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The White House has confirmed it will ask Congress for an expansive war powers resolution to fight the Islamic State across the globe. The plan calls for a three-year military campaign and a potential battle zone without geographic limitations. The measure could also open the door to deploying ground forces by only ruling out their “enduring” use. President Obama has waged the current anti-ISIS strikes in Syria and Iraq under the 2001 war on terror resolution as well as the 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq War. The new measure would repeal the 2002 authority while keeping the authorization of 2001. The move comes despite Obama’s previous call for repealing both war authorization measures and a pledge not to sign any law that expands them further.
The White House call for an expanded war on ISIS comes as it weighs slowing its withdrawal from Afghanistan for a second time. According to The Washington Post, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan would be given leeway to set the pace of the planned drawdown of NATO forces this year. The U.S.-led NATO occupation formally ended its combat mission in December, but the U.S. secretly expanded its role to ensure American troops continue fighting. The United States also left behind an additional 1,000 troops on top of the nearly 10,000 already committed to remain.
The family of kidnapped U.S. aid worker Kayla Mueller has confirmed her death in Syria. Mueller’s captors, the Islamic State, had claimed Mueller was killed in a Jordanian airstrike last week. On Tuesday, the family said it had received proof she was killed, but it remains unclear how. Kayla Mueller’s aunt, Lori Lyon, paid tribute to her niece.
Lori Lyon: “She has done more in her incredible 26 years than many people can ever imagine doing in their lifetime. My daughter said to me, 'Things that were important to Kayla are finally getting the attention that they deserve.' Kayla has touched the heart of the world.”
Mueller moved to the Turkish-Syrian border in late 2012 to work with Syrian refugees. She had previously worked with refugees overseas including Tibetans in India, Africans in Israel, and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. On Tuesday, President Obama said he is heartbroken by Mueller’s death, but defended U.S. policy blocking negotiations and ransom payments to militant groups like ISIS.
President Obama has urged Vladimir Putin to accept a peace deal with Ukraine while warning of “rising costs” if the Russian leader does not. Obama and Putin spoke by phone ahead of today’s talks between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in Belarus. The White House says Obama stressed “the importance of … seizing the opportunity” of the negotiations, while also warning “the costs will rise” if Russia continues backing Ukrainian rebels. Obama’s call to Putin came one day after he said he is considering arming the Ukrainian government. A number of European countries, including France and Germany, have opposed military aid to Kiev. The talks come as eastern Ukraine is seeing some of its worst violence to date. At least 12 people were killed and 64 wounded in the city of Kramatorsk when a rocket struck the headquarters of the Ukrainian military’s campaign. On the eve of today’s talks, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called for the removal of Russian soldiers from Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: “This is absolutely unacceptable. And that’s why we think that these crimes should be punished. We demanded immediate, unconditional ceasefire, withdrawal of the troops, closing the border, and withdrawal of all the foreign troops from Ukrainian territory.”
Poroshenko said today he is prepared to impose martial law throughout Ukraine. Casualties were also reported from shelling in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. Ukraine says it wants a return to the terms of a September ceasefire, while Russia says any new truce must reflect the gains of separatist rebels over Ukrainian forces since fighting resumed. Russia has also called for assurances against NATO expansion and addressing the grievances of eastern Ukrainians opposed to the Kiev government that came to power with the ouster of elected President Viktor Yanukovych one year ago.
The State Department has closed the U.S. Embassy in Yemen and evacuated its staff, including the ambassador, amid a political and security crisis in the capital Sana’a. Yemen has been in limbo since Houthi rebels forced the resignation of the Yemeni cabinet and then seized power last week. Speaking to reporters in Washington, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki declined to share details on the closure.
Jen Psaki: “The safety and security of U.S. personnel in Yemen is our top priority, and we are always evaluating the security situation on the ground and taking steps to mitigate risks. We have been reducing staff in Yemen over the past few weeks, as all of you know, given the volatile political and security situation. We have nothing further to announce over and above what we have previously announced.”
The Houthis have dissolved parliament and named Mohammed Ali al-Houthi as the new president in place of the ousted Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The Houthis’ moves come as they take part in a new round of U.N.-brokered talks.
Three Muslim students have been shot dead in an apparent hate crime at the University of North Carolina. The victims were killed Tuesday night when a gunman opened fire at a residential complex in Chapel Hill. They have been identified as 23-year-old Deah Barakat, his 21-year-old wife Yusor Mohammad, and her sister 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. A suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, has been arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Hicks had made online posts declaring himself a supporter of the group “Atheists for Equality.” The hashtag #ChapelHillShooting has spread across social media with Internet users criticizing what they call a lack of national media coverage of the shooting.
A grand jury has indicted a New York City police officer for the killing of unarmed African American Akai Gurley last November. Gurley was in the dimly lit stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project when Officer Peter Liang opened fire. Liang did not respond to police radio contact for more than six minutes and texted his union representative for advice. A neighbor ended up calling for the ambulance that rushed Gurley to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has said Liang fired by accident. Liang faces charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault and official misconduct.
NBC News has suspended anchor Brian Williams for six months without pay for making false statements about a 2003 incident in Iraq. Williams apologized last week after it emerged he had wrongly claimed he was on board a U.S. helicopter downed by rocket fire. American soldiers publicly challenged Williams’ account, saying he was nowhere near the aircraft that came under attack. Williams has blamed the “fog of memory” for his mistake. But in a statement, NBC said Williams’ claims were “wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.” On Tuesday, Williams’ former boss at NBC Universal, Bob Wright, defended the anchor by pointing to his favorable coverage of the military, saying: “He has been the strongest supporter of the military of any of the news players. He never comes back with negative stories, he wouldn’t question if we’re spending too much.”
As Brian Williams is suspended, the nation’s top satirist of the media and political establishment has announced he is stepping down sometime this year. On Tuesday, Jon Stewart said he will retire as host of The Daily Show after a 16-year run.