Category: Int’l Media Clips

Afghan Plan Faces Tough Questions On Capitol Hill

by SCOTT NEUMAN  – December 02, 2009

President Obama’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan while setting a time frame for withdrawal came under scrutiny Wednesday, as top administration officials appeared before House and Senate panels to reassure skeptical lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced tough questions from Republicans opposed to setting an exit date and Democrats who questioned the value of sending more troops.

The response was the best Obama could have hoped for from a Congress sharply divided on the war.

"It’s not likely that there would be any circumstances where the president would lose this battle this year” with lawmakers, said Rep. John Murtha, a vocal war critic who oversees military spending.

In his opening statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates warned of "severe consequences for the United States and the world” if the American mission doesn’t succeed.

"Failure in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban takeover of much, if not most, of the country and likely a renewed civil war,” Gates warned the committee. "Taliban-ruled areas could in short order become, once again, a sanctuary for al-Qaida as well as a staging area for resurgent militant groups on the offensive in Pakistan.”

Mullen warned that the insurgents had gained "dominant influence” in 11 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

The strategy Obama outlined in Tuesday’s prime-time speech centers on a surge of 30,000 U.S. troops and establishes an 18-month timetable for the start of a withdrawal from the region. The increase would raise the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to about 100,000 troops.

The president emphasized the importance of Afghanistan to America’s interests and security during his address from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Afghanistan, he said, is "the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaida. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.”

But the issue of a timetable — when and how to implement it and whether to have one at all — quickly shaped up as the most contentious detail at Wednesday’s hearing. Echoing the debate over the timing of withdrawal in Iraq, many Republicans lined up against setting a firm date, saying it gave the enemy an incentive to lie low and wait for U.S. forces to exit.

Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate committee, opened the questioning by trying to pin Gates down on what, if any, conditions would need to be met to begin drawing down troops by the July 2011 target date.

Obama and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, have said the plan would take into account "conditions on the ground.”

But Gates initially told the panel that a withdrawal was not condition-based, though he later softened that assessment, which prompted a flurry of questions from senators for both Gates and Mullen.

"Which is it?” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asked Mullen. "You can’t have both.”

The defense secretary tried to clarify: "As I suggested, we will have a thorough review in December 2010. If it appears that the strategy’s not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011, then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself.”

McCain, the ranking Republican on the committee, asked Gates whether the July 2011 target was "an arbitrary date.”

"I think it’s the judgment of all of us … that we would be in a position particularly in uncontested areas where we would be able to begin that transition,” the defense secretary said.

Gates said the July 2011 date would mark two years after the U.S. Marines arrived in troubled Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban stronghold has been the site of numerous pitched battles between insurgents and U.S. forces in recent months.

Both Mullen and Gates said they were confident that two years of hard work by U.S. forces in the province would sufficiently secure the region.

Levin expressed serious misgivings about the troop escalation when the Afghan security force remains small and weak.

"It seems to me that the large influx of U.S. combat troops will put more U.S. Marines on street corners in Afghan villages, with too few Afghan partners alongside them,” he said.

The trio of administration officials sought to expound on the White House’s three main aims: to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, to secure major towns and cities, and to train Afghan forces as quickly as possible. The additional troops will include at least two combat brigades, as well as a large contingent of soldiers dedicated to training Afghan security forces.

As part of a full-court press by the White House to make the case for Obama’s new strategy, Gates, Clinton and Mullen argued for the troop increase. But they were careful with their words so as not to aggravate divisions on the issue.

"While there are no guarantees in war, I expect that we will make significant headway in the next 18-24 months,” he said.

Gates told lawmakers that the situation is far less dire than the violent chaos that gripped Iraq in 2006. Still, he said, "This will take more patience, perseverance and sacrifice by the United States and our allies.”

The president also is ordering all U.S. forces in Afghanistan to partner full-time with the Afghan army and police to help them with training. The goal is to jump-start the transfer of responsibility for securing Afghanistan to the Afghan government, officials say.

Clinton told the Senate panel that the administration is on target to triple the number of U.S. civilians in Afghanistan to 974 by early next year. She also backed a plan to bring moderate Taliban who renounce violence into the governing process.

"All Afghans should have the choice to pursue a better future if they do so peacefully, respect the basic human rights of their fellow citizens, and renounce al-Qaida,” Clinton said.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged European and other allies to contribute more troops to the fight, saying the war in Afghanistan was not America’s alone.

Rasmussen said he expects the allies to boost the NATO-led force by more than 5,000 troops. He said the best way to overcome widespread public opposition in Europe was to demonstrate progress in the war, which could be accomplished by turning over control to Afghan forces in areas where the security situation is good.

Congress was using the high-profile hearings to express its misgivings about the new strategy.

