Saturday, July 4, 2009

US marines face a 'hell of a fight' in Helmand surge

After meeting little resistance in the first day of Operation Khanjar, or 'sword strike', he said units south of Garmsir were involved in heavy fighting.
American marines lost a single soldier during the first 24 hours of the 4,000-strong assault on the Taliban heartlands of southern Helmand province.

The operation is the first big push of President Barack Obama's surge strategy which has seen 21,000 reinforcements ordered to the country this year.
Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said on Friday the 2/8 infantry battalion was meeting resistance at Toshtay, 16 miles south of Garmsir.
He said: "For 2/8, there is a hell of a fight going on in the southern quarter of the sector. 2/8 are going to face some challenges.
"An enemy-controlled baseline just south of Garmsir was crushed yesterday but that doesn't mean all the enemy have gone.
"In the next few days the enemy will observe us to see what we are doing. Then they will come back with a vengeance."
He added: "Nawa is quiet, too quiet. Something is eerie. The enemy has gone to ground, shuras [councils of elders] are being set up."
The American marine offensive entered its second day as British troops north of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah began a third wave of their own Operation Panchai Palang or Panther's Claw.
Around 800 Light Dragoons drove north after the Welsh Guards spent ten days capturing 13 crossings along the Shamalan canal a British military statement said.
On Friday it was announced Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, the first British commanding officer to die in combat since the Falklands, had been killed by a roadside bomb during the operation.
The British said they hoped to allow free movement for next month's presidential elections by securing the road between Lashkar Gah and Gereshk.
American marines were ferried into Garmsir and Nawa districts by a fleet of dozens of helicopters and armoured convoys in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Khan Neshin, further south where Islamist militants were said to have set up a shadow government, was overrun later in the day.
A Taliban website, which in the past has exaggerated and fabricated coalition casualties, said 15 foreign and Afghan soldiers died on the first day of the assault.
A statement said: "In every locality they faced bloody attacks by the Mujahideen, as a result of which the enemy suffered heavy casualties.
It continued: "As a result, so far 15 foreign and internal enemy soldiers have lost their lives in the fighting." After an aggressive 36-hour opening phase, the operation was predicted to slow as American marines attempted to win local 'hearts and minds'.
First Lieutenant Kurt Stahl, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said: "When Marines go out into towns, they are always looking for opportunities to talk to village elders and explain why they are here."
"The intention is to understand each other, elders can express their concerns and an open flow of communication is secured."

Russia to warn Obama on Georgia

Russia will seek assurances from President Barack Obama tomorrow that Washington will cease pressing for the former Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine to join Nato — a policy that was aggressively pursued by George W Bush.

On his first visit to Russia as president, Obama is due to hold nine hours of talks with President Dmitry Medvedev and share a breakfast with prime minister Vladimir Putin. Russian sources say both men will warn him about a risk of repeating last year’s war in Georgia.

Russia strongly opposes Georgia and Ukraine joining Nato as this would extend the alliance’s reach to its borders. Obama is said to be less enthusiastic than Bush about putting pressure on them to join. Russian military analysts say that in return, Moscow could make concessions over Iran, such as banning future arms sales to the Islamic republic and agreeing more robust UN sanctions to help curb its nuclear programme.

Russia has signalled its readiness to open supply routes for American forces fighting in Afghanistan. The deal could be signed this week and would see up to 10 flights a day crossing Russia, so boosting the war against the Taliban. Both sides are keen for the meetings to “reset” relations between their countries — at their lowest ebb since the end of the cold war, in the wake of the Georgia conflict.

In an apparent effort to shore up Medvedev’s liberal credentials, Obama chided Putin for his cold-war attitude to the US, and contrasted that with his administration’s “very good relationship” with Medvedev over such issues as nuclear weapons.

Russia and the US have already agreed in principle to reduce their nuclear warheads from 5,000 to 1,500 each.

Obama is facing tough negotiations, however. The Kremlin wants the US to scrap its missile defence shield in Europe and sees this priority project of the previous US administration as being directed against Russia. Washington argues that the shield is vital to protect America and Europe against any nuclear threat from Iran.

Moscow seeks to link an arms reduction treaty to a pledge to scrap plans for the shield, but Obama is unlikely to make any such concession.

