The US is to axe thousands of troops as part of a far-reaching defence review aimed at coping with huge budget cuts over the next decade, officials say.
The changes – to be unveiled on Thursday – are likely to end a decades-old policy of maintaining the strength to fight two wars at once.
President Barack Obama will announce the plans with Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon on Thursday.
The Pentagon faces more than $450bn (£288bn) in cuts in the next 10 years.
Another $500bn in cuts could be looming at the beginning of 2013, after a congressional committee failed to act on finding budget savings last year.
Despite this Mr Obama, wary of the upcoming presidential election, is expected to emphasise that the US military budget is continuing to grow, albeit at a slower pace.
US officials have sought to portray the president as taking a deliberate approach to defence spending, insisting any troop reductions will be informed by a review of strategy by commanders.
White House spokesman Jay Carney described the planned cuts as “surgical”. The president is also reported to have been closely involved in the decision-making process.
No specific cuts or troop reduction figures will be announced on Thursday, reports say, but the White House said the review “will guide our budget priorities and decisions going forward”.
Reuters news agency says officials are considering a 10-15% reduction in the US Army and Marine Corps over 10 years – equivalent to tens of thousands of troops.
Future in Asia
The US is expected to make several large long-term strategic changes as a result of budget pressures, including reducing the overall number of ground troops and strengthening air and naval power in Asia.
BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says more US troops are likely to be brought home from Europe.
Our correspondent says the focus for the future looks to be on what the Pentagon calls “the Air-Sea Battle” – the creation of forces capable of containing a rising military player in the Asia-Pacific region. He says it is clearly China that the US officials are thinking of.
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta made clear last autumn that Asia would be central to US security strategy, including countering China’s influence in the region, describing the Pacific as a “key priority”.
Backing away from a potential two-war footing has been debated in the Pentagon for years.
In June 2001, then-Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress the two-war strategy was “not working”.
And when the US was in fact fighting two wars – in Iraq and Afghanistan – the military suffered a shortage of manpower.
The expected change in strategy would prepare the US to fight one war while waging a holding operation elsewhere to “spoil” a second threat.
Officials say they are using recent examples to guide their decisions.
“As Libya showed, you don’t necessarily have to have boots on the ground all the time,” an unnamed official told Reuters. “We are refining our strategy to something that is more realistic.”
Yet many of the Nato allies in Libya are facing similarly tight defence budgets, and Mr Obama is likely to face criticism from defence hawks in Congress, including Republicans and those seeking to challenge him for the presidency in November.
WASHINGTON — Indefinite military detention of Americans became the law of the land Saturday, as President Barack Obama signed a defense bill that codified that authority, even as he said he would not use it.
The National Defense Authorization Act states how the military is to be funded, but also includes a number of controversial provisions on arresting and holding suspected terrorists, which at first drove Obama to threaten a veto.
He retreated from that threat after Congress added provisions that took the ultimate authority to detain suspects from the military’s hands and gave it to the president. Congress also clarified that civilian law enforcement agencies — such as the FBI — would still have authority to investigate terrorism and added a provision that asserts nothing in the detention measures changes current law regarding U.S. citizens.
Still, the signing on New Year’s Eve as few people were paying attention angered civil liberties advocates, who argue that the law for the first time spells out certain measures that have not actually been tested all the way to the Supreme Court, including the possibility of detaining citizens in military custody without trial for as long as there is a war on terror.
“President Obama’s action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield,” Romero added. “The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress or internationally.”
The administration was especially sensitive about the law and about reaction to the president signing it. In addition to enacting the measure while few people were paying attention — and many opponents still had hopes the president would veto the bill — the White House added a signing statement specifying that the Obama administration would not detain Americans without trial. The White House also sent out a notice to its online community highlighting Obama’s complaints with the law, in a tacit admission that many of the president’s more ardent supporters despise the detention provisions.
“I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists,” Obama said in the signing statement.
Presidents issue such statements when they feel a law conflicts with the executive’s constitutional powers. Obama criticized them during the Bush administration, but has found the practice useful on a handful of occasions.
In this case, Obama argued that the changes Congress made to the bill affirm only authorities that the Bush and Obama administrations have already claimed in fighting terrorism. But he noted that the codification of those powers in law was unnecessary and perhaps harmful. And he insisted he would not use the powers to detain citizens without trial.
“I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” Obama wrote. “Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My administration will interpret section 1021 [of the bill] in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.”
Civil liberties advocates like Romero pointed out that once the provisions are law, however, they will be available to a President Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or any future president, who could choose to use the powers granted more aggressively.
“We are incredibly disappointed that President Obama signed this new law even though his administration had already claimed overly broad detention authority in court,” said Romero. “Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George Bush in the war on terror was extinguished today.”
Because of the provisions specifying that the new legislation does not change current law, the new law leaves the authority it grants open to interpretation and to the possibility — albeit in very difficult circumstances — of someone challenging a detention through the courts.
