Category Archives: Defense Department

US Embassy Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines Flight #MH370, USS Pinckney to Join Search Efforts

- Domani Spero

On March 8, Malaysia Airlines released a statement that it is still unable to establish any contact or determine the whereabouts of flight MH370. Other details below:

  • Subang ATC had lost contact with the aircraft at 2.40am. The last known position of MH370 before it disappeared off the radar was 065515 North (longitude) and 1033443 East (latitude).
  • MH370 is a Boeing 777-200 aircraft on a code share with China Southern Airlines. It departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am today for Beijing. The aircraft was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30am local Beijing time. The flight had a total number of 227 passengers and 12 crew members. The passengers were from 14 different countries, most of whom are from China.
  • An international search and rescue mission was mobilized this morning. At this stage, our search and rescue teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have failed to find evidence of any wreckage.
  • For the passenger manifest of MH370, click here.

The U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur released the following statement regarding the missing plane. (full statement here):

The U.S. Embassy is closely following the developments regarding Malaysia Airlines flight #MH370. We extend our thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of those on board the Malaysia Airlines flight.

At this time, we can confirm that three U.S. citizens were on board.  We are in contact with the individuals’ families.  Out of respect for them, we are not providing additional information at this time. We are working to assess whether additional U.S. citizens may have been on board the flight.
[...]
Malaysia Airlines has established dedicated phone numbers for family members and friends of passengers to contact the airline directly for information.  Family and friends should contact the airline at +603 8787 126 or +603 87871629.  The airline is also providing updates to the general public on its website, http://www.malaysiaairlines.com/hq/en.html.

US Embassy KL also announced that USS Pinckney has been sent to assist in the search efforts:

The United States Navy Seventh Fleets is sending the USS Pinckney, along with a P-3C aircraft to assist in search efforts. The USS Pinckney (DDG 91), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, is en route to the southern coast of Vietnam to aid in the search efforts.  The ship could be in vicinity of the missing jet within 24 hours and carries two MH-60R helicopters which can be equipped for search and rescue.  In addition, A P-3C Orion aircraft will also depart shortly from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan bringing long-range search, radar and communications capabilities to the efforts.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet's 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet’s 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

According to the U.S. Navy, USS Pinckney was conducting training and maritime security operations in international waters of the South China Sea.

Also, U.S. officials are reportedly investigating terrorism concerns after two people listed as passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines jet turned out not to be on the plane and had reported their passports stolen in Thailand.

The passports stolen were from nationals of Italy and Austria; both countries are in the U.S. visa waiver program.

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AAFSW: A Guide to Connecting Communities at Overseas Posts via Facebook and WordPress

– Domani Spero

There was a time when embassy newsletters were distributed only in printed format. Do you remember that?  Later they were distributed as Word documents, then eventually as PDF files. We know that some posts put the newsletters up on the Intranet, not sure if all posts do this now. But even if they do put it up on the Intranet, only a third of all FS spouses are working (some outside the mission), which means more than two-thirds do not have regular access to the Intranet. We would not be surprise if at some posts, spouses still have to go into the Community Liaison Office (CLO) to use dedicated terminals to do stuff on the Intranet.

Hey! Look at the bright side, at least they’re not making spouses use the Wang for what they need to do online.

Typically the newsletters are produced by the CLO or by a contractor. We learned that at the Tri-Mission in Vienna, the official weekly PDF newsletter couldn’t serve as an easily accessible timely resource for answers to all the nitty-gritty questions that new arrivals to post always seem to have, such as finding a good dentist or figuring out the public transport system. Tri-Mission Vienna is not alone on this, of course. Most embassies have CLOs but they do not serve as call centers. At the time when smartphones  are ubiquitous, when there are 1,310,000,000 users on Facebook with 54,200,000 pages, access to timely information is still a challenge for some, particularly overseas.

