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US on track in ‘difficult’ Afghan war: Obama

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2010 at 5:26 am

WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama said the US war plan in Afghanistan was “on track” but somberly warned that gains won by his surge strategy at a heavy human cost were fragile and reversible.

Unveiling a long-awaited policy assessment, Obama said progress was sufficient to permit a “responsible reduction” of US forces to begin in July, though the scope and size of the likely drawdown appear limited.

US President Barack Obama said Thursday that surging troops into Afghanistan had made “significant progress” in curbing the Taliban and stifling Al-Qaeda (AFP)

Despite warning the Afghan war remained a “very difficult endeavor,” Obama said a relentless US operation had placed Al-Qaeda under more pressure than ever and argued that surge troops had made “considerable gains” in Afghanistan.

He said Al-Qaeda was finding it harder to recruit and plot attacks and had seen key leaders killed, although he warned the group was “ruthless and resilient” and was still planning follow-ups to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“In short, Al-Qaeda is hunkered down,” Obama said as he unveiled an unclassified version of the review at the White House, flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The president also said his new strategy, announced a year ago, had forged ahead with Pakistan, saying there was a new recognition in Islamabad of the threat posed by extremist networks in rugged Afghan border regions.

“Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough, so we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with,” Obama said.

The overview, the result of a two-month National Security Council assessment, said progress in Afghanistan was evident in gains by Afghan and coalition forces against Taliban bastions in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

But the study was short on details and supporting evidence, and did not include pointed criticisms of the Pakistani and Afghan governments that have featured in US government documents leaked in recent months.

Though it pledged to work with Afghanistan to improve governance and reduce corruption, it did not go into details on countrywide graft, including in President Hamid Karzai’s government, that many analysts see as endemic to Afghanistan and a severe threat to US goals.

Clinton insisted however the administration was not trying to sugar coat the war effort, after the bloodiest year yet for foreign troops in the nine-year conflict and public US spats with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I don’t think you will find any rosy scenario people in the leadership of this administration, starting with the president,” she said. “This has been a very, very hard-nosed review.”

Obama, under pressure from his liberal base, said when he announced his surge of 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan last year that American troops would begin a conditions-based drawdown in July 2011.

He argued Thursday that his target had galvanized US NATO allies into a more urgent effort to ensure Afghans begin to assume control of their own security.

However, senior military figures have appeared uneasy with the July 2011 date, and it appears unlikely that large-scale troop withdrawals will ensue. Gates also said the pace of US redeployments was unclear after next year.

“In terms of what that line looks like beyond July 2011, I think the answer is, we don’t know at this point. But the hope is that as we progress, that those drawdowns will be able to accelerate.”

The report trod carefully on uneasy US anti-terror ally Pakistan, following pointed criticisms of Islamabad’s nuclear safety and other areas of policy revealed in the US cables published by WikiLeaks and other reports.

Progress in the Washington-Islamabad alliance had been “substantial” but “uneven” in the last year, and some adjustments were necessary, the report said.

“For instance, the denial of extremist safe havens will require greater cooperation with Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan,” the report said.

Critics of US strategy are likely to argue the review leaves key questions unanswered, including whether Afghan military and governing structures will ever be sufficiently robust to secure US gains.

Administration officials have also played down intelligence reports cited by newspapers, which paint a less optimistic picture of the war than the administration report.

Progress in Afghanistan has come at a high cost: more foreign troops — nearly 700 — have died in 2010 than in any year of the war and Washington has waged public spats with Kabul and Islamabad.

The war also faces waning public support: 60 percent of Americans surveyed in an ABC News/Washington Post poll out Thursday believe that the war is not worth fighting, up seven points since July.

Source: SGGP

NATO opens summit on Afghan exit strategy

In Uncategorized on November 20, 2010 at 4:12 pm

NATO targets ceding control of Afghan war to Kabul

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2010 at 3:27 am

Afghan handover could run past 2015 in areas: NATO

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2010 at 6:56 am

Bin Laden warns France over Afghan war, veil ban

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2010 at 7:41 am

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden threatens in a new audio tape to kill French citizens to avenge their country’s support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and a new law that will ban face-covering Muslim veils.

