Statement by the President on the Passing of Ruby Dee


Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of actress, author, and activist Ruby Dee.  In roles from Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun to Mama Lucas in American Gangster, Ruby captivated and challenged us – and Michelle and I will never forget seeing her on our first date as Mother Sister in Do the Right Thing.  Through her remarkable performances, Ruby paved the way for generations of black actors and actresses, and inspired African-American women across our country.  Through her leadership in the civil rights movement she and her husband, Ossie Davis, helped open new doors of opportunity for all.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Ruby and Ossie’s three children, with their friends and family, and with all those who loved them dearly. 


Suspected US drone strikes hit Pakistan after hiatus

Attacks, which follow Karachi airport siege, were given ‘express approval,’ unnamed Pakistan officials say

Pakistani officials have publicly condemned a pair of suspected U.S. drone strikes that took place Wednesday and Thursday in the country’s north — the first such attacks in nearly six months. The latest incident left at least 10 dead.

Some reports suggest, however, that the strikes, which come less than a week after armed fighters launched a deadly attack on Pakistan’s largest international airport, may have been part of a joint operation between the two governments.   

The first drone strike took place Wednesday near Miranshah, the capital of the North Warizistan tribal region where Taliban fighters are believed to be holed up, killing six militants that included four Uzbeks, Pakistan military sources told Reuters.  

The second strike occurred a few hours later in the same area, leaving at least four militants dead, those sources said. 

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council declined to comment when contacted by Al Jazeera about the twin drone attacks.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry released a statement Thursday, condemning “the two incidents of U.S. drones strikes” that constituted a “violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” 

Yet two unnamed Pakistani government officials told Reuters the Pakistani government and army had given the U.S. “express approval” for the strikes. 

“If the reports coming out of Pakistan are correct, this looks like some kind of coordination mechanism has been set up, which is something that was discussed over the last few years but never fully achieved,” Shuja Nawaz, the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, told Al Jazeera.

“It could be also the U.S. way of helping the Pakistani military prepare for some kind of a operation inside North Waziristan. We’ll have to wait to see if that develops.”

‘Take ownership’

Click for the latest analysis on drones

The same Pakistani officials, in light of the recent attacks on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, told Reuters that a “joint Pakistan-U.S. operation” was conducted to target insurgents. 

“We understand that drones will be an important part of our fight against the Taliban now,” one of the officials said.

If true, such a position on the Pakistani government’s part would constitute “a massive change of policy,” Nawaz said. 

Nevertheless, there has been no official confirmation — nor is there likely to be — from either the U.S. or Pakistani governments that the strikes were a joint operation.

While Pakistan has publicly opposed suspected U.S. drones strikes, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has on multiple occasions called on the U.S. to halt such actions, some have privately admitted the government supports them.

But if the U.S. and Pakistan have come to a specific agreement on using drones against insurgents, Nawaz said they should “take full ownership for it.” 

“If they have crafted a deal, I think it would make sense for them to say that it is a Pakistani strike using American assets,” he said, adding “I don’t think it will happen.”

No ‘military solution’

The drone strikes follow the deadly hours-long siege launched by armed fighters on Jinnah Airport in Karachi on Sunday, leaving 36 people dead, including the 10 suspected attackers. That attack was followed two days later by a second one launched by gunmen at a security post located outside the airport.

Talks between the Pakistani government and the Taliban — which recently saw a leading faction split from the main organization — have collapsed many times, mainly over Taliban demands that the government withdraw all troops from tribal areas and impose Sharia law.

Ultimately, Nawaz said drones strikes, which began in 2004, have not accomplished much and are at best a short-term solution to the problem. 

“This kind of militancy and insurgency doesn’t really have a military solution per se. The solution is to remove the political and economic and ideological underpinnings of the militancy and there does not yet seem to be within Pakistan a clearly defined goal for a country-wide operation against militancy,” he said. 

