As Egypt presses ahead with the prosecution of 19 American NGO workers, the Obama administration is hearing a bi-partisan plea from Capitol Hill to re-think the $1.4 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt. Chris Lawrence reports.
By Elise Labott
One telltale sign a country is on the verge of collapse is when the U.S. embassy shutters its doors and gets out of Dodge. That threshold has now been crossed in Syria.
After weeks of pleading with Syrian authorities to beef up protection of the U.S. Embassy to no avail, the State Department was forced to pull out its skeleton staff and close the embassy. Most of the staff members were evacuated earlier in the year, and the diplomatic team was further reduced last month.
The decision to close the embassy is a big one, one not made easily. U.S. officials insist the move does not mean Washington is severing relations with Damascus.
But even though the United States isn't ending diplomatic ties, it will be sure to look that way on the surface - especially given the very public calls by everyone in the Obama administration, from the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on down - for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. FULL POST
By Barbara Starr
The Obama Administration is considering escalating the role of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan between now and 2014, a senior administration official confirms to CNN.
The plan would be to have those forces increasingly take on a combat role and hunt key terrorists, as conventional forces wind down combat and focus more on training Afghans.
(Read also: Special Ops burden of success)
"This is just in the idea stage," the official said. "No decisions have been made." He declined to be identified because the plan has not been approved. No decisions have been made on the number of troops involved.
But the official confirmed that what is being considered is a new, high-level military command in Afghanistan specifically for special operations forces. If approved, the likely commander would be Major Gen. Tony Thomas, currently the deputy commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees military counter terrorism operations. The developments were first reported in the New York Times. FULL POST
By Barbara Starr
The White House plans to hold a formal dinner in the coming weeks honoring Iraq war veterans, the fallen and their families, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday. The dinner will be held on February 29th.
The dinner for some 200 people will include military personnel of all ranks, but the focus will be on enlisted personnel who served in Iraq, according to a Department of Defense official. The dinner comes as the veteran’s advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has been pressing for a ticker tape parade to specifically honor veterans of the Iraq war. The senior official said top US military officers are opposing holding a parade for the Iraq war, “while there are still troops in harms way,” fighting in Afghanistan. “A New York city style ticker tape parade has come to represent a major national tribute,” the official said.
But some vets disagree. “After eight years of war there that saw over 4,400 American troops killed and over 32,000 wounded-in-action physically, the Iraq War finally ended on December 31, 2011. Yet, only St. Louis has held a “Welcome Home Our Heroes” parade to date–and solely because two guys launched a Facebook page and motivated a grassroots group of citizens,” said IAVA founder Paul Reickhoff.
By Elise Labott
The U.S. State Department shuttered its embassy in Syria and pulled out its remaining staff Monday after the government refused to address its security concerns, senior State Department officials tell CNN.
The officials said 17 employees, including Ambassador Robert Ford, left the country. Two employees flew out of the Syria last week by commercial air, with the rest of them, including Ford, traveling by convoy Monday morning to Jordan. Most of the staff were evacuated earlier in the year, and the diplomatic team was further reduced in December.
The Syrians were notified about the decision to pull the staff and shutter the embassy after the employees were out of the country, the officials said.
The officials said the deterioration of the situation in the country made it impossible for the embassy to continue operations and for the staff to remain.
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