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Troop pullout in Afghanistan set for next summer

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2010 at 12:28 pm

The Obama administration reaffirmed Sunday that it will begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan next summer, despite reservations among top generals that absolute deadlines are a mistake.

President Barack Obama’s chief of staff said an announced plan to begin bringing forces home in July 2011 still holds.

“That’s not changing. Everybody agreed on that date,” Rahm Emanuel said, adding by name the top three officials overseeing the policy girding the war: Gen. David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.

Petraeus, the war’s top military boss, said last week that he would recommend delaying the pullout if conditions in Afghanistan warranted it. Days after the date was announced in December, Gates pointedly said it was not a deadline.

An Afghan policeman stands at the scene of a blast in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, June 20, 2010.

Emanuel’s remarks reflect the White House view that Obama must offer a war-weary American public and Congress a promise that the nearly nine-year war is not open-ended. The problem, congressional Republicans and some military leaders say, is that a fixed date encourages the Taliban-led insurgency and undermines U.S. leverage with Afghan leaders.

Gates pledged Sunday that some troops would begin to leave in 13 months, but he was more cautious.

“We clearly understand that in July of 2011, we begin to draw down our forces,” Gates said. “The pace with which we draw down and how many we draw down is going to be conditions-based.”

Uniformed and civilian defense leaders accepted the announcement of a date to begin leaving as a condition of Obama’s major expansion of the war. Obama ordered an additional 30,000 troops, the last of whom are arriving now, with a mission to squeeze the Taliban on its home ground, build up Afghan security forces and improve chances that local people would swing behind the U.S.-backed central government.

With little progress apparent in the critical Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan, the split between politics and tactics is again on display. As Gates acknowledged Sunday, it is taking longer than he hoped to gain an enduring edge over the Taliban in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Gates asked for time and patience to demonstrate that the new strategy is working. He lamented that Americans are too quick to write off the war when Obama’s revamped strategy has only just begun to take hold.

“It is a tough pull,” Gates said. “We are suffering significant casualties. We expected that; we warned everybody that would be the case last winter.”

At least 34 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan this month, making June among the deadliest months of the war. Casualties are expected to rise through the summer and fall as fighting expands in Helmand and Kandahar.

Earlier this month, Gates said the United States and its partners must demonstrate progress this year or risk the collapse of already dwindling public support for the war.

Petraeus told Congress last week that he would recommend postponing the start of the withdrawal if security conditions and the capability of the Afghan government could not support it.

That does not mean Petraeus is opposed to bringing some troops home, and he said repeatedly that he supports Obama’s strategy. His caution, however, is rooted in the fact that the uniformed military — and counterinsurgency specialists in particular — have always been uncomfortable with fixed parameters for an inexact process of persuasion.

The war strategy Obama adopted is based on the success of Petraeus’ counterinsurgency tactics in the Iraq war. It combines a short-term “surge” of forces to blunt rising violence and a longer-term project to persuade locals to help uproot a homegrown insurgency.

Emanuel did not dispute quoted remarks from Vice President Joe Biden that “a whole lot” of forces would come home in July 2011. Biden, who argued within the administration for a narrower mission in Afghanistan involving fewer troops, was interviewed for the book “The Promise,” by Jonathan Alter.

Gates, however, said he had never heard Biden say such a thing, and that the evaluation by the on-the-ground war commander will largely determine the scope of the withdrawal.

“That absolutely has not been decided,” Gates said. “I’m not accepting, at face value, that … he said those words.”

Emanuel spoke on ABC’s “This Week.” Gates appeared on “Fox News Sunday.”

Source: SGGP

Thai Red Shirts mull next move after troop deployment

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2010 at 3:43 am

BANGKOK, April 20, 2010 (AFP) – Thailand’s “Red Shirt” protesters on Tuesday plotted the next move in their month-long anti-government campaign, after security forces blocked plans for a march on the financial district.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is resisting calls to stand down and announce fresh elections, said the government was intent on clearing the demonstrators from their sprawling rally base in Bangkok’s retail heartland.

Thai soldiers stand in a line along Silom road in the financial district of Bangkok on April 20, 2010. AFP photo

But after a botched crackdown on April 10 that left 25 dead and 800 injured, he said he could not set a deadline for ending the street rallies that have caused massive disruption to business and tourism.

“Both the government and the people want this to end quickly but we have to think about many factors,” he said on television late Monday. “We have to minimise the damage and do this effectively.”