Republicans, many of whom had accused the Obama administration of foot-dragging on the Afghanistan decision, had mostly good things to say about the substance of the president’s speech but criticized his decision to set a timetable for withdrawal.

Obama said Tuesday that by setting a date for withdrawal, he was trying to create added momentum for building up the capacity of the Afghan government and its security forces.

"The absence of a time frame for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government,” Obama said during his speech. "It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.”

The president also remarked that there had never been an option before him for troop deployments before 2010. "So, there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war,” he said.

But Obama may face more skepticism from within his own party than from Republicans. Many Democrats said they weren’t convinced that sending more troops will hasten an end to the war.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) told NPR’s Morning Edition that he thinks the president "came to the wrong conclusion.”

"The ending date he proposed last night was not really an ending date. It was the beginning of a process,” he said.

"It could take years and years more,” McGovern told NPR. "I think sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will make it 30,000 times harder to get out of this mess.”

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), called the plan "an expensive gamble to undertake armed nation-building on behalf of a corrupt government of questionable legitimacy.”

On Wednesday, McChrystal met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and later described the Afghan leader’s reaction to the new U.S. strategy as "really positive.”

"The president was very upbeat, very resolute this morning,” McChrystal said. "I really believe that everybody’s got a focus now that’s sharper than it was 24 hours ago.”

The Taliban responded Wednesday by saying the White House plan would only make it fight harder. In a statement, the hard-line Islamist militia said it was "committed to increasing the number of mujahedeen [holy warriors] and strengthen[ing] their resistance.”

During the first eight months of 2009, there were nearly 13,000 enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan — more than 2 1/2 times the number reported in the same period in 2008, according to Pentagon data. The Congressional Research Service estimates that since the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the U.S. has spent close to $227 billion.

source –

Five British yachtsmen snatched by Iran after straying just 500 yards into sea territory


Mail Online

By Tim ShipmanNeil Sears and Ryan Kisiel

Five British sailors were being held hostage by Iran today after they were snatched from their racing yacht in the Gulf.

They were seized last Wednesday by the crew of an Iranian naval vessel in a troubling echo of the kidnap of 15 Royal Navy personnel in 2007.

The Foreign Office last night conceded that the crew of the Kingdom of Bahrain may have ‘inadvertently strayed’ into Iranian territorial waters as they sailed from Bahrain to Dubai for the start of an international race.

Sam Usher, Olly Smith, Luke Porter and Oliver Young - four of the Britons seized by Iran as they sailed in the Gulf Sam Usher, Olly Smith, Luke Porter and Oliver Young – four of the Britons seized by Iran as they sailed in the Gulf

Kingdom of BahrainRacing yacht: The crew of the Kingdom Of Bahrain (pictured) may have ‘inadvertently strayed’ into Iranian territorial waters


It appears that the high-tech yacht was swept towards Iran by strong winds after its propeller was damaged.

The crew were named as Sam Usher, Olly Smith, Luke Porter and Oliver Young – and David Bloomer, who works as a radio presenter in Bahrain.


Last night 21-year- old Mr Porter’s mother Beverley said her husband Charles had spoken to their son on his mobile phone.

She said the sailors had strayed into Iranian waters by only 500 yards, but were now being held somewhere off Iran.

Hostages: Oliver Young (right) and Luke Porter pictured together earlier this yearHostages: Oliver Young (right) and Luke Porter pictured together earlier this year

Mrs Porter, who lives in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, said: ‘They didn’t know that they had strayed over this imaginary line.

‘Apparently they are fine and being well-looked after but are most of all frustrated. They have been allowed from time to time to use their mobile phones.

‘They don’t know when they’re going to be released because of the religious festival that is going on over there.’


Dave BloomerHeld: Dave Bloomer, a sport DJ for Radio Bahrain, has been named as a captive

Her 48-year-old husband added: ‘From what we understand, there was an oil field on their charts – which is a restricted area – so they chose to go one side of it.

‘In doing so they strayed too close to a small island called Sirri. I assume that is when they were picked up. They’re miffed that they are being cooped up and a race was going on.’

Mr Porter added: ‘Luke is a very resilient chap. I’m sure he’ll deal with things very well but obviously we are very worried about him.’

He said the four sailors had done thousands of miles together over the last three years.

Mr Bloomer had been due to report on the sailors’ progress in the 360-mile Dubai-Muscat race.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is a Volvo 60  –  the Formula One car of racing yachts.

It is operated by Team Pindar, an international racing team owned by British multi-millionaire Andrew Pindar, who received an OBE from Prince Charles in June for his services to business. It is one of only 19 such yachts in the world.


Diplomats say they have been in ‘indirect contact’ with the hostages and that they are confident they are being well treated.

