Monday, July 4, 2011

France Denies Giving Libya Rebels Anti-Tank Missiles

PARIS - The French military on June 30 denied supplying anti-tank missiles to rebels fighting Libyan Moammar Gadhafi's regime, though it admitted parachuting light arms to them.
"No Milan anti-tank missiles have been parachuted into Jebel Nafusa," a region southeast of Tripoli, France's top military spokesman Thierry Burkhard said, referring to earlier reports.
Le Figaro newspaper and a well-placed non-government source said France dropped several tons of arms including Milan anti-tank missiles and light armored vehicles.
Burkhard said France had only supplied "light arms" including machine guns and rocket launchers.
He had said on June 29 that French officials had delivered small arms while carrying out humanitarian aid operations to help local populations under threat from Gadhafi's troops.
"It appeared that in certain zones the security situation was extremely tense for these undefended populations," so France gave them "the means to defend themselves, light arms and ammunition," he added June 30.
France's ambassador to the United Nations said June 29 the delivery of arms to rebels did not breach the U.N. resolution that mandated intervention to protect civilians, which also established an embargo on arms to Libya.
Article 4 of Resolution 1973 specified that allowances to the arms embargo can be allowed if in the interest of protecting civilians.

Afghan Drawdown Plan 'Unnecessary Risk': McCain

KABUL - Top U.S. lawmakers on July 3 slammed President Barack Obama's military drawdown plans for Afghanistan as "risky," unsupported by his military commanders and a threat to progress made in the last year.
Withdrawal at the rate Obama has planned on - including the removal of 33,000 surge troops by the end of next summer - "is an unnecessary risk and that is why there was no military leader who recommended it", Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said during a visit to Kabul.
Joined by fellow Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., in the Afghan capital, the trio spoke to media after visiting U.S. troops.
Graham described progress in parts of the war-torn country as "really stunning" but warned that "all the gains are still reversible".
"What I'm mostly concerned about is that the accelerated withdrawal of surge forces has created a perception that we are leaving," said Graham.
"Withdrawal is what the enemy wants to hear and our goal is to make sure they don't hear withdrawal and the Afghan people don't hear withdrawal," he later added.
Both Gen. David Petraeus and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said Obama's plan was more "aggressive" than they had recommended.
Obama late last month said 10,000 troops would leave this year and all 33,000 personnel sent as part of a surge ordered in late 2009 would be home by next summer, leaving a U.S. force of some 65,000.
There are currently up to 150,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan, including about 99,000 from the United States.
Obama has indicated a series of drawdowns until Afghan forces assume full security responsibility in 2014.
Speaking to CNN's "State of the Union" McCain also lambasted the U.S. leader for not providing adequate troops for the initial 2009 surge - "He didn't give them the full complement they needed. It was about 10,000 short, which then necessitated a second fighting season," he said.
"Look, I question whether this was the right decision or not, but I can't question the president's patriotism," he added.
Obama's announcement pleased practically nobody in Washington - liberals were left wanting more, Republican hawks complained he was going too fast, and top Pentagon officials felt snubbed for having much of their advice overruled by the White House.
The military case for the drawdown, with Obama saying the war aims he set in 2009 had been largely met, was also seen as highly political, as it foreshadowed the argument he will make to voters next year as he runs for a second term.
The Washington debate comes as the U.S.-led coalition hankers for a resolution to the nearly decade-long war, but amid dismal relations between the U.S. and its key War on Terror ally Pakistan.
The Taliban's leadership is believed to reside in Pakistan and the nuclear power is seen to use the insurgent group as a bargaining chip in any regional settlement of power, complicating Western attempts to broker peace.
"Until Pakistan begins to help, its gonna be very difficult," said Graham.
"So our job as members of the Senate is to tell the Pakistani military: You need to choose. You need to choose who you want your friends to be and who you want your enemies to be... Too much is at stake to let this drift any further."

British PM to Drawdown Troops from Afghanistan: Reports

LONDON - British Prime Minister David Cameron is to announce the withdrawal of at least 500 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012 following a similar drawdown by the United States, reports said July 3.
The move would take the number of British troops in Afghanistan below the key figure of 9,000 and mark a major step towards Cameron's stated aim of having all British soldiers out of the country by 2015.
Cameron would announce on July 6 plans to withdraw up to 800 troops by the end of next year, the Sunday Times reported. The Sunday Telegraph put the figure at 500 and said they would leave in mid-2012.
Britain's Ministry of Defence said that some troops would be brought home early but refused to confirm details.
"U.K. force levels in Afghanistan are kept under constant review," a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.
"The Prime Minister has been clear that there will be no U.K. troops in combat roles in Afghanistan by 2015 and it is right that we bring troops home sooner where progress allows and taking account of military advice."
The withdrawal is in addition to the pull-out of 400 British support staff by February 2012 announced by Cameron in May, 200 of which have already left Afghanistan.
Britain currently has 9,500 troops based in Afghanistan's troubled southern province of Helmand, making it the second largest contributor of foreign forces in Afghanistan after the United States.
U.S. President Barack Obama last month ordered all 33,000 U.S. surge troops home from Afghanistan by mid-2012. France quickly followed suit, saying several hundred French troops would leave by the end of this year.
Western nations have set a deadline of the end of 2014 to hand over control of security to Afghan forces despite fears that they are not ready to protect the country from Taliban militants.

U.S. Shifts Supply Routes to Central Asia: Report

WASHINGTON - The U.S. military is expanding its Central Asian supply routes to the war in Afghanistan, fearing that the routes going through Pakistan could be endangered by deteriorating U.S.-Pakistani relations, The Washington Post reported late on July 2.
Citing unnamed Pentagon officials, the newspaper said that in 2009, the United States moved 90 percent of its military surface cargo through the Pakistani port of Karachi and then through mountain passes into Afghanistan.
Now almost 40 percent of surface cargo arrives in Afghanistan from the north, along a patchwork of Central Asian rail and road routes that the Pentagon calls the Northern Distribution Network, the report said.
The military is pushing to raise the northern network's share to as much as 75 percent by the end of this year, the paper said.
In addition, the U.S. government is negotiating expanded agreements with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other countries that would allow for delivery of additional supplies to the Afghan war zone, The Post said.
The United States also wants permission to withdraw vehicles and other equipment from Afghanistan as the U.S. military prepares to pull out one-third of its forces by September 2012, the paper noted.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced last month that 10,000 troops would leave this year and all 33,000 personnel sent as part of a surge ordered in late 2009 would be home by next summer, leaving a U.S. force of some 65,000.
There are currently up to 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including about 99,000 from the United States. Obama has indicated a series of drawdowns until Afghan forces assume security responsibility in 2014.