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Gen. Jack Keane calls for ‘healthy dose of skepticism’ ahead of Taliban deal, potential US troop withdrawal

Westlake Legal Group image Gen. Jack Keane calls for 'healthy dose of skepticism' ahead of Taliban deal, potential US troop withdrawal Yael Halon fox-news/world/world-regions/asia fox-news/world/conflicts/afghanistan fox-news/shows/americas-news-hq-weekend fox-news/shows/americas-news-hq fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox-news/media/fox-news-flash fox news fnc/media fnc f9a9a5d4-3343-5aba-a0de-83f6f55df812 article

Gen. Jack Keane, a Fox News senior strategic analyst, reacted Sunday to a new U.S. deal with the Taliban that could see a reduction in violence and lead to the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

“We gotta have a healthy dose of skepticism,” Keane told “America’s News HQ.” “Our government officials know the Taliban can’t be trusted… everybody’s clear right there.”

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the deal “looks very promising” but it was not without risk. Esper also told reporters that U.S. troop levels could be reduced to about 8,600 — from 12,000 currently in the country — if the 7-day truce is successful. However, Defense Department officials said counterterrorism operations will continue in the country.

ESPER OPTIMISTIC ABOUT TALIBAN DEAL, WARNS OF RISK INVOLVED IN POLITICAL AGREEMENTS

Esper stressed that the possibility of a more permanent peace deal could be discussed.only after assessing the outcomes of this new agreement.

“This the beginning of a very long and challenging process,” Keane explained. “A reduction in violence is not a ceasefire. The Taliban can’t hold their hardcore organization from fighting… they’re not a monolithic organization,” he added.

Keane said that while there may actually appear to be a reduction in violence, it may be in large part due to the time of year and not an indication of the Taliban’s willingness to negotiate with the United States.

“We’re in the dead of winter,” he explained. “What they do in the wintertime is prepare for a spring offensive.”

A peace plan with the Taliban would be a historic achievement for the Trump administration after 18 years of war in the region — but Keane said he worried whether the removal of U.S. forces would enable Afghanistan to become “an epicenter for radical Islamic movements,” that ultimately could pose a threat to the U.S. “Say anything, do anything, get the U.S. out of there and then come for that government and topple it,” Keane said, stressing the importance of ensuring that a small group of U.S. counterintelligence officials remained in the region.

US, TALIBAN PEACE TALKS: ‘REDUCTION IN VIOLENCE’ PROPOSAL ON THE TABLE, OFFICIALS SAY

“People don’t want to hear this but even if we had a peace settlement between the Taliban and the government, I still think you need a small force there with intelligence and counter-terrorism capability… to make certain that the Al Qaeda and ISIS do not do harm to the U.S.,” Keane said.

He added, “the Taliban will not agree to that, so we’ll see, but if we can get to that point, we’re months away from this struggle.”

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Saturday he supported the plan but stressed that the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan would continue in the short and medium term.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani refused to comment on many specifics of the plan but said the time had come to “find a political solution to stop the war.” He said it was impossible to know whether the Taliban might take advantage of a drawdown in American military power in Afghanistan to reassert their own presence, but said the only way to find out was to “engage in the peace process.”

“The critical test is going to be: will the Taliban accept an election?” Ghani said.

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“For 18 years, the people of Afghanistan rejected the Taliban, they know they are the most unpopular insurgency of all kind,” Keane concluded. “Ghani knows that and that’s why he’s making people know publically that if we actually have a deal, the Taliban have to participate in a political process, and I don’t see that happening.”

Fox News’ Sam Dorman, Eric Shawn and The Associated Press contributed to this report,

Westlake Legal Group image Gen. Jack Keane calls for 'healthy dose of skepticism' ahead of Taliban deal, potential US troop withdrawal Yael Halon fox-news/world/world-regions/asia fox-news/world/conflicts/afghanistan fox-news/shows/americas-news-hq-weekend fox-news/shows/americas-news-hq fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox-news/media/fox-news-flash fox news fnc/media fnc f9a9a5d4-3343-5aba-a0de-83f6f55df812 article   Westlake Legal Group image Gen. Jack Keane calls for 'healthy dose of skepticism' ahead of Taliban deal, potential US troop withdrawal Yael Halon fox-news/world/world-regions/asia fox-news/world/conflicts/afghanistan fox-news/shows/americas-news-hq-weekend fox-news/shows/americas-news-hq fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox-news/media/fox-news-flash fox news fnc/media fnc f9a9a5d4-3343-5aba-a0de-83f6f55df812 article