In the tape obtained by satellite television station Al-Jazeera and then posted on its website on Wednesday, bin Laden said France was aiding the Americans in the killing of Muslim women and children in an apparent reference to the war in Afghanistan. He said the kidnapping of five French citizens in the African nation of Niger last month was a reaction to what he called France’s oppression of Muslims.

“How can it be right that you participate in the occupation of our lands, support the Americans in the killing of our women and children and yet want to live in peace and security?” said bin Laden, addressing the French.

This image made from video broadcast on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2001 shows Osama bin Laden at an undisclosed location.

“It is a simple and clear equation: As you kill, you will be killed. As you capture, you will be captured. And as you threaten our security, your security will be threatened. The way to safeguard your security is to cease your oppression and its impact on our nation, most importantly your withdrawal from the ill-fated Bush war in Afghanistan.”

The authenticity of the tape could not be immediately verified but the voice resembled that of the terror group leader on previous tapes determined to be genuine.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux told the parliament hours after the message was posted that the risk of a terror attack against the country was real and authorities’ vigilance is “total,” according to a report on newspaper El Figaro’s website.

But he added that the threats “would merely fit into the pattern of different threats that have already been made against our country and our citizens, at home and abroad. It currently appears that these comments don’t do more than justify our keeping up our response in the face of the terrorist threat.”

Tapes by bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, have recently been posted on Al-Jazeera website rather than on sites run by militant Muslims as has been done for years. The shift appears to reflect the unexplained technical difficulties or closures experienced by the militant sites in recent months.

France has about 4,000 troops deployed in and near Afghanistan.

“You need to think of what happened to America as a result of that unjust war,” bin Laden said, again addressing the French and referring to the war in Afghanistan. “It’s on the verge of bankruptcy … and tomorrow it will retreat to beyond the Atlantic.”

France passed a law this month that will ban the wearing of face-covering burqa-style Muslim veils in public starting in April. Many Muslims have expressed fears the law would stigmatize them.

“If you deemed it your right to ban (Muslim) women from wearing the hijab, then should not it be our right to expel your invading men by striking their necks?” bin Laden said.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of bin Laden’s group, has claimed responsibility for the abductions of five French citizens in Niger and is believed to have taken them to neighboring Mali. The French hostages, as well as a Togolese and a Madagascar national were kidnapped on Sept. 16 while they were sleeping in their villas in the uranium mining town of Arlit.

“The kidnapping of your experts in the Niger is a reaction to your oppression of Muslims,” said bin Laden.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb grew out of an Islamist insurgency movement in Algeria, merging with al-Qaida in 2006 and spreading through the Sahara and the arid Sahel region. It has increasingly been targeting French interests.

In July, the group said it executed a 78-year-old French aid worker it had taken hostage three months before. It said the killing was retaliation for the deaths of six al-Qaida members in a French-backed military operation against the group.

Also in July, the French military said it provided technical and logistical assistance to help Mauritanian forces thwart an attack by suspected al-Qaida members in northwest Africa. It said the operation left six extremists dead.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy later described that operation as a “turning point” and said France would provide training, equipment and intelligence to local troops working to fight militants in the Sahel.

A series of warnings has put France and other European countries on high alert in recent weeks, prompting the U.S. State Department to advise American citizens living or traveling in Europe to take more precautions. Speculation on the source of a potential terror threat in France has focused on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Source: SGGP

‘French troops may begin Afghan withdrawal in 2011’

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2010 at 7:40 am

French and some allied NATO armies could begin to withdraw some of their forces from the conflict in Afghanistan as early as 2011, Defence Minister Herve Morin said Thursday.

French soldiers patrol in Surobi district in September 2010.

“There’s a fixed date for NATO in the framework of its new strategy, that’s the start of 2011, because in 2011 we’re going to transfer a whole series of districts to the Afghans,” he told RTL radio.

