| USA TODAY
Pentagon chief urges reduction in Taliban violence
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in his first news conference as Pentagon chief, said Friday that progress toward peace in Afghanistan and an end to U.S. military involvement there depends on the Taliban reducing attacks. (Feb. 19)
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Friday addressed a widely circulated new video in which a woman accuses a senior Marine Corps official of coddling the fellow Marine she says sexually assaulted her.
Austin, in his first news media briefing, acknowledged watching the video and finding it “deeply disturbing.” Austin said he had charged his staff with collecting more information about the woman’s case and to provide her with assistance.
The woman alleges that a general intervened in the case to allow her assailant to remain in the Marines. At the end of the video, she says the handling of her case “is exactly why” women service members take their own lives. “Nobody f—— takes this seriously,” she said in an emotional video that has been liked more than 1.3 million times on TikTok and was also shared by the anti-sexual assault group #NotInMyMarineCorps on Twitter.
The Marine Corps, in a statement, said it is aware of the video, is gathering information and takes allegations of misconduct seriously.
Austin, among his first official acts, has called on the services to examine programs aimed at eliminating sexual assault, an intractable scourge in the military. The crimes have resisted Pentagon efforts to eradicate it for decades, despite pledges from senior leaders for reform. Last year, the Pentagon reported a 3% increase in sexual assaults in 2019. There were 6,236 reports in 2019, compared with 6,053 in 2018, but experts say that the crime is underreported.
“We’ve been working at this for a long time in earnest but we haven’t gotten it right,” Austin acknowledged.
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Austin also talked about efforts to address extremism among troops after revelations that several rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6 were veterans. Austin ordered the services to conduct training for one day over the next few months dedicated to dealing with extremism. The problem, he said, “tears at the very fabric of cohesion” necessary in military units.
On Afghanistan, where 2,500 U.S. troops are scheduled to withdraw from by May, the Pentagon is committed to a responsible end to the war and noted that violence remains too high, Austin said. He said a comprehensive review is underway and no hasty decisions will be made about troop levels there.
The Trump administration negotiated the withdrawal with the Taliban. Austin and President Joe Biden will have to decide whether to follow through on the commitment to leave after nearly 20 years of war, 2,000 American deaths and more than $1 trillion spent. The agreement hinges, in part, on the Taliban’s commitment to preventing terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base to attack U.S. and western targets.
Al-Qaeda used Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, to plan the 9/11 terror attacks. In 2011, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan peaked at 98,000 troops.