Showing posts with label US President Barack Obama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label US President Barack Obama. Show all posts

Monday, May 21, 2012

Obama on Afghan: Leave on time, no 'perfect' end

us president barack obama
US President Barack Obama
CHICAGO (AP) -- President Barack Obama and leaders around the globe locked in place an Afghanistan exit path Monday that will still keep their troops fighting and dying there for two more years, acknowledging there never will be point at which they can say, "This is all done. This is perfect."

Obama, presiding over a 50-nation war coalition summit in his hometown, summed up the mood by saying the Afghanistan that will be left behind will be stable enough for them to depart - essentially good enough after a decade of war- but still loaded with troubles.

The war that began in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will finish at the end of 2014.

"I don't think there's ever going to be an optimal point where we say, `This is all done. This is perfect. This is just the way we wanted it,'" Obama said as the NATO summit closed. "This is a process, and it's sometimes a messy process."

Obama never spoke of victory.

Afghan forces for the first time will take over the lead of the combat mission by the middle of 2013, a milestone moment in a long, costly transition of control. Even in a backup role, U.S. forces and all the rest will face surprise attacks and bombings until the war's end.

Wary of creating a vacuum in a volatile region, the nations also promised a lasting partnership with Afghanistan, meaning many years of contributing tax dollars, personnel and political capital after the end of their soldiers' combat.

The United States has already cut its own deal with Afghanistan along those lines, including a provision that allows U.S. military trainers and special forces to remain in Afghanistan after the war closes.

In an escalating election-year environment, Obama was as at the center of the action in Chicago, beaming and boasting about the city's performance in hosting the event. Noisy protesters loaded the city's streets at times, which Obama called just the kind of free expression NATO defends.

Tensions with Pakistan undermined some of the choreographed unity. Pakistan has not yet agreed to end the closure of key transit routes into Afghanistan - retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers months ago - and the issue hung over the summit.

Obama had no official talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, although the two chatted briefly. Obama spoke of progress on the standoff but he added: "I don't want to paper over real challenges there. There's no doubt that there have been tensions."

On Afghanistan, led by Obama, the partners are in essence staying the course. They stuck with a timeline long established and underscored that there will be no second-guessing the decision about when to leave.

Since 2010, they have been planning to finish the war at the end of 2014, even as moves by nations such as France to pull combat troops out early have tested the strength of the coalition. The shift to have Afghan forces take the lead of the combat mission next year has also been expected. Leaders presented it as a significant turning point in the war.

It will be "the moment when throughout Afghanistan people can look out and see their own troops and police stepping up to the challenge," said the NATO chief, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

What the world is poised to leave behind is an Afghanistan still riddled with poverty, corruption and political instability.

Yet, out of money and patience, the U.S.-led partnership said it is confident Afghanistan will be stable and prepared enough to at least be able to protect itself - and, in turn, prevent its territory from becoming a launching pad for international terrorism.

Questioned about what will happen if Afghanistan eventually falls apart, Obama signaled there is no turning back. "I think that the timetable that we've established is a sound one, it is a responsible one. Are there risks involved in it? Absolutely."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the leaders were "making a decisive and enduring commitment to the long-term future of Afghanistan. The message to the Afghan people is that we will not desert them. And the message to the insurgency is equally clear: You cannot win on the battlefield. You should stop fighting and start talking."

The political stakes are high for the U.S. president, who will go before voters in November with tens of thousands more troops in Afghanistan than when we took office. His emphasis will remain that he is methodically winding down the war after closing out the one in Iraq; U.S. voters desperate for better economic times have long stopped approving of the war mission.

NATO said it will keep providing "long-term political and practical support" to Afghanistan after 2014 but added: "This will not be a combat mission."

Despite the size of the coalition, the war remains a United States-dominated effort.

The U.S. has 90,000 of the 130,000 foreign forces in the war. Obama has pledged to shrink that to 68,000 by the end of September but has offered no details on the withdrawal pace after that, other than to say it will be gradual.

The fighting alliance called negotiation the key to ending the insurgency in Afghanistan, but avoided mentioning the Taliban by name. The insurgents walked away from U.S.-led talks in March, and urged the NATO nations to follow the lead of France in pledging to remove combat forces ahead of schedule.

The alliance agreed on a fundraising goal to underwrite the Afghan armed forces after the international fighting forces depart.

The force of about 230,000 would cost about $4.1 billion annually - the bulk of it paid by the United States and countries that have not been part of the fighting force.

U.S. and British officials said during the summit that pledges total about $1 billion a year so far and that fundraising is on track to make up the rest. French President Francois Hollande said the U.S. had requested a little less than $200 million but was non-committal, saying France was "not bound by what Germany or other countries might do."