“At that moment, there could be the first movements, or first withdrawals of Allied forces from Afghanistan. In any case, that’s the calendar set by Barack Obama, that in 2011 the first American troops could quit Afghanistan.

“And that’s what a certain number of European countries have started to say,” he explained, insisting that this has nothing to do with a threat issued against France on Thursday by Islamist militant chief Osama bin Laden.

Source: SGGP

British units ‘under scrutiny over Afghan attacks’

In Uncategorized on October 27, 2010 at 5:35 am

LONDON, Oct, 27 (AFP) – Three British military units in Afghanistan face questions about their conduct after details of their involvement in attacks on Afghan civilians emerged, a report said.

Of casualties caused by British forces, two-thirds involved troops from the three units, reported Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which obtained the information from the government through freedom of information legislation.

AFP file photo of Royal Marines taking part in a live-fire exercise on Salisbury Plain.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) released information about 21 incidents in response to the paper’s demands.

The information revealed that the Coldstream Guards shot four civilians in Kabul over four weeks, while the Royal Marine commandos killed or wounded civilians eight times in six months.

And a third unit, The Rifles, were involved in three incidents last year.

Children were among the casualties and a man with mental health problems was attacked on one occasion, the information showed.

The attacks were among incidents mentioned in tens of thousands of classified US military documents on the war in Afghanistan, which were published by whistleblower website WikiLeaks in July.

Exact details of the attacks were not released at the time, said the Guardian.

Defence officials insisted protecting Afghan civilians remained a priority.

“We deeply regret all civilian casualties,” said an MoD spokesman.

“Protecting the Afghan civilian population is a cornerstone of [the NATO-led force] ISAF’s mission, and all British troops undergo comprehensive training on the strict rules of engagement.”

He added this was in contrast to the insurgents, who “cause the majority of civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan.”

Source: SGGP

US spies failed to vet insider who bombed Afghan base

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2010 at 4:08 am

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Jordanian officials raised concerns with the CIA about an informer who later attacked the spy agency’s base in Afghanistan last year, killing seven Americans, a US official has said.

“Those concerns were weighed against the information he had already provided, and his potential to lead us to the most senior figures in Al-Qaeda,” the US intelligence official told AFP Tuesday, after an internal review of the incident concluded the CIA failed to fully vet the assailant.

(AFP) A screengrab released by SITE Intelligence Group shows Humam al-Balawi in an interview by al-Qaeda’s media arm, As-Sahab Media.

The New York Times said the CIA operative in Jordan who obtained the information chose not to pass it on to his supervisors, and that it was unclear if any displinary action would be brought over that decision.

Panetta said the operative was apparently dismissive of the information on the suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi because it was thought the Jordanian intelligence officer who offered it was jealous of a colleague’s close relationship with the eventual attacker, the Times said.

“Sufficient security precautions were not taken,” CIA director Leon Panetta said in a statement to agency employees, adding that the “missteps occurred because of shortcomings” across the agency, including “management oversight.”

The December 30 attack on a major CIA base in Khost, near the Pakistan border, was a devastating blow for the spy agency and the second worst single assault on the CIA in its history.

The CIA had believed the suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was a valuable contact and had invited him onto the base of the compound without a search.

When he was about to be searched near a building entrance, he set off his explosive and it later emerged he was tied to Taliban insurgents battling US-led forces in Afghanistan.

No single individual or group could be assigned blame for the incident, Panetta said.

“Rather, it was the intense determination to accomplish the mission that influenced the judgments that were made,” he said.

The Times said the agency was unwilling to assign blame for the bombing to an individual as those who could be found at fault might have been killed in the blast, including the Khost base chief Jennifer Matthews, who had little experience in the field.

“A lot of the evidence here died with the people,” the CIA chief is quoted as saying by the Times.

“The mission itself may have clouded some of the judgments made here,” he is reported to have said, noting the informant was offering information on one of the CIA’s top targets, Al Qaeda’s second highest commander Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Panetta approved a series of recommendations from the CIA task force probing the attack, including tightening security procedures, improving training, bolstering communication and “reinforced counterintelligence practices.”