Enter a couple of Foreign Service spouses who wanted a way to share information quickly and efficiently.  Kelly Bembry Midura and Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel put together a Facebook group, “Vienna Vagabonds” to provide support and advice to the Tri-Mission community.  Later they developed “TriVienna” (using free WordPress) as an unofficial resource for the American community in Austria. The site includes information for newcomers as well resources for navigating the city, schools, services and travels to neighboring areas. There are a few other posts with similar unofficial sites but they are still in the minority.

The two spouses have now put together a guide, through the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) on how to set up similar online communities at posts overseas.  The guide which is pretty straight-forward includes setting up FB pages at post, setting up a community website using WordPress, and privacy and security.  CLOs everywhere should applaud this effort. Community members working together could only enhance the cohesion of the mission and this should make information and resources easily available and shareable.

Before anyone complains about this to Diplomatic Security, please read the material, okay?

Kelly Bembry Midura is a writer and the Content Manager for AAFSW (http://www.aafsw.org). She has for many years advocated for making information more accessible to Foreign Service family members.  She blogs at http://wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com. Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel worked as a research social scientist before her husband convinced her to try life in the Foreign Service. She blogs at http://kidswithdiplomaticimmunity.wordpress.com.

As an aside on Intranet access for spouses — the Defense Department has long provided online access and information to spouses of service members. For instance, Military OneSource offers 24/7/365 access to information on housing, schools, confidential counseling and referral services at no cost to Service members or their families.  Its Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program also offers spouses assistance with career exploration, education and training, career readiness, and career connections.

At the State Department on the other hand, spouses and family members do not even have access to feedback about life at post from other employees, unless they have logins to the Intranet.  Out of  11,528 spouses and adult family members, over 8,700 are not working or are not working at the mission and do not have regular Intranet access.  We suspect that funding the Intranet access for FS spouses and family members would cost less than a wink of what we’re spending at the Sinkhole of Afghanistan.

But — here we are in 2014 and the 21st century statecraft is still missing at home.

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US Embassy Greece: What Happened to Sgt Laloup’s Heart? Parents Seeking Answers File Suit

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– Domani Spero

According to a lawsuit filed by his parents, U.S. Marine Sgt. Brian LaLoup, 21, died after he attended an off-duty embassy party, on August 12, 2012. Sgt. LaLoup served as part of the Marine Corps Security Group assigned to the American Embassy in Athens, Greece. During the party, Sgt. LaLoup reportedly told a fellow service member that he was thinking about suicide and was reported to the Detachment Commander.  The lawsuit alleged that the Detachment Commander “failed to follow appropriate protocols and procedures, which required him to obtain supervision and medical treatment for Sgt. LaLoup, and instead decided to take him out for more drinking. Prior to leaving and despite being visibly intoxicated and distraught, Sgt. LaLoup was allowed to pass the guard at the entry to the chancery and enter the response room. The chancery, which had been left unsecured, is where weapons were stored. Thereafter, according to military reports, Sgt. LaLoup shot himself in the head with an embassy service weapon.”

Sergeant LaLoup enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on May 8, 2008 and was on continuous active duty from February 9, 2009 until the date of his death.  Prior to his assignment in Greece, Sgt. Laloup was posted at the US Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.  Sgt. LaLoup reported for embassy security duty at Embassy Athens on May 20, 2012, On August 12, 2012, the United States Marne Corps informed Beverly and Craig LaLoup that their son had passed away.

The lawsuit alleged that at the time his body was returned to the United States, Plaintiffs, Sgt. LaLoup’s parents, Craig and Beverly LaLoup, were given knowingly false information about Sgt. LaLoup’s remains and as a result, “the LaLoups unwittingly buried their son without his heart.” According to Mrs. LaLoup:

1St SGT Dixon was at our home at 106 Lloyd Avenue, Downingtown, PA to have us sign more papers. During this visit, I asked him what would happen if more of Brian’s scalp was recovered. Would it be returned to us? He looked at me funny as he started to go thru his folder and said “Ma’am, what are you talking about?” I replied, the missing scalp parts. What would be done if more was recovered. He replied to me, as he was still searching for something in his folder, that the scalp is not what was missing. He even stated that he had just gone thru the folder before he came to make sure he was familiar with everything and did not recall seeing anything about missing scalp parts. We all sat there for a few moments as he continued to go thru his folder. Finally, he found what he was looking for and said, “Ma’am, that is not what was missing.” “I stated, what do you mean?” He extended to me a piece of paper as he stated it was his heart that was missing asked him why were we told it was parts of his scalp. His reply was, “that they were not going to tell us because that is not something you tell a grieving mother.” I read the document he had handed me and sure enough, it was a letter from the Dover Mortuary to Marines Casualty Office informing them “remains of the above individual are incomplete. Please obtain subsequent recovery instructions from the next of kin. Remains Summary: Non-intact body. Embalmed and autopsied in Greece. Missing heart”. It was validated by Jairo E. Fortalatin, Investigator and Authorized by AbuBakr Marzouuk, Col USAF, MC, FS.

The complaint further alleges that “in an attempt to pacify” the Laloups, the defendants and the Greek government “had a heart shipped to Dover claiming that it was Sgt. LaLoup’s missing heart” but that DNA testing revealed that the heart was not Sgt. LaLoup’s heart.

Philadelphia’s Metro reports that a letter shared through U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey’s office quotes the then U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel Smith about the efforts made to prevent an autopsy.

Smith told the hospital not to autopsy LaLoup’s body, and also notified the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to the letter. When Smith’s staff requested the hospital release LaLoup’s body on Aug. 16, they declined and said they would autopsy the body. Smith says he called the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chief of Staff of the Foreign Minister insisting there be no autopsy, and on Aug. 17 called again to say that an autopsy would violate the Vienna Convention.

The autopsy took place on Aug. 18. After the LaLoups told Smith on Sept. 18 that Sgt. LaLoup’s body was missing its heart, his staff interviewed the physician who performed the autopsy.

Ambassador Daniel Smith was appointed chief of mission to the U.S. Embassy in Athens in 2010.  In October last year, President Obama nominated him to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (State/INR). He is currently awaiting Senate confirmation.

Last month, the Laloups reportedly added the Greek government and the Athens hospital that conducted the autopsy to the list of defendants to their lawsuit. Philly.com’s report here includes a quote from the spokesman of the  Armed Forces Medical Examiner System:

“Remains of most U.S. service members who die overseas are sent to the United States for autopsy, said Paul Stone, a spokesman for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. However, some countries – including Greece – maintain the right in formal agreements with the U.S. military to investigate such deaths using their own medical staff.”

The complaint is  LALOUP et al v. UNITED STATES DEPT. OF DEFENSE et al, Pennsylvania Eastern District Court, 2:2013cv07124.

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Senate Report on Benghazi: Nothing Surprising, Spreading the Blame, Notable Details

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– Domani Spero

Yesterday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) released its Review of the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September11-12, 2012 together with Additional Views.  You may read it here. The Armed Services Committee also released six files from the declassified transcripts of the Benghazi briefings here.

The report notes that between 1998 (the year of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) and 2012, 273 significant attacks were carried out against U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel. In the course of its investigation, SSCI conducted on-the record Member and staff meetings with officials already named previously in news reports and with  the unnamed former CIA Chief of Base in Benghazi who was at the Annex on the night of the attacks and U.S. Government security personnel on the ground in Benghazi the night of the attacks.

