Saturday, December 31, 2011

Families Use Creativity


 To Connect With Deployed Loved Ones

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2011 - Molly Blake will unveil a special guest on Christmas, someone who is an even bigger hero to her daughters than Santa Claus: their dad.
Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Maj. Darren LoRe sends a message to his son, Sendoa, from Afghanistan, where he's been deployed since May. He'll connect with his family over the holidays using Skype and instant messaging. Courtesy photo 
She'll use technology to enable her deployed husband, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Peter Blake, to participate in the morning festivities."We'll prop him up on the fireplace on the computer," she explained.
From his fireplace perch, their dad's computer persona, which they've dubbed "Digital Daddy," will be able to watch as his daughters, Leah and Helen, open gifts.
The lieutenant colonel's deployment to the Pacific marks his fifth in the couple's 10-year marriage. His wife, like many military family members, is accustomed to relying on creativity, and a heavy dose of technology, to keep her family connected throughout the holidays.
"He's been gone for more Christmases than he's been home," said Blake, whose family is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Her husband is the commander of Marine Attack Squadron 311.
To help speed through this separation, Blake used aluminum foil to fashion a bucket in the shape of a chocolate kiss, which she calls a "kiss jar." The girls counted out one candy kiss for each day of their dad's six-month deployment and loaded them into the jar. They'll eat a kiss each day until he comes home, she explained.
Blake also created a "Daddy Journal" for each of them with their picture on the cover. On a recent night when they went out for sushi, they brought the journals along and wrote about the experience. "When he gets home he can relive some of these things," she said.
Overall, the girls are staying positive. They understand the importance of their dad's mission, she said.
Blake said she, too, is focusing on the positive. Her husband left for his deployment shortly after Thanksgiving. But while he won't be home for Christmas, she said she takes comfort knowing other Marines will.
"It takes the sting away when someone else will be able to be with the family," she said.
Cammy Elquist LoRe also is coming to terms with a holiday separation. Her husband, Army Maj. Darren LoRe, has been deployed in Afghanistan since May -- his second deployment in four years.
LoRe and her husband rely heavily on technology, such as instant messaging, to keep in touch, she said. She's also created a YouTube channel where she uploads videos of their 4-year-old son, Sendoa, directly from her smart phone. This way, dad's been able to watch his son's first at-bat in T-ball, she added.
The technology will come in particularly handy this weekend, LoRe noted, when phone line connections will be bogged down with families trying to connect with their deployed loved ones. She said she'll upload several videos on Christmas so her husband, when he has a few minutes off duty, can watch their son open gifts and share family time.
LoRe said she hopes the videos will boost his spirits. "[Deployed troops] have to focus on what they need to do and we tug heart strings every time, but I know it's appreciated," she said.
The family also is planning a Christmas encore when LoRe's husband comes home in January for his mid-tour leave. LoRe said she'll save some family gifts and leave the tree and house lights up on display. Along with sharing in the festivities, "he'll get some satisfaction knowing he does the lights better than me," she joked.
Meanwhile, LoRe is trying to insert special holiday memories for her son between a busy schedule of work and child care. Each morning, she wakes up early to take her son sledding or to bake cookies before their day begins.
"The challenge is creating time and the mind-space and purposefulness into the day," she said. "I still have to work. Finding that time as a solo parent is my biggest challenge."
Above all, LoRe tries to instill a sense of thankfulness in her son. The holidays can be tough on military families with a deployed loved one, she noted, so it's important to focus on what's important.
Kathy Kling said she's grateful to have her husband home. He missed Thanksgiving this year, but arrived home from his deployment in Kosovo just in time for Christmas with his wife and their 9-year-old daughter, Laurynn. Army Staff Sgt. Jason Kling is a flight medic with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Kling said the anticipation of his arrival was nearly unbearable on Thanksgiving. The family Skyped before and after dinner, but she acknowledged, "it was still a little rough because it was so close to his coming home."
She said she kept her husband close at hand while he was gone by setting a plate for him at the table -- something she does every holiday he's gone.
While he'll be home for this holiday, her husband has missed many others, Kling noted, and offered some advice to other families dealing with deployments. She cited the importance of maintaining a sense of normalcy around the holidays.
If you're used to being with family on the holidays, she said, then take a trip to see them. This support will prove invaluable if the holiday blues come creeping in.
As a National Guard spouse, more than an hour away from her husband's unit, Kling can't easily access the support systems active-duty families have on hand on a military installation. So she's created them. She said she makes time to get together with other Guard wives, and they enjoyed a recent outing before the busy holiday season kicked in.
"Family is a great support system, but other wives understand what I'm going through as a military wife," she explained.
Kling also stressed the importance of communication, especially between husband and wife. They went through a tough time on their first deployment on this regard, but when she opened up, she said things got easier, and "I became happier," she said.
Staying busy also can help, LoRe added. Take a drive and look at lights or participate in a holiday community activity, she suggested.
"Separate from the madness and stress of trying to please everyone," she said. "Simplify. Make it about appreciating what's going right in your life."
In the midst of the holiday rush, LoRe noted the importance of pausing to appreciate what you have, and to look ahead with a positive outlook.
The holidays aren't just about presents and gatherings, she said, but also about "leaving the year and entering a new year."
"The time may pass by slow, but it passes, LoRe said. "No matter how down in the dumps you might feel, this moment in time and what makes you feel down passes, and then we're on to another moment.
"That day will lead into the next one, and then to the time when your spouse returns to you," she said. "And you'll be back together as a family."
 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

