At a major conference on the future of Afghanistan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said today that Afghans wanted to take responsibility for their own security, but not for another four years.
Hamid Karzai: "I remain determined that our Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014. Our national police and national directorate of security have also shown progress."
Hamid Karzai’s comments came during a major conference on the future of Afghanistan attended by over seventy nations. The meeting has been described as the biggest international gathering in Kabul in forty years. It was the ninth international conference on Afghanistan, but the first to actually be held in the country. Discussion at the forum focused on three main areas: security, development and reconciliation talks with fighters opposed to the government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that US troops will remain in Afghanistan for years to come.
Hillary Clinton: "The July 2011 date captures both our sense of urgency and the strength of our resolve. The transition process is too important to push off indefinitely, but this date is the start of a new phase, not the end of our involvement. We have no intention of abandoning our long-term mission of achieving the kind of Afghanistan that President Karzai set forth in his speech."
Security was extremely tight for the Afghan conference. But earlier today rockets landing at or near the main Kabul airport forced a plane carrying UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, to divert to US-controlled Bagram Air Base.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has admitted the US and NATO underestimated the scale of the mission in Afghanistan. In a commentary in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, Rasmussen wrote, "After nine years of international involvement it has become painfully clear that the price we have to pay is much higher than expected — especially regarding the international and Afghan soldiers killed. It cannot be disputed that the international community underestimated the size of this challenge in the beginning."
Senate Democrats are hoping to break a Republican filibuster today and approve extending unemployment benefits to millions of out-of-work Americans. If the Democrats secure enough votes, about 2.5 million people will receive jobless benefits retroactively, instead of being dropped from the federal program. On Monday, President Obama demanded the Senate take action.
President Obama: "It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics. It’s time to do what’s right, not for the next election, but for the middle class. We’ve got to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work. We’ve got to extend unemployment insurance. We need to pass those tax cuts for small businesses and the lending for small businesses."
The Obama administration has given BP the go-ahead to keep its ruptured oil well sealed for another day despite worries about the well leaking some oil and methane gas. On Monday, White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs confirmed there have been some leaks.
Robert Gibbs: "There is seepage about three kilometers away from the wellhead. There are bubbles that are visible on the underwater camera, which we continue to monitor. And there are some leaks from the upper part of the wellhead where the shear ram has closed. Those all bear special monitoring."
The BP oil spill is expected to top the agenda of today’s meeting in Washington between President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron may also be questioned over BP’s alleged involvement in the decision to free Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from jail last year. The 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people. BP has been accused of lobbying for al-Megrahi’s release in an attempt to protect its oil interests off the Libyan coast.
In other news from the Gulf, Marathon Oil has become the first oil company to resume deepwater oil production in the Gulf of Mexico since the US government halted drilling after the massive BP oil spill. Marathon Oil’s new well is located about 160 miles southwest of New Orleans and is 3,000 feet deep. The well is expected to produce about 50,000 net barrels of oil per day at its peak.
US National Guard troops will begin arriving along the border with Mexico on August 1 as part of President Obama’s plan to increase border security. The administration has pledged to send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the area for a year. Almost half of the National Guard force will go to Arizona.
Alan Bersin, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection: "National Guard is there to support the efforts of law enforcement, not to have a direct law enforcement role; not to confront, unless confronted, any particular threat. So this is a question of supporting law enforcement. The National Guard has done that extremely well in the past and, we trust, will do so again on this occasion."
In news from Mexico, the Washington Post reports grenades made in the United States and sent to Central America during the 1980s and ’90s are now being used by Mexican drug cartels. There have been more than seventy-two grenade attacks in Mexico in the last year, including assaults on police convoys and public officials. The majority of the grenades have been traced back to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, countries where the US sent hundreds of thousands of hand grenades in the 1980s and early 1990s. One of the most common hand grenades found in Mexico is the US-made M67. Between 1980 and 1993, the Reagan and Bush administrations sent some 266,000 M67 grenades to El Salvador.
In other news from Latin America, an Afro-Colombian activist named Jair Murillo was assassinated on Saturday, a day before he was to take part in a march led by internally displaced groups in Colombia. The Washington Office on Latin America reports Murillo’s organization was one of several Afro-Colombian groups that recently received death threats from a paramilitary organization called the Black Eagles.
Authorities in Denver have launched an investigation into the death of homeless pastor Marvin Booker, who died in police custody two weeks ago. Witnesses have told the Denver Post Booker was forcibly restrained, tasered and then placed face-down in a holding cell. He was pronounced dead hours later.
A twenty-five-year-old staff sergeant for the Maryland Air National Guard is facing up to sixteen years in prison for uploading a video on YouTube that showed an undercover police officer pulling a gun on him during a traffic stop. Anthony Graber was initially ticketed for speeding, but once he posted the video, the state charged him with four felonies, including violating Maryland’s wiretap law. State police officers also raided Graber’s parents’ home and confiscated his camera, computers and external hard drives. Graber is one of many Americans facing possible jail time for videotaping police activity. Last week Democratic Congressman Edolphus Towns of New York introduced a non-binding resolution calling for the protection of citizens who videotape cops in public from getting arrested on state wiretapping charges.
The Olympia Food Co-op in Washington state has voted to boycott Israeli goods. The co-op is believed to be the first US grocery store to agree to such a boycott. One item exempted from the boycott is "Peace Oil," a fair trade olive oil made by Palestinians and exported by Israelis. Olympia is the home town of Rachel Corrie, the twenty-three-year-old college student who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza seven years ago.
An Israeli military court has ordered the early release of the Israeli soldier who shot and killed British peace activist Tom Hurndall in 2003. Taysir Hayb will be freed next month after serving six years of his eight-year sentence. Hurndall’s sister said she is angry and shocked over the soldier’s early release.
And the prominent US climatologist Stephen Schneider has died at the age of sixty-five. Schneider taught at Stanford and was part of a United Nations panel of climate change that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore. He founded the journal Climatic Change. Stephen Schneider often talked about the urgency of addressing global warming.
Stephen Schneider: "And we started out saying sort of 'Houston, there's a problem’ in 1990. Then we said, not only is there a problem, but the humans are part of it, in 1995. In 2000, Terry Root added, 'And plants and animals are in it, too.' And now we said, not only is there a problem, but it hurts the poor more than the rich, it hurts the vulnerable in Hurricane Alley and in high mountains and in the Arctic and in Mediterranean climates like California more than others, and that we’ve got to get on with solving this before we really end up with a lot of key vulnerabilities and serious, dangerous outcomes. We should have started twenty-five years ago, so let’s get on with it."