WASHINGTON (CNN) - Concerns about the effects of potentially toxic emissions from burning trash at military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan has members of Congress demanding more tests and research from the military.
The congressmen want to see if there is statistical validity to complaints about illness and disease suffered by troops who have served in those countries.
The emissions, from what are known as 'burn pits,' have been a concern for troops, especially those who served at Balad Air Force Base in Iraq. Many of the soldiers who went through Balad since the beginning of the war had become used to "Iraqi crud," as they dubbed the symptom of excessive coughing and black phlegm. Soldiers complained of respiratory problems and skin infections, and in some cases believed they developed leukemia and tumors from the exposure.
The pits at Balad were at one point open and burning everything from plastics and food to medical waste. In the later years, incinerators were installed at Balad but many other bases in Iraq and Afghanistan still use the pits without incinerators to burn garbage.
Various tests by the military have concluded that emissions are not harmful. The Pentagon's Force Health Protection Directorate analyzed more than 160 air samples and concluded that the only risk is of temporary respiratory distress, nothing that poses a long-term threat.
(CNN) - A funny thing happened as the White House tried a relatively low-key approach to announcing that it was adding 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. The military didn’t seem to be on board with the message.
The announcement by the Obama administration contrasted with how the Bush administration announced both its increase of troops in Iraq, the “surge,” and even a later addition of troops to Afghanistan last year. Both of those announcements were made in a speech from then-president George Bush.
But the new administration was stuck – it knew it needed to get troops to Afghanistan to satisfy the immediate need to stabilize things, but it also knew it was not ready to announce what its strategy for Afghanistan was. You see, the administration has a review underway for a new, comprehensive strategy that looks at both the military and diplomatic needs for the war.
So the Obama White House chose instead to make the announcement at the end of a day dominated by coverage of President Barack Obama's signing of the multi-billion dollar stimulus package. The announcement came out late afternoon via Pentagon leaks and then a four-paragraph e-mail(subject line: “Statement by the President on Afghanistan”), and outlined a 50% increase in troops to Afghanistan.
Full story at AC360 Blog
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The newly appointed head of the Department of Veterans Affairs said Wednesday the department needs a fundamental change in how it handles its paperwork.
Eric Shinseki described a Sisyphean task for caseworkers trying to plow through the backlog of files to make decisions on veterans' claims.
"If you were to walk into one of our rooms where adjudication or decisions are being made about disability for veterans, you would see individuals sitting at a desk with stacks of paper that go up halfway to the ceiling. And as they finish one pile, another pile comes in," Shinseki said at a House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates is learning that becoming the first defense secretary to bridge two administrations can lead to some awkward moments.
Last week, President-elect Obama announced that he would keep Gates on to run the Pentagon.
He still answers to President Bush, since, as both President Bush and President-elect Obama have pointed out, "there's only one commander in chief at a time," Gates said. But he is not blind to the fact that his new boss and his transition team have demands too, which leads to "occasional awkwardness."
Asked for an example, Gates said that at times he's had to choose between meeting with the transition team or meeting with members of the current administration.
Apparently the incoming president's staff wins out over outgoing president's staff.
"Let's just say that if I'm faced with a choice between attending a principals meeting on an issue that I think it not particularly hot, and a meeting with the transition folks, I'll opt for the latter," Gates said.
But the current president doesn't have to worry about being ignored.
"I'm not forgetting at all for a second who is the president until noon on January 20th," Gates said. "I haven't missed any meetings with the president, let me put it that way."
Gates has had "several telephone calls" with the president-elect to talk about personnel to replace the outgoing political appointees, he told reporters traveling with him on a trip overseas.
"We really haven't sat down yet for a thorough discussion of specific foreign policy issues, national security issues," Gates told the traveling reporters, according to a transcript.
He's also met with Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who was in town Monday to meet with the defense secretary and the incoming nominee for Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
(CNN) - A liberal veterans group called Monday for an official investigation into media discussion of Track Palin’s deployment to Iraq — prompting a Defense Department response that there had been no irregularities involved, and would be no investigation.
“Numerous outlets have reported the date and location of Palin's deployment, which compromises operational security,” said Vote Vets in a statement. “The source of the leaks would be acting in violation of the law, and putting troops at unnecessary risk, and could be prosecuted.”
But the kind of information the group is referring to is typically publicly released by the Defense Department well in advance of a unit’s deployment. And the date of Palin’s upcoming deployment has been referred to numerous times by his mother, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, on the campaign trail.
"There is no violation of operational security,” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. “DoD tells the public when we rotate a brigade into Iraq or Afghanistan."
There was no word from the Pentagon on whether there had been any requests for special consideration in Track Palin’s case. Earlier this year, John McCain asked the media not to report the precise date and time his son Jack would be returning from Iraq until he was back in the United States, a request that was honored by all major news organizations.