Obama to announce 34K troops to be home in one year

Updated 12 February 2013
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Obama to announce 34K troops to be home in one year

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama will announce in his State of the Union address that 34,000 US troops will be home from Afghanistan within a year, two people familiar with his remarks said Tuesday.
That’s about half the US forces currently serving there. It marks the next phase in the administration’s plans to formally finish the war by the end of 2014.
The US is still finalizing plans for the size and scope of its military presence after the war ends. The White House has said it would be open to leaving no troops in Afghanistan, though it’s likely that a small presence will remain, in keeping with the Pentagon’s preferences.
The people familiar with Obama’s remarks requested anonymity in order to discuss the troop drawdown ahead of the president.
Obama discussed the next phases of the drawdown with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a day-long meeting in Washington last month, the first meeting between the two leaders since Obama’s re-election. The two leaders agreed to accelerate their timetable for putting Afghan forces in the lead combat role nationwide, moving that transition up from the summer to the spring.
Obama will announce the troop drawdown and the future of the US role in Afghanistan during a joint session of Congress that is otherwise expected to be dominated by the economy and other domestic issues.
Foreign policy has intruded in recent days, however, and the White House quickly condemned North Korea early Tuesday for its nuclear launch hours before Obama’s address. The president is expected to make further remarks on it in his speech.
Some private security analysts, as well as some Pentagon officials, worry that pulling out of Afghanistan too quickly will leave the battle-scarred country vulnerable to collapse. In a worst-case scenario, that could allow the Taleban to regain power and revert to the role they played in the years before 9/11 as protectors of Al-Qaeda terrorists bent on striking the US.
Many Americans, however, are weary of the war, according to public opinion polls, and are skeptical of any claim that Afghanistan is worth more US blood.


UN Security Council meets over Syria in remote Swedish farmhouse

Updated 34 min 42 sec ago
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UN Security Council meets over Syria in remote Swedish farmhouse

BACKARA- SWEDEN: The UN Security Council met in a secluded farmhouse on the southern tip of Sweden on Saturday in a bid to overcome deep divisions over how to end the war in Syria.
In a first for the Council, which normally holds its annual brainstorming session in upstate New York, the 15 ambassadors and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres were this year invited to hold an informal meeting in Backakra by Sweden, a non-permanent member of the body.
The United Nations’ special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is expected on Sunday.
The farmhouse is the summer residence of Dag Hammarskjold, the United Nations’ second secretary-general who died in a plane crash in Africa in 1961.
Situated in the heart of a nature reserve, just a stone’s throw from the Baltic Sea, the farmhouse consists of four buildings around a courtyard and has been completely renovated in recent years.
The southern wing serves as the summer residence for the Swedish Academy which awards the Nobel Literature Prize.
With both New York and Damascus thousands of kilometers away, the Council is exploring “the means to strengthen and make more effective United Nations peacekeeping missions,” the Swedish government said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom welcomed the decision to hold the meeting in Sweden, “where there is a long tradition of peaceful conflict prevention and resolution.”
But as she arrived in Backakra on Saturday morning she warned against being too hopeful the Syrian issue would be resolved over the weekend.
“Hopefully there will be some new ideas on the table and I think it’ll be on those tracks: the humanitarian situation, the chemical weapons,” she said.
But “not even the beautiful settings like these can solve all the problems,” the minister added.
The country’s deputy UN Ambassador Carl Skau said the idea was to foster dialogue and “relaunch momentum” with “humility and patience,” a week after the air strikes by France, Britain and the United States against the Syrian regime.
“It’s important for the council’s credibility,” Skau told reporters in New York.
While the war in Syria is not the only topic of the deliberations, it is high up on the agenda because it was an issue that divided council members deeply in recent months.
Skau said Backakra was a “fitting and inspiring venue” to reconnect with the power of diplomacy.
“It’s a place to roll up our sleeves, take off our jackets and ties and come up with some real and meaningful ways forward,” he said.