Britain has announced it’s preparing to send more troops to Afghanistan and suggested the US is poised to do the same. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would deploy an additional 500 soldiers if several conditions were met, including additional troop commitments from other NATO forces. Brown indicated the troop boost is linked to an expected US troop increase, saying, “I believe the decision we are announcing is consistent with what the Americans will decide.” Addressing the British parliament, Brown said the decision had been made in close consultation with the United States.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: “But I do want — I do want to stress that the decisions that we are announcing today have been made after the fullest possible consultation with our American allies, with the Secretary-General of NATO, and with our own military commanders, commanders on the ground, the chief of the defense staff and the chief of the general staff, and I’ve regularly met them over the last few weeks to deal with these issues.”
Britain has the second-largest foreign occupation force in Afghanistan with around 9,000 troops.
The BBC meanwhile is reporting President Obama has already decided on an increase of some 45,000 troops that could be announced as early as next week. The White House has denied the report. Meanwhile, President Obama convened a fifth war council meeting Wednesday to discuss the occupation of Afghanistan. The administration is currently weighing a proposal from Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal to add up to 60,000 additional troops. On Tuesday, Obama said a decision will be made in the “coming weeks” and defended US war aims.
President Obama: “Our principal goal remains to root out al-Qaeda and its extremist allies that can launch attacks against the United States or its allies. That’s our principal mission. We are also obviously interested in stability in the region.”
In other Afghan war news, the Pentagon has imposed a new policy barring media from photographing US soldiers killed in combat. The rule change was introduced last month after the Associated Press published a photo of a mortally wounded US marine.
The White House and top Senate Democrats have begun talks on merging competing healthcare measures into a final bill. On Wednesday, White House officials held a closed-door meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus and Senate Health Committee Chair Christopher Dodd. Democrats are trying to retain the support of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe to ensure Senate passage. On Wednesday, Snowe continued to voice opposition to a public health insurance option, calling it a “deal-breaker.”
Meanwhile, single-payer advocates are planning a national day of action today. The group Mobilization for Health Care for All says more than 700 people have signed up to risk arrest by holding sit-ins in front of insurance company offices nationwide.
The House has approved a new sanctions measure against Iran. The Iran Sanctions Enabling Act would free up states and local governments to opt out of international investments in Iran. The measure passed with 414 in favor and just six opposed.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting major US financial firms are on pace to pay a record $140 billion in employee bonuses this year. The record payouts come less than a year after taxpayers bailed out many of these same financial institutions.
Meanwhile, newly released disclosures show some of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s closest aides have earned millions of dollars from bailed-out Wall Street firms. Last year, Geithner adviser Gene Sperling made over $887,000 from Goldman Sachs and another $158,000 in speaking fees, mostly from financial companies. Another aide, Lee Sachs, made over $3 million from the New York hedge fund Mariner Investment Group.
In Pakistan, around forty people have been killed in a series of coordinated attacks. Earlier today, gunmen raided three government facilities in the city of Lahore, while a suicide bomber struck a northwestern town. Taliban militants have recently escalated attacks in advance of an expected major Pakistani military offensive in restive areas near the Afghan border.
In other news from Pakistan, at least four people have been killed in a suspected US drone attack in the North Waziristan region. Pakistani officials said the strike targeted a militant compound.
In Honduras, conflicting accounts have emerged from the latest round of talks between the coup regime and representatives of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. On Wednesday, both a Zelaya negotiator and a top coup official said a tentative deal had been struck on the key point of Zelaya’s return to office. But a coup regime negotiator later denied a deal had been reached and said the talks would continue today. Meanwhile, pro-Zelaya demonstrators continued to rally outside the hotel where the talks have taken place.
Protester: “We hope that today we get white smoke from the ninth floor of the Clarion Hotel. We hope that these authorities who have come here, these international organisms, truly lend a hand in Honduras.”
