Saturday, August 29, 2009

British PM pays surprise visit to Afghanistan

(CNN) -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Saturday, thanking his nation's fighting forces for a job "well done."

"This has been the most difficult summer in Afghanistan because the Taliban have tried to prevent the elections taking place and I think our forces who I've been meeting today have shown extraordinary courage during this period," Brown said in a televised interview, taped in Afghanistan and aired in Britain.

Brown dropped by Camp Bastion in Helmand province, where the country's service members are based in Afghanistan. Brown was returning to Britain on Saturday.

The troops have been fighting Taliban insurgents in volatile Helmand province. Like their American counterparts, they have suffered many deaths this summer.

In one 10-day stretch in July, 15 British troops were killed, and the casualties have sparked an intense debate in Britain about the country's military role in the war-ravaged country.

The British military last month said an operation it led to clear the Taliban from parts of Afghanistan has succeeded. It was called Operation Panther's Claw and it was designed to flush the Taliban from parts of southern Helmand Province before Afghan elections, which were held last week.

"They know that the reason why we're here and the reason why we're continuing to be here is that our security at home depends on a stable Afghanistan and no return of the Taliban, and no role for al Qaeda in the running of Afghanistan," Brown said in the interview.

In the interview, Brown was optimistic about training about 50,000 Afghan soldiers over the next year.

"Stepping that up means that the Afghans take more responsibility for [their] own affairs," Brown said. "They're backed up by partnering and mentoring done by the British forces and you can see behind you the new equipment we're bringing into the field to back this up."

Brown will not be attending the funeral of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy as had been anticipated. Brown's office said the prime minister wanted to attend the funeral but couldn't "because of government business. He has sent his apologies and condolences to the family."

Kennedy Laid to Rest After Day of Honor

Thousands of mourners both great and ordinary bade farewell to Senator Edward M. Kennedy on Saturday, remembering him as the beloved youngest child of a dynasty who grew to be its patriarch, a man who left his mark on millions of Americans through the laws he shepherded over more than four decades, during which he became one of the most powerful political figures in the country. Mr. Kennedy’s 77-year journey through history concluded with a funeral Mass in Boston, a brief ceremony at the Capitol in Washington and his burial at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday evening.A military guard carried his coffin to the grave site as rose-colored sky grew dim, just before 8 p.m. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, presided over the traditional Catholic burial as Mr. Kennedy’s family and a select group of close friends — including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator John Kerry — looked on, enduring the last in a day-long series of ceremonies.
“They called him the lion of the Senate and indeed that was what he was,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “His roar and his zeal for what he believed made a difference in this nation’s life.”The cleric also revealed some of the content of a letter Mr. Kennedy wrote to Pope Benedict XVI, hand-delivered by President Obama during a recent trip to the Vatican.“I’m writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my health declines,” Cardinal McCarrick read from Mr. Kennedy’s letter. “I’m 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life.”Mr. Kennedy wrote that his Roman Catholic faith “has sustained and nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours,” and though “I have been an imperfect human being,” he wrote, his faith helped “right my path.”The pope responded with an assurance of “his concern and of his spiritual closeness,” Cardinal McCarrick said. Friends, family and colleagues braved relentless rain to attend the funeral in Boston, where Mr. Obama gave the eulogy in a hushed church before 1,400 mourners.“Today we say goodbye to the youngest child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy,” Mr. Obama said. “The world will long remember their son Edward as the heir to a weighty legacy, a champion for those who had none, the soul of the Democratic Party, and the lion of the United States Senate — a man whose name graces nearly 1,000 laws, and who penned more than 300 laws himself. Mr. Obama owes Mr. Kennedy an inestimable debt for his endorsement in last year’s primary campaign battle for the Democratic presidential nomination against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. Obama repaid it in part with eloquent words of praise, saying Mr. Kennedy had suffered more pain and loss than most people will ever know, yet he never succumbed to self-pity or abandoned his dreams and principles.“The greatest expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy’s shoulders because of who he was, but he surpassed them all because of who he became,” the president said. “We do not weep for him today because of the prestige attached to his name or his office. We weep because we loved this kind and tender hero who persevered through pain and tragedy — not for the sake of ambition or vanity, not for wealth or power, but only for the people and the country that he loved.”The funeral was at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the Roxbury section of Boston, a 130-year-old Romanesque church known as a place of healing. Mr. Kennedy prayed there every day when his daughter Kara was being treated for lung cancer several years ago at a nearby hospital.Mourners began gathering at 7 a.m. for the 10 a.m. service as a steady rain fell. Many storefronts and taverns in the neighborhood, known as Mission Hill, displayed blue and white signs reading, “Kennedy, Thanks.” Mourners arriving at the church also saw a billboard on Tremont Street with a large picture of Mr. Kennedy and the words, “The dream lives on.”President Obama arrived in Boston on Friday night from his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. Shortly before 7:30 a.m. he walked from his hotel across the street to the Fairmont Copley Plaza, where he had a private 10-minute meeting with Mrs. Kennedy.As the church filled Saturday morning, Mrs. Kennedy greeted dozens of members of Congress and other dignitaries at the John F. Kennedy Library, where Mr. Kennedy’s body lay in repose. Mrs. Kennedy and family members accompanied the flag-draped coffin in somber procession to the church, arriving at 10:45 a.m. in a bobbing sea of black umbrellas as the church bell tolled. The flag was removed and folded, replaced by a white shroud.Former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter attended the service. The other living former president, George Bush, did not attend for health reasons, an aide said. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and former Vice Presidents Al Gore, Dan Quayle and Walter F. Mondale also attended.Fifty-eight senators, 21 former senators and dozens of members of Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi attended. Also present were Sarah Brown, the wife of Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain; Shaun Woodward, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland; and Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister for the Northern Ireland Assembly.The neighborhoods around Mission Hill became a kaleidoscope of American flags, Kennedy-themed signs and the umbrellas held by the thousands who lined the streets.They testified to both Mr. Kennedy’s common appeal and his lineage. One man, David Higgins, was an Irish immigrant who credited Mr. Kennedy with helping him get a visa. Another, Maureen McQuillen, volunteered as a greeter at Mr. Kennedy’s wake on Thursday. Members of a health-care union stood in purple jackets and said Mr. Kennedy had helped labor in “innumerable ways.”

