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January 15, 2014

News Briefs January 15, 2013

Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon to Retire

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has decided to retire after 11 terms.

Republican officials said the 75-year-old McKeon will announce his plans on Thursday. The California Republican has represented a district north of Los Angeles that includes several major defense contractors.

McKeon campaigned for Republican candidates in 2010 and thanks to the GOP tidal wave took over the chairmanship of the committee. He has fought to protect Pentagon spending in a struggle with deficit hawks in Congress, including many in his party.

The Republican officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss McKeon’s plans ahead of his official announcement. AP

U.S. lawmaker fails to get list of freed Afghans

A U.S. lawmaker has failed to obtain from military officials the names of 72 detainees that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered released from prison.

Karzai last week ordered the release of the prisoners accused of attacking foreign and government forces, despite U.S. fears that the inmates could return to the insurgency.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. Buck McKeon told reporters Jan. 14 that Pentagon officials didn’t divulge the names he had requested from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

In a letter dated Jan. 10, the Republican had asked that Hagel publicly release the names and any possible affiliations with terrorist groups.

It is critical for the American people to know which dangerous detainees President Karzai intends to release and the threat they pose to the United States, McKeon wrote.

The U.S. wants 88 detainees, including 16 who will remain in custody for further review, to face trial in Afghanistan, saying it has evidence implicating them in the death or wounding of 60 coalition forces and 57 Afghan forces.

The issue has been a sticking point in Afghan-U.S. relations as the two sides struggle to agree on a framework for the withdrawal of American and allied forces by the end of the year.

Last week, a group of U.S. senators met Karzai in Kabul to warn him that any release of detainees from the Parwan Detention Facility would be a major step backwards for relations.

A review of the prisoners’ cases by Afghan intelligence and judicial officials turned up no evidence of wrongdoing for 45 of the detainees, and there was insufficient evidence on another 27, so they must be released, Karzai said in a statement.

He gave no details on when the release will take place. AP

Utah National Guard worries about helicopter plan

Utah National Guard officials are worried that more than 200 people could lose their jobs if the U.S. Army consolidates its fleet of AH-64 Apache helicopters.

The Deseret News reports that Utah National Guard Gen. Jefferson Burton says the Army has proposed taking the helicopters away from National Guard units to save money.

They would instead be used by active Army units only. The plan is pending approval from Congress and the U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Burton says Utah currently has 16 helicopters. Utah National Guard members recently spent a year in Afghanistan doing reconnaissance work. During wildfires season, the helicopters were used to find hot spots.

Burton says the country is better served by having the helicopters spread across the country with National Guard units. AP

Boeing confirms new 787 battery incident

Battery problems resurfaced on Boeing’s 787 Jan. 14, after gas was discovered coming out of a battery on a plane parked in Tokyo.

Boeing said the problem on a Japan Airlines 787 was discovered during scheduled maintenance. No passengers were on board. The company said it appears that a single battery cell vented, or released gas.

The incident comes a year after a fire in a lithium ion battery aboard a Japan Airlines 787 parked at Boston’s Logan International Airport. That was followed nine days later by another battery incident that forced an emergency landing in Japan by an All Nippon Airways 787.

Those problems prompted the FAA and other authorities to ground all 787s for more than three months. The planes began flying again after Boeing changed the battery system, adding a tougher box to hold the battery and measures to contain any short-circuit or fire.

Boeing said those changes appear to have worked as designed in the battery incident on Tuesday. It said it’s working with Japan Airlines to get the plane flying again.

Because the incident happened in Japan and involved a Japanese airline, Japanese authorities would take the lead in any investigation. If the Japan Transport Safety Board opens an investigation, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board “would certainly participate,” NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said.

The NTSB expects to finish its investigation of the 787 fire in Boston by the end of March, and present findings at a public meeting this fall.

Anything we can learn about the (latest) battery failure would be helpful to the ongoing investigation, Knudson said.

Representatives for Japan Airlines did not respond to requests for comment. AP




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