Nothing in the findings or recommendations of the Committee was particularly surprising.  The report spreads the blame around not just on the State Department, Defense, the intel community, but also the late Ambassador Stevens for declining twice additional security offered by AFRCOM’s General Carter Ham.   But there are some notable details that we have not seen before:

More specificity about the team that flew to Benghazi:

A seven-person security team (consisting of two DoD personnel, four CIA personnel, and a linguist) flew from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli to Benghazi and successfully helped evacuate the Americans from the Annex to the airport. It is important to clarify that, at the time of the attacks in Benghazi, there were six DoD personnel assigned to Embassy Tripoli. Four employees were under Special Operations Command Africa (SOC-AFRICA) and reported through a similar, but separate, chain of command within AFRICOM. The other two individuals from that team were DoD personnel working (based on a memorandum of understanding) under a separate special operations task force. According to the DoD, the four staff under SOC.,.AFRICA were told by their command to stay to protect Embassy Tripoli due to concerns of a similar attack in Tripoli.

What about State’s Intel Bureau?

Based on the Committee’s review, the State Department’s INR disseminated no intelligence products related to the Benghazi attacks in the year following the attacks. Considering the attacks began on a State Department facility, involved the deaths of two State Department personnel, and were an important indication of escalating threats against U.S. facilities and personnel in the region, the Committee fmds it unsettling that INR chose not to, or was unable to, disseminate any analysis related to the attacks or the implications of the attacks.
[…]
Yet, INR officials have access to State Department information and perspectives that many in the Intelligence Community do not; therefore, INR should play a more active–not just a coordinating-role in analysis for the IC and not just the State Department. The State Department’s Inspector General went even further and found that INR should be the office to produce a comprehensive security assessment for each post based on all available diplomatic and intelligence sources.

Individuals Supporting the Investigation, Killed?

The Libyan Government has not shown the political incentive or will within its own country to seek out, arrest, and prosecute individuals believed to be associated with the attacks. Furthermore, the security environment in Benghazi remains extremely dangerous for individuals wishing to work with the U.S. Government on its investigation into the attacks. In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller noted that as many as 15 individuals supporting the investigation or otherwise helpful to the United States have been killed in Benghazi since the attacks, underscoring the lawless and chaotic circumstances in eastern Libya. It is unclear whether their killings were related to the Benghazi investigation.

Interesting Footnotes!

#18| SSCI Transcript, Hearing on Security Issues at Benghazi and Threats to U.S. Intelligence and Diplomatic Personne/.and Facilities Worldwide Since the Attacks, December 4; 2012, p. 67. However, on page 47 of its classified report, the ARB concluded: “While none of the five DS agents discharged their weapons, the Board concluded that this was a sound tactical decision, given the overwhelming degree to which they were outgunned and outnumbered: A decision to discharge their weapons may well have resulted in more American deaths that night, without saving lives. The multiple trips that DS agents and Annex security team members made into a burning, smoke-filled building showed readiness to risk life and limb to save.“

#65 | The Committee recognizes that there were communications between State Department employees in Libya regarding security during this time period, including an August 22, 2012, document entitled, “Security Requests for U.S. Mission Benghazi” that was sent from OS agents in Benghazi to the RSO in Tripoli that included specific requests for (I) physical security, (2) equipment, and (3) manpower. There is no indication those requests were passed on to State Department Headquarters in the form of a cable.

#68 | An August 28, 2012, memo entitled, “Regional Security Officer Turnover” from the outgoing RSO stated: “U.S.Mission Benghazi has an uncertain future; Post is scheduled to close December 31,2012. Various alternatives are being proposed, including colocating with the Annex. The RSO should be aware that requests for expensive security upgrades may be difficult to obtain as headquarters is hesitant to allocate money to a post that may be closing in a few months.” Classified Report of the ARB, December 18,2012, Appendix 6, p. I.

Wondering why it was necessary to classify #18 and #68 from the publicly available ARB Report? Do you know?