CPI to work effectively for victory of Sanjha Morcha

City committee of 35 members was elected
The Communist Party of India City Ludhiana resolved to work effectively for the victory of candidates of Sanjha Morcha in the coming assembly elections. The city units organizational conference which is organized every three years was held under the president ship of Comrades Dr Arun MitraGurnam Singh Sidhu and  Amarjeet kaur. The delegates deliberated in depth on the political situation of Punjab. They felt that unfortunately two party system that has developed in the state pursuing anti people policies and in favour of vested interests of limited group of families. This has lead to deterioration of economic situation of the state pushing it into deep crisis of debts thus leading to unemployment, frustration among youth and increase in use of intoxicants, deterioration of law and order causing insecurity among the people.  There is no clear cut policy regarding development of industry and trade. Particularly house hold and small scale industry and small shop owners are made victim of wrong policies in the name of development. The development of housing in Ludhiana is haphazard and it has been absolutely left to the mercy of private colonizers. Health services in the absence of proper state services have become out reach of common man; same is the condition of education. The condition of hygiene is awful with waste lying on road sides spreading diseases. Traffic management is extremely poor which is made worse because of poor condition of roads. The party will highlight these issues in the forthcoming assembly elections and will continue to launch mass movement thereafter. To run the affairs of the party a city committee of 35 members was elected with Com Ramesh Rattan as Secretary. Com Ramesh Rattan said that he, while striving to strengthen the party will sincerely work to enhance the glorious social, cultural and political traditions of Ludhiana and organize broader movement on various issues with the  cooperation of likeminded people and organizations. CPI to work effectively for victory of Sanjha Morcha

Celebrate Birth anniversary of Shaheed Udham Singh

Throw away yokes of slavery-PPP
Chandigarh : People's Party of Punjab (PPP) today asked people to celebrate the birth anniversary of Shaheed Udham Singh (December 26) by taking a pledge that people of Punjab will throw away the yoke of slavery from corruption, communalism, casteism and anti-people forces.
"The great martry Shaheed Udham Singh used to call himself Ram Mohammad Singh Azad indicating that he had epitomized the aspirations of all religions and all people of India so that they could breathe in azadi", PPP chief Manpreet Singh Badal said today. He stated that despite being granted political independence from the British Raj, people have still not achieved independence from aristocracy, dynasty and family rule. People still have to achieve independence from corruption and communalism.
PPP, which organized a rally at Sunam yesterday, said that the true tribute to Shaheed Udham Singh would be to rise above these divisive tendencies and work towards creation a new Punjab. Manpreet reminded people that though the Congress leadership at that time had condemned the act of Shaheed Udham Singh, it was Udham Singh's nationalism along with other revolutionaries that unleashed a movement that the British were not able to counter.

Shaheed Udham Singh is reported to have not celebrated the New Year for 21 years since the fateful day of Jallianwala Bagh.

Today, Punjab needs to embark upon a new freedom struggle. That would be a true tribute to Shaheed Udham Singh.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2012 as a time to build on gains


