Posts Tagged ‘ United States ’

Memorial Day Personal For All Generations

As Reported by Michael Beall for The Great Falls Tribune

It arrives when spring begins its slow transition to summer, as high school seniors prepare their next steps and, when the fickle Montana weather cooperates, it’s a day for barbecues, parades, picnics and remembrance — surrounded by loved ones, bouquets of flowers and American flags.

Memorial Day is a national holiday with a personal connotation that dates back to 1868 and the wake of the Civil War. It stems from contentious roots in a time when the North and South honored their dead on separate days, until the country united the holiday after World War I to remember all American soldiers from every war.

It was known as Decoration Day in the 19th century, when Americans from both battlefronts carried flowers to graves or makeshift monuments honoring the approximately 620,000 soldiers who died on American soil.

“The procession went on, and stopped here and there at the little graveyards on the farms, leaving their bright flags to flutter through summer and winter rains and snow. They sent flags to all the distant graves and proud were those households who claimed kinship with valor,” wrote Sarah Orne Jewett on Decoration Day 1892, remembered in the book “Race and Reunion: the Civil War in American Memory.”

Jewett’s words ring true today in the graveyards and cemeteries, memorial parks and main streets, and in homes and backyards. Memorial Day is as personal as an individual’s relationship with a war, a veteran, a living or fallen soldier.

Maureen Blake, a third-grader at Morningside Elementary, planned to celebrate the holiday with an annual barbecue to spend time with her mom, dad and sister.

“Memorial Day means to me and my family to celebrate soldiers and their hard work in the military, army, marines or whatever they do,” Blake said in a shy but excited voice. “I think it’s a day for remembering the soldiers.”

She said she remembers her dad, Ferrel, who is an Air Force sergeant, and her uncle, who passed away in a car wreck. When she grows up, she wants to follow her father into the military so she can help people.

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Pakistan: Between a Rock and A Hard Place

By Yekaterina Kudashkina for The Voice of Russia

Interview with Dr. Theodore Karasik – the Director of Research and Development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai.

Particularly you have to first understand that the situation in Pakistan is rather icy politically, as well as on the religious scale. Pakistan now finds itself between a rock and a hard place when it comes to how it fits into the US and Western plans to halt fighting in Afghanistan as well as to get rid of terrorist events in the northwest frontier province. So, the Pakistani press is going to be very inflamed though, not only because of the NATO Summit, but also because of the sentencing of the doctor who outed Bin Laden for a sentence of 33 years.

Apparently what happened was that the US had managed to find a Pakistani physician who was able to pinpoint the location of Bin Laden’s compound and as a result of the leakage of this information in the US and foreign press this doctor was arrested and tried very quickly in Pakistan and sentenced to 33 years in jail for giving up Bin Laden’s position. This is a political trial where Pakistanis want to make an example of this individual by arguing that he managed to fail the state by giving up the secret of where Bin Laden was hiding.

Do you think that this case is going to further deteriorate the relations between the US and Pakistan or is it just a root in development?

I think it is a bit of both. I think that will embarrass the US-Pakistani relations. I think that will be pressuring the United States of why did the US revealed the identity of this doctor. There is also a discussion about how this relationship with Pakistan and the United States will continue in terms of transport of nonlethal goods to Afghanistan.

Now, talking about that issue. Do I get it right that the negotiations are still under way in Islamabad regarding the transportation routes agreement, the new one?

Yes, the negotiations are still ongoing in Islamabad about transferring nonlethal goods into the Afghan theatre. And Pakistanis are using this episode to put political pressure on US to make concessions, particularly when it comes to military aid or paying of very high prices for use of this supply lines.

Are we talking about concessions in terms of money or in some other aspects?

It’s a combination of both money and political support for the Zardari Government.

Is the US prepared to offer a political support for Zardari Government in the present circumstances?

At this time I would say that the United States is going to play quite tough with Pakistan. Let’s face it – Pakistan is just barely above a failed state. And the US needs to make sure that Pakistan does not descend in the total chaos while at the same time applying pressure on Pakistan to guarantee that the state remains somewhat coherent together.

The signals of the resumption of negotiations in Islamabad were generally seen as a sign that perhaps they could be ameliorating. And then came Zardari’s visit to Chicago. By the way, why would the Pakistanis be so disappointed with the results of his visit? What were their expectations?

I think that they were expecting to be treated more as an equal and key to solving the Afghan problem as well as to part of trying to help with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. But instead you had this political issues popup and then you had Zardari acting in a very strange way by missing the key events like the group of progress of all the leaders and so on. I think that they left Chicago messed.

