U.S. Admits Responsibility for Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan

For years (ex: this post from 2005), we have been talking about how the U.S. war in Afghanistan has been taking a toll on civilians in the country–a prediction that was first made by the anti-war movement back in 2001.

In recent years, air strikes have continued to devastate the country and target its civilian population. Civilian casualties increased last year and this year there are continued reports of casualties along with an expansion of the use of unmanned drones to carry out attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The killings have become frequent enough that even the Afghani government–which has been fairly uncritical of the U.S.–has been forced to make the attacks an issue.

Last month, there was a U.S. air strike that killed “dozens” (Red Cross estimates put the casualties at 120). At the time, the U.S. blamed the Taliban for the civilian casualties, but it is now admitting that it was responsible:

A military investigation has concluded that American personnel made significant errors in carrying out some of the airstrikes in western Afghanistan on May 4 that killed dozens of Afghan civilians, according to a senior American military official.

The official said the civilian death toll would probably have been reduced if American air crews and forces on the ground had followed strict rules devised to prevent civilian casualties. Had the rules been followed, at least some of the strikes by American warplanes against half a dozen targets over seven hours would have been aborted.

In many cases, it has been suggested that these continued attacks are motivating Afghanis to oppose the U.S. presence–and in some cases–to join insurgent groups. Can you really blame them?

Headlines: Unemployment Rate Reaches 8.9%; Pentagon Requests $50 Billion for Secret Operations

Democracy Now Headlines: Unemployment Rate Reaches 8.9%; Pentagon Requests $50 Billion for Secret Operations

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

At Least 430 Killed in Sri Lankan “Bloodbath”

In Sri Lanka, at least 430 civilians, including 100 children, have died after the Sri Lanka military shelled a civilian area under the control of the Tamil Tigers. But the actual death toll may be far higher. A pro-Tamil Tiger website estimates 3,200 civilians have died in what was the heaviest attack in the military’s attempt to eliminate the separatist group. Doctors say at least 1,100 people have been injured. The United Nations described the scene as a “bloodbath.” Doctors and priests working inside the civilian area blamed the attack on the Sri Lankan military. One Catholic priest inside the war zone said, “They are fighting civilians. They’re using cluster bombs, cannons. They’re shooting towards people.” But the Sri Lankan government accused the Tamil Tigers of shelling their own civilians. Sri Lanka has banned all journalists and international organizations from the conflict zone. On Sunday, the Sri Lankan government deported three British journalists after they had reported on conditions in government-run refugee camps. A coalition of international human rights groups have called for the UN Security Council to urgently hold talks on the conflict.

US-Iranian Journalist Roxana Saberi to be Freed

The US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi will reportedly be set free later today after an Iranian court reduced her prison term to a two-year suspended sentence. Once released, Saberi is expected to be allowed to leave Iran. Saberi was sentenced last month to eight years in prison after being convicted in a secret trial of spying for the United States.

Unemployment Rate Hits 8.9%; 539,000 Lost Jobs in April

The nation’s unemployment rate has reached 8.9 percent, the highest in twenty-six years. Five hundred thirty-nine thousand workers lost their jobs in April. The current unemployment rate would jump to nearly 16 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. African American workers remain the hardest hit by the economic crisis. The official black unemployment rate is now 15 percent, but economists estimate the actual rate is closer to 27 percent. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner attempted to put a somewhat positive spin on the latest unemployment numbers.

Timothy Geithner: “They’re encouraging, in some sense, because the rate of decline in the economy as a whole is slowing. You’re seeing some signs of stability. But these are enormously large numbers. You know, you had more than half a million Americans lose their jobs again. And it just underscores the fact that the economy as a whole is still going through a very challenging period.”

UN: Hundreds of Thousands Flee Fighting in Pakistan

The United Nations is estimating at least 360,000 people have fled heavy fighting in northwest Pakistan, causing the largest displacement crisis in Pakistan’s history. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees projects that there will soon be one million internally displaced persons in Pakistan. The refugees are fleeing the Swat Valley, where the Pakistani military claims it has killed 700 Taliban militants in recent days.

