September 23rd, 2010
06:00 PM ET

Senators want Afghanistan contract watchdog removed

Four US senators called on President Obama to fire the man watching over tens of billions of dollars for reconstruction of Afghanistan.

The one Democrat and three Republicans said they want Arnold Fields dismissed as Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

"It has been clear for several months that SIGAR's mission is not being served effectively…. SIGAR would be better served with new leadership," the letter to Mr. Obama states.

The four Senators signing the letter were Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Charles Grassley (R-IA). The letter indicated the senators had written twice previously about concerns regarding the agency.

"We urge you to act now," the letter said. "We are disappointed by your Administration's ongoing failure to take decisive action to make changes at SIGAR," the Senators wrote.

A spokeswoman for SIGAR said Fields had been on a plane to Afghanistan Thursday and was not immediately available for comment.

The Senators' demand for Fields ouster comes amidst growing concerns about corruption in Afghanistan and the inability of the US to keep track of how the billions of dollars it has invested in reconstruction are spent. The U.S. taxpayer spent more than $51-billion on Afghanistan reconstruction between 2002 and 2010, with much of that going to training Afghanistan security forces. President Obama's recent budget requests asked for an additional $20-billion, according to the SIGAR website.

An earlier audit of SIGAR by Inspectors General from other federal agencies found it fell short of some professional standards. Fields himself had requested that audit which was unusual for such a young agency, one formed only in 2008.

"We observed deficiencies and significant noncompliance with these standards," that report said from the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

The Senators said the report found numerous problems with SIGAR's work.

"The reviews also found that the agency has no meaningful strategic plan for their audits and investigations and that leadership at SIGAR remains more concerned with the quantity of their work rather than the quality," the senators said in their letter.

In a letter for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Fields says he has accepted all the recommendations in the report, calling them "invaluable in helping us operate more efficiently and effectively."

He said in that August 6th letter on the SIGAR website that many changes had been made already and that he expected all to be addressed by the end of this month.

September 23rd, 2010
04:20 PM ET

Pakistani scientist gets 86 years for Afghan attack

A federal judge Thursday sentenced a Pakistani scientist convicted of attempting to kill Americans in Afghanistan to 86 years in prison.

A jury in Manhattan convicted Aafia Siddiqui on seven charges, including attempted murder and armed assault on U.S. officers, in February. She will serve her sentence at a facility in Texas where she was previously held while awaiting trial.

Post by:
Filed under: al Qaeda • Casualties
September 23rd, 2010
02:49 PM ET

Gates: No change to Afghan strategy

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he does not believe there will be any changes to the Afghanistan strategy after the coming review of the war’s progress this December.

“I have not gotten the sense from my conversations with people that any basic decisions or basic changes are likely to occur,” Gates told reporters at a news conference on Thursday. Although Gates added that there will likely be areas for “adjustments and tweaks.”

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who was at the news conference with Gates, said that there signs of progress already in the strategy that included adding an additional 30,000 U.S. troops.

Gates, who has signaled his desire to retire next year, refused to say whether he plans to stay through July 2011, the month where the president has said he would like to start reducing the US troop level in Afghanistan.

Asked about his potential retirement date at a Pentagon press conference, Gates would only say that he has made up his mind whether to stay or go before July 2011.

Post by:
Filed under: Decision: Afghanistan • Troops • Understanding Afghanistan • White House
September 23rd, 2010
01:13 PM ET

2 killed in Pakistan blasts

Explosions on oil tankers carrying fuel for
NATO-led forces in Afghanistan killed two people and wounded four in northwestern Pakistan, a local official told CNN.

The incidents took place near Afghanistan in the areas of Landi Kotal and Torkham in the Khyber Agency, part of Pakistan's tribal region, said Shafi Ullah Wazir, the Khyber political administrator.

Wazir said explosive devices were planted on the tankers, which were bound for NATO's International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan.

Post by:
Filed under: Casualties • Daily Developments • NATO • Pakistan • Uncategorized
September 23rd, 2010
11:28 AM ET
Helicopter crash victims returned to U.S.
September 23rd, 2010
11:19 AM ET

Helicopter crash victims returned to U.S.

The bodies of nine U.S. service members who were killed in Tuesday's helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan were flown back to Dover, Delaware, on Wednesday.

The military released the identities of the crash victims.

From the Army: Maj. Robert Baldwin from Illinois, Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Wagstaff from Utah, Chief Warrant Officer Jonah McClellan from Minnesota, Staff Sgt. Joshua Powell from Pleasant Plains, Illinois, and Sgt. Marvin Calhoun from Elkhart, Indiana were killed in the crash, said Lt. Rusty Ridley, an Air Force spokesman.

From the Navy: Lt. Brendan J. Looney of Owings, Maryland; Senior Chief Petty Officer David B. McLendon, of Thomasville, Georgia; Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam O. Smith of Hurland, Missouri; and Petty Officer 3rd Class Denis C. Miranda of Toms River, New Jersey.

Looney, Smith and Miranda were Navy SEALs; McLendon was a cryptologic technician, the Navy said in a statement.

Post by:
Filed under: Casualties • Daily Developments