Soldiers in Afghanistan Focused on Allen's 2012 Objectives
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 23, 2011 - As the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan looks to 2012 as a time to build on gains made and extend the security zone east of Kabul, the soldiers of Regional Command East know they have a vital role to play in making that possible.
Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta thanks troops from the 172nd Infantry Brigade on Forward Operating Base Sharana in Afghanistan, for helping to reach a turning point in the conflict, Dec. 14, 2011. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo 
Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of U.S. and International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan, told reporters traveling here last week with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta he hopes to consolidate gains made in Afghanistan's north, south and west over the next year.
And as "significant counterinsurgency operations" continue in the east, Allen said his goal is to push the security zone east of Kabul.
In addition, he cited an evolution toward an advisory mission in Afghanistan to enhance capability within the Afghan security forces as the United States looks toward scaling back its combat mission there.
Army Col. Edward T. Bohnemann, commander of the 172nd Infantry Brigade, recognizes the emphasis that puts on his soldiers in remote but strategically important Paktika province.
Bohnemann's brigade is deployed from Grafenwoehr, Germany, with its headquarters just 30 miles from the Pakistan border at Forward Operating Base Sharana. Among his combat outposts sprinkled through the province, some are directly west of the border.
Paktika province is home to historic transitory routes between the two countries. It's also an infiltration point for fighters, munitions and weapons filtering into Afghanistan bound for Kabul, Kandahar and the northern regions.
Bohnemann noted the challenge of stretching his soldiers and their Afghan counterparts to cover such a vast region. "There are too many small goat trails [and] small dirt roads to say I am going to have a hard stop at the border," he said. "It's too big of a border."
Some of the border areas are so remote that when an incident occurs, "trying to get there rapidly becomes problematic," he said.
So Bohnemann and his soldiers concentrate on improving the trends and making the most effective use of the capabilities they have. "I focus my soldiers on, how do we interdict, neutralize, slow the flow so that other places can build capacity [and] build on the security gains they have seen throughout the areas of Afghanistan," he said.
Choking that flow, he recognizes, will be critical to Allen's goal of expanding the security zone around Kabul. "My piece of that is ... to stem the flow of weapons [and] fighters to the security zone," he said.
Exacerbating the challenge, he acknowledged, is Pakistan's decision to scale back cross-border coordination following the Nov. 24 border incident that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
"There is not a whole lot of cross-border coordination right now," he lamented. "I would love to see the lines of operation open up."
On the positive side, Bohnemann told reporters he's seen enemy attacks drop significantly during the five months since his brigade arrived here.
He expressed growing confidence in the capability of Afghan security forces in his area of responsibility, and in the work his troops have done to establish conditions for their long-term success.
"Every day, when you look at the Afghan security forces, they are in the lead," he said, noting that Afghans are independently leading two-third to three-quarters of operations here.
"The Afghans are in charge in Paktika province," he said. "And they are doing more and more every day."
Based on their growing capability, Bohnemann said he believes, "there is no insurgent force in Paktika that is going to overwhelm the Afghan security forces out there."
"They have had some fights, [and] the Afghan security forces have stayed and held their ground," he said. "On occasion, they have called for us for support," particularly when they need to evacuate a wounded or fallen comrade. "But they are holding their ground."
Bohnemann said he anticipates a natural progression as his soldiers transition toward an advisory role with the Afghan security forces.
He acknowledged areas where the Afghans still need assistance, including logistics and the systems to make the supply train more efficient. "What I am focused on is: Are they tactically sufficient to maintain security in the province? Can they support themselves?" he said. "My mission, my focus is getting the Afghans ready for the future."
Bohnemann said he's confident he has "the right soldiers in the right units" on the ground to support that mission.
Looking to the future, he said he expects the U.S. and ISAF drawdowns to maintain that balance, based on conditions on the ground and "not on a particular glide path to zero."
During his visit here last week, Panetta told Bohnemann's troops he believes the effort in Afghanistan has reached a turning point, thanks to the work they and other coalition and Afghan forces are doing.
"I really think that for all the sacrifice that you're doing, the reality is that it is paying off," he told them. "We're moving in the right direction. And we're winning this very tough conflict in Afghanistan." 
Biographies:
Leon E. Panetta
Marine Gen. John R. Allen
Related Sites:
172nd Infantry Brigade
Related Articles:
Allen Cites Time of Optimism in Afghanistan
Panetta Thanks Front-line Troops for Successes in Afghanistan

Amnesty international teams blogging from the ground


You can help stop the killing
The Sudanese authorities are bombing civilians in Southern Kordofan, the Sudanese state bordering the newly independent South Sudan. Unarmed men, women and children are killed or displaced. You can help stop the killing.
Above: A man in Kurchi watches an Antonov flying overhead, August 2011. More than 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes for fear of aerial bombardments by the Sudanese Armed Forces. © Carsten Stormer
CourtesyAmnesty International 

Monday, December 19, 2011

CPI pays homage Ashfaqullah Khan,


A rally was organized at the Jagraon Bridge to pay homage to the freedom fighters, Ashfaqullah Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil and Roshan Singh Thakur who were hanged by the British on 19th December and Rajinder Lahiri who was hanged on 17th December 1927  in the Kakori case. Participants  garlanded the Photographs of the martyrs  and then held a rally. Various speakers, while reminding the struggle waged by the great people, who did not refrain from laying down their lives for the cause of the country, said that they had dreamt of free secular, democratic India where all people enjoyed equity, justice  and human rights without any linguistic, regional or gender bias and have access to  necessities of life including health and education. But unfortunately this has not happened in the last 64 yrs of independence. Whereas we have grown in terms of technology and wealth, the gains of this development have gone to a few. India has gone further down to 132nd  position in the Human Development Index as per the report published by  the United Nations Development Programme. Economic policies have to be reviewed and changed to pro people if dreams of the martyrs have to be fulfilled.
As regards situation in Punjab the Akali –BJP combine and Congress are looting the state in turn. The state is in as serious debt crisis. This has to be stopped. Sanjha Morcha is a new light and we appeal to the people to elect the candidates of the morcha.
Those who addressed the rally include Com Kartar singh Bowani-Secretary CPI district Ludhiana, Dr Arun Mitra-Assistant Secretary CPI Ludhiana, Com Ramadhar Singh, Com Anod Kumar, Com Ramchand, Com Kameshwar, Com Buta Singh.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

We stand by the journalist community-Chhina

Chhina condemns attack,demand police action
Gajinder Singh King
Amritsar18 December, 2011: 
Khalsa College Governing Council, Honorary Secretary, S. Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina today strongly condemned the life threatening attack on Dainik Jagran reporter Mohinder Pal Singh. He said the act of violence in which Mohinder Pal was shot at an injured badly while he was returning home from his office duty was highly condemnable. He demanded immediate police action against those goonda elements who were behind the assault. He said the Khalsa College educational institutions respect the journalist and the right to speech and they stand by the journalist community of Amritsar who are fighting the right cause to protect the journalist. Khalsa College Governing Council, President, Satyajit Singh Majithia, Vice-President, S. Charanjit Singh Chadha, Joint Secretary (Finance), S. Gunbir Singh, Joint Secretary (Legal and Property), S. Ajmer Singh etc. also condemned the attack on the journalist.
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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dempsey: Exit From Iraq is Not Exit From Region