US Rejects Karzai’s Request to Halt Air Strikes in Afghanistan

President Obama’s National Security Adviser, General James Jones, said Sunday that the US will continue carrying out air strikes in Afghanistan despite criticism from the Afghan government. During an interview on Meet the Press, Afghan president Hamid Karzai said the strikes are undermining US efforts in Afghanistan

Hamid Karzai: “Our villages are not where the terrorists are. And that’s what we keep telling the US administration, that the war on terrorism is not in the Afghan villages, not in the Afghan homes. Respect that. Civilian casualties are undermining support in the Afghan people for the war on terrorism and for the relations with America. How can you expect a people who keep losing their children to remain friendly?”

US Accused of Firing White Phosphorus in Afghanistan

Meanwhile, US and NATO forces have been accused of using white phosphorus munitions in Afghanistan. In one incident reported by Human Rights Watch, an eight-year-old Afghan girl was severely burned by white phosphorus in March. Her father said NATO forces had fired the rounds that caused her injuries.

Jury Acquits W.R. Graces in Libby, Montana Asbestos Case

A federal jury in Montana has acquitted chemical company W.R. Grace and three of its executives on all counts for knowingly exposing residents of Libby, Montana to asbestos poisoning. An estimated 1,200 residents of Libby have died or developed cancer or lung disease from exposure to asbestos-containing ore from a mine in the town. Community activist Gayla Benefield said, “They’ve gotten away with murder again, and that’s just the way it will always be.” Shares of W.R. Grace rose 36 percent on the news of the acquittal.

Coalition Pledges to Help Slow Growth of Healthcare Spending

A group of doctors, hospitals, drug makers and insurance companies are pledging to help slow the explosive growth of healthcare spending over the next decade. The voluntary pledge doesn’t aim at cutting healthcare spending overall, but merely restraining its rate of growth. In a letter to President Obama, the healthcare providers said they would reduce costs by simplifying administrative costs, making hospitals more efficient, reducing hospitalizations, managing chronic illnesses more effectively, and improving healthcare information technology. The voluntary cuts are being offered in an effort to stave off new government price constraints that might be imposed by Congress. According to the White House, the plan could save $2 trillion over the next decade. The trade groups making the pledge include the American Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and the Service Employees International Union.

Obama Administration to Keep Bush’s Polar Bear Rule

The Obama administration said on Friday it will keep a Bush-era rule that plays down the link between the threatened status of the polar bear and climate change. Conservation and environmental groups criticized the Interior Department’s decision. Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity said, “The special rule is a death warrant for the polar bear. With its sea-ice habitat rapidly disappearing, the polar bear needs the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.” Alaska Governor Sarah Palin hailed the Obama administration’s decision as a “clear victory for Alaska,” because it removes the link between bear protection and climate change and should help North Slope oil and gas development.

Pentagon Requests Record $50 Billion Black Budget

The publication Aviation Week reports the Pentagon is requesting a record $50 billion for its secret black budget. This marks a three percent increase over last year’s total. The Pentagon budget for secret operations is now larger than the entire military budget of Britain, France or Japan.

Obama Calls for Reforming Credit Card Industry

In his weekly radio address, President Obama called on Congress to pass a “Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights” that would impose tighter regulation on the credit card industry.

President Obama: “Americans know that they have a responsibility to live within their means and pay what they owe. But they also have a right not to get ripped off by the sudden rate hikes, unfair penalties and hidden fees that have become all too common in our credit card industry. You shouldn’t have to fear that any new credit card is going to come with strings attached, nor should you need a magnifying glass and a reference book to read a credit card application. And the abuses in our credit card industry have only multiplied in the midst of this recession, when Americans can least afford to bear an extra burden.”

Israel Has Secret Plan to Thwart Division of Jerusalem

The Israeli government and settler organizations are secretly working to surround East Jerusalem with nine national parks, pathways and sites, drastically altering the geography of the city and to strengthen Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it, a move not recognized by the international community. The Guardian newspaper reports, under an eight-year plan, a series of nine national parks, trails and tourist sites based on apparent Jewish historical spots would be established, most under the control of settler groups working together with the Israeli government. The sites would also create a link to Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. The Israeli organization Peace Now says the secret plan for East Jerusalem might prevent the ability to reach a two-state solution.

