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This report highlights the Defense Department's top 10 issues in 2016. During the year, DoD continued to counter terrorism and proceed with missions in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Ash Carter expanded efforts to build the Force of the Future while seeking new technologies, promoting the well-being of troops and pushing for a budget to maintain what he calls the finest fighting force the world has ever known.
This year, the Defense Department and coalition forces continued to accelerate the campaign to deliver the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant a lasting defeat. After liberating a number of other Iraqi cities and towns, Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a new phase of the campaign in October, advancing on ISIL’s Mosul stronghold, supported by coalition airstrikes, training and logistical support. In December, Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited U.S. troops to thank them for their dedication and honored Iraqi and Kurdish forces that have led the fight on the ground.
In 2016, ISIL also lost ground in Syria, where coalition-enabled local forces freed key areas before launching an offensive on Raqqa, ISIL’s so-called capital. The coalition continued to pressure ISIL, targeting finances, external operations and leadership and also severely degraded ISIL affiliates in Afghanistan and Libya.
Meanwhile, Carter pushed to accelerate the campaign at every opportunity. In multiple meetings, he and his coalition counterparts continued their coordination of the campaign plan, resources and capabilities. At their December meeting in London, Carter said, “By reflecting on the lessons we’ve learned to date and remaining focused on the execution of our plan, we’ll ensure that ISIL is delivered the lasting defeat it deserves."
From every direction and in every domain – our campaign has accelerated further, squeezing ISIL and rolling it back towards Raqqa and Mosul.
The Defense Department launched a range of initiatives intended to ensure the department continues to attract, develop and retain the talented men and women needed to build the Force of the Future.
In January, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced an increase in fully paid military maternity leave to 12 weeks and a boost in child care access on military installations to 14 hours daily.
Carter unveiled proposed changes in June to enable the services to improve the officer promotion system and make it more flexible. He also announced initiatives to enhance military recruiting efforts, including targeted efforts to expand geographic diversity.
For DoD’s civilian workforce, Carter detailed efforts to create a two-way talent exchange program with the private sector and boost the hiring of highly qualified experts in key fields.
In November, Carter announced more reforms to enhance recruiting and better communicate the value of military life, and unveiled efforts focused on ROTC, including plans to offer more graduate school scholarships for cadets who are college seniors.
These changes will help ensure his successors also receive the opportunity to lead the finest fighting force the world has ever known.
Building the Force of the Future isn't going to happen overnight. It's going to be a generational effort and this is just the beginning.
In 2016, the Defense Department took steps to ensure the United States remains the primary provider of regional security and a leading contributor to the region’s principled and inclusive security network.
In April, Defense Secretary Ash Carter traveled to India and the Philippines, focusing on strengthening alliances and partnerships.
At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June, Carter achieved increased cooperation among regional leaders and militaries. He and his South Korean and Japanese counterparts agreed to share more information on North Korean threats. At an October Pentagon news conference, Carter and South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo condemned a failed North Korean missile launch. Carter said the United States would counter any use of nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective response.
In September, before meeting in Hawaii with defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Carter detailed steps for the rebalance's next phase and described the growth of the region’s security network.
During an around-the-world trip in December, Carter visited Japan and India to highlight the strength of those partnerships and to emphasize DoD’s enduring commitment.
This region, with half of humanity, half of the world’s economy, is the single most consequential region for America’s future – and indeed for the world’s.
This year, the Defense Department and U.S. allies demonstrated that the 67-year NATO alliance is as vital as ever.
Top defense officials traveled to Europe numerous times to meet with leaders to demonstrate U.S. support for strengthening the NATO alliance in the face of threats, primarily from Russia and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
At a NATO ministers meeting in Brussels in October, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced plans for the United States to send more troops and equipment to Europe in 2017. An armored brigade combat team is scheduled to deploy to Poland in February as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, a DoD program to bolster the security of America's NATO partners and deter Russian aggression. A battle-ready task force of about 900 U.S. soldiers also is on track to deploy to Poland in April to support NATO's enhanced forward presence.
Carter said NATO will focus on challenges for today and tomorrow. In Brussels, he said: "Our member nations share common values reflected in the way we conduct ourselves. ... We treat each other as equals and take each other's interests into account. ... That is the core of the NATO alliance and the community of nations it brings together, and that is what we shall all continue to do."
In Europe, the Defense Department is standing with America’s NATO allies and taking a strong and balanced approach to deter Russian aggression while also leaving the door open to working with Russia where our shared interests align.
In 2016, the Defense Department continued to innovate to maintain military excellence far into the 21st century.
After launching the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental in 2015 in Silicon Valley, DoD opened new DIUx locations this year in Boston and in Austin, Texas, to scout for new technologies for America’s warfighters.
In April, DoD launched "Hack the Pentagon," the federal government’s first cyber bug bounty program. Vetted hackers found 138 reward-eligible vulnerabilities on public DoD web pages. That same month, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency christened the Sea Hunter, a robot warship able to travel thousands of miles with no crew.