Does the United States want to ameliorate them and what needs to be done if there is a certain desire to make them better?

Clearly a lot of problems need to be discussed and we need to find the right remedies that would help both countries work together in this difficult time. I think it is going to get more difficult as tensions build over what to do with Afghanistan and the withdrawal from Afghanistan of NATO forces. Pakistan has an important role to play in all this because of the supply routes as we talked about previously. So, I think we are going to be entering a period of more jostling for position, negotiation that could get quite ugly at some points.

US-Pakistan Tensions Deepen as Obama Snubs Zardari at Nato Summit

As Reported By Ewen MacAskill for The Guardian

The rift between the US and Pakistan deepened on Monday as the Nato summit in Chicago broke up without a deal on Afghanistan supply routes.

Barack Obama, at a press conference to wind up the summit, made no attempt to conceal his exasperation, issuing a pointed warning to Pakistan it was in its wider interest to work with the US to avoid being “consumed” by extremists.

Seldom in recent years have the tensions between Washington and Islamabad been on public show to the extent as at the Chicago, overshadowing the two-day Nato summit.

The main point of friction is Pakistan’s closure of Nato supply routes to Afghanistan in protest over drone attacks and a US air strike in November that killed two dozen Pakistani troops.

Obama refused to make time during the two-day summit to see the Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari for a face-to-face bilateral meeting. In a press conference, Obama made a point of stressing that the only exchange he had with his Pakistani counterpart was short. “Very brief, as we were walking into the summit,” Obama said.

The US president said he “did not want to paper over the cracks” and that there has been tension between the US-led international force in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last few months.

But ultimately, it was in the US interest to have a stable, democratic and prosperous Pakistan, Obama said, adding it was in the interest of Pakistan to work with the US to ensure it is not consumed by extremists.

There are fears in the US that the Pakistan government is unstable and that the government could fall, to be replaced by hardliners. The risk for Obama is displaying his annoyance with Pakistan at the Chicago summit is that Zardari could leave the summit feeling humiliated and even less willing to play a positive role over Afghanistan.

Obama declined to meet Zadari one-to-one because Pakistan is refusing to re-open its Afghanistan border to Nato, which means the US and others are having to resupply their military forces through the slower and more expensive routes from the north and Russia.

The president claimed that he never anticipated the Pakistan supply line issue being resolved at the summit and, taking a more optimistic view of the stand-off, he said they were making “diligent progress”.

“We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan. Neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability and prosperity that it needs unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues,” Obama said.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, at a press conference in Chicago, reflected the irritation with Pakistan, describing the blocked routes as “frustrating”. Cameron said he expected a deal eventually but not at the summit.

In its final communique, Nato formally committed to its withdrawal of the 130,000-strong force from Afghanistan based on a timetable agreed earlier by Obama and Karzai. All international combat troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2014. But the communique said a smaller force would remain to help “train, advise and assist” the Afghan army.

The communique does not say how many troops will be left but US commanders in Kabul are looking at a Nato force of around 15,000-20,000. Reflecting the public mood in Nato countries tired of the war, the comminque said the withdrawal timetable is “irreversible”.

Obama, at the opening of the second day of the Nato summit on Monday morning, showed his displeasure with the Pakistan government by singling out for mention the Central Asia countries and Russia that have stepped in to replace the Pakistan supply route and made no mention of Pakistan. Zardari was in the room at the time.

To ram home the point, the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, also held a meeting at the Nato summit with senior ministers from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Panetta expressed his “deep appreciation” for their support.

Zardari has demanded an apology from the US for the killing of the 24 Pakistani troops in November in return for reopening supply lines. He is also proposing that the tariff for each vehicle be raised from $250 to $5,000. The US is bitter about this, noting the amount of American military and other aid that goes to Pakistan annually.

In his wrap-up press conference, Obama stood praised the Chicago police for their handling of the demonstrations but also defended the rights of the protesters. “This is part of what Nato defends: free speech and freedom of assembly,” Obama said.

Panetta to Confront Pakistan at NATO Summit on Transport Costs

By David Cloud for New York Daily News

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta heads to this weekend’s NATO summit prepared to confront Pakistan over what he considers price-gouging for transport of supplies to Afghanistan and hoping for a “consensus” among allies over the war effort.

In an interview before his arrival in Chicago, where the summit is scheduled to begin Sunday, Panetta all but ruled out paying Pakistan $5,000 for each truck carrying supplies across its territory for NATO troops waging the Afghanistan war. Pakistani officials have demanded that amount as a condition for reopening supply routes that have been closed to the alliance since fall.

