Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Romania, U.S. Agree on Shield Site: Official

BUCHAREST - The United States and Romania announced plans Tuesday to install missile interceptors at a former air base in the south of the Balkans country for a future defense shield, the first such deployment in Europe.
The two governments have been negotiating for more than a year about the deployment of ballistic missile interceptors, which should be operational by 2015, and the announcement came in a televised address.
"We have decided that the anti-missile shield will be deployed at the former airbase at Deveselu, in Olt County," Romanian President Traian Basescu said.
The airbase, which will remain under Romanian command, will host an average of 200 U.S. troops and up to a maximum of 500.
The choice was made after a detailed analysis of some 120 parameters that should meet the highest security requirements, Basescu stressed.
Washington originally planned to install an anti-missile shield in Poland and the neighboring Czech Republic, aimed at countering feared attacks from Iran.
In September 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama scrapped that project, which had been pushed by his predecessor George W. Bush and enraged Russia.
Washington has since reworked the scheme and signed a new treaty with Moscow on reducing strategic nuclear weapons. Russia has said it reserves the right to withdraw from the treaty if Washington presses ahead with missile defense systems in Eastern Europe in a way that Moscow opposes.
But Basescu once again stressed that the shield was "purely defensive and not directed against Russia."
He added that the interceptors would be part of a missile shield that NATO plans to develop in the coming years.
"This is the highest level of security Romania can attain," Basescu said.
Romanian officials had previously said that the Balkan country was to host 24 SM3-type interceptors.
Basescu's announcement coincided with the start of a visit by Ellen Tauscher, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs. Tauscher and Romanian officials were to visit the airbase later in the day.
The U.S. official said after meeting with Basescu that Washington was grateful for help from allies such as Romania in the fight against terrorism.
Basescu also announced that U.S. troops and military equipment bound for Iraq and Afghanistan would transit a Romanian airbase and a harbor on the Black Sea.
"We have approved the use of the Mihail Kogalniceanu airport and of the harbor of Constanta for the transit of U.S. troops and equipment going to Iraq and Afghanistan and back to Europe," Basescu said in his televised address. "Kogalniceanu and Constanta will thus become two strategic sites for the U.S. as well as for Romania."
Constanta is the main Romanian sea harbor.
Basescu said the Kogalniceanu airbase, used by U.S. troops during the war in Iraq, will also temporarily shelter four U.S. tankers and four Hercules C-17 aircraft.
A close ally of the U.S., Romania was among the first countries to join the international forces deployed in Iraq and currently has 1,770 troops in Afghanistan.

Levin: Bin Laden Death Underlines Need for Afghan Pullout

The death of Osama bin Laden reinforces the idea that there needs to be a robust withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan beginning in July, Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said May 2.
"I think there's going to be a lot of strong feeling on the part of most Democrats - I think many independents and even some Republicans - that the decision of the president to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan starting in July should be a robust reduction," Levin told reporters during a conference call.
The news that the al-Qaida leader had been killed would not necessarily make that withdrawal larger than already planned, he said.
"I believe it was going to be robust in any event," Levin said, acknowledging that there is disagreement within the Obama administration about how large the troop withdrawal should be.
Levin would not give a number for how many troops he thought should return home from Afghanistan, but he did say it should be "significant," not symbolic.
Removing bin Laden from the picture puts the Afghan government closer to assuming responsibility for its own security, he said.
"The potential of the Afghan Army and the police to take responsibility is greater now," Levin said.
While bin Laden provided little or no day-to-day operational guidance to al-Qaida, his survival gave the group a sense of mystique, the senator said. But bin Laden as the "guiding hand" is now gone, he said.
However, Levin also said he expects retaliatory attacks from al-Qaida.
"That should surprise no one," he said.
As for how the news out of Pakistan will play into the larger debate in the U.S. over the debt and defense spending, Levin said the country needed to find savings in the defense budget before bin Laden's death and it still needs to find them now.
"I think the urgency to find those savings will remain there," Levin said.

