The Pentagon is planning to send up to 15,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, possibly as soon as the end of this year, with planning underway for a further force buildup in 2009. This according to a report in U.S. News and World Report. The troop buildup follows the deadliest months for American forces since the US invasion in 2001. The two leading presidential candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, have both called for more troops to fight in Afghanistan.
The New York Times is describing this week’s attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan as the most serious in six years of fighting. On Tuesday, ten French paratroopers were killed following a Taliban ambush, and one of the largest US military bases, Camp Salerno, came under a coordinated assault by at least ten suicide bombers. The attack on the French was the deadliest ground battle involving international troops since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Earlier today, French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Kabul and vowed that France would still go ahead with plans to send 700 additional troops to Afghanistan this month.
During an emergency session in Belgium, NATO foreign ministers suspended their formal contacts with Moscow nearly two weeks after fighting began between Russia and Georgia. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Russia must fulfill its promise to withdraw its forces from the small former Soviet republic.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: “There can be no business as usual with Russia under present circumstances. And the future of our relations will depend on the concrete actions Russia will take to honor the words of President Medvedev to abide by the six-point peace plan, which is not happening at the moment, which is not happening as we speak, he signed together with the president of Georgia and which was brokered by the European Union presidency, France”
The United States and Poland have officially signed a deal to set up a US missile base in Poland, despite deep opposition from Russia. Under the plan, the US will place ten interceptor missiles just eleven miles from Russia’s westernmost border. Russia had warned Poland that by signing the deal it is making itself vulnerable to attack, even a nuclear one. Earlier today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended placing the missile system in Poland.
Condoleezza Rice: “This is a system that is defensive and is not aimed at anyone. It is nonetheless a system that establishes firmly again and reaffirms the strategic cooperation, relationship and friendship between Poland and the United States.”
In campaign news, Senator Barack Obama has announced plans to hold a rally at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois on Saturday, alongside his yet-to-be-announced running mate. It is the same site where Obama announced his presidential candidacy eighteen months ago. On Tuesday, Obama addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Florida. He challenged John McCain’s judgment in the war on terror.
Sen. Obama: “For all of his talk about following Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell, Senator McCain refused to join my call to take out bin Laden across the Afghan border. Instead, he spent years backing a dictator in Pakistan who failed to serve the interests of his own people.”
On Tuesday, Senator John McCain flew to a Gulf of Mexico oil rig to demand expanded offshore drilling. Standing on an oil rig operated by Exxon and Chevron, McCain said, “We need to start drilling offshore at advanced oil rigs like this one.”
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is threatening to pull his party out of Pakistan’s governing coalition unless the senior coalition party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, agrees to allow for the return of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Sharif’s ultimatum came just a day after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf resigned. The Pakistan Peoples Party has opposed allowing Chaudhry back on the bench. The full restoration of the judges could cause legal complications for PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, who took over the party after the assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf removed Chaudhry from the bench after he forced Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to admit they held dozens of people in secret custody.
On Tuesday, the United Nations commemorated the fifth anniversary of the bombing of its office in Baghdad that killed twenty-two staffers, including the top UN envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The attack wounded more than 150 others. A wreath-laying ceremony was held Tuesday at the UN headquarters.
The New York Police Department is developing a plan to track and record every vehicle entering Manhattan. The proposal, known as Operation Sentinel, calls for 116 license plate readers and 3,000 closed-circuit cameras to be installed at every bridge and tunnel serving the island. Radiation detectors would also be used. Meanwhile, Homeland Security officials in the Washington, D.C. area are also planning to dramatically expand the use of automated license plate readers to track vehicles. The Associated Press reports officials from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia have agreed to install 200 license plate readers on police vehicles, at airports and along roads.
The Washington Post reports the federal government has been using its system of border checkpoints to greatly expand a database on travelers entering the country by collecting information on all US citizens crossing by land. The data will be compiled and stored for fifteen years and may be used in criminal and intelligence investigations. Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy & Technology criticized the government’s actions. He said, “The theory of this data collection is: Track everyone — just in case.” The Washington Post also recently revealed that federal border agents are now allowed to take and search a traveler’s laptop computer, cellphone or other electronic device without any suspicion of wrongdoing. The policy applies to anyone entering the country, including US citizens.
In environmental news, a federal court has overturned a Bush administration rule that prevented state and local authorities from raising emissions monitoring requirements on chemical plants, oil refineries and other industrial units. The two-to-one ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the most recent in a series of judicial setbacks to the Bush administration’s efforts to reshape federal policies under the Clean Air Act.
A new report on press freedom in Mexico has revealed that at least twenty-four journalists and media workers have been killed in Mexico over the past eight years. Eight journalists have disappeared and dozens have been threatened or attacked in direct response to their work. Robert Shaw of the International Media Support urged the Mexican government to give prosecutors more power in investigating crimes against journalists.
Robert Shaw: “They don’t have teeth, they don’t have money, and they don’t have a political drive or willpower behind us. And this is what’s killing Mexico, and it’s what’s killing Mexican journalism, is that you create a sense of institutions that end up being like ghost-like institutions that don’t actually get to the core of changing the problem. And this is why we are coming together as an international community, to try and work with Mexican journalists, to try and work with local organizations to change this.”
And the City of New York has agreed to pay $2 million to a group of fifty-two protesters who were swept up in a mass arrest during a peaceful protest in 2003 against the invasion of Iraq. The protest occurred outside the headquarters of the Carlyle Group, an investment firm with an extensive portfolio of holdings in the military-defense sector. The Center for Constitutional Rights described the settlement as a major victory for free speech rights.