The UN Human Rights Council is expected to open discussion today on the findings of a UN inquiry that accused Israel of a series of war crimes during its three-week assault on the Gaza Strip. The session occurs just days after widespread Palestinian outcry forced the Palestinian Authority to reverse its backing of US and Israeli demands for an indefinite delay to addressing the report at the United Nations. It also comes one day after the UN Security Council took up the report’s findings. On Wednesday, the Palestinian representative to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said the report’s reception heralded an end to Israeli impunity in attacking Palestinians.
Riyad Mansour: “The culture of impunity that Israel — allowed Israel to get away with murder for the last sixty years is no more. We are entering a new culture of accountability, and this process is not a short process. It’s a long process, but we are all determined to defend international law, international humanitarian law, and to bring the criminals to face justice.”
Around 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the assault, compared to thirteen Israelis, a ratio of 100-to-one.
In other Mideast news, Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem. On Monday, Israeli troops destroyed the home of Amjad, an East Jerusalem father of three children.
Amjad: “In the morning I sleep inside. The soldiers come and take me. They bring the dog. 'What do you want?' I tell him. 'I have a problem in my heart.' ’It’s not my problem,’ he tells me. 'Go outside.' But I don’t want to go. Five soldiers take me, they brought me out. They take my phone and my — [inaudible]. You know, she tells me, 'No, we don't want.’ And we see, after, they broke the house. Now I have two problems: I don’t have any place to sit, I have three children.”
Over 200 Palestinian homes have been demolished in East Jerusalem and the West Bank this year, displacing at least 520 Palestinians.
Meanwhile in Israel, two human rights group have released a report documenting what they call the unlawful imprisonment of some 335 Palestinians in Israeli jails. The groups B’Tselem and HaMoked say Israel is violating international law by holding the prisoners without charge or trial for years on end. The 335 figure could be substantially conservative; there are an estimated 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.
In Puerto Rico, tens of thousands of people are expected to take part in an island-wide strike today against massive public layoffs. Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno is proceeding with plans to fire some 17,000 workers next month, including schoolteachers, social workers and healthcare workers. The job cuts would bring total government layoffs in Puerto Rico this year to nearly 25,000. Union leaders say some 100,000 people will converge on the Plaza las Americas in the largest of several planned rallies. In addition to cutting jobs, Governor Fortuno has drawn criticism for threatening to charge protesters with “terrorism” if they interfere with the flow of goods at Puerto Rican ports.
A federal judge is barring members of the public from a series of pretrial hearings in the case against five Blackwater mercenaries involved in killing seventeen Iraqis in Baghdad two years ago. On Wednesday, US District Judge Ricardo Urbina said he would close the trial in order to shield witnesses and jurors as well as ensure a fair hearing for the accused.
The US military has announced it’s met all of its annual recruiting goals for the first time in thirty-five years. In announcing the milestone, the Pentagon said the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression played a key role in boosting enlistments. Senior Pentagon official Curtis Gilroy said a ten percent increase in the national unemployment rate generally translates into a four to six percent improvement in recruiting goals. Another top official, Bill Carr, called the recession “a force,” adding, “unemployment…allowed us to be for much of the year in a very favorable position.”
The military meanwhile is looking into plans to bring recruiting to middle schools across the nation. A Kansas school district has implemented a middle school program based on the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps curriculum. The program is being studied to see if it can be expanded nationwide.
In housing news, new figures show the number of homes facing foreclosure has risen over five percent in recent months. According to RealtyTrac, 938,000 homes were at risk of foreclosure for the three-month period ending last month, up from 890,000 in the prior three months. Foreclosure-related filings are on pace to reach around 3.5 million this year, up from 2.3 million in 2008.
And the New York Times has revealed that environmental cleanup technology at dozens of US coal factories has often led to the contamination of local water supplies. Coal plants that have installed “scrubbers” to filter air emissions have dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of water pollution into local rivers and streams. Only one out of forty-three power plants and electric utilities has been required to limit dumping of the toxin barium, which has been linked to heart problems and other organ diseases. Even when emissions have been regulated, 90 percent of plants that violated the Clean Water Act since 2004 have escaped penalties or fines.