Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with senior Saudi officials during a visit to Saudi Arabia today, Assistant Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog said in a statement.
Woog’s statement reads as follows:
“This evening, Secretary Hagel visited Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to meet with the Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
“Secretary Hagel and the Crown Prince, who serves as the Minister of Defense, agreed that the United States and Saudi Arabia are firmly committed to their strong defense relationship and discussed the mutual goal of achieving security and stability in the region.
“Secretary Hagel conveyed that the United States is fully committed to its security partnership with Saudi Arabia and seeks to deepen its cooperation even further. They discussed Iran, in the context of the recently concluded Joint Action Plan with the P5+1. Secretary Hagel underscored the United States commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and maintaining a strong American defense presence in the region.
“Secretary Hagel also discussed the proposals he announced at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain, in particular to hold a U.S.-GCC Defense Ministerial meeting in the region within the next six months.
“Prior to his meeting with the Crown Prince, Secretary Hagel met with Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Salman bin Sultan. They discussed a number of regional issues including Afghanistan and Pakistan. Secretary Hagel invited him to visit the United States early next year to meet with senior U.S. military leaders.”
Also, according to a senior U.S. defense official traveling with Hagel, the Crown Prince conveyed to Hagel that his second Gulf tour and second visit to Saudi Arabia comes at just the right time, noting that he is leaving tomorrow for Kuwait to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council Ministers meeting and will convey their discussions.
Hagel was told his assurances are well received and that the partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia is as strong as ever, the senior official said.
Hagel’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the senior official said, came at the personal direction of President Barack Obama to convey that the United States will continue planning for all options to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon, in the event Iran fails to live up to its commitments.
For Hagel, this trip is second step in a series of engagements with Gulf partners to increase regional cooperation, the first being Hagel's meeting with GCC Defense Ministers at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, the senior defense official said.
The United States is planning that the U.S.-Defense Ministers meeting in the region within the next six months will be the third step, the senior defense official said.
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of a serviceman, missing from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
U.S. Air Force Col. Francis J. McGouldrick Jr. of New Haven, Conn., will be buried Dec. 13, at Arlington National Cemetery. On Dec. 13, 1968, McGouldrick was on a night strike mission when his B-57E Canberra aircraft collided with another aircraft over Savannakhet Province, Laos. McGouldrick was never seen again and was listed as missing in action.
After the war in July 1978, a military review board amended his official status from missing in action to presumed killed in action.
Between 1993 and 2004, joint U.S/Lao People’s Democratic Republic teams attempted to locate the crash site with no success. On April 8, 2007, a joint team located a possible crash site near the village of Keng Keuk, Laos.
From October 2011 to May 2012, joint U.S./L.P.D.R. teams excavated the site three times and recovered human remains and aircraft wreckage consistence with a B-57E aircraft.
In the identification of McGouldrick, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, such as mitochondrial DNA -- which matched McGouldrick’s great nephew and niece.
Today there are 1,644 American service members that are still unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War.
In response to a request from France, the U.S. military will provide airlift support to enable African forces to deploy promptly to prevent the further spread of sectarian violence in the Central African Republic, Assistant Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog said in a statement released today.
Woog’s statement reads as follows:
Last evening in Kabul, Secretary Hagel spoke with French Minister of Defense Yves Le Drian about the security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR), where, under the authority of a UN Security Council Resolution, French forces are assisting the African Union-led international support mission to provide humanitarian assistance and establish an environment that supports a political transition to a democratically elected government.
Minister Le Drian requested limited assistance from the United States military to support this international effort. In the near term, France has requested airlift support to enable African forces to deploy promptly to prevent the further spread of sectarian violence in the Central African Republic.
In response to this request, Secretary Hagel has directed U.S. AFRICOM to begin transporting forces from Burundi to the Central African Republic, in coordination with France.
The United States is joining the international community in this effort because of our belief that immediate action is required to avert a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in the Central African Republic, and because of our interest in peace and security in the region. We continue to work to identify additional resources that might be available to help address further requests for assistance to support the international community’s efforts in CAR.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took part today in what a senior defense official called a “positive, warm and engaging” meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Asif, Finance Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar, National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz, and other officials also took part in the meeting.
Greeting his host beforehand, Hagel told Sharif that he had just left Afghanistan, adding, “We have a lot of our common interests and mutual interests we can discuss.”
The secretary also conveyed President Barack Obama’s regards to Sharif.
“I bring you greetings from President Obama. He very much appreciated the meeting he had with you when you were in Washington,” Hagel said.
That’s all of the engagement that reporters could see, but senior defense officials who took part in the subsequent discussion said the dialogue was friendly, wide-ranging, and roughly evenly split among four topics:
-- U.S. and coalition forces’ ground supply transport routes through Pakistan;
-- Regional security; and
-- Pakistan’s economy.
The issues are linked, said officials, noting that while none were resolved today, all were amicably discussed and will be worked on further.
It was the leaders’ fourth meeting, officials said, but the first time a secretary of defense has visited the country since then-Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates did so in January 2010.
Hagel and Sharif met during the Pakistani leader’s visit to Washington in late October. The two leaders became acquainted when Hagel was a senator.
Between Gates’ visit three years ago and Hagel’s today, animosity has flared between the two nations over several issues. Most notably, a November 2011 combat engagement near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in which 24 Pakistani troops were killed when U.S. forces responded to what they reportedly thought was an enemy attack.