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

US NEWS: Obama requesting help to pay for Afghan army

us president barack obama
US President, Barack Obama

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mapping the way out of an unpopular war, the United States and NATO are trying to build an Afghan army that can defend the country after 130,000 international troops pull out. The alliance's plans for arm's-length support for Afghanistan will be a central focus of the summit President Barack Obama is hosting Sunday and Monday in Chicago.

The problem with the exit strategy is that someone has to pay for that army in an era of austerity budgets and defense cutbacks.

The problem for the United States is how to avoid getting stuck with the check for $4.1 billion a year.

"This has to be a multilateral funding effort," said Pentagon spokesman George Little. "We think there should be contributions from other countries."

That's partly why so many non-NATO nations are getting invitations to the summit. About 60 countries and organizations are expected to be represented, including nations such as Japan that are far removed from the trans-Atlantic defense pact's home ground.

More than 20 nations have already agreed to help fund the Afghan army and more are expected to announce their commitments at the Chicago summit. U.S. and other NATO leaders claim that fundraising is on track, although the totals publicly announced so far are small.

A senior Obama administration official said the U.S. and its partners would seek to set targets at the summit for the size and scope of the Afghan security forces after 2014, when foreign forces pull out. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to preview the upcoming summit, would not detail pledges expected in Chicago.

That force is now projected to be smaller - and cheaper - than NATO had planned only a year ago. The decision to trim the goal for an Afghan force from about 350,000 to roughly 230,000 was driven more by economic reality than a shift in thinking about Afghanistan's security needs after 2014, U.S. military officials and NATO diplomats said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning. The larger force had been projected to cost $7 billion a year.

Obama is unlikely to say so, but outside estimates of the U.S. share of the bill for Afghan defense after 2014 range from a quarter to well more than half the total bill. The U.S. will also be on the hook for other support to Afghanistan, but the amount is unclear. The United States is the richest and best-equipped nation in the NATO alliance and long Afghanistan's largest patron.

Obama signed a pledge with Afghan President Hamid Karzai this month that would obligate the U.S. for a decade. Several other nations have signed similar long-term deals, and NATO is to sign one with Afghanistan at the Chicago meeting. The agreements cover a range of assistance to Afghanistan, but underwriting the military is the largest line item.

The summit in Obama's adopted hometown is not a pledging conference, but it will be a platform for Obama to invite other nations to step up.

Follow-up conferences are planned for Kabul and Tokyo later this year, where specific pledges are expected.

U.S. officials have had their tin cups out for months. Marc Grossman, the top State Department official for Afghanistan, recently hit up European nations, and others are lobbying Russia, Central Asian and Asian nations. U.S. officials are asking for pledges to sustain an Afghan force of roughly 230,000 during the first three years after the NATO-led international force departs.

The argument is fairly straightforward. Even $4 billion a year to prop up the Afghan military is cheaper than the cost of maintaining a foreign army in Afghanistan, and a lot easier for war-weary publics to swallow.

Some of the requests appear to be largely symbolic. For example, U.S. officials asked some of Afghanistan's neighbors for initial pledges of about $5 million annually, said Richard Weitz of the Hudson Institute in Washington.

"That's nothing, but it's something, too," Weitz said, since it serves the diplomatic goal of showing broad support for Afghan stability.

Afghanistan has said it will contribute $500 million toward its own army. The goal is $2.3 billion from the U.S. and nations outside the fighting coalition, and $1.3 billion from coalition nations other than the U.S.

"You'll see a strong commitment from allies and partners, and from the Afghan government" in Chicago, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said.

The White House said Obama discussed continued support for Afghan forces during pre-summit phone calls Tuesday with the leaders of Australia and Italy.

Britain had already pledged $110 million annually beginning in 2015, and on Wednesday Australia announced that it will contribute $100 million annually for three years.

Afghanistan will dominate the agenda for the Chicago meeting, although there is likely to be little discussion of the military campaign itself. Karzai is attending and this week NATO invited Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

NATO is eager to bring forces home but is pledged to a calendar agreed the last time the leaders met, in 2010. Under that agreement, NATO forces will remain in Afghanistan into 2014 and depart that year.

In Chicago, Obama and other NATO leaders will sign up anew to that schedule, even though a majority of Europeans and Americans now tell pollsters the war is not worth fighting and should end as quickly as possible. In Afghanistan this month, Obama said the war must end "responsibly," which cannot mean suddenly.

U.S. and other NATO officials have said there will be no new announcement of troop withdrawals during the Chicago conference. Largely because of public opposition to the war, NATO nations quietly tweaked the 2014 plan earlier this year. The overall deadline holds, but U.S. and other allied forces will shift into largely noncombat roles next year.

