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Military News Briefs for the Week of March 16, 2001

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2001 – (This is a summary of the American Forces Press Service news stories for the week ending March 16, 2001.)



The United States is reducing the number of troops and heavy equipment taking part in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.

U.S. troop strength will drop from its current level of 4,400 to 3,500 by the end of April, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said here March 15. This number includes some overlap as units rotate in and out. NATO's stabilization force currently has about 20,000 troops in Bosnia.

The cuts are the result of NATO's latest six-month force level review done in December. As a part of that process, Quigley said, U.S. defense officials informed NATO allies they would reduce excess equipment, and people to maintain and operate that equipment, that they saw as "above and beyond" its needs in carrying out its SFOR mission.

DoD officials are reducing the number of tanks and fighting vehicles to a level they feel is "still prudent to retain" in SFOR, he added. "We tend not to be very definitive on specific types of systems that are in place so as to not completely show our hand," he told Pentagon reporters asking for specific numbers.

All of the Apache helicopters in Bosnia, about 16, are being withdrawn, Quigley said.

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A DoD investigation board arrived in Kuwait March 15 to determine the cause of a training accident that killed six coalition service members and injured seven others.

Central Command has asked the board to finish their work no later than April 16, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley told reporters here.

A Navy F/A-18 Hornet dropped three 500-pound gravity bombs near an Observation Post on Kuwait's Al Udairi Test Range. Five of those killed were U.S. service members; the sixth was a New Zealand military officer.

No U.S. forces have used the bombing range since the accident occurred March 12, Quigley said.

All of the injured Americans, who are now listed in good condition, and the remains of those killed are now in Landstuhl, Germany, he added. No details are yet available on when the service members' remains will be returned to the United States.

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Calling himself a veteran's activist, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi vowed to conduct a major top- to-bottom review of his department's health care and claims processing systems and its use of information technology.

Principi promises to make a difference.

"If we don't improve benefits and services after four years, I'll consider my tour a failure," he said, in a recent interview with the American Forces Information Service. The new secretary is a Vietnam combat veteran. His wife was a Navy nurse in Vietnam.

He said the VA's entire system is being examined to ensure the needs of active duty service members are being met when they become veterans and file for benefits. For instance, he said, smarter use of modern technology is critical to VA.

"We spend about $1.5 billion a year on information technology, but the outcomes are not anywhere near commensurate with the investment we make," Principi noted. "We need to be smarter about how we procure technology and how we use it."

He said taking up to two years to reach a decision and abstract theories of veterans benefits and healthcare are not acceptable. "I want practical, hands-on solutions as to what we need to do better to provide high-quality, timely evaluations on claims," he emphasized. "I want to ensure we have uniform access to high-quality healthcare."

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