Painstaking Intel Led U.S. Forces to Bin Laden Compound

U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden toward the end of a 40-minute firefight on one of the top two floors of the main building inside the al-Qaida leader's Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound, senior defense officials confirmed May 2.
Pakistani soldiers and police officials keep vigil near the hideout of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden after U.S. Special Forces killed bin Laden in a ground operation in Abbottabad on May 2. (AAMIR QURESHI / AFP via Getty Images)
An initial DNA analysis done on bin Laden's body resulted in a "virtually 100 percent DNA match of the body against several bin Laden family members," a senior intelligence official said. Bin Laden's body was also visually identified by a woman at the compound who is assessed to be one of his wives.
Bin Laden's body was flown to the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier stationed in the north Arabian Sea where service members prepared his body under traditional Islamic procedures. He was buried at 2 a.m. May 2 at sea after U.S. diplomats could not find a nearby country willing to accept the body, a senior defense official said.
U.S. personnel onboard washed bin Laden's body, placed it under a white sheet and then inside a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which a native Arabic speaker then translated, before tipping the body into the sea.
"There was no available alternative in terms of a country that was willing to accept the body and we took pains to ensure we were compliant with Muslim tradition involved and sought to dispose of the body with proper procedures," a senior defense official said.
Senior defense and intelligence officials briefed reporters May 2 at the Pentagon on the intelligence work leading to the raid, how bin Laden died and the cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan's government.
Bin Laden died along with three other "military-aged" males and one female used as a human shield. Bin Laden lived with his family in the second and third floor of the larger of the two buildings at the million dollar compound, a senior intelligence official said. Bin Laden put up a fight but the officials who spoke to reporters wouldn't say if he was holding a weapon.
Satellite imagery released by the Pentagon showed the compound did not exist in 2004. Walls 12-to-18 feet high surrounded the compound's two main buildings. The compound is eight times the size of any other in Abbottabad, a town about 60 miles from Pakistan's capital Islamabad.
U.S. special operators did not take any detainees, leaving the other women and children judged to be non-combatants inside the compound, a senior intelligence official said.
U.S. special operators moved the women and children away from the one helicopter that broke down before using explosives to destroy it.
The U.S. did not contact Pakistan leaders before the special operations team had left bin Laden's compound with the body. A senior intelligence official said the U.S. had no "indication that the Pakistanis were aware that Osama bin Laden was at the compound."
When asked if military leaders were worried that Pakistani soldiers might respond to the compound and fire upon the U.S. special operations team, the senior defense official said the "focus was on operational security and ensuring this could be done with success and without interruption."
"This was a unilateral U.S. operation because of its importance to the mission and our concern about operational security. We did not notify any of our counterterrorism partners in advance. Once the raid was successfully completed and U.S. personnel were safe, we did immediately phone our Pakistani counterparts at multiple levels," a senior defense official said.
The defense official described "some areas" of Pakistan as a "steadfast partner in counterterrorism" but "in other areas that cooperation has not been what we'd like it to be."
"We continue to have very candid conversations with the Pakistanis about what more we should be doing together," the senior defense official said.
U.S. special operators collected "quite a bit" of intelligence at the compound before leaving, a senior intelligence official said. The CIA will stand up a task force to sift through the "volume of materials collected at the raid site," the senior intelligence official said.
Intelligence and defense agencies have spent years collecting intelligence to eventually build the case pinpointing Bin Laden's whereabouts to the Abbottabad compound. The senior intelligence official said no single detainee led U.S. forces to the compound, but it was accomplished through a host of interviews along with other intelligence trade craft.
A senior White House official said U.S. intelligence agencies had focused on the compound since August as a potential hideout.
"We did collect information over time that helped form a picture that once we came across this compound allowed us to move swiftly on the intelligence case," a senior intelligence official said.
The senior defense and intelligence officials did not give special operations details and would not confirm if U.S. Navy Seals was the special operations team tasked for the raid.
The officials would not say what helicopters were flown on the raid, or how many, however Abbottabad residents have reported seeing four helicopters execute the raid.

