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.
(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
Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) - Pakistan detained a senior Army officer for suspected connections to a militant organization, a military spokesman said Tuesday.
Brig. Ali Khan, stationed at military headquarters in the garrison town of Rawalpindi for the past two years, has been in custody for the past two days over alleged links to the militant group Hizb ut-Tahrir, said spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.
He said the Pakistani army follows a "zero tolerance policy" for anyone "indulging in such illegal and unauthorized activities." An investigation into Khan is ongoing.
Khan's detainment comes as Pakistan's ties to the United States have been strained over strategy in combating terrorism.FULL STORY
Islamabad, Pakistan(CNN) - Pakistan's security forces are not tipping off militants about upcoming raids, the country's top military spokesman said Monday, adding that tribal elders are sometimes notified before the military moves into their regions.
Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas called allegations of leaks "part of a malicious campaign against us."
He was responding to a Sunday report in The New York Times that militants were fleeing bomb-making factories after American intelligence officials told Pakistan about them, heightening U.S. concerns that tips were leaking from Pakistani security to insurgents.
Abbas suggested Pakistan had no interest in letting information get to the targets of the raids, saying: "These are the same bomb-making facilities that are used to kill our soldiers."
But he said tribal elders are sometimes notified before security forces move into a region for an operation. The raids take place in semi-autonomous areas where the Pakistani government's control is tenuous.
Abbas said the exact location of the raids is never revealed. He did not say how much notice or detail the military gave tribal leaders, or how it ensured that they did not pass information to the targets of the raid.
Some tribal leaders are sympathetic to the Taliban. Others oppose them, and some have shifting loyalties.
A second high-ranking military official also rejected allegations by American lawmakers that Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, has contacts with the Taliban and the Haqqani network, another militant group that sometimes works with the Taliban.FULL STORY
(CNN) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad offered vague promises of reform and clear threats against protesters Monday as he addressed his nation and the rest of the world, whose leaders called for swift changes, some saying he had passed the point of no return.
Months of protests have left more than 1,100 dead, according to human rights activists. But the extent of the carnage is not clear. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week that nearly 1,300 Syrians had been killed and thousands more jailed since protests began.
The Syrian leader said he was "working on getting the military back to their barracks as soon as possible," but also warned the government would "work on tracking down everyone who shed blood or plotted in shedding the blood of the Syrian people, and we will hold them accountable."
He raised the possibility of amending the country's constitution and referred to the need for a "national dialogue," but made clear his government would not engage in one-on-one talks with the opposition.
"It is not a dialogue of the opposition with the government ... but it should be a dialogue that will include all fabrics of the Syrian society," he said in the speech, his third to the country in three months.
Al-Assad blamed armed gangs and conspiracies for the violence that has gripped the country, saying the unrest has tarnished the country's image and weakened its security.
"There are some who are distorting the image of the Syrian nation abroad, and they wanted to open the gates and even called for foreign intervention. They tried to weaken the national political position," he said in the speech to an enthusiastic audience at Damascus University.
"There are those who are killing in the name of religion and want to spread chaos under the pretext of religion," he said, referring to conspiracies as "germs" that cannot be "exterminated."
The speech was met with demonstrations in a number of Syrian towns and cities, opponents of the government said.
Videos posted on YouTube suggested there were protests in Damascus, Hama, Homs and other cities.
It was not possible to confirm when or where the scenes were filmed, but one showed a sign reading, "If we are all germs, are you the head of all germs?"FULL STORY
Orlando (CNN) - The judge in the Casey Anthony murder trial abruptly canceled Monday's session after initially delaying court to allow defense attorneys more time to pick up a witness.
Anthony's defense team had to scramble to get a witness to court after Judge Belvin Perry ruled that neither of the two witnesses they had on hand would be allowed to testify Monday.
It wasn't immediately clear why Perry canceled the session. Earlier in the morning, while scolding attorneys for what he called continued "gamesmanship," he complained of the trial's slow place.
"By joint stipulation, court is in recess until 9 tomorrow morning," Perry said without explanation in a brief announcement from the bench.
