Thursday, September 17, 2009

Obama to measure progress of Afghan war

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration cited general objectives, including security and government development, as part of its plan to measure success in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to a plan provided to Congress on Wednesday.
Each general objective will have a series of "metrics," measurements that will be used to gauge progress in each area, according to a copy of the plan obtained from a member of Congress who was briefed on the plan's contents.

The objectives include:

• Disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan;

• Helping Pakistan enhance its civilian, constitutional government;

• Developing Pakistan's counterinsurgency capabilities;

• Increasing international involvement in stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan;

• Defeating the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and securing the Afghan population;

• Training more Afghan security forces;

• Improving the capability of the Afghan government while reducing corruption.

In March, President Obama said the administration "will not blindly stay the course" in Afghanistan and will set "clear metrics" to gauge progress.

The metrics used to calculate progress will start from conditions on July 17 as measured by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the plan says.

Obstacles stand in the way of success. For example, the winner of Afghanistan's presidential election held Aug. 20 has yet to be determined because of extensive allegations of voter fraud.

Many of the details remain classified, the report says.

One member of Congress said it will be hard to measure ultimate success.

"What they didn't get into is at what point do they consider those objectives met," said Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee. "When is the war over?"

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that winning the war will probably require additional troops.

Mullen said he expects that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, will ask for more troops. The request is not likely until after McChrystal's assessment of conditions in Afghanistan has been reviewed by the White House and the Department of Defense.

Obama said Wednesday that the assessment will determine whether there is a need for more troops. "You have to get the strategy right and then make determinations about resources," Obama said.

There are also plans to hire a panel of outside experts to review the same material and make their own judgments about success in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Michelle Obama At a New Farmer’s Market

First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated the opening of a new farmers market near the White House on Thursday.

‘US spending more in Afghanistan than in Pakistan’

WASHINGTON: The United States is spending much more on the war in Afghanistan and also in terms of non-military aid for the country, as compared to Pakistan, Islamabad’s Ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani said on Wednesday.Haqqani made the comments at the US Senate during a discussion on “Fighting Insurgencies with Laptops”, organised by the One Laptop per Child (OLPC), a non-profit organisation.
Haqqani said the US was spending 30 times more on per-capita basis in the war in Afghanistan than what it was on Pakistan. “Similarly, the United States is spending eight times more on its non-military assistance to Afghanistan as compared to its spending on Pakistan,” he pointed out.Haqqani unequivocally stated that Pakistan should not be bracketed with Afghanistan. He stressed that Afghanistan was the country’s neighbour and Pakistan enjoyed brotherly ties with the war-torn country. However, Pakistan’s strength and assets were tangible and formidable, he said.The term ‘Af-Pak’ was “unwarranted and counter to the geo-political realities,” the ambassador added.

Obama junks Bush's European missile defense plan

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama abruptly canceled a long-planned missile shield for Eastern Europe on Thursday, replacing a Bush-era project that was bitterly opposed by Russia with a plan he contended would better defend against a growing threat of Iranian missiles.
The United States will no longer seek to erect a missile base and radar site in Poland and the Czech Republic, poised at Russia's hemline. That change is bound to please the Russians, who had never accepted U.S. arguments, made by both the Bush and Obama administrations, that the shield was intended strictly as a defense against Iran and other "rogue states."
Scrapping the planned shield, however, means upending agreements with the host countries that had cost those allies political support among their own people. Obama called Polish and Czech leaders ahead of his announcement, and a team of senior diplomats and others flew to Europe to lay out the new plan.
"Our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter, and swifter defenses of American forces and America's allies," Obama said in announcing the shift.
The replacement system would link smaller radar systems with a network of sensors and missiles that could be deployed at sea or on land. Some of the weaponry and sensors are ready now, and the rest would be developed over the next 10 years.
The Pentagon contemplates a system of perhaps 40 missiles by 2015, at two or three sites across Europe. That would augment a larger stockpile aboard ships. The replacement system would cost an estimated $2.5 billion, compared with $5 billion over the same timeframe under the old plan. The cost savings would be less, however, because the Pentagon is locked into work on some elements of the old system.
The change comes days before Obama is to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the United Nations and the Group of 20 economic summit. Medvedev reacted positively, calling it a "responsible move."
"The U.S. president's decision is a well-thought-out and systematic one," said Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament. "Now we can talk about restoration of the strategic partnership between Russia and the United States."
At the same time, Russia's top diplomat warned that Moscow remains opposed to new punitive sanctions on Iran to stop what the West contends is a drive toward nuclear weapons.
The spokesman of Iran's parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, Kazem Jalali, called the decision positive, though in a backhanded way.
"It would be more positive if President Obama entirely give up such plans, which were based on the Bush administration's Iran-phobic policies," Jalali told The Associated Press.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Iran's changing capabilities drove the decision, not any concern about the Russians, but he acknowledged that the replacement system was likely to allay some of Russia's concerns.
American reaction quickly split along partisan lines. Longtime Republican supporters of the missile defense idea called the switch naive and a sop to Russia. Democrats welcomed the move, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling it "brilliant."
"The administration apparently has decided to empower Russia and Iran at the expense of the national security interests of the United States and our allies in Europe," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.
The Democratic chairman of that committee, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, told the AP the shift reflected a proper understanding of the current threat from Iran.
"It's about short- and medium-range missiles," Skelton said.
The Obama administration said the shift is a common sense answer to the evolution of both the threat and the U.S. understanding of it. Iran has not shown that it is close to being able to lob a long-range missile, perhaps with a nuclear warhead, at U.S. allies in Europe. The Bush administration had calculated that Iran might be able to do that as soon as 2012, but the new assessment pushes the date back to 2018 or later.
Iran has improved its ability to launch shorter-range missiles, however, and despite the crude nature of some of those weapons the Pentagon now considers them a greater short-term threat.
The United States will join international talks with Iran next month, a major shift that makes good on Obama's campaign pledge to engage the main U.S. adversary in the Middle East.
The new government in Washington had never sounded enthusiastic about the Bush administration's European missile defense arrangement, in part because Russia's adamant opposition was getting in the way of repairing damaged ties with Moscow and partly because some in the new administration felt Russia had a point. Moscow said the system could undermine its own deterrent capability.
Almost as Obama spoke at the White House, the Russian ambassador was summoned there to get the news from national security adviser James Jones.
It is unclear whether any part of the future system would be in Poland or the Czech Republic. Gates said it might, and he also said he hopes Poland will still approve a broad military cooperation agreement with the United States.
In an interview, the Pentagon's point-man on missile defense, Marine Gen. James Cartwright, stressed that development of the old ground-based interceptor system would not stop.
The United States still assumes Iran is driving toward a long-range, intercontinental ballistic missile, and the system once planned for Poland would provide additional defense against that eventual threat, Cartwright said.