Metro-East News

Did a U.S. Navy SEAL instructor go too far?

A week after a Navy SEAL trainee died following a swimming drill in California, witness accounts are emerging that question the Navy’s narrative of what happened and paint a different picture, alleging that the death may have been the result of an instructor going too far, according to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

Seaman James Derek Lovelace, 21, died May 6 during what a Navy spokesman described as a swimming exercise in the first week of SEAL training. A safety observer noticed Lovelace “having a hard time,” the spokesman said, and instructors guided him to the edge of the pool and tried to revive him. He never regained consciousness.

A SEAL official speaking for the Navy this week emphasized that the drill — known as “drown proofing” — wasn’t particularly rigorous. Although former SEALs say all students are subjected to extensive physical examinations before being admitted into the program, the Navy SEAL official speculated that Lovelace might have had an underlying health problem.

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Libya is emerging as the next big target of U.S. special forces operations against the Islamic State.

The Washington Post is reporting that American special ops troops have been stationed at two outposts in eastern and western Libya since late 2015, tasked with lining up local partners in advance of a possible offensive against the Islamic State, U.S. officials said.

Two teams totaling fewer than 25 troops are operating from around the cities of Misurata and Benghazi to identify potential allies among local armed factions and gather intelligence on threats, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive mission overseas.

The insertion of a tiny group of U.S. personnel into a country rife with militant threats reflects the Obama administration’s worries about the Islamic State’s powerful Libyan branch and the widespread expectations of an expanded campaign against it. For months, the Pentagon has been developing plans for potential action against the group, which has at least several thousand fighters in the coastal city of Sirte and other areas.

The mission is also an illustration of President Obama’s reliance on elite units to advance counterterrorism goals in low-visibility operations.

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald warned this week that House appropriators’ plan to trim $1.5 billion off his department’s annual budget request will “hurt veterans” if it becomes law, according to Military Times.

This is the second consecutive year that House lawmakers have proposed a smaller-than-requested VA budget, albeit still a sizable increase in department spending. It’s also the second consecutive year McDonald has called the idea harmful to veterans seeking medical care and benefits.

“It will impede some critical initiatives necessary to transform VA into the high performing organization veterans deserve,” he told a crowd at a Center for Strategic and International Studies speech on Wednesday. “We’re encouraging Congress to fully fund VA at the level requested.”

Last month, the House Committee on Appropriations passed a VA spending plan for fiscal 2017 with nearly $73.5 billion in discretionary spending, which would be an increase of about 3 percent from fiscal 2016 levels.

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U.S. military officials are closely watching social media and news reports that say ISIS believes it may soon come under siege in Raqqa, Syria, its self-declared capital, according to CNN.

“We have seen this declaration of emergency in Raqqa, whatever that means,” Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, told reporters Friday. “We know this enemy feels threatened, as they should.”

Media reports have indicated that ISIS is moving personnel around the city and trying to put up covers in certain areas to shield potential targets from airstrikes and ground attacks.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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