Sunday, July 05, 2009

Chairman Addresses Iraq, North Korea, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

July 5, 2009 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff addressed the situation in Iraq, relations with North Korea, China and Russia and possible changes to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy during an appearance on a television news show today. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told CNN's John King, on the network's State of the Union program, he is confident that the withdrawal of American forces out of Iraqi cities and towns has been a very positive step.

Mullen said U.S. forces are alert during this period of transition, but there has been no indication that sectarian violence is returning.

"We have had an uptick in some major, high-profile attacks, but June of this year was the lowest level of violence (in Iraq) since the war started," he said.

Leaders in Iraq are pleased with the start of the transition, but the chairman reminded people that the transition is only five days old.

"We're aware of this period of vulnerability, but up to now it's gone pretty well," he said.

There are 130,000 American troops in Iraq today. By this time next year, plans call for that number to be down to 35,000 to 50,000, with all American forces out of the country by the end of 2011. The next big events in Iraq are the elections at the beginning of 2010, and Mullen said he sees nothing that will change these plans.

The chairman discussed North Korea's missile program. North Korea fired seven missiles yesterday in violation of United Nations resolutions.

"They continue to thumb their noses at the international community," Mullen said.

The international community – including long-time North Korean allies Russia and China – are continuing to put pressure on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, and that must continue, he said.

The U.S. military is working to maintain dialogue with the Chinese, the chairman said.
The chairman will accompany President Obama to Russia for talks with President Dmitriy Medvedev. They will discuss cutting nuclear arsenals and other issues.

"We have areas where we have common interests – Iran is certainly one of those areas," Mullen said.

Russia also has common interests with the United States in Afghanistan, in regards to piracy and in counterterrorism writ large. "We have things that we can discuss and are very positive and can move forward on," Mullen said.

Mullen also spoke about the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The U.S. military will continue to carry out the law until the law changes, he said.

The Defense Department is reviewing the law to ensure it is being enforced fairly to all concerned, Mullen said.

"It's very clear that President Obama intends to see this law changed," he said.

Mullen said he told the president the military needs to move in a measured way given the military is fighting two conflicts. The chairman is discussing the issue with his staff and ways to move forward.

"What I feel most obligated about is to give the president my best advice should this law change, and the impact of that change on our people and their families at these very challenging times," Mullen said.

Obama Thanks Military Families With Independence Day Bash

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

July 5, 2009 - As Americans celebrated Independence Day in homes throughout the nation, President Barack Obama invited about 1,200 military families to his home for a July Fourth bash yesterday to personally thank them for their service and sacrifice. "Michelle and I are honored and proud to have you here on the Fourth," said Obama, addressing the audience from a balcony overlooking the White House's South Lawn, which had been transformed into a sea of red, white and blue for the event.

"It is, after all, your service -- the service of generations of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen -- that makes our annual celebration of this day possible," he said.

The commander in chief called today's men and women in uniform the "latest, strongest link" in a chain that can be traced to the Continental Army.

"You're the heirs of that legacy of proud men and women who strained to hold together a young union; who rolled back the creeping tide of tyranny; who stood post through a long twilight struggle; who have taken on the terror and extremism that threatens the world's stability," he said.

The nation's defenders are making headway in that battle, Obama said, noting recent events in Iraq.

"... Because of your brave efforts, American troops this week transferred control of all Iraqi cities and towns in Iraq's government to Iraqi security forces," he said. "Because of what you did -- because of the courage and capability and commitment of every single American who has served in Iraq -- a sovereign and united Iraq is taking control of its own destiny.

Iraq's future rests in the hands of the Iraqis now, the president said. "As extraordinary an accomplishment as that is, we know that this transition won't be without problems," he acknowledged. "We know there will be difficult days ahead. And that's why we will remain a strong partner to the Iraqi people on behalf of their security and prosperity."

Obama was joined at the podium by 22 servicemembers, handpicked by each military branch for their heroism and sacrifice. Among them were Army Reserve Sgt. Gregory Ruske and Army Reserve Spc. David Hutchinson, both Silver Star medal recipients singled out for extraordinary heroism in Afghanistan last year.

"... We're humbled to be joined up here by heroes -- men and women who went beyond the call of duty in battle, some selflessly risking their lives again and again so that others might live," the president said.

"True to form, they -- like all of you -- say they were just doing their job," he continued. "That's what makes you the best of us, and that's why we simply want to say thank you to each and every one of you for your extraordinary service to our country."

After his remarks, the president and first lady walked onto the lawn to personally greet – and thank -- their military guests.

Air Force Capt. Ed Yonce, assigned to Dover Air Force Base, Del., and his wife Wendy were among the lucky few who scored a handshake with the president and first lady.

"It's an honor to serve our country and an honor to be here," Yonce said.

"This has been so exciting," said Wendy, who made sure her four children had an unobstructed view of the famous couple.

Marine Corps Cpl. Jonathon Fortune attended the festivities with his wife Kyrie and 11-month-old son Carson. Fortune is a wounded warrior from Bethesda, Md.

"It's been great to meet new people and, of course, be at the White House," Fortune said. "I was pretty excited to be invited here."

The event included a barbecue, with food supplied by the USO, and entertainment by the U.S. Marine Corps Band, Foo Fighters, Michelle Branch and Jimmy Fallon. The Independence Day bash culminated with a prime view of the fireworks set off over the Washington Monument.