S. Korea Develops Vertical Launch Tubes for Subs

SEOUL - A top shipbuilder in South Korea has developed a vertical launching system (VLS) to be installed on heavy attack submarines that will be deployed after 2018, according to procurement and industry officials here.
Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, the world's second-largest shipbuilder, developed the VLS in cooperation with the state-run Agency for Defense Development (ADD), officials from Daewoo and ADD said.
Daewoo, which built the 1,300-ton, Type-209 submarine with technical cooperation from HDW of Germany, is a subcontractor for the 3,000-ton KSS-III submarine to be jointly designed and built with its rival Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's biggest shipyard.
The submarine VLS comes on the heels of the development of the ship-launched Cheonryong missile, which has a range of 500 kilometers. Cheonryong is a modified variant of the surface-to-surface Hyunmoo III-A ballistic missile co-developed by the ADD and LIG Nex1, a precision electronic weapon maker.
The Cheonryong is said to have also been modified to be installed on the 1,800-ton Type-214 submarine built by Hyundai with technical assistance from HDW.
Currently, South Korea's Navy operates nine Type-209s and three Type-214 subs, all of which are diesel- and electric-powered.
Beginning in 2018, Seoul plans to build 3,000-ton KSS-III subs fitted with domestically built submarine combat systems jointly developed by the ADD and Samsung Thales.

NATO Vows To Stay In Afghanistan

BRUSSELS, Belgium - NATO warned Monday that its mission in Afghanistan was far from over despite the death of Osama bin Laden as war-weary Europeans pile pressure on governments to bring troops home quickly.
World leaders hailed bin Laden's killing Sunday by U.S. commandos inside Pakistan as a victory against al-Qaida, but they also warned that the battle against terrorism was far from over.
"As terrorism continues to pose a direct threat to our security and international stability, international cooperation remains key and NATO is at the heart of that cooperation," said NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
"NATO allies and partners will continue their mission to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for extremism, but develops in peace and security," he said.
Some 140,000 NATO-led troops are in Afghanistan amid growing fatigue in Europe over the war, launched by the United States to hunt down al-Qaida and its Taliban hosts in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
NATO has decided to begin handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces this year, with the aim of ending the combat mission by 2014, although the alliance insists that it will stand by Kabul's side for the long haul.
Francois Heisbourg, special adviser at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, said calls in Europe for troop withdrawals will only grow after bin Laden's death.
"If we are looking for an exit door, it is now or never," Heisbourg said. "Politically and strategically, the intervention in Afghanistan was at the start about bin Laden. With him gone, it becomes harder to justify this military presence, regardless of the situation on the ground," he said.
NATO officials insisted that the war is about bringing stability to Afghanistan, not just about al-Qaida.
"NATO's mission in Afghanistan is not linked to one enemy. It is linked to stability and bin Laden was not the only obstacle," said an alliance official. "His death will not suddenly resolve everything."
A NATO military official acknowledged that there could be some "temptations" to pull troops out, but that European nations still face the threat of extremists entering their countries.
Britain, the second-largest contributor to the mission after the United States with 9,500 troops, warned that al-Qaida was still "in business" and that its chief's death would not mean an end to the campaign.
"The work in Afghanistan will continue to be phenomenally difficult and must go on. So it would be wrong to draw the conclusion that suddenly we have solved a mass of the world's problems," said Foreign Secretary William Hague.
NATO allies, however, are keeping an eye on the exit sign in Afghanistan.
The Netherlands withdrew its combat troops last year and decided to send police trainers this year. Canada plans to switch to a training mission this year while Poland has said it wants to do the same in 2012.
Lawmakers in Germany, the third-largest contingent with 5,000 troops, agreed in January to extend the mission by 12 months but with a clause calling for them to begin coming home at the end of the year, if conditions permit.
With 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan, U.S. President Obama hopes conditions allow him to begin drawing down troops in July, while British Prime Minister David Cameron says London may also begin a withdrawal this year.
Constanze Stelzenmueller, an expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said bin Laden's death will not have an impact on the debate over troop withdrawals since al-Qaida was no longer a central player there.
"Afghanistan is now about stabilizing the country so that it doesn't become another failed state," she said. "There is by now a pretty general interest in Afghanistan not imploding and I think that's the case that ought to be made to the larger public."

