Saturday, March 28, 2009

Americans wary about war in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- How does the American public feel about the war in Afghanistan? In a word, wary.President Obama on Friday announced his strategy to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a plan that includes more troops, new legislation, improved troop training and added civilian expertise."The United States of American did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan. Nearly 3,000 of our people were killed on September 11, 2001," Obama said Friday."We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said.Stressing that "the safety of people around the world is at stake," Obama said the "situation is increasingly perilous" in the region in and around Afghanistan, where the United States has been fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban for more than 7½ years after attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.Nevertheless, the American public has been wary about the war in Afghanistan, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted in February. Last month, Americans were almost evenly divided between those who support the war and those who oppose it, the poll showed, with 47 percent in favor and 51 percent opposed.Opposition to the war in Afghanistan is more muted than opposition to the war in Iraq, but it's not so muted among Democrats. Two-thirds of Americans overall oppose the war in Iraq, but 64 percent of Democrats oppose the war in Afghanistan.The anti-war movements in Vietnam and Iraq helped define what the Democratic Party stands for. "If we don't learn from our Iraq experience, we are doomed to repeat it," Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-California, said on the House floor Thursday.Why are Americans wary about Afghanistan? The recession. Iraq War fatigue. And frustration.Only 31 percent of Americans believe the United States is winning the war in Afghanistan. Fifty percent believe the United States is winning in Iraq -- the highest number in at least five years. But Americans still want to get out of Iraq.Last month, when President Obama said he would send 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, the public was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.Democrats were willing to go along with the president, but they were less enthusiastic than Republicans.A solid majority of Americans believe the United States can win a military victory in Afghanistan, but Afghanistan has become a political war. Winning depends, not just on what the United States can do, but also what Afghanistan and Pakistan can do.Americans have far less confidence in them.The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll surveyed 1,046 adult Americans by telephone on February 18-19, 2009. The sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Pakistan’s President Praises Obama and Offers New Concession to the Opposition

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — In an address to a joint session of Parliament, President Asif Ali Zardari promised Saturday to ease domestic political turmoil and praised the Obama administration’s new policy to Pakistan as “positive change.”

In a conciliatory gesture to the opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-N, Mr. Zardari said that he would lift the executive rule he had imposed on Punjab Province, the most populous province in Pakistan and one where the opposition party holds the most seats in the legislature.

The announcement by Mr. Zardari was seen as another major concession after the opposition party led huge street demonstrations, forcing the president to agree to the restoration of the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who had been removed from the bench in 2007.

In phrases that were most likely intended to please Washington, Mr. Zardari said that Pakistan needed to “root out extremism and militancy.” He welcomed the new package of $7.5 billion for civilian assistance over five years formally announced by President Obama on Friday.

The increased American aid showed that Washington agreed with Pakistan that the best way to fight extremism was through alleviating poverty, Mr. Zardari said.

“It is an endorsement of our call for economic and social uplift as a means to fight extremism,” he said.

This was in implicit contrast to the eight years of rule by Pervez Musharraf, a former general, when almost all of the $10 billion in American assistance to Pakistan went to the army.

As he has in the past, Mr. Zardari stressed that Pakistan needed to fight the escalating extremism for its own good, a way of deflecting vocal Pakistani critics of the alliance with the United States. Mr. Zardari as much as said the fight against the militants was Pakistan’s fight, not America’s fight. “We are fighting militancy and extremism for our own sake,” he said.

Separately on Saturday, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan commended the Obama administration’s strategic review, saying it matched the aspirations of the Afghan people and the views of his own government.

“It is exactly what the Afghan people were hoping for,” Mr. Karzai told reporters at a news briefing in the presidential palace in Kabul. “It has our full support and backing.”

In particular, Mr. Karzai said he was happy to see Mr. Obama’s recognition that Al Qaeda and its allies were still in the region and had their bases and sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Afghan president has been protesting for several years that the battle is fought in Afghan villages while the insurgents’ headquarters, bases and training camps in Pakistan are left untouched.

“The sanctuaries of the terrorists, the nest of the terrorists and the training places of the terrorists are not in Afghanistan; it has a regional dimension,” he said.

A major point of Mr. Obama’s new policy toward Pakistan was his declaration that the United States wanted to ensure that the havens established by Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal areas were eliminated. It was from these havens, he said, that Al Qaeda was plotting attacks on the United States.

Mr. Zardari did not mention the Taliban or Al Qaeda by name and did not address the power of the militants in the tribal areas or in other areas of Pakistan. Rather, he chose to make a stand about the territorial integrity of Pakistan and reinforced the notion that the government would not tolerate a breach of that sovereignty.

“The sovereignty of Pakistan must be protected at all costs,” he said. “It will be.”

The insistence of Pakistan that no American or other foreign troops can operate from its territory is one of the basic challenges facing the Obama administration as it tries to find a way to eliminate the militant threat.

On Friday, the United States’ special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, said “the red line is unambiguous and stated publicly by the Pakistani government: No foreign troops on our soil.”

