Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gates warns against sending too many US forces to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON - Amid preparations for a major US troop build up in Afghanistan, Defence Secretary Robert Gates has warned that the United States cannot become bogged down in the unrealistic goal of turning the country into an economically prosperous nation.
Instead, the US must limit its focus to what it can achieve within five years, he said. The focus should be trying to ensure terrorists don't regain control of the region and use it to coordinate attacks, Gates told the House and Senate armed services committees.He also indicated that military strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan are likely to continue, despite Islamabad's view that they are unhelpful.
"If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhallah over there, we will lose because nobody in the world has that kind of time, patience or money to be honest," said Gates, referring to the mythic haven of purity.Gates testified as President Barack Obama considers options for drawing down operations in Iraq and doubling the force size in Afghanistan. Obama planned to meet today with the service chiefs.Gates told lawmakers that the Pentagon could send two more brigades to Afghanistan by late spring and a third by mid-summer in an effort to try to salvage a country besieged by corruption and increasing violence.More troops could be sent after that but a decision would hinge on the Defence Department's ability to build a larger infrastructure, he added. Gates cautioned against sending too many forces because he said it could send the wrong message and Afghan citizens must see their own security forces take control.When asked by Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican and a frequent visitor to the region, whether he expects casualties to rise with the increase in military operations, Gates responded that it was "likely.""Bottom line is this is going to be tough," Graham said."This is going to be difficult and in many ways harder than Iraq. Do you agree with that?"
"Yes," Gates responded.
Gates indicated that going after terrorists in Pakistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan, would remain part of the equation to improving security in the region.
"Let me just say both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al-Qaida wherever al-Qaida is and we will continue to pursue them," Gates said.On Guantanamo Bay, Gates played down suggestions that Obama's order to close the military prison within one year would risk the release of terrorists.He said Congress must remember that the vast majority of detainees can be tried by the United State or sent to other countries for prosecution.There are a relatively small number of detainees that will be difficult to prosecute, and the administration will have to address that problem, he said."I can't imagine a situation in which detainees in Guantanamo considered a danger to the people of the United States would simply be released," he told the House Armed Services Committee.Further, Gates said, the deadline was necessary because otherwise "we would kick that can down the road endlessly".His remarks undercut efforts by some Republicans to cast Obama's decision as misstep in the war on terror.On Iraq, the defence chief said the Pentagon is preparing for Obama various scenarios for winding down the war, including a plan that would cease US involvement in combat within 16 months. Gates said military planners are looking at later dates as well and are prepared to brief Obama on all his options and the their associated risks."I believe the president will have had every opportunity to hear quite directly from his commanders about what they can accomplish and what the attendant risks are under different options," Gates said.Gates said he does not expect the military build-up in Afghanistan to put an additional strain on troops. By the end of September, soldiers deployed for 12 months should be allowed 15 months at home. In the 2010 budget year, that ratio will stretch further, giving troops two years at home for every one year deployed. By 2011, they should see 30 months at home, he said.It was his first hearing since Obama took office and lawmakers were eager to hear details about how the administration plans to turn around the war in Afghanistan."This is a long, hard slog we're in in Afghanistan," said Senator John McCain, borrowing the phrase used frequently by former Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to describe the war in Iraq."It is complex," added McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services panel."It is challenging. And I don't see frankly an Anbar wakening - a game changing event - in Afghanistan, such as we were able to see in Iraq."Security gains made in Iraq's Anbar province are often seen as a turning point in the Iraq war.Having recently undergone an operation to repair a damaged tendon in his left arm, Gates spoke with his arm in a sling, his coat half on.Obama has vowed to shift military resources away from Iraq and move them toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he says is the central front in the struggle against terrorism and extremism.In a plan initiated during the Bush administration and endorsed by Obama, the Pentagon is planning to double the 34,000 contingent of US forces in Afghanistan.

Govt to construct Education Complex in Hayatabad

PESHAWAR: Education Department has decided in principle to construct an education complex where latest facilities will be ensured in order to cut unnecessary expenditure.
A decision to this effect was taken in a high-level meeting of the department which was attended by high-ups of the department, project directors and educationists.
It was learnt by the Statesman that eight kanal land has been allocated for the construction of complex where offices of the department in different areas will be shifted to the complex.
During the meeting, the high-ups of the education department have directed the authorities to prepare the feasibility report on which practical work will be started during next financial year.
The education department has also decided to contact the federal government for the release of funds specified by the government for education department.
German Funds: It was learnt that government of Germany had provided Rs928.56 million grant for the promotion of education sector in the country on the condition that if the government failed to utilise the funds properly for the specified purpose till 2016, then the central government will be bound to return it with interest till 2017.
In this regard the provincial education department has decided to contact the federal government for the release of the funds so as to take steps on emergency basis to increase the literacy ratio in the province.
Meanwhile, European Community, NWFP, has signed an agreement with the education department regarding provision of 20 million euros for betterment in education field in the province.
The accord was signed by Economic Officer Division and European Community and according to the agreement; European Community will provide 18 million euros directly for uplift schemes in the education department.
Out of this 20 million euros, 1.6 million euros for technical assistance while .4 million euros will be spent on audit and monitoring of the projects.
The scheme is aimed at to give proper attention to the education field and provide educational environment to out of school children.
Paperwork have been started on the project and the project will be implemented during next fiscal year.

