Saturday, October 6, 2012
BY:Amanullah KhanACCORDING to latest number of casualties due to monsoon floods about 371 people were killed and nearly 4.5 million were displaced or dislocated. This is not the first time when Pakistan facing floods, since past two years Pakistan has suffered devastating floods, including the worst in its history in 2010, when catastrophic inundations across the country killed almost 1,800 people and affected 21 million. As in 2010 and 2011, most of those hit by the latest floods are in Sindh province, where the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said 2.8 million were affected, with nearly 890,000 in Punjab and 700,000 in Baluchistan. Successive floods in the country had also major negative impact on national economy. Every year Pakistan’s economy is considered to have suffered a 0.5 per cent loss to the estimated growth rate. Flash floods that hit most of Sindh and parts of Baluchistan last year caused a loss of Rs324 billion to the economy. It is estimated that about 9.6 million people had been affected directly or indirectly and the sectors hit hard were irrigation and flood management, housing, agriculture, livestock & fisheries, transport & communications, energy, social & gender financial, private sector and industries, education, health, water supply & sanitation, governance, environment, disaster risk management and social protection. Keeping in view the ongoing disastrous situation, the affected areas and people need immediate and long-lasting mitigation measures to avoid future economic impacts and loss of life and property. Disaster mitigation refers to measures which can be taken to minimize the destructive and disruptive effects of hazards, and thus lessen the magnitude of a disaster. Mitigation is an activity that can take place at any time before, during, or after a disaster. Mitigation measures can range from physical measures such as flood defenses, safe building designs and establishment and maintenance of storm and wastewater drains to legislation, training, and public awareness. However, in the case of Pakistan, despite knowing the fact that floods had negative impact on the economic growth, every year government planned a disaster preparedness action plan, a disaster response plan, a disaster reconstruction and a rehabilitation plan, and a disaster mitigation plan. The plan identifies priority items and activities, delineates responsibilities, and stipulates time frame including periods for monitoring and evaluation. The absence of an institutional accountability, however, has resulted in poor quality monitoring and consequently in minimal knowledge about disasters. The crux of the problem lies also in the central government and their unwillingness to recognize local governments and local community groups and its failure to tie in disaster mitigation efforts with the ongoing debate on decentralization. Along this, policy makers, donors, and relief and development agencies treat flood disasters as isolated events that break the continuity of the ‘normal’ way of life. Most interventions to mitigate disasters are post hoc responses made under the assumption that an emergency support in the form of relief will help overcome the situation of hardship. Such support aims at restoring the situation to what it was before the disaster. Even when a flood disaster affects the same community every year, government, donor, and non-government organizations respond by providing the same relief and rehabilitation measures each time. Relief is the dominant approach championed by the regions’ governments, minion of the state, including international agencies and donor agencies. This approach does not consider the situation of a society during normal times between the occurrences of two hazard events important. Disasters are considered as a coincidence when a hazard interferes with society. Many times the terms “natural hazard” and “natural disaster” are used interchangeably. Despite the fact that flood disasters are widespread and frequent, efforts in Pakistan at creating a suitable set of institutions to deal with the associated consequences have been hamstrung by the lack of resources. Its government-centric approach ignored local governments and community based institutions. Even more problematic is the notion that each flood disaster is an isolated event and that post-disaster relief is the only logical response. Disaster is still considered an act of God that strikes once in one location, not something that could happen again and again. Flood disaster mitigation also involves large commitment of financial resources that could otherwise be spent on mainstream development effort. Disaster preparedness would imply making adequate initial investments in acquiring a better, more scientific understanding of the causes of natural hazards and a parallel effort in improving institutions and infrastructure necessary to confront them. It also means increasing the role and involvement of social institutions that range from local governments to non-governmental actors at the regional and the state levels. A major problem is the actual response to flood mitigation, which, conventionally is perceived as the responsibility of the government. There are separate agencies to work on different aspects of floods, ranging from hydrology to relief and rehabilitation, but they are ineffective. There is a conspicuous absence of flood