We have breaking news on President Obama's plan for drawing down troop levels in Afghanistan. There was lots of upbeat language in the president's speech tonight, but what's the reality on the ground? We're Keeping Them Honest. Plus, breaking news in the Casey Anthony trial. Gary Tuchman talked with the attorney for Casey's parents. Find out if they think she's innocent or guilty.
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Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama announced Wednesday night that all the 33,000 additional U.S. forces he ordered to Afghanistan in December 2009 would be home within the next 15 months.
In a nationally televised address from the East Room of the White House, Obama said 10,000 of the so-called "surge" forces would withdraw by the end of this year, and the other 23,000 would leave Afghanistan by September 2012.
Calling the surge "one of the most difficult decisions that I've made as president," Obama said the military campaign was "meeting our goals" in Afghanistan and the drawdown would begin "from a position of strength."
"Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11," Obama said. "Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda's leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known. This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11."
At the same time, Obama said the Afghanistan drawdown and the simultaneous winding down of the war in Iraq would allow the United States to begin refocusing attention and resources on efforts to resolve economic and other problems and trying to unify a politically divided nation.
"America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home," the president said.
The troop withdrawals from Afghanistan will begin next month, as promised when Obama ordered the surge in a speech 18 months ago at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
After the departure of all the surge forces, the total U.S. military deployment in Afghanistan would be just under 70,000 troops.
Obama's time frame would give U.S. commanders another two "fighting" seasons with the bulk of U.S. forces still available for combat operations.
It also would bring the surge troops home before the November 2012 election in which Obama will seek a second term.
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Reporter's Note: President Obama will unveil his latest plans for removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan tonight. So I’m revealing some thoughts on the matter in today’s letter.
Dear Mr. President,
An oddity of tight rope walking (which, I must confess I learned only anecdotally, so it may not be true…) is that more wire walkers fall off the last few feet of rope than do out in the middle. The implication is that while they are far from safety, swaying above the center ring with their lives on the line, they have lots of concentration. Makes sense.
It also makes sense that when the walker sees the solid, safe platform just inches away after all of that wobbling around that he might let down his guard a bit. Problem is, the fall is just as high at the end of the rope as it is in the middle.
Which brings us to Afghanistan. As you lay out your big plans for the future of our troop deployments there tonight, I think the lesson of the tightrope walker is a good one to keep in mind. Yes, we have made a lot of progress. We have gained ground through the relentless efforts of our brave troops. Many have lost their lives. And maybe you are right to say that now we can start bringing some home. And maybe you are wrong.
(CNN) - Southwest Airlines disciplined a pilot whose profanity-laced rant about flight attendants was heard by other airplane crews and controllers, officials said Wednesday.
The unidentified pilot bashed flight attendants as a "continuous stream of gays and grannies and grandes," according to a transcript of the March 25 flight over central Texas. The pilot on the Austin to San Diego flight was referring to the sexual orientation, age and attractiveness of flight attendants.
The pilot, speaking to a fellow crew member, used a microphone that became stuck and was heard by others for more than two minutes, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The pilot was reprimanded, suspended without pay for a period and received diversity education before being reinstated, according to Southwest. The pilot, whom the airline termed remorseful, apologized to FAA controllers and base leadership. Flight attendants and other pilots also got an apology from leaders, the airline said.
"We've built our company's reputation on the Golden Rule: treating others as you would like to be treated, with concern, care and respect," the airline said. "The actions of this pilot are, without question, inconsistent with the professional behavior and overall respect that we require from our employees."FULL STORY
Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama will deliver a nationally televised address Wednesday night outlining his long-awaited plan to begin U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan - a move meant to appeal to a war-weary public without damaging American security interests.
The president's speech is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET.
Obama will announce that all 33,000 U.S. "surge" forces will be fully withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 2012, according to a senior administration official.
Members of Congress are being informed that roughly 10,000 troops will be withdrawn by the end of this year, followed by approximately 20,000 next year, a congressional source said.
The time frame would give U.S. commanders another two "fighting" seasons with the bulk of U.S. forces still available for combat operations.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pushed for additional time to roll back Taliban gains in the country before starting any significant withdrawal - a position at odds with a majority of Americans, according to recent public opinion surveys.
Gates - along with Afghan war commander Gen. David Petraeus - had pushed for an initial drawdown of 3,000 to 5,000 troops this year, the congressional source said. The secretary also urged the president to withdraw support troops only - not combat troops.
Obama, however, ultimately decided to adopt a more aggressive withdrawal plan.
Gates acknowledged Tuesday that the president must take into account public opinion and congressional support for further military engagement.FULL STORY
Editor's note: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux looks back at ten years of war in Afghanistan.
(CNN) – The president tonight will announce an initial troop withdrawal from Afghanistan but will also make his case for keeping tens of thousands of U.S. troops there through the end of 2014.
Just to recap: There were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when Obama took office on January 20, 2009. He quickly doubled down on the Bush counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency strategy and increased that number to the current 100,000.
What the president probably won’t say tonight is how much keeping all those troops in Afghanistan for another three and a half years will cost American taxpayers. Military budget experts have told me the figure will be at least another $400 billion dollars.
Right now, with 100,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan, the U.S. is spending about $120 billion a year – some $10 billion a month. If the U.S. pulls out 10,000 troops by the end of this year, there won’t be much initial savings. Remember: it’s not cheap packing up troops and moving heavy equipment.FULL STORY on the Situation Room blog
New York (CNN) - Demonstrators gathered in Albany, New York, Wednesday as state lawmakers pored over the details of a bill that could help make New York the nation's sixth and largest state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Crowds chanted both for and against the measure, wielding placards as the state's senators inched toward bringing the controversial measure to a vote.
But unlike many political stand-offs, the two groups often seemed to intermingle, singing religious songs together inside the state capital.
Others chanted political slogans, petitioning for either "marriage equality" or defending the institution's traditional definition, yelling "one man, one woman."
Technically, Monday was the last official day of the legislative session, but a vote is still pending.
Two other major measures are awaiting a decision: Whether to enact the first statewide cap on property taxes, which is linked to the extension of rent control laws that apply to roughly 1 million apartments, most of them in New York City.
A vote on the marriage measure, which the state Assembly passed June 15, has been stalled in part by Republican concerns over protections for religious institutions against the potential for litigation.
Democrats have countered that most such institutions must already abide by New York's existing anti-discrimination laws, while most church groups enjoy religious exemptions.
At last public count, 31 senators, including two Republicans, were in favor of the bill. Its backers need one more GOP member to vote in favor for it to pass.FULL STORY
Atlanta (CNN) - Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich began his remarks at the Atlanta press club Wednesday with an admonition for the pundits and media already reporting the death of his campaign.
"I want to say one thing about the campaign before I begin," Gingrich said to flashing bulbs and feverishly clacking laptops. "In July of 2007 Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee and Rudy Giuliani the Republican (nominee). John McCain was out of money and written off by the press. The fact is campaigns go up and down."
His remarks about the last presidential race were aimed at pre-empting the assembled reporters who were eager to ask him about the missteps plaguing his campaign, including Tuesday's news that his two top finance campaign staff members had quit and the embarrassing disclosure of a second high-dollar credit line he held at the Tiffany's jewelry store.
"I'm not running to talk about the nuances of campaigns" he said, telling members of the media that he would not be answering questions about "campaign process."FULL STORY on the CNN Political Ticker