September 03, 2013

Obama: "This is not Iraq. This is not Afghanistan."

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that any military action in war-torn Syria would be "limited" and "proportional" and would not involve "boots on the ground."

"This is not Iraq. This is not Afghanistan," he said. "This is a limited, proportional step that will send a message not only to the Assad regime, but to other countries that may be interested in testing these international norms, that there are consequences."

Obama said he wants Congress to hold a "prompt vote... early next week" authorizing the use of force, and that he expects lawmakers to approve the request. When asked whether he was confident Congress would pass it, he responded "I am." 

Obama is meeting with leaders of the national security committees at the White House today. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, also attended. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. was not there.

Obama said he had "high confidence" the Syrian government used chemical weapons in "indiscriminate fashion" killing more than 1,000 people, including 400 children. That, he says, poses a "serious national security threat to the United States and the region."

Obama declined to answer a question from a report about whether he would support changing the resolution that he sent to Congress this weekend. But several lawmakers say the resolution is too broad and must be narrowed.

June 18, 2013

White House hails opening of a Taliban office in Qatar

The White House said today it welcomes the opening of a Taliban office in Dohar, Qatar as an "important first step" toward reconciliation in war-torn Afghanistan, a move that comes as the US marked the handover of security from US-led NATO forces to Afghanistan forces.

Senior White House officials said the Taliban later today will release a statement that its members oppose using Afghan soil to threaten other countries and that they support an Afghan peace process – two statements the U.S. has long called for and that fulfill a requirement for opening the political office.

Administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations said the U.S. welcomes the effort as an "important first step toward reconciliation," though they cautioned that "after 30 years of armed conflict in Afghanistan," it's likely to be a "complex, long and messy."

The White House says the US will be pushing for the Taliban and other insurgent groups to break ties with Al Queda, end violence and accept Afghanistan's Constitution -- including protections for women and minorities.

They called opening the office "but one milestone on a path to peace" and called on the Afghan government and Taliban to begin negotiations soon. 

The move comes as Afghan national security forces take the lead in securing the country -- moving the US into what officials called a "support and advisory role." Though there are major questions about the capability of Afghan forces, US officials said they believe they'll be suited for the task when the US leaves Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

Afghan forces are "increasingly capable, but they're not yet fully responsible and that's what the next 18 months are all about," an administration official said.

April 24, 2013

Inhofe: Reid sequestration plan "an irresponsible budget gimmick"

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, doesn't like the idea of cutting overseas contingency operations funding to help restore automatic spending cuts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is pushing the plan, but no resolution is expected this week.

Inhofe was not pleased with Reid's idea.

"Sen. Reid’s amendment to cut future Overseas Contingency Operation funding in order to offset current sequestration cuts is an irresponsible budget gimmick that undermines our national security and sends a terrible message to allies and adversaries alike at a time when we face the greatest array of threats in generations,” Inhofe said.

Here's the rest of his statement:

Continue reading "Inhofe: Reid sequestration plan "an irresponsible budget gimmick"" »

Reid pushes sequester replacement plan

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Wednesday pushed his plan to stop the automatic federal spending cuts that went into effect last month. But it was uncertain, and increasingly unlikely, the Senate will act until next month.

Reid made his case in his opening remarks to the Senate.

"We have seen the devastating impacts of these arbitrary budget cuts. Now it’s time to stop them," he said.  "Last night I introduced legislation that would roll back the sequester for the rest of the year. This bill would give Democrats and Republicans time to sit down at the negotiating table and work out an agreement to reduce the deficit in a balanced way."

Reid would pay for the restoration of funding with savings from the windown of the wars Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Before Republicans dismiss these savings, they should recall that 235 House Republicans voted to use these funds to pay for the Ryan Republican budget. They didn’t consider it a gimmick when it served their own purposes," Reid, D-Nevada, said.


February 12, 2013

U.S. will reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan by 34,000

President Obama will announce in his State of the Union Address Tuesday night that by this time next year 34,000 troops will have returned to the United States, according to a senior administration official.

That will reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan by half.

"Further reductions will continue through the end of 2014 as Afghans take full responsibility for their security," the official said.

Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington last month where the two talked about reducing the U.S. troops. Afghan troops will lead combat missions starting in spring.

"The president will not be making any further announcements about troop numbers tonight, nor has he made any decisions beyond the one he is announcing," the official said. 

January 14, 2013

Republican senators visit Israel, Afghanistan

Five Republican senators announced Monday they visited Afghanistan and Israel in recent days.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was accompanied by John Barrasso, R-Wyo.., and freshmen senators Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and  Deb Fischer, R-Neb..

