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.
Sources within the British Ministry of Defence in London revealed on December 9 that British troops will start pulling out of Iraq in March and that by next summer only about 400 British personnel will remain there. Britain currently has 4,100 troops in Iraq, with most stationed at Basra airport, in southern Iraq. Basra, located just 34 miles from the Persian Gulf, is Iraq's main port and is situated amidst the nation's petroleum producing and refining facilities. A smaller number of British forces making up SAS (British Special Forces) anti-terrorism squadrons in Baghdad are expected to be transferred to Afghanistan to join 8,000 British troops currently engaged in the fight against the Taliban.
On December 1, the Indian government summoned Shahid Malik, Pakistan's high commissioner, to lodge a formal protest over the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. AFP, the French Press Agency, reported that Malik was handed a message concerning his country's alleged "failure to curb terrorism emanating from its soil." The Mumbai attacks left at least 188 dead and nearly 300 wounded. The attacks took place in several locations, including a railway station, a restaurant, a hospital, two hotels, and a Jewish center.
Three separate bomb blasts killed a total of 19 people in Baghdad during the Monday morning rush hour on November 24, with one attack killing 13 government employees on a bus on their way to work. In the worst of the three incidents, a so-called "sticky bomb" fastened to the side of a bus carrying a group of employees riding to their jobs at the Iraqi Trade Ministry exploded, causing a fire in which four men and nine women perished. Five other victims were treated at a local hospital.
Thousands of people gathered in Baghdad's Firdous Square on November 21 to protest against a pact letting U.S. forces stay in Iraq until 2011. The current UN mandate authorizing the U.S. troop presence expires on December 31. Under the proposed Status of Forces Agreement, U.S. troops will withdraw from the streets of Iraqi towns and cities by June 30, 2009, and the remaining 150,000 would leave Iraq by December 31, 2011.
Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on November 19, that Israel will not attend the UN's World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to be held in Geneva in April. She also urged other nations to follow suit, stating: "We call upon the international community not to participate in this conference, which seeks to legitimize hatred and extremism under the banner of the fight against racism."
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on November 12, that Iran had test-fired a new generation of surface-to-surface missile capable of much greater range than previous Iranian missiles. The nation's Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar said on state television that the Sajjil is a solid-fuel high-speed missile with a range of about 1,200 miles, enabling a strike against Israel or even southeastern Europe. Najjar said that the missile was part of a "defensive, deterrent strategy ... specifically with defensive objectives."
ITEM: In an article entitled "U.S. says North Korea stuck to nuclear promises," Reuters reported on October 17: "North Korea has kept its promise and reversed steps to restart its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon after an agreement last weekend between Washington and Pyongyang, the State Department said on Friday. 'The North Koreans have in their efforts reversed all their reversals in the reactor. All the seals are back on, the surveillance equipment is back, reinstalled. And the equipment that had been removed is back where it had been,' said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack."
A convoy of 13 trucks carrying supplies to U.S. and other Western military units in Afghanistan was hijacked in the famed Khyber Pass on November 10. The trucks were hijacked at four separate locations along a 20-mile stretch of the road through the pass between the mountains separating Afghanistan from Pakistan.