The Chicago summit had once been viewed as a possible showcase for progress toward peace talks and a political settlement between Karzai's government and the Taliban. There is no real gain to show, however. The insurgents walked away from U.S.-led talks in March. U.S.-backed peace initiatives to open a Taliban political office and transfer Taliban prisoners from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are in limbo. Insurgents have assassinated the leader and a top lieutenant of the Afghan peace council.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

US President Barack Obama sees 'new day' 1 year after bin Laden raid

U.S. President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama delivers a speech from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- On a swift, secretive trip to the war zone, President Barack Obama declared Tuesday night that after years of sacrifice the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan is winding down just as it has already ended in Iraq. "We can see the light of a new day," he said on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death and in the midst of his own re-election campaign.

"Our goal is to destroy al-Qaida, and we are on a path to do exactly that," Obama said in an unusual speech to America broadcast from an air base halfway around the world.

He spoke after signing an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to cover the decade after the planned final withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in 2014. Obama said American forces will be involved in counter-terrorism and training of the Afghan military, "but we will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains."

In a blunt reminder of Afghanistan's fragile security situation, a series of explosions and gunfire erupted in Kabul just hours after Obama left, killing at least six people. The attacks occurred near a private armed compound that houses hundreds of international workers. One of the blasts was a suicide car bomb, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

The president landed in Bagram in darkness, and his helicopter roared to Kabul for the meeting with Karzai, under close guard with only the outlines of the nearby mountains visible. Later, back at the base, he was surrounded by U.S. troops, shaking every hand. He ended his lightning visit with the speech delivered straight to the television camera - and the voters he was trying to reach back home.

Two armored troop carriers served as a backdrop, rather than the customary Oval Office tableau.

His Republican re-election foe, Mitt Romney, was in New York, where the destruction of the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, set in motion the decisions that led to the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Romney accused Obama of politicizing the fleeting national unity that came with the death of bin Laden, the 9/11 terror mastermind.

In a statement released by his campaign later, Romney said he was pleased that Obama had returned to Afghanistan, that the troops and the American people deserved to hear from the president what is at stake in the war. "Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation's security," he said.

At the air base, Obama said, "This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end. ... With faith in each other, and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand and forge a just and lasting peace."

Earlier, he delivered a similarly upbeat message to the troops. Noting their sacrifice, he said, "There's a light on the horizon."

It was Obama's fourth trip to Afghanistan, his third as commander in chief. He was less than seven hours on the ground in all. He also visited troops at a hospital at the Bagram base, awarding 10 Purple Hearts.

According to the Pentagon, more than 1,800 American troops have been killed across more than a decade of war in Afghanistan.

Some 88,000 remain stationed there.

The wars here and in Iraq combined have cost almost $1.3 trillion. And recent polls show that up to 60 percent of Americans oppose the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

In his speech to the nation, Obama said, "I recognize many Americans are tired of war."

He said that last year, "we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country."

Without mentioning the political campaign back home, Obama claimed that on his watch the fortunes of the terrorists have suffered mightily.

Over the past three years "the tide has turned. We broke the Taliban's momentum. We've built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated al-Qaida's leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders," he said.

"And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin laden."

In a reference to the destruction of New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, he added, "As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it is time to renew America ... a united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation."

He spoke for less than 15 minutes, beginning at 4 a.m. in Afghanistan, 7:30 p.m. on the East Coast of the United States. Minutes later, Air Force One was on its way back to Washington.

Obama flew to the site of America's longest war not only as commander in chief but also as an incumbent president in the early stages of a tough re-election campaign. Nor were the two roles completely distinct.

His presence was a reminder that since taking office in 2009, Obama has ended the war in Iraq and moved to create an orderly end for the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan.

In the political realm, he and Vice President Joe Biden have marked the one-year anniversary of bin Laden's death by questioning whether Republican challenge Romney would have ordered the daring raid that penetrated the terrorist leader's Pakistan hide-out. Republicans are accusing the president of trying for political gain from the event, and Romney is insisting that he would indeed have ordered U.S. forces into action.

The deal signed with Karzai does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the U.S. to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan after the war ends for two specific purposes: continued training of Afghan forces and targeted operations against al-Qaida. The terror group is present in neighboring Pakistan but has only a nominal presence inside Afghanistan.

Obama said the agreement was meant in part to pay tribute to the U.S. troops who have died in Afghanistan since the war began. He also underlined his message to Afghans.

"With this agreement I am confident that the Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them," he said.

Karzai said his countrymen "will never forget" the help of U.S. forces over the past decade. He said the partnership agreement shows the United States and Afghanistan will continue to fight terrorism together. The United States promises to seek money from Congress every year to support Afghanistan.