Putin’s View: ‘We’re All in the Same Boat’

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in a session at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday. Photo.
Making his first appearance as Russian leader before the annual gathering of business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin struck a conciliatory tone toward the West. He explicitly wished the new administration of President Obama well, and urged cooperation on energy security, the economy and even disarmament.

Mr. Putin used a 30-minute speech before a packed auditorium on Wednesday to paint Russia as a reliable partner in energy, trade and politics amid the widening global economic crisis.

“We can’t afford being isolationist or economically selfish,” Mr. Putin said. Describing the world financial crisis as a “perfect storm,” he added: “We are all in the same boat.”

The financial crisis has dealt a blow to the Russian swagger of recent years. When sky-high oil prices helped fill state coffers and return-hungry Western investors offered cheap loans, the Kremlin could more easily strike a proud, anti-Western tone and emphasize its new-found power after a decade of weakness following the Soviet collapse.

Mr. Putin’s speech, the official opening address of this year’s World Economic Forum, was eagerly awaited by those waiting to gauge whether the crisis would prompt Russia to turn further away from the West or open the door to a more cooperative relationship.

As recently as December, Mr. Putin still had harsh words for the United States. “The crisis began in the United States, whose financial and economic policies led to the crisis that infected the economies of practically all major countries of the world,” he said at the time, adding that the impact of the crisis on Russia would be “minimal.”

But he struck a different note on Wednesday, as he often has for Western audiences. Mr. Putin said he would not dwell on who was responsible for the crisis and talked instead about “mutual interests” and “mutual dependencies.”

“We hope that our partners in Europe, Asia and America — and I’m also addressing the new administration, we wish them well — I hope they will be willing to cooperate constructively,” he said.

Cuba's Raul Castro arrives in Moscow for talks

MOSCOW- President Raul Castro on Wednesday began the first visit to Russia by a Cuban leader since the end of the Cold War, the latest sign of reviving ties between the two former close allies.

Castro stepped off a jet into Moscow's freezing weather to be greeted by a military band and a salute.

"From this visit, we hope to strengthen and consolidate what we have already achieved together, and it is necessary to make one more step in this direction," Castro said in an interview shown on Russia's state-run Vesti 24 television channel.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia and Cuba plan to sign a number of agreements. These would promote cooperation in trade, economic, financial, investment, cultural and humanitarian areas, he said on the ministry's Web site.

Lavrov said Russia's interest in Cuba is economic, underlining its changing role in the island from an ideological partner to one of trade.

Raul, the younger brother of ailing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was expected to meet President Dmitry Medvedev at his country residence just outside Moscow on Thursday. The Kremlin chief visited Havana last November.

The two leaders would also sign several agreements on oil cooperation, Russian news agency Prime Tass reported.

Russian oil firms want to drill offshore in the Caribbean and the military has talked about cooperation with Havana on air defense systems.

However, the Kremlin is keen that future relations should be on a free-market basis -- meaning that the generous soft loans and grants given by Russia to its Caribbean ally during communist times will not be on offer now.

The last time a Cuban leader visited Russia was Fidel Castro's trip to Moscow in 1986 for a Communist Party congress.

Moscow was Communist-run Cuba's main benefactor during the Cold War and recent state visits by both sides suggest they want to rekindle something of their alliance, which subsided after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

After a long period of neglect, the Kremlin took a new interest in Latin America last year. Medvedev visited Brazil, Venezuela, Peru and Cuba and Moscow has developed a strong alliance with U.S. foe President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Pakistan Responds to Signal That U.S. Will Continue Drone Attacks

Pakistan responded Wednesday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates comments that the U.S. military will continue to attack suspected Al Qaeda strongholds in Pakistan, saying the country wants close cooperation with the U.S. on the operational level to deal with militants.

The goal is to establish cooperation with the United States to bring peace and stability to the region while eliminating extremism, Pakistan's spokesperson at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told FOX News.

Pakistan claims to have done more than any other country, and says it looks forward to working closely with the U.S. administration in the fight against terrorism.

Gates, in testimony Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, addressed the subject after Pakistan urged the Obama administration over the weekend to halt such attacks. Two U.S. military strikes on targets inside Pakistan reportedly killed at least 20 people on Friday, and the Pakistani government said civilians were among those killed.

"I think that the strikes that are being undertaken are — well, let me just say both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after Al Qaeda wherever Al Qaeda is, and we will continue to pursue them," Gates said.

Pakistan army 'will retake Swat'

Pakistan's army chief has pledged to restore government control of the Swat valley, which is currently controlled by Taleban militants.

Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani made the remarks to troops during a visit to the former tourist resort in the country's north-west near the Afghan border.

Troops were deployed in Swat after an Islamic insurgency began in 2007.

Hundreds have died in battles between troops and militants seeking to impose their austere version of Islamic law.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan says Gen Kayani's remarks come at a time when military circles are talking of a new phase in operations against the militants.

The authorities are under severe pressure over the deteriorating security situation in Swat.


Gen Kayani "reiterated that the army had both the will and resolve to establish the writ of the government" in Swat, a military statement said.

"No amount of sacrifice will deter us to do our duty," Gen Kayani said, according to the statement.

The general also "lauded the morale" of soldiers in Swat, a mountainous region of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) which until two years ago was a popular tourist area.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari also pledged on Wednesday to curb militancy in the valley and stop the Taleban from establishing their own courts, a government spokesman said.

Gen Kayani's comments coincided with an army statement which said that security forces killed seven militants and wounded 11 others in an operation in two villages there.

There was no independent confirmation of the casualty figures or if those killed were militants. Civilians deaths are frequently reported in the violence.

Further evidence of the deteriorating situation in Swat came when security forces found eight bullet-ridden bodies in the valley on Wednesday.

The bodies were found in the town of Mingora.

The militants are led by a radical local cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, who is linked to the Taleban.

His men are accused of killing dozens of state employees and government supporters in addition to destroying nearly 200 schools - most of them for girls.

The Taleban oppose education for girls, which they say is un-Islamic.

Children in Swat face bleak future

Many families in Swat district, in Pakistan's embattled north-west, are packing up and leaving after Islamist militants began attacking schools, reports the BBC's M Ilyas Khan, who is travelling in the region.Can the security forces establish the government's rule in Swat and protect schools against attacks by Islamist militants?
Will the militants revoke the ban they recently announced on girls' education before the winter vacations are over?For parents of schoolchildren who can afford to leave Swat and settle elsewhere, the answer is obvious. Leave.For those who have to remain, there are no easy answers.People are generally sceptical about the ability of the security forces to push the insurgents into a corner before 1 March, when school vacations end."Taleban are everywhere, but the army is only behind barricades," says one resident who, like most people in Swat these days, does not want to be named. "It can only make things worse."
More than a week ago, a Taleban deadline to ban female education came into force. The militants also bombed a number of schools, including those of boys, casting a shadow over the future of education here.The army is now moving into the remaining school buildings to protect them against possible Taleban attacks.But parents fear that schools where the army is deployed will attract more deadly attacks by the militants, endangering the lives of their children.Swat is paralysed by a two-year-long armed insurgency by Taleban militants, who want to impose their brand of Islamic law in the district.The government moved in thousands of troops in the last quarter of 2007 to try to contain the insurgency.During this time, the militants have been able to put the security forces on the defensive by conducting a spate of suicide attacks on checkpoints, convoys and camps.The forces have also provoked anger among people by causing "collateral damage" as they struggle to hit militants who mix freely with the civilian population.This appears to have hurt the morale of the troops and has boosted that of the militants.The militants now control most areas outside the main town of Mingora and have a strong intelligence network within it.Destroying the government's education infrastructure is one aspect of the Taleban's campaign to uproot the existing system and replace it with their own."In about 20 months or so, we have had 187 of our schools bombed out, of which 121 are girls' schools," says Sher Afzal Khan, the district head of the education department.Another 86 schools cannot be used because they are camps for the army or the Taleban, or they are in combat zones where children and staff cannot go, he says.
"Nearly 60,000 students have been affected," says Mr Khan.
Institutions of higher learning are no exception.
"Three months ago, the Taleban banned male medical students from attending practical lessons in the gynaecology ward and the labour room," says a professor at Mingora's Swat Medical College.Soon afterwards, the Taleban started sending representatives to keep a watch at the college hospital to ensure the ban was not being violated.
"We had to shift gynaecology classes to Mardan (another district in the north-west). There is now a proposal to shift the entire college to Mardan, along with its staff and equipment," the professor says.
Moving away
Khpal Kor (Our Home) is a local boarding school that made its name by offering education to orphaned children.The school's revenue system was designed in such a way that fees raised from every five children of affluent families, called the "revenue students", would pay for one orphaned child's education.In addition, Khpal Kor ran a number of commercial ventures such as a tent service and an IT college to raise salaries for its teaching, janitorial and kitchen staff, all of them well-paid by local standards."The tent service closed down due to absence of tourists, and almost all the students of the IT college have left as their families moved to other cities," says Imran Khan, Khpal Kor's coordination officer."We also have information that more than half of our 500 "revenue students" are unlikely to return to school after the vacations as their families, too, have moved away. This will put us under pressure to provide for more than 100 orphans."But many parents are still here and their children face an uncertain future."I have nothing but hope," says a college teacher who has a son and two daughters that go to school."I hope the army will establish the government's writ in Swat in a month's time. If not, I hope the Taleban will revoke their ban on education."