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US defense chief slams China as rising threat to world order

Westlake Legal Group AP20046332751235 US defense chief slams China as rising threat to world order fox-news/world/world-regions/china fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/state-department fox-news/politics/defense/secretary-of-defense fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 8b29dfea-e801-5336-b4ee-28e411566c37

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Saturday cast China as a rising threat to world order — saying the world’s most populous nation steals Western know-how, intimidates smaller neighbors and seeks an “advantage by any means and at any cost.”

A frequent critic of China, Esper used an address to an international security conference in Munich, Germany, to give his most comprehensive condemnation yet of a communist country that he said tops the Pentagon’s list of potential adversaries, followed by Russia, “rogue states” like North Korea and Iran, and continuing threats from extremist groups.

“The Chinese Communist Party is heading even faster and further in the wrong direction — more internal repression, more predatory economic practices, more heavy-handedness, and most concerning for me, a more aggressive military posture,” he said.

Esper stressed that the United States does not want conflicts with China, and noted that the U.S. government has provided medical supplies to help China combat a coronavirus outbreak that has infected over 67,000 people. Still, he said Beijing has made clear its long-term intentions and said Europe and the rest of the world must “wake up” to the threats that China poses.

“The Communist Party and its associated organs, including the People’s Liberation Army, are increasingly operating in theaters outside its borders, including Europe, and seeking advantage by any means, and at any cost,” he said.

“While we often doubt the transparency and forthrightness of Beijing, when it comes to their security aims, we should take the Chinese government at its word,” he said. “They have said that by 2035, the PRC intends to complete its military modernization, and, by 2049, it seeks to dominate Asia as the preeminent global military power.”

With words that echoed the Trump administration’s criticisms of Iran, Esper said China represses its people and threatens its neighbors.

“We want China to behave like a normal country,” Esper said, adding “and that means the Chinese government needs to change its policies and behaviors.”

CHINA EXPORTING LETHAL DRONES TO MIDDLE EAST, ESPER SAYS

Esper and his immediate predecessor, Jim Mattis, have sought to shift the main focus of U.S. military and security policy toward China and away from small wars against insurgents and extremists. U.S. allies in Europe, while concerned about China’s rise, are more immediately worried about Russia.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi later responded, telling the forum that Esper and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “say the same thing wherever they go about China” and dismissed their remarks as “lies.”

“The root cause of all these problems and issues is that the U.S. does not want to see the rapid development and rejuvenation of China, and still less would they want to accept the success of a socialist country,” Wang said through a translator.

He said China had a “right to develop” and said if Beijing and Washington worked together, it would benefit the whole world.

“The most important task for China and the U.S. is to sit down together to have a serious dialogue and find a way for two major countries with different social systems to live in harmony and interact in peace,” he said. “China’s ready and we hope the U.S. will work with us.”

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In remarks to the conference earlier Saturday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said China presents challenges as well as opportunities for Western nations. He said Europe and the United States need to work out a united approach to China’s rise.

“There are opportunities, but also many challenges,” Stoltenberg said, adding that it’s important for Western countries to keep open lines of communication with Beijing.

Also at the Munich conference, Pompeo refuted assertions that the United States under President Donald Trump was rejecting its traditional international leadership role.

“I’m happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliance is grossly over-exaggerated,” Pompeo said. “The West is winning.”

Westlake Legal Group AP20046332751235 US defense chief slams China as rising threat to world order fox-news/world/world-regions/china fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/state-department fox-news/politics/defense/secretary-of-defense fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 8b29dfea-e801-5336-b4ee-28e411566c37   Westlake Legal Group AP20046332751235 US defense chief slams China as rising threat to world order fox-news/world/world-regions/china fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/state-department fox-news/politics/defense/secretary-of-defense fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 8b29dfea-e801-5336-b4ee-28e411566c37

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Sexual assaults at US military academies rise sharply

Reports of sexual assault at the nation’s military academies rose sharply in the past school year, a new Pentagon survey has found.