The United States will offer Iraq support
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
KUWAIT CITY, KUWAIT, Dec. 14, 2011 - As the last 5,700 U.S. troops leave Iraq to govern itself as a sovereign nation, the best way for the United States to support that country's success is to stay broadly engaged in the region, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
As part of his first USO holiday tour as chairman, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey landed at dawn at Kuwait International Airport, traveling with his senior enlisted advisor, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, their wives, and celebrities arriving to entertain the troops.
"The exit from Iraq is not an exit from the region," Dempsey told reporters just before the USO show at Camp Buehring, one of three remaining staging posts for troops and their equipment in northwestern Kuwait.
"The best way to ensure Iraq has the kind of future we all want for it is to stay engaged broadly," the chairman said, adding that the Strategic Framework Agreement, signed by the United States and Iraq in 2008 to establish long-term bonds of cooperation and friendship, directed that the relationship be built through mutual interests in security as well as trade, education and culture, law enforcement, environment and energy.
Dempsey's thoughts about Iraq and its future arise from years of experience there.
In 1991 he deployed with the 3rd Armored Division in support of Operation Desert Storm, a war waged against Iraq by a U.N.-authorized, U.S.-led coalition force representing 34 nations in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
In June 2003, Dempsey took command of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad and served there for 14 months. In 2005 he returned to Iraq for two years to train and equip the Iraqi security forces as commanding general of the Multinational Security Transition Command�Iraq.
"Based on the [Iraqi] security forces' ... ability to manage their internal security threats, I think they're on a very stable platform," he said.
"That needs to continue to develop," the chairman added, noting that they have work to do on building some of the architectures that define stability.
"They have and will continue to work on air sovereignty, intelligence architectures, logistics architectures and the training and education component," Dempsey said.
The United States will offer Iraq support through an Office of Security Cooperation, established to help Iraqis acquire and then learn how to use military equipment they buy from the United States.
In Iraq that office will include 157 people assigned to the U.S. embassy and under the authority of the ambassador, and some who might come in on individual contracts for two or three months at a time to help the Iraqis train on U.S. equipment.
Having spent three years in Iraq working to help the leadership establish their own stability and build their own capabilities, Dempsey said the goal always was to help Iraq become a stabilizing influence in the region.
"We always thought they had the potential to do that," he added, with their economic strength, rich cultural history, good education system, agricultural development and water resources.
Dempsey said the intense effort to move troops out of Iraq, prompted by President Barack Obama's Oct. 21 announcement of the 2011 end-of-year deadline, delayed the emotional impact of the reality.
"The truth is I only found myself thinking about that in ... the last 24 hours," he said.
In those moments, he said, "I reflected on the fact that this has been a 20-year journey for me" and others who were part of the conflict with Iraq that began in 1990.
"If you were in the service, notably in the Army, and notably the heavy force of the Army," the chairman said, "Iraq was the defining element of the last 20 years of our careers."
Dempsey said he's proud of what U.S. military forces and others did in 1991 in Iraq and what U.S. forces have done over the past eight years.
"I think we've given Iraq an enormous opportunity," he said.
"We've built relationships with the Iraqi military that will persist well into the future," Dempsey said, "and on that basis they've had the chance to become the responsible stable nation state that they say they want to become."

Biographies:
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey


Panetta Defends Intelligence Operations

"These are operations I will not discuss publicly"

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 14, 2011 - Declining to discuss details about a U.S. RQ-170 drone aircraft that went missing in Iran, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta defended the use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to protect the United States.
During a joint news conference here today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Panetta called the drone program part of an effort "to not only protect Afghanistan, but to protect the United States."
"These are operations I will not discuss publicly," the secretary said, "other than to say that, part and parcel of our effort to defend this country and to defend our country involves important intelligence operations which we will continue to pursue."
Speaking with reporters earlier this week en route to Djibouti, the secretary also called it "appropriate" that President Barack Obama has asked Iran to return the drone, but admitted, "I don't expect that will happen."
Panetta said it's difficult to know how much engineering know-how the Iranians will be able to obtain from parts of the downed drone in its possession.
"I don't know the condition of those parts. I don't know exactly what state they are in," he said. "So it will be a little difficult to tell exactly what they are going to be able to derive from what they have been able to get."
Panetta also told reporters the United States is developing a strategic relationship with the Afghan government but it has no intention of maintaining permanent bases in Afghanistan.
Biographies:
Leon E. Panetta