“Thankfully, we have three branches of government, and the final word belongs to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the scope of detention authority,” Romero said. “But Congress and the president also have a role to play in cleaning up the mess they have created, because no American citizen or anyone else should live in fear of this or any future president misusing the NDAA’s detention authority.”
Obama also said he will not abide by the law’s requirement to detain terror suspects using the military.
“I reject any approach that would mandate military custody where law enforcement provides the best method of incapacitating a terrorist threat,” Obama said. “While section 1022 is unnecessary and has the potential to create uncertainty, I have signed the bill because I believe that this section can be interpreted and applied in a manner that avoids undue harm to our current operations.”
Finally, he rejected a number of other provisions, saying the White House is concerned they interfere with the president’s constitutional powers and ability to fight terrorism.
“My Administration will aggressively seek to mitigate those concerns through the design of implementation procedures and other authorities available to me as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief, will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future, and will seek the repeal of any provisions that undermine the policies and values that have guided my Administration throughout my time in office,” Obama warned.
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is poised to announce the sale of nearly $30 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The deal will send 84 new fighter jets and upgrades for 70 more, for a total of $29.4 billion, according to the officials, who requested anonymity because the sale has not been made public.
The agreement boosts the military strength of Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, at a time when the Obama administration is looking to counter Iranian threats in the region. Underscoring that effort was a fresh threat this week from Tehran, which warned that it could disrupt traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital Persian Gulf oil transport route, if Washington levies new sanctions targeting Iran’s crude oil exports.
About a year ago, the administration got the go-ahead from Congress for a 10-year, $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia that included F-15s, helicopters and a broad array of missiles, bombs and delivery systems, as well as radar warning systems and night-vision goggles.
The plan initially raised concerns from pro-Israeli lawmakers, but U.S. officials reassured Congress that Israel’s military edge would not be undercut by the sale. Additionally, there is now broad agreement among Israel, the Gulf Arab states and the West that Iran poses a significant and unpredictable threat.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter regional rivals. Tensions between them were further stoked earlier this year after the U.S. accused Iran of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in Washington.
Saudi Arabia is already the most militarily advanced of the Arab Gulf states, one of the richest countries in the world, and central to American policy in the Middle East. It is also vital to U.S. energy security, with Saudi Arabia ranking as the third-largest source of U.S. oil imports.
US pushes ahead with arms deal to Iraq
Deal including $11bn worth of advanced fighter jets and tanks comes with Iraqi mired in worsening political crisis.
Last Modified: 29 Dec 2011 14:17, Al Jazeera
|The United States is pushing ahead with a weapons deal with Iraq despite the near breakdown of the coalition government.
Reports suggest the deal is worth nearly $11bn and includes advanced fighter jets and tanks. The sale comes despite warnings that the country may be falling deeper into sectarian strife after an arrest warrant was issues for the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi.
Alexandre Vautravers, editor of Swiss Military Review, told Al Jazeera the United States has no interest in having a military or power vacuum in Iraq.
“The types of weapons which have been sold, F16s, M1 Abrams tanks, these vehicles, these aircrafts, have been designed 20 or 30 years ago,” Vautravers said.
He continued: “It is all extremely relative when you consider this arms deal sale worth about $11bn and you compare this to the $60bn deals with much more advanced aircraft sold to Saudi Arabia recently.”
According to Vautravers, the US accounts for about 56 per cent of all of the arms sales to the Middle East.
“If the US did not sell weapons to Iraq, the weapons would still materialise, perhaps from Russia or China, or perhaps from Iran,” he said.
Deadly Iraq war ends with exit of last U.S. troops – CNN.com
By Moni Basu , CNN
(CNN) — Early Sunday, as the sun ascended to the winter sky, the very last American convoy made its way down the main highway that connects Iraq and Kuwait.
The military called it its final “tactical road march.” A series of 110 heavily armored, hulking trucks and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles carrying about 500 soldiers streamed slowly but steadily out of the combat zone.
A few minutes before 8 a.m., the metal gate behind the last MRAP closed. With it came to an end a deadly and divisive war that lasted almost nine years, its enormous cost calculated in blood and billions.
Some rushed to touch the gate, forever a symbol now of an emotional, landmark day. Some cheered with the Army’s ultimate expression of affirmation: “Hooah!”
“It’s hard to put words to it right now,” said Lt. Col. Jack Vantress.
“It’s a feeling of elation,” he said, “to see what we’ve accomplished in the last eight-and-a-half years and then to be part of the last movement out of Iraq.”
Once, when hundreds of thousands of Americans were in Iraq, the main highway was better known as Main Supply Route Tampa and soldiers trekked north towards Baghdad and beyond, never knowing what danger lurked on their path.
On this monumental day, the Texas-based 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division’s main concern was how to avoid a traffic jam on their final journey in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Gaumer, 37, was on this road in August 2003. It was his first time at war. He was frightened.
There was not a lot of traffic at that time, he recalled. He remembered a lot of cheering by Iraqis, even though the situation was tense.
Sunday morning, the air was decidedly different.
“It’s pretty historic,” he said about the drive south, hoping he will not ever have to come back through this unforgiving terrain again.
