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 7, 2008

Scientist ‘lone anthrax attacker’

Scientist ‘lone anthrax attacker’

Bruce Ivins at a 2003 awards ceremony

Dr Bruce Ivins had helped with the investigation into the attacks

A US scientist who killed himself last week was the sole person responsible for the deadly anthrax attacks in 2001, new  FBI papers allege.

Dr Bruce Ivins alone controlled flask RMR1029, used in the attack, could not account for unusual overtime in labs and issued death threats, the FBI says.

The anthrax-laced letters killed five people, made another 17 sick, and unsettled a nation traumatised by 9/11.

Dr Ivins, 62, died shortly after being told he was about to be charged.

The FBI had been under pressure since his death to reveal the details of the investigation and its papers were unsealed by a judge on Wednesday.

FBI director Robert Mueller briefed the victims and their families about the case before publication.

In a news conference later, the US attorney for the District of Columbia, Jeffrey Taylor, said: “We consider Dr Ivins was the sole person responsible for this attack.”

Overdose

The papers say Dr Ivins had possession of anthrax spores with “certain genetic mutations identical” to those used in the sole deadly biological attack on US soil.

The letters were sent to media offices and politicians a few days after 9/11.

Mr Taylor said flask RMR1029 was “created and solely maintained” by Dr Ivins and that no-one could have had access to it without going through him.

Mr Taylor set out a number of other points of evidence against Dr Ivins, including:

  • He worked inordinate hours at night in the lab at the time of the attacks, could not account for the work and had not done similar overtime before or since
  • He sent a threatening email to a friend involved in the case and threatened in counselling sessions to kill people
  • He sent defective anthrax samples when taking part in the investigation into the attacks
  • He was a frequent writer to the media and often drove to other locations to disguise his identity as the sender of documents
  • Print defects in envelopes used in the attacks suggest they may have been bought at a post office in 2001 in Frederick, Maryland, where he had an account
  • After one search, he discarded a DNA coding book under surveillance

The Kevin Connolly in Washington says that although there is some hard scientific evidence, such as the flask, much of the case against Dr Ivins set out here is circumstantial.

Dr Ivins worked at the army biological weapons laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

ANTHRAX PANIC, 2001
Anthrax investigation in Washington DC 2001
First anthrax-laced letter is mailed on 18 Sept, 2001
Florida sees first of five deaths, three weeks later
The dead are two postal workers in Washington, a New York hospital worker, a Florida photo editor and an elderly woman in Connecticut
Panicked Americans try to stock up on antibiotic Cipro
Postal depots shut for de-contamination; mail is irradiated
Senate offices shut for weeks
Hoaxes become an almost daily occurrence
Plans to deal with a biological weapons attack updated

The investigation initially centred on one of Dr Ivins’s colleagues, Dr Steven Hatfill. He later sued the justice department and won a $5.82m (£2.94m) settlement this June.

The papers say Dr Ivins became the focus of attention in 2007.

One affidavit in the papers says Dr Ivins reported to a co-worker that he suffered “incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times” and “‘feared that he might not be able to control his behaviour”.

Dr Ivins also sent an email a few days before the anthrax attacks, warning Osama “Bin Laden terrorists” had access to anthrax, the FBI says.

The email used language similar to that in the anthrax letters, it was alleged.

Dr Ivins was also immunised against anthrax in early September 2001.

The release of the papers coincided with a memorial service for Dr Ivins at his work place in Fort Detrick.

Dr Ivins died in hospital on Tuesday last week apparently after an overdose.

A lawyer for Dr Ivins said after his death that he had suffered “relentless accusation and innuendo”, and that his innocence would have been proven in court.

But a social worker said in filed court documents that Dr Ivins had “a history dating to his graduate days of homicidal threats, plans and actions towards therapists”.

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