The Senate report in 85 pages long.  The report itself is 42 pages long with its findings and recommendations. The report includes three appendices; as well, there are “Additional Views” attached to the report:  a 5-page one from the Democrats on the SSIC (Senators Feinstein, Rockefeller IV, Wyden, Mikulski, Udall, Warner, Heinrich and Maine Senator Angus King);  a 16-page one from the GOP members of the Committee namely, Vice-Chairman Chambliss and Senators Burr, Risch, Coats, Rubio and Coburn and a 4-page statement by Maine Senator Susan Collins who co-authored with then Senator Joe Lieberman the HSGAC 2012 report, “Flashing Red: A Special Report on the Terrorist Attack at Benghazi.

So, basically, what they could not agree to put in the body of the report, the SSIC members placed as attachments to their bipartisan work. We expect that the morning shows on Sunday will be populated with politicians talking about their “additional views” on the report.

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Ambassador David Shear: From Vietnam to DOD’s Asian and Pacific Security Affairs (APSA)

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– Domani Spero 

Last month, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador David B. Shear to be the next Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in the Department of Defense. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador David B. Shear is the U.S. Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, a position he has held since 2011.  From 2009 to 2011, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the Department of State (DOS).  Previously, he was the Director of the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at DOS.  Mr. Shear joined the Foreign Service in 1982 and has served in Sapporo, Beijing, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, and Washington, D.C.

Mr. Shear received a B.A. from Earlham College and an M.A from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and has attended Waseda University, Taiwan National University, and Nanjing University.

US Embassy Vietnam: CODEL McCain - Jan 18-20, 2012

Ambassador David Shear with Senator John McCain
US Embassy Vietnam: CODEL McCain – Jan 18-20, 2012

APSA is responsible for oversight of security cooperation programs and foreign military sales programs within the regions under its supervision. It looks like it covers East Asia, South & Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

If confirmed. Ambassador Shear would succeed Mark Lippert who was appointed to the position in 2011 and confirmed by the Senate in 2012. In May 2013, Mr. Limpert became the Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Defense. Dr. Peter R. Lavoy who served as the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs (APSA) is reportedly leaving this month. Ambassador Derek J. Mitchell, the current U.S. Ambassador to Burma was previously the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for APSA.

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Related item:
December 19, 2013 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts

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US Embassy Juba Minimizes South Sudan Presence Due to Deteriorating Security (Photos)

– Domani Spero

On January 3,  the Department of State ordered the departure of most remaining U.S. government personnel from South Sudan due to “deteriorating security situation.”  The new travel advisory notes that the U.S. Embassy is “only able to offer very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Republic of South Sudan.”  @USMissionJuba tweeted Ambassador Susan D. Page saying that “We are not suspending operations, we are just minimizing our presence.” 

Below are some photos posted by USMC:

“A squad-size element of U.S. Marines from Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response successfully evacuated more than 20 personnel from the U.S. Embassy in coordination with the East Africa Response Force, and under the command and control of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. The Marines from Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response are specifically trained for scenarios in which they provide support to a U.S. Embassy in the form of fixed-site security, Embassy reinforcement, support to non-combatant evacuation, and other missions as directed.”

Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III

A procession of vehicles arrives at an airfield in South Sudan during an evacuation of personnel by Marines from the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan, Jan. 3, 3014.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III

Sgt. Andrew Rodriguez, a team leader with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, leads the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of South Sudan, the Honorable Susan D. Page, down the flight line in Juba, South Sudan, during an evacuation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy, Jan. 3, 2014.

Sgt. Andrew Rodriguez, a team leader with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, leads the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of South Sudan, Susan D. Page, down the flight line in Juba, South Sudan, during an evacuation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy, Jan. 3, 2014.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III

Juba_USMC5

U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of South Sudan, Susan D. Page, shakes hands with a local delegate on the flight line in Juba, South Sudan, during an evacuation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy, Jan. 3, 2014.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III

Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response help U.S. citizens into a Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules airplane in Juba, South Sudan, during an evacuation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy, Jan. 3, 2014.