“We cannot set a timeframe. The government knows that the people are suffering but authorities have many elements to consider. We will do our best,” he said.

Thousands of security forces, many armed with assault rifles, descended on central Bangkok Monday after the Red Shirts threatened to march from their protest base towards the nearby Silom financial hub.

“We can see the authorities have protected Silom from an invasion,” Abhisit said.

The Reds have said they will announce their new protest plans on Tuesday.

Amnesty International said that this month’s clashes, which left 19 protesters, five members of the security forces and one foreign journalist dead, must be investigated and those responsible held accountable.

“The military used lethal force in the operations, while some individuals among the protesters also used guns and grenades, as well as improvised weapons,” Amnesty said of Thailand’s worst civil unrest for nearly two decades.

The sequence of events on the night of April 10 remains shadowy. Witnesses and video footage indicated that the violence was kicked off by mysterious black-clad gunmen who both sides on the conflict have disowned.

Amnesty said the Thai government was obliged to protect the lives of all those involved in the crisis “including by exercising due diligence to prevent attacks by non-state actors”.

The red-shirted campaigners, who condemn Abhisit’s administration as elitist, have refused to leave their rallying base which has forced several major shopping centres to close.

The area is dotted with five-star hotels, most of which are virtually empty after days of being surrounded by the Reds’ encampment which stretches for several kilometres along some of the city’s main thoroughfares.

Red officials appear firmly in control of the area, mounting checkpoints, directing traffic and operating a formidable logistical base with long rows of of tents offering food, medicine and facilities for sleeping and washing.

The protesters are mainly supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and is now living in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.

The Reds say that Abhisit’s government is illegitimate because it came to power in a parliamentary vote, not a popular election, and that it is the tool of Thailand’s palace, military and bureaucratic circles.

A rival faction, the elite-backed “Yellow Shirts”, vowed Sunday to take action if the government fails to deal with the protesters within a week, raising fears of new clashes.

The chairman of Thailand’s leading opposition party, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who is a Thaksin ally, said Monday he had requested an audience with the nation’s revered king to help resolve the crisis.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 82, who has no official political role but is seen as a unifying figure, has made no public comment on this month’s violence.

Source: SGGP

SKorea vows to go ahead with Afghan troop dispatch

In World on December 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm

 South Korea vowed Thursday to press ahead with plans to send troops back to Afghanistan despite a Taliban threat of retaliation.

South Korea, a longtime U.S. ally, said it would send up to 350 troops next year to protect its civilian aid workers working in the province of Parwan, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of the Afghan capital of Kabul.

The Taliban said in a statement Wednesday that the move would violate a South Korean promise in 2007 to withdraw from Afghanistan permanently in exchange for the release of 21 hostages.

Officials from South Korea’s Defense Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff denied that the government made such a promise to the Taliban. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

Twenty-three South Koreans were taken hostage in 2007 after their government had already decided to remove its troops from Afghanistan. Two of the hostages were killed by the Taliban, who demanded that the South Korean troops be withdrawn immediately.

South Korea later pulled its approximately 200 soldiers from the country, and has had no troops there since 2007.

Under a Defense Ministry plan, the new troops are to be deployed from July 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2012, in Parwan, where the main U.S. base is located. The ministry was expected to submit a request to the National Assembly later Thursday for its approval.

Opposition legislators have opposed the dispatch plan, citing unstable security conditions in Afghanistan. The ruling Grand National Party, however, has enough seats in the assembly to pass the proposal.

A statement sent late Wednesday from an e-mail address regularly used by the Taliban warned that South Korean leaders “should be prepared for the consequence of their action, which they will certainly face.”

“They had promised to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan and committed never to send soldiers to the country in future,” said the statement, received by The Associated Press in Islamabad.

Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae told reporters the ministry would go ahead with the troop dispatch.

“Our troops will be operating there after formulating complete security measures and there would not be any major problem,” Won told reporters.

South Korea also dispatched troops to Iraq in 2003-2008, part of efforts to bolster its alliance with Washington.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

AP source: US envoy objects to troop increase

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2009 at 10:28 am

The U.S. envoy in Afghanistan, a former Army general who once commanded troops in the country, has objected strongly to emerging plans to send tens of thousands of additional forces to the country, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry resigned his Army commission to take the job as U.S. ambassador in Kabul earlier this year, and his is an influential voice among those advising President Barack Obama on Afghanistan. Eikenberry sent multiple classified cables to Washington over the past week that question the wisdom of adding forces when the Afghan political situation is unstable and uncertain, said an official familiar with the cables. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations and the classified documents.