“Considering the financial challenges that we’re facing, that’s not likely,” Panetta said of the demand.

Before the supply routes were closed in November after a mistaken U.S. attack on two remote Pakistani border posts that killed two dozen Pakistani troops, NATO convoys were paying an average of about $250 a truck, a senior U.S. official said.

U.S. officials say they remain hopeful they can resolve the dispute, perhaps at the summit. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari accepted a last-minute invitation to attend the meetings, although he is not expected to meet one-on-one with President Obama, officials said.

Thousands of trucks a day carrying supplies would go through multiple border crossings from Pakistan to Afghanistan, making the fees a potentially massive source of revenue for the cash-strapped government in Islamabad.

The U.S. has shifted deliveries to different routes through Russia and other countries to Afghanistan’s north. But the massive withdrawals of equipment due to unfold over the next 21/2 years as troops leave the country will be “significantly” more difficult if routes in Pakistan aren’t used, the Pentagon acknowledged in a report last month.

The Obama administration hopes the two-day summit will highlight what Panetta called a “consensus” within NATO about how to disengage militarily by the end of 2014. Exhausted after more than a decade of war, the U.S. and its allies want to hand off responsibility for fighting the Taliban to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, even though its army and police remain well short of being able to stand on their own.

“Everybody in the alliance recognizes that for this to work, we can’t pick up and leave. We’ve got to remain there to provide support and to assist them in that effort with training, with assistance, with advice,” Panetta said.

But he acknowledged that there would be difficulties, both on the battlefield and within the alliance. Those splits are exemplified by the new French president, Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party leader who campaigned on a vow to withdraw all 3,300 French troops by the end of this year. Hollande met with Obama at the White House on Friday.

Panetta, who plans to meet the new French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Chicago, indicated that the U.S. hopes France will agree to keep some forces in a noncombat role in Afghanistan for the next 2 1/2 years, even if they withdraw all combat troops early.

Yet a more rapid exit by France than planned could lead other allies to speed up their own troop withdrawals.

“There are some countries — Canada, France — that want to bring their combat operations to an end on a faster time track, but that doesn’t have to mean they won’t accept the responsibility to continue to provide the needed support,” Panetta said.

Panetta acknowledged that U.S. efforts to persuade other countries to make long-term financial pledges to fund Afghanistan’s army and police, a key objective of the two-day Chicago summit, is running into difficulties.

“Of course, it’s not easy considering the financial difficulties that a lot of these countries are going through,” he said. “Many of them have come forward and said they would be willing to make a commitment, and I really do think we will be able to achieve the support levels we need.”

In an effort to secure more pledges, the U.S. is asking other countries to commit to providing aid for only three years, though Afghanistan’s armed forces are expected to need foreign assistance for at least a decade, a Western diplomat in Washington said.

A year ago, the Obama administration was hopeful it could draw the Taliban into peace negotiations with Karzai’s government, but Panetta acknowledged that he didn’t see a deal to end the conflict happening “any time soon.”

NATO Summit May Pose Few Political Risks For Obama

By Lynn Sweet for The Chicago Sun Times

With the American public — and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney — focused on the economy, President Barack Obama may not have much at stake politically if there are diplomatic flaps at the NATO Summit in Chicago.

And since Obama already signed a “Strategic Partnership Agreement” with Afghanistan to have most U.S. troops out in 2014 — he flew to Kabul for the May 1 signing — there may not be much of a price to pay domestically if pressure comes from the new president of France and other NATO partners in Afghanistan to shorten the timetable.

And if all heck breaks loose in Obama’s hometown from protesters? Well, a riot in a president’s hometown at a global summit is obviously not good. But the ramifications may not be far reaching. As political time goes, the presidential election is light-years away.

“Nobody in November will remember what happened,” an Obama team source told me. It will be a short news cycle on the cable outlets “and a month in the [Chicago] papers.”

Romney’s team headquartered in Boston is hardly paying attention to the NATO gathering and was not, when I visited on Friday, sizing it up as an obvious political opportunity for them because they want an almost exclusive focus on the economy.

The rapidly expanding Romney operation (overlooking the Charles River) on Friday was ramping up the “message of the week” theme for this week — on government spending. Romney hits the Chicago area on Tuesday for a fund-raiser at the Winnetka home of Pat Ryan — the insurance mogul and civic activist — and his wife, Shirley.

The Romney campaign could mull commenting on some policy difference that emerges — but that would depend on the specifics and if strategically it paid for them to go off message. Same goes if protests get ugly or it there is some serious security incident. It all depends on the situation, I’m told.

