members Who Committed Suicide
U.S. military veterans set up 1,892 American flags on the National Mall March 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America installed the flags to represent the 1,892 veterans and service members who committed suicide this year. Win McNamee—Getty Images

The head of Special Operations Command says more than a decade of "hard combat" is taking a tough toll on the mental health of his elite troops

Updated: April 18, 6 a.m. ET

U.S. special operations forces personnel are committing suicide in record numbers, according to a top military official, due to the traumatic effects of years of war.

Admiral William McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, told a conference in Tampa, Fla. that members of elite units like the Navy SEALs and Army Rangers have proved prone to depression and self-harm over the past two years, reports Reuters. “And this year, I am afraid, we are on path to break that,” he said.

“My soldiers have been fighting now for 12, 13 years in hard combat—hard combat,” McRaven added. “And anybody that has spent any time in this war has been changed by it. It’s that simple.”

Although precise figures were not provided, it is well known that the U.S. military has been struggling with suicides for a long time. In 2012, the estimated 350 active duty servicemen and servicewomen across the American armed forces that committed suicide surpassed the number lost in combat.

[Reuters]

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