The U.S.-led NATO occupation has formally ended its 13-year combat mission in Afghanistan. The move leaves Afghan forces in charge of security, though more than 17,000 foreign troops will remain. This includes more than 10,000 U.S. troops, who will continue to see a combat role despite the nominal change. The transition follows the deadliest year in Afghanistan since 2001. According to the United Nations, almost 3,200 Afghan civilians have been killed. More than 5,000 members of the Afghan security forces have also died, the highest toll since 2001.
At least seven people were killed Friday in a pair of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. The victims were described as Islamist militants in the North Waziristan region. The strikes come as Pakistani forces have killed dozens of fighters in an intensified offensive following the deadly school attack in Peshawar that killed nearly 150 people, most of them children.
The United States continues its bombing campaign targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon says U.S.-led forces carried out eight strikes in Syria and five in Iraq on Sunday. Meanwhile, a new tally says the Islamic State has killed nearly 1,900 people since declaring a caliphate in parts of Syria in late June. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the toll includes more than 1,100 civilians.
Thousands of people, including a sea of uniformed officers, gathered in New York City on Saturday for the funeral of New York Police Department Officer Rafael Ramos, one of the two killed in a targeted ambush one week before. The funeral was said to be the largest in the NYPD’s history. Speakers included Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Vice President Joe Biden: “I believe that this great police force and this incredibly diverse city can and will show the nation how to bridge any divide. You’ve done it before, and you will do it again.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio: “He had a dream that he would one day be a police officer, and he worked for that dream, and he lived it, and he became it. He couldn’t wait to take that test. He couldn’t wait to put on that uniform. He believed in protecting others, and those who are called to protect others are a special breed.”
As New York City Mayor de Blasio spoke at the funeral for NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos, a large group of officers outside the Queens church turned their backs to the screen projecting his remarks. It was the second time officers have turned their backs on de Blasio since the pair’s killing. The NYPD’s union leadership has criticized the mayor for his comments on police brutality and racial profiling. On Sunday, New York City Commissioner Bill Bratton called the officers’ funeral protest “inappropriate.” A funeral service for the other slain officer, Wenjian Liu, will be held on Sunday.
Los Angeles police have been caught on video mocking slain Ferguson teenager Michael Brown. A video obtained by the website TMZ shows officers at an LAPD gathering listening to a parody based on the song, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” It includes the lyrics “Michael looked like some old Swiss cheese / His brain was splattered on the floor.”
Song: “And Michael looked like some old Swiss cheese / His brain was splattered on the floor / And he’s dead, dead Michael Brown / Deadest man in the whole damn town / His whole life’s long gone / Deader than a roadkill dog.”
The singer of the song has been identified as former federal investigator Gary Fishell. The LAPD says it is investigating.
In Ferguson, a spokesperson for the police department has been suspended without pay after calling the roadside memorial to Michael Brown a “pile of trash.” Officer Timothy Zoll initially claimed he was misquoted before admitting that was not the case. Zoll was responding to a question about a motorist running over the memorial, which stands in the exact spot where Brown was killed. Local residents have since restored it.
Protests against police brutality and racial profiling continued this weekend across the country. On Saturday, demonstrators gathered for a march in Los Angeles.
Protester: “We’re marching today to raise awareness about the injustices that are happening around the nation, that being the things that has happened in New York, that has happened in Ferguson and that has happened in L.A.”
The National Security Agency has released internal oversight reports showing violations and errors over a 12-year period. The practices include sharing Americans’ emails with unauthorized recipients and wrongfully gathering private information. Most of the violations appear to have come from human error as opposed to deliberate intent. The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the NSA for releasing the documents on Christmas Eve, saying the timing suggests officials wanted to minimize their impact.
Protests were held across Mexico this weekend to mark three months since the disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero. Authorities say the students were seized by local police and handed over to a local drug gang, who executed them and burned the remains. Among thousands marching in Mexico City this weekend was Adán Cortés, an activist who interrupted the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo this month to call attention to the students’ case. Cortés told Democracy Now! the disappearances have taken a toll on the students’ families.
Adán Cortés: “I feel powerless. I would love to hand their children over to them, if they’re kidnapped, turn them over alive, and if they’re dead, at least hand over their bodies so they can pray over them. I feel a sense of impotence, and I also feel empathy for their anger. Just imagine what they must feel to not have any news about their children for three months. We’re not talking one week or one month. It’s three months, and they know nothing about their children. Anger and solidarity is all that I can feel in this moment.”
Today marks one year that three Al Jazeera journalists have been imprisoned in Egypt. Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were convicted on terrorism charges including “spreading false news” in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, deemed by the government a “terrorist group.” Speaking in Australia, Greste’s brother, Andrew Greste, said the international campaign for the three journalists continues.
Andrew Greste: “We have never given up fighting for justice, because we obviously believe, as do the majority of the world believe, that he’s done nothing wrong. He’s a remarkably tough guy, but again, it’s been a long 12 months, and the conditions haven’t been all that easy to endure, and he’s as good as he can be, I guess, given that he’s been there for 12 months and locked up on some pretty flimsy evidence.”
An Egyptian court will hear the group’s appeal on Thursday.
In another case involving a government crackdown, an Egyptian appeals court has upheld the convictions of 23 pro-democracy activists for rallying against the government’s anti-protest law. The group took part in a June demonstration calling for the release of political prisoners and the annulment of a law that only allows government-approved demonstrations. On Sunday, the activists’ convictions were upheld, but their sentences were reduced from three to two years. The 23 protesters include Yara Sallam and Sanaa Seif, deemed by Amnesty International to be “prisoners of conscience.” The sentencing comes just days after the United States delivered 10 Apache helicopters to the Egyptian government as part of the military aid that resumed this year.
Cuba has rejected calls to extradite exiled Black Panther Assata Shakur back to the United States following the historic resumption of diplomatic ties. Shakur was convicted of killing a state trooper in 1973 after being pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike. The encounter left both the officer and a fellow Black Panther dead. Shakur has said she was shot by police with both arms in the air, and then again from the back. She was sentenced to life in prison but managed to escape and flee to Cuba, where she has lived since 1984. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called on President Obama to demand Shakur’s extradition. But in a statement, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said the two countries do not have an extradition treaty and political asylum is not up for negotiation, saying: “Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted.”
An Oregon woman wrongly jailed in East Timor has been released after over two months behind bars. Stacey Addison, a veterinarian, was arrested in September after sharing a taxi with a stranger who turned out to be carrying illegal drugs. Addison was freed on Christmas Day following an international campaign for her release. While she is now out of prison, she still cannot leave East Timor until the Timorese government returns her passport.