“Talk about resetting US-Russian relations is hype,” said a former British ambassador to Moscow.

Ahmadinejad says he wants public talks with Obama

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he wants to engage President Obama in "negotiations" before international media, a semi-official Iranian news outlet reported on Saturday.

Speaking at a meeting of medical school deans, Ahmadinejad said Iran "will soon pursue a new round of diplomatic activity" amid a new position of strength for the Iranian government, the Iranian Student News Agency quotes him as saying.

"I will go to the United Nations and will invite Obama to negotiations," Ahmadinejad said, adding that such talks would be "in front of the international media, not a sit-down behind closed doors in order to talk about matters."

The Obama administration has sought dialogue with Iran but also criticized the government for its handling of unrest after disputed presidential elections.

Last week, Obama said Iran's government must justify itself not in the eyes of the United States, but in the opinion of its own people.

"A sizable percentage of the Iranian people themselves ... consider this election illegitimate," he said at a White House news conference. "It is not too late for the Iranian government to recognize that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and prosperity."

Initially, Obama was criticized by Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina for taking a "timid and passive" tone in speaking out against the growing wave of arrests, violence and deaths of pro-democracy activists.

Ahmadinejad said he wants others to stop "meddling" in the internal affairs of Iran.

Iranian officials, including Ahmadinejad, claimed nations such as the United States and Britain have meddled in Iranian affairs. Last week, Ahmadinejad said officials were "astonished" over what they called meddling and warned of repercussions if meddling continues.

"Didn't he [Obama] say that he was after change?" Ahmadinejad asked Iranian judiciary officials in a speech last week. "Why did he interfere? Why did he utter remarks irrespective of norms and decorum?"

"They keep saying that they want to hold talks with Iran," Ahmadinejad said. "All right, we have expressed our readiness as well. But is this the correct way [for holding talks]?"

Meanwhile, two major political figures have been meeting family members of those detained amid post-election unrest.

One was former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- chief of the Expediency Council and supporter of opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, according to the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency.

The other was Mehdi Karrubi, one of the opposition candidates, who reportedly paid visits to families of political detainees, according to the Etemad-e-Melli, Karrubi's newspaper.

Meanwhile, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported that 20 people between the ages of 35 to 48 were executed in Iran on Saturday for "buying, selling and holding heroin, cocaine and opium."

Clearing Waziristan of militants: Kayani briefs Zardari and Gilani about strategy

ISLAMABAD :Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani called on President Asif Ali Zardari at the Presidency, and discussed the ongoing military operation, with particular reference to the recent offensive launched in the South Waziristan against the militants, led by Baitullah Mehsud.

This is the second meeting of its kind among the top brass within less than a week amid an impression that the authorities are seriously planning to flush out the militants, led by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baituallah Mehsud, of South Waziristan where the forces are facing tough resistance. Sources said that the authorities at the meeting agreed to use all the available resources to defeat the hard-liners with effective counter-insurgency strategy.

The sources said that the COAS briefed the President and the Prime Minister about the military strategy to handle the challenge, saying arm forces were fully determined to flush out the militants of the soil under an effective strategy. The President and the Prime Minister said that entire nation was with the armed forces and proud of the sacrifices rendered by them for the sake of national sovereignty and stability.

Taliban stronghold in Orakzai shelled

KOHAT: Twenty-six militants were killed when jets shelled headquarters of the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Orakzai Agency on Saturday afternoon.

The jets targeted camps and strongholds of commander Tariq Afridi of Darra Adamkhel and commander Nazar of Khyber Agency in Sam Ghar area, where a military helicopter crashed on Friday, killing 41 personnel and crew.

Military personnel started retrieving the bodies from the scene on Saturday.

Helicopter gunships shelled suspected hideouts of militants to protect the troops engaged in rescue activities.

However, the wreckage of the helicopter is still lying scattered all over the area as the political administration could not send its staff to negotiate with the Taliban to recover it.

Sources said the area where the incident took place was a ‘danger zone’ and under complete control of the Taliban.

‘They (Taliban) train suicide bombers in government buildings in the area. Militants are heavily armed and the administration did not allow the Levies or Khasadar personnel to go near the place for security reasons,’ they added.