Following that tragedy, Pakistan closed some of its border crossings to U.S. and coalition forces. The United States then suspended aid to Pakistan, which has resumed since Islamabad reopened the ground supply routes.
Relations have improved in recent months, with high-level engagements and discussion resuming, and senior officials today said Hagel’s visit is a good step toward resuming what was, just a few years ago, a promising military-to-military relationship.
Officials said the men agreed broadly on counter-terrorism goals, but agree they “need to discuss means.” Pakistani officials and leaders have regularly protested the United States’ use of unmanned drones in counter-terrorism operations.
The ground supply routes are open, but the main route at Torkham Gate hasn’t seen supplies flow through at all in December, officials said, because protests on the Pakistani side of the border pose a security risk.
Afghanistan, regional security and Pakistan’s economy are related issues, officials said: regional trading relationships, secure transportation routes and international investment are all linked, one official explained.
“[Pakistanis] really need a stable neighborhood to enhance and increase their trade, and bring in hard currency,” one official said.
According to Assistant Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog, the secretary emphasized that as International Security Assistance Forces draw down over the course of 2014, U.S. and coalition partners remain resolved to not let militants destabilize the region.
Another senior official noted that today’s meeting was “a launching point for a continued dialogue on these issues.” Specific approaches toward resolving the issues immediately were not discussed in this meeting, which was more strategic in nature, he added, but it was “a very good dialogue.”
Hagel’s first stop after arriving in Pakistan was Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, where he met with newly appointed Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif.
From Pakistan, Hagel will travel on to Saudi Arabia and Qatar before returning to Washington. His first stop on this trip was Bahrain, where he spoke at the Manama Dialogue on U.S. Middle East strategy.
(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: at @ParrishAFPS)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Minister of Defense Khawaja Asif, Minister of Finance Mohammad Ishaq Dar, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz, and other senior Pakistani officials today in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Assistant Press Secretary Carl Woog said in a statement issued today.
Woog’s statement reads as follows:
United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Minister of Defense Khawaja Asif, Minister of Finance Mohammad Ishaq Dar, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz, and other Pakistani officials on Dec. 9 in meetings in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Secretary Hagel’s visit, the first by a U.S. secretary of defense in nearly four years, provided an opportunity to advance a broad, robust, and continuous United States–Pakistan dialogue on topics of shared concern, including security and stability in the region.
Secretary Hagel reviewed the mutually beneficial bilateral security relationship and reaffirmed the strong U.S. commitment to fostering peace and security in the region. The secretary also emphasized the U.S. desire for a strong, long-term partnership with Pakistan. He updated the prime minister, minister of defense, and the chief of the army staff on U.S. and NATO efforts to promote stability in Afghanistan.
Secretary Hagel raised the importance of keeping the ground supply routes out of Afghanistan open and thanked the prime minister for his government's continued support. They discussed that while the GLOCs (Ground Lines of Communication) are open, noting goods are flowing through the Chaman gate, protests and security issues on the Pakistan side have impacted the ability of goods to move through the Torkham Gate. The prime minister indicated that Pakistan would address the issue.
During his meeting with the prime minister, Secretary Hagel reviewed shared concerns regarding the activities of terrorist groups, including the Haqqani network, on Pakistani territory. He also discussed the robust U.S. security assistance program designed to support the Pakistani government’s struggle against militants responsible for killing tens of thousands of Pakistanis. The secretary stressed that as ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces draw down over the course of 2014, U.S. and coalition partners remain resolved to not let militants destabilize the region.
U.S. assistance to Pakistan continues to help build the counter-insurgency and counterterrorism capabilities of Pakistan’s security forces, which are critical to countering violence in the western border regions. Since 2002, Pakistan has received more than $16 billion of security assistance and reimbursements. Pakistan’s determined effort to root out terrorism and militancy on its own territory is essential for creating a stable environment for promoting economic growth and prosperity.
The secretary’s visit follows the 22nd Defense Consultative Group, held in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 21-22. The defense consultative group is responsible for establishing the scope and character of bilateral security cooperation and is a part of the strategic dialogue, which was re-energized during Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Pakistan in August and reaffirmed by President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif on his visit to Washington in October.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spent a full day today with two sets of people he seldom sees in Washington: deployed U.S. troops and Afghan military leaders.
Hagel left Afghanistan’s capital this morning and flew south -- first to NATO International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command Southwest, which includes Helmand and Nimroz provinces, and then to Regional Command South, which encompasses Kandahar, Zabul, Uruzgan and Daykundi provinces.
Hagel brought holiday wishes, thanks and reassurance to troops at both Camp Bastion in Helmand and at Kandahar Airfield. Both places, he noted in his talks, have consistently been combat hot spots during the long war here.
“I want you to know how much President Obama and our country appreciate what you’re doing,” he said in Helmand. “I know more than occasionally you wonder if anybody’s paying attention, whether anybody cares -- but we do. Our country cares. We do know what you’re doing, and we appreciate it very much.”
Hagel told the men and women in uniform standing in ranks before him in both hard-frame tents -- the “Camp Leatherneck town hall” in Helmand and the “fest tent” in Kandahar -- that they’ve made an astounding difference to Afghanistan’s fight against terrorism.
