Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Why The World Is Watching And Waiting

The world is watching the 2008 US presidential campaign as closely as Americans. The following is just one of the many reasons why. More than US lives and US interests are at stake.

Excerpts from around the globe

Next Year’s War Costs Estimated at $170 Billion or More

WASHINGTON — The military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost $170 billion in the next fiscal year over and above the $515.4 billion regular Pentagon budget that President Bush has proposed, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Wednesday.

Mr. Gates gave that estimate in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee after cautioning the panel that any estimate would be dicey, given the unpredictability of war.

“Well, a straight-line projection, Mr. Chairman, of our current expenditures would probably put the full-year cost in a strictly arithmetic approach at about $170 billion,” Mr. Gates said in response to questions from Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is the head of the committee.

So, Mr. Levin pressed, “That would be a total then of $685 billion” in Pentagon spending for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. “Does that sound right?”

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Gates replied. “But as I indicated, I have no confidence in that figure.”

Blame the Mission Not The Alliance

The call by the United States for the rest of Nato to take up more of the burden in Afghanistan is reasonable but unrealistic. Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, yesterday in Britain repeated the demand made tetchily last week by Robert Gates, Secretary of Defence.

But while US frustration with its Nato partners is understandable, it is foolish to think that such rebukes can overturn the strength of public feeling in Germany, for example. It would also be wrong to conclude from Nato's difficulties in Afghanistan that there is a terminal weakness in the alliance. Afghanistan was always going to be a difficult campaign, presenting enormous military and social challenges.

“Nato has got into a position where people talk about whether this long-term mission is an existential test,” argues Dana Allin, transatlantic specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “It's probably not a good idea to talk like that about a difficult mission which, while it would be a tragedy if it didn't work out, would not [then] pose an existential threat to Nato members.”

The scale of the task was driven home by new figures showing that while the opium crop for 2008 may shrink very slightly from the previous year's record levels, marijuana production will be at an all-time high. The annual survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime found that 192,000 hectares were planted for this year's crop, about half a per cent drop on the previous year — which had shown a record leap of a third on 2006.

Afghan Row May Split Nato

From correspondents in Washington for the Melbourne Herald Sun, Australia

February 07, 2008 05:10am

NATO risks a split between countries that are willing to fight and those that are not because some European states refuse to send more troops to Afghanistan, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said.

"I worry a great deal about the alliance evolving into a two-tiered alliance in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect people's security and others who are not," the Pentagon chief said overnight.

"And I think that it puts a cloud over the future of the alliance if this is to endure and perhaps even get worse," he told a congressional committee.

MacKay expects blunt talk among NATO defence ministers on Afghanistan
The Canadian Press

VILNIUS, Lithuania - NATO defence ministers are not expected to mince words as they gather in this former Soviet republic on Thursday to discuss the future of the mission in Afghanistan, including Canada's ultimatum.

The demand for more troops and helicopters to reinforce the Canadian army in Kandahar - otherwise Ottawa will issue its notice to withdraw - has set off a blitz of high-level diplomatic talks and public sniping among members of the 50-year-old military alliance.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay says he doesn't expect the meeting to be acrimonious, nor does he expect any firm decisions to be made until a full-fledged NATO summit this spring.

"I expect blunt talk and a frank discussion about - certainly from our perspective - where we find ourselves and what we'd like to see," he said prior to leaving Canada for Lithuania

Germany Agrees To Expanded Military Role in Afghanistan
Dw-World.De Deutsche Welle Germany

Germany will deploy around 200 combat soldiers in northern Afghanistan, but will not move its troops to the country's more violent south, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said on Wednesday, Feb. 6.

German troops will be sent to replace the Norwegian contingent scheduled to leave Afghanistan this summer. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung confirmed the deployment at a press conference, saying that it was important to maintain the quick response force.

"NATO has made the request," Jung told a news conference. "We have decided after consultation with the military that we cannot allow a gap to develop."

Under current mandates, Germany can station up to 3,500 troops in northern Afghanistan as part of the 40,000-strong NATO International Security Assistance Force.

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