To the troops, he readily conceded continued hardship.

"I know the battle's not yet over," he said. "Some of your buddies are going to get injured. And some of your buddies may get killed. And there's going to be heartbreak and pain and difficulty ahead." He added that his administration is committed to ensuring that once the war is over, veterans will be given their due.

Officials have previously said as many as 20,000 U.S. troops may remain after the combat mission ends, but that still must still be negotiated.

The president's Tuesday night address was coming exactly one year after special forces, on his order, began the raid that led to the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan.

Since then, ties between the United States and Afghanistan have been tested anew by the burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. base and the massacre of 17 civilians, including children, allegedly by an American soldier.

Obama had gone twice before to Afghanistan as president, most recently in December 2010, and once to Iraq in 2009. All such trips, no matter how carefully planned, carry the weight and the risks of considerable security challenges. Just last month, the Taliban began near-simultaneous assaults on embassies, government buildings and NATO bases in Kabul.

Besides the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, there are 40,000 in coalition forces from other nations.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Supreme Court moves to heart of healthcare case

US President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about health insurance reform
(Reuters) - The Supreme Court confronts the core of President Barack Obama's healthcare law on Tuesday when it hears arguments on whether Congress had the power to require most people in the United States to buy medical insurance.

The two-hour session on the second day of a historic three-day oral argument will offer a first concrete look at how the nine justices view the law Obama signed two years ago and that still divides his Democrats and rival Republicans.

No past rulings are completely on point and speculation has been rampant about how the ideologically divided justices will decide the limits of congressional power to address society's most intractable problems. Not since 1936 has the Supreme Court struck down a major piece of federal economic legislation as exceeding Congress' power.

A ruling, expected in late June before the Democratic and Republican party conventions, is likely to become a flashpoint in the November 6 presidential and congressional elections.

The court's ruling on the insurance requirement could decide the fate of the massive multi-part healthcare overhaul meant to improve access to medical care and extend insurance to more than 30 million people.

On Monday the justices took up a procedural tax-law question about the timing of lawsuits and suggested by their questions that they could decide the merits of case.

The centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act is the mandate that most people buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty. The challengers, including 26 states and a small-business trade group, contend Congress exceeded its authority to regulate commerce with that so-called individual mandate.

In more practical terms, the challengers say that if the government can force people to enter the insurance market, it would have latitude to force people to engage in other behavior, whether it be to buy American-made cars or, in a mantra of the current litigation, to eat broccoli.

The Obama administration argues that virtually everyone will need medical care and that those who opt not to buy insurance put a disproportionate burden on the system. It has defended the law as a response to a national crisis.

In the United States, annual healthcare spending totals $2.6 trillion, about 18 percent of the annual gross domestic product, or $8,402 for every man, woman and child.


The Supreme Court is deeply split on ideological and political grounds, with the five conservative Republican-appointed justices often in the majority: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The four liberal Democratic appointees are Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

A looming point of interest for the 400 spectators who will crowd into the courtroom on Tuesday is whether that 5-4 division becomes evident or appears to splinter.

All four liberals are likely, based on their past decisions and statements, to vote to uphold the law. If that occurs, they would need only one of the conservatives for a majority. An American Bar Association legal group survey of academics and lawyers found that 85 percent thought the law would be upheld.

Among the justices most likely to become swing votes in the dispute are Roberts, a 2005 appointee of President George W. Bush who has often deferred to Congress in rulings and has signaled an interest in avoiding a deeply divided ruling.

Another conservative justice who could defy political-based assumptions is Anthony Kennedy, a 1988 appointee of President Ronald Reagan. Kennedy has straddled the middle and has most often been the swing vote when the liberals prevailed.

Based on his opinions, Justice Clarence Thomas is most likely to vote to strike down the law. Justices Scalia and Alito cannot be as easily predicted as Thomas.


U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the administration's top lawyer at the court, will argue that the individual mandate flowed naturally from Congress's authority to regulate commerce, including its longstanding authority in the insurance field.

In his brief to the justices, Verrilli said the law addresses an existing problem in the healthcare market brought on by the uninsured consuming health care they cannot afford.

He said that had led to at least $43 billion of uncompensated healthcare each year, much of which is passed on to people who have insurance. Verrilli estimated such "cost-shifting" adds $1,000 a year to a family's insurance policy.

Representing the 26 states is Washington lawyer Paul Clement, formerly a solicitor general under President George W. Bush. He deems the mandate "unprecedented" and said it could lead to limitless intervention by Congress in people's lives.

Washington lawyer Michael Carvin, who represents the National Federation of Independent Business, stressed in his written filings that the new law forces healthy people to purchase insurance against their will.

The Supreme Court cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400.

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