U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Photo by Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images.
President Obama is set to make a highly-anticipated announcement Wednesday on the number of U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan beginning in July. The president is facing pressure to wind down the war, with the cost of sustaining a military presence there and a growing government budget shortfall at the forefront of the debate.
The president is expected to set a timeline for the return of more than 30,000 troops sent last year as part of the “surge,” which was aimed at reigning in the Taliban’s presence, particularly in the south.
According to the Washington Post, Wednesday’s announcement comes at a critical time in his presidency:
“Administration officials said final numbers, while still to be determined, will chart the glide path for further withdrawals between now and the end of 2012, a period when Obama will face a reelection fight. Polls show that a majority of Americans believe the nearly decade-old war is no longer worth fighting.”
Though the July 2011 deadline has been a benchmark for months, some analysts say the actual figures could be as low as 3,000 troops, which would represent a more gradual reduction in anticipation of the July 2014 target for turning over security to the Afghan security forces.
The United States has approximately 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.
22 Killed in Iraq Car Bombings
Two car bomb attacks in Diwaniya, Iraq, 80 miles south of Baghdad, have killed at least 22 people with dozens more injured. The bombs exploded near the compound of provincial governor Salim Hussein Alwan, who was not injured. The explosions were powerful enough to damage other buildings in the vicinity.
Alwan told the Associated Press that the explosions took place as he was preparing to leave his garage and that an attacker deliberately drove the vehicle into the barricades.
Although violence has dropped in recent years, there are concerns about ongoing attacks and the upcoming departure of U.S. troops by the end of the year. Five months into Iraq’s newly formed government coalition, key positions in the interior and defense ministries have not been filled amid disagreements between political parties.
Plane Crash Kills 44 in Northern Russia
A Russian passenger jet crashed near Petrozavodsk in northern Russia moments before landing, killing 44 of its 52 passengers. RusAir’s Tupolev-134 crashed into a highway near the airport in dense fog Monday night. The runway’s fog lights had reportedly failed.
Debris was strewn across the area, but officials said the data recorders had been recovered. Tupolev jets are commonly used in Russian domestic flights. The one that crashed had been built in 1980. Other incidents have raised concerns over the safety of the jets, including one that caught on fire on the tarmac earlier this year and another that skidded off a Moscow runway. The plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski, which crashed in fog and killed all 96 passengers last year, was a Tupolev-154.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said that pilot error in foggy conditions could have been the cause of the crash and that the Tupolevs would not be grounded. Ivanov and President Vladimir Putin are in Paris for an air show, where the Russian-made SuperJet is being shown.
Former Tunisian Ruler Convicted of Embezzlement
Protesters hold a defaced portrait of ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali outside the Tunisian prime ministers office on Jan. 24 in Tunis. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.
Former Tunisian ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was forced from power five months ago by demonstrators, and his wife have been convicted in absentia on charges of embezzlement and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Ben Ali and his wife have been in exile in Saudi Arabia.
The trial hinged on $27 million in public money and jewelry found in one of their homes.
More charges and trials are expected, including murder charges in connection with the deaths of 300 protesters during the demonstrations.
Through his lawyer, Ben Ali denied the charges and released a statement saying, “I devoted my life to my country and aspire, at the twilight of my existence, to conserve my honor.”
Floods Kill 175 in China, 1.6 Million Evacuated
Massive floods in southern and eastern China have killed 175 people and forced at least 1.6 million more from their homes. An estimated 8,400 homes and and $5.4 billion in crops have been destroyed. Eighty-six people remain missing.
The flooding comes after a period of severe drought, described as the worst in half a century, in the region.
In Hubei province, home of the Three Gorges Dam, officials acknowledged the world’s largest hydropower plant was threatened by the flooding.