The numbers for the 2018-19 school year jumped by one-third over the previous school year, according to the Pentagon’s “Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies.” The Pentagon submitted the report to Congress Thursday.

“Our data last year, and the findings from this years’ report, reflect the progress we have made in some areas, and the significant work that remains,” said Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency.

Cadets and midshipmen reported 122 sexual assaults in the 2018-19 school year, according to the report.

 MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULTS RISE BY 44% AMONG FEMALES IN RANKS: PENTAGON REPORT

Westlake Legal Group west-point-iStock Sexual assaults at US military academies rise sharply Robert Gearty fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/us fnc article 056f579f-5fc1-5b3f-bec1-38b35389408d

U.S. Military Academy at West Point (iStock)

In 2017-18, the number was 92, a 32 percent jump.

There were 27 additional sexual assaults reported in 2018-19, including some from civilians and active service members, bringing the total to 149 – and up from 117 in 2017-18.

‘SEXUAL ASSAULT CRISIS’: UNWANTED CONTACT REPORTS HIT ALL-TIME HIGH AT COAST GUARD ACADEMY

The Pentagon said it would await a more detailed report in 2021 to decide if the new numbers were signs of a more prevalent problem of sexual assault at the Army, Air Force and Navy academies.

The report cited the academies’ underlying culture tolerant of sexually harassing behavior and alcohol misuse as risk factors for sexual assault.

“Female cadets and midshipmen expressed the perceived need to adapt to social norms to fit in with the ‘boy’s club,’” the authors of the report wrote. “They noted a number of behaviors embedded in the ‘bro’ culture, including sexual jokes, making sexual comments, gestures, or advances, and unwanted touching that they tolerate to be socially accepted.”

An advocate for victims of sexual assault in the military pointed to last year’s report and said this year’s numbers reflect an increase in incidents, not just a greater willingness to report them, USA Today reported.

Don Christensen, president of Protect our Defenders and a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force, told the paper that he didn’t see the report as good news.

CLICK HERE FOR THE FOX NEWS APP

“Rather,” he said, “it’s a reflection of a worsening problem.”

Westlake Legal Group west-point-iStock Sexual assaults at US military academies rise sharply Robert Gearty fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/us fnc article 056f579f-5fc1-5b3f-bec1-38b35389408d   Westlake Legal Group west-point-iStock Sexual assaults at US military academies rise sharply Robert Gearty fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/us fnc article 056f579f-5fc1-5b3f-bec1-38b35389408d

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Sexual assaults at US military academies rise sharply

Reports of sexual assault at the nation’s military academies rose sharply in the past school year, a new Pentagon survey has found.

The numbers for the 2018-19 school year jumped by one-third over the previous school year, according to the Pentagon’s “Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies.” The Pentagon submitted the report to Congress Thursday.

“Our data last year, and the findings from this years’ report, reflect the progress we have made in some areas, and the significant work that remains,” said Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency.

Cadets and midshipmen reported 122 sexual assaults in the 2018-19 school year, according to the report.

 MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULTS RISE BY 44% AMONG FEMALES IN RANKS: PENTAGON REPORT

Westlake Legal Group west-point-iStock Sexual assaults at US military academies rise sharply Robert Gearty fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/us fnc article 056f579f-5fc1-5b3f-bec1-38b35389408d

U.S. Military Academy at West Point (iStock)

In 2017-18, the number was 92, a 32 percent jump.

There were 27 additional sexual assaults reported in 2018-19, including some from civilians and active service members, bringing the total to 149 – and up from 117 in 2017-18.

‘SEXUAL ASSAULT CRISIS’: UNWANTED CONTACT REPORTS HIT ALL-TIME HIGH AT COAST GUARD ACADEMY

The Pentagon said it would await a more detailed report in 2021 to decide if the new numbers were signs of a more prevalent problem of sexual assault at the Army, Air Force and Navy academies.

The report cited the academies’ underlying culture tolerant of sexually harassing behavior and alcohol misuse as risk factors for sexual assault.

“Female cadets and midshipmen expressed the perceived need to adapt to social norms to fit in with the ‘boy’s club,’” the authors of the report wrote. “They noted a number of behaviors embedded in the ‘bro’ culture, including sexual jokes, making sexual comments, gestures, or advances, and unwanted touching that they tolerate to be socially accepted.”

