President Obama has officially reversed course and announced he has halted the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Speaking at the White House Thursday, Obama described the Afghanistan War as "vital to our national security interests" and said U.S. forces will continue to go after al-Qaeda.
President Obama: "First, I’ve decided to maintain our current posture of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, 2016. Their mission will not change. Our troops will continue to pursue those two narrow tasks that I outlined earlier: training Afghan forces and going after al-Qaeda. But maintaining our current posture through most of next year, rather than a more rapid drawdown, will allow us to sustain our efforts to train and assist Afghan forces as they grow stronger, not only during this fighting season, but into the next one."
Across the United States, military families reacted to the news. In Oceanside, California, the father of an active-duty soldier expressed concern over the prolonging of occupation.
Charles Edwards: "I was truly, truly hoping, because my son has less than a year to complete his 20 years. I was truly, truly hoping that he would be getting out, but he signed on for two more years prior to this announcement. He and I have some talking to do."
We’ll have more with Intercept co-founder and reporter Jeremy Scahill on the U.S. war in Afghanistan later, as well as his explosive new report in The Intercept, "The Drone Papers."
Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders says a U.S. tank has forced its way into the Afghan hospital destroyed by a U.S. airstrike, sparking concern the U.S. military may have destroyed evidence in a potential war crimes investigation. The October 3 airstrike on the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killed 12 medical staff and 10 patients. Thirty-three people remain missing. Doctors Without Borders says the U.S. tank’s "unannounced and forced entry damaged property, destroyed potential evidence and caused stress and fear." This comes as the Associated Press reports U.S. special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on the Afghan hospital in the days before the airstrike out of suspicion it was being used as a base for the Taliban. The intelligence included maps of the regions with a circle drawn around the hospital. The White House has described the U.S. airstrike on the hospital as "a mistake."
In news from Israel and the Occupied Territories, local media sources are reporting violence by Israeli forces is escalating in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem, just as Israel says it’s deploying more troops to the border with Gaza. Media sources say Israeli soldiers have shot and wounded at least a dozen Palestinian protesters with live or rubber-coated bullets. This comes as the Israeli justice minister has announced Palestinian family members of suspected attackers would be stripped of their Jerusalem residency rights and social security. At least 32 Palestinians and eight Israelis have been killed in the past two weeks of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the violence.
John Kerry: "We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against innocent civilians, and there is absolutely no justification for these reprehensible attacks. And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend its existence. It is critically important, though, that calm be restored as soon as possible. And we, the administration, will continue to stress the importance, politically and privately, of preventing inflammatory rhetoric, accusations or actions that could lead to violence."
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is disputing the account of a 13-year-old boy who was videotaped bleeding in the streets of East Jerusalem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claims the boy was executed after he allegedly took part in a stabbing attack. But Netanyahu says the boy has been hospitalized and his condition is improving. Israel released photos Thursday of the boy in the hospital. Following the photos’ release, the Israeli Physicians for Human Rights issued a statement saying the move was a violation of juvenile law and medical ethics.
In news from the campaign trail, Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have raised more money than any other candidates over the last three months. Clinton raised $30 million. Sanders raised $26 million, despite continuing to refuse to accept campaign donations from corporations and super PACs. Ben Carson raised $20 million, the most of any other Republican candidate. At this point, the 2016 campaign is significantly outpacing recent election cycles in campaign contributions. Half the money raised so far has come from outside groups like super PACs.
Meanwhile, Republican front-runner Donald Trump and his top challenger, Ben Carson, are threatening to boycott the next Republican presidential debate if host network CNBC doesn’t agree to their demands. Carson and Trump want to limit the debate time to two hours and include opening and closing statements. The previous Republican debate stretched on for a full three hours. The debate is scheduled for October 28. This comes after the first Democratic presidential debate also sparked controversy when Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii said she was disinvited, one day after calling for more debates than the six currently scheduled.
Meanwhile, a close friend of Vice President Joe Biden has released a letter to Biden’s former staffers saying that he will be making a decision soon on whether to join the 2016 presidential election. The letter also asks the staffers for their support and involvement should Biden declare his candidacy. CNN reports a senior Democratic official has said the vice president will likely decide within the next three days.
