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September 30, 2014

US to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan

U.S. soldiers patrol an Afghanistan highway on Aug. 11 in Parwan province. The U.S. and Afghanistan expect to sign an agreement to keep about 10,000 American troops there after combat operations end at the close of this year, an Obama aide said. (Cpl. George Huley / Army)

WASHINGTON (Defense News) — The United States and Afghanistan will sign a long-delayed security agreement Tuesday that will allow about 9,800 American troops to remain in the country past this year, a US official said.

White House senior adviser John Podesta on Monday reported the planned signing after attending the inauguration of President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in Kabul.

US and Afghan officials agreed on terms of the accord more than a year ago, but former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai refused to sign. Karzai complained about US airstrikes that have killed Afghan civilians and US overtures to the Taliban, the Islamists who had ruled Afghanistan until ousted by American forces in 2001. The Taliban have been waging a civil war ever since.

Both Ahmadzai and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, said they would sign the agreement if elected.

The two formed a power-sharing government, with Abdullah named chief executive, a position with substantial influence within the government.

The residual US force will be responsible for advising and supporting Afghan security forces and conducting counter-terrorism missions against al-Qaida and its affiliates.

NATO countries are expected to contribute troops to the residual force as well, bringing the total to about 12,000.

Under the plan the number of US forces would be reduced by more than half in 2015 and then removed entirely by 2017.

Currently there are about 24,000 US troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 in 2010 and 2011, according to the Pentagon.

Afghan security forces are already leading operations throughout the country as US forces have largely withdrawn from direct combat.

September 29, 2014

India, Israel PMs pledge stronger ties in rare meeting

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PHOTOS: AFP

NEW YORK (The Express Tribune): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to boost cooperation Sunday in the most substantive interaction between the two countries’ leaders in 11 years.

The two prime ministers both appeared upbeat as they met at a New York hotel on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, where Modi is making his first visit since he led his Hindu nationalists to a sweeping victory in April-May elections.

Netanyahu said he was “delighted” to meet Modi and invited him to visit Israel, in what would be a first for an Indian prime minister.

“I believe that if we work together, we can do so with benefits for both our peoples and well beyond,” Netanyahu said during a brief press interaction during the meeting.

“We are very excited by the prospects of greater and greater ties with India. We think the sky’s the limit,” Netanyahu said, describing the countries as “ancient civilizations” that are also democracies.

Modi proudly told Netanyahu of the historic Jewish community in India.

“India is the only country where anti-Semitism has never been allowed to come up and where Jews have never suffered and have lived as an integral part of our society,” Modi said.

New Delhi only established relations with Israel in 1992, a delay often attributed by analysts to potential concerns within India’s Muslim minority and the developing nation’s need to preserve relations with wealthy Arab states.

But India quickly developed relations with Israel during the last government of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which emphasizes Hindu identity. In 2003, Ariel Sharon paid the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to New Delhi.

The left-leaning Congress party that took power in 2004 took a greater distance from Israel, despite meetings at the ministerial level. Nonetheless, two-way trade has soared from $200 million in 1992 to $6 billion, according to New Delhi’s figures, and India has been an alluring market for Israel’s defense industry.

Israel was one of the few countries visited by Modi before his election as prime minister.

Despite his hawkish reputation, Modi surprised observers by meeting widely with foreign leaders since his election, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

But Indian officials said that Modi had no plans to meet in New York with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Modi was leader of the state of Gujarat when anti-Muslim riots killed more than 1,000 people in 2002. He was never charged and denies wrongdoing, but the episode led the United States to deny him a visa in 2005.

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