In addition, the Air Force progressed with plans for its first 21st century bomber. The B-21 Raider will be able to launch from the continental U.S. and strike anywhere in the world.
DoD’s Strategic Capabilities Office developed game-changing roles for existing platforms, enhancing capabilities while stretching taxpayer dollars. One example is the arsenal plane, which can be a flying launch pad for conventional payloads.
In October, U.S. Cyber Command announced that all 133 of its Cyber Mission Force teams had achieved initial operating capability to safeguard against cyberattacks, defend DoD networks and weapon systems, help to defend the nation, and provide offensive options.
When it comes to innovation, I'd put us up against everyone. Drop the mic, boom, period, end of story.
When Army Gen. John W. "Mick" Nicholson Jr. took command of NATO's Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces Afghanistan in early March, he stressed that the coalition of 47 nations would remain committed to training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces.
President Barack Obama reinforced that commitment with several key decisions. In May, he authorized an airstrike that targeted and killed Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Mansour. In June, the president granted increased flexibility to U.S. troops, allowing them to provide more firepower and support for Afghan conventional forces. A month later, Obama announced plans to maintain 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of his term, saying that would "give our Afghan partners the very best opportunity to succeed."
During a Pentagon briefing in September, Nicholson said Afghan police, air force and special forces were conducting most of their operations without U.S. assistance. He also cited several successful operations the Afghan forces carried out during the summer against the Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Nicholson told reporters he always had been impressed by the desire of Afghans to fight for their country. "They deeply appreciate everything we're doing for them," he said, "but they're very committed to winning this war on their own."
We clearly want to help the Afghans next year and beyond to gradually increase the amount of control they exercise over the population as we also help them become more self-sustaining.
The fiscal year 2017 Defense Department budget request recognizes the changing character of war and seeks the means to change in carefully considered ways in this new strategic era.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter testified on the budget on Capitol Hill in April and explained that five evolving challenges are driving the focus of DoD’s planning and budgeting: Europe, where DoD is taking a strong and balanced approach to deter Russian aggression; the Asia-Pacific, where China is rising, but behaving aggressively; North Korea, which remains dangerous to the United States and its allies; Iran’s malign influence against U.S. friends and allies; and the ongoing fight to counter terrorism and defeat ISIL.
Addressing these challenges requires new investments, a new posture in some regions, and new capabilities. The budget request addresses these challenges and seizes opportunities in supporting innovative operational concepts; pioneering technological frontiers, including undersea, cyber, space, electronic warfare and other advanced capabilities; reforming the defense enterprise; and building the Force of the Future.
Congress has yet to approve the budget. As long as the budget is passed, Carter has said, "our national security and national strength will be on the right path, and America’s military will continue to defend our country and help make a better world for generations to come."
Budget instability undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars. … It baffles our friends, emboldens our foes. It’s managerially and strategically unsound, and it’s unfairly dispiriting to our troops, for their families, and our workforce.
Throughout the year, the men and women of the finest fighting force the world has ever known were recognized for their excellence, their service and their sacrifice.
Two heroes received the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest commendation, in 2016. In February, President Barack Obama awarded the medal to Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers Jr. for rescuing an American hostage from the Taliban in Afghanistan. In July, the president presented the medal to Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles for his bold actions during the Vietnam War.
As disasters struck throughout the year, U.S. forces provided critical support. In March, Louisiana Guardsmen rescued thousands of residents from flooding. A month later, troops supported earthquake relief efforts in Japan and Ecuador. When Hurricane Matthew hit in October, 400 service members deployed to Haiti and more than 9,000 National Guardsmen assisted along the southeastern U.S. coast.
DoD athletes also rose to the top in 2016. Sixteen Olympians, four Paralympians and three coaches competed at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and returned with four medals. About 750 wounded warrior athletes fought for gold at the Invictus Games and Warrior Games. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said he saw a special flame within each competitor that would never be extinguished.
We cannot fully know what went through the mind of Major Charles Kettles that day. But we know what motivated him. ... We can feel what has always motivated the men and women of our military: Duty. Honor. Country.
New leaders assumed the top post at seven of the Defense Department’s nine combatant commands, which include multiservice forces focused on regional or functional missions.
In 2016, the Defense Department signaled its commitment to the well-being of service members and veterans with efforts that included:
Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention: Defense Secretary Ash Carter launched a strategy to improve how the department supports service members who experience retaliation after reporting assaults, reinforcing DoD's efforts to combat sexual assault and harassment within the military.
TBI/PTS Research, Awareness and Support: The department continued its cutting-edge research on post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. It also worked to educate service members and veterans about treatment programs from art and music therapy at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Maryland to an intensive PTS outpatient program at the Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.
Suicide Prevention: DoD worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs and various groups to encourage troops and veterans to seek help when they are in crisis, including through the free and confidential Military/Veterans Crisis Line, online chat and text-messaging service. The department and VA also collaborated to launch "Be There," a yearlong suicide prevention campaign.
Our support for today's force … includes what we’re doing to ensure the dignity of our people, which is why we've been prioritizing the prevention and elimination of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military.