Warm weather and sandy terrain disguise the season down south, but both of the expansive, yet austere, bases the secretary visited today were decked with Christmas trees, lights and other holiday decorations amid the plywood and aluminum buildings that mark a U.S. outpost.
“I know this is a tough time, especially [with] the holiday season coming,” the secretary said. “You’re away from your families and your home, so I know it’s a particularly difficult. I want you to tell your families how much we appreciate their work, their sacrifices, and their service, as they support you.”
During both visits, service members asked Hagel about the military’s budget. He responded that he sees some hope for progress from Congress.
“There is some speculation in Washington that there may be a budget deal … when both the House and the Senate come back into session, which may well give us two years of budget certainty and reduce the current level of sequestration,” he said in Helmand.
The secretary noted that currently, the military faces a second sequestration cut of more than $50 billion this fiscal year, following a $32 billion reduction previously programmed into this fiscal year’s allocation.
No matter the cuts the military faces next fiscal year and beyond, Hagel said, the department’s leaders will prioritize people, readiness and combat power. “You will get everything you need to do your mission,” he said.
In Kandahar, he told his audience they and all of America’s forces are the most talented and motivated, best-educated, best-trained, best-equipped and best-led military the world has ever seen. “That requires a commitment from the nation,” he said. “Are they willing to pay for that? Are they willing to pay for the best and the brightest?”
The secretary also discussed the stalled bilateral security agreement that is intended to set conditions for a follow-on mission when ISAF concludes at the end of 2014.
“I know this is a time of great uncertainty for you,” the secretary said, noting that the degree of U.S. and international involvement in Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond is unclear until that agreement is in place. Hagel said he knows that uncertainty leaves troops wondering, “Will we be here? How long will we be here?”
Those unknowns can make the troops’ jobs harder, he acknowledged. “I want to reassure you we will work through this,” he pledged.
“We are making huge investments here for the future of this country,” Hagel said. “Thank you for your continued focus on your jobs [and] what you’re doing for your country. It matters, [and] it will continue to matter.”
The secretary said the Afghan national security forces have been doing “a very good job of transitioning to their full capabilities and responsibilities.” Valid and important missions nonetheless remain for U.S. troops and coalition partners in sustaining the still-fragile Afghan forces, he said: countering terrorism and training, advising and assisting the Afghan forces.
“There is a role for our coalition partners and the United States here, but that depends on the people of Afghanistan,” the secretary said.
A senior defense official who accompanied Hagel on today’s travels told reporters also on the road with the secretary that the Afghan military commanders Hagel spoke with today all said they still want help in sustainment -- particularly, learning to manage maintenance: supply chains, ordering, distribution and scheduling.
The Afghan national security forces have developed remarkably rapidly over the summer fighting season and show significant improvement, the official said, “but they still have some needs.”
“Every Afghan the secretary spoke to was crystal clear,” the official said. “It’s time to sign the [bilateral security agreement].” And all Afghans who Hagel saw today similarly expressed confidence that their president, Hamid Karzai, will sign the agreement in a timely manner, he added.
“I certainly hope they’re right,” the senior official said, noting that planning any future contributions in the absence of that accord is extremely difficult for the United States and its allies.
Hagel, who will travel tomorrow to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, wrapped up his remarks to troops at Helmand with a holiday wish.
“I hope Santa stops in Afghanistan,” he said. “I know you’ve all been good. We’re very proud of you, and we’re proud of your families.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will travel to Pakistan tomorrow, making the first visit by a U.S. defense secretary in nearly four years, Assistant Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog said today.
Hagel met with Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif on his visit to Washington earlier this year, Woog said in a statement announcing the visit. The secretary looks forward to continuing candid and productive conversations about the important U.S.-Pakistani security partnership and how to address common threats, he added.
Woog said Hagel also looks forward to discussing with Sharif and other senior Pakistani officials the common interest that the United States and Pakistan have in a stable Afghanistan. The defense secretary is in Afghanistan today.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stout and U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay today as part of his annual USO Holiday Tour.
Dempsey took a tour of the ship and spoke with sailors about the importance of Stout's mission.
"Having the Stout out here, on point for the nation, allows me to have a certain amount of confidence that we will manage through anything," he said. "What I hope the sailors get out of my visit here is a sense of how deeply we appreciate what they are doing. This really sophisticated piece of equipment is really only as good as the men and women who man it, so I want to make sure that I get a chance to tell them personally how much I appreciate what they are doing."
During his first visit to Greece as chairman, Dempsey also discussed the significance of the U.S. military's presence in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
"Stout being on station in the Mediterranean allows us to deter our adversaries, encourage diplomacy and to assure our allies that if deterrence fails, we will be ready," he said.
The USO Holiday Tour brought a variety of celebrities on board, including reality television stars Willie and Jep Robertson from "Duck Dynasty," Washington Nationals first-baseman Adam LaRoche, comedian Nephew Tommy, pop singer Bridget Kelly, and actress Allison Haislip.
"It's an honor to have these people come and visit us. They could have gone to any ship, but they came to USS Stout," said Navy Lt. j.g. Bryan Kuhn, an antisubmarine officer. "It is one thing to hear about these celebrities visiting other ships, but it's completely different to actually experience it. We appreciate these kind gestures while deployed, and their visit gave the sailors something to look forward to. There is nothing that is going to replace being at home for the holidays, but it takes your mind off of the things you miss."
Sailors had a chance to enjoy a barbeque on the flight deck with Dempsey and the entertainers.