Obama Renews Sanctions Against Syria

In other news from the Middle East, President Obama has renewed economic and diplomatic sanctions against Syria. The sanctions were first put in place by President Bush four years ago.

Jacob Zuma Sworn In as South African President

In South Africa, Jacob Zuma has been sworn in as the country’s new president. He becomes South Africa’s third post-apartheid leader.

Jacob Zuma: “In the presence of everyone assembled here and in full realization of the high calling, I assume as president of the Republic of South Africa, I, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, swear that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and will obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other law.”

65 Die in Somalia Fighting

In other news from Africa, at least sixty-five people have died in the Somali capital Mogadishu in heaving fighting between rival Islamist groups. More than 190 people have been injured.

Wanda Sykes Performs at White House Correspondents Dinner

And the White House Correspondents Association dinner was held Saturday in Washington. The comedian Wanda Sykes provided the evening’s entertainment.

Wanda Sykes: “It is truly an honor to be here. It really is. I keep getting asked the same question: you know, are you nervous? Are you nervous? I’m like, ‘With this administration, what is there to be nervous about?’ You know, if I do a good job, I get great press; and if I screw it up royally, Tim Geithner will give me a bonus.”

Obama’s Defense Budget to Increase in 2010

Obama's Defense Budget Increased Over Bush's

The proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2010, announced last Wednesday by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, has been praised by the mainstream media for cutting funding to weapons programs. Although this is true — for example, the high profile F-22 fighter jet, a project that has been in development since 1986, costs $300 million per plane, and has been openly talked about by Gates as useless to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been cut. Yet, the overall budget is still increased by 3.4% — surpassing George Bush’s spending on defense by $20 billion, amounting to about $700 billion total.

Economic Stimulation Myth

Military spending is being portrayed as a sort of stimulus package by industry leaders and their publicists. The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), which represents more than 100 defense and aerospace corporations, claims that these corporations contribute $97 billion in exports a year and maintain 2 million jobs. Yet according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing, which includes some non-defense related corporations, employed 472,000 wage and salary workers in 2006.

The claim that spending more money on defense will stimulate the economy begs the question of why, after spending increasingly ludicrous amounts on defense since 2002, the U.S. is not experiencing an economic boom now. The truth is that spending billions on defense only stimulates the pockets of corporate CEOs. In 2002, the top three defense contractors – Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman – split $42 billion in Pentagon contracts. In 2007 (the latest year for which there is data), the Big Three split $69 billion. Yet, according to the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute, for every $1 billion invest in defense, 8,555 jobs are created. That same billion invested in health care creates 12, 883 jobs. Invested in education, it creates 17,687 jobs.

Implications for War

Part of Obama’s military budget includes an additional $130 billion on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By cutting spending on weapons programs, Obama is not seeking to reduce the U.S.’s commitment to war – rather, he is looking to shift the focus of U.S. military capabilities away from traditional wars against other armies, to the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency skills needed for the type of wars the U.S. has been fighting since 2001. Obama continues to increase troops in Afghanistan – a 4,000-troop increase was announced on top of the 17,000-troop increase previously planned — and maintain the number of troops stationed in Iraq.

It is easy to see that despite cutting funding to some weapons programs, the overall defense budget increase, new focus, and increase in troops are clear signs that Obama is as committed to senseless war as his predecessor.

Headlines: EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Mining; Pentagon to Drop “War on Terror” Terminology

Democracy Now Headlines: EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Mining; Pentagon to Drop 'War on Terror' Terminology

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Admin Proposes New Authority to Seize Non-Bank Firms

The Obama administration is seeking Congressional approval for the authority to seize troubled non-banking firms. The proposal would grant regulators powers similar to those of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation over banks. The government could cancel contracts, including bonuses, as well as sell off company assets or debts. Speaking before the House financial services committee Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke said the proposed new authority could have prevented the government bailout of AIG had it been in place. The House Financial Services Committee is expected to vote on the proposal next week.

Obama Defends AIG Response, Pushes Budget

President Obama meanwhile appeared in the second White House news conference of his presidency. Obama was asked about his slow response to news of the AIG bonuses.

