Archive for May 2014

May 31, 2014

 Statement by the President on Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

May 31, 2014

Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years.  On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal.  Today we also remember the many troops held captive and whom remain missing or unaccounted for in America’s past wars.  Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.  And as we find relief in Bowe’s recovery, our thoughts and prayers are with those other Americans  whose release we continue to pursue.

For his assistance in helping to secure our soldier’s return, I extend my deepest appreciation to the Amir of Qatar.  The Amir’s personal commitment to this effort is a testament to the partnership between our two countries.  The United States is also grateful for the support of the Government of Afghanistan throughout our efforts to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release.

This week the United States renewed its commitment to the Afghan people and made clear that we will continue to support them as their chart their own future.  The United States also remains committed to supporting an Afghan-led reconciliation process as the surest way to achieve a stable, secure, sovereign, and unified Afghanistan.  While we are mindful of the challenges, it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground.

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May 27, 2014

Obama: U.S. to Keep Nearly 10,000 Troops in Afghanistan in 2015

By Nick Simeone American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2014 – President Barack Obama today announced the United States plans to keep nearly 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan next year — a level largely in line with what U.S. commanders had requested — and that nearly all U.S. forces will leave the country by the end of 2016, bringing to an end a U.S. military mission that began in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“The bottom line is it’s time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Obama said in a televised address from the White House Rose Garden.

In laying out his military plan for Afghanistan once the U.S.-led NATO mission there ends in December, Obama said keeping 9,800 American troops in the country to train Afghan forces and to support counterterrorism operations will be contingent upon Afghanistan’s next president signing a bilateral security agreement with the United States, something outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to do.

“The two final Afghan candidates in the runoff election for president have each indicated they would sign this agreement promptly after taking office, so I’m hopeful we can get this done,” Obama said, emphasizing the growing and increasing competence of the Afghan security forces as well as the success of April’s first round of presidential elections — despite threats by the Taliban to disrupt them — as key to the timing of today’s announcement.

“This transition has allowed us to steadily draw down our own forces from a peak of 100,000 U.S. troops to roughly 32,000 today,” the president said. “Together with our allies and the Afghan government, we have agreed this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he strongly supports Obama’s decision. In a statement issued after the president spoke, Hagel said the proposed U.S. troop presence “will help us sustain the significant progress we have made in training and equipping the Afghan national security forces.”

As the nation brings an end to its longest war, “all Americans are grateful for the sacrifice and service of the men and women who deployed there over the past 13 years,” the secretary said.

For months, U.S. officials have been deliberating over post-2014 U.S. troop levels and had even raised the prospect of a complete pullout of all U.S. forces if the Afghan government refused to sign the bilateral security agreement, a move that would have triggered an end to billions of dollars in foreign aid, upon which the government in Kabul relies heavily.

The post-2014 U.S. troop levels would be in addition to contributions from NATO countries, and a senior administration official said discussion about NATO commitments will continue during an alliance defense ministers conference in Brussels next week. But in his address today, Obama made clear that beginning next year, Afghanistan’s security will be fully in the hands of Afghans while U.S. troop levels in the country will continue to be reduced, with those remaining consolidated at Kabul and at Bagram Airfield.

“We have to recognize Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one,” he said. “The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans.”

By the end of 2016, Obama said, the U.S. military presence in the country will be pared back even further, to a level required to maintain security at the U.S. embassy, along with a security assistance component, similar to current U.S. force levels in Iraq.

Obama’s announcement about the way forward in Afghanistan comes two days after he made a brief, unannounced visit to U.S. commanders and troops in the country but did not meet with Karzai, whose relations with the United States have grown increasingly tense. White House officials told reporters the trip was meant to be a visit with troops. Obama and Karzai did speak by phone.

And today’s address comes a day before Obama is set to deliver the commencement speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., during which he will outline his foreign policy and national security agenda for the remainder of his second term, including redirecting some of the resources saved by ending the war to “respond more nimbly to the changing threat of terrorism while addressing a broader set of priorities.”

“I’m confident that if we carry out this approach, we can not only responsibly end our war in Afghanistan and achieve the objectives that took us to war in the first place, we’ll also be able to begin a new chapter in the story of American leadership around the world,” he said.

May 17, 2014

Battaglia Salutes Troops on Armed Forces Day

By Amaani Lyle American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va., May 17, 2014 – The senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff praised military members serving worldwide and recognized the sacrifices of fallen warriors in remarks following an Armed Forces Day wreath laying ceremony here today.

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia joined the services’ senior enlisted leaders, each of whom affixed their seals to the ceremonial wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as the U.S. Army Band played Taps.

“Like many burial grounds, here are housed and harbored America’s heroes — the hundreds of thousands of men and women who for more than 238 years proudly wore the cloth of our nation,” Battaglia said.

The sergeant major said that President Harry S. Truman led the effort to establish a single-day opportunity for citizens to thank service members for their patriotism in defense of the nation.

On Aug. 31, 1949, Battaglia said, Defense Secretary Louis Johnson announced the creation of Armed Forces Day, a single-day celebration recognized annually on the third Saturday in May.