disaster management plans. Even multi-sectoral approaches have had little co-ordination and thereby have been of limited value in mitigating hardships caused by flooding. The co-operation of the nongovernmental sector is critical and should also be solicited to identify factors that exacerbate societal vulnerability, which may vary in type and intensity from one area to another. The fact is that it is not the natural risk of floods, which is always present, but institutional failure, which exacerbates vulnerability. Institutions are conceived to include rules, regulations, practices, laws and organizations of both formal and informal types. Marginal community groups are not able to cope with a flood that face immense suffering. Outbreaks of epidemics, which often follow floods, make the situation worse. The resulting social trauma makes the distress difficult to remedy by only providing relief. The conventional responses to mitigating flooding are of two types. The first response takes the form of post event relief and the second is structural solutions in the form of multipurpose projects and embankments. In all over the world, large and small dams not only protected the countries but also provided them with cheap electricity through which they ran their industries smoothly. It is disappointing that Pakistan is an agricultural country but importing agro-based item from Saudi Arabia due to Pakistan’s failure in handling floods. Flood policy in Pakistan has been somewhat of a peripheral area for Pakistani water managers and then, it has also been limited to concerns with physical risk and exposure reduction. On the physical risk-management side, the priority for dam and barrage management has always been irrigation and power generation, and then flood control as an afterthought. There is an urgent need for Pakistani water managers to be trained to do multi-criteria management of the system, where long-term flood management is a priority on par with other priorities. The managers, if trained and given the autonomy, could operate infrastructure in such a way as to periodically flush channels and reduce the need for costly levee-breaching during flood events.
Deutsche WelleThe decline in Iran's national currency has brought unrest and protests in Iran. But the rial's inflation has also wreaked havoc in neighboring Afghanistan. Cross-border trade threatens to collapse. At the bazaar in Herat in western Afghanistan, the mood is heated. The decline in Iran's currency, the rial, has unleashed great unrest on this side of the border. Herat is the wealthiest city in Afghanistan, thanks largely to its fluid, cross-border transactions with Iran. Oil, Water, and foodstuffs in particular are imported from their next-door neighbor. Yet Iran's currency crisis now threatens Herat with ruin. For business people in the city, Iranian inflation is nothing short of a financial death sentence, said Haji Khush, a merchant in Herat. "The drop in the rial has done damage to all of us," he said. "We had to give everything up and are just sitting at home now. All of our money is gone." Whether wares, fuel, or currency exchange, everything had collapsed, he added. Cash in suitcases:Many Iranians have tried to escape their currency's runaway inflation by bringing pillow cases stuffed with rials to Herat, where they hoped to exchange them for US dollars. "In one case it was around 140,000 euros [US $180,000] that someone tried to bring over the border in a suitcase. We seized it," said General Sher Ahmad Maladani of the Afghan border patrol. In west Afghanistan, both rials and US dollars are popular shadow currencies, more popular even than the country's own cash, the "Afghani." Given that the Herat market has been positively flooded with rials, the Afghan dealers are now finding themselves sitting upon large piles of Iranian cash - cash that is losing value every hour. To avoid losing all of their dollar reserves, the Afghan government has levied a $1,000 ceiling as the maximum allowable to be shipped over the border into Iran. But experts like Mir Barez Hossaini, professor of economics at the University of Heart, doubt the government's measures will protect the Afghan market from collapse. "We have a long border with Iran that can't really be controlled," he said. "The state's measures will not have much of an effect, but they are legal and the state has the legitimacy to enact them." Under current conditions he thought smuggling would boom. Falling rial, rising prices It is in western Afghanistan, in the provinces of Herat, Nimroz and Farah which border Iran, where the rial circulates in the largest quantities. In some areas the rial is even used exclusively. But if the dollar continues to rise, people will stop utilizing the rial as a second currency, said Hossaini. He believed western Afghanistan markets would collapse, sending prices sky high. Jan Agha Farahi, a merchant from Herat, reported of already-dramatic exchange rates. "Earlier, when Iranian dealers received loans from us, the money was at least worth something," he said. "For a million rials I got 40,000 Afghani. Now that'd be 15,000. People are getting angry." Since Islamic law prohibits profiting from interest on debt and loans, Afghan dealers have to look toward other sources of income. Many of them have relocated their activities directly to Iran. For dirt-cheap prices they can by goods there and sell them in Afghanistan.