A frequent Fox News commentator has been arrested and charged for falsely claiming to have worked for the CIA for decades. Wayne Simmons said he worked as an "outside paramilitary special operations officer" for the CIA from 1973 to 2000, a claim U.S. prosecutors say is false. Simmons allegedly tried to use his phony record to get government security clearances and to secure work as a military contractor. He was identified as a CIA operative in appearances on Fox News. Simmons frequently made dubious claims, such as his January statement that there are "at least 19 paramilitary Muslim training facilities in the United States." After his arrest, Fox News said he had only appeared as an unpaid guest. Simmons is charged with major fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to the government. He faces up to 35 years in prison.
Volkswagen has issued a mandatory recall of 8.5 million cars across Europe, amid the scandal over Volkswagen’s installation of emissions-cheating software in its diesel cars. This comes after Germany ordered Volkswagen to recall 2.4 million cars in that country. Volkswagen was required to extend the recall Thursday to all European cars under European Union regulations.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has declared a state of disaster in a Central Texas county after a wildfire destroyed nine homes and sent dozens of people fleeing for their safety. The Hidden Pines Fire in Bastrop County, Texas, covers more than 4,000 acres and is only 15 percent contained. Meanwhile, a global insurance company has estimated California’s wildfires this summer caused nearly $2 billion in damages. The fires were among the worst in state history. Governor Jerry Brown has connected the fires to climate change and California’s historic drought, warning: "This is the future."
In news from Europe, an Afghan refugee has been fatally shot by Bulgarian border guards while trying to cross from Turkey. The United Nations refugee agency says it was the first case of a fatal police shooting of a refugee on the EU’s borders. This comes as the European Union and Turkey have agreed on a plan for Turkey to stop refugees fleeing conflict from crossing into Europe by sea. In exchange, European leaders will give Turkey billions more in aid money, ease restrictions for Turkish citizens traveling to Europe and restart Turkey’s long-stalled negotiations to join the European Union. This comes as the World Bank is considering a plan to compensate Syria’s neighboring countries for the cost of hosting refugees for long periods of time. World Bank adviser Colin Bruce announced the proposal.
Colin Bruce: "So, the second point to emphasize is that we recognize that for many of these countries there is a cost associated with hosting refugees, and so they need to be compensated. And we are quite prepared to enter into that dialogue with our shareholders as to how we support the compensation of countries, and in particular the middle-income countries that often do not have access to concessional resources. And that’s the conversation that is taking place."
In Nigeria, at least 14 people have been killed in two suicide bomb attacks in the northeast Borno State. The attacks hit a mosque during prayer hour Thursday. This comes after bombings killed five people the day before. No one has taken responsibility for either attack, but authorities say they suspect the militant group Boko Haram. This week, President Obama announced the United States will deploy 300 troops to the neighboring country of Cameroon to fight Boko Haram.
In Michigan, the family of a 17-year-old teenager shot and killed by an Eaton County Sheriff’s sergeant after a February traffic stop has filed a federal lawsuit over his death. Sergeant Jonathan Frost stopped Deven Guilford after the teenager flashed his bright lights at the sergeant because he thought the sergeant’s brights were on. When Deven didn’t give Sergeant Frost his driver’s license, which he had left with his girlfriend, Frost pulled the teenager out of the car, ordered him to lie on his stomach, and fired his stun gun into the teenager as he handcuffed him. According to the Eaton County prosecutor, some form of altercation then ensued, in which Sergeant Frost shot Guilford seven times in a snow-filled ditch. Guilford was unarmed. His family filed a wrongful death suit against Sergeant Frost and the county on Wednesday — four months after Frost was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. Frost remains on active duty.
And a recent episode of the hit Showtime TV series "Homeland" featured subversive graffiti messages in Arabic lettering that read "Homeland is racist" and "There is no Homeland." The messages appeared scrawled across a wall on the set of a fictional Syrian refugee camp covered with Arabic graffiti. Three artists, including an Egyptian artist, say they were behind the subversive messages and that the action was in protest of the TV series’ false and misleading stereotypes of Muslims.