Top of the Agenda: U.S. to End Afghan Combat Mission by 2013
U.S. defense secretary Leon E. Panetta said U.S. forces would end their combat mission in Afghanistan by mid-2013, taking on an "adviseand assist" role (NYT) to Afghan security forces. All U.S. troops are expected to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Panetta made the announcement en route to Brussels for a NATO meeting focusing on the future of Afghanistan. The decision comes on the heels of a leaked NATO report that says the Taliban, allegedly backed by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, remains a significant obstacle to peace in Afghanistan.
"For the United States, the war is coming to an end. Its critical goals have been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaeda there is virtually dead. There are no vital interests to justify further great sacrifices. And now it's time to act upon this reality and bring the heroes home, writes CFR's Leslie H. Gelb at the Daily Beast.
"The U.S. report belies the notion that the policy of assassinating mid-level Taliban commanders (night raids are often little more than death squads) is having any lasting effect on an organization which retains the ability to selectively moderate its violence in order to encourage NATO forces to leave faster," says this Guardian editorial.
"The essential goal now--as 11 years ago--is to prevent Afghanistan becoming a base for international terrorism. Worryingly, however, NATO's common purpose is disintegrating. America announced yesterday that it would end combat operations in the middle of next year, well ahead of the December 2014 deadline for withdrawal agreed by NATO," says this Telegraph editorial.
Philippines Targets Militants
The Philippines military killed three senior al-Qaeda-linked militants (BBC) in an air raid on Jolo island in the in the southern Mindanao region, officials said.
CHINA: Villagers in Wukan, Guangdong province, a site of anti-government protests last year, held a first round of free elections to select local leaders (WSJ), a potentially significant indicator for grassroots democracy in China.
A violent riot at a soccer stadium in Egypt's Port Said left more thanseventy people dead (NYT), with police considered at fault for failing to intervene. The incident sparked questions over the ability of Egypt's transitional government to maintain order and law on the streets.
SYRIA: Clashes between Syrian troops and opposition forces across the country left nearly seventy people--mainly civilians--dead. As the violence continues unabated (al-Jazeera), Western and Arab diplomats continue to push for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Western military involvement in Syria would worsen violence, not end it, and could spread the conflict beyond Syria's borders, argues CFR's Ed Husain in this Atlantic op-ed.
UK's Hague Visits Somalia
British foreign secretary William Hague visited the Somali capital of Mogadishu today, where he called for accelerating the fight against al-Shabaab Islamist militants in the "world's most failed state" (Telegraph). Britain also appointed a new ambassador to Somalia, the first in over twenty years.
Social networking site Facebook filed paperwork Wednesday for a $5 billion public offering (NYT) that is expected to value the company between $75 billion and $100 billion, the largest internet IPO in history.
UNITED STATES: American Airlines, the third largest U.S. airline, said it would cut around 13,000 jobs (MiamiHerald) as part of its bankruptcy restructuring plan to reduce annual costs by around $2 billion.
Santorum Outlines New Health Care Plan
In a speech Wednesday, Republican candidateRick Santorum outlined (CNN) "a small-government, free-market approach" to rising health care costs, anddefended profits for drug companies as necessary for the development of new drugs. He also said he opposedthe current requirement mandatinginsurance companies tocoverpreexisting conditions.
President Obama announced a mortgage housing plan (LAT) to give 3.5 million homeowners--those with good credit and who owe more than their house is worth--an opportunity to refinance. The plan, which would cost between $5 billion and $10 billion, would save borrowers an average of $3,000 a year.
Editor's Note: Click here for more CFR 2012 campaign resources, which examine the foreign policy and national security dimensions of the presidential race.