The one-page Punjabi Taliban’s pamphlet has also threatened the participants of the rally.
http://www.brecorder.comThe Supreme Court on Friday granted more time to the government in the contempt notice against the Prime Minister for failing to write the letter to Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari in line with para 178 of the National Reconciliation ordinance verdict on Friday. Adjourning the hearing till October 10, a five-judge special bench, led by Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, said: “we are only inches away from the perfect solution in the instant matter, which will uphold the dignity of the court and address the government concerns as well”. Federal Law Minister Farooq H Naek submitted the revised draft of the letter before the bench, saying it had been prepared in accordance with the observations of the court and para 178 of the NRO judgment. He said: “I am appearing as representative of the government and not as a private party in the case”. Terming the matter ‘sensitive’, Naek pleaded that to understand the court’s reservations and to convey its concern to the Prime Minister, he may be heard in the chamber for 15 minutes. After examining the draft, justices went to their chambers for consultations and summoned Naek. Returning a few minutes later, the bench observed that the court found the first two paragraphs of the letter in consonance with the spirit of the para 178 of the NRO judgment. However, Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa observed that the last paragraph of the draft was incompatible with the first two paragraphs and did not conform with the judgment that called for revival of the cases against President Asif Ali Zardari Soon after the bench began writing a short order on which the government sought more time to improve the draft upon which Farooq H Naek said he had made no such commitment, adding that he had requested for more time for consultation with the Prime Minister on the matter. Later, hearing was adjourned till October 10. After the hearing, Farooq H Naek said that the President enjoyed immunity under Article-248 of the Constitution. Commenting on the close-door deliberations, he clarified that such deliberation were meant to foil anti-state forces and maintained that the system would not be allowed to be derailed.
In its message on World Teachers’ Day on Friday, Young Doctors’ Association (YDA) accused the Punjab government of destroying medical education in the province. YDA’s Dr Talha Sherwani said, “Wrong policies, abuse of power and appointments against merit are rampant at medical universities of Punjab.” He alleged that a relative of PML-N’s MNA has been heading King Edward Medical University (KEMU) for the last two years, adding that there is no regular vice chancellor at the university. “There are also no regular principal, controller and registrar at KEMU while junior most professors are running affairs of the institution. Most of the professors are least concerned about the affairs of KEMU,” Dr Sherwani said. The YDA also appealed to the Supreme Court to take action against those who are responsible for “destroying the most prestigious institution of the province”.
EDITORIAL :Daily TimesRussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in Islamabad to meet his counterpart, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and other senior members of the ruling administration, including Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. Many things have been discussed and issues have been put forth to start searching for solutions in what looks ready to be a new strategic relationship, one that has been eluding Pakistan and Russia for decades, especially since our decisive role in the Cold War, which saw the Soviet Union defeated in its designs on Afghanistan. Ms Khar and Mr Lavrov were on the same page during their talks when it came to condemning US drone strikes as unlawful and against the sovereignty of the country, and counter-productive means in the war on terror. That Russia and Pakistan are on the same page where a tactic employed by Pakistan’s original ally in the war on terror - the US - is concerned should serve as an interesting prelude to what may just be a new geostrategic partnership in a region that has not seen many friends. In addition, the two foreign ministers reiterated that their respective countries were looking forward to dynamic economic cooperation in the days ahead, signalling that Russia and Pakistan were looking towards maintaining a relationship for the long haul. Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed and promises made on improving economic relations and maintaining regular contact to combat terrorism and drug trafficking. This trip by the Russian foreign minister is no ordinary visit. Pakistan was originally expecting Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit this week in what would have been the first visit of a Russian head of state to Pakistan. This was an extremely anticipated visit, one that was raising the eyebrows of many an international observer. However, Putin cancelled the trip, citing a tight domestic schedule. This started off a round of speculation and crazed theories both at home and abroad. It seems that Sergei Lavrov’s hastily arranged two-day trip has been to reassure Pakistan that Russia has still left the door open for full strategic and economic relations, signalling a new era of foreign policy and alliances with promises of the Russian president visiting Pakistan very soon. This should not come as a surprise with the US’s 2014 withdrawal date from Afghanistan looming round the corner. Pakistan is well known as the centre through which all bases are covered and main routes are accessible when it comes to Afghanistan. Without Pakistan’s involvement, access to Afghanistan’s troubled political, cultural and geographical structures is near impossible. Hence, while Russia has been known to ally with India and Pakistan has been known to ally with the US where the war-torn country is concerned, there seems to be a new model in the making, one that is being watched with bated breath. In a rather unique ‘coincidence’, COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani is in Russia meeting his Russian counterparts and discussing different aspects of military cooperation between the two nations. No doubt, a lot of effort is being put into rectifying any fallout from Putin’s cancelled visit and discussing all aspects of a post-2014 Afghanistan. All in all, these meetings really do signal a new chapter in the long stuck alliances that have, so far, been shaping the landscape of this region. Pakistan is doing the wise thing by finally deciding to stack its eggs in a couple of different baskets. By exploring our options we too are opening the door to regional participation at a time when we will need all the friends that we can get. It is hoped that these friendly overtures develop into long lasting, meaningful ties that benefit both nations as well as a very troubled, very ravaged Afghanistan.
The Express TribuneThe All Fata Timber Association (AFTA) has rejected the provincial government’s tax on timber imported from Afghanistan and threatened to halt imports altogether. According to the association, 25% of timber is imported from Afghanistan. AFTA President Shahid Khan told The Express Tribune that good quality timber is imported from Afghanistan, which is better than local timber or even that imported from the US or the European Union. The timber from Afghanistan comes from Kunar via Bajaur, Mohmand and North Waziristan agencies and then sent to Peshawar and Lahore. It is famous for its softness and beauty and used in constructing windows and doors, among other goods. In addition to the tax, the political agent is also paid to allow imports, Khan said. It costs Rs80,000 per truck in Bajaur and Rs60,000 per truck in Mohmand. Adding to the cost, a duty of Rs8,000 per truck is also paid to the agency for forest development. At the district level, the provincial government has increased the tax from Rs40 per cubic feet to Rs150. “Due to this increase in tax, we will incur losses as local timber is cheaper in the market,” Khan said. Bacha Khan and Abdul Ghafar, representatives of the timber association in Bajaur Agency, said that they were providing employment to hundreds of labourers, carpenters and truck drivers. Many people will lose their jobs if their business shuts down. The Fata Chamber of Commerce is not doing their job, they say. Haji Hanif Khan, a representative from North Waziristan, said that the chamber is a monopoly run by two families who share the seat among themselves. The election process here is a sham because the leaders are chosen beforehand and elections are just a formality, Hanif said. Sardar Khan, another commission agent, said that people are now relying on steel due to the price hike in timber.