At the nearby Naval Support Activity, Dempsey held an all-hands call, where he spoke with sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians. During the event, he presided over a re-enlistment ceremony for seven Souda Bay sailors. The formation was followed by a visit from the USO entertainers, who put smiles on the faces of everyone in attendance.
Stout, homeported in Norfolk, Va., is on a scheduled deployment supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met shortly after his arrival here today with senior Afghan leaders, but said his visit is aimed mostly at encouraging and thanking U.S. troops deployed for the holidays.
Hagel met with Afghan Defense Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi, Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi, and Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, the Afghan army’s chief of staff.
The conversation, he said, touched on progress in the Afghan national security forces, the coming elections, and confidence in “all the big issues,” including the still-unsigned bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States.
Hagel said he wanted to reassure the Afghan leaders of America’s continued assistance to their country despite the uncompleted agreement.
“We are continuing our support in every program in every way,” he told reporters traveling with him after the meeting. Both Afghanistan’s interests and the world’s will be served if Afghanistan’s security force and government institutions are sound, the secretary said.
“And it’s in our interests,” Hagel added.
He acknowledged, however, that confidence drains away “in every dimension” the longer the accord goes unsigned. The NATO International Security Assistance Force mission still wraps up at the end of 2014, he pointed out. NATO has said it will use the U.S.-Afghanistan agreement as a pattern for its own agreement with Afghanistan, and a gathering of defense ministers is set for late February in part to do just that.
“We had a good discussion about that,” Hagel said.
Meanwhile, the secretary said, he’s here “to spend a day with our troops,” thanking them and letting them know he understands that times can be tough for men and women away from home and from their families, especially during the holidays.
Hagel said he’ll tell service members, and will ask them to relay to their families, “that we’re thinking about them, we care about them, [and] we appreciate what they’re doing.”
Hagel said during his troop visits tomorrow he also will listen to local Afghan leaders and speak with military officials in the places he’ll visit.
The secretary said he’ll also congratulate Afghan forces on the recent loya jirga, or grand council, which brought about 3,000 representatives to Kabul in November to examine the bilateral security agreement. That gathering was unaffected by incidents, he said, which demonstrates the growing capabilities of Afghans in uniform.
The secretary said the council’s “overwhelming and clearly pronounced” recommendation was that Afghan President Hamid Karzai should sign the accord no later than the end of December. Karzai has so far refused to sign.
Mohammadi assured him today that the security agreement will be signed “in a timely manner,” Hagel told reporters.
“It is the people of Afghanistan who have spoken on this,” he said, “and it’s something that we and all of our ISAF partners realize is critical to our future and any enduring presence.”
In response to a question on whether he would meet with President Hamid Karzai, Hagel said he would not. “I never asked for a meeting with President Karzai -- I never received an invitation to meet with him,” he added. “I didn’t expect a meeting with him; this trip is about the troops.”
Several members of the Obama administration have come to Kabul in recent weeks and months to emphasize that the agreement is central to continued U.S. and international assistance for Afghanistan, the secretary noted. He added that his trip this week has been long-planned for the sole purpose of “reaching out to our troops, thanking our troops, wishing them happy holidays.”
The secretary said he doesn’t believe he has much to add that hasn’t been discussed with the Afghan president.
“More to the point, I don’t think pressure from the United States is going to be helpful. … The people of Afghanistan spoke rather plainly and clearly and dramatically,” he said. “That’s not my role, to pressure presidents.”
(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @ParrishAFPS)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived here today for meetings with U.S. military leaders and Afghan officials, as well as the traditional holiday visits to deployed service members.
Hagel is scheduled to meet here with Afghan Defense Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi and Interior Minister Mohammad Umer Daudzai.
Assistant Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog said the secretary will “thank troops for their service fighting far away from home, and commend the progress they have made this year in advancing the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces.”
A senior defense official traveling with the secretary told reporters Hagel does not plan to meet during this visit with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The bilateral security agreement is still unsigned between the United States and Afghanistan, the official noted.
“The United States has made its position on the BSA clear,” the official said. “And just two days ago, President Karzai repeated his position to senior U.S. officials that he is not yet ready to sign the BSA and provided no timeline or practical step for doing so.”
The secretary left Bahrain earlier today after delivering a speech on the U.S. force posture in the Middle East. He also is scheduled to visit Qatar and Saudi Arabia before concluding his travels.
(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @ParrishAFPS)
In a speech before the Manama Dialogue security conference here today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel emphasized the strength of America’s presence in the Middle East and called for closer cooperation with the Gulf states.
The six-month interim agreement aimed at preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons reached in November between Iran and the five permanent member of the United Nations Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France -- plus Germany, Hagel said, will not alter U.S. presence or determination in the region.
“It is only a first step,” he said. “But it could be an important step. It halts any further expansion of Iran’s nuclear program, begins to roll it back in important ways, and provides sweeping access to verify … Iran’s intentions.”
The Defense Department will not adjust its forces in the region or its military planning as a result of the interim agreement with Iran, the secretary said.
“We have bought time for meaningful negotiation, not for deception,” Hagel said. “All of us are clear-eyed … about the challenges that remain to achieving a comprehensive nuclear solution with Iran.”