However, top military officials and the political administration were working to recover the wreckage and launch an inquiry into the incident.

Local people told officials collecting evidence that the MI-17 helicopter had caught fire before crashing into the ground along the border between Orakzai Agency and Khyber Agency.

Meanwhile, Khasadars belonging to 11 of 12 tribes of upper Orakzai have ignored a warning given to them by Tehrik-i-Taliban to resign from jobs and continued to attend their duty at various places.

However, khasadars of Mamozai tribe have packed up their belongings and left offices and barracks in the region.

Decision to arm civilians withdrawn

PESHAWAR: The Frontier government has withdrawn its decision to distribute arms among general public and decided to give it to the proposed special police force being raised in conflict-hit areas of the Malakand region.

The decision was taken at a recent cabinet meeting of the provincial government, putting an end to severe criticism attracted from different segments over arming of civilians to help improve the security situation in the province, an official told Dawn.

As per the cabinet’s decision, orders for distribution of arms among the general public were withdrawn.

A task force headed by the NWFP chief secretary and with provincial police officer, home secretary and ministers for information and health as its members was also constituted to work out modalities for distribution of such arms.

The provincial government had earlier decided to hand over old arms available with police to proposed village committees to augment the capacity of police in watch and guard duties at the local level.

However, this decision drew criticism from different quarters, compelling the coalition setup to review it.

The task force, the official said, at its meeting last week decided that such rifles of 7.62 bore would only be given to the special police force of 6,725 personnel to be raised in the conflict-hit areas in line with the Police Order, 2002.

Article 29 of the Police Order authorises head of district police to recruit ‘special police officers’ for special purposes or occasions when personnel available to him are not sufficient to assist police under his command.

Every police official enrolled in the special force will receive a certificate and will have the same powers and immunities, be liable to the same duties and responsibilities and be subject to the same authorities as a regular police.

The task force had also decided that such Chinese-made single shot rifles of 7.62 bore would be modified, as it had already been successfully experimented.

The magazine of the modified rifles will be bearing up to 30 bullets and the rifle will be semi-automatic.

As per the task force decision, the official said, each weapon would be carrying 50 bullets with two magazines of 25 bullets, adding that the cost to be incurred on the modification of 6,725 rifles would be worked out after negotiating with the armoury concerned in Peshawar.

The provincial police officer has been authorised to distribute the rifles to the proposed special police force with a condition that an undertaken will be taken from the inductees of such force.

A summary was being sent to the chief minister for seeking his permission for modification of such rifles and the amount to be incurred on it in line with the task force decision, the official added.