THE FRONTIER POSTThe Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor, Barrister Masood Kausar described the political activities in Fata as positive development towards mainstreaming of the people of the area. He said said the government was making all efforts to encourage constructive step by any political force. The Governor, while commenting on the keen interest of certain political circles in streamlining their political influence in Fata further said that credit indeed goes to the President of Pakistan, Mr. Asif Ali Zardar for enforcing Political Parties Order in Fata, which, beyond doubt is a visionary step. People of the entire country especially of Fata will always remember this bold and wisdom oriented initiative of the president with great regards and thanks, he added. Referring to the move of PTI’s rally in South Waziristan, the Governor said, it was also a welcome sign to engage the people of Fata in positive political activities. However, he said, things need to be considered and judged in line with ground realities which beyond doubt demand extra care on part of all concerned. The administration of the South Waziristan Agency, he added, is very much conscious of its responsibilities and would never disappoint while fulfilling its responsibilities in this respect. He said that it was because of the consistent and continuous efforts of the present government to ensure peace in Fata and the peace that prevailed was the result of great and supreme sacrifices by security forces of Pakistan and that of the people of Fata. Therefore, it would only be in the interest of democracy and people of Fata that success so far achieved in this regard must be safeguarded at all cost, he added. Any political activity in Fata is welcomed, however it is also important that we should not provide any opportunity to the negative elements to exploit the situation by sabotaging such activities by taking measures which may endanger life and property of all Pakistanis who are taking part in such activity, he further added. "Still normal activities mindful of such apprehensions will be welcomed", he said. He said that he was grateful to all political parties of Pakistan who had so far organizing political activities in close co-ordination with local administration to ensure that any ugly incident might be prevented from happening. The Governor has also condemned the drone attacks and said that continuous drone attacks in FATA, despite our clear opposition, have been constantly causing a source of unrest and provocation in the area and there is a need to stop the process forthwith. He further said that Government had already successfully convinced to international community the negative consequences of drone attacks and that realization at the moment found great support to achieve that objective.
Associated PressThe Haqqani insurgent network, based in Pakistan and with ties to al-Qaida, is suspected of being a driving force behind a significant number of the "insider" attacks by Afghan forces that have killed or wounded more than 130 U.S. and allied troops this year, American officials said Friday. Until now, officials had said the attacks seemed to stem either from personal grievances against the allies or from Taliban infiltration. The Taliban has publicly claimed to be orchestrating the campaign to subvert the U.S.-Afghan alliance. New data provided to The Associated Press this week also reveal that in addition to 35 U.S. and allied troops killed in insider attacks last year, 61 were wounded. Those included 19 in a single attack in the eastern province of Laghman on April 16, 2011, in which six American servicemen were killed. Thus far in 2012 there have been 53 killed and at least 80 wounded, the figures showed. Haqqani involvement in the plotting would add a new dimension to that group's insurgent activity, which has been marked largely by spectacular attacks against targets inside Kabul. Haqqani leaders have pledged allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but the group largely operates independently. The two groups have a shared interest in evicting foreign forces. The U.S. officials said that although there is no hard evidence tying the Haqqanis to specific attacks, the pattern of shootings and the movements and backgrounds of some of the shooters — including travel into Pakistan shortly before the shootings — point to a likely connection to the group Washington last month officially labeled a terrorist organization. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss inferences drawn from internal U.S. military analyses of a string of murderous attacks over the past two years that have angered the allies, embarrassed the Afghan government and threatened to undermine the war effort. The officials were not authorized to make the comments publicly. The U.S.-led military coalition recently slowed, temporarily, its partnering with some Afghan forces, partly in response to a recent spike in insider killings. The data on the attacks provided to the AP reveal that shootings in 2012 have been concentrated more in the Pashtun south and the swath of Pashtun territory that forms the southern approaches to Kabul. In 2011 the attack pattern was more dispersed, although the largest number occurred in the south and the east. The internal military analyses, based in part on that data, indicate that a number of shooters were recruited into the Afghan army or police forces from Pashtun areas in eastern Afghanistan — including the provinces of Paktika, Paktia and Khost — where the Haqqanis wield great influence, the officials said. In some cases these Afghans — most of whom had served in uniform for six months of less — returned to those areas on leave from their army or police duties, or briefly crossed into Pakistan, shortly before turning their guns on American or allied soldiers, the officials said. Officials say the Afghan government is now watching such movements more closely and taking other steps to prevent additional insider attacks, although the U.S. believes they will not end. Of the 38 reported attacks so far this year, 10 happened in Kandahar province, the spiritual and traditional home of the Taliban, and 10 happened in neighboring Helmand province, also a heavily Pashtun area. Ten others were in or near a Haqqani-influenced swath of territory along the southern approaches to Kabul, including the latest attack on Sept. 29 in which Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel T. Metcalfe, 29, of Liverpool, N.Y., and a U.S. civilian were killed by Afghan soldiers. They were killed in the same district of Wardak province, southwest of Kabul, where a July 3 attack