At the swearing-in of a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Obama said the death Friday of al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen shows the terror network “will find no safe haven anywhere in the world.”
“The death of al-Awlaki is a major blow to al Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate,” Mr. Obama said in a ceremony at Fort Myer in Arlington. “He took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans.”
Mr. Awlaki was killed in what was likely a drone strike Friday morning. He was believed to be behind the “underwear bomber” who tried to blow up a commercial jetliner on Christmas Day 2009, and incited the alleged shooter in the Fort Hood massacre in Texas.
“This success is a tribute to our intelligence community, and to the efforts of Yemen and its security forces who have worked closely with the United States over the course of several years,” Mr. Obama said. “He has met his demise because the government and the people of Yemen have joined the international community in a common effort against al Qaeda.”
Later, in a radio interview with host Michael Smerconish, the president refused to say whether he had ordered the strike.
“I can’t talk about the operational details, Michael,” he said. “This is something that we had been working with the Yemeni government on for quite some time. There’s been significant cooperation with the intelligence levels with a lot of countries in the region.”
Mr. Obama spoke at the swearing-in of Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is taking over as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He replaces Adm. Mike Mullen, who is retiring after four years as chairman and 43 years in the Navy.
Gen. Dempsey was sworn in as Army chief of staff on April 11, and had been in that role barely more than a month when Mr. Obama tapped him to become the new chairman. The Senate confirmed him for the position in early August.
The president praised Adm. Mullen for paving the way for women to serve on U.S. submarines, and especially for pushing to end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy governing gay service members.
“Patriotic service members who are gay and lesbian no longer have to lie about who they are to serve the country that they love,” Mr. Obama said.
The president called Gen. Dempsey “one of our nation’s most respected and combat-tested generals.”
Mr. Obama is asking Gen. Dempsey and new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to balance future defense spending cuts without compromising military readiness.
The new defense team comes as the administration seeks to wind down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“None of this will be easy, especially as our nation makes hard fiscal choices,” Mr. Obama said. “But as commander-in-chief, let me say it as clearly as I can: as we go forward, we will be guided by the mission we ask of our troops and the capabilities they need to succeed.”
“We will maintain our military superiority,” he said. “We will never waver in defense of our country, our citizens or our national security interests. And the United States of America, and our armed forces, will remain the greatest force for freedom and security that the world has ever known.”
A new congressional report is spelling out how the military would become “hollow” if Congress’ supercommittee fails to agree on deficit reductions, triggering $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts.
The Army and Marine Corps would lose 200,000 troops, bringing active strength and the armed forces would not be able to carry out its essential mission, says a 14-page analysis by the Republican majority staff of the House Armed Services Committee.