More on Libya

US moves armed forces closer to Libya as unrest grows

20 May 2014 12:45Sapa-AP, Reuters

The US has sent more marines and aircraft to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily after gunmen stormed Libya’s Parliament over the weekend.
The United States has increased the number of marines and aircraft stationed in Sicily. (AFP)

The United States has increased the number of marines and aircraft stationed in Sicily who could be called on to evacuate Americans from the US embassy in Tripoli as unrest in Libya grows, two US officials said on Monday.

They were sending about 60 more marines and another four Osprey aircraft, whose tiltrotor engines allow them to take off and land like helicopters, to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily from a military base in Spain.

This has brought the number of marines stationed in Sicily as a precaution to around 250, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Their location in Italy moves them closer to Libya, speeding up response times.

One US official added that the armed forces at Sigonella were on heightened alert.

Heavily armed gunmen stormed Libya’s Parliament on Sunday and gunfire erupted across Tripoli, where rival militias clashed in some of the worst violence in the city since the end of the 2011 war against Muammar Gaddafi.

Saudi Arabia closed its embassy and consulate in the Libyan capital and withdrew its entire diplomatic staff on Monday because of security concerns.

Underscoring the turmoil, the commander of the Libyan army special forces, Wanis Bukhamada, said on Monday that he had allied with renegade general Khalifa Haftar in his campaign against militant Islamists. The Tripoli government has denounced Haftar as attempting to stage a coup.

Embassy security
The marines in Sigonella are part of a crisis response unit focused on embassy security. The unit was created after the attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 2012 that killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The Pentagon has in recent months made similar, temporary moves of marines from the special purpose marine air-ground task force-crisis response, a rotating force of marines and sailors positioned at Morón Air Base in Spain.

About 200 marines from the task force flew to the Sigonella station in Sicily in October last year for several weeks after US special operations forces captured a senior al-Qaeda figure in Libya, triggering unrest.

Meanwhile, an official close to Algeria’s state-owned oil firm Sonatrach said authorities had decided to evacuate the company’s employees from Libya because of the deteriorating security situation.

The decision follows the evacuation of Algerian diplomats from Libya on Friday in response to what the foreign ministry said was a “clear and present” threat. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement was yet to be made, said on Tuesday that it was feared that with Algerian diplomats gone, terrorists would target oil workers.

Sonatrach has been working on oil fields in the Ghadames basin in southern Libya, near the Algerian border.

Renegade general Haftar has taken up arms against the Islamists dominating Libya’s fractured government, sparking fighting in major cities. Libya is home to al-Qaeda-linked groups battling the Algerian government.– Sapa-AP, Reuters

DoD May Close Tricare Customer Service Centers

Nov 08, 2013| by Brendan McGarry and Amy Bushatz

Ohio Air National Guard Senior Airman Bruce Moman, an Aerospace Medical Services Journeyman from the 180th Fighter Wing Medical Group, takes the blood pressure of a patient as part of an annual physical health assessment. U.S. Air Force photo

The Defense Department may close Tricare customer service centers in the U.S. as part of a cost-saving move that would affect hundreds of thousands of troops and their families.

Tricare — the military health care system — manages walk-in service centers at bases across the country and around the world. The offices are typically staffed by contractors who help troops and family members navigate any number of medical coverage issues, from changing doctors to resolving billing complaints to registering newborns. At some bases, such as Fort Campbell, Ky., the offices are located in dedicated buildings. At others, such as Fort Bragg, N.C., they are located in the hospital.

The website MilitaryOneClick reported the department planned to begin transitioning those services to toll-free call centers and websites on Oct. 1 and to close all walk-in centers by April 1, citing interviews with unnamed Tricare representatives.

Poll: Should Tricare Close Its Customer Service Centers?

Army Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson, a spokeswoman for personnel and readiness at the Pentagon, on Thursday confirmed the department is considering closing the stateside centers, but said no final decision has been made.

“When the Defense Department announced the creation of the Defense Health Agency, elimination of walk-in service at Tricare Service Centers was one of the proposed actions to increase efficiency,” she said in an e-mail. “We are carefully considering this and reviewing all options for most effective customer service.

“However, the plan has not been finalized concerning the implementation or timing of such action,” she added. “When plans are finalized, the DHA will inform beneficiaries. I can verify that no changes to Tricare Service Centers overseas are being considered.”The customer service centers are a recommended in-processing stop for the 300,000 troops who, along with their families, report to a new post each year as part of a permanent change of station. That figure is more than 20 percent of the active-duty force of 1.4 million troops.

It was unclear how a shuttering of the centers would affect servicemembers dealing with base-specific issues, such as filing an appeal to see an off-base primary doctor or registering their newborn with Tricare, which is usually done in-person in the office.

News of the possible change drew criticism and disappointment from some military spouses.

“If Tricare will allow you to do everything on the phone or on-line, then face to face isn’t necessary,” said Amanda French, an Army wife stationed at Fort Campbell. “But the few times I’ve called, I’ve been told that I needed to visit the local office.”

“Our in-person care center was hugely helpful,” said Mya Parker, who is stationed with her family at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, Calif. “Assuming the care center wouldn’t be much help, I spent nearly two months attempting to fix multiple issues over the phone with Tricare. It was only when I spoke to our in-person rep that we made any significant head-way.”

But not everyone agreed. Some spouses said that with the exception of a very few issues, such as the primary provider appeal process, the in-person representatives are not very helpful.

“With our appeal, they handed us the paperwork, told us the process, and said they couldn’t do really anything else,” said Army wife Kelly Wanger, who has used the Fort Campbell Tricare office. “They never really help with our appeals anyway.”

“I have always had more luck calling in than actually going in and talking to someone,” Sarah Thompson, an Army spouse stationed at Fort Leavenworth said. “At [Fort] Benning ,the face to face people would just send me to the phone.”