He noted that in Syria, international pressure and the threat of U.S. military action created an opening for diplomacy with Russia. That led to a U.N. Security Council resolution and the involvement of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, which put inspectors on the ground in Syria to oversee the removal and destruction of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons.
“We remain on track to destroy Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons,” the secretary said. “The United States is working closely with our key allies and the international community in this process and has offered its unique technical capabilities and technology to help dispose of these weapons. … Once the destruction is complete, a major chemical weapons threat will be eliminated. This will benefit the entire region and the world.”
Issues remain in Syria, Hagel said, but he vowed to work with regional partners to find a political settlement to the conflict.
“We must also confront the rise of violent extremist groups in Syria, and we must work together to ensure that our assistance to the opposition does not fall into the wrong hands,” he cautioned. The secretary noted that humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people remains a serious concern.
“The United States is the largest donor of humanitarian aid for displaced Syrians, and we will continue to support Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey as they provide refuge for victims of the conflict,” the secretary said. “The Syrian regime must also allow humanitarian assistance to reach the Syrian people.”
Hagel pointed out that the potent threat of U.S. military intervention helped to spur progress in resolving the nuclear and chemical weapons threats posed by Iran and Syria respectively, though each country continues to pose regional challenges.
The secretary set out the U.S. presence here: ground, air and sea forces number more than 35,000 U.S. troops in the Gulf area, he said, including “more than 10,000 forward-deployed soldiers in the region, along with heavy armor, artillery, and attack helicopters, to serve as a theater reserve and a bulwark against aggression.”
The secretary said the United States has deployed its most advanced aircraft, including F-22 fighters, throughout the region “to ensure that we can quickly respond to contingencies. Coupled with our unique munitions, no target is beyond our reach.”
The United States also employs its most advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets here to provide a continuous picture of activities in and around the Gulf, Hagel said.
“And we have fielded an array of missile defense capabilities -– including ballistic missile defense ships, Patriot [surface-to-air missile] batteries, and sophisticated radar,” he added.
To ensure freedom of navigation throughout the Gulf, the secretary said, the Navy routinely maintains a presence of more than 40 ships in the broader region, including a carrier strike group, and conducts a range of freedom-of-navigation operations.
“These operations include approximately 50 transits of the Strait of Hormuz over the past six months,” he noted.
The Navy has added five coastal patrol ships to U.S. 5th Fleet here this year, the secretary said, and has ramped up its minesweeping capabilities. DOD also will invest $580 million in a construction program to support expanding 5th Fleet capabilities, Hagel said.
“Yesterday, I visited the Navy’s new afloat forward staging base, the USS Ponce,” he said, calling the ship “a unique platform for special operations, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, in areas where we do not have a permanent, fixed presence.”
Hagel said during this trip, he also will meet with U.S. service members stationed at the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar, “where we have representatives from our [Gulf Cooperation Council] partners training and working together.”
Hagel called for closer multilateral coordination among council members, the Persian Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
He offered three avenues the United States would like to pursue toward that end:
-- A unified focus on missile defense through the regional Air and Air Defense Chiefs’ Conference, which meets several times a year;
-- Making the Gulf Cooperation Council as an entity eligible for the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program; and
-- Convening a regular forum, beginning within six months, where U.S. and Gulf defense leaders come together annually to assess progress and threats in regional security.
These measures constitute “a natural next step in improving U.S.-GCC collaboration,” Hagel said, adding that foreign military sales “will enable the GCC to acquire critical military capabilities, including items for ballistic missile defense, maritime security and counter-terrorism.”
The secretary noted that during his last trip to the region, in April, “we finalized agreements worth nearly $11 billion that will provide access to high-end capabilities including F-15s, F-16s and advanced munitions such as standoff weapons.” These capabilities are the most advanced the United States has ever provided to the region, he said.
“We will continue to ensure that all of our allies and partners in the region – including both Israel and the Gulf States – have these advanced weapons,” the secretary pledged.
In the future, Hagel said, the Defense Department will place even more emphasis on building the capacity of regional partners to complement the strong, proven and enduring U.S. military presence in the region.
“Nations are stronger, not weaker, when they work together against common threats,” the secretary said. “Closer cooperation between the GCC and the United States is in all of our countries’ interests.”
This year’s Manama Dialogue, the ninth of its kind, drew hundreds of delegates from more than 20 countries. Other speakers at the gathering included representatives from Bahrain, the United Kingdom, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Iraq, India, Qatar, Canada and Norway.
Yesterday, Hagel met here with Saudi Arabian Deputy Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan to discuss regional issues, including Iran, Egypt and Syria. Assistant Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog said the secretary underscored in that meeting the strength of the bilateral relationship and noted that defense partnership is key in maintaining the long-standing ties between the two countries. Hagel said the United States remains committed to regional security and stability, a shared objective with Saudi Arabia, Woog reported.
The secretary indicated U.S.-Saudi defense cooperation is essential to maintaining the two nations’ shared priorities. He highlighted the Saudi purchase of F-15SA aircraft and advanced weapons as an example of future of improved interoperability and coordination between both militaries, Woog said. The defense secretary will visit Saudi Arabia on Dec. 9.
Hagel also met yesterday at the Safria Palace here with King Hamad al Khalifa of Bahrain.
Hagel and the king discussed the long history of the –U.S.-Bahrain bilateral relationship, Woog said. The secretary emphasized U.S. commitment to Gulf security, and the two exchanged views on shared regional security challenges, including Iran and the signed joint plan of action between the P5+1 and Iran.