“The wreath we laid, placed in honor of our fallen and because our comrades in arms who rest here throughout the rolling hills and sacred grounds, though in spirit … still serve … we celebrate Armed Forces Day with them,” Battaglia said.

Arlington Cemetery, he said, is a proper place to observe Armed Forces Day.

“Here we are encircled among those brave and courageous men and women past and present, currently serving, active and Reserve, National Guard, living veterans and our fallen who proudly serve our country,” he said. “What … better place for us to thank those in uniform who play such a critical part protecting America’s freedom and liberty and those entrusted with safe-guarding our national code?”

Battaglia also recognized deployed service members, who he said are “standing the watch, patrolling the perimeters, and eliminating the threat.”

May 14, 2014

President Presents Medal of Honor to Former Army Sergeant

By J.D. Leipold Army News Service

WASHINGTON, May 14, 2014 – Former Army Sgt. Kyle Jerome White was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony yesterday, making him the sixth living Army recipient and the 14th from all services to earn the medal in either Iraq or Afghanistan.Obama opened his remarks in the East Room by paying tribute not just to White, but to what he referred to as the “9/11 generation,” all those young citizens who came forth after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States to volunteer their service knowing fully well what the cost could be.

“For more than 12 years, with our nation at war, the men and women of our armed forces have known the measure of danger that comes with military service,” he said. “But year after year, tour after tour, they have displayed a selfless willingness to incur it — by stepping forward, by volunteering, by serving and sacrificing greatly to keep us all safe.

“Today, our troops are coming home,” he added, saying that by year’s end the war in Afghanistan will be over. “And, today, we pay tribute to a soldier who embodies the courage of his generation — a young man who was a freshman in high school when the Twin Towers fell, and who just five years later became an elite paratrooper with the legendary 173rd Airborne — the Sky Soldiers.”

The president recounted the Nov. 9, 2007, ambush outside the village of Aranas in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province, in which five soldiers and a Marine would perish, as White’s unit of 13 Americans and a squad of Afghan soldiers descended into what was called “Ambush Alley.” Suddenly, the chatter of AK-47s and the smoke trails of rocket-propelled grenades lit up the valley, sending shattered shards and chunks of red-hot metal and rock flying.

With nowhere to escape the three-pronged onslaught but down a steep decline, White, 1st Lt. Matthew Ferrara, Spc. Kain Schilling, Marine Corps Sgt. Phillip Bocks and an interpreter were left stranded as the rest of the unit slid 160 feet down the mountain.

Then a specialist, the 20-year-old White emptied one 30-round clip from his M-4, but as he went to slide another into place, an RPG screamed in nearby. “It was just lights out,” he said later. That wouldn’t be the last time that day he would be rocked by a nearby explosion.

White saw his buddy Schilling trying to stay in the shade of what Schilling later recalled “as the smallest tree on earth.” Schilling had been wounded severely in his right upper arm, so White sprinted to Schilling, applied a tourniquet, then saw Bocks.

After four sprints and attempts to pull Bocks to cover, White finally was successful, and he began administering first aid. He applied a tourniquet, but it was too late. Bocks’ wounds had been too severe, and he passed away. When White looked up, he saw Schilling take another round, this time to his left leg. Again, he sprinted to Schilling. Out of tourniquets, he used his belt and was able to once again stop the bleeding.

While the one-way battle continued, White saw his lieutenant lying face-down. He ran to Ferrara’s aid, but found he was dead. As White once recalled in an interview, he had accepted that he and Schilling weren’t going to make it through this firefight.

“It’s just a matter of time before I’m dead,” White had said. “I figured if that’s going to happen, I might as well help while I can.”

White next secured a radio, as both his and Schilling’s had been destroyed by small-arms fire. He relayed a situational report and called for mortars, artillery, air strikes and helicopter guns runs. Suddenly, and for the second time that day, an explosion that “scrambled my brains a little bit there,” concussed White. A friendly 120-mm mortar round had fallen a bit short of its intended target.

Though struggling to keep Schilling and himself from falling asleep, White eventually was able to lay out a landing zone and assist the flight medic in hoisting all the wounded aboard. Only then did he allow himself to be medically evacuated.

Today, nearly seven years later, White and the other survivors of the Battle of Aranas wear a stainless steel wristband made by one of the unit’s soldiers. Each is etched with the names of those who didn’t come home: 1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara, Sgt. Jeffery S. Mersman, Spc. Sean K.A. Langevin, Spc. Lester G. Roque, Pfc. Joseph M. Lancour and Marine Corps Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks.

“Kyle, members of Chosen Company, you did your duty, and now it’s time for America to do ours,” Obama said. “You make us proud, and you motivate all of us to be the best we can be as Americans, as a nation.”

Following the ceremony, White offered his thoughts to the media:

“I wear this medal for my team. I also wear a piece of metal around my wrist. It was given to me by another survivor of the 9 November ambush; he wears an identical one,” he said. “This has made it even more precious than the medal just placed around my neck. On it are the names of six fallen brothers; they are my heroes.”