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Obama: sex assaults in military harm national security

US President Barack Obama speaks following a meeting with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on May 16, 2013 in Washington
US President Barack Obama speaks following a meeting with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on May 16, 2013 in Washington.

President Barack Obama warned Thursday that a spate of sexual assaults in the military endangered US national security and vowed to do everything possible to fix the problem.

Obama promised to act as he met Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the highest ranking US military officer Army General Martin Dempsey, and the civilian and military bosses of each branch of the US military.

The president said that the US military's strength lay in trust, teamwork and discipline.

"The issue of sexual assault in our armed forces undermines that trust," Obama told reporters after the meeting at the White House.

"So not only is it a crime, not only is it shameful and disgraceful, but it also is going to make and had made the military less effective than it can be.

"And as such, it is dangerous to our national security. So this is not a sideshow... this goes to the heart and to the core of who we are.

"It's not fixed yet, and that's clear."

US Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno meanwhile said the armed forces had failed to tackle sexual violence effectively and a wave of recent incidents was eroding trust throughout the ranks.

In a message sent to army personnel following a series of damaging revelations about sexual assaults in the military, Odierno said the fight against sexual assault and harassment should be the institution's top priority.

"The Army is failing in its efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment," Odierno said. "It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment as our primary mission."

Odierno's comments came after it emerged that a soldier who worked in a rape prevention program had been accused of forcing a subordinate into prostitution.

US Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno pictured May 16, 2013
The US military has failed to tackle sexual violence effectively and a wave of recent incidents is eroding trust throughout the ranks, US Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno said May 16, 2013.

Last week, an Air Force officer in charge of his service's sexual assault prevention office was arrested near the Pentagon for allegedly assaulting a woman.

Odierno said the recent rash of incidents represented a "violation of trust."

"Our Army is based on a bedrock of trust -- the trust between soldiers and leaders that we will take care of each other," he said.

"Recent incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment demonstrate that we have violated that trust.

"In fact, these acts violate everything our Army stands for. They are contrary to our Army Values and they must not be tolerated."

Odierno called on military leaders "at every level" to establish a "command climate and culture of mutual respect, trust and safety."

"Our profession is built on the bedrock of trust; sexual assault and sexual harassment betray that trust," he said.

Sexual abuse cases in the military are on the rise, according to a Pentagon report, rising to 3,374 in 2012, a six percent increase from the previous year.

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