An advocate for victims of sexual assault in the military pointed to last year’s report and said this year’s numbers reflect an increase in incidents, not just a greater willingness to report them, USA Today reported.

Don Christensen, president of Protect our Defenders and a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force, told the paper that he didn’t see the report as good news.

CLICK HERE FOR THE FOX NEWS APP

“Rather,” he said, “it’s a reflection of a worsening problem.”

Westlake Legal Group west-point-iStock Sexual assaults at US military academies rise sharply Robert Gearty fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/us fnc article 056f579f-5fc1-5b3f-bec1-38b35389408d   Westlake Legal Group west-point-iStock Sexual assaults at US military academies rise sharply Robert Gearty fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/us fnc article 056f579f-5fc1-5b3f-bec1-38b35389408d

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Iranian missile attack on US base in Iraq left 34 soldiers with concussions, Pentagon says

Thirty-four American troops suffered concussions during the Iranian missile attack on a base in Iraq earlier this month following the killing of Revolutionary Guards Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Pentagon said.

The announcement Friday comes after U.S. Central Command said last week that only 11 soldiers were flown out of Al Assad Air Base for treatment of concussion symptoms.

Eight U.S. troops have since returned to the U.S. for additional treatment, Jonathan Hoffman, the chief spokesman for the Department of Defense, said Friday.

Westlake Legal Group iraq-base-damage-1 Iranian missile attack on US base in Iraq left 34 soldiers with concussions, Pentagon says Lucas Tomlinson Greg Norman fox-news/world/world-regions/iraq fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/world fnc bea41a93-47e4-50ba-903e-fe6f321ec123 article

U.S. soldiers and journalists inspect the rubble at a site of Iranian bombing, in Al Assad Air Base, in Anbar, Iraq. (AP)

IMAGES SHOW SCALE OF DAMAGE AT IRAQI BASE FOLLOWING IRANIAN AIRSTRIKES

Half of the 34 injured troops have returned to duty in Iraq, he added.

The Jan. 8 explosions at the base — where about 1,500 Americans and coalition forces are stationed — created large craters, knocked over concrete barriers and destroyed facilities that house dozens of soldiers.

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U.S. forces first used the base after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Later, American troops were stationed there amid the fight against the Islamic State terror network.

Trump visited the sprawling airbase in December 2018, his first presidential visit to troops in the region.

Fox News’ Frank Miles contributed to this report.

Westlake Legal Group iraq-base-damage-1 Iranian missile attack on US base in Iraq left 34 soldiers with concussions, Pentagon says Lucas Tomlinson Greg Norman fox-news/world/world-regions/iraq fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/world fnc bea41a93-47e4-50ba-903e-fe6f321ec123 article   Westlake Legal Group iraq-base-damage-1 Iranian missile attack on US base in Iraq left 34 soldiers with concussions, Pentagon says Lucas Tomlinson Greg Norman fox-news/world/world-regions/iraq fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/world fnc bea41a93-47e4-50ba-903e-fe6f321ec123 article

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US mulls sending more missile-defense systems to Middle East: report

Just over a week after Iran fired 16 ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq where U.S. troops were stationed, the Pentagon is considering sending more missile-defense systems and other capabilities to the Middle East, according to a report.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy discussed the proposals with reporters Wednesday at a meeting of the Defense Writers Group, Military.com reported.

KT MCFARLAND ON IRAN LEADER’S LATEST THREATS: ‘THEY DON’T HAVE A LOT OF OPTIONS’

“They are a very capable enemy,” McCarthy said of Iran. “They have capabilities that can strike and hit Americans, so we are looking at additional capabilities that we could send to the region.”

“They are a very capable enemy. They have capabilities that can strike and hit Americans, so we are looking at additional capabilities that we could send to the region.”

— U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy

But McCarthy declined to be specific about exactly which technologies were under consideration.

“It could be a variety of enablers like missile defense, so we are looking at that,” he told the news outlet.

The attacks launched by Iran targeted the Al-Assad Air Base in Iraq as well as a separate base at Erbil. U.S. officials said 11 missiles struck Al-Assad, one struck Erbil and four missiles malfunctioned.