Saying goodbye. During an evacuation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy Juba on Jan. 3, 2014.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III

Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response help U.S. citizens into a Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules airplane in Juba, South Sudan, during an evacuation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy, Jan. 3, 2014.

Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response help U.S. citizens into a Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules airplane in Juba, South Sudan, during an evacuation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy, Jan. 3, 2014.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III

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Congress Extends Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program, Authorizes 2500 Visas After 1/1/2014

– Domani Spero

We have previously blogged about the special immigrant visa programs in Iraq and Afghanistan in this blog. (See Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program for Iraqi Nationals to End Sept 30, Or How to Save One Interpreter At a TimeIraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program: Potential Termination on September 30, 2013Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program To End on December 31, 2013). On December 26, 2013, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2014.  The NDAA authorizes the issuance of 2,500 special immigrant visas after January 1, 2014 to qualified Iraqi applicants.  The new authorization does not have an end date and will conclude when 2500 visa numbers have been exhausted.

Below is the announcement from US Embassy Iraq:

The Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program benefiting individuals who have been employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government has been extended through passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2014.  The NDAA authorizes the issuance of 2,500 immigrant visas after January 1, 2014 to qualified principal applicants.  The NDAA does not include a date by which these visas must be issued, so consular officers have the authority to issue visas under this program until all 2,500 numbers have been used worldwide.  The Iraqi SIV program will end after all visas have been issued.

Under this legislation, the one-year period during which principal applicants must have been employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Iraq begins on or after March 20, 2003, and ends on or before September 30, 2013.  The legislation includes a requirement that the principal applicant must apply for Chief of Mission approval no later than September 30, 2014.

Those applicants with cases pending do not need to re-file.  If your petition has been approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), we encourage you to provide all requested documents to the National Visa Center (NVC) immediately so that your visa interview can be scheduled promptly.

We recognize that many who have been employed or worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq, and their families, face real threats as a result of their U.S. government affiliation. We take these threats, and the concerns of those who work with us, very seriously and we are committed to providing them with the benefits for which they are legally eligible.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for U.S. affiliated Iraqis remains an option, as the eligibility criteria are very similar to those of the SIV program.  For more information on USRAP, please visit http://iraq.usembassy.gov/refugeesidpaffairs.html.

Read more here: http://iraq.usembassy.gov/siv-special.html

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Peter Kaestner: One of World’s Top Birders and Our Man in Northern Afghanistan

– By Domani Spero

We have written previously about the US Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in September 2009 (see New US Consulates Opening in Afghanistan), in December 2009 (see US Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif Moving Forward) and in May 2012 (See US Consulate Mazar-e-Sharif: $80 Million and Wishful Thinking Down the Drain, and Not a Brake Too Soon).

That $80 million did wonders to the Mazar Hotel, but in 2012, WaPo reported that “American officials say they have abandoned their plans, deeming the location for the proposed compound too dangerous.”  We sent an inquiry to US Embassy Kabul concerning plans for the consulate but our email got the loud silent treatment that we’ve come to expect from our public affairs professionals there.  We understand from other inside sources that the US Consulate in Mazar is continuing operation in its interim facility with no clear plans on what happens in 2014 in terms of new location, funding or staffing. For now, it appears that the consulate does not have a building to move into or even a website. It does have a Facebook page here. And we have senior diplomat Peter Kaestner as the State Department’s Senior Civilian Representative to Northern Afghanistan. Correct us if we’re wrong, but if our recollection is right, this position serves as Principal Officer of the consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif and concurrently as Senior Civilian Representative to the International Security Assistance Force’s Northern Regional Command.