Some spectators who managed to get tickets to attend the trial - a hot ticket in Orlando - grumbled quietly as they left the courtroom.
"I guess it's just the luck of the draw," one spectator said on the way out.FULL STORY
(CNN) - The kind of insect evidence found by investigators in the trunk of Casey Anthony's car does not prove that a body was stored inside, a bug expert for the defense testified Friday in the Orlando woman's murder trial.
Prosecutors used their cross-examination to vigorously challenge forensic entomologist Tim Huntington on his experience, an experiment on a pig and why he omitted a key opinion on a stain photo from his pretrial report.
Jurors previously heard from prosecution witnesses who testified that the discovery of one leg of a kind of fly commonly found around decomposing bodies, as well as more numerous examples of a different kind of fly, suggested that a body had been stored in the trunk for no more than three to five days.
Prosecutors allege that Anthony killed her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, and stored her body in the trunk before dumping it in a wooded field in June 2008. Prosecution witnesses have testified about a subtle stain and a strong odor inside the car as evidence that a body had been decomposing inside the trunk.
But on Friday, Huntington told jurors that the evidence is not convincing.FULL STORY
(CNN) - Mass protests unfolded in Syria on Friday, and related unrest reverberated across the Lebanese and Turkish borders in a volatile day that left at least nine people dead.
Rami Abdelrahman of the London-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights said four people died in Homs and one in Deir El Zour during demonstrations in Syria.
Fighting over the Syrian issue left at least four dead in Lebanon, and the number of Syrian refugees now in Turkey is approaching 10,000.
Protests swarmed several towns big and small across the country, including the Damascus area, Latakia, Homs and Hama, where thousands rallied, Abdelrahman said.
There were reports of detained demonstrators and the military deployment of tanks. There were reports of gunfire in Banias, a coastal city, Abdelrahman said.
The government's state-run TV said Syrian security personnel were injured by "militants" in the Damascus suburb of Al-Qaboun.
The Syrian government has consistently blamed the protest casualties on "armed gangs," and the TV report said the injuries occurred when the perpetrators opened fire in Al-Qaboun, just outside the capital.FULL STORY
Washington (CNN) - Federal firearms agents in Arizona cringed every time they heard of a shooting after letting waves of guns pass into the hands of Mexican drug gangs, some of those agents told a House committee Wednesday.
It was part of an operation aimed at tracking the flow of weapons across the U.S.-Mexican border, but the operation has come under intense criticism since the December killing of a U.S. Border Patrol officer. Operation Fast and Furious, as the program was known, was "a colossal failure of leadership," said Peter Forcelli, a supervisor at the Phoenix field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
When U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was wounded and six others were killed in a January assassination attempt in Tucson, Forcelli said, an agency spokesman told him "that there was concern from the chain of command that the gun was hopefully not a Fast and Furious gun." Another agent, Lee Casa, said, "This happened time and time again."
"Every time there's a shooting, whether it was Mrs. Giffords or anybody, any time there is a shooting in the general Phoenix area or even in, you know, Arizona, we're fearful that it might be one of these firearms," Casa told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The killings of three people connected with the U.S. consulate in Juarez, Mexico, caused similar anxiety, Casa said.
And a third agent, John Dodson, told lawmakers: "I cannot begin to think of how the risk of letting guns fall into the hands of known criminals could possibly advance any legitimate law enforcement interest. I hope the committee will receive a better explanation than I."
Operation Fast and Furious focused on following "straw purchasers," or people who legally bought weapons that were then transferred to criminals and destined for Mexico. But instead of intercepting the weapons when they switched hands, Operation Fast and Furious called for ATF agents to let the guns "walk" and wait for them to surface in Mexico, according to a committee report.
The idea was that once the weapons in Mexico were traced back to the straw purchasers, the entire arms smuggling network could be brought down. Instead, the report argues, letting the weapons slip into the wrong hands was a deadly miscalculation that resulted in preventable deaths, including that of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.FULL STORY