With wire services 

FACT SHEET: The United States and Australia: An Alliance for the Future

FACT SHEET:  The United States and Australia: An Alliance for the Future


The U.S.-Australia alliance is based on a long tradition of cooperation at all levels of government, business, and society.  Building on that tradition, President Obama welcomed Prime Minister Abbott to the White House today and committed to expand and deepen collaboration between the United States and Australia. 


Security and Defense Cooperation


The United States views its alliance with Australia as an anchor of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.  We will work with Australia to sustain a stable security environment and regional order rooted in economic openness, respect for international law and norms, peaceful resolution of disputes, and respect for universal rights and freedoms.


After their meeting, the President and Prime Minister Abbott announced the conclusion of the U.S.-Australian Force Posture Agreement, which will deepen our long-standing defense cooperation.  Through the Force Posture Agreement, U.S. forces will have more opportunities to work with Australian forces both bilaterally and in trilateral and regional activities.  Potential areas where defense cooperation could be enhanced include maritime capacity building, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief.


The United States and Australia are also working to strengthen cooperation on space and cyber issues, including cyber defense and cyber security incident response.  We are also working to explore opportunities to expand cooperation on ballistic missile defense, including working together to identify potential Australian contributions to ballistic missile defense in the Asia-Pacific region.


In the Asia-Pacific region, our two countries are working with regional institutions, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit, and the Pacific Islands Forum, to promote regional rules and norms and facilitate cooperation in addressing shared economic and security challenges. 


Regarding maritime disputes, the United States and Australia share an abiding interest in peaceful resolution of disputes; respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce; and preserving freedom of navigation and overflight. Both countries oppose the use of intimidation, coercion, or force to advance maritime claims in the East and South China Seas.  The United States and Australia have both called on claimants to clarify and pursue claims in accordance with international law, including the Law of the Sea Convention, and expressed support for the rights of claimants to seek peaceful resolution of disputes through legal mechanisms, including arbitration, under the Convention.  Both countries continue to call for ASEAN and China to reach early agreement on a meaningful Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.


In Afghanistan, where the United States and Australia have fought side-by-side, both countries have demonstrated firm commitment to helping the people of Afghanistan build their country in the coming years while also supporting Afghan forces in their counterterrorism operations.


In response to Russia’s illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea, both the United States and Australia have imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans and will continue supporting the aspirations of the people of Ukraine for an independent, prosperous and democratic future.


The United States welcomes the strong cooperation of Australia in ensuring peace and security – bilaterally, in regional bodies, and through the United Nations – to confront international challenges, including those arising from the conflict in Syria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 


The United States and Australia are working together with other international stakeholders to aid Fiji in its return to democracy through elections in September.  Both of our countries are collaborating with Pacific Island countries to promote sustainable development in the region.   


Economic Growth and Prosperity


The United States and Australia have both benefited from an economic relationship characterized by open and transparent trade and investment ties.  The United States remains the largest foreign investor in Australia, accounting for over a quarter of all foreign investment.  Our two countries also work closely in multilateral institutions such as APEC to promote sustainable growth and shared prosperity in the region.


The United States and Australia are working to liberalize trade and investment in the region, strengthen economic ties, and complete theTrans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which will promote economic growth and job creation in both countries and raise the standards for commerce within the region.


The President welcomed Australia’s leadership as chair of the G-20 and looks forward to efforts at the G-20 that further strengthens and grows the global economy.  A vital aspect of economic growth is promoting greater gender equality.  The United States and Australia are working together to enhance women’s political and economic participation.  As founding members of the Equal Futures Partnership, our two nations are collaborating to improve economic opportunities for women and increase women’s involvement in leadership positions in civic and economic life. 


The United States and Australia recognize the pressing need to address climate change, a serious issue that requires a strong and effective international response.  The United States will continue working with Australia to advance clean energy and energy efficiency solutions, including in the context of the G-20.


Innovation and Science Cooperation


Innovation and science are fundamental to both our economies.  U.S.-Australia innovation cooperation will strengthen our work on cutting edge issues, ranging from neuroscience to clean energy to information technology and bio-preparedness. 