by a rogue Afghan soldier wounded five American soldiers. "The truth of it is, the removal of this threat completely would be extremely difficult because of the varying nature of the motivations" of the attackers, said Australian Brig. Gen. Roger Noble, a senior operations officer on the staff of the Kabul-based international coalition. Noble said that while he knew of no Haqqani ties to the attacks, the killings are a means of dividing the Afghans from their allies that is "right up their alley." Jeffrey Dressler, an analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, who has extensively studied the Haqqani network, said Friday that U.S. suspicions may be well-founded. "If we accept the notion that a proportion of the 'insider attacks' are due to infiltration, then it is absolutely plausible to assume that the Haqqanis are responsible for a portion of those," Dressler said in an email exchange. "The tactic of 'insider attacks' is certainly a potent one, so I would also suspect that the insurgency is doing all it can to increase the frequency and lethality of the incidents." The Haqqani network has the backing of elements within the Pakistani security establishment and is regarded as one of Afghanistan's most experienced and sophisticated insurgent organizations. The network maintains a safe haven in North Waziristan, Pakistan, across Afghanistan's southeastern border. The Pakistani Army has consistently refused to launch a military operation in North Waziristan despite the presence there of al-Qaida senior leaders. Australian Maj. Gen. Stephen Day, the plans chief for the international coalition's joint command, said in an interview that the Haqqanis are a more troublesome military challenge than the Taliban. "They represent the most dangerous threat because they are the best trained, best resourced opponent we have." Day said Thursday. He was not speaking about the question of a Haqqani link to insider attacks. When the number and lethality of insider attacks began to accelerate early this year, U.S. and coalition officials were reluctant to release details, including those cases in which the shooter missed or wounded but did not kill his target. The attacks were dismissed as isolated incidents. That changed over the summer as top U.S., Afghan and NATO officials began speaking about them more and publicly pressing for solutions. On Friday the AP was given a previously unreleased set of data about 2012 and 2011 insider attacks. The data show that in addition to the 53 U.S. and allied personnel killed so far this year, more than 80 have been wounded. Although the coalition had previously said there were 21 attacks killing 35 allied personnel in 2011, it had not said that another 61 were wounded. The statistics also show a previously unreported pattern of attacks happening either in multiple locations on the same day or on consecutive days. This has been the case 10 times so far this year, and Noble said he and other officials are unable to explain the significance of this. ___
Associated PressDefense Secretary Leon Panetta lashed back at Afghan President Hamid Karzai Friday, saying the Afghan leader should say thank you now and then to the allied forces who are fighting and dying there, rather than criticizing them. Panetta was responding to Karzai's complaints Thursday that the U.S. is failing to go after militants based in Pakistan, and instead is concentrating on the insurgents in Afghanistan. "We have made progress in Afghanistan because there are men and women in uniform who have been willing to fight and die for Afghanistan's sovereignty," Panetta snapped, as he spoke with reporters traveling with him to South America. "Those lives were lost fighting the right enemy not the wrong enemy and I think it would be helpful if the president, every once in a while, expressed his thanks for the sacrifices that have been made by those who have fought and died for Afghanistan, rather than criticizing them." The uncharacteristic shot from Panetta comes as tensions between the two countries have escalated over the increase in insider attacks, where Afghan security forces or insurgents dressed in their uniforms have turned their guns on coalition troops. And it raises the temperature on the heels of the announcement that, as of last weekend, 2,000 U.S. troops had lost their lives in the war. At the same time, however, there is persistent frustration with the insurgents, including members of the Haqqani network, who wage attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan and can then retreat to their safe havens in Pakistan. U.S. officials have repeatedly pressed Islamabad to more forcefully go after the insurgents, including Haqqani factions in and around North Waziristan. But, the U.S. also routinely uses drone strikes across the border into Pakistan to target and kill militants. Karzai spoke at a press conference, complaining that if NATO troops want to go after terrorists they need to go where their safe havens are. And he also expressed frustration that Afghan forces aren't getting the weapons they need from NATO allies, suggesting Afghanistan might have to go to other countries such as China and Russia to get them. Panetta's sharp retort also comes just days before he and other NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels to discuss the war and the road ahead, as allied forces begin to withdraw and transfer security to the Afghans. And the exchanges could fuel concerns among NATO allies that the insider attacks may be eroding trust between coalition and Afghan troops, making security transition all the more difficult. Panetta last met with Karzai in May when he traveled to Afghanistan to meet with commanders and visit troops before the holidays. Both Panetta and Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will attend the NATO meeting. Asked whether the insider attacks could prompt some allies to seek a faster withdrawal from Afghanistan, Panetta reaffirmed support for the current timeline that has combat troops leaving the warzone by the end of 2014 and turning security over to the Afghan forces. Officials have said that as many as 20,000 U.S. troops could remain over time, to continue training and counterterrorism efforts. "My goal is to make clear to NATO and to our allies that we are taking all steps necessary to confront this issue and that it should not be allowed to deter us from the plan that General Allen put in place," Panetta said. To date there have been 53 NATO troops killed in insider attacks, prompting military leaders to briefly curtail some partnered operations and set up a new approval process for those that involve smaller units.
