Obama Extends U.S. Role in Afghan Combat

President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”

The decision to change that mission was the result of a lengthy and heated debate that laid bare the tension inside the Obama administration between two often-competing imperatives: the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan, versus the demands of the Pentagon that American troops be able to successfully fulfill their remaining missions in the country.

The internal discussion took place against the backdrop of this year’s collapse of Iraqi security forces in the face of the advance of the Islamic State as well as the mistrust between the Pentagon and the White House that still lingers since Mr. Obama’s 2009 decision to “surge” 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan. Some of the president’s civilian advisers say that decision was made only because of excessive Pentagon pressure, and some military officials say it was half-baked and made with an eye to domestic politics.

Mr. Obama’s decision, made during a White House meeting in recent weeks with his senior national security advisers, came over the objection of some of his top civilian aides, who argued that American lives should not be put at risk next year in any operations against the Taliban — and that they should have only a narrow counterterrorism mission against Al Qaeda.

But the military pushed back, and generals both at the Pentagon and in Afghanistan urged Mr. Obama to define the mission more broadly to allow American troops to attack the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other militants if intelligence revealed that the extremists were threatening American forces in the country.

The president’s order under certain circumstances would also authorize American airstrikes to support Afghan military operations in the country and ground troops to occasionally accompany Afghan troops on operations against the Taliban.

“There was a school of thought that wanted the mission to be very limited, focused solely on Al Qaeda,” one American official said.

But, the official said, “the military pretty much got what it wanted.”

On Friday evening, a senior administration official insisted that American forces would not carry out regular patrols or conduct offensive missions against the Taliban next year.

“We will no longer target belligerents solely because they are members of the Taliban,” the official said. “To the extent that Taliban members directly threaten the United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan or provide direct support to Al Qaeda, however, we will take appropriate measures to keep Americans safe.”

In effect, Mr. Obama’s decision largely extends much of the current American military role for another year. Mr. Obama and his aides were forced to make a decision because the 13-year old mission, Operation Enduring Freedom, is set to end on Dec. 31.

The matter of the military’s role in Afghanistan in 2015 has “been a really, really contentious issue for a long time, even more contentious than troop numbers,” said Vikram Singh, who worked on Afghanistan policy both at the State Department and the Pentagon during the Obama administration and is now at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

American officials said that while the debate over the nature of the American military’s role beginning in 2015 has lasted for years, two issues in particular have shifted the debate in recent months.

The first is the advance of Islamic State forces across northern Iraq and the collapse of the Iraqi Army, which has led to criticism of Mr. Obama for a military pullout of Iraq that left Iraqi troops ill-prepared to protect their soil.

This has intensified criticism of Mr. Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, which Republican and even some Democratic lawmakers have said adheres to an overly compressed timeline that would hamper efforts to train and advise Afghan security forces — potentially leaving them vulnerable to attack from Taliban fighters and other extremists in the meantime.

This new arrangement could blunt some of that criticism, although it is also likely to be criticized by some Democratic lawmakers who will say that Mr. Obama allowed the military to dictate the terms of the endgame in Afghanistan.

The second factor is the transfer of power in Afghanistan to President Ashraf Ghani, who has been far more accepting of an expansive American military mission in his country than his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

According to a senior Afghan official and a former Afghan official who maintains close ties to his former colleagues, in recent weeks both Mr. Ghani and his new national security adviser, Hanif Atmar, have requested that the United States continue to fight Taliban forces in 2015 — as opposed to being strictly limited to operations against Al Qaeda. Mr. Ghani also recently lifted the limits on American airstrikes and joint raids that Mr. Karzai had put in place, the Afghan officials said.

The new Afghan president has already developed a close working relationship with Gen. John F. Campbell, the allied commander in Afghanistan.

“The difference is night and day,” General Campbell said in an email about the distinction between dealing with Mr. Ghani and Mr. Karzai. “President Ghani has reached out and embraced the international community. We have a strategic opportunity we haven’t had previously with President Karzai.”