  • The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, together with Australian National University and the University of New South Wales, plan to enhance their collaboration by sharing knowledge and best practices on photovoltaics in our ongoing efforts to meet an increased energy demand with a focus on clean energy. 
  • The U.S. National Institutes of Health intends to award Monash University in Australia and a U.S. partner university nearly $10 million in the fight against superbugs and the crucial study of antibiotic resistance. 
  • The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, alongside the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network, continue to document and study ocean acidification and project its impact on conservation, food security, and tourism.
  • U.S. and Australian scientists continue important neuroscience research collaboration, which supports the U.S. BRAIN Initiative.
  • Over the next few years, Australia intends to increase the number of U.S. National Science Foundation fellows hosted by Australia to work on research projects that foster international scientific cooperation and expose U.S. graduate students to Australia’s unique culture, vision, and science systems. 
  • Building on last year’s G-20 commitment to implement the World Health Organization International Health Regulations, the United States and Australia support the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) to accelerate measureable progress towards a world safe and secure from infectious disease threats.  


People-to-People Ties


The United States and Australia share strong cultural and people-to-people ties. 


One of the very first treaties between our two nations laid the foundation for the Australian-American Fulbright Commission.  Each year, Fulbright offers approximately 50 scholarships to Australian and American citizens to study and undertake research in each other’s country.  The Fulbright program now boasts close to 5,000 alumni who form a network of professionals in all fields promoting bilateral, regional, and global collaboration. 


The United States and Australia form a partnership that is key to the future of both countries and peace and prosperity around the globe.


Editor’s Note:

Thursday President Obama answered a few questions regarding imminent United States military action and intervention in the escalating violence and government takeover in Iraq. The President stated that for now there would be “no ground troops” in Iraq but he did acknowledge that the White House has “been watching [Iraq] with a lot of concern not just over the last couple of days but over the last several months.”

President Obama admitted that the U.S. have provided continued military assistance to Iraq for a year and “that includes, in some cases military equipment, it includes intelligence assistance, it includes a whole host of issues. But what we’ve seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which Iraq’s going to need more help. It’s going to need more help from us and it’s going to need more help from the international community.”

The President was quick to point out that during talks with Iraqi officials, “short term, immediate things that will need to be done militarily – and our national security team is looking at all the options – but this should be also a wake up call from the Iraqi government that there has to be a political component to this.” However, the President further stated the National Security team is “working around the clock” to decide what type of military assistance would be effective in Iraq and in he does not plan to “rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foot hold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.”


ImageKurds take oil-rich Kirkuk amid advance of ISIL insurgency in Iraq

Iran pledges to combat Sunni armed group’s advance, underlining regional implications of power shift in Iraq

Iraqi Kurds seized control of the northern oil city of Kirkuk on Thursday as Sunni insurgents threatened to advance on Baghdad — two developments that further indicate that the central government has now lost large swaths of a country spiraling deeper into chaos and internecine violence.

Kurds have long dreamed of taking Kirkuk, a city with huge oil reserves just outside their autonomous region, which they regard as their historical capital. The swift move by their highly organized security forces demonstrates how this week’s sudden advance by the armed group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has redrawn Iraq’s map.

The ongoing instability prompted talk of international action Thursday, with Iran raising the specter of involvement in its neighbor’s affairs and reports that authorities in Baghdad had earlier asked the U.S. to consider airstrikes to support their push against ISIL.

An Obama administration official said the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last month secretly asked Washington to considering carrying out strikes against ISIL positions, but the White House rebuffed the request, The New York Times reported.

Speaking to reporters during a visit from Australian prime minister Tony Abbot, however, Obama said Iraq will need additional assistance from the U.S. to push back the insurgency.

The president did not specify what type of assistance he is willing to provide, but added: “I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foot hold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.” 

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged to combat the “violence and terrorism” brought by ISIL.

On the ground in Iraq, government forces appeared to be in retreat Thursday.

