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March 14, 2014

News Briefs March 14, 2014

U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan at 2,176

As of March 11, at least 2,176 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count.

At least 1,796 military service members have died in Afghanistan as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers.

Outside of Afghanistan, the department reports at least 133 more members of the U.S. military died in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Of those, 11 were the result of hostile action.

Since the start of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, 19,668 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action, according to the Defense Department. AP

U.S. man to plead guilty on espionage charges

A U.S. civilian defense contractor faces a court hearing Thursday on federal charges, accused of giving military secrets to a Chinese girlfriend.

Benjamin Bishop was expected to plead guilty in federal court in Honolulu. His lawyer, Birney Bervar, says Bishop plans to plead guilty to one count of transmitting national defense information to a person not entitled to receive it and one count of unlawfully retaining national defense documents and plans.

The 60-year-old Bishop was arrested nearly one year ago at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters.

Court documents say Bishop emailed his girlfriend classified information on joint training and planning sessions between the United States and South Korea. The documents say Bishop also kept classified documents at home, including one on U.S. force posture in Asia and the Pacific.

Authorities have not released the 28-year-old girlfriend’s identity or whereabouts, or said publicly whether they believe she was working for the Chinese government. An affidavit filed by the FBI last year alleged that she may have attended an international defense conference in Hawaii specifically to target people like Bishop who had access to classified information. The affidavit said they met at the conference then started a romantic relationship in 2011.

Bervar has said Bishop and the girl were in love and that the case was about their relationship, not spying.

Bishop, who is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, worked in the field of cyber defense at Pacific Command from May 2011 until his arrest. Before that, he helped develop Pacific Command strategy and policy. AP

Army tests both women, men in combat fitness study

Army researchers are studying how hard soldiers – both women and men – have to work at battlefield tasks as the scientists strive to define gender-neutral fitness standards for troops in combat units.

At Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia, dozens of soldier-volunteers donned oxygen masks and heart-rate monitors Tuesday and performed such drills as carrying heavy cans of ammunition and dashing through obstacle courses. It’s part of the Army’s plan to open combat jobs to women as early as 2016.

Physical exertion data collected by the Army scientists will be used to develop a physical fitness test that mimics the essential tasks that soldiers must be able to perform on the front lines. The same test will be given to men and women alike. AP

Nebraska military retirees tax exemption advances

Military retirees who choose to live in Nebraska could receive a partial tax break under a measure set for debate in the Legislature.

Veterans could choose between exempting 40 percent of their military retirement pay over a 7-year period after their service ends, or 15 percent for the rest of their lives once they turn 67, under the bill unanimously approved by the Revenue Committee March 12. They would have to decide within two years of leaving the service.

The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, said the bill is designed to benefit all veterans in Nebraska, regardless of their income. The bill tries to address the challenge of keeping in the state both older retirees and younger ones who could start a new career or business, he said. Janssen said all of Nebraska’s bordering states offer something in the way of income tax breaks for military retirees, but Nebraska offers nothing.

The original bill would have allowed a 40 percent exemption over 10 years, but it was scaled back because of its expected cost. The current proposal would cost about $4.5 million annually. AP

Canada ends military operations in Afghanistan

Canada ended military operations in Afghanistan March 12, ending a 12-year mission as the international community winds down its role in the country ahead of an end-of-year deadline for foreign combat operations to end.

The Canadians formally ended their combat role in southern Afghanistan in July 2011 but maintained a small training operation in Kabul.

Canada played a critical role in securing Kandahar Province and had a strategic impact across the country with their contribution to the NATO training mission, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford, said during a flag-lowering ceremony at the headquarters for international forces in Kabul.

At its peak Canada was the sixth largest troop-contributing nation, behind the U.S., Britain, Germany, France and Italy. It deployed more than 40,000 service members to Afghanistan since the mission began in 2001. Like Americans and Europeans, Canadians have grown weary of the war.

According to the Canadian government, 158 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist and two civilian contractors were killed in Afghanistan.

A statement by the NATO-led international Security Assistance Force said Canada also was instrumental in developing a network of roads as well as improving economic conditions and governance in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban and one of the hardest areas to tame in Afghanistan.

Canada will continue to play a role in Afghanistan with the provision of $330 million to help sustain the Afghan security forces, it said. AP

Czechs extend deal to lease Gripen jets

The Czech defense minister says the government has approved a plan to extend the contract to lease 14 JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden by at least 12 years.

Martin Stropnicky said March 12 the Czechs will pay 1.7 billion koruna ($86 million) a year and the government has an option to extend the contract by another two years.

The lease of the planes for the Czech air force began in 2005 and is due to expire in 2015.

The Czech government originally agreed to buy 24 military jets made by Sweden’s Saab and Britain’s BAE Systems in 2002, but canceled that after devastating floods left the country with a staggering cleanup bill. It later decided to lease 14 of the same jets in a $1 billion deal. AP




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