American military officials saw the easing of the limits on airstrikes imposed by Mr. Karzai as especially significant, even if the restrictions were not always honored. During the summer, Afghan generals occasionally ignored Mr. Karzai’s directive and requested American air support when their forces encountered trouble.

Now it appears such requests will no longer have to be kept secret.

One senior American military officer said that in light of Mr. Obama’s decision, the Air Force expects to use F-16 fighters, B-1B bombers and Predator and Reaper drones to go after the Taliban in 2015.

“Our plans are to maintain an offensive capability in Afghanistan,” he said.

The officer said he expected the Pentagon to issue an order in the next several weeks detailing the military’s role in Afghanistan in 2015 under Operation Resolute Support, which will become the new name for the Afghanistan war.

The Pentagon plans to take the lead role in advising and training Afghan forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan, with Italy also operating in the east, Germany in the north and Turkey in Kabul.

But by the end of next year, half of the 9,800 American troops would leave Afghanistan. The rest would be consolidated in Kabul and Bagram, and then leave by the end of 2016, allowing Mr. Obama to say he ended the Afghan war before leaving office.

America’s NATO allies are expected to keep about 4,000 troops of their own in Afghanistan in 2015. The allies are expected to follow the American lead in consolidating and withdrawing their troops.

The United States could still have military advisers in Kabul after 2016 who would work out of an office of security cooperation at the United States Embassy. But the administration has not said how large that contingent might be and what its exact mission would be.

And it remains unclear how the continuing chaos in Iraq — and Mr. Obama’s decision to send troops back there — will affect the administration’s plans for an Afghanistan exit.

As the president said in the Rose Garden in May, “I think Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them.”

Found at the NYT.

Damn, two mistakes made by this news station! Can you spot them?

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USA.gov: Contact Elected Officials

“Call, e-mail, or mail U.S. state and federal elected officials and government agencies.”

A blonde goes into a computer store and asks the clerk “Where do you keep the curtains for computers?”

The clerk answers with a puzzled face “Curtains for computers? You don’t need curtains for computers.”

The blonde’s eyes widen and she shakes her head as she answers

“Hello!?? My computer has Windows!!”

UN pushes back Ebola targets.

The United Nations had previously set a goal of safely burying 70% of the dead and treating 70% of the sick caused the Ebola outbreak in West Africa by Dec. 1st , but now the UN and WHO only hope the disease can be contained by the middle of 2015. “The international response is outpaced by this Ebola spread,” Ban said, warning of its potential to devastate Mali next.

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“Dear President Obama, Lord, Sultan, Emperor, Pharaoh, Caesar, God-king, Prince of the Americas, whatever we’re supposed to call you. ‘President’ alone simply won’t suffice, will it, Your Grace? We had a thing called a president once, but that lowly office could scarcely contain your Majesty. You found that you couldn’t effectively govern while constrained by the rule of law, so you superseded it, just as you’ve done countless times before. This time you are waving your mighty scepter and magically granting defacto citizenship to millions of illegal aliens.

Incredibly, even after all of the scandals, corruption, lies, and deceits; even after this past week when we learned about the depth of your Obamacare deception; even after using the IRS to target your political opponents; even after letting your ambassador die in Benghazi and lying about it afterwards; even after dividing the nation and exploiting racial tensions for your own gain; even after six years of incompetence, dishonesty, conspiracy, and illegality; even after every law you’ve flouted, promise you’ve broken, and lie you’ve told, you still found a way to top yourself. In refusing to enforce our borders and uphold our immigration laws, you are now guilty of the most profound presidential power grab since Abraham Lincoln. This is a landmark moment, and I’m sure you’re proud of that fact.

Before you ascended to your Throne on High, you were allegedly a constitutional law professor, so I’m sure you’re quite familiar with Article II of the United States Constitution. This fascinating document details the powers of the Executive Branch, but conspicuously does not grant said branch the legal ability to formulate immigration policy through Presidential decree, and also does not vest in one man the monarchical authority to decide which laws will be enforced and which will be ignored based upon nothing more than the president’s political calculations.” –Matt Walsh

Surprising Cleaning Uses For Alka-Seltzer

Alka-Seltzer is mostly used to help people with upset stomachs, but did you know it can also be used as an incredible cleaning tool? This video shows a few really creative uses to use the tablets to clean places that are hard to get to, like the inside of a coffee pot or the bottom of a vase.