Cables are diplomatic messages that may or may not be classified and carry greater heft than other forms of communication such as e-mail.

US marines in the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, prepare to deploy to Afghanistan

Eikenberry made the point that the administration should step cautiously in planning for any troop buildup while there are still so many questions surrounding Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the official said. Eikenberry is the front line U.S. official dealing with Karzai, the U.S.-backed leader whose administration was stained by corruption and mismanagement. It was a visiting senior senator, Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, who was instrumental in persuading Karzai last month to accept the findings of a U.N. panel that his re-election vote in August was too marred by fraud to stand.

Karzai agreed to a second round of voting but was elevated to a second term as president without a runoff election when his challenger dropped out. Since then, U.S. officials have been alarmed at some of Karzai’s remarks and the lack, so far, of meaningful steps to clean house.

Eikenberry’s objections were a wild card in the midst of what had appeared to be the final days of Obama’s long decision-making process on how to revamp U.S. strategy in the 8-year war. Eikenberry has participated in some of Obama’s war council sessions over the past several weeks.

A senior U.S. official told The Associated Press that Obama rejected all four options presented to him at what had been expected to be the last of those sessions Wednesday. Those options started from the premise that some addition of U.S. forces is necessary, and included ways that Obama could meet or nearly meet war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s preference for about 40,000 additional troops.

It is not clear whether Eikenberry’s objections played a part in Obama’s decision not to accept any of the choices prepared by military planners Wednesday.

At his Senate confirmation hearing in March, Eikenberry underscored what he called the urgency of the requirement to turn around the war effort, which has evolved into a stalemate in key parts of Afghanistan as the Taliban-led insurgency has gained clout.

Time is of the essence,” Eikenberry said. “There will be no substitute for more resources and sacrifice.”

He said Europeans, for example, should be expected to provide more mentors for Afghan police trainees. Another key to success, he said, is getting more civilian experts such as agriculture specialists and justice experts who can help reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on the illicit narcotics trade.

Eikenberry was the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan for two years before moving to Brussels to be deputy chairman of NATO‘s military committee in 2007. He had served one previous tour in Afghanistan.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Australia rules out Afghan troop boost: report

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2009 at 10:09 am

SYDNEY, Nov 5, 2009 (AFP) – Australia has ruled out sending extra troops to Afghanistan, despite US and NATO calls for reinforcements to shore up the campaign against a resurgent Taliban, a report said Thursday.

Defence Minister John Faulkner told US officials Australia had decided against boosting its 1,550-strong troop commitment to the strife-torn nation beyond the 450 extra soldiers it sent earlier this year.

“There is a very clear understanding and appreciation of the fact that Australia increased the number of troops to Afghanistan very significantly on April 29 this year,” Faulkner said, according to public broadcaster ABC.

“I’ve certainly indicated to those I’ve spoken to here in the United States over the last couple of days this number is right,” he added.

(FILES) In this picture taken on October 28, 2009, Afghan National Army keeps watch as smoke rises from The United Nations Bekhtar Guesthouse in Kabul on October 28, 2009, where UN staff were killed following an attack (AFP photo)

Faulkner, on an official visit to Washington, met with congressional members, military commanders and his American counterpart, Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

Faulkner said US authorities “well understood that Australia uniquely has responsibilities in its own area of the world,” and appreciated Australia’s commitment — the ninth-biggest contingent of foreign troops.

Last month he said Australia was planning to complete the operation in the “shortest time-frame possible” once it had fulfilled its responsibilities training the Afghan National Army in the southern province of Uruzgan.

“My own personal view is that we will not prevail in Afghanistan unless we win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people,” he said, urging re-elected President Hamid Karzai make good on vows to crack down on corruption and improve governance.

“I think the challenge for the international community is to ensure that Mr Karzai does deliver in terms of that commitment,” he said.

General Stanley McChrystal, Afghanistan’s top US and NATO commander, has warned that the war could be lost within a year without extra resources to fight the Islamists, who were driven from power by the 2001 US-led invasion.

President Barack Obama is currently considering a large boost in US troop numbers in the face of growing public opposition in the United States.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share