Category: Military News

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Myanmar military assures UN of 'harsh' action on sexual assault

MAUNGDAW, Myanmar (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military has assured the United Nations of “harsh” action against perpetrators of sexual violence, state media reported on Tuesday, as U.N. envoys traveled to Rakhine State where the military conducted a widely criticized crackdown.

Rohingya refugees are reflected in rain water along an embankment next to paddy fields after fleeing from Myanmar into Palang Khali, near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

U.N. and rights groups say nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh after a military crackdown launched in Rakhine State in August that the United Nations denounced as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Many of the arriving refugees recounted incidents of killings, arson and rape but Myanmar largely rejected those reports as well as the accusation of ethnic cleansing.

The government said its forces were engaged in a legitimate security campaign in response to a string of Rohingya insurgent attacks on the security forces.

“Sexual violence (is) considered as despicable acts,” the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper cited military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing as telling the envoys.

The military was “taking harsh and stronger actions against such offenders”, he said.

The U.N. Security Council envoys traveled by Myanmar military helicopters to northern Rakhine on Tuesday, the final day of their four-day visit to the region, flying over burned and bulldozed villages visible from the air.

The envoys arrived in Myanmar on Monday after visiting refugee camps on the Bangladesh side of the border and government leaders in Dhaka.

In Myanmar, they met separately with government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing.

British U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce told Reuters that during Monday’s meeting Min Aung Hlaing was “very forthcoming” on the issue of sexual assaults in Rakhine, adding that the military chief said such offences were “not tolerated”.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, in her nearly hour-long meeting with the envoys, pledged to investigate any credible accusations of abuse, said diplomats who attended.

Suu Kyi noted Myanmar’s difficulties in transitioning to rule of law after decades of military dictatorship, said the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“She said what had happened or what was alleged to have happened to some of the Rohingya villagers was not acceptable and that if evidence were available it should be reported to the Burmese authorities and they would investigate,” said Pierce.

“What we’ve got to do on the council is think how best to turn that into something operational so that the evidence gets collected and given either to the Burmese authorities or to some sort of international mechanism,” she said.

Suu Kyi’s civilian government has no control over the military. Government spokesman Zaw Htay did not respond to requests for comment.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has for years denied the Rohingya citizenship, freedom of movement and access to basic services such as healthcare. Many in Myanmar regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from mostly Muslim Bangladesh.

When asked if the council could help ensure evidence of crimes such as rape is collected, Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said: “I don’t think this is a council matter, frankly speaking. There are a lot of agencies apart from the Security Council.”

‘COOPERATION NEEDED’

In northern Rakhine, the council envoys were shown a reception center Myanmar has built for repatriating Rohingya, aiming to accept a total of 150 people a day, and a transit camp that can house 30,000 returnees.

The envoys passed two bulldozed villages near the camp. They were also shown a rebuilt village.

The Security Council asked Myanmar in November to ensure no “further excessive use of military force” and to allow “freedom of movement, equal access to basic services, and equal access to full citizenship for all”.

On Monday, the council envoys met Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who asked them to press Myanmar to take back “their citizens”.

Hasina said the refugees should return “under U.N. supervision where security and safety should be ensured”.

Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete the voluntary repatriation of the refugees within two years but differences between the two sides remain and implementation of the plan has been slow.

Suu Kyi’s office also said in a statement that cooperation was needed from Bangladesh on the repatriation of refugees.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Yimou Lee in YANGON; Editing by Robert Birsel and Darren Schuettler

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Reports of Sexual Assault in the Military Rise by 10 Percent, Pentagon Finds

WASHINGTON — More than 6,700 Defense Department employees reported being sexually assaulted in the 2017 fiscal year — the highest number since the United States military began tracking reports more than a decade ago, according to Pentagon data released on Monday.

The new data showed a 10 percent increase of military sexual assault reports from the previous fiscal year. The uptick occurred amid a Marine Corps scandal over sharing nude photos and heightened public discourse about sexual harassment in American culture.

Pentagon officials sought to portray the increase as reflective of more troops and military civilians trusting commanders and the military’s judicial system enough to come forward.

In all, 6,769 people reported assaults for the 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. It was the largest yearly increase since 2014 and the most reports since the Pentagon started tracking the data in 2006.

Roughly two-thirds of the reports resulted in disciplinary action, the data show. The remaining 38 percent were discounted because evidence was lacking, victims declined to participate in hearings or other reasons.