Friday, December 16, 2011

Obama Praises U.S.Troops' Efforts as Iraq Winds Down

Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2011 - When the last U.S. troops in Iraq case their colors and move to Kuwait, they can leave with their heads held high, secure in the knowledge they did what was right for America and peace in the region, President Barack Obama told service members at Fort Bragg, N.C., today.
Obama noted the end of the war in Iraq during his speech to thousands of service members -- many of whom served multiple tours in Iraq since 2003.
The most important lesson from the war in Iraq is about America's national character, Obama said.
"For all of the challenges that our nation faces, you remind us that there's nothing we Americans can't do when we stick together," he said. "For all the disagreements that we face, you remind us there's something bigger than our differences, something that makes us one nation and one people. Regardless of color, regardless of creed, regardless of what part of the country we come from, regardless of what backgrounds we come out of, you remind us we're one nation."
That fact is why the American military is the most respected institution in the country, the president said.
The young men and women at Fort Bragg represent more than 1.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq. More than 30,000 Americans have physical wounds from the conflict with tens of thousands afflicted by unseen wounds like traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
"Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice, including 202 fallen heroes from here at Fort Bragg -- 202," Obama said. "So today we pause to say a prayer for all those families who've lost their loved ones, for they are part of our broader American family."
This 9/11 generation has earned its place in history, the president said.
"Because of you, because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met, Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny," he said. "That's part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the old empires, we don't make these sacrifices for territory or for resources; we do it because it's right.
"There can be no fuller expression of America's support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people," he added. "That says something about who we are."
And U.S. service members in Afghanistan are taking on the Taliban and breaking the back of al-Qaida, the president said.
"Because of you, we've begun a transition to ... the Afghans that will allow us to bring our troops home from there," Obama said. "And around the globe, as we draw down in Iraq, we have gone after al-Qaida so that terrorists who threaten America will have no safe haven, and Osama bin Laden will never again walk the face of this Earth."
Soon the last soldiers will leave Iraq, and the achievements of Americans who fought there will belong to history, the president said. He compared them to the men and women who fought for independence from Great Britain and who defeated fascism and communism. He also recalled the Civil War saying this generation, like the one that fought for union, has been "touched by fire."
"All of you here today have lived through the fires of war," Obama said. "You will be remembered for it. You will be honored for it, always. You have done something profound with your lives."
Today's service members enlisted during a time of war knowing that they'd be the ones who went into harm's way, Obama said.
"When times were tough, you kept fighting. When there was no end in sight, you found light in the darkness," the president said. "And years from now, your legacy will endure in the names of your fallen comrades etched on headstones at Arlington, and the quiet memorials across our country, in the whispered words of admiration as you march in parades, and in the freedom of our children and our grandchildren."
And they will remember that they were touched by fire, and can be proud they answered the call, the president said.
"You served a cause greater than yourselves, you helped forge a just and lasting peace with Iraq and among all nations," he said. "I could not be prouder of you, and America could not be prouder of you."

Panetta, Karzai Salute Progress in Afghanistan


Panetta here for his second visit as defense secretary 
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 14, 2011 - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta joined Afghan President Hamid Karzai here today to laud the progress that's been made in Afghanistan as they conducted what Panetta called "very productive discussions" about ways to build on it.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta enters a press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 14, 2011. Panetta said the United States was committed to working with the Afghan government to promote a free and independent country. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo 
Panetta, here for his second visit as defense secretary, said he believes 2011 will prove to be "a very important turning point in the war.""We have not won," he said. "We have not completed this mission. But I do believe we are in the process of making significant progress here."
Panetta noted the lowest levels of violence in five years, with the Taliban insurgency weakened to the point that it has not been able to conduct successful attacks or regain lost territory.
"There is no doubt that over the last two years, Afghan and international forces have been able to seize the momentum ... from the Taliban insurgency and establish security in critical areas, including Taliban heartland in the south," the secretary said.
Panetta noted that he visited U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan -- an area he said will continue to be a focus of efforts in the coming years -- earlier today to get a firsthand assessment of the situation from commanders and troops on the ground.
"I come away convinced that as we continue making important progress and building security, that we are moving closer to our goals of denying al-Qaida [and its affiliates] safe haven in this area to conduct attacks on the homeland," he said.
Panetta also recognized the increasingly capable Afghan national security forces that
"are absolutely essential to the ultimate success of our efforts here."

These forces, who Panetta said have sacrificed alongside their American and international counterparts, have set the stage for security transition in Afghanistan.
Panetta noted that based on Karzai's transition plans announcement last month, half of the Afghan population will soon live under Afghan governance and security control.
This transition "represents the fact that we have now made important gains during the campaign," Panetta said. "We are moving toward a strong Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself for the future."
Particularly promising, he said, is the fact that these gains continue even as the United States begins the process of drawing down the first 10,000 of its surge forces.
"When we look at these achievements, clearly we are going in the right direction," the secretary said.
Karzai said Afghanistan now is more stable and moving toward a better future. What's left to be done, he said, is to extend individual security to protect the Afghan people from attacks.
Panetta agreed that despite the progress made, much work remains to be done.
"Are there challenges? Of course there are. Does the Taliban remain dangerous? Of course it is. Does this mean that we are going to continue to see high-profile attacks in the future? Yes we will," the secretary said.
"But are we going in the right direction?" he continued. "Are we making significant progress here in Afghanistan? Yes we are."
Looking to the future, Panetta offered assurance that the United States is committed to forging a long-term relationship with Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has the support of the United States, he said, and it also "has the backing of the region and the international community as it seeks to build a stronger and more stable country for the future."
Expressing regret for Afghan as well as American lives lost in pursuit of this future, Panetta pledged that their sacrifices "will not be in vain."
"Ultimately, we will achieve the goal of a sovereign and independent Afghanistan," he said, "that can secure and govern itself -- one that will never allow al-Qaida and the Taliban to be able to establish a safe haven here from which to conduct attacks on America."
Biographies:
Leon E. Panetta

Restoring Pakistan Relationship Critical


Panetta quoted Afghanistan success
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Dec. 12, 2011 - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta expressed confidence today that the United States and Pakistan can patch up their differences, emphasizing that "ultimately, we can't win the war in Afghanistan without being able to win in our relationship with Pakistan as well."

