On January 1, the day after the UN mandate for foreign troops expired and the new Status of Forces security agreement between Iraq and the United States took effect, the U.S. military turned over security control of the Green Zone in central Baghdad to the Iraqi military. The Green Zone is a heavily fortified area of Baghdad containing many Iraqi government and foreign diplomatic structures. Under the new agreement, U.S. troops will withdraw from the streets of Iraqi towns and cities by June 30, and the remaining 150,000 will leave Iraq by December 31, 2011.
Israeli tanks and troops late Saturday on January 3 entered Gaza, escalating Israel's eight-day-old offensive against the Hamas terrorist organization that controls the narrow, 25-mile-long strip of land along the Mediterranean between southwest Israel and Egypt's Sinai peninsula. On December 27, Israeli F-16 fighters launched a series of airstrikes against targets in Gaza in retaliation for Hamas' rocket attacks against Israel that numbered over 3,000 in 2008.
The ongoing Israeli attacks on the Palestinian-occupied and controlled Gaza Strip have provoked indignation worldwide, as flare-ups in that corner of the globe usually do. The status of the Palestinian people is perhaps the most vexed problem in geopolitics, and has been since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Only five weeks away from the end of his presidency, President George Bush made surprise visits on December 14 and 15 to Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Bush's first stop in Iraq was the Iraqi presidential palace in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, where he participated in talks with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. During the talks, Bush said: "The work hasn't been easy but it's been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope and world peace." Talabani called Bush "a great friend for the Iraqi people, who helped us liberate our country."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, while flying on December 11 to a regional military base for international forces in Kandahar, Afghanistan, told reporters aboard his plane that the United States intends to send an additional 20,000 troops to Afghanistan over a 12- to 18-month period. The additional forces will increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 58,000. One extra U.S. brigade combat team of approximately 3,500 troops from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York, is already scheduled to deploy south of Kabul in January. Beyond those troops, Reuters news service quoted Gates as saying: “We’re going to try and get two additional brigade combat teams, in response to [U.S. General David McKiernan’s] request, into Afghanistan by summertime.” General McKiernan is NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan.