President Obama is preparing to officially declare the end of US combat operations in Iraq seven-and-a-half years after the US invasion. Obama will make the announcement in a nationally televised speech tonight from the Oval Office. He gave a preview of his speech in his weekly radio address over the weekend.
President Obama: "On Tuesday, after more than seven years, the United States of America will end its combat mission in Iraq and take an important step forward in responsibly ending the Iraq war. As a candidate for this office, I pledged I would end this war. As president, that’s what I’m doing."
While President Obama is claiming the war is ending, the US still maintains a large presence in Iraq. Fifty thousand US troops remain in Iraq to help with training and logistics. In addition, the US is keeping 4,500 special operations forces in Iraq to carry out counterterrroism operations. Tens of thousands of private contractors will also remain in the country.
The United Nations refugee agency says Iraq is still facing a humanitarian crisis with 1.5 million people still internally displaced in the country. Daniel Endres, the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Iraq, said there is widespread concern that Iraq’s humanitarian crisis will be forgotten as attention shifts elsewhere.
Daniel Endres: "It’s very important that post-conflict or transition countries — because part of it is still conflict — receive sufficient support for a certain period, because statistics show that the majority of post-conflict situations plunge back into conflict within seven years. And very often you can trace it back to a lack of attention or not sustained support in these critical post-conflict years."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has said President Obama may also talk tonight about how the the US is expanding the war against al-Qaeda by carrying out strikes in Africa and other areas beyond the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Robert Gibbs: "I think you have seen a commitment to taking our fight directly to the leadership throughout the world, all over the world, in different places, be it in and around Africa, be it in Southeast Asia. I think the President made a commitment to increase the tempo of that fight, and that’s exactly what he’s done."
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights have sued the Obama administration over its claim to have the authority to assassinate US citizens accused of terrorism links abroad. Earlier this year, the Obama administration added the US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki to a CIA list of targets for capture or killing. Al-Awlaki is currently living in Yemen.
Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU: "One of the dangers with this kind of program, a targeted killing program, is that we will end up killing the wrong people. Dozens of times we’ve detained people as terrorists only to find out later that the evidence was weak, nonexistent or wrong. At least with detention there’s the possibility of a court challenge or the possibility of appeal, but there’s no appeal from a drone. There’s no appeal from a death sentence after it’s imposed."
Vince Warren is executive director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Vince Warren: "If we were to set the precedent of going around the world and killing people that the United States thinks are suspects, that would be setting probably one of the most dangerous precedents out there, because there would be nothing to stop, for example, China from targeting its citizens in the United States."
In news from Afghanistan, five US troops died earlier today in a roadside bomb explosion. Nineteen US troops have died in Afghanistan since Saturday.
Newsweek is reporting that Taliban operatives in Afghanistan say the backlash against the construction of an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan has been a boost for the militant group. An operative named Zabihullah told the magazine, "By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor...It’s providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support." Zabihullah’s comments mirror what many US terrorism analysts have been saying about the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric in America.
Evan Kohlmann recently said, "We are handing al-Qaeda a propaganda coup, an absolute propaganda coup."
In Tennessee, more than 150 people gathered last night for a candlelight vigil in the city of Murfreesboro to protest the recent arson at the construction site for a new mosque and Islamic center. Andy Woloszyn of Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom helped organize the rally.
Andy Woloszyn: "We had a candlelight vigil condemning the arson and terrorism committed against the site of the future Islamic center, where they torched a construction vehicle down. And the very next day, when members of the board were out there, they heard several gunshots. So we came here today to support the Muslim community, to be here for them so they don’t feel alone, so they’re not the ones suffering by themselves." (Video courtesy of Seth Spuff Limbaugh / SethLimbaugh.com).
Attorney John Green spoke prior to the candlelight vigil in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
John Green: "It is my personal belief that to be here tonight evidences a respect for everything that we, as citizens of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, hold dear: the integrity and dignity, respect with which we will treat our neighbors and our friends and our colleagues." (Video courtesy of Seth Spuff Limbaugh / SethLimbaugh.com).
A group of counter-protesters in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, gathered to openly oppose the construction of the mosque. One of the counter-protesters, Kimberly Kelly, expressed support for the use of arson to stop the mosque from being built. She told The Tennessean newspaper, "I think it was a piece of their own medicine. They bombed our country."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has announced the US will begin flying Predator surveillance drones out of Corpus Christi, Texas, beginning tomorrow. This will give US Customs and Border Protection agents the ability to use drones to remotely monitor the entire southwest border with Mexico from Texas to California. Meanwhile, the first round of National Guard forces have arrived in the Arizona desert to patrol the border. More National Guard troops are expected to be deployed to southern California tomorrow.
Mexican officials have announced the capture of Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a Texas-born man suspected to be a major drug lord. He was seized by federal police near Mexico City on Monday. Valdez was charged earlier this year in US District Court with distributing thousands of pounds of cocaine from Mexico to the US from 2004 to 2006. Meanwhile, the Mexican officials announced Monday that about 3,200 federal police officers have been fired so far this year as part of the government’s attempt to eliminate corruption.
In economic news, President Obama urged Senate Republicans Monday to stop blocking a jobs bill that would set up a $30 billion loan fund for small businesses.
President Obama: "The small business owners and the communities that rely on them, they don’t have time for political games. They shouldn’t have to wait any longer. In fact, just this morning, a story showed that small businesses have put hiring and expanding on hold while waiting for the Senate to act on this bill. Simply put, holding this bill hostage is directly detrimental to our economic growth. So I ask Senate Republicans to drop the blockade."
USA Today reports one in six American are now enrolled in government anti-poverty programs due to the housing and job crisis. The number of Americans on Medicaid has reached more than 50 million, a 17 percent increase since December 2007. More than 40 million people receive food stamps — an increase of nearly 50 percent since the start of the economic crisis. And close to ten million receive unemployment insurance, nearly four times the number from 2007.
And in Somalia, four African Union troops from Uganda died Monday when militants fired mortars at the Somali presidential palace in Mogadishu. Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports that veteran Somali radio journalist Barkhat Awale was killed last week, becoming the second journalist killed in Somalia this year. And the size of the UN force in Somalia could soon increase dramatically as Uganda is offering to send up to 10,000 more troops contingent on receiving funding from the United States.