The secretary said restoring the strained relationship with the United States critical to long-term progress in Afghanistan. "I think it is going to be important, as we are able to move and progress in our efforts in Afghanistan, that we continue to do outreach in Pakistan," he said.

"It is essential to stability in that region that we not only achieve a peaceful resolution with regards to Afghanistan, but that we are able to develop a more stable relationship with Pakistan as well," he said. "If that region is ever going to find peace, it is going to happen not only by achieving stability in Afghanistan, but also by achieving some degree of stability in Pakistan as well."

The U.S. relationship with Pakistan has been "difficult and complicated," Panetta conceded. "But it is an important relationship, and it is one we have to continue to work at."

The secretary noted that Pakistan has provided important cooperation to the United States. "At the same time, we have had some serious difficulties with regards to some of the operations that involve groups in the FATA [federally administered tribal areas] and groups along the border," he said.

Strain between the two countries increased after the May 2 raid that took down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and intensified after a Nov. 26 engagement near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

U.S. Central Command is conducting a full investigation of the incident, under the leadership of Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark from Air Force Special Operations Command.

"A number of interviews have been conducted," to determine factors involved in the incident, Panetta said. He expressed hope that the investigation will shed light on "exactly what happened," but said he has not yet received an update on any findings.

Meanwhile, Panetta said Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, reports that operations are continuing to secure the border areas.

Even before the border incident, Allen reached out to Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen.Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to develop a relationship that would allow the United States and Pakistan to better coordinate and control border-area operations to prevent incidents, he said.

"Obviously what took place has complicated that relationship," Panetta said. "But I think the effort now is to try to see if we can restore that kind of communication with regards to those border incidents."

The United States also is working to get Pakistan to reopen ground supply routes into Afghanistan it closed after the border incident. "I am confident that will happen," Panetta said. "I remain confident that at one point, we are going to be able to restore our normal supply routes."

For now, Panetta said he's satisfied that troops have the supplies they need to continue their operations in Afghanistan. "Our command structure has done an incredible job ensuring that one way or another, we are able to get those supplies in," he said.

Ultimately, restoring a solid relationship goes well beyond supply routes and border operations, the secretary said.

And if there's one thing he said he's learned, both at CIA and at the Defense Department, it's the need to continue working at the relationship, even through "bumps in the road" and crises.

"The most important thing is to keep lines of communication open and make sure we do everything we can to restore some degree of a relationship that will allow us to be able to fulfill our mission," he said.

Panetta emphasized that the mission of confronting terrorism supports both the United States' and Pakistan's interests.

"The terrorism that threatens us also threatens them," he said. "And if we can recognize that, despite our differences, there are some common areas that we share in terms of our security, then I think we can ultimately find a way to resolve our differences and improve our relationship," he said.�

The secretary also spoke about President Barack Obama's request that Iran return a recovered U.S. RQ-170 drone aircraft to the U.S., saying the request was "appropriate." However, the secretary admitted that he didn't "expect that will happen."

Panetta said it's difficult to know how much engineering know-how the Iranians will be able to obtain from parts of the downed drone in its possession. "I don't know the condition of those parts. I don't know exactly what state they are in," he said. "So it will be a little difficult to tell exactly what they are going to be able to derive from what they have been able to get."
Biographies:
Leon E. Panetta


Scaparrotti: ISAF Border Operations Continue


But With Care
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 14, 2011 - International Security Assistance Force operations continue in Afghanistan along the Pakistan border, but are conducted with special care to avoid escalating current tensions, a senior commander said here today.
Army Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of the ISAF Joint Command and deputy commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, told reporters during a roundtable discussion that success in Afghanistan requires close communication with Pakistan.