CNN Correspondent Ed Henry: “Why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage? It seems like the action is coming out of New York and the attorney general’s office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, “Look, we’re outraged.” Why did it take so long?”

President Obama: “It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”

Obama meanwhile tempered his previous criticism of Wall Street, saying executives shouldn’t be “demonized.”

President Obama: “Bankers and executives on Wall Street need to realize that enriching themselves on the taxpayers’ dime is inexcusable, that the days of outsized rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over. At the same time, the rest of us can’t afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit. That drive is what has always fueled our prosperity, and it is what will ultimately get these banks lending and our economy moving once more.”

Obama focused his appearance on touting his $3.6 trillion dollar budget as it heads towards a House and Senate vote. Democratic leaders say they’ve cut hundreds of millions of dollars in spending during committee talks. A vote could come as early as next week. Obama meanwhile offered his first comments on Russia and China’s proposal for a new global currency, saying he’s against the idea.

Bailed-out J.P. Morgan to Buy Luxury Jets

The bailed-out financial giant J.P. Morgan says it’s going ahead with with a $138 million dollar plan on two luxury jets and a deluxe aircraft hanger. The firm has received $25 billion dollars under the taxpayer-funded bailout.

EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Projects

The Environmental Protection Agency has delayed hundreds of mountaintop coal-mining projects for a new review of their environmental impact. Mountaintop removal has been widely criticized for endangering waters and streams in the Appalachian Valley. The review effectively overrides last month’s federal appeals court ruling that backed the Army Corps of Engineers’ authority to oversee mountaintop removals. Environmentalists had previously won court judgments affirming that the Army Corps violated the Clean Water Act. In a related action, the EPA also announced it will block two projects that had won Army Corps approval. The EPA says the mountaintop removals would have endangered streams in West Virginia and Kentucky with thousands of feet of mining waste.

Probe: Labor Dept. Fails to Safeguard Worker Rights

A new Congressional probe says the government agency for enforcing labor laws has failed to protect workers. In a report set for release today, the Government Accountability Office says the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division hasn’t adequately enforced violations of minimum wage, overtime and other labor rights. The study says agency officials mishandled nine out of ten cases brought by undercover agents posing as workers. Some investigators dropped cases simply because the accused employers didn’t return their calls. Others waited months to respond to worker complaints and then said it would take another several months to act on them. The report says: “Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn. Unfortunately, far too often the result is unscrupulous employers’ taking advantage of our country’s low-wage workers.”

Specter Withdraws Support for Employee Free Choice Act

Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has dealt a blow to organized labor, announcing he won’t support the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill would stop employers from demanding secret-ballot elections and require them to recognize unions if a majority of workers consented. It’s been fiercely opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups who’ve launched a multi-million dollar lobbying and ad campaign to stop it. Specter had previously signaled support for the bill and its sponsors had been counting on his backing.

Health Insurers Offer to Drop Overcharging for Illness

The nation’s private health care industry has made a new concession in its effort to stave off proposals for a government-run health care program. On Tuesday, the two main health insurance trade groups said they would be willing to stop charging sick people higher fees if all Americans were required to buy insurance. The proposal doesn’t completely rule out continuing charging varying premiums, and would only allow apply to individual customers, not small businesses.

State Rep.: “What’s Medicaid?”

A veteran Republican state representative is coming under criticism for admitting he doesn’t know what Medicaid is. Speaking before a hearing of the Texas state Health and Human Services Committee, Gary Elkins said: “What’s Medicaid? I know I hear it … I really don’t know what it is.”

Obama Admin Backs Ban on Foreign Scholar

The Obama administration has apparently decided to continue the former President George W. Bush’s policy of banning foreign scholars under anti-terror laws. In a federal appeals court hearing Tuesday, a government lawyer argued in favor of maintaining a ban on a prominent Muslim intellectual barred from a teaching job in the United States. The scholar, Tariq Ramadan, was offered a position at the University of Notre Dame in Ohio in 2004. The Bush administration initially barred his entry without explanation and then said it was because he once gave money to a Palestinian charity. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the ban on Ramadan’s behalf.