Once there were bases sprinkled in the desolate desert between Nasiriya and Basra, American soldiers hidden from view behind walls of giant mesh Hesco bags filled with dirt and sand to stave off incoming fire.
On this day, the roads, the bases were in Iraqi hands, the sands in the bags returned to the earth.
Once, almost nine years ago in March 2003, U.S. tanks and armored personnel carriers had thundered north, with the drive and determination needed to decapitate a dictator.
On this day, heading south towards Khabari border crossing, the soldiers took stock of their sacrifice.
In another war, there had been little joy or even emotion as final jet transports lifted Americans from Vietnamese soil.
Sunday saw the end of the largest troop drawdown for the United States since Vietnam.
Those men and women who fought in Iraq may not feel they are leaving behind an unfinished war or returning home to a nation as deeply scarred as it was after years of Vietnam.
But many crossed the border harboring mixed feelings and doubt about the future of Iraq.
“The biggest thing about going home is just that it’s home,” Gaumer said. “It’s civilization as I know it — the Western world, not sand and dust and the occasional rain here and there.”
A month ago, Adder, the last U.S. base before the five-hour drive to the Kuwaiti border, housed 12,000 people. By Thursday, the day the United States formally ended its mission in Iraq with a flag-casing ceremony in Baghdad, under 1,000 people remained there.
The 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division officially transferred control of Camp Adder to the Iraqis on Friday, though it did not really change hands until the last American departed early Sunday morning.
At its height, Adder housed thousands of troops and had a large PX, fast-food outlets, coffee shops and even an Italian restaurant. Now a ghost town, the United States gave 110,000 items left at Adder to the Iraqis, a loot worth $76 million, according to the military.
In her last days working in a guard tower in Iraq, Sgt. Ashley Vorhees, 29, dreamed of seeing her three children and eating crispy chicken tacos at Rosa’s Mexican restaurant in Killeen, Texas. She also looked forward to not having to carry her gun with her to the bathroom.
Vorhees, a combat medic, spent her first tour of Iraq with her husband, also a soldier.
“When Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, my mom was like ‘Does that mean that everybody is coming home now?'” Vorhees said.
“We actually had it a lot better than the people did who did the initial invasion,” she said. “We’re just thankful that we’re not getting attacked every day.”
When the war was at its worst in 2006, America had 239,000 men and women in uniform stationed in more than 500 bases sprinkled throughout Iraq. Another 135,000 contractors were working in Iraq.
The United States will still maintain a presence in Iraq: hundreds of nonmilitary personnel, including 1,700 diplomats, law enforcement officers, and economic, agricultural and other experts, according to the State Department. In addition, 5,000 security contractors will protect Americans and another 4,500 contractors will serve in other roles.
The quiet U.S. exit, shrouded in secrecy until it occurred, closes a war that was contentious from the start and cost the nation more than $800 billion.
President Barack Obama, who had made a campaign promise to bring home American troops, reflected on a greater cost as Sunday’s exit made good on his word.
According to the defense department, 4,487 service members were killed in the war. More than 30,000 were wounded. In all, 1.5 million Americans served their nation at war.
“All of them — our troops, veterans, and their families — will always have the thanks of a grateful nation,” Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday.
It’s impossible to know with certainty the number of Iraqis who have died in Iraq since 2003. But the independent public database Iraq Body Count has compiled reports of more than 150,000 between the invasion and October 2010, with four out of five dead being civilians.
And the question of how Iraq will fare in the months ahead, without U.S. troops, is also impossible to answer.
Even before the last soldiers had left, political crisis was erupting in Baghdad.
The powerful political bloc Iraqiya said it was suspending its participation in parliament, which would threaten Iraq’s fragile power-sharing arrangement. Iraqiya accuses Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of amassing power.
But for the last U.S. troops out, the message was clear.
Col. Doug Crissman, their commander, spent the past few weeks speaking to the soldiers in each of his companies.
He told them he was proud of his troops and they should be proud of what they had accomplished. And, he wanted his soldiers to take care of themselves back home as much as they did in Iraq.
In the months before the brigade deployed in February, it lost 13 soldiers to accidents, some because of driving under the influence of alcohol. At least one death was a suicide.
“Quite frankly we lost more soldiers in peacetime in the nine or 10 months before this brigade deployed due to accidents and risky behavior … than we lost here in combat,” Crissman said. “We want every soldier that survived this combat deployment to survive redeployment and reintegration.”
Capt. Mark Askew, 28, said he was worried about the well-being of his soldiers, many of whom have done multiple tours of Iraq and felt the stress and sting of war.
Was the loss, the grief, worth it?
For Askew, it will all depend on how Iraq’s future unfolds — whether democracy and human rights will take root, whether Iraq will be a steadfast U.S. ally.
It will depend, he said, on how Iraq shapes its own destiny.
CNN’s Ingrid Formanek reported from the Iraq-Kuwait border, Jomana Karadsheh from Baghdad and Moni Basu from Atlanta.
Read more here.