Relations between ISAF and Pakistan have been tense since the cross-border incident Nov. 26 that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead. Pakistani authorities have closed ground supply routes through their country and ended American use of the Shamsi airbase.
Scaparrotti declined to discuss the border incident in light of the ongoing investigation but, acknowledging his professional and personal association with Pakistani military leaders, expressed condolences about the lives lost.
"What happened is a tragedy," he said.
Scaparrotti said ISAF continues to communicate regularly with the Pakistani military as before the incident, but coordination is not as close as it has been in the past.
"We are being a little more careful," he acknowledged. "But we are still running interdiction. We are still working with the Afghans right on the border posts. We are still running reconnaissance and doing the things ... that we need to do. And as I said, we are still pressing the Pak military so that we can continue communication."
Scaparrotti said he believes "over time, we will [regain] that coordination, that communication that we had in the past."
The November incident has caused ISAF leaders to consider ways to bolster the coordination and communication along the border, where insurgent provocation can have a deadly effect.
"There are certainly incidents where insurgents along the border have instigated a fight [using] direct fires or indirect fires, and they have done so in proximity to [Pakistani] military border locations," the general said. "We think it was to draw our attention, or perhaps, in some instances, to draw conflict here between Afghan, coalition or Pakistan forces."
Such provocations are one reason "we are working very hard, as we have in the past, to develop better communications with the [Pakistani] military on the other side of the border," the general said. "That has been one of our priorities."
A working relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan is critical for both nations, he said.
"It is important for the region," he said. "And it is important for us to move forward. It is important to Afghanistan because they have neighbors that they have to have a cooperative relationship [with] on their borders as well."
As the transition from ISAF to Afghan security lead gains steam, the general said, the capabilities of Afghanistan's forces are another crucial focus of ISAF efforts.
Scaparrotti previously commanded the 82nd Airborne Division and deployed as commander of Joint Task Force-82 with responsibility for Regional Command East in 2009. He returned to Afghanistan in July 2011 after a year away, and said he's impressed by the gains achieved in the interim.
"It is clear that today ... we have the initiative in this fight," he said. "I see it in the terrain we hold and the terrain that the [Afghan national security forces] hold compared to a year ago."
Afghan security forces also have developed better leaders throughout their command structure, he said.
"We are producing a better leader that goes into their army," Scaparrotti said, with Afghan corps and brigade commanders now also more experienced than a year ago.
Still, as more operational responsibility passes to Afghan forces, their command-and-control, supply and maintenance, and counter-bomb capabilities must increase, he noted.
Afghan forces are struggling to establish and strengthen their logistics, supply and maintenance abilities, he said, adding that aiding those efforts is an ISAF focus point.
"They [also] have to develop the capacity to deal with [roadside bombs] as we are capable of dealing with them. And that capacity is coming along as well," he added.
The general noted ISAF forces are close to achieving the 10,000-troop drawdown set for this year, and will reduce by another 23,000 by the end of summer 2012, leaving 68,000 service members where there are now roughly 91,000.
"As we look at the drawdown of forces, we are looking carefully at the environment that develops and then the balance -- I call it the posture of the force that we need," Scaparrotti said.
As its forces dwindle, ISAF must maintain its ability to muster joint fires, allocate intelligence assets, and deploy lift and route-clearance teams, he noted.
"It is those things that as we draw down the number of maneuver forces here down to 68,000 after next September, that we will look at very closely," he added.
"I am confident at this point, although we are still working the strategy, that we are going to be able to continue to [68,000] as we come down through this fighting season to that objective here in the fall," Scaparrotti said.
Civilian government and administrative capability likewise remains a key focus, he said.
"The governance within Afghanistan has steadily made progress in terms of their ability to deliver both representation and basic services for the people," Scaparrotti added.
(Editor's note: Karen Parrish contributed to this article.)
Biographies:
Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Michael Scaparrotti 
Related Sites:
NATO International Security Assistance Force

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Panetta, Karzai Salute Progress in Afghanistan 
Panetta Arrives in Afghanistan to Assess Progress 





Biden Spotlights Military Support at Kids' Holiday Party


Biden spotlighted the importance of military family support

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2011 - Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, invited about 25 elementary school students, a few teachers -- and one special guest in Afghanistan -- to a military-themed holiday party in their home at the U.S. Naval Observatory here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, poses for a picture with students from White Oaks Elementary School in Burke, Va., at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., Dec. 12, 2011. Biden hosted a holiday party for the students to raise awareness of military families and the challenges they faceDOD photo by Elaine Sanchez 
Throughout the party, Biden spotlighted the importance of military family support for the children -- a fourth-grade class from nearby White Oaks Elementary School in Burke, Va.After greeting each of the children -- all dressed in their holiday best -- at the door, she invited them to join her around the Christmas tree in her living room for a discussion about her own experiences as a military mom.
Biden held up a framed picture of her son, Army Maj. Beau Biden of the Delaware National Guard, with his young son, Hunter, in his arms. The picture, she told the children, was taken the day he returned from a yearlong deployment in Iraq. "I know what it's like to have someone in your family who is deployed," she said.
She then asked Army Col. Rebecca Porter, a clinical psychologist from the Army Surgeon General's Office, to talk to the children -- mostly from nonmilitary families -- about the impact deployment has on kids, especially during the holidays, and how students can support military families in their community.
Biden then kicked off her heels and joined the children on the floor in front of the tree to make holiday cards for deployed troops. The card-making event was sponsored by the American Red Cross' Holiday Mail for Heroes program, which collects and distributes holiday cards to service members, veterans and their families around the world.
But the event's highlight, especially for one of the students, was the holiday book reading in the next room.
Army Maj. James Blain, deployed in Afghanistan since June, appeared on screen to read the book "Mickey's Christmas Carol" to his 9-year-old son, Jimmy, and his classmates. Blain earlier recorded the book-reading through United Through Reading, an organization that enables deployed service members to video-record themselves reading books to their children. Deployed troops can read from more than 270 recording stations around the globe, according to an organization fact sheet.
Jimmy listened intently. He's been in touch with his dad, but mostly over the phone. There's nothing like seeing him face to face, he said after his dad finished the book.
His mom, Tina Blain, who attended the party with all four of her children, agreed. "Having the DVDs has been a huge bonus for us because we can see Daddy whenever we want."
Approaching the holidays without Dad is tough on the children, she added. "To see him so positive and so up going into the holidays is good for them," she said.
Biden also noted the importance of programs such as United Through Reading, which recently pledged to double its commitment to Army and National Guard families in the next two years. Since the program began in 1989, more than 1 million beneficiaries have been served, a news release said.
"It means a lot to children and helps them stay connected with their moms or their dads" while they're deployed, Biden told American Forces Press Service. "I know in my own family, my son read books to our grandchildren and they loved just hearing their dad's voice."
Biden noted that Jimmy's parents were worried that their 2-year-old son, Matthew, would forget what his dad looked like. This program, however, has set their minds at ease, she said, citing Matthew's reaction when his father appeared on screen at the party. As soon as he saw his father, Matthew, perched on his mom's lap, called out, "Daddy, Daddy!"
Biden said the party was intended to raise awareness of military families and the need to support them, which also is the aim of the Joining Forces campaign, a military-support initiative First Lady Michelle Obama and Biden started earlier this year. It's important for people without a loved one in the military to understand the military experience, she noted.
Particularly around the holidays, "it's important we remember and commit to an act of kindness," she said, whether it's taking cookies to a military family, bringing them dinner, or packing care packages. Biden said she and her family recently packed Christmas stockings for deployed service members together.
"We are ending the war in Iraq ... but we still have many, many [service members] deployed in Afghanistan," Biden said. "We have to remember them and be thankful for their service and what they've done for us and this country."
Related Sites:
Special Report: Joining Forces 
Joining Forces Campaign 
United Through Reading 
Holiday Mail for Heroes 