Despite the Khost attack, Panetta vowed that the spy agency would carry on what he called “the most aggressive counterterrorism operations in our history.”

“We will sustain that momentum and, whenever possible, intensify our pursuit,” he said.

The CIA has been carrying out an intense bombing campaign against Taliban and Al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan using pilotless drones, despite public criticism in Pakistan and Western human rights groups.

Source: SGGP

NATO loses 16 soldiers in three days of Afghan war

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2010 at 10:26 am

KABUL, Oct 15, 2010 (AFP) – A foreign soldier fighting the Afghan insurgency was killed by a Taliban-style bomb Friday, NATO said as it announced that another soldier died from injuries sustained in a similar attack a day earlier.

The deaths bring to 16 the number of foreign soldiers — at least six of them Americans — to have died in the war since Wednesday, according to an AFP tally.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said a “service member died following an improvised explosive device attack in southern Afghanistan today”. It did not give further details.

There are more than 150,000 international troops deployed in Afghanistan trying to defeat a Taliban-led insurgency aimed at toppling the country’s Western-backed democracy.

The rebels have stepped up attacks every year since the Taliban regime was toppled in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

To root out the rebels, Washington deployed an extra 30,000 reinforcements this year as the basis of a surge strategy aimed at speeding an end to the war. About 10,000 more NATO troops were also deployed.

This year, the deadliest yet for foreign forces, 590 NATO-led soldiers have been killed, according to a toll based on that kept by the independent website, compared to 521 killed last year.

Source: SGGP

Russia hosts Karzai, Zardari for Afghan summit

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2010 at 7:24 am

SOCHI, Russia (AFP) – Russia on Wednesday hosts Pakistan’s embattled President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai for a regional summit expected to focus on security in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan leader is expected to fly in to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for only a few hours after he was heavily criticised at home for his handling of the devastating floods that have caused a massive humanitarian crisis.

An Afghan policeman patrols in Kandahar province’s Arghandab Valley. AFP

A key aspect of the meeting will be a rare bilateral encounter between Zardari and Karzai, whose country has consistently accused Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency of supporting Taliban insurgents.

Pakistan has reacted furiously to the allegations, particularly after Karzai declared in July that “this war is in the sanctuaries, funding centres and training places of terrorism which are outside Afghanistan.”

Russia, still haunted by the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan which cost over 13,000 Soviet lives, has kept a wary distance from the troubles of NATO forces in the country.

Moscow had made clear it has no plans to send troops to Afghanistan but like several other ex-Soviet states has allowed NATO states to use its airspace for the transit of equipment.

But the summit also allows Russian President Dmitry Medvedev the chance to show his country is engaging in a major international issue at a time when it is seeking to improve its profile on the world stage.

Also taking part will be Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon, whose country borders Afghanistan.

“It is planned that special attention is given to the issue of regulating the situation in Aghanistan, the fight against terrorist and narcotic threats, economic reconstruction and the development of Afghanistan and the region,” the Kremlin said in a statement ahead of the meeting.

The meeting is the second such four-way meeting of the heads of state, the first taking place in the Tajik capital Dushanbe in July 2009.

Medvedev’s foreign policy advisor Sergei Prikhodko said ahead of the meeting that Russia would be interested in delivering helicopters to Afghanistan.

“The question of the delivery of Russian helicopters will be discussed, if it is raised by the Afghan side,” he added, the Interfax news agency said, adding that Afghanistan required 100 additional choppers.

Kremlin sources told the agency that such a move could put Russia in direct competition with NATO states also interested in the contract but the whole issue of financing also had to be addressed.

Zardari had originally been planning a two-day visit to Russia but the situation with the floods means his visit has been cut to a few hours and he will not even attend lunch, officials in Islamabad have said.

Moscow is not usually seen as a close ally of Islamabad, not least because of its historically close relationship to Pakistan’s traditional foe India.

Source: SGGP