Iran yacht mapThe Kingdom of Bahrain was sailing from Bahrain to Dubai when it was stopped


Privately the officials are furious that the news broke. They had hoped to keep the incident secret in order to avoid a new diplomatic incident with Iran.

The worst case scenario would see the sailors charged with espionage, handing the regime in Tehran another international propaganda coup. Iran’s foreign ministry is expected to make a statement on the sailors today.

‘The Iranians know that they are not British naval personnel,’ said one diplomat. ‘We’ve explained that to them very clearly. Whether they chose to hear is another matter.’

Flashback: HMS Cornwall crew members, including Faye Turney, centre, were paraded on Iranian TV during their 2007 hostage ordeal Flashback: HMS Cornwall crew members, including Faye Turney, centre, were paraded on Iranian TV during their 2007 hostage ordeal


The fear is that the hostages have been taken by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – the powerful hardline group behind Iran’s nuclear weapons programme – which held the Navy personnel two years ago.

Senior government officials admitted negotiations with the Iranians were proving difficult since the country has been celebrating the annual Muslim festival of Eid.

Ultimately their fate of the hostages is in the hands of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: ‘I hope this issue will soon be resolved. We will remain in close touch with the Iranian authorities, as well as the families.’

The kidnap comes at a time of growing tensions with Iran over its nuclear weapons programme.

Earlier this year President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed that Britain was a worse enemy of Iran than the United States.

navy graphic

I have no sympathy for these people, if they sailed into Iranian waters then hard luck, if your stupid enough to sail next to Iran and then sail into their waters what do you expect ?

DCB raises Rs 81 cr via QIP, promoter stake reduces to 23%

Press Trust of India / Mumbai November 19, 2009,

Development Credit Bank (DCB) today said it has raised Rs 81 crore by private placement of shares with qualified buyers.

After the QIP, the promoter group’s — Aga Khan Fund of Economic Development (AKFED) — holding in DCB has come down to 23.11 per cent from 26.22 per cent earlier, Development Credit Bank said in a filing to the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE).

Over a period of time, the bank intends to have a select few long-term investors who along with AKFED would support the DCB’s growth strategy and mission, the filing added.

"We are now concentrating on growing secured assets in retail, micro SME, SME and mid corporate business segments. The capital raised will strengthen our balance sheet and facility growth,” DCB Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Murali M Natrajan said.

This issue further enhances the capital adequacy position of the bank which was already at 15.9 per cent as on September 30, 2009.

source – BS

‘Vocational education gets better job than mere degrees’ TNN 14 November 2009

LUCKNOW: Does a degree guarantee a job? It doesn’t, unless the subject is one of the preferred ones or it has been obtained from a reputed premier college. So, a society poised to have a substantially large young population by 2020 just might end up with a "demographic disaster”.

"The serious deficiency in vocational training and deficiency in the level of education, especially in the tertiary education, as compared to the other emerging BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries is well known,” said Prof Abad Ahmad, chairman, Aga Khan Foundation India. He was speaking at the convention `Leveraging demographic dividend through quality education — The way forward’, organised by LMA on Friday.

Prof Ahmad pointed out that the number of employable graduates is a small percentage. The key to transform our education system lies in liberalisation of education, addressing its supply side matrix, enabling more choices to students and creating healthy competition among educational institutions to generate merit. This will require bold steps to dismantle "archaic regulations” that have generated artificial scarcity for quality education and spurred growth of shoddy institutions indulging in crass commercialisation, he said.

Former director, IIT Madras, Prof P V Indiresan stressed upon improving the admission process. Referring to the recommendations of Yash Pal Committee on higher education and the National Knowledge Commission, he questioned the wisdom of increasing enrolment and instead suggested decrease in enrolments and matching the system to economic activity.

Prof Indiresan suggested doing away with tests that lead to the need for coaching classes and instead considering value for school tradition and teachers’ recommendations as in premier global institutions like Harvard. He also stressed the need for job-oriented education and suggested a plan for better teachers, not just by offering higher salaries.

In the session that was chaired by G B Pattanaik, principal secretary to the governor, the head of corporate affairs at Intel Corporation, Valsa Williams suggested a sharing of responsibility between stakeholders including government, private sector, academia and civil society.

Earlier, delivering the keynote address, member, Planning Commission, Narendra Jadhav expressed concern over quality of education, which, he said, was much below expectations. While curriculum revision could be a step towards improving the quality, access to higher education also needed to be increased.

Governor B L Joshi, delivering the inaugural address, stressed on human resource management, innovative modification in curriculum and a balanced regulatory system based on transparency and accountability.

Chief secretary (UP) and chairman of LMA advisory council, Atul Gupta, maintaining that UP had committed itself for improving the education scenario, stressed upon public-private partnership. LMA president, Jayant Krishna was also present on the occasion.

source – times of inida