Obama’s biggest diplomatic stake

The biggest diplomatic stakes for Obama are the package of issues surrounding Afghanistan, made more complex because of the election of a new French president.

Three announcements are expected at the Chicago NATO Summit: When in 2013 the combat mission in Afghanistan shifts to supporting the Afghan National Security Forces; how much support, financial and otherwise the “ANSF” will get from NATO partners; and agreement on a “roadmap” for NATO’s post-2014 role in Afghanistan.

France’s new president, Francois Hollande — a Socialist — will be sworn in on Monday. He campaigned on a platform to pull out French combat troops by the end of 2012.

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Chicago NATO Summit on Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon was asked by committee chair Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) about Hollande.

Obama at the last NATO Summit — in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2010 — got the Afghanistan partners to agree to the 2014 timetable, Gordon noted.

“The French assure us that they are committed to our common success in Afghanistan, and I’m sure we’ll find a way forward that ensures that common success. All I can do is speak to our own view, which is that this principle of ‘in together, out together’ remains critical,” Gordon said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has much more at stake in the summit — as Obama’s former chief of staff, he grabbed the Summit, seeing it as a terrific opportunity to showcase Chicago. But he neglected to get buy-in from rank-and-file Chicagoans who see the inconveniences more than the advantages.

Emanuel has just one portfolio for the NATO Summit as host mayor. Though he once did while in the White House, Emanuel this week doesn’t have to worry about the future of NATO, transatlantic security, ballistic missiles, Russia, free and fair elections in Afghanistan and how to make NATO allies take on their fair share of financial responsibilities and spend two percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

Obama wanted the summit to be in Chicago in part because he wanted to show off for foreign leaders a city that relishes it diversity — with almost every ethnic group that is part of NATO and its partners.

The last U.S. NATO Summit was in 1999; this is the first outside of Washington.

“In addition to the opportunity to showcase one of our nation’s great cities, our hosting of the summit in Chicago is a tangible symbol of the importance of NATO to the United States. It is also an opportunity to underscore to the American people the continued value of this alliance to security challenges we face today,” Gordon said at the Senate hearing.

Emanuel, on the other hand, wanted the summit to drum up business for Chicago.

My thought is Emanuel far more than Obama owns the summit if things go wrong — and will likely bear the brunt even though the Secret Service is taking the lead coordinating security.

Emanuel will find it harder to change the subject if there are horrible demonstrations. Obama, working off a national and global stage — will be able to move on if all that goes wrong are protests.

“Foreign policy in the minds of the American people right now is not nearly as important as it has been in past elections,” Brookings Institution scholar William Galston told me. “… They are focused almost exclusively on the economy.”

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley noted when we talked that demonstrations at world summits “are not unique to Barack Obama or to America today.

“Demonstrations happen every time there is a big gathering now of any leaders of the world anywhere,” Daley said.

I asked Daley if the fact the summit is in hometown Chicago raises the stakes for Obama.

He said no. “Just cause it was his hometown people would say, ‘boy, he could not control his home therefore we are not going to vote for him as president.’ … I don’t see it. … Obviously, it wouldn’t help. But I don’t see the American people holding him responsible for what may or may not happen by demonstrators who come from all over the country and all over the world to the city.”

Taliban Commander Turns Self in… For Reward on ‘Wanted’ Poster

As Reported by Kevin Sieff for The Washington Post

Mohammad Ashan, a mid-level Taliban commander in Paktika province, strolled toward a police checkpoint in the district of Sar Howza with a wanted poster bearing his own face. He demanded the finder’s fee referenced on the poster: $100.

Afghan officials, perplexed by the man’s misguided motives, arrested him on the spot. Ashan is suspected of plotting at least two attacks on Afghan security forces. His misdeeds prompted officials to plaster the district with hundreds of so-called “Be on the Lookout” posters emblazoned with his name and likeness.

When U.S. troops went to confirm that Ashan had in fact come forward to claim the finder’s fee, they were initially incredulous.

“We asked him, ‘Is this you?’ Mohammad Ashan answered with an incredible amount of enthusiasm, ‘Yes, yes, that’s me! Can I get my award now?’” recalled SPC Matthew Baker.

A biometric scan confirmed that the man in Afghan custody was the insurgent they had been looking for.

“This guy is the Taliban equivalent of the ‘Home Alone” burglars,” one U.S. official said.