The Army, Navy and Air Force each saw a roughly 10 percent uptick in sexual assault reports. The increase nearly reached 15 percent in the Marine Corps.

Separately, roughly 700 complaints of sexual harassment were reported across the military in the 2017 fiscal year, according to the Pentagon data. Ninety percent of the reports were from enlisted troops.

In March 2017, a social media group made up of active duty and former Marines was accused of sharing explicit photos of female colleagues, prompting a widespread investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. A number of Marines were punished, and the service started a campaign to educate its troops on sexual harassment and assault.

Despite efforts to rid the internet of military-themed groups such as the one found last year, others have continued to pop up.

Gen. Robert B. Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, said the service was in a “better place” after the scandal.

Lawmakers have long hammered the military on its predominantly male culture and have sometimes lobbied for military courts to be civilian run so due process is absent of command influence.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who last week called sexual assault a “cancer” in the military, has demanded that leaders throughout the ranks make sure the problem does not spread.

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'Suspicious packages' received at military installations in Washington area

This story has been updated. The Defense Department said Monday evening that suspicious packages had been received at military installations in the Washington region, and were being investigated.

In a statement, the department said “we are tracking the delivery of suspicious packages to multiple military installations in the National Capital Region.”

In the statement, Army Lt. Col. Michelle L. Baldanza said “this incident is currently under investigation.”

She said the Pentagon was referring all queries to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In a statement, the FBI’s Washington field office said the bureau responded to multiple government facilities Monday “for the reports of suspicious packages.” The bureau said each package was collected for further analysis. The precise number of packages involved could not be learned. According to media accounts, the packages may have been received at as many as six sites.

The sites included Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in the District and at Fort Belvoir, in Virginia, according to the accounts.

In addition, an NBC news report indicated that “similar” packages were located at mail processing facilities for both the CIA and the White House.

No injuries were reported, and information about the contents of the packages was not immediately available.

It was not clear what led authorities to deem the packages suspicious. Most or all of the installations involved have means to detect possibly hazardous materials within packages.

According to authorities, at least one of the packages did contain black powder. Black powder is an ingredient of some explosive devices.

In a statement, a military spokesman said a suspicious package was received at the National Defense University at 8:30 a.m. Monday on the grounds of Fort McNair.

Mike Howard, a spokesman for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall said the building was evacuated immediately and the area was cordoned off.

Fort McNair is in Southwest Washington, west of Nationals Park.

Shortly after noon, according to Howard, an Army explosive ordnance disposal unit from Fort Belvoir “confirmed the package tested positive for black powder and residue.

He said an x-ray indicated what was suspected to be a type of fuse attached.

Howard said the package was “rendered safe,” and no injuries were reported.

He said the premises were later cleared for reentry.

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Trump's transgender military ban 'worse than don't ask, don't tell,' advocates say

The Trump administration released two documents on Friday outlining the president’s ban on transgender people serving in the military[1]. While LGBTQ-rights advocates say this new measure is even more discriminatory than the now-defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, they also note that recent court rulings prevent the ban from actually taking effect.

The administration’s first document, a memo[2] signed by the president, stated that “transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery — are disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances.”

 President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House on March 23, 2018 in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

The second document[3], titled “Department of Defense Report and Recommendations on Military Service by Transgender Persons,” lays out the specific policy recommendations regarding trans individuals serving U.S. military. The 46-page report stated that the department had concluded “accommodating gender transition could impair unit readiness,” “undermine unit cohesion” and “lead to disproportionate costs.”

“This new policy will enable the military to apply well-established mental and physical health standards — including those regarding the use of medical drugs — equally to all individuals who want to join and fight for the best military force the world has ever seen,” the White House said in a statement[4] released on Friday.

“CATEGORICAL BAN”

The new report states “nothing in this policy precludes service by transgender persons who do not have a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria and are willing and able to meet all standards that apply to their biological sex.”

Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), disagreed, claiming such a policy constitutes a “categorical ban” of transgender people from the military by requiring service members to live as their sex assigned at birth.

“It means you can’t be transgender,” Minter said. “This is worse than ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in its justification … It would be as though the government had tried to justify the DADT policy by saying that you can serve in the military if you say you will stop being gay.”

With DADT, which was ended in 2011, “the government never went so far as to say that being lesbian or gay is not a legitimate identity and [lesbians and gays] should undertake therapy to become straight, but that is what this report is saying about transgender people,” according to Minter.