Because of that prohibition and the unsteady effort by the Pakistani Army against the militants, Washington has been deploying remotely piloted aircraft, known as drones, armed with missiles against Al Qaeda in the tribal areas. The missile attacks are extremely unpopular in Pakistan and have served to strengthen the anti-American sentiment.

Mr. Zardari, whose popularity has plummeted in recent months, in part because he is linked by many Pakistanis to American policy, did not mention the missile attacks in his speech.

But President Obama hinted strongly Friday that they would continue.

“Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out Al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders,” he said. “And we will insist that action be taken — one way or the other — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.”

In his announcement that he would withdraw the executive rule in Punjab that he imposed last month, Mr. Zardari was effectively handing the province back to rule of the Pakistan Muslim League-N. Mr. Zardari is co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, a mantle he inherited from his wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007.

In his speech, he said his party would support the candidate of the Pakistan Muslim League-N as chief minister, a job held by Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of the leader of the league, Nawaz Sharif, before executive rule was imposed.

Elsewhere, dozens of suspected militants fired rockets early Saturday at a transport terminal in northwest Pakistan near Peshawar, the police told The Associated Press. The terminal is used to ship supplies to NATO troops.

The strike followed by a day a suicide bomber’s attack, which killed about 40 people, at a crowded mosque about 12 miles from Peshawar on the main highway to Afghanistan.

Australia turns the lights out for Earth Hour

SYDNEY -- Lights went out at Sydney's famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge on Saturday for Earth Hour 2009, a global event in which landmarks and homes go dark for an hour to highlight the threat from climate change.

Australia first held Earth Hour in 2007 and it went global in 2008, attracting the involvement of 50 million people, organisers say. Environmental group WWF, which started the event, is hoping one billion people will take part this year.

"The primary reason we do it is because we want people to think, even if it is for an hour, what they can do to lower their carbon footprint, and ideally take that beyond the hour," Earth Hour executive director Andy Ridley told reporters at Sydney's Bondi Beach.

Among the more than 80 countries taking part this year are newcomers like industrial powerhouse China and Asian industrial hub Singapore.

Organisers said several new countries signed up in the hours before the event, which aims to encourage people to cut their energy use and curb greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.

In the Vatican, the dome of St Peter's Basilica will go dark, as will Egypt's Great Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and New York's Empire State Building. Other global landmarks that will switch off the lights include the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the London Eye and the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing.

Organisers said the remote Chatham Islands was the first place where supporters turned the lights off for an hour at 8.30 p.m., followed by New Zealand and Fiji.

Lights at Sydney's Opera House and Harbour Bridge were switched off at 8.30 p.m. (0930 GMT) to the sound of horns on the harbour, with supporters holding candlelit dinners to watch the event.

"We are sitting here near the harbour. There are about 60 or 70 people here having a picnic - got the candles out," an Earth Hour spokesman told Reuters.

In Melbourne, supporters organised a bicycle-powered concert.


Organisers are calling Earth Hour a 'global election', with switching off the lights a vote for the Earth and failure to do so a vote for global warming.

In the Thai capital, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will push a button to switch off the lights at Khao San Road, Bangkok's bustling, "backpackers' ghetto". Lights will also go out at Bangkok landmarks such as the Grand Palace and Temple of the Dawn from 1300 GMT to 1400 GMT.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration expects electricity usage in the city of 8 million people to drop by 30 percent during that hour, or 1,384 megawatts.

Luxury hotels and restaurants plan to serve candle-lit dinners with guests being asked to turn off room lights.

In Singapore, one hotel chain is encouraging guests to sleep naked, or without air conditioning. Some hotels are also offering candle-lit dinners, while bars have cut the price of drinks during the event.

Lights will also be dimmed at landmarks in India, including the Reserve Bank in Mumbai and scores of other buildings in the city.

In Kuala Lumpur, a Malaysian mall is marking the global Earth Hour climate change initiative by dimming its lights - and offering tickets to one of the world's most polluting sports to well-heeled shoppers.

WWF says it will present the results at a conference on climate change in Copenhagen later this year, where governments will try to seal a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

President Zardari addresses Parliament

ISLAMABAD :The joint session of parliament has begun here on Saturday, President Asif Ali Zardari, is addressing the session. This is President Zardari’s second address to the joint sitting in seven months.At the end of every parliamentary year, president’s address is mandatory under the Constitution.According to the article 56 (3) of the Constitution, at the commencement of the first session after each general election to the National Assembly and at the commencement of the first session of each year, the President shall address both houses of the parliament. President Zardari’s first address was on September 20 last year.

Russia to build 6 nuclear subs with cruise missiles

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia will build at least six nuclear-powered submarines with long-range cruise missiles for its navy, a source in the Russian Defense Ministry told the Itar-Tass news agency.

The missiles can potentially carry low-capacity tactical warheads, the news agency reported Friday.

"These supersonic, highly maneuvering missiles are designed for strikes on aircraft carriers of the enemy if the latter poses a direct threat to Russia's security," the unnamed source told Itar-Tass. "The missiles can be launched at the most important coastal facilities."