They met with U.S. military personnel, military officials and political leaders to discuss political, economic and security issues affecting bilateral and regional relations.

According to a statement from McConnell's office: "In addition to visiting with troops from their respective states, the Senators met withIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Major General Larry Nicholson, and General John Allen, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force. The delegation returns to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday."

No further details were released.

January 11, 2013

President Obama to bestow Medal of Honor

President Obama will award the Medal of Honor to Clinton Romesha, a former active duty Army Staff Sergeant at a House ceremony on Feb. 11.

The White House says Romesha will receive the Medal of Honor for his "courageous actions while serving as a Section Leader with Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Combat Outpost Keating, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on October 3, 2009."

He'll be the fourth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Romesha separated from the Army on April 4, 2011; he and his family currently live in Minot, North Dakota.

Obama noted the award as he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai held a joint press conference to announce plans to accelerate the withdrawal of troops from the country. Obama noted the medal is the "nation's highest military decoration" and would be bestowed for Romesha's "heroic service."

He and Karzai claimed progress in training Afghan troops to secure the country, with Obama saying it was "only possible because of the incredible sacrifices of our troops and our diplomats, the forces of our many coalition partners, and the Afghan people who've endured extraordinary hardship. 

"In this war, more than 2,000 of America's sons and daughters have given their lives," he said. "These are patriots that we honor today, tomorrow, and forever."

September 11, 2012

On Sept. 11, Romney keeps remarks on a higher plane

 Mitt Romney tried to keep the spirit of Sept. 11 going as he spoke to the National Guard Association conference in Reno Tuesday.

"With less than two months to go before Election Day, I would normally speak to a gathering like this about the differences between my and my opponent’s plans for our military and for our national security.  There is a time and a place for that, but this day is not it," he told the audience.

"It is instead a day to express gratitude to the men and women who have fought – and who are still fighting – to protect us and our country, including those who traced the trail of terror to that walled compound in Abbottabad and the SEALs who delivered justice to Osama bin Laden."

He stressed what he said everyone could agree on -- promoting freedom, peace, and prosperity and having the United States lead the free world.

He turned to Afghanistan, where disagrees somewhat with Obama's plan.

"While the war in Iraq is over, nearly 70,000 American troops still remain in Afghanistan.  Our goal should be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.  We should evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders," Romney said. "We can all agree that our men and women in the field deserve a clear mission, that they deserve the resources and resolute leadership they need to complete that mission, and that they deserve a country that will provide for their needs when they come home. 

"Of course, the return of our troops cannot and must not be used as an excuse to hollow out our military through devastating defense budget cuts.  It is true that our armed forces have been stretched to the brink – and that is all the more reason to repair and rebuild.  We can always find places to end waste.  But we cannot cancel program after program, we cannot jeopardize critical missions, and we cannot cut corners in the quality of the equipment and training we provide." 

"We must recognize that when our troops come home, they should not have to struggle for work.  After all our veterans have done for us, they deserve the opportunity to find good jobs and the dignity of pursuing the American Dream." 

August 30, 2012

Obama on Reddit: Promises White House beer recipe will be revealed

President Obama -- the first president to host a question and answer session on the social news website,  Reddit -- told questioners Wednesday night that the administration will soon make public the recipe for White House beer. A Reddit user had filed a Freedom of Information request for the details.

"It will be out soon!" Obama told the participants. "I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty."

He did answer more serious questions, including telling participants that his "most difficult" decision was the one to send more troops into Afghanistan.

"Any time you send our brave men and women into battle, you know that not everyone will come home safely, and that necessarily weighs heavily on you," he wrote. "The decision did help us blunt the taliban's momentum, and is allowing us to transition to afghan lead - so we will have recovered that surge at the end of this month, and will end the war at the end of 2014. But knowing of the heroes that have fallen is something you never forget."

He didn't answer a host of questions (including whether he likes cats,) but signaled he enjoyed the banter: "By the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole Reddit experience — NOT BAD!" he wrote.

May 17, 2012

Obama will not meet one-on-one with Pakistan president at summit

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari will attend this weekend's NATO summit in Chicago, but will not meet one on one with President Barack Obama.

White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon told reporters Thursday that Obama simply will not have time for individual meetings with 61 individual leaders. He said Obama would see Zardari in group sessions, many of which will enter on the war in neighboring Afghanistan.


Donilon also said the U.S. and Pakistan are making progress on talks to re-open Pakistan's border to NATO overland supply routes into Afghanistan. Pakistanj shut down the supply route after 24 Pakistan solders were killed in a border incident last November.



"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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