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-afbd20d1b84b44e0b9edaf06b90af749 US mulls sending more missile-defense systems to Middle East: report fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox-news/politics/defense fox news fnc/us fnc Dom Calicchio article 5433f8f0-9e5b-5178-a011-2850a3fca79d

​​​​​​​Missiles are fired from Kermanshah in western Iran targeting the Islamic State group in Syria, in this photo released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Oct. 1, 2018. (Sepahnews via Associated Press)

No U.S. casualties were reported.

The missile strikes Jan. 7 were viewed as Iran’s response to a U.S. drone strike four days earlier in Baghdad that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has continued using strong rhetoric against the West in the aftermath of last week’s attacks.

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On Wednesday, Rouhani warned in a televised speech that European forces, in addition to U.S. troops, “could be in danger” after leaders of Britain, France and Germany initiated a so-called “dispute process” as spelled out in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal negotiated with the West during the Obama administration.

The European leaders have argued that Iran has been violating terms of the pact, which could lead to the restoration of U.N. sanctions against the country.

Fox News’ Danielle Wallace contributed to this story.

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-afbd20d1b84b44e0b9edaf06b90af749 US mulls sending more missile-defense systems to Middle East: report fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox-news/politics/defense fox news fnc/us fnc Dom Calicchio article 5433f8f0-9e5b-5178-a011-2850a3fca79d   Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-afbd20d1b84b44e0b9edaf06b90af749 US mulls sending more missile-defense systems to Middle East: report fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox-news/politics/defense fox news fnc/us fnc Dom Calicchio article 5433f8f0-9e5b-5178-a011-2850a3fca79d

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US military’s Iran policy ‘not going to change overnight,’ Gen. Robert Scales says

Westlake Legal Group Scales- US military's Iran policy 'not going to change overnight,' Gen. Robert Scales says Talia Kaplan fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/world-regions/iraq fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/topic/fox-news-flash fox-news/shows/americas-news-hq-weekend fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/media fnc d792fe59-f7ef-5bd0-973c-7896c9bc2566 article

Retired U.S. Army Major General Robert Scales reacted Sunday to the protests that had erupted in Iran after the rogue nation admitted it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane killing all 176 people on board, saying America’s military policy in the country “is not going to change overnight.”

“Now that the nuclear deal is off the table, the Trump administration can talk directly to the Iranian people and say that we’re with the people, not with the ayatollah,” Scales said on “America’s News HQ.”

“The other thing I think that’s important here is that Trump’s strategy is principally economic rather than military.”

“By squeezing them economically with the sanctions, they also add that additional pressure that stresses the day-to-day lives of the Iranian people,” he continued. “This is a long game focused on fomenting revolution.”

President Trump tweeted a message of support to the protesters on Saturday, in both Farsi and English, promising his administration would continue to stand with them in solidarity.

Scales said Trump had two choices.

“First is a covert information war used principally through social media,” the retired general explained, described as Washington making contact “periodically with protesters to try to encourage them and give them advice on what to do.”

TRUMP TWEETS SUPPORT OF IRANIAN ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTERS AFTER UKRAINIAN PASSENGER PLANE SHOT DOWN

“Secondly is the covert military operations that haven’t let up at all in the past year and will likely continue,” he added. “And, of course, those are highly classified, but they tend to be very, very effective over the long term. This is not going to change overnight.”

Scales also weighed in shortly after new reports surfaced that four members of Iraq’s military were wounded Sunday in an attack by at least six rockets targeting an air base just north of Baghdad where American trainers have been present. Sunday’s attack came just days after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces, in response to the U.S.-ordered killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

“We reassured our partners and allies in the region that we will stand up and defend our interests,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “We do not expect any further attacks.”

When asked if there was a little hubris in saying more attacks from the Iranians or their proxies weren’t expected, Scales responded by saying, “Yeah, but this is small beer.”

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The retired general said a local militia likely conducted Sunday’s attack. “This is a long way from resumption of the surrogate strategic campaign by the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.] They’re back on their heels. With Soleimani dead, they’re going to have to find another moral leader of this movement and restart it. We’re going to have a period of pause while the Iranians try to get their act together.”