Here are two other uses for Alka-Seltzer that aren’t covered in this video:If your refrigerator has an unpleasant odor, place a jar of water and

Alka-Seltzer inside your refrigerator overnight. Your fridge should smell noticeably better.Fill your sink halfway with water, add 2 tablets of Alka-Seltzer, and a cup of white vinegar. Your sink should become unclogged!Because these tablets can usually be found for a few dollars for several dozen, you can also save money on cleaning products.

Watch the video to find even more uses for Alka-Seltzer, and make sure to share with your friends to save them money too!

Found HERE.

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Mississippi Didn’t Officially Outlaw Slavery Until 1995

While the Thirteenth Amendment was set into law, thus outlawing slavery anywhere in the United States, on December 6, 1865 when it secured the needed 27 of 36 states’ approval (3/4), it wasn’t until 130 years later on March 16, 1995 that Mississippi finally got around to ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment.  As you might expect, this made Mississippi the last state to ratify it, with the previous state of the initial 36 being Kentucky in 1976 and before that Delaware in 1901.  All three of those states, along with New Jersey, initially rejected the amendment in 1865, though just 9 months after rejecting it, New Jersey changed their mind and ratified it.  The others took a little longer.

The Thirteenth Amendment specifically states:

 Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Interestingly, The Thirteenth Amendment almost stated the exact opposite of what it ended up saying.  A few years before the amendment to abolish slavery was proposed as the Thirteenth Amendment, The Corwin Amendment was proposed in 1861 and would have been the Thirteenth Amendment, had 3/4 of the states ratified it.  This proposed amendment would have forbid Congress from passing any laws that restricted or abolished slavery.  Further, it would have made it illegal for any anti-slavery amendment to be made to the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, it stated:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.

This Corwin Amendment managed to make it passed the House and the Senate in March of 1861 and was signed by President Buchanan thereafter.  Ohio, Maryland, and Illinois ratified it. Although, once the American Civil War started, the Corwin Amendment lost any momentum it had, because it had largely been proposed to forestall the chance of a Civil War.  Once the war started, Ohio rescinded their ratification.

The Corwin Amendment was passed without an expiration, so it’s still on the table today for states to ratify, if they so choose.  The most recent attempt to do so was in Texas in 1963, with a resolution to ratify it put forth by Republican Henry Stollenwerck from Dallas.  This failed to generate any momentum for the Corwin Amendment, though, and the resolution wasn’t considered by the state legislature.

If you’re curious, there are some exceptions to that “involuntary servitude” bit in the Thirteenth Amendment beyond as a “form of punishment”.  For instance, the Supreme Court ruled in 1918 that the military draft does not constitute “involuntary servitude”, even if the people drafted do not want to join the military.  This seems to fly in the face of the generally accepted legal definition of involuntary servitude which includes, “a person held by actual force, threats of force, or threats of legal coercion in a condition of slavery –compulsory service or labor against his or her will.”

This case was brought before the Supreme Court after the passing of the Conscription Act of 1917.  After this Act was passed, military tribunals tried various people who refused to bear arms, wear uniforms, etc. when drafted.  More shockingly, a board was put together to try consciousness objectors.  The only people at this time who were allowed to be conscientious objectors were Amish, Quakers, and members of the Church of the Brethren. If the board decided they weren’t sincere enough, they were sentenced.  These were no light sentences either, 17 people were sentenced to death, 142 were given life sentences in prison, and 345 were sentenced to penal labor camps for varying time periods.