Supply for Nato stops after row with Afghans

QUETTA: Fuel and other supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan were stopped as traffic on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border remained suspended on Saturday because of a row over search of goods trucks coming from Afghanistan.

Hundreds of trailers carrying fuel and other supplies, including food, military equipment and vehicles, were stuck up in the border town of Chaman.

According to sources, about 300 vehicles are stuck in the Pakistani border area. A large number of vehicles loaded with fruit and other goods are also stuck on the Afghan side of the border.

The sources said that the row broke out on Friday after Pakistani border officials asked Afghan drivers of trucks carrying grapes and other fruit to unload their goods for search.

The drivers refused to do so, saying the unloading would spoil the fruit.

The officials said they would not allow entry of trucks without checking. ‘We cannot change our method of checking,’ a senior border security official said.

The Afghan drivers alleged that the border officials demanded money for clearing the trucks. Pakistani officials denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, Afghan traders stopped entry of trucks and other vehicles carrying Nato supplies into Afghanistan in protest against the Pakistan government’s decision.

The Chaman Chamber of Commerce of Industry expressed concern over the issue and said that traders would suffer huge losses if the dispute remained unresolved.

Suicide Bomber Training Camp Destroyed

Pakistan's military says it has destroyed a training camp for suicide bombers in the Swat Valley.The army said in a statement that reports from intelligence sources and local residents led them to the location in northwest Pakistan.They said six militants were killed in the operation and several others were wounded.Pakistan's government has been fighting a Taliban insurgency in the northwest.Friday Britain pledged $1 billion in aid to help stabilize Pakistan's violent border regions and to address the underlying causes of extremism.British Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirmed the pledge during a meeting in London with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.A spokesman for Mr. Zardari, Farhatullah Babar, also called for better access to European Union markets to help boost Pakistan's economy.

Unemployment, poverty main causes of terrorism: Bilour

PESHAWAR: The NWFP Senior Minister and Parliamentary Leader of ANP, Bashir Ahmad Bilour has said Pukhtoons are hospitable and human friendly that fully supported and work side by side with the international community for the cause of human welfare. However, he regretted that we once again being left alone today like that in the past and despite rendering numerous sacrifices of lives and properties in war against terror, we are faced with uncertainty at our own soil. Main cause of the terrorism, law and order and crimes in this region is the ever-increasing poverty and unemployment while we made clear to our central government and world community to focus on these issues to ensure peace and stability in the region as well as on the entire globe", he added. He was talking to Ms. Candas Patnum, the newly appointed Principal Officer of US consulate, who called on him at his residence here on Friday and discussed matters of mutual interest including the regional development and solidarity. Bashir Bilour said a sense of deprivation was emanating among the people here due to immense level of poverty, backwardness and unemployment in the otherwise rich of resources province. On the other side he said, Pukhtoons were being trapped by terrorist and anti social elements besides indulging in the religious, sectarian and linguistic differences. He lamented that most of poor families due to lack of educational and health facilities sent their wards to religious seminaries where children were given free education, dress and food. Similarly, he said plight of water supply, food, other basic facilities and even infrastructure was also unsatisfactory while the provincial government had very meager resources for improving it. The Senior Minister said the people of this region offered matchless sacrifices right from cold and Afghan war to present war on terror, so much so that millions of the IDPs from various districts of Malakand had to migrate and face immense difficulties of weather and society. He said we were able to win war on terror due to these sacrifices but the people here did not get its fruit and instead faced numerous social and economic hardships. He said our industries were closed increasing the joblessness ratio while our trade routes from Afghanistan to central Asia provide us sufficient resources to ensure peace, stability and prosperity as well as promote goodwill on national and international level. The US Diplomat agree with the Senior Minister and assured all out assistance of her country by appreciating steps of provincial government on war on terror and welfare of the masses.