ICSC(L)7B Media
Taliban helicopter attack kills 31 US special forces troops

A Nato Chinook helicopter has been shot down by Taliban insurgents, killing 31 American special forces soldiers in one of the worst single incidents in Afghanistan.

The aircraft was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed in the Tangi valley of Wardak province, west of the Afghan capital, Kabul.
A condolence statement from Hamid Karzai said 31 Americans had been killed and seven Afghans, making it the bloodiest incident for the United States and the coalition in the decade-long campaign.


S&P downgrades U.S. credit rating for first time

Standard & Poor’s announced Friday night that it has downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time, dealing a symbolic blow to the world’s economic superpower in what was a sharply worded critique of the American political system.


Apple now holds more cash than US government

Apple is now more cash-rich than the United States government, figures from the US Treasury department show.

The figures, released by the US Treasury department this week, show the country currently has a total operating cash balance of $73.7bn (£44.85bn).

This compares with Apple’s $76.4bn of cash reserves, which it has built up during a phenomenal half-decade of strong sales.

America’s cash balance last closed below Apple’s levels on July 14, at $42.8bn, with balances fluctuating regularly throughout the month. Last year, the US government had a cash deficit of $1.294 trillion.


Speaking with the enemy: how US commanders fight the Taliban during the day and dine with them at night

US Marine commanders spend their days hunting Taliban fighters but lay down their weapons to dine with insurgent leaders at night as they try to negotiate an end to fighting in Afghanistan.

Sitting in the spartan parlour of the governor of Sangin’s office, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Savage waits for his opposite number in the Taliban to turn up for tea.

Fittingly, perhaps, for a man whose day job is killing Lt Col Savage’s fellow US Marines, the insurgent leader will only ever meet at night, and even then, it is a cloak-and-dagger affair.


Pakistan: US suspends $800m of military aid

In figures submitted to the International Monetary Fund last autumn, Pakistan’s defence expenditure in its 2010-2011 budget was put at $6.41bn - an increase of $1.27bn on the previous year.


British return for Eagle Owl exercise

What has become one of the largest training exercises within Training and Doctrine Command received a new set of participants this month — with six staff members from the United Kingdom’s Stabilisation Unit.


Americana - BBC Radio 4

From coast to coast, Matt Frei presents an insider guide to the people and the stories shaping America today


Afghanistan: France follows US in troop withdrawal

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced the phased withdrawal of its 4,000 soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

A statement said the French would follow the timetable of US withdrawals announced by President Barack Obama.

Mr Obama said 10,000 US troops would pull out this year, with another 23,000 leaving by the end of September 2012.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed the move, but the Taliban dismissed it as “symbolic” and vowed to continue fighting until all foreign forces left.

At least 68,000 US troops will remain in the country after the 33,000 have been withdrawn, but they are scheduled to leave by 2013, provided that Afghan forces are ready to take over security.


Central America drugs war: Clinton pledges more funds

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pledged more foreign aid to fight drug cartels in Central America.

Mrs Clinton told a regional security conference in Guatemala that the US would increase its aid by more than 10% to nearly $300m.

Analysts say the figure is still small given the difficulty of the task, with more than two-thirds of all cocaine being shipped from South America to the US now passing through Central America.

In total, donors pledged close to $1bn.

Mrs Clinton said funding for the fight against transnational organised crime in the region would be increased from $260m in 2010 to almost $300m this year.


The tide changes for Obama on Afghanistan

President Obama has told the American people that a difficult decade of war is reaching a conclusion: “These long wars will come to a responsible end” he said, adding: “The tide of war is receding.”

It is an oddly poetic phrase echoing Shakespeare’s Brutus “There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

Prosaically that means you have to snatch your chances when you can, before it is too late.

This is a moment when President Obama can do what was unthinkable two years ago. He can defy the Pentagon. Early in his presidency it would have been too risky to ignore military advice. He had to allow them to have a go at winning their way in Afghanistan.


Afghanistan: Obama orders withdrawal of 33,000 troops

President Barack Obama has announced the withdrawal of 10,000 US troops from Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 by the end of September 2012.

Speaking from the White House, he said it was “the beginning, but not the end, of our effort to wind down this war”.

Mr Obama’s announcement, after a month-long strategy review, outlined the exit of the forces he sent to the country at the end of 2009 as part of a “surge”.

The reductions are larger and faster than military commanders had advised.

They told the president that the recent security gains were fragile and reversible, and had urged him to keep troop numbers high until 2013.

That would have given them another full “fighting season” - in addition to the one now under way - to attack Taliban strongholds and their leaders.

Nevertheless, about 68,000 US troops will remain in Afghanistan. All US combat troops are scheduled to leave by 2013, provided that Afghan forces are ready to assume responsibility for security.


Al-Qaeda so weak that US Afghanistan withdrawal would be justified

one strikes and covert operations have weakened Afghanistan’s al-Qaeda network to the extent a speedier than planned withdrawal of US troops would be justified, according to officials in the Obama administration.

Senior officials who appeared to support a faster exit plan told the New York Times that 20 of al-Qaeda’s 30 prominent leaders in the region had been killed in the past 18 months.
During the May 2 raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, the US seized intelligence materials at the al-Qaeda leader’s compound which showed that his lieutenants were too afraid for their lives to plan overseas terror attacks.
An official said that the description of Pakistan’s tribal areas as a “safe haven” was now a misnomer. Mr Obama has doubled the rate of drone attacks in Pakistan’s autonomous areas, adding to tensions with Islamabad but reaping deadly results against al-Qaeda.


Nato is facing a dismal future, warns U.S. defence chief Gates

Gates said the air operations against the forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had further exposed limitations, with an air operations centre designed to handle more than 300 sorties a day struggling to launch about 150 and the United States having to make up shortages of munitions.

“To avoid the very real possibility of collective military irrelevance, member nations must examine new approaches,” he said.

Gates said just five of the 28 allies - the United States, Britain, France, Greece and Albania - spend the 2 percent of GDP on defence required by NATO.

US Navy Issues Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) Solicitation

The US Naval Air Systems Command has posted a Broad Agency Announcement seeking proposals which conceptually demonstrate that a UCLASS system can provide a persistent Carrier Vessel-Nuclear (CVN) based Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and strike capability supporting carrier air wing operations in the 2018 timeframe.

In order to identify and explore available trade space, proposals must have a strong emphasis on an open, adaptive architecture and disciplined systems engineering. The programme anticipates leveraging existing, deployed Department of Defense (DoD) systems to launch, recover, and control the air vehicle, transfer data in support of time critical strike operations, and conduct persistence ISR operations. The ongoing Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstration programme will inform UCLASS development and provide technology risk reduction for Unmanned Aircraft (UA) integration into carrier environments.


American drones thought to have killed al-Qaeda’s chief military commander

American drones are believed have killed al-Qaeda’s chief military commander, an alleged mastermind of plots against British targets and a possible successor to Osama bin Laden.

Ilyas Kashmiri, who had become an increasingly central figure while bin Laden remained out of sight, is believed to have died when missiles slammed into a house in South Waziristan on Friday, according to intelligence officials and residents of Pakistan’s tribal belt.

American officials said they were still trying to confirm his death. However, it would be an extraordinary coup to have killed Kashmiri so soon after bin Laden himself was shot dead by Navy Seals last month.

Kashmiri had been head of Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islam (HUJI) and was thought to take his orders directly from bin Laden.