Peter Kaestner, Senior Civilian Representative to Northern Afghanistan, visited Hairaton bridge on the border with Uzbekistan. During his visit he reviewed the Afghan Border Police barracks that had been renovated with U.S. funding and visited the Afghan side of the bridge to Uzbekistan, which will be renovated with U.S. financial support. (Photo via US Consulate Mazar/FB)

Peter Kaestner, Senior Civilian Representative to Northern Afghanistan, visited Hairaton bridge on the border with Uzbekistan. During his visit he reviewed the Afghan Border Police barracks that had been renovated with U.S. funding and visited the Afghan side of the bridge to Uzbekistan, which will be renovated with U.S. financial support.
(Photo via US Consulate Mazar/FB)

Besides being a diplomat, Mr. Kaestner is also a world-renowned birder. He has been birding since he was a child and now has one of the top ten world bird lists, having seen 8471 different species. He is recognized as the first person to see all the bird families, and he discovered a new species of bird when he was stationed in Colombia.  In Surfbirds World Bird Species Life List, Mr. Kaestner is ranked #8 and is one of only two Americans in the top 10 ranks. Last year, British birder, Tom Gullick, 81, become the first person in the world to officially see 9,000 species of bird.  For the North American Hollywood version of this competition, see The Big Year with Steve MartinJack Black and Owen Wilson.

Mr. Kaestner has not forgotten his birding even in Northern Afghanistan.  US Consulate Mazar’s FB post says that  in addition to his regular duties, Mr. Kaestner has been busy studying the birds around Mazar-e Sharif and sends out an invitation:  In the coming weeks and months, Peter will be sharing information about the birds that he has seen in Afghanistan. If you have any questions about birds you, please send them to us. If you have a photo, he will be able to help identify the species.

Mr. Kaestner made some quick posts on a few birds (bird emoticons used below are from here):

SCR Kaestner’s birding blog: One of the most characteristic birds of Mazar-e Sharif is the Kabooter Safed, or White Pigeon. Like the Blue Mosque where they live, the White Pigeons of Mazar have been associated with the city since the 12th century. Tradition says that the pigeons are white as a reflection of the peace and purity of the mosque – and that the pigeons that live at the Mosque become pure white. This must be true, because I saw a white pigeon near the Mazar Airport that was not pure white! The white pigeon is descended from the Rock Pigeon, a wild bird that lives in the rocky cliffs in the mountains of Balkh Province.

Image via USConsulate Mazar/FB

Image via USConsulate Mazar/FB

SCR Kaestner’s Birding Blog: One of the most attractive birds around Mazar is one that most people have never seen. The Goldfinch is a widespread bird in the Palearctic faunal zone, and very familiar in Europe. The Central Asian form of the Goldfinch lacks black on the head and has a much longer bill. It is possible that some day our Goldfinch will be recognized as a separate species by taxonomists (scientists who study the classification of living things). Birders appreciate when such changes are made, since it means another bird can be added to their bird total.

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CR Kaestner’s Birding blog: Birds that live near people are often characterized by their adaptability. The starling family has several species that have become familiar around human habitation, especially in cities. The Common Myna is an easy bird to identify, with its bare yellow face and large white wing patches. They often feed on the ground, and will eat most anything. A species of Myna in southern Asia, the Hill Myna, can be trained to talk! This forest species has become rare in some areas because they are trapped to be sold as pets. Birders can only count birds in their native environment, not in cages or zoos.

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SCR Kaestner’s Birding blog: Another family that does well around humans are the crows. The most common corvid in Mazar is the Eurasian Magpie. It is easily identified by its large size, long tail, and white wing feathers. Magpies are omnivorous, meaning that they eat a variety of things. Members of the crow family are renowned for their intelligence – a trait not usually associated with birds. Indeed, one crow (in New Caledonia) uses tools in nature, and has been shown to solve complex tasks. We’ll discuss crows and ravens later.

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More on Afghanistan birds here and here.  In 2009, researchers for the Wildlife Conservation Society discovered the breeding area of the large-billed reed warbler—dubbed in 2007 as “the world’s least known bird species”—in the remote and rugged Wakhan Corridor of the Pamir Mountains of north-eastern Afghanistan. According to WCS, the first specimen of the large-billed reed warbler was discovered in India in 1867; the next was not spotted until 2006, in Thailand. Isn’t it interesting that the bird that has been spotted just twice previously in over 100 years was found breeding in Afghanistan?