Wanted posters are often distributed by NATO forces, but rarely have such a direct impact on the apprehension of an insurgent. In restive Paktika province, civilians are typically afraid to pass on intelligence that might lead to an arrest. And insurgents tend to shy away from the urban centers where they’re being hunted, particularly while carrying evidence of their own transgressions.

Officials have guessed at what the unusual details of Ashan’s arrest might tell us about the state of the insurgency — its desperation, its lack of resources, its defiance of law and order.

But, for now, the consensus has landed on the singularity of Ashan’s act, and the intellectual calculus that led to it.

Pakistani Parliament Approves Proposals on US Ties

As Reported By The Associated Press

Pakistan’s parliament on Thursday unanimously approved new guidelines for the country in its troubled relationship with the United States, a decision that could pave the way for the reopening of supply lines to NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The guidelines allow for the blockade on U.S. and NATO supplies to be lifted, but also call for an immediate end to American drone strikes against militants on Pakistani soil.

However, the lawmakers did not make a halt in the CIA-led missile attacks a prerequisite to reopening the supply lines, as some lawmakers had been demanding. The government and the army will use the recommendations as the basis for re-engaging with Washington.

Ties between the U.S. and Pakistan all but collapsed in November after U.S. airstrikes inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border, after which Islamabad blocked the supply lines in protest. Washington wants the relationship back on track.

The U.S. State Department expressed respect for the Pakistani parliament’s decision. “We respect the seriousness with which parliament’s review of U.S.-Pakistan relations has been conducted,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “We seek a relationship with Pakistan that is enduring, strategic, and more clearly defined. We look forward to discussing these policy recommendations with the Government of Pakistan and continuing to engage with it on our shared interests.”

About 30 percent of supplies used by NATO and U.S. troops in landlocked Afghanistan are transported through Pakistan. Washington also needs Islamabad’s cooperation to negotiate an end to the Afghan war because many insurgent leaders are based on Pakistani soil.

The drones are a source of popular outrage in the country and have fueled anti-U.S. sentiment, although Pakistan’s powerful army has tacitly aided the missile attacks in the past, weakening Islamabad’s official stance that they are a violation of sovereignty.

Washington has ignored previous entreaties by the parliament to end the strikes, and is seen as unlikely to change its policy now.

Despite calls by Islamists for a permanent supply line blockade, few inside the Pakistani government or the army believed this was desirable, given that Pakistan relies on the U.S. and other NATO countries for its economic survival and diplomatic and military support.

Soon after the deadly airstrikes on the border, the Pakistani government called on parliament to draw up new guidelines for Islamabad’s relations with the U.S. The government’s move was widely seen as way to give it political cover for reopening the routes.

The national security committee presented a first set of proposals last month but opposition parties riding a wave of anti-American sentiment rejected them, seemingly unwilling to share any fallout ahead of elections this year or early next.

But on Thursday the opposition voted with government lawmakers to approve a revised set of guidelines, which differed little from the original ones. Opposition lawmakers didn’t explain why they had dropped earlier objections, but they could have come under pressure from the army or extracted other, unrelated concessions from the government.

The guidelines call for NATO and the U.S. to pay Pakistan more for the right to ship supplies across its soil and stipulate that no arms or ammunitions be transported. Western forces have only ever trucked fuel and other nonfatal supplies across Pakistan because of the risk they could fall into the hands of insurgents.

“We believe that the world has heard the voice of the people of Pakistan,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told parliament. “I would like to assure the house that our government will implement the recommendations that have been made in both letter and spirit.” Gilani did not say when the supply lines would reopen.

Western officials have said Pakistan would come under intense criticism if routes remained blocked during a NATO conference in Chicago on May 20-21 where more than 50 heads of state will discuss progress on ending the war.

Washington’s public line has been that it is waiting for the parliament to finish its review before calling for Pakistan to reopen the routes. It has refused to apologize for the border incident in November, and last week put a $10 million bounty on the head of a militant leader believed close to Pakistan’s security forces.

Behind the scenes, however, negotiations have been going on between the U.S. and Pakistan over the supply line issue and drone strikes. It was unclear whether there has been any new agreement on the strikes, which Washington believes are key to keeping al-Qaida on its back foot.

U.S. officials had said they had offered Pakistan notice about impending strikes and new limits on which militants are being targeted. For most of the Afghan war, 90 percent of the supplies came through Pakistan, but NATO has increased its reliance on an alternate, so-called “northern” route, through Central Asia in recent years.

Increased use of the northern route has removed some of the leverage Islamabad had over the West, but at a cost to the coalition.

Pentagon officials now say it costs about $17,000 per container to go through the north, compared with about $7,000 per container to go through Pakistan.

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