Michelle Obama bringing glamour to Moscow

MOSCOW (AP) — Michelle Obama brings her superstar glamour to Moscow this weekend as she accompanies her husband on his summit with the Russian president.
But the American first lady, who has wowed publics in the U.S. and Europe with her easy elegance and charm, will perhaps face a bigger challenge in winning over a Russian public that has scant respect for women who grab the limelight from their powerful husbands.
In a country where a presidential candidate once quipped he'd sooner pack his wife off to a convent than allow her to dabble in politics, Russia still has trouble with the concept of an empowered woman behind the throne.
"The institution of first lady in Russia is still quite young," said Alyona Doletskaya, editor of Russian Vogue and doyenne of the Moscow fashion scene. "So there are no huge expectations on the part of Russian public."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's wife Svetlana is pious and discreet and met her husband while she was a schoolgirl. She supports charity and the arts, but has assumed no independent voice on issues facing the country. She dresses conservatively, lacking the edgy fashion sense that has attracted a nationwide following for Michelle Obama.
Russia has known one iconic first lady in modern times: Raisa Gorbachev, wife of the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was much loved around the world for breaking with tradition by appearing regularly in public with her husband, embracing high fashion and firing off wisecracks during official foreign trips.
But she earned little affection for her boldness in Russia, where she was seen as strong-willed and ambitious.
Far from shrugging off the old constraints when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Boris Yeltsin's wife Naina assumed a lower profile behind her husband, achieving popularity by declaring indifference to politics and saying she would sooner see Yeltsin retire.
As for Vladimir Putin's wife, Lyudmilla, she only occasionally appeared in the company of her husband — fueling widespread reports the two were estranged.
In the United States, first ladies are accustomed to coming under the media spotlight — and Michelle Obama seems to revel in it.
On a recent trip to Paris, she impressed the fashion-conscious French with her chic designer outfits standing side-by-side with the country's former supermodel First Lady Carla Bruni. In Britain, she famously breached palace protocol by putting her arm around Queen Elizabeth II.
And she does not hesitate to speak her mind on a range of important social issues, such as health and education.
Many Russians, traditionally conservative, look askance at such assertiveness.
"A wife should be sitting at home, creating comfort and cooking food," said Zoya Getmanova, a female pensioner living in Moscow. "She could express her opinions over the dinner table, but she shouldn't meddle in politics."
Perhaps in deference to Russia's uneasiness about a political wife with popular support of her own, U.S. White House officials have suggested Michelle Obama will avoid the limelight during the visit.
Svetlana Medvedeva, meanwhile, has flitted between the shadows and the spotlight. She is liked by younger Russians, who follow her appearances at celebrity bashes and her frequent outings — hand in hand — with her husband.
She has acquired a reputation as a tenacious networker who helped restart her husband's career in the mid 1990s, and is said to play an influential role in his career behind the scenes. Trained as an economist, she gave up her own job to look after the couple's only child, born in 1996.
Despite all that, Svetlana barely breaks the mold crafted by so many first ladies in Russia before her.
She largely confines her public observations to carefully rehearsed speeches; she provides sympathetic interviewers with bland comments on womanhood. She dresses conservatively in tailored, pastel-colored outfits.
Michelle Obama's fashion sense attracts comparisons with Jacqueline Kennedy, and there is a Web site entirely dedicated to what she wears.
Vogue's Doletskaya is cagey about passing judgment on Svetlana's style, saying simply that she is "very representative of Russian femininity."
But when questioned about the U.S. first lady, Doletskaya becomes lively. She describes Michelle's style as "very fresh," as someone who mixes boldly "but in a very refined way."
There is a recognition that Svetlana has a difficult role to play — managing the expectations of both a conservative older generation and ambitious, career-minded younger women who would like her to step up.
"It's not easy" to be a first lady, said Oksana Fyodorova, Miss Universe 2002. "But I think she (Svetlana) will succeed. And then we'll see who is better — Michelle or our Svetlana."

Search drive launched in Peshawar, Lakki

PESHAWAR: Major search operations were launched in Peshawar’s posh Hayatabad and Shah Hasankhel area of district Lakki Marwat on Saturday.

Two suspects were arrested as a major search and data-collection operation was launched Saturday in the posh Hayatabad locality to clear the township of militants and Afghans residing illegally.

Around 300 cops are participating in the major operation that was launched in Phase-I, Phase-VI and Phase-VII. The action is likely to be extended to other parts of the posh township, sharing miles long boundary with the tribal Khyber Agency.

“Police are checking the areas close to the tribal Khyber Agency to verify the identity of the non-permanent residents. The watchmen are also being verified so that the criminals and militants could not be provided any cover in the locality,” senior superintendent of police (SSP) Coordination, Qazi Jamilur Rahman, told The News.

The step has been taken after deterioration in the law and order situation and spread of militants to Hayatabad and other urban localities. A number of criminal gangs and militant outfits have reportedly rented houses in Hayatabad and other colonies where they are living without any fear.

With two union councils spread over a vast area, Hayatabad hosts thousands of people from across the NWFP, Fata and other parts of the country. Besides, thousands of Afghan families have also rented houses in the locality despite having no proper documents.

A search operation was also launched in the cantonment area where thousands of people are living in rented rooms in buildings, constructed for hosting bachelors.

Police have strictly directed the property dealers of the city not to rent out any house to strangers without proper verification. The dealers were warned of action in case someone committed crime in these rented buildings.

Also, the rent-a-car dealers have been ordered to give their vehicles only to those who they know or who have proper guarantees. There were reports that apart from using lifted cars; most of the terrorists and criminals get vehicles from the rent-a-car dealers.

Our correspondent from Lakki Marwat adds: Security forces launched a search operation in Shah Hasankhel area, believed to be a stronghold of the local militants, in the early hours of Saturday.