In June this year, BBC News reported that Afghanistan’s Environment Protection Agency, Mustafa Zahir, told a local TV news channel that nearly 5,000 birds are smuggled out of the country every year.  The birds include falcons and Houbara Bustards - the latter apparently, widely prized as quarry by hunters in the Gulf.

For some bird photos, see Afghanistan Birds on Pinterest, that European Bee Eater is  one showy and gorgeous bird!

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Ship Transfer Between U.S. and Bangladesh: USCGC Jarvis Now BNS Somudra Joy

– Domani Spero

A while back, we noted the First Hot Ship Transfer Between U.S. and Pakistan: USS McInerney Now PNS Alamgir in this blog. In May this year, the Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis, a 378-foot High Endurance Cutter homeported in Alameda, was decommissioned and transferred to the Bangladesh Navy as the BNS Somudra Joy during a ceremony on Coast Guard Island in Alameda, California.

On December 13, 2013, the ship finally arrived in Bangladesh. The US Embassy in Dhaka announced the formal ship transfer hosted by Ambassador Dan W. Mozena. Announcement below:

Photo via US Embassy Dhaka/FB

Photo via US Embassy Dhaka/FB

The newest member of the Bangladesh Navy ‘s fleet arrives at Chittagong port today, the BNS Somudra Joy. Formerly the United States Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis, the 378-foot high endurance cutter was commissioned in Hawaii in 1972 and is now the largest vessel in the Bangladesh Navy inventory. The ship was transferred to the Bangladesh Navy under the Excess Defense Articles program on 21 May 2013, and after an extensive program for training and new equipment installation in California, the 167-man crew has successfully conducted a six week transit of the Pacific Ocean. Responding to the disaster in the Philippines, the Bangladesh Navy was able to make use of the ship’s voyage to pick up over 40-tons of relief supplies and delivery them to Manila on November 30, 2013. The ship will be expected to provide the Bangladesh Navy many decades of reliable service in extending their nation’s interest and global security into the Bay of Bengal.

America is Bangladesh’s faithful partner in building the nation’s capacity to protect these maritime assets. The success of the partnership is evident as we see robberies in coastal waters and in port have dropped by over two-thirds; maritime insurance rates have dropped by a third; kidnapped fishermen in the western coastal area are now being successfully rescued. As Bangladesh strengthens its capacity to protect its maritime borders, everyone gains. America gains as Bangladesh is the second largest source of readymade garments for the U.S. and these products arrive by sea; the region gains as secure Bangladeshi waters make for a more secure Bay of Bengal; and, most especially, the people of Bangladesh gain as their lifeline to the world is secure.

BNS Somudro Joy will reportedly be heavily upgraded into a guided missile frigate. In June this year, the Defense Media Network highlighted the improvement in Bangladesh Navy combat power as it showcases modernized warship at LIMA, and noted that “the ship transfer marks an historic moment in U.S.-Bangladesh defense and security relations, as this is the first time such a large warship has been transferred from the United States.”

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Video of the Week: Awesome Musical Surprise at the National Air and Space Museum

Via dvidshub | by The U.S. Air Force Band

Starting with a single cellist on the floor of the National Air and Space Museum’s Milestones of Flight gallery and swelling to 120 musicians, The United States Air Force Band exhilarated museum visitors yesterday with its first-ever flash mob. The four-minute performance featured an original arrangement of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring/Joy to the World,” led by the Band’s commander and conductor, Col. Larry H. Lang. Unsuspecting museum visitors including tourists and school groups were astonished as instrumentalists streamed into the gallery from behind airplanes and space capsules, and vocalists burst into song from the Museum’s second floor balcony.  Executive Producer: Col. Larry H. Lang.

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