Pentagon Memo: Drop “War on Terror”

The Washington Post is reporting the Obama administration appears to be dropping the phrase “the global war on terror.” In a memo sent to staffers this week, a Pentagon security official writes: “This administration prefers to avoid using the term “Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror.’ Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.'” An Obama administration official said there has been no official policy change and that the memo solely reflects the opinion of the author. But its directives conform to recent public testimony from senior officials.

Labor Joins Incoming Israeli Government

In Israel, the Labor party has overcome internal opposition to join incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right Likud government. Both the Labor and Likud parties agree on maintaining the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land but Likud has more forcefully rejected peace talks. Labor leader Ehud Barak had earlier pledged to stay in opposition if Labor won less than twenty seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Labor only won thirteen seats in last month’s election.

Clashes Follow Far-Right Israeli March in Arab Town

In other news from Israel, dozens of far-right Israeli activists marched in Israel’s largest Arab town on Tuesday, setting off a protest from residents that ended in clashes with Israeli police. Mohammed Baraka, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, condemned the march.

Mohammed Baraka: “This attack on the citizens has no other explanation but that the police are used to hit and fire toward the Arabs wherever they are. On the other hand when an extremist group demonstrates against our existence, under the name of freedom, they give them the chance to walk in the streets, protected by 2,500 soldiers and policemen. But the people who came to defend their houses and their existence, are suppressed by the police in a very horrible way.”

South Africa Cancels Peace Conference Following Dalai Lama Ban

South Africa has cancelled a global peace conference following an uproar over its ban on the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama from attending. The South African government has been accusing of caving in to China, one of its largest trading partners. On Tuesday, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, condemned the move.

Mandla Mandela: “It is a sad day for South Africa, it is a sad for Africa and we are a nation that is striving to be a leader in the African continent, to also be advanced as far as our peace initiatives we have in Burundi and Sudan. I am very saddened today to see that someone like the Dalai Lama who all our laureates hold highly, has been turned down on their visa application.”

UN Warns on Darfur Aid

The UN is warning of dire consequences for the millions of people who rely on foreign aid groups in Darfur. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir expelled thirteen aid groups from Darfur after the International Criminal Court indicted him on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On Tuesday, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the remaining aid groups are inadequate.

Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “While a significant effort is being made by the government, by the UN, by the NGOs which are left to plug some of the immediate gaps in these areas, these are at the same time band aid solutions, if I can put it that way, not long term solutions.”

10 Die in Afghan Bombing

And in Afghanistan, at least ten civilians have been killed and another six wounded in a roadside bombing. The attack targeted a road used by foreign soldiers in eastern Afghanistan.

Plans Emerging for Reduction of Private Contractors in Iraq

Reductions--over a long period of time--are planned for the use of private contractors in iraq

Over the year and a half, MediaMouse.org has been critical of Democratic plans to “end the war” in Iraq, arguing that the plans have–for the most part–intended to maintain the U.S. occupation of Iraq, albeit in a more subtler manner. This is true of Obama’s recent order, which will maintain a residual force in Iraq of 30,000 to 55,000 troops.

One of the areas we have repeatedly criticized is the absence of any plans to address the military’s reliance on contractors who provide both critical services to the military–feeding soldiers, cleaning barracks, and driving supply contracts–as well as security services to companies and governments with a presence in Iraq. They have been a critical component of the occupation and will likely continue to be for some time. It’s also possible that as the U.S. reduces its formal military presence, contractors could step into fill the gaps left by departing troops.

However, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the U.S. military is hoping to reduce the use of 150,000 contractors in Iraq over the next few years.

Reduction Planned over Next Several Years

The Christian Science Monitor obtained a directive from U.S. General Ray Odierno who is ordering the military to reduce the number of contractors in Iraq by 5% each quarter. Odierno ordered reductions at some 50 bases and small installations across Iraq. He further is asking that the jobs that are not eliminated (many contractors will simply be fired as U.S. troops are removed) go to Iraqis instead.

However, this presents a series of logistical problems–training Iraqis, questions about what happens if the U.S. removes critical equipment, and security concerns–that may slow the removal of contractors. Moreover, the directive does not address the private security contractors in Iraq who operate outside the General’s jurisdiction. They will likely remain in the country for some time to provide security to U.S. interests.