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Conscription Act of 1917, citing Article I. Section 9, of the Constitution which gives Congress the power to “declare war… to raise and support armies… to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.”  Of course, this says nothing about the government being able to force people to join the military, only that they have the authority to build and support the armies.  But, none-the-less, they upheld it anyways, further citing Vattel’s,  The Law of Nations:

It may not be doubted that the very conception of a just government and its duty to the citizen includes the reciprocal obligation of the citizen to render military service in case of need, and the right to compel it. … To do more than state the proposition is absolutely unnecessary in view of the practical illustration afforded by the almost universal legislation to that effect now in force.

Bonus Facts:

  • Around 64,700 total Amish, Quakers, and Church of the Brethren members claimed conscientious objector status during WWI.  Of those, 21,000 were inducted into the military anyways (out of 30,000 who passed their physicals).  Once in the military, about 16,000 of those conscientious objectors decided to fight.  The remaining 4,000 continued to refuse to bear arms.
  • The Thirteenth Amendment took two tries to be approved by both the House and the Senate, the second try of which Lincoln had to take a more active role to get it passed.  In the first try, in 1864, the Senate passed the amendment, but the House did not.  Lincoln then added the amendment as part of the base Republican Party platform in the elections.  This resulted in Republican support swelling amongst voters.  He then asked Congress to re-consider, stating, “Of course the abstract question is not changed, but an intervening election shows, almost certainly, that the next Congress will pass the measure if this does not. Hence there is only a question of time as to when the proposed amendment will go to the States for their action. And as it is to so go, at all events, may we not agree that the sooner the better?… It is the voice of the people now, for the first time, heard upon the question. In a great national crisis, like ours, unanimity of action among those seeking a common end is very desirable — almost indispensable. And yet no approach to such unanimity is attainable, unless some deference shall be paid to the will of the majority, simply because it is the will of the majority.”  Reading between the lines, if the Democrats at the time who refused to support the Thirteenth Amendment wouldn’t pass it now, he was telling them the voters would soon replace them with Republicans who would. So in the interest of keeping their jobs, they should reconsider, regardless of their own personal feelings over the matter. :-)
  • The Emancipation Proclamation was a master stroke by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.  At the time, the British were actively supporting the South, even though slavery had been more or less outlawed throughout the British Empire since the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, excepting with the East India Trading Company territories and certain other “apprentice” stipulations for slaves over the age of six, which were subsequently removed in 1838.  They’d also outlawed slave trading further back in 1807.  By Lincoln using his war powers to free slaves in ten states, via the Emancipation Proclamation (freeing 3.1 of the 4 million slaves in the U.S., though only 20,000-50,000 immediately who lived in areas controlled by the Union), he made emancipation of slaves the explicit point of the war.  As such, the British and the French, among other European powers, could no longer aid the South, or it would seem as if they were supporting slavery.  This also eased tensions between several European powers and the Union, such as Britain.  It further had the effect of numerous slaves attempting to escape to Northern lines where they’d instantly be free, undermining the South’s labor forces. Finally, it helped make the Civil War explicitly a “race war”, which helped pave the way for the Thirteenth Amendment.  The full text of the Emancipation Proclamation can be read here: Transcript of the Emancipation Proclamation
  • The first state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment was Illinois on February 1, 1865.  Within a week, 10 other states, Rhode Island, Michigan, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Missouri, Maine, Kansas, and Massachusetts, also ratified it.
  • Another potential exception to the Thirteenth Amendment, though this can be argued because public school is somewhat voluntary after a certain point, was ruled by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Immediato v. Rye Neck School District.  In the Rye Neck School District, it was required that students perform 40 hours of community service in order to graduate High School, even though this has nothing to do with academics.  Daniel Immediato and his parents argued that this “imposes involuntary servitude upon Daniel, in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment;  infringes on Daniel’s parents’ Fourteenth Amendment right to direct his upbringing and education; infringes on Daniel’s personal liberty, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; and violates Daniel’s right to privacy, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.” (The latter point being because after performing their hours of community service, students were then required to write a report and present to the school on how the community service benefited them).  The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that this does not violate the Thirteenth Amendment and dismissed the other points as well.

Found HERE.

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