Troops, accompanied by heavy contingent of police, made an advancement from their base camps towards Shah Hasankhel village situated in the bed of mountainous region at a distance of 20-25 kilometres in the south of Lakki city,” sources said. They said the soldiers, backed by artillery and excavators, started moving towards the area in the morning.

The administration had got the shops and markets closed on both sides of Lakki-Mianwali Road the whole day for security measures and to clear the road for passing of army vehicles taking part in the search operation.

The link roads leading to Shah Hasankhel and other villages and hamlets were completely sealed and residents of the surrounding villages directed to stay indoors.

The sources said the troops surrounded Shah Hasankhel village and pounded the hideouts of militants with mortar shells.

“Several hideouts used by the militants were destroyed as a result of artillery shelling,” the sources said, adding that security forces also demolished at least four houses and a ‘so-called’ seminary of militants in the village with the help of excavators. “Militants would use the seminary as a place of shelter and to chalk out plans for carrying out subversive acts in the district,” the sources said.

“Security forces are targeting the hideouts of militants with mortar shells,” a villager from Zangikhel said. “We can hear the sound of artillery

firing,” he said, adding that the villagers had been confined

to their homes due the search operation.

Pakistani army kills 11 terrorists, arrests 24

During the last 24 hours, one Pakistani security soldier was injured while 11 terrorists were killed and 24 others apprehended along with a lot of arms, ammunition and equipment from northwestern Swat and Dir districts, the Pakistani army said in a press release Friday.

In Swat, one soldier was injured when security forces conducted a search operation in areas around Rangeela and Dadhra. During an operation at Gokdara and Tandodag areas, two terrorists were killed in exchange of fire.

The army said security forces conducted a search operation near Shah Daheri area, during exchange of fire with terrorists 10 terrorists were killed and 20 more injured.

In neighboring Dir, during exchange of fire with terrorists four persons (Lashkar) died and two were injured, while 4 terrorists were apprehended and Commander Naeem Ullah was killed.

As to the relief, the army said rations were distributed to 600 off-camp families of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nowshera district. The army has donated 1,790 tons of rations for distribution amongst the IDPs of nearby Malakand Division.

Meanwhile, the World Food Program has started its operation in Bajaur from June 30. The WFP is setting up its food Hub at Buner, which will start functioning by July 4. It will deliver rations to approximately 3,000 returning families for six months.

North Korea fires additional missile, raising total number to 7

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea fired one additional short-range missile on Saturday, raising the total number of missiles fired in the day to seven, local media reported.

According to South Korean Joint Forces, the DPRK fired an additional missile off the east coast from a base near Wonsan, Gangwon Province at around 05:40 p.m. (0840 GMT), in addition to six short-range missiles fired at the same place earlier in the morning.

The DPRK started with two scud-type missiles between 08:00 - 08:30 a.m. (2300-2330 GMT Friday), after which shot four more at around 10:45 a.m. (0145 GMT), noon (0300 GMT), 02:50 p.m. (0550 GMT), and 04:10 p.m. (0710 GMT).

All the seven missiles are estimated to have a range of 400-500km, the official said.

The missile firing came two days after the DPRK test-fired four short-ranges off its eastern coast, which South Korean officials described as part of routine military drills.

"Although the missiles fired on Thursday appear to be part of routine military drills, the recent scud missiles seem to have political purposes as they were fired a day before the U.S. Independence Day," the official said.

The DPRK, since May, has been spotted with actions in preparation for firing a new mid-range missile, as well as scud missiles, Yonhap said.

The military authorities, however, said no sign has been observed from either its eastern Musudan-ri base or a new Tongchang-ri base on its west to conclude that an intercontinental ballistic missile launch is imminent.

In April, the DPRK threatened to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile in protest of the UN Security Council's presidential statement which "condemned" the DPRK's earlier long-range rocket launch.

Several industrial units silent sans gas in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: A number of more industrial units have halted their operations following suspension of gas supply in Peshawar.Chairman Hayatabad Industrialists Association Malik Niaz talking Geo News termed the decision of suspending the gas supply to Peshawar industries as unfair and as an attempt to dent the economy of the province.
He claimed that no industrial unit owes any dues and cited no justification for suspension of gas supply to the industries of Peshawar.Malik Niaz demanded that the gas supply to Peshawar industries be restored at the earliest.