The source added, "Despite the construction of a new nuclear submarine with new missiles, Russia intends to observe firmly international arms control agreements on equal terms with other countries."

The Severodvinsk-class submarines are being built at the Sevmash shipyard, the center of Russian nuclear submarine production, according to Global Security's Web site.

The new subs will be put into service for the Russian navy in 2011, the source told Itar-Tass.

Russia will finance the construction of the new submarine with long-range cruise missiles, First Deputy Chief of the Navy's General Staff, Vice-Admiral Oleg Burtsev told Itar-Tass.

Militants destroy 12 NATO trucks in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Taliban militants in Pakistan on Saturday destroyed 12 parked trucks laden with supplies for NATO forces in neighbouring Afghanistan during a heavy battle with police, an official said.
Fighters armed with rockets and petrol bombs besieged the Farhad terminal on the edge of the northwest city Peshawar, police said, the latest in a series of strikes targeting goods bound for foreign forces across the border.
"There were no casualties in the attack, but the fire gutted 12 trucks loaded with NATO supplies," local police station chief Fazal Wahid told AFP.
"We had to call reinforcements from other police stations as Taliban outnumbered the local force and were heavily armed," Wahid said.
The bulk of supplies and equipment required by NATO and US-led forces battling a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan are shipped through Pakistan, and the fabled Khyber pass through the northwest is the principal land route.
The attack came one day after a suicide bomber blew himself up at a packed mosque during prayers in Jamrud, near Peshawar, leaving around 50 dead and scores wounded in one of the bloodiest recent attacks in the nation.
US President Barack Obama put Pakistan at the centre of the fight against Al-Qaeda on Friday.
Obama said Al-Qaeda and extremist allies were "a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within" and warned Pakistan must "demonstrate its commitment" to eliminating extremists on its soil.
In Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, security forces launched a search operation against Taliban militants in Mohmand district and pounded militant positions at several places, a security official told AFP.
Local administration official Syed Ahmed Jan said a night curfew was imposed in Mohmand before the launch of the ground operation, in which no casualties have yet been reported.
US officials say northwest Pakistan has degenerated into a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who fled the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan and have regrouped to launch attacks on foreign troops across the border.
Extremists opposed to the Pakistani government's decision to side with the United States in its "war on terror" have carried out a series of bombings and other attacks that have killed nearly 1,700 people in less than two years.

US warns Pakistan on Taleban link

The US military says it has evidence elements within Pakistan's military intelligence, the ISI, continue to provide support for the Taleban.

Officials said that this support for militants had to end.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said the ISI had links with militants on both Pakistan's borders with Afghanistan and India.

US President Barack Obama has announced a new strategy for the "increasingly perilous" situation in Afghanistan.

He said an extra 4,000 US personnel would train and bolster the Afghan army and police, and he would also provide support for civilian development.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he was "in full agreement" with the US review.

'Very damaging'

Two senior figures in the US military have spoken about the links they believe exist between elements in Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Taleban and al-Qaeda militants.

"There are certainly indications that's the case," said Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a CNN interview.

"Fundamentally that's one of the things that has to change."

In another interview, the head of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, said some of the militant groups had been established by the ISI and that their links continued.

He said there was evidence that "in the fairly recent past" the ISI had tipped off militants when their positions were in danger.

"It's a topic that is of enormous importance, because if there are links and if those continue and if it undermines the operations [against militants], obviously that would be very damaging to the kind of trust that we need to build," said Gen Petraeus in a PBS interview.

Wearing thin

American officials, speaking anonymously to the New York Times, have given more detail.

“ So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan ”
Barack Obama
They said the strengthening Taleban campaign in southern Afghanistan was being made possible by military supplies from Pakistan.

The newspaper said electronic surveillance and informants had shown that the level of co-operation was deeper and more extensive than earlier thought.

Pakistani leaders have publically denied any links with the militants.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon says patience in Washington appears to be wearing thin.

'New strategy'

On Friday US President Barack Obama said growing radical forces in Afghanistan and the border area in Pakistan posed the greatest threat to the American people and the world.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said it would strengthen democracy in his country, while the Afghan government said Mr Obama had recognised that the al-Qaeda threat came mainly from Pakistan, and that it was a regional problem.

President Obama said his "comprehensive new strategy" was an outcome of a "careful policy review" in which military commanders and diplomats, regional governments, partners, Nato allies, NGOs and aid organisations were consulted.

He painted a bleak picture of the situation, with insurgents increasing their control of territory in the region around the Afghan-Pakistan border - which he termed "the most dangerous place in the world" for the American people - and attacks rising.

He said American strategy must relate directly to the threat posed to the Americans by al-Qaeda and its allies - who, he reminded his listeners, were behind the 9/11 attacks on American soil eight years ago.

But he said targeting al-Qaeda was not only in the interests of American people, but populations around the world and Afghans themselves.

"This is not simply an American problem. Far from it," Mr Obama said.

"It is instead an international security challenge of the highest order."

In Pakistan, Mr Obama said American help would be needed to go after al-Qaeda, which Mr Obama admitted was "no simple task".