The meeting included significant discussion of reform in Bahrain and the importance of political inclusiveness for long-term stability. The secretary thanked the king for hosting the U.S. 5th Fleet and for Bahrain’s ongoing security cooperation, Woog said.
(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @ParrishAFPS)
The Defense Department’s Chief Information Officer recognized three individuals and three teams today for achievements in information technology, management, efficiencies and security at the 13th annual DOD CIO Awards ceremony.
Teri Takai said the finalists, who distinguished themselves from more than 100 nominations across the department, made exceptional strides in capital planning and investment control, enterprise architecture and services.
Of particular note is e-mail, she said. “E-mail has become the major communication mechanism … that is extremely important in our overall communications. “It lays the infrastructure … for identity management … and the teams have established a way for the DOD to do enterprise services.”
She explained that the honorees not only developed the processes and structures for the DOD to build new enterprise services, but have developed mission assurance through IT system accreditation and standardization.
Cyber and IT professionals will also continue to develop medical data sharing capabilities, Takai said. “[There’s a] huge effort underway to upgrade our current medical systems but also to be able to provide the kind of medical capability that our active duty and our veterans really deserve.”
Future war fighting capability will also continue to transform through advanced nuclear capabilities, Takai said.
Attending the ceremony was Army Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency director, who lauded the awardees’ unique sense of innovation. “You see things that are different than industry sees them -- in every other area of our government, those that operate networks don’t have to defend the nation like you do,” Alexander said. “Our innovation is far different than anybody else’s in the world; you bring innovation to the table.”
Individual winners are:
First place: Charles (Dean) Corpman, command and control section chief, U.S. Strategic Command, J864
Second place: John P. Howell, product director, enterprise e-mail (PD EE), U.S. Army
Third place: Richard L. Ford, Defense Manpower Data Center, Identity Services Division
Team winners are:
First place: Army Enterprise E-mail Migrations Team, U.S. Army NETCOM G-3
Second place: Enterprise Mission Assurance, Support Service Team, Defense Information Systems Agency
Third: Enterprise Infrastructure Team, Joint Task Force-Capital Medical, Military Health System
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleAFPS)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with His Majesty King Hamad al Khalifa of Bahrain at Safria Palace in Bahrain and the two leaders exchanged views on shared regional security challenges, including Iran and the signed joint plan of action between the P5+1 and Iran, Assistant Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog said in a statement issued today.
Woog’s statement reads as follows:
Secretary Hagel met with His Majesty King Hamad al Khalifa of Bahrain this afternoon at the Safria Palace.
Secretary Hagel and the king discussed the long history of the United States - Bahrain bilateral relationship. Secretary Hagel emphasized the U.S. commitment to Gulf security and discussed the speech he will present to the IISS Manama Dialogue tomorrow.
The secretary and the king exchanged views on shared regional security challenges, including Iran and the signed joint plan of action between the P5+1 and Iran.
The meeting included significant discussion of reform in Bahrain and the importance of political inclusiveness for long term stability. The secretary thanked King Hamad for hosting the U.S. 5th fleet and ongoing security cooperation.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Salman bin Sultan on the eve of the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain to discuss regional issues, including Iran, Egypt and Syria, Assistant Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog said in a statement issued today.
Woog’s statement reads as follows:
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Salman bin Sultan on the eve of the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain to discuss regional issues, including Iran, Egypt and Syria.
The secretary underscored the strength of the bilateral relationship and noted the centrality of the defense partnership in maintaining the long-standing ties between the two countries. Secretary Hagel conveyed that the United States remained committed to regional security and stability, a shared objective with Saudi Arabia.
The secretary indicated U.S.-Saudi defense cooperation is essential to maintaining our shared priorities. He highlighted the Saudi purchase of F-15SA aircraft and advanced weapons as an example of future of improved interoperability and coordination between both militaries.
The security alliance between the U.S. and South Korea is key to the Asia-Pacific region’s peace and stability, Vice President Joe Biden said in Seoul, South Korea.
Speaking to Yonsei University students about the U.S. rebalance toward the region, Biden assured his audience of the U.S. commitment.
“President Obama is absolutely committed to rebalance,” Biden said. “No one should underestimate or question our staying power. Just look at the last 60 years in Korea.
“Ask the people of Japan -- the Mutual Defense Treaty since 1960 and still going strong,” Biden continued. “Ask the people of the Philippines -- American helicopters, small ships, medical services, road clearing -- all responding on the backs of U.S. Marines when one of the most fierce tropical storms in history devastated their country.”
The vice president said the course of Asia-Pacific affairs in the 21st century is still being written.
“The rise of economies up and down the Pacific Rim are literally remaking the world,” Biden said. “But with this growth have come new risks and tensions above and beyond the enduring threats that we face.”
He continued, “And the rules and norms that help advance security and prosperity are still evolving to keep pace with the remarkable changes of the 21st century.”
Biden recalled how South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has spoken of a shared journey toward peace on the Korean Peninsula. The United States, he said, could not have any better partner to share that journey with than South Korea.
“President Park's vision of our journey is already taking shape, our alliance as a lynchpin for peace and security in the Asia-Pacific,” Biden said. “We not only stand side-by-side in the Korean Peninsula with all of you -- we stand watch around the world,” Biden said. “Korean sailors are fighting piracy off the shores of Somalia. Korean troops are showing their mettle alongside our own in Afghanistan.”