EU Set to Impose Arms Embargo on Syria

BRUSSELS - EU member states moved closer to imposing an arms embargo on Syria at an April 29 meeting where member states reached a preliminary agreement on the embargo and to consider other measures to respond to Syria's action against pro-democracy protestors, said Reuters quoting EU diplomats.
"In light of the continuing violence and in order to promote a democratic process, the EU has launched its internal procedures for an embargo on arms and equipment used for internal repression and will urgently consider further appropriate and targeted measures with the aim of achieving an immediate change of policy by the Syrian leadership," Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, said in a statement after the meeting.
Gergely Polner, a spokesman for Hungary, the current EU president, said that EU ambassadors came to a political agreement to start preparing sanctions, including an arms embargo.
In terms of the timeline for a decision, Polner was quoted by Reuters as saying that "[EU governments] understood the grave situation in Syria. The presidency made it clear that as soon as we have a proposal on the table, we will start working on sanctions".
A spokesperson for Ashton said the issue was "very likely" to be on the agenda of EU foreign ministers for their meeting at the end of May, but that a decision could also be taken in council via a written procedure. Whichever mechanism is chosen, the decision to impose an arms embargo would come into force the day afterward when it has been published in the EU's Official Journal.
The spokesperson said the EU was "very likely to adopt the same kind of approach for the arms embargo as it did with Libya," banning equipment used for internal repression, such as riot gear. Review was now at the working party level, she said, adding that she did not know who would police the embargo.

Location of bin Laden Hideout Puzzles Experts

ISLAMABAD - Quiet amazement greeted the news of Osama bin Laden's death in the garrison town of Abbottabad close to the Pakistan Army's Kakul military academy.
The hideout of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is pictured after his death by U.S. Special Forces in a ground operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2. (Farooq Naeem / AFP via Getty Images)
How could bin Laden have hidden himself in such a heavily militarized and security-aware environment?
"Abbottabad was probably the best place, as it was least expected, and Abbottabad is a city of settlers, where every other house is of nonresidents," said military spokesman Brig. Azmat Ali.
South Asia analyst Brian Cloughley called it "absolutely amazing" that bin Laden was located "but a stone's throw from the [Pakistan Military Academy] and the Baloch Regimental Centre."
Cloughley declared himself "quite sure" that "no military person in Abbottabad knew he was there, if only because the word would have got out."
Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, an assistant international relations professor at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University, said one could well question just how bin Laden had managed to hide there, but also noted that terrorists had been apprehended in Rawalpindi, an even larger garrison town that is home to the Army's General Headquarters. Abbottabad is relatively close to the tribal areas, he said, and has a major regional transportation artery running through it - and terrorists have been apprehended there in the past.
Bin Laden's death has domestic, regional and international implications for Pakistan, Jaspal said, which explains "very much why the government of Pakistan has been slow in acknowledging its coordination and cooperation with the United States" in the matter.
The primary consequences, he said, would be at home, where local terror groups affiliated with al-Qaida have already shown that Pakistan's cities and law enforcement agencies are a soft target.
Regionally, Jaspal said, India will try to use the circumstances of bin Laden's death in its "full-fledged campaign" to portray Pakistan as a "failed and terrorist state."
There would be more U.S. pressure now for Pakistan to deliver as an ally, he said, and the international community may question Pakistan's past assertions that terrorists were not hiding on Pakistani soil, but "the professionals" and intelligence communities understand that terrorist suspects are always mobile and hard to locate.
Pakistan's past record in apprehending chief terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi showed its cooperation with the West in hunting down al-Qaida terrorists, Jaspal said, even those supported by "the anti-American lobby" or al-Qaida sympathizers.
He said he now expects the "Americans will ask the government of Pakistan to intensify" operations against the so-called Quetta Shura, the Taliban leadership in Pakistan. Jaspal said Washington also would try to force Pakistan to move against the Haqqani group in Pakistan's North Waziristan province.
Cloughley said he doubts that bin Laden's death will have a "negative impact" on any terrorist group, "simply because he did not have any planning or command function."