U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney intensified attacks against each other on Friday, as they reacted to a newly improved jobs number. Obama, who was campaigning in Virginia, said at a rally that " today's news is certainly not an excuse to try and talk down the economy to score a few political points. It's a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now." He was referring to the Labor Department's announcement that the unemployment rate dropped by 0.3 percentage point to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest level since January 2009 and below the psychological threshold of 8.0 percent. However, Romney and other Republicans continued their offensive, saying the jobs report was nowhere near good enough. "There were fewer jobs created this month than last month," Romney said at a rally in Abingdon, Virginia, referring to the revised August figure. "The unemployment rate has come down very, very slowly but it has come down nonetheless. And the reason it has come down this year is that more and more people have just stopped looking for work." Some conservatives questioned the jobs number, crying conspiracy. Jack Welch, former head of General Electric, tweeted " unbelievable jobs numbers... these Chicago guys will do anything.. can't debate so change numbers." Florida Republican Rep. Allen West wrote on Facebook that " somehow by manipulation of data we are all of a sudden below 8 percent unemployment, a month from the presidential election." The accusations were dismissed by the White House. Josh Earnest, the White House deputy spokesman, told reporters on Obama's campaign trail that the conspiracy theories were "utter nonsense." "Anybody -- any serious person who has any familiarity with how these numbers are tabulated understands that these are career employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics that are responsible for compiling and analyzing these numbers, and they do that on their own," said Earnest. Jen Psaki, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, told reporters that " we also saw Mitt Romney say that this was the result of people removing themselves from the workforce. That's false. So it shouldn't come as a surprise given this week he's been playing pretty fast and loose with the facts." Related: U.S. unemployment rate drops to 44-month low WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 (Xinhua)-- The U.S. unemployment rate fell to the lowest level since January 2009 in September, the Department of Labor reported on Friday. But analysts say the decline, which has the potential to change the dynamics of the heated presidential campaign, may not be good enough to improve the whole U.S. job market picture. Full story Poll shows U.S. congressional race still tight WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- New poll results released on Friday afternoon indicated that this year's U.S. congressional race remains tight, with registered voters almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. The USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted between Sept. 24 and 27, found 47 percent of registered voters prefer Democrats and 46 percent prefer Republicans. Full story U.S. presidential debate drew 67.2 mln viewers LOS ANGELES, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) -- A total of 67.2 million people watched the first presidential debate between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Wednesday night, according to ratings company Nielsen on Thursday. The number is much higher than that during the spar between the then-Senator Obama and his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, in 2008. The audience tallied 52.4 million. Full story Obama, Romney cross fires on economy in 1st presidential debate DENVER, the United States, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney on Wednesday night fought head-to-head here over economy, the top issue on the campaign trail, among several domestic issues in their first face-to-face debate. The somewhat subdued incumbent and the generally more aggressive challenger began their first prime-time debate side-by-side at Denver University in Denver, Colorado.