The vice president said this vision isn’t just limited to security, noting the U.S. and South Korea are together fighting disease, illiteracy, hunger, and natural disasters as well as championing the rights of women around the world.
“Witness the response to the crisis in the Philippines,” Biden said. “The Republic of Korea is one of the only countries in the world whose development budget has actually gone up over the past years. You have not forgotten, apparently, what allowed you to rise again.”
Biden said the American people are “all in” for the economic, diplomatic and military rebalancing policy in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We're determined to strengthen our alliances, cultivate new partners in the Pacific Basin, build constructive relations with China, pursue major agreements that further integrate our economies, and join and strengthen the institutions of the Asia-Pacific and of the East Asian Summit,” he said.
Biden said the United States seeks an open, transparent economic order in the Asia-Pacific to deliver growth for all because in growth resides peace.
In addition to security, Biden said the way to sustain and enhance the Asia-Pacific region’s “remarkable economic progress” is by eliminating trade barriers to enable all to participate in and benefit from the marketplace.
“These are the principles behind the Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement,” he noted. “Trade between our countries has already grown 65 percent from $80 billion a year in the year 2000 to $130 billion in 2012.”
This means employment, Biden said, which facilitates the ability to live a middle-class life resulting in stability.
“Of course, all that we hope to accomplish economically for our people depends upon our physical security,” the vice president said. “And that starts with our alliances -- South Korea, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand -- all in the Basin.”
The United States is “modernizing our alliances to meet the demands of the 21st century,” Biden said. “And we’re promoting better cooperation among our allies.”
Biden said the Asia-Pacific region will be more stable and secure if democracies such as Japan, South Korea and the U.S. are able to improve their relations and cooperation with one another.
He also noted as the countries work together to build prosperity and security, that it should be accomplished upon shared values such as freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of religion, and democratic principles.
“These are the values that will power success for countries in the 21st century,” he said. “And it’s what’s allowed my country and yours to succeed.”
Biden said he’s confident the U.S. and South Korea will continue to be “allies and kindred spirits for a long time to come.”
“It’s not merely our economic, our political and our strategic necessity for one another; it is ultimately based on shared common values,” he said. “And so I think your future is bright.”
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ended his talk with troops here today as he usually does, offering to answer questions or listen to any advice they can offer.
The service members and civilian mariners aboard the USS Ponce Hagel spoke with today didn’t offer advice, but they did ask about Iran, women in combat, and pay and benefits.
The six-month interim agreement with Iran the State Department announced in November, Hagel said, is intended to allow space and time for negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program and other issues.
Hagel said as secretary of defense and as a former senator, he believes the agreement represents an opportunity “to probe in great detail the possibilities of getting to a higher ground … and see, in fact, if the Iranians are serious about following through” on their pledge to halt pursuit of nuclear weapons.
During that six-month period, he added, “We will keep the same kind of strong assets, [and we will conduct] the same exercises” as usual.
“We understand, clearly, the dangers that Iran represents and has represented,” he said. “ … This is not an exercise based in folly. This is very clear-eyed, real engagement. Whether we can get to where we hope we can get to in six months, I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Hagel offered a quick seminar in response to a question on pay and benefits.
With a continuing resolution controlling government spending through Jan. 15, no defense budget, and the likelihood of an additional $52 billion sequestration cut in defense funding next fiscal year, he said, Pentagon planners are challenged to map out the next five years.
“Always, you protect your people,” he said. “ … This institution completely, absolutely relies on you.”
The United States has a tremendous advantage in cutting-edge technology, he said, but it’s useless without capable, committed people to use it.
“We are reviewing pay, compensation, retirement … every aspect of our budget,” Hagel said.
The secretary assured the troops that he and other defense leaders “begin every decision process … first focusing on taking care of our people.”
Hagel’s next questioner asked the secretary’s opinion of women in combat. Given that three Marine women graduated from the Corps’ enlisted infantry training in November, a male Marine asked, “Will we see full integration within the infantry battalions? And what is your personal opinion on this?”
Hagel termed the women’s achievement “tremendous,” and said women Marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors should be given more opportunities for jobs, promotions and command positions.
The female troops he has spoken with don’t want the standards lowered for them, the secretary said. “And if women can and want to serve in any of … the combat areas and they can meet those standards, they should be allowed to serve.”
The services are evolving through the process of opening combat arms to women, he said, and are on track with the effort.
“I’m personally strongly supportive of it,” Hagel said. “ … I’m very proud of these women who are stepping forward and who want to do more things, and are doing more things.”
The secretary is scheduled to deliver a speech here tomorrow during the Manama Dialogue, and will travel to Qatar later this week.
(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @ParrishAFPS)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel started his first full day in Bahrain this week by visiting service members and civilian mariners aboard the USS Ponce, which he called “a purely remarkable ship.”
The Ponce was first commissioned in 1971, designated as an amphibious transport dock ship. In 2012, U.S. Central Forces Command requested an afloat forward staging base, and the Ponce was reconfigured with a well deck, helicopter operations deck, and advanced command and control capabilities. Currently crewed by 55 Navy sailors and around 120 civilian mariners, the ship can transport and support some 250 other passengers in support of 5th Fleet operations.
