Posts tagged USA
Posts tagged USA
U.S. is the driving force behind the fighting in Somalia
Washington has been quietly equipping and training thousands of African soldiers to wage a widening proxy war against the Shabab, the Al Qaeda ally that has sparked alarm as foreign militants join its ranks.
The soldiers stood at attention, rifles at their sides, as U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Hogg walked down the ranks, eyeing the men heading off to fight in Somalia.
“You will push … the miscreants from that country, so Somalia can once again be free of tyranny and terrorism,” he told them, according to a video of the May ceremony. “We know you are ready.”
These weren’t American soldiers. They were from impoverished Sierra Leone in West Africa. But Hogg, a top U.S. Army commander for Africa, was in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, because this was largely an American operation.
Nearly 20 years after U.S. Army Rangers suffered a bloody defeat in Somalia, losing 18 soldiers and two Black Hawk helicopters, Washington is once again heavily engaged in the chaotic country. Only this time, African troops are doing the fighting and dying.
The United States is doing almost everything else.
The U.S. has been quietly equipping and training thousands of African soldiers to wage a widening proxy war against the Shabab, the Al Qaeda ally that has imposed a harsh form of Islamic rule on southern Somalia and sparked alarm in Washington as foreign militants join its ranks.
Officially, the troops are under the auspices of the African Union. But in truth, according to interviews by U.S. and African officials and senior military officers and budget documents, the 15,000-strong force pulled from five African countries is largely a creation of the State Department and Pentagon, trained and supplied by the U.S. government and guided by dozens of retired foreign military personnel hired through private contractors.
Like CIA drone strikes in Pakistan and Somalia, and the overthrow of Moammar Kadafi’s regime in Libya, the U.S. backing of African troops in Somalia is an example of how, after a decade of ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration is trying to achieve U.S. military goals with minimal risk of American deaths and scant public debate.
The U.S. can underwrite the war in Somalia for a relative pittance — the cost over four years has been less than $700 million, a tenth of what the military spends in Afghanistan in a month — but the price tag is growing. More than a third of the U.S. assistance has been spent since early 2011.
A shadowy organization estimated to have as many as 14,000 fighters, the Shabab emerged in 2007 when it vowed to overthrow the weak fledgling central government in Mogadishu, the capital. The militia gradually took control of large parts of the capital and other towns, defeating some of Somalia’s well-armed clans and allying with others. U.S. officials say its ranks include foreigners linked to Al Qaeda, which the Shabab announced it had joined this year, and they worry that Al Qaeda could gain a larger foothold in Somalia unless the homegrown group is defeated.
The administration has not disclosed much in public about its role in Somalia, in part because African Union officials do not want their force seen as a Washington puppet. But Wafula Wamunyinyi, deputy head of the African Union mission, calls the U.S. “our most important partner,” noting that its assistance has been “quite enormous.”
Pictured: U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Hogg, center right, inspects Sierra Leone troops in Freetown during a deployment ceremony this year. (U.S. Army Africa / July 28, 2012)
US president sought pledge against Bashar al-Assad at G20 summit, leaving Syria facing the prospect of increasing violence
Barack Obama and Russia’s president Vladimir Putin completed a bilateral meeting on the margins of the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, on Monday with an agreement that there should be a cessation of hostilities in Syria.
But, crucially, Obama failed to secure the support of Putin for regime change in Syria. The US president had been seeking Putin’s help in trying to persuade Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power and leave the country.
A joint statement issued after their meeting said simply that the Syrian people should independently and democratically be allowed to decide their own future, but there was no joint call for Assad to stand down, as the White House has been urging.
Relations between the US and Russia have been cool for months over several issues, including continued concerns in Moscow over US missile plans for Europe as well as Syria.
The White House has publicly expressed frustration with Russia for its support for Syria, a Cold War ally, and its blocking of tougher United Nations actions against the Syrian government, such as sanctions.
There was little sign of rapprochment at Los Cabos, with Obama describing the discussion as ‘candid’, diplomatic-speak for disagreement. Their body language was poor too, with no smiles and little eye contact between the two in the short period in which journalists were invited in.
In the joint statement, the two leaders said: “In order to to stop the the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of the violence and express full support for the efforts of the UN and Arab states joint special envoy Kofi Annan, including on moving forward on political transition to a democratic pluralist political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves in the framework of Syrian sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.
“We are united in our belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future.”
Neither leader mentioned Assad by name in their public remarks or in the joint statement issued after their meeting, thus avoiding any express reference to past US demands that Assad step down. There was also no mention of sanctions or a tougher arms embargo.
Obama said that he and Putin had “candid, thoughtful and through conversation” about various issues including Syria and Iran.
Without Putin’s support, there is almost no chance of tougher UN action. Russia can use its security council veto to block any move.