There are currently an estimated 150,000 contractors in Iraq, down from a high of 200,000. Of those 150,000, 39,000 are from the U.S., 70,000 are so-called “third-country nationals” (essentially imported labor that is paid far less than what U.S. workers are paid), and 37,000 are Iraqis.

Obama: Decision on Iraq Withdrawal by March

Obama is Waiting to Make A Decision on Withdrawing from Iraq Until March

Earlier this week, McClarthy Newspapers reported that the Obama administration is considering its options on a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and will come to a decision by mid-March. March is the sixth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.

According to an Obama administration spokesperson:

“We are in the midst of an aggressive, logical review. The review is designed to result in a comprehensive strategy that allows us to end the war while maintaining our interest in a stable Iraq.”

The administration has ordered the military to come up pros and cons of 16-month, 19-month, and 23-month withdrawal plans. A news report suggests that his administration is most closely looking at the 16 and 23-month plans.

Last month, MediaMouse.org reported that Obama had previously pledged to order commanders to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq at his first meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At the meeting, Obama made no such order.

Pressure from the Pentagon?

Meanwhile, there are reports that the military is opposed to Obama’s plans. Gareth Porter wrote an article for IPS that cited several sources saying that US commanders including General Petraeus and Odierno are preparing a media campaign charging that Obama’s plan jeopardizes gains in Iraq. Instead:

“Petraeus, Gates, and Odierno had hoped to sell Obama on a plan that they formulated in the final months of the Bush administration that aimed at getting around a key provision of the U.S.-Iraqi withdrawal agreement signed envisioned re-categorizing large numbers of combat troops as support troops. That subterfuge was by the United States last November while ostensibly allowing Obama to deliver on his campaign promise.”

The article reports that they are still pushing the plan. Most recently, Ordierno was interviewed in the New York Times saying that Obama was “open to alternatives” and stating that it might take a year to develop a plan for withdrawal from Iraq.

Obama Makes First Moves Towards Partial Iraq Withdrawal

Barack Obama Made Initial Moves Towards A Partial Withdraw of US Troops From Iraq

Yesterday, President Barack Obama made his first steps towards his much touted partial withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by convening a meeting with his national security team.

Following up on a Campaign Pledge?

Back in July of 2008, Obama said that he would bring in the Joint Chiefs of Staff on his first day as president and order them to begin withdrawing combat troops from Iraq. In a statement, Obama said:

“The meeting was productive and I very much appreciated receiving assessments from these experienced and dedicated individuals… During the discussion, I asked the military leadership to engage in additional planning necessary to execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq.”

While Obama followed through on the commitment of meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it is debatable as to whether or not he really followed through with his campaign pledge. His statement made no mention of his pledge to withdraw combat troops within 16-months, nor did it mention specifically ordering commanders to start the withdrawal. Instead, he ordered “additional planning” for what he is now calling a “drawdown.”

Obama is reportedly planning a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the next week to further discuss the situation in Iraq.

Limits of Obama’s Iraq Withdrawal

Throughout the campaign, MediaMouse.org reported that Obama’s plan to “End the War” was only a plan for partial withdrawal. This fact was often neglected by Obama’s supporters and some sectors of the anti-war movement.

Since winning the election in November of 2008, Obama has continued to advocate for only a limited withdrawal of “combat troops”–a classification that he never defines:

“Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. Immediately upon taking office, Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new mission in Iraq: ending the war. The removal of our troops will be responsible and phased, directed by military commanders on the ground and done in consultation with the Iraqi government. Military experts believe we can safely redeploy combat brigades from Iraq at a pace of 1 to 2 brigades a month — which would remove all of them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — more than 7 years after the war began.

Under the Obama-Biden plan, a residual force will remain in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel. They will not build permanent bases in Iraq, but will continue efforts to train and support the Iraqi security forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism.”

President Obama has never said what the size of this “residual force” would be (during the campaign Obama’s advisors suggested a that it would be close to 40,000 troops).

Obama has also not pledged to remove private security contractors from Iraq. These contractors play a critical role in maintaining the US occupation of Iraq.