He argued the ideas in the plan “have zero medical credibility” and are “lifted whole from anti-transgender propaganda put out by right-wing groups.”

“PANEL OF EXPERTS”

A federal judge issued a court order[5] on Tuesday requiring that the Department of Justice disclose the names of the military experts the Trump administration consulted regarding its transgender military ban. On Thursday, the Justice Department filed a response[6] to the judge’s order, stating the administration chooses “not to identify” those consulted.

The Justice Department “is coming close to defying court orders,” Minter said. “They do not want to disclose what lay behind this process.”

An article published by Slate[7] on Saturday, which cited multiple unnamed sources, claimed that Trump’s “panel of experts” included several people with histories of opposing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, including Vice President Mike Pence[8]; anti-transgender activist Ryan T. Anderson[9]; and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins[10]. NBC News has not independently verified Slate’s findings.

Friday’s report addressed the findings and recommendations of a 2016 study commissioned by the Department of Defense and conducted by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank. That report found no reason to prevent the enlistment and service of openly transgender individuals. The new report stated the Pentagon had “reached a different judgment on these issues” than RAND and the previous administration, adding that the issue is “more complicated.”

Natalie Nardecchia, senior attorney at LGBTQ civil rights organization Lambda Legal, slammed Friday’s report and said the previous administration “did a real report and did a real analysis … and then they enacted a policy.”

“That is the way it’s supposed to work, and this is the very opposite,” she said of the Trump administration’s findings.

“NO IMMEDIATE IMPACT”

Minter said the new policy is “as bad as it could be.” However, he said it has “no immediate impact,” because “federal courts have already issued orders saying the ban cannot be enforced.”

On Friday, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. David Eastburn echoed Minter’s assessment, saying the announcement of a new policy would have no immediate practical effect on the military, because the Pentagon is obliged to continue to recruit and retain transgender people in accordance with current law.

Minter said he does not expect any impact on currently enlisted soldiers or those attempting to enlist in the near future. However, because of what he called the plan’s “complete repudiation of transgender identity,” Minter said transgender troops may face additional stigma.

 Nicolas Talbott Courtesy of Nicolas Talbott

Nicolas Talbott, a 24-year-old transgender recruit from Lisbon, Ohio, said for now his enlistment process continues to advance.

“It’s going great,” he told NBC News. “I’m working with a wonderful recruiter, and at this moment we are waiting to … schedule a date for my physical exam and written test.”

Talbott said Friday’s documents were discouraging and felt like “another bump in the road,” but he said this just “reaffirms the fight is not over.”

“I am very optimistic that I’m going to get into the U.S. Air Force,” Talbott said. “There is nothing about being transgender in any way, shape or form that impacts an individual’s ability to serve.”

Nardecchia, agreed, saying “there is no medical or scientific support for presuming that transgender people are unfit.” Gender dysphoria, she added, “is a fully treatable condition that only some transgender people experience.”

“LEGALLY IRRELEVANT”

Civil rights groups, including the ACLU, Lambda Legal, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), NCLR and Equality California brought four different lawsuits before federal courts last year in attempts to block the transgender military ban. The courts issued preliminary injunctions, which prevent even this newly released implementation plan from taking effect.

Late last year, two different federal courts rebuffed the administration’s efforts to delay the enlistment of transgender troops, and the Justice Department declined to appeal those decisions[11]. Openly transgender troops began to enlist on January 1.

“Anything that the government comes forward with now is legally irrelevant,” Nardecchia said, adding that the burden is on the government to demonstrate a persuasive justification to stop allowing transgender troops to serve openly.

Nardecchia called Friday’s report “reverse engineering” in an attempt by the government to provide the courts with a valid justification for the ban.

“WE WILL KEEP FIGHTING”

On Tuesday, Nardecchia and other attorneys from Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, which together represent nine transgender service members, will seek a permanent injunction against the ban.

“We are asking for the court to grant a summary judgment — without going to trial — and to permanently prevent the ban from going into law,” she explained.

Nardecchia said she doesn’t know when the court might hand down a decision, but she’s “optimistic.”

“We will keep fighting until we get a final judgment,” she added.

The release of the new transgender military policy, according to Minter, is good for LGBTQ advocates fighting the ban. “We now know exactly what we have to rebut in the court,” he said.

Minter is working on a separate case from Nardecchia, Doe v. Trump. The lawsuit, which was filed by NCLR and GLAD, was the first to challenge the ban.