“It’s as flexible and agile as any platform we have,” the secretary said. “It represents … the future of our naval operations.”
In a region Hagel termed “dangerous … combustible and unstable,” he said a steady American presence as exemplified by the Ponce is a reassurance to allies.
During his speech tomorrow at the Manama Dialogue here and in meetings with partner nations’ leaders over the next few days, Hagel said he will emphasize the United States’ commitment to strengthening relationships in every region of the world.
“I will assure our partners that we’re not going anywhere,” he said.
Senior Navy officials spoke on background to reporters traveling with Hagel, explaining the Ponce’s capabilities and missions. The ship can embark, coordinate and integrate operations among forces from other countries and other service branches, officials said. They added that mine warfare operations are a key mission for the ship, with bilateral and multilateral anti-mine exercises scheduled as often as every few weeks.
The Ponce’s helicopter deck allows it to land and refuel two Army Apache helicopters at once, one official pointed out. With an Army Apache battalion based in Kuwait, he added, the Ponce’s presence offers a flexible refueling option to extend the helicopters’ reach.
“You are helping to shape much of the future for this part of the world,” Hagel told the Ponce’s crewmembers. “I want you to know that we appreciate that.”
Turning to defense funding, Hagel told his audience that Congress will be back in session next week and he hopes for an agreement on the defense budget.
The secretary conveyed his own and President Barack Obama’s holiday greetings and thanks to the troops, and expressed appreciation for their families’ support.
“This is not easy for your families, and we know that, with the sacrifices they make,” Hagel said.
(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @ParrishAFPS)
President Barack Obama issued a proclamation declaring Dec. 7, 2013, as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
Here is the text of the president’s proclamation:
More than seven decades ago, on a calm Sunday morning, our Nation was attacked without warning or provocation. The bombs that fell on the island of Oahu took almost 2,400 American lives, damaged our Pacific Fleet, challenged our resilience, and tested our resolve. On National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we honor the men and women who selflessly sacrificed for our country, and we show our enduring gratitude to all who fought to defend freedom against the forces of tyranny and oppression in the Second World War.
In remembrance of Pearl Harbor and to defend our Nation against future attacks, scores of young Americans enlisted in the United States military. In battle after battle, our troops fought with courage and honor. They took the Pacific theater island by island, and eventually swept through Europe, liberating nations as they progressed. Because of their extraordinary valor, America emerged from this test as we always do -- stronger than ever before.
We also celebrate those who served and sacrificed on the home front -- from families who grew Victory Gardens or donated to the war effort to women who joined the assembly line alongside workers of every background and realized their own power to build a brighter world. Together, our Greatest Generation overcame the Great Depression, and built the largest middle class and strongest economy in history.
Today, with solemn pride and reverence, let us remember those who fought and died at Pearl Harbor, acknowledge everyone who carried their legacy forward, and reaffirm our commitment to upholding the ideals for which they served.
The Congress, by Public Law 103-308, as amended, has designated December 7 of each year as "National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day."
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim December 7, 2013, as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. I encourage all Americans to observe this solemn day of remembrance and to honor our military, past and present, with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I urge all Federal agencies and interested organizations, groups, and individuals to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff this December 7 in honor of those American patriots who died as a result of their service at Pearl Harbor.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.
National Guard Units are on duty in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, standing by to respond to a major regional winter storm which is expected to drop up to eight inches of snow and ice in affected areas.
In Oklahoma, where Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency in all 77 counties, 214 members of the Army National Guard are on duty and deployed to 12 locations.
The Oklahoma National Guard is providing operational support in response to this storm, which is expected to strike the Oklahoma panhandle. The Oklahoma Guard is not only preparing to handle the expected large amounts of snowfall, but is also anticipating up to one inch of ice, which may cause power outages throughout the region.
"The Oklahoma National Guard will have Stranded Motorist Recover Teams on alert, [whose] primary mission will be assisting with removing cars from ditches," said Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Bruce of the Oklahoma Guard. In addition to the SMRT teams, generators and water will be ready if requested by local authorities, Bruce said.
In Texas, where 54 soldiers were activated, the mission will be similar. Units in Texas have already been mobilized by Gov. Rick Perry, said Army Lt. Col. Joanne Macgregor of the Texas National Guard, adding that they will be assisting the Texas Department of Emergency Management in response to the winter weather. The primary mission of the Texas Guard will be assisting stranded motorists and bringing them to safety if required, Macgregor said.
In Arkansas, 60 members of the Army and Air National Guard were ordered to state active duty yesterday to begin preparing equipment at 12 locations.
This storm is expected to last until this evening, but preparations are underway in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- the anticipated path of the storm system.
The Department of Veterans Affairs recently posted an alert on its Facebook page warning of a marketing scam targeting veterans.
A marketing company has purchased telephone numbers that differ by one digit from the VA’s national call center and the GI Bill call center. Callers who misdial and reach the fraudulent numbers will be offered a gift card in exchange for personal and financial information -- including credit card information.
According to the warning, after the caller’s information is obtained, they may even be transferred to the VA number they were attempting to reach.
The VA will never ask for credit card or banking information over the phone. Law enforcement authorities have been notified of the situation.
The VA’s national call center number is 800-827-1000, and the GI Bill call center’s number is 888-442-4551. VA’s customer service numbers can be verified online at https://iris.custhelp.com/.
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @RouloAFPS)