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July 20, 2008

Obama: Situation in Afghanistan is “Precarious” and “Urgent.” Is America Losing The Fight?

 Senator Obama says the situation in Afghanistan is “precarious” and “urgent.”  In an interview broadcast Sunday during his trip to Afghanistan, Obama said the U.S. needs to start planning now to send in more troops. He has called for an additional one to two brigades — or about 7,000 troops — to be sent to Afghanistan to help counter a Taliban that is rising again and supress rising violence.

Obama said that Afghanistan has to be the central focus in the fight against terrorists.

He said the Bush administration allowed itself to be distracted by a “war of choice” but now is the time to correct the mistake.

President Bush’s critics have long contended that the Iraq war has diminished America’s effort in Afghanistan, which the administration has denied, but an examination of how the policy unfolded within the administration reveals a deep divide over how to proceed in Afghanistan and a series of decisions that at times seemed to downgrade it to an afterthought as Iraq unraveled.

Statements from the White House, including from the president, in support of Afghanistan were positive, but behind them was a halting, sometimes reluctant commitment to solving Afghanistan’s many problems, according to dozens of interviews in the United States, at NATO headquarters in Brussels and in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

At critical moments in the fight for Afghanistan, the Bush administration diverted scarce intelligence and reconstruction resources to Iraq, including elite C.I.A. teams and Special Forces units involved in the search for terrorists. As sophisticated Predator spy planes rolled off assembly lines in the United States, they were shipped to Iraq, undercutting the search for Taliban and terrorist leaders, according to senior military and intelligence officials.

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July 19, 2008

Saturday: Senator Obama Visits Kuwait Arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan

    Senator Barack Obama has arrived in Afghanistan, the second stop on his international tour which started in Kuwait and will include Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain.

Obama flew to the Afghan capital, Kabul, as part of an official congressional delegation. Senator Obama is hoping to address security issues, seen as the weakest aspect of his presidential bid.

The campaign announced early this morning, Eastern Time that Obama was on the ground in Kabul, Afghanistan. The U.S. military later said Obama was greeting U.S. troops at Jalalabad airfield in eastern Afghanistan.

  Obama’s first stop was in Kuwait at Camp Arifjan, the main U.S. military base in Kuwait and a major gateway for U.S. soldiers moving into and out of Iraq.

Lt. Col. Bill Nutter, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Kuwait, said, “He talked to soldiers and constituents and met with senior military leadership.”

During the two-hour visit, Nutter said, the officers gave him an overview of operations. Obama shook hands, answered questions, posed for photos and played a little basketball during the visit. 

Obama and his party also met with troops and military brass at the huge Bagram Air Base, according to reporters on the ground.  Bagram is a militarized airport and housing complex that is located next to the ancient city of Bagram, Afghanistan. The base is currently occupied and maintained by the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army, with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing of the United States Air Force and other U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps.

In a speech earlier this week Obama said the US military should focus on Afghanistan rather than Iraq.

There has been an upsurge in fighting in recent months between Taliban rebels and international and Afghan forces.

Asked what message he would convey to Afghan and Iraqi leaders, Senator Obama said: “I’m more interested in listening than doing a lot of talking.”

Speaking to reporters before leaving, he added: “I’m going over there as a US senator. We have one president at a time, so it’s the president’s job to deliver those messages.”

As Senator Obama arrives in Kabul (local time is 8 hours 30 minutes ahead of EST – when it’s 6am on the East Coast, it’s 2:30pm Kabul time) the temperature is expected to reach a hazy and hot 102 degrees.   But it’s not just the temperature that’s hot — war and heated disputes rages on in Afghanistan.

The NATO-led international force in Afghanistan rejected on Friday reports from Afghan officials that it killed more than 50 civilians in air strikes the previous day in the West of the country.

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June 22, 2008

$162 Billion War-Spending Bill: Biggest Blank Check Ever!

In a 268-155 vote, the House approved the largest war-spending bill to date, bending to President Bush’s call for $162 billion in war funding with no strings attached, giving the next President enough money to wage the wars for 6 months into the new Presidency.  But the bill did not include any timetables for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. Bush opposes any such deadlines.

A second vote on the domestic money passed 416-12. In exchange for approving the war-spending bill, Democrats won ‘Bush’s blessing’ for several of their domestic priorities, including a 13-week extension of jobless benefits for workers who have exhausted theirs, and a new GI bill benefit allowing veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to attend a state college tuition-free.

The deal, negotiated between the White House and allies of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, takes the issue of the war off Congress’ plate for the rest of this election year. Lawmakers also intended to give the next president some time to set a new Iraq policy before having to return to Congress for more money.

But anti-war activists called it a betrayal by Democrats, who had pledged to end the war. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, dubbed it “the biggest blank check ever.” Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, said the vote was a “profound disappointment to the millions of Americans who put Democrats into power hoping we could force a change in Iraq.”

The House vote is likely to end almost two years of clashes between Democrats and the White House over the Iraq war, which Bush and Republicans have largely won.

House Democrats this spring once against approved a nonbinding measure calling for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops by June 2009. But the Senate, unable to get the 60 votes needed to pass it, stripped it from the spending bill. The war bill ping-ponged between the House and Senate for weeks until Pelosi and other top Democrats decided to cut a deal.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Democratic leaders say it’s likely to be passed.

The deal required major concessions from both sides. Democrats were able to get the 13-week extension of jobless benefits, but had to drop their push for an additional 13 weeks of benefits for workers in high-unemployment states. Republicans also insisted that individuals must have worked for at least 20 weeks to qualify for the benefits.

The extended benefits will apply to all those who exhaust their aid between November 2006 and March 2009, an estimated 3.8 million workers nationwide.

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