Fox News’ Leland Vittert and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Westlake Legal Group Scales- US military's Iran policy 'not going to change overnight,' Gen. Robert Scales says Talia Kaplan fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/world-regions/iraq fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/topic/fox-news-flash fox-news/shows/americas-news-hq-weekend fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/media fnc d792fe59-f7ef-5bd0-973c-7896c9bc2566 article   Westlake Legal Group Scales- US military's Iran policy 'not going to change overnight,' Gen. Robert Scales says Talia Kaplan fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/world-regions/iraq fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/topic/fox-news-flash fox-news/shows/americas-news-hq-weekend fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/media fnc d792fe59-f7ef-5bd0-973c-7896c9bc2566 article

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US soldiers killed in Afghanistan roadside bomb blast identified

Military officials identified the two U.S. service members supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel who were killed Saturday after an improvised explosive device (IED) hit their vehicle in southern Afghanistan.

The Pentagon announced in a statement that the two soldiers killed were 29-year-old Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin of Newport News, Virginia; and 21-year-old Pfc. Miguel A. Villalon of Joliet, Illinois.

Both soldiers were conducting operations as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission.

“When our nation called for its best airborne combat engineers to deploy into harm’s way, Staff Sgt. McLaughlin and Pfc. Villalon answered without hesitation. They lived their motto, ‘Essayons,’ and embodied the values of the All-American engineer,” Col. Art Sellers, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, said in a statement. “Their loved ones are now surrounded by a caring community offering comfort and assistance through this difficult time.”

Maj. Gen. James Mingus, the 82nd Airborne Division Commander, added in a statement, “These paratroopers represent the very best of our nation and our army. Three-time volunteers, they went when our nation called and paid the ultimate sacrifice. They will be honored, mourned, but never forgotten and we are committed to taking care of their families for life.”

Westlake Legal Group Villalon-McLaughlin US soldiers killed in Afghanistan roadside bomb blast identified Lucas Tomlinson Frank Miles fox-news/world/world-regions/asia fox-news/world/terrorism fox-news/world/conflicts/afghanistan fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/world fnc article abd1d2be-b9f6-50a0-b59b-58474e59ae4e

Military officials identified the two soldiers killed as 21-year-old Pfc. Miguel A. Villalon of Joliet, Illinois, left; and 29-year-old Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin of Newport News, Virginia. Both soldiers were assigned to 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (82nd Airborne Division)

McLaughlin joined the Army in 2012 and after completing Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training, he was assigned to the 68th Engineer Company, 62nd Engineer Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas, as a horizontal construction engineer.  In 2016, he was assigned to the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he served as a horizontal construction engineer and later as a squad leader.  This was his first combat deployment.

McLaughlin’s awards and decorations included the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with “C” Device, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Good Conduct Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Action Badge and the Basic Parachutist Badge. He was a 2018 graduate of the U.S. Army Advanced Airborne School Jumpmaster Course.

McLaughlin was survived by his wife and four children.

Villalon joined the Army in 2018 and after completing Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training in 2019 at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he was assigned to the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg where he served as a combat engineer. This was his first combat deployment.

Villalon’s awards and decorations included the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal with “C” Device, the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal and the Combat Action Badge.

Villalon was survived by his parents.

The Taliban took responsibility for Saturday’s attack, which injured two other American soldiers. A Taliban spokesman said it occurred in the southern Kandahar province.

The Taliban have controlled or held sway over roughly half of Afghanistan. The militants have continued to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, even as they’ve held peace talks with the U.S.

Scores of Afghan civilians also have been killed in the crossfire or by roadside bombs planted by militants.

The U.S. and Taliban, whose government had harbored Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden, have been in on-again, off-again negotiations to bring an end to 18 years of fighting, said to be the longest war in American history.

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Over 2,400 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan. Last year, 23 American troops were killed.

The U.S. has had about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, with about 5,000 of them doing counterterrorism missions. The have been part of a broader NATO mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Westlake Legal Group Villalon-McLaughlin US soldiers killed in Afghanistan roadside bomb blast identified Lucas Tomlinson Frank Miles fox-news/world/world-regions/asia fox-news/world/terrorism fox-news/world/conflicts/afghanistan fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/world fnc article abd1d2be-b9f6-50a0-b59b-58474e59ae4e   Westlake Legal Group Villalon-McLaughlin US soldiers killed in Afghanistan roadside bomb blast identified Lucas Tomlinson Frank Miles fox-news/world/world-regions/asia fox-news/world/terrorism fox-news/world/conflicts/afghanistan fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/world fnc article abd1d2be-b9f6-50a0-b59b-58474e59ae4e

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Some Saudi service members in US facing expulsion after NAS Pensacola shooting probe: reports

More than a dozen Saudi service members undergoing training at U.S. military facilities are expected to be expelled from the U.S. following an investigation into last month’s deadly shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, according to reports.

