Northwest Digest

Posted: Friday, August 18, 2006

Murkowski says Strykers will be home by end of the year

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FAIRBANKS - The extended deployments of an Alaska-based Stryker brigade will conclude by the end of the year, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said.

The 172nd Stryker Brigade will be back at Fort Wainwright by the middle of December, according to a letter the Republican received from Army Secretary Francis Harvey.

"The extension is for up to 120 days with the main body elements of the (brigade combat team) now scheduled to return by mid-December 2006," Harvey said in an Aug. 11 letter to Murkowski.

"I would be deeply disappointed if any further extension of the deployment were considered," Murkowski said in a prepared statement.

The majority of the 172nd Brigade was still in Iraq when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last month extended their deployment as part of a plan to quell the escalating violence in Baghdad. Overall, the brigade has about 3,900 troops.

But 380 others had returned home to Fort Wainwright and to Fort Richardson when Rumsfeld ordered the unit to serve four more months. Army officials announced this wee that 300 soldiers will have to return to Iraq; 80 will remain at home.

Army outlines case against soldier refusing Iraq duty

FORT LEWIS, Wash. - The Army has laid out its case against a lieutenant facing possible court-martial for refusing to go to Iraq, showing video footage of the officer calling the war illegal.

The investigating officer who listened to the evidence Thursday will recommend whether 1st Lt. Ehren Watada should stand trial on charges of missing troop movement, conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt toward officials.

Lt. Col. Mark Keith could recommend anything from dismissal of the charges to a general court-martial. Keith, who has unlimited time to consider the evidence, will make his recommendation to Lt. Gen. James Dubik, commander of this base south of Seattle, who has final say on whether Watada should stand trial.

If convicted, Watada could face seven years in prison and dishonorable discharge.

Army prosecutor Capt. Dan Kuecker played three video clips of comments Watada made last weekend, as well as on June 7, when he publicly announced his decision to refuse deployment.

Kuecker also presented the hearing with Watada's statements to reporters, in which he said he felt the Bush administration deceived Americans in order to initiate the war.

Washington sampling birds for flu virus

CONWAY, Wash. - Brad Otto, a state wildlife technician, cornered a flapping and quacking mallard inside a wire trap at the Fir Island game refuge in the Skagit Valley, then passed the bird to biologists.

That's when the dirty work began: Biologists used a cotton swab to collect a fluid sample of the duck's fecal material, which will be sent to the Washington State University avian health lab in Puyallup to analyze it for signs of disease.

The sampling is part of a new nationwide effort to detect the H5N1 flu virus before the deadly virus reaches the United States in migratory birds.

"We're kind of on the front line, as far as the lower 48 states goes," Don Kraege, waterfowl section manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Wednesday during a demonstration for reporters on how teams are collecting and sampling wild birds.

"If it's found anywhere, it's a good chance it could be found here."

No birds in North America have tested positive for the Asian subtype of the bird flu virus known as H5N1, which has killed at least 138 people. Nearly all human infections have occurred in Asian poultry workers.

However, experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that could be easily transmitted among humans, causing a worldwide pandemic that could kill millions of people.

On Monday, scientists discovered a possible bird flu strain in two wild swans on the shore of Lake Erie in Michigan. Initial testing ruled out that the swans had the so-called highly pathogenic version of H5N1, but found that they could have a relatively harmless low-grade strain instead.

Alaska officials began testing for the virus in May, as waterfowl and shorebirds from the lower 48 states migrated north to summer habitat. Wildlife officials in Washington, which sits in the Pacific Flyway that runs from the Arctic to Mexico, began testing in late July.

In just a few weeks, state officials have sampled 450 birds, mostly in Grays Harbor County.

The state has received $425,000 from a $29 million federal program to sample up to 100,000 wild birds. Biologists are focusing first on the birds that fly south earliest - mallard ducks and Western sandpipers. In coming months, they also will test pintails, wigeon, green-winged teals, shovelers and sea ducks.

Shorebirds to be tested include dunlin, red knots and ruddy turnstones.

Using traps and nets, biologists will mainly collect live samples in Puget Sound and coastal estuaries. In the fall, the agents will be at stations to sample hunter-killed birds in those same areas and in the Columbia and Yakima river basins.

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