Pictured: Barack Obama said he and Vladimir Putin had ‘candid, thoughtful and thorough conversation’ about various issues including Syria. Photograph: Alexei Nikolsky/EP
He was once a liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war. Now, according to revelations last week, the US president personally oversees a ‘kill list’ for drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. Then there’s the CIA renditions, increased surveillance and a crackdown on whistleblowers. No wonder Washington insiders are likening him to ‘George W Bush on steroids’
CHICAGO — When the White House sent a last-minute invitation for Asif Ali Zardari to attend the two-day NATO summit, they were taking a highly public gamble. Would sharing the spotlight with President Obama and other global leaders induce the Pakistani president to allow vital supplies to reach alliance troops fighting in Afghanistan?
But long before the summit ended Monday, the answer was clear: No deal.
Zardari’s refusal to reopen the supply routes left a diplomatic blot on a summit that NATO sought to cast as the beginning of the end of the conflict in Afghanistan. The Chicago gathering did produce a formal agreement by the alliance to hand over lead responsibility for security to Afghan forces by mid-2013, and pull out nearly all U.S. and other NATO troops by the end of 2014 even if the Taliban-led insurgency remains undiminished.
U.S. officials insist ample fuel and other supplies are being delivered via much longer and more expensive land routes in Russia and other nations north of Afghanistan. But the Pentagon says reopening the land route in Pakistan will be essential to hauling vast stores of military equipment and vehicles out of Afghanistan during the withdrawal.
Obama’s irritation at the impasse was clear Monday when he addressed more than 50 world leaders and publicly thanked Russia and Central Asian nations “that continue to provide critical transit” of war supplies into Afghanistan. Zardari sat only a few feet away, but Obama pointedly did not mention Pakistan.
Later at a news conference that closed the two-day summit, Obama did not try to downplay the strains in a relationship that has spiraled from crisis to crisis since U.S. Navy SEALs secretly flew into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden last May. Nor did Obama suggest, as his aides had done earlier, that a quick resolution was likely.
“I don’t want to paper over real challenges there,” Obama said. “There’s no doubt that there have been tensions between [the NATO military coalition] and Pakistan, the United States and Pakistan over the last several months.”
Pakistan closed the main NATO supply route after U.S. airstrikes hit two border posts Nov. 26 and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Islamabad has demanded an unconditional apology, and more than $5,000 per truck, up from about $250 in the past, to let supplies flow again. The Obama administration has refused to apologize, saying both sides committed mistakes, and it says the new truck toll is far too expensive.
Pictured: President Obama speaks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at the McCormick Place Convention Center during the NATO summit in Chicago. (Pete Souza / The White House, AFP/Getty Images / May 21, 2012)
Every year thousands of women are forced into prostitution and traded from Mexico to the United States. The BBC investigates the sex trafficking business, which makes some men very wealthy at the expense of vulnerable young women.
Warning: Viewers may find some of the video content disturbing.
Pall cast over U.S.-China deal over Chinese dissident
In events that could deal a blow to the Obama administration, activist Chen Guangcheng appears to question whether officials had dealt with him in good faith.
BEIJING — For several hours, it appeared the U.S. and China had struck a deal that would allow Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng to walk free — and avoid a diplomatic disaster.
American officials said Wednesday that they had had obtained promises from Chinese authorities that the blind 40-year-old lawyer could live in a Chinese city of his choice and attend a university to continue his legal education. They portrayed Chen, who had dramatically fled house arrest in his village for the protection of the U.S. Embassy hundreds of miles away in Beijing, as exuberant over the deal.
But shortly after Chen was released from the embassy on Wednesday, he appeared to question whether officials had dealt with him in good faith. In a series of phone interviews from a hospital room, Chen said he had agreed to remain in China under the U.S.-devised deal only because American officials had told him that his wife would be beaten to death if he left the country.
“We’d like to rest in a place outside China,” Chen said in an interview late Wednesday with the Associated Press. He entreated U.S. officials for help in leaving for a safe refuge.
The cascade of events left U.S.-Chinese relations in a questionable state and threatened to deliver an embarrassing blow to the Obama administration.
American officials, who had hoped they were on the verge of a diplomatic triumph, denied that they had warned Chen that harm could come to his wife, and scrambled to convince skeptical Chinese activists and the world that in their six days of tense negotiations they sought only to do what Chen had wanted.
But the setback risked damage to the administration’s efforts to show itself strongly committed to the cause of human rights in China. And it threatened to prolong a diplomatic crisis with China a day before the opening of high-level talks aimed at smoothing relations on urgent issues including Iran, Syria and the global economy.