Obama: U.S., Iraq Forge New Relationship

we are building a comprehensive partnership
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2011 - With the last U.S. troops leaving Iraq, a new relationship between Iraq and the United States will stand front and center, President Barack Obama said at the White House today.
Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki spoke at a news conference as the last 5,500 U.S. troops in Iraq prepare to leave. When Obama took office there were 150,000 American forces in the country.
"This is a season of homecomings, and military families across America are being reunited for the holidays," Obama said. "In the coming days, the last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq, with honor and with their heads held high."
The president and the prime minister discussed the continuing U.S.-Iraqi relationship, and plans to "normalize" relations between the two countries. Obama called for "an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect."
Iraq has made tremendous progress since the coalition toppled Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. There have been free and fair elections, Iraq's economy is growing faster even than that of China, and Iraqi security forces "have been in the lead for the better part of three years, patrolling the streets, dismantling militias, conducting counterterrorism operations," Obama said.
"Today, despite continued attacks by those who seek to derail Iraq's progress, violence remains at record lows," Obama said. "And Mr. Prime Minister, that's a tribute to your leadership, and to the skill and the sacrifices of Iraqi forces."
As the war ends, Iraq will not stand alone, the president said.
"Today, the prime minister and I are reaffirming our common vision of a long-term partnership between our nations that is in keeping with our Strategic Framework Agreement, and it will be like the close relationships we have with other sovereign nations," Obama said. "Simply put, we are building a comprehensive partnership."
Obama and Maliki discussed how the United States could help Iraq train and equip its forces the same way America helps other nations around the world. "Given the challenges we face in a rapidly changing region, we also agreed to establish a new, formal channel of communication between our national security advisors," the president said.
The U.S.-Iraq relationship, he said, will boost regional security.
"Just as Iraq has pledged not to interfere in other nations, other nations must not interfere in Iraq," Obama said. "Iraq's sovereignty must be respected."
The drawdown in Iraq has allowed America to refocus resources and achieve progress in Afghanistan, put al-Qaida on the path to defeat and to better prepare for the full range of challenges that lie ahead, the president said.
Maliki thanked Obama for America's commitment to his country.
"Anyone who observes the nature of the relationship between the two countries will say that the relationship will not end with the departure of the last American soldier," Maliki said through a translator.
The United States and Iraq worked together to defeat terrorism and al-Qaida in Iraq, the prime minister said. Now the two countries can work together in peace to put in place the Strategic Framework Agreement "in the economic sphere, as well as in educational and commercial and cultural and judicial and security cooperation fields," Maliki said.
Iraq still needs U.S. help to bulk up its security forces -- especially in areas of training and equipping. Iraq has ordered 18 F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft and plans to order another 18.
Obama saluted the sacrifices of U.S. and Iraqi service members, noting the two countries will continue to work together toward a promising new future.
"A war is ending, a new day is upon us," the president said. "And let us never forget those who gave us this chance, the untold number of Iraqis who have given their lives, more than 1 million Americans -- military and civilian -- who have served in Iraq, nearly 4,500 fallen Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion, tens of thousands of wounded warriors and so many inspiring military families.
"They are the reason we stand here today," Obama continued. "And we owe it to every single one of them -- we have a moral obligation to all of them to build a future worthy of their sacrifices."
After the news conference, Obama and Maliki travelled to Arlington National Ceremony, Va., to pay respects to the fallen. Maliki placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.



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