“We are proceeding with discovery, which is all the more important now,” he said. “Where did they come up with these discredited views? What was this process? Who was involved?”

Minter expects the government — as it did in its refusal to disclose its “panel of experts” — to appeal any decision not in its favor.

“Eventually it is likely that it will reach the Supreme Court,” he said of the transgender military ban.

FOLLOW NBC OUT[12] ON TWITTER[13], FACEBOOK[14] AND INSTAGRAM[15]

References

  1. ^ ban on transgender people serving in the military (www.nbcnews.com)
  2. ^ memo (www.lambdalegal.org)
  3. ^ document (www.lambdalegal.org)
  4. ^ statement (www.whitehouse.gov)
  5. ^ court order (www.washingtonblade.com)
  6. ^ filed a response (www.washingtonblade.com)
  7. ^ published by Slate (slate.com)
  8. ^ Mike Pence (www.nbcnews.com)
  9. ^ Ryan T. Anderson (thinkprogress.org)
  10. ^ Tony Perkins (www.glaad.org)
  11. ^ declined to appeal those decisions (www.nbcnews.com)
  12. ^ NBC OUT (www.nbcnews.com)
  13. ^ TWITTER (twitter.com)
  14. ^ FACEBOOK (www.facebook.com)
  15. ^ INSTAGRAM (www.instagram.com)
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Keeping women in the military takes more than just opening up combat roles, committee says

As the military is turning more toward women to fill its ranks, a 67-year-old advisory board is lending a hand to the Defense Department on how to market to and attract women to serve in 2018 and beyond.

The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services released its annual report[1] earlier this month and a large chunk of the recommendations focus on how the military can keep women in the service and keep them from leaving in the middle of their careers.

“There is concern across all of the branches at mid-career retention for women versus men. All of the services in varying career fields, at varying points but still within that mid-range of a 20 year career, they are experiencing challenges with women leaving at higher rates,” said Janet Wolfenbarger, chairwoman of the committee during a March 19 event at the Association of the United States Army in Arlington, Va.

The committee is guiding DoD to possibly retaining more mid-career women with recommendations like making policy changes that make transitions of service members between components and even military services easier.

DoD already adopted one of the committee’s recommendations, which is to start exit surveys to assess why the attrition level for women is higher than men at certain career points.

“It turns out at the time the committee did this work that there wasn’t a concerted effort that got after those exit surveys universally across all those surveys. It turns out that as we were publishing this report we were informed there will be exit surveys,” Wolfenbarger said.

Another issue affecting women mid-career is options for maternity leave.

In 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced[2] an increase in maternity leave to 12 weeks and expanded paternity[3] leave to three weeks.

Wolfenbarger said the committee found there need to be some tweaks to that, specifically how it’s used. The committee recommended allowing flexible, noncontinuous parental leave by request.

“Although current maternity and parental leave policies are a strong step in the right direction, more can be done to tailor leave to families’ unique situations,” the report stated. The flexible option “is one potential way to support a service member after a child joins the member’s family, whether through birth or adoption. The committee believes allowing noncontinuous leave, when requested, could help service members better balance their unique family needs during critical junctures of their lives and, in turn, help support retention efforts.

The committee also suggested removing the stipulation that a couple needs to be married to receive full parental leave benefits.

While the military continues to do its best to retain women in mid-career, it also wants to help recruit new women to the force.

“We had briefings from all across the services on marketing efforts. All of them are doing relative to gaining women who are [eligible] now, who not only qualify but want to raise their hand and serve in the military. Our belief was after listening to some of those marketing approaches … there may have been missed opportunities there from looking at the things women were most interested in, in the [marketing] surveys,” Wolfenbarger said.

The committee suggests tailoring some marketing to women’s specific interests in order to inspire them to join.

“Women were more likely than men to be motivated by travel, education, and helping others and their communities,” the survey stated. “Data such as these can help the military services optimally tailor marketing messages to encourage more women to consider the many benefits of military service. Although a marketing strategy focused on patriotism may have been successful at recruiting men in the past, current data indicate that strategy does not align with the motivations of prospective female military members, and the data also illustrate more effective ways to recruit women.”

The committee also suggests studying best practices of other countries for better recruitment of women.

References

  1. ^ annual report (dacowits.defense.gov)
  2. ^ announced (federalnewsradio.com)
  3. ^ expanded paternity (federalnewsradio.com)
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The US military wants AI to dream up weird new helicopters

AI can already dream up imaginary celebrities[1], so perhaps it can help the Army imagine revolutionary new engine parts or aircraft, too.