None of the Saudis targeted for expulsion is accused of aiding the Saudi second lieutenant whom authorities say killed three U.S. sailors and injured eight other people in the Dec. 6 rampage, CNN reported. But some of them were found to have ties to extremist groups and others are accused of possessing child pornography, the report said.

NAVY PILOTS DEMAND MORE BE ARMED ON BASES IN LETTER TO LAWMAKERS AND MILITARY BRASS

The Justice Department is also expected to conclude that the Pensacola attack was an act of terrorism, CNN reported. The FBI has been investigating the case as possible terrorism since discovering writings by the gunman, who was killed by reponding sheriff’s deputies, The Washington Post reported.

Following the attack, about a dozen Saudi trainees were confined to their quarters in Pensacola as the FBI investigated the shooting as a possible terror attack and the Pentagon launched a review of some 850 Saudis undergoing training throughout the U.S., the report said.

“In the wake of the Pensacola tragedy, the Department of Defense restricted to classroom training programs foreign military students from Saudi Arabia while we conducted a review and enhancement of our foreign student vetting procedures. That training pause is still in place while we implement new screening and security measures,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver told the Washington Post.

CNN said its report was based on conversations with “multiple sources.” Officials from the FBI and Justice Department would not comment. CNN said U.S. Navy officials referred questions to the Defense Department, which had not responded to the network.

The gunman, identified as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, was believed to have acted alone. He is said to have become angered when an instructor at Pensacola referred to him as “Porn Stash,” comparing his mustache to that of a stereotype of an actor in pornography films, The New York Times reported.

Westlake Legal Group Mohammed-Saeed-Alshamrani-REUTERS Some Saudi service members in US facing expulsion after NAS Pensacola shooting probe: reports fox-news/world/world-regions/saudi-arabia fox-news/world/terrorism fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/florida fox-news/us/military/navy fox-news/us/military fox-news/us/crime/homicide fox-news/tech/topics/security fox-news/tech/topics/fbi fox-news/tech/companies/apple fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/us fnc Dom Calicchio article 691d7390-9340-5b7e-9c9e-fd66dd4fcd83

Royal Saudi Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, airman accused of killing three people at a U.S. Navy base in Pensacola, Fla., is seen in an undated military identification card photo released by the FBI, Dec. 7, 2019. (FBI via Reuters)

Meanwhile, the FBI has asked Apple for help in accessing data from a pair of iPhones owned by the gunman.

Investigators are hoping that data stored on the phone may help them learn more about a possible motive behind the killings.

Apple has previously resisted efforts by government authorities to access phone customers’ data, citing a company commitment to its customers’ privacy. But Apple told Fox News it is cooperating in the Pensacola investigation.

Westlake Legal Group NAS-Pensacola-2-US-Navy Some Saudi service members in US facing expulsion after NAS Pensacola shooting probe: reports fox-news/world/world-regions/saudi-arabia fox-news/world/terrorism fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/florida fox-news/us/military/navy fox-news/us/military fox-news/us/crime/homicide fox-news/tech/topics/security fox-news/tech/topics/fbi fox-news/tech/companies/apple fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/us fnc Dom Calicchio article 691d7390-9340-5b7e-9c9e-fd66dd4fcd83

​​​​​​​The main gate at Naval Air Station Pensacola is seen March 16, 2016, in Pensacola, Fla. (U.S. Navy/Patrick Nichols)

“We have the greatest respect for law enforcement and have always worked cooperatively to help in their investigations,” the Apple statement said. “When the FBI requested information from us relating to this case a month ago we gave them all of the data in our possession and we will continue to support them with the data we have available.”

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Following an unrelated attack in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015 that left 14 people dead, Apple denied an FBI request to access data on the shooter’s phone but was later ordered to comply through a judge’s order. But by that time the FBI had already hired a different company for the job, USA Today reported.

