News & Current Affairs

September 9, 2008

Bush to announce troop reshuffle

Bush to announce troop reshuffle

US soldier in Falluja

The bulk of the 146,000 US troops deployed in Iraq will remain behind

US President George W Bush is set to announce plans to withdraw about 8,000 troops from Iraq by February and to send additional forces to Afghanistan.

Mr Bush will say in a speech on Tuesday that the improving security situation in Iraq will allow a “quiet surge” of troops in Afghanistan in coming months.

A Marine battalion due to go to Iraq in November will be sent to Afghanistan, followed by an Army combat brigade.

There are currently 146,000 US troops in Iraq and 33,000 in Afghanistan.

Any long-term decision about their future deployment will be left to Mr Bush’s successor, who will take office in January.

‘Degree of durability’

The continued decline in violence in Iraq since last year’s US troop “surge” has given President Bush a chance to ease the growing strain on his country’s military.

If the progress in Iraq continues to hold, Gen Petraeus and our military leaders believe additional reductions will be possible in the first half of 2009
President George W Bush

Acting on the advice of his generals, Mr Bush will announce on Tuesday that a Marine battalion, comprising about 1,000 troops, scheduled to leave Anbar province in November will return home as planned without being replaced.

An army brigade of between 3,500 and 4,000 troops will also leave in February, accompanied by about 3,400 support forces, he will say.

“While the progress in Iraq is still fragile and reversible, Gen [David] Petraeus and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker report that there now appears to be a ‘degree of durability’ to the gains we have made,” Mr Bush will say in a speech at the National Defense University, according to the White House.

“And if the progress in Iraq continues to hold, Gen Petraeus and our military leaders believe additional reductions will be possible in the first half of 2009.”

Our correspondent says the withdrawals announced on Tuesday will mark the start of a slow and limited draw-down based on what Mr Bush calls “return on success”. However, it will still leave the bulk of US forces behind in Iraq.

Last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said that although a timetable for the withdrawal of the remaining troops did not exist, he had tentatively agreed with the US military to end the presence of foreign combat troops by 2011.

The Iraqi government is currently negotiating a security agreement on the future of US forces in Iraq before a UN mandate expires.

Afghanistan ‘fragile’

In his speech on Tuesday, Mr Bush will also signal that the US will make modest increases in the strength of its forces in Afghanistan to combat the growing threat posed by the Taleban.

Taleban in opium field in south-west Afghanistan, April 2008

Aid agencies point to a 50% increase in insurgent attacks in Afghanistan

“For all the good work we have done in that country, it is clear we must do even more,” he will say.

“Unlike Iraq, it has few natural resources and has an underdeveloped infrastructure. Its democratic institutions are fragile.”

“And its enemies are some of the most hardened terrorists and extremists in the world. With their brutal attacks, the Taleban and the terrorists have made some progress in shaking the confidence of the Afghan people.”

In November, a Marine battalion that was scheduled to deploy to Iraq will instead go to Afghanistan. It will be followed in January by an army combat brigade.

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief said last month that violence in Afghanistan had reached its worst level since 2001, when US-led forces overthrew the Taleban, with more than 260 civilians killed in July.

Afghanistan’s government said the bloodshed was connected to peace deals Pakistan’s government had sought with Islamist militants in the north-western tribal areas along the border.

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August 30, 2008

New giant clam species discovered

New giant clam species discovered

Giant clam (M.Naumann)

The new giant clam species has a deeply folded shell outline

A new species of giant clam has been discovered in the Red Sea.

Fossils suggest that, about 125,000 years ago, the species Tridacna costata accounted for more than 80% of the area’s giant clams.

The species may now be critically endangered, researchers report in Current Biology journal.

The scientists believe their findings may represent one of the earliest examples of the over-exploitation of marine organisms by humans.

T. costatahas “very peculiar characteristics” that set it apart from two other species of giant clam that are also found in the area.

The Latin word costatus means “ribbed” and T. costata has a distinctive, zig-zag outline to its shell.

“The new species are mid-sized clams – up to 40cm long and a couple of kilograms heavy,” explained co-author Dr Claudio Richter, from the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Germany.

The new species has a distant relative, T. gigas, which can grow up to 1.4m long.

Live specimens of T. costata appear to be restricted to very shallow waters. Other species were also found in deeper reef zones.

The clam has an earlier and shorter breeding season that coincides with the seasonal plankton bloom. Genetic analysis confirmed the status of the new species.

‘Time travel’

“One of the great features of the desert-enclosed Red Sea is that you can literally time-travel from the present, several hundred thousand years into the past,” said Dr Richter.

The research team uncovered well-preserved fossil evidence that suggested stocks of these giant clams plummeted some 125,000 years ago – during an interval between Ice Ages.

They believe this period coincides with the appearance of modern humans in the Red Sea area.

Giant clams were abundant, large in size and easily accessible – making them an attractive food source for hunter-gatherers.

In “pre-human times”, T. costata may have been up to 60cm long. Since then, shell size has also decreased dramatically.

“The overall decline in giant clam stocks – with the striking loss of large specimens – is a smoking gun indicating over-harvesting,” said Dr Richter.

The scientists were not expecting to find a new species in an area as well studied as the Red Sea.

The research highlights how little is known about marine biodiversity in general, the scientists said.

“The coral reefs in particular… may still harbour very large surprises,” said Dr Richter.

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