That’s the goal of a new project from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)[2], the research wing of the US Defense Department. DARPA wants entrants to rethink the way complex components are designed by combining recent advances in machine learning with fundamental tenets of math and engineering.

AI is increasingly being used to imagine new things, from celebrity faces[3] to clothing[4] (see “The GANfather: The man who’s given machines the gift of imagination[5]”). The systems being used to conjure up new ideas are still in their early stages, but they show a path forward.

Machine learning is also already used in some areas of design and engineering, but the DARPA project aims to apply it more broadly, and to the crucial task of determining function and form. “We are using very few computational tools,” says Jan Vandenbrande, the DARPA program manager in charge. “It’s very artisan.”

Recommended for You

One project selected for funding by DARPA is D-FOCUS, from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and PARC, the research company spun out of Xerox.

D-FOCUS doesn’t come up with new designs from scratch but offers up alternatives to existing designs. If the early phase of the design process is automated, a human designer can explore more design options and compare trade-offs with each option before committing to a potentially very expensive plan, says Johan de Kleer, the PARC lead on the project.

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Under the DARPA challenge, software has to come up with designs for machines that can solve classic engineering questions, like how to transport water uphill.

Using hard-coded laws of physics along with functional requirements provided by a human designer, D-FOCUS can explore potential design concepts. For the moving-water-uphill problem, for instance, the system suggested using the Leidenfrost effect—a phenomenon where water droplets on a very hot surface create a thin layer of vapor beneath themselves, causing a repulsive force that makes the water hover above the surface. The researchers admit that this concept is largely impractical, but it is the type of out-there thinking that can push designers to come up with innovative designs.

DARPA has a long history of backing early technologies. The DARPA Grand Challenge[7] was the first long-distance competition for driverless cars, back in 2004, and it kicked off the current boom in self-driving technology. More recently, DARPA funded an Explainable AI (XAI)[8] program to develop new AI systems that were easier for humans to understand.

Mike Haley, Autodesk’s senior director of machine intelligence, says AI could expand design beyond boundaries imposed by the bias and groupthink that humans can succumb to. “We are going to think beyond our brains and come up with ideas that we would have never come up with before,” Haley says. “It’s like having the world’s most wonderful mentor.”

References

  1. ^ dream up imaginary celebrities (www.technologyreview.com)
  2. ^ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) (www.darpa.mil)
  3. ^ celebrity faces (www.technologyreview.com)
  4. ^ clothing (www.technologyreview.com)
  5. ^ The GANfather: The man who’s given machines the gift of imagination (www.technologyreview.com)
  6. ^ Manage your newsletter preferences (www.technologyreview.com)
  7. ^ DARPA Grand Challenge (www.darpa.mil)
  8. ^ Explainable AI (XAI) (www.darpa.mil)
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Military Consumers and Sentinel: A deeper dive

Last week, we gave you an overview of the latest Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book[1]. Today, let’s look a bit more closely at the data from military consumers. We got more than 113,000 reports from military consumers in 2017. Although not all of them gave details about their military status,more than 28,000 are servicemembers, their family members, and inactive Reserve or National Guard, and more than 78,000 are military retirees or veterans. Here are a few interesting take-aways.

Identity theft[2] and imposter scams[3] were among the top reports for both the general population and the military community. Imposter scammers pretend to be someone you trust, to convince you to send them money or personal information. There are many variations on the scheme. People may pretend to be from the government or from a business with technical support expertise. Others lie about being your online love or say there’s an emergency with your family member. These kinds of scams cost military consumers more money than any other type of scam, with $25 million reported lost. Military median losses were $699. For other consumers, the median loss was $500.

We’re not sure why, but military folks reported median losses much greater than civilians did for other frauds, too. For instance, the median loss from the general population for all types of fraud was $429, but for military consumers, it was $619. That’s more than 44% higher. On the other hand, military consumers also told us they lost money in just 15% of the frauds they reported, versus 21% in the general population. That tells us that military consumers are doing a great job reporting consumer fraud to the FTC, even if they didn’t lose money to it. More reports yield more data, tell a more detailed story, and help law enforcement go after unlawful practices.

References

  1. ^ Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book (www.ftc.gov)
  2. ^ Identity theft (www.militaryconsumer.gov)
  3. ^ imposter scams (www.militaryconsumer.gov)