News Briefs – February 12, 2020

Pentagon: 109 troops suffered brain injuries from Iran strike

The number of U.S. service members diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries has shot up to more than 100, the Pentagon said Feb. 10, as more troops suffer the aftereffects of the Iranian ballistic missile attack early last month in Iraq.
The department said the latest total is 109 military members who have been treated for mild TBI, a significant increase over the 64 reported a little over a week ago.
The number of injuries has been steadily increasing since the Pentagon began releasing data on the injuries about a week after the Jan. 8 attack at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq. Pentagon officials have warned that the number would continue to change.
The department said 76 of the service members have returned to duty, while 26 are in Germany or the United States for treatment, and another seven are on their way from Iraq to Germany for evaluation and treatment.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Pentagon reporters more than a week ago that the department was studying ways to prevent brain injuries on the battlefield and to improve diagnosis and treatment.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it’s possible, in some cases, that symptoms of TBI from the Iranian missile attack won’t become apparent for a year or two. He said the Army is in the early stages of diagnosis and therapy for the troops.
In a Feb. 10 statement, Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah credited medical professionals with provide care “which has enabled nearly 70 percent of those diagnosed to return to duty. We must continue to address physical and mental health together.” AP

U.S. to prioritize cases of refugees delayed by travel ban

President Donald Trump’s administration has agreed to speed up the cases of some former interpreters for the U.S. military in Iraq and hundreds of other refugees whose efforts to move to the United States have been in limbo since he announced his travel bans three years ago.
The news was contained in a settlement filed in federal court in Seattle, Wash., on Feb. 10. It concerned more than 300 refugees who were on the verge of being permitted to come to America in 2017 when their applications were halted as part of Trump’s efforts to restrict travel from several mostly Muslim nations.
Some of those affected are close relatives of refugees who are already in the U.S., while others are from 11 countries, including Egypt, Iran and Somalia, that Trump singled out, citing security reasons.
“The government tried to keep refugee families apart under the pretense of national security,” said Lisa Nowlin, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which sued along with several other organizations. “This settlement aims to undo the harmful effects of the illegal and misguided ban on refugees.”
The restrictions on refugees from the 11 countries and on relatives of those already in the U.S. — known as “follow-to-join” refugees — were companion measures to Trump’s broader travel ban on those seeking visas to enter the U.S., which the Supreme Court eventually allowed.
The plaintiffs included former interpreters for the U.S. military in Iraq, who sued under pseudonyms because they could face threats if their identities became public. Others were refugees who had petitioned to have their spouses and children join them in the U.S. from camps in Kenya, Uganda and elsewhere.
One plaintiff, Allen Vaught, an Iraq war veteran from Dallas, said the refugee ban “derailed efforts to get my last surviving Iraqi translator, who served bravely alongside U.S. military forces for many years, to the United States.”
Under the settlement, the refugees won’t automatically be admitted to the U.S., but the government agreed to move their cases to the front of the line for processing. AP

NATO set for Iraq troop trainer-swap to mollify U.S. demands

NATO countries are preparing to move more than 200 trainers working with the international force fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq to the military alliance’s own mission there helping to build up the Iraqi army in response to President Donald Trump’s demand that U.S. allies do more in the Middle East, senior officials said Feb. 10.
The move — essentially a “re-badging” exercise as troops shift from the anti-IS coalition to NATO control — will be high on the agenda when NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels to weigh exact troop numbers.
“There are several areas where the training is really overlapping,” U.S. NATO envoy Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters.
NATO agreed in 2018 to launch a training mission in Iraq involving around 500 troops with the aim of building up the country’s armed forces so they could better combat extremist groups. Only the anti-IS coalition fights extremists.
But the NATO operation was put on hold last month after a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport killed Iran’s top general, and the Iraqi government and parliament demanded that foreign troops leave its territory. As tensions mounted, Trump insisted that the alliance should do more in the region.
However, there is little appetite among European allies and Canada to deploy troops, even though the U.S. is by far the biggest and most influential of the 29 NATO member countries.
Hutchison also said that NATO is set to task military commanders with looking at other ways for the alliance to boost its role in the wider Middle East. AP

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