Pictured: Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng shakes hands with U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, as U.S. State Department legal advisor Harold Koh applauds in Beijing. (U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, AFP/Getty Images / May 1, 2012)
Officials: US could agree to limited Iranian uranium enrichment
WASHINGTON – In a major concession, Obama administration officials say they could support allowing Iran to continue a crucial element of its disputed nuclear program if the government in Tehran took other major steps to curb its ability to develop a nuclear bomb.
The officials told the Los Angeles Times they might agree to let Tehran continue enriching uranium up to concentrations of 5% if the Iranian government agreed to unrestricted inspections, and strict oversight and safeguards that the United Nations long has demanded.
Iran has begun enriching small amounts of uranium to 20% purity in February 2010 for what it contends are peaceful purposes, although most of its stockpile is purified at lower levels. Uranium can be used as bomb fuel at about 90% enrichment.
The question of whether to approve even low-level enrichment is highly controversial within the U.S. government and among its allies because of the risk that Iranian scientists still might be able to gain the knowledge and experience to someday build a bomb.
But a consensus has gradually emerged among U.S. and foreign officials that the Iranians are unlikely to accede to a complete halt to enrichment, and that pushing this demand could make it impossible to reach a negotiated deal to stop Iran’s program short of a military attack.
The United States and five other world powers began talks with Iran on April 14 in Istanbul to try to finally broker a deal, amid threats from Israel that it will bomb Iranian nuclear installations if the program isn’t dismantled soon. The talks are scheduled to resume in Baghdad on May 23.
Pictured: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, listens to a technician during his visit of the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility some 200 miles south of Tehran on April 8, 2008. Credit: Iranian’s President’s Office / Associated Press
Report finds wave of Mexican immigration to U.S. has ended: The study by the Pew Hispanic Center cites the economic downturn and increased enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border as factors in the drop in the number of Mexicans coming to the country.
Photo: Migrants thread their way along footpaths just north of the Mexico-Arizona border in 2007. A new report says immigration from Mexico has come to a statistical standstill. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times
Obama and Hu to co-ordinate on North Korea rocket launch
China and the US have agreed to co-ordinate their response to any “potential provocation” if North Korea goes ahead with a planned rocket launch, the White House says.
North Korea says the long-range rocket will carry a satellite. The US says any launch would violate UN resolutions and be a missile test.
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao met on the margins of a nuclear summit in South Korea.
The launch is scheduled for April.
Its timing - between 12 and 16 April - is intended to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s late Great Leader Kim Il-sung.
The White House said Mr Hu indicated to Mr Obama that he was taking the North Korean issue very seriously and was registering China’s concern with the government in Pyongyang.
“We both have an interest in making sure that international norms surrounding non-proliferation, preventing destabilising nuclear weapons, is very important,” Mr Obama said ahead of the meeting.
US president welcomes prime minister and calls relationship between US and the UK ‘one of the greatest alliances the world has ever known’
Graphic: How the U.S. Massive Ordnance Penetrator works
Israel has asked the United States for bunker-busting missiles, though they don’t actually have planes big enough to drop the U.S.’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator. What exactly does the U.S.’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator do? The National Post‘s graphics department takes a look:
Obama condolences over Afghanistan massacre in Kandahar
US President Barack Obama has phoned his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai to express condolences over the massacre of 16 villagers in Kandahar.
Nine children were killed along with adults in their homes when a US soldier based locally allegedly went on a gun rampage during the night.
Mr Obama vowed to hold accountable anyone responsible for the “tragic and shocking” incident.
President Karzai has condemned the attack and demanded an explanation.
The unnamed suspect, who had apparently recently suffered a mental breakdown, returned to his base in Kandahar’s Panjwai district after the attack and handed himself into custody.
Anti-US sentiment was already high in Afghanistan after US soldiers burnt copies of the Koran last month.
US officials have apologised repeatedly for the incident at a Nato base in Kabul but they failed to quell a series of protests and attacks that killed at least 30 people and six US troops.
Pictured: US and Afghan troops have been keeping watch inside the base near Alkozai
Israel has asked the United States for advanced “bunker-buster” bombs and refueling planes that could improve its ability to attack Iran’s underground nuclear sites, an Israeli official said on Thursday.
“Such a request was made” around the time of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week, the official said, confirming media reports.
But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue, played down as “unrealistic” reports that the United States would condition supplying the hardware on Israel promising not to attack Iran this year.
President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday they stand together in their efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but Netanyahu warned that time for diplomacy was running short.
The two leaders met at the White House to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and other Middle East issues amid talk speculation that Israel may attack nuclear sites in Iran. Speaking to the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee afterward, Netanyahu said Iranian research “continues to march forward” despite painful economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic.
“My friends, Israel has waited patiently waited for the international community to resolve this issue. We’ve waited for diplomacy to work,” Netanyahu said.