Peshmerga fighters, the security forces of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish north, swept into Kirkuk after the army abandoned its posts there, a spokesman said.

“The whole of Kirkuk has fallen into the hands of peshmerga,” said Jabbar Yawar, a Kurdish military spokesman, according to Reuters.  

The offensive by the Sunni Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIL potentially leaves the long desert frontier between Iraq and Syria effectively in the group’s hands, advancing its stated goal of erasing the border altogether and creating a single state ruled according to strict Sharia law.

At the same time, the Kurdish capture of Kirkuk instantly overturns the fragile balance of power between Iraq’s feuding religious and ethnic groups.

Since Tuesday, black-clad ISIL fighters have seized Iraq’s second biggest city, Mosul, and Tikrit, hometown of Saddam Hussein, as well as other towns and cities north of Baghdad.

They continued their lightning advance on Thursday, moving into towns just an hour’s drive from the capital. Security and police sources said fighters now controlled parts of the small town of Udhaim, 60 miles north of Baghdad, after most of the army troops left their positions and withdrew toward the nearby town of Khalis.

The army of the Shia-led government in Baghdad has essentially fled in the face of the onslaught, abandoning buildings and weapons to ISIL fighters. 

Amid their forces’ retreat in the north, officials stepped up security in Baghdad to prevent the fighters from reaching the capital, which is itself divided into Sunni and Shia neighborhoods and saw ferocious sectarian street fighting in 2006–07 under U.S. occupation.

Maliki’s army already lost control of much of the Euphrates valley west of the capital to ISIL last year, and with the evaporation of the army in the Tigris valley to the north this week, the government could be left in control only of Baghdad and areas south.

“We are waiting for supporting troops, and we are determined not to let them take control,” said a police officer in Udhaim. “We are afraid that terrorists are seeking to cut the main highway that links Baghdad to the north.”  

In Tikrit, Sunni paramilitary groups have set up military councils to run the towns they captured, residents said.

“They came in hundreds to my town and said they are not here for blood or revenge but they seek reforms and to impose justice,” said a tribal figure from the town of Alam, north of Tikrit. “They picked a retired general to run the town.

“‘Our final destination will be Baghdad, the decisive battle will be there,’ that’s what the leader of the militants’ group kept repeating,” the tribal figure said.

The administration of President Barack Obama has come under fire, with critics saying it failed to sufficiently shore up the government in Baghdad before pulling out its troops in 2011.

The million-strong Iraqi army, trained by the United States at a cost of nearly $25 billion, suffers from low morale. Its effectiveness is hurt by the perception in Sunni areas that it represents the interests of the Shia-led government.

Iraq’s parliament failed to reach a quorum on Thursday for a vote on declaring a nationwide state of emergency.

Most of those boycotting parliament were from Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish factions, who oppose giving extraordinary powers to Maliki, who is Shia. 

About 500,000 Iraqis have fled Mosul, home to 2 million people, and the surrounding province, many seeking safety in autonomous Kurdistan, a region that has prospered while patrolled by the powerful peshmerga, avoiding the violence that has plagued the rest of Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Iraq’s Kurds have done well since then, running their own affairs while being given a fixed percentage of the country’s overall oil revenue. But with full control of Kirkuk — and the vast oil deposits beneath it — they could earn more on their own, eliminating the incentive to remain part of a failing Iraq.

ISIL, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had a falling out with Al-Qaeda’s international leader, Osama bin Laden’s former lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri, and has fought against Al-Qaeda forces in Syria.

Al Jazeera and wire services

In Case You Missed It: President Obama and First Family Visits Maison des Esclaves

In Case You Missed It: President Obama and First Family Visits Maison des Esclaves

US President Barack Obama (L) and First Lady Michelle Obama look out from the Door of No Return while touring the House of Slaves, or Maison des Esclaves, at Goree Island off the coast of Dakar on June 27, 2013. Obama and his family toured the museum at the site where African slaves were held before going through the door and being shipped off the continent as slaves.


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