Westlake Legal Group NAS-Pensacola-2-US-Navy Some Saudi service members in US facing expulsion after NAS Pensacola shooting probe: reports fox-news/world/world-regions/saudi-arabia fox-news/world/terrorism fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/florida fox-news/us/military/navy fox-news/us/military fox-news/us/crime/homicide fox-news/tech/topics/security fox-news/tech/topics/fbi fox-news/tech/companies/apple fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/us fnc Dom Calicchio article 691d7390-9340-5b7e-9c9e-fd66dd4fcd83   Westlake Legal Group NAS-Pensacola-2-US-Navy Some Saudi service members in US facing expulsion after NAS Pensacola shooting probe: reports fox-news/world/world-regions/saudi-arabia fox-news/world/terrorism fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/florida fox-news/us/military/navy fox-news/us/military fox-news/us/crime/homicide fox-news/tech/topics/security fox-news/tech/topics/fbi fox-news/tech/companies/apple fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/us fnc Dom Calicchio article 691d7390-9340-5b7e-9c9e-fd66dd4fcd83

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US deploys 6 B-52 bombers to Diego Garcia in Indian Ocean after Soleimani strike

The U.S. Air Force is deploying six B-52 bombers to Diego Garcia, an island base in the Indian Ocean, amid the rising threat of Iran retaliating after a U.S.-led airstrike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Westlake Legal Group Diego-Garcia-Reuters US deploys 6 B-52 bombers to Diego Garcia in Indian Ocean after Soleimani strike Vandana Rambaran fox-news/world fox-news/us fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/world fnc article 9b7e0a31-d427-5532-ac12-3ced63f546f6

An undated file photo shows Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago and site of a major United States military base in the middle of the Indian Ocean leased from Britain in 1966.

The move is the latest in efforts by U.S. military officials to bolster resources near the Middle East after the Iraqi Shia militia Kataib Hezbollah hinted at possible retaliatory attacks to avenge Soleimani’s death.

PENTAGON SAYS US MILITARY WON’T LEAVE IRAQ, ‘DRAFT LETTER’ ON TROOP MOVEMENTS RELEASED BY ‘MISTAKE’

The B-52 bombs were reportedly spotted being transported from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to Diego Garcia, which is located 2,300 miles south of Iran’s southernmost tip and ample striking distance for bombers who refuel in mid-air. The aircraft have have eight engines and are designed to carry a large cache of weapons including cruise missiles, conventional and laser-guided bombs, and nuclear gravity bombs.

The U.S. military had previously sent a bomber task force to Qatar in May, but the bombers left after a few months, a U.S. defense official said.

Westlake Legal Group B-52-bomber US deploys 6 B-52 bombers to Diego Garcia in Indian Ocean after Soleimani strike Vandana Rambaran fox-news/world fox-news/us fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/world fnc article 9b7e0a31-d427-5532-ac12-3ced63f546f6

Bossier City, Louisiana, U.S.A.-April 6, 2017: A U.S. Air Force B 52 bomber, assigned to the Air Force Global Strike Command’s Eighth Air Force, prepares to land at Barksdale Air Force Base.

On Monday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attempted to quell confusion about a letter circulating from the U.S. military telling Iraq that it would withdraw troops from the region a day after  Iraqi lawmakers approved a resolution calling to expel U.S. troops from the country.

Both Esper and Milley called the unsigned letter a mistake and said the U.S. has no intention of withdrawing troops from the Middle East as tensions ramp up. Instead, Milley told reporters the U.S. military is bringing in reinforcements from Kuwait and beefing up helicopter force protection inside Iraq, particularly in the heavily fortified Green Zone, which has been bombarded with rocket attacks over the past three days.

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Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report. 

Westlake Legal Group B-52-bomber US deploys 6 B-52 bombers to Diego Garcia in Indian Ocean after Soleimani strike Vandana Rambaran fox-news/world fox-news/us fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/world fnc article 9b7e0a31-d427-5532-ac12-3ced63f546f6   Westlake Legal Group B-52-bomber US deploys 6 B-52 bombers to Diego Garcia in Indian Ocean after Soleimani strike Vandana Rambaran fox-news/world fox-news/us fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox news fnc/world fnc article 9b7e0a31-d427-5532-ac12-3ced63f546f6

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