NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: July 19

Obama lands in Afghanistan for first tour of war zones

Senator Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan early Saturday morning, opening his first overseas trip as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, to meet with American commanders there and later in Iraq to receive an on-the-ground assessment of military operations in the two major U.S. war zones.

Mr. Obama touched down in Kabul about 11:45 a.m., according to a pool report released by his aides. In addition to attending briefings with military leaders, he hoped to meet with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan before flying to Iraq later in the weekend.

Obama going abroad with world watching

Sen. Barack Obama will make his international debut as a Democratic presidential candidate in the coming days with a weeklong tour of the Middle East and Europe designed to deepen his foreign policy credentials, confront questions at home about his readiness to be commander in chief, and signal the possibility of a new era in U.S. relations with the rest of the world.

Obama’s visit is among the most unusual ever undertaken by a presumptive White House nominee, planned with the attention to detail of a trip by a president and as heavily hyped abroad as at home. The senator from Illinois will meet with a succession of foreign leaders, make symbolically important visits and hold at least one large public event — all with an eye to how the trip is playing in the United States.

But the tour is fraught with risks. The large media contingent that will follow Obama means that any misstep or misstatement will be magnified and potentially read as evidence of his inexperience, adding to doubts about him. If he successfully navigates his itinerary, however, the political payoffs could be significant enough to affect the outcome of his race against Republican Sen. John McCain this fall.

Soldiers recount deadly attack on Afghanistan outpost

The first RPG and machine gun fire came at dawn, strategically striking the forward operating base’s mortar pit. The insurgents next sighted their RPGs on the tow truck inside the combat outpost, taking it out. That was around 4:30 a.m.

This was not a haphazard attack. The reportedly 200 insurgents fought from several positions. They aimed to overrun the new base. The U.S. soldiers knew it and fought like hell. They knew their lives were on the line.

“I just hope these guys’ wives and their children understand how courageous their husbands and dads were,” said Sgt. Jacob Walker. “They fought like warriors.”

The next target was the FOB’s observation post, where nine soldiers were positioned on a tiny hill about 50 to 75 meters from the base. Of those nine, five died, and at least three others … were wounded.

Afghanistan hit by record number of bombs

Air Force and allied warplanes are dropping a record number of bombs on Afghanistan targets.

For the first half of 2008, aircraft dropped 1,853 bombs — more than they released during all of 2006 and more than half of 2007’s total — 3,572 bombs.

Driving the increasing use of air power are fights in southern Afghanistan, where the Marine Corps arrived last winter, and battles in eastern Afghanistan, where Taliban and other insurgents use the border region with Pakistan as a safe haven.

For first time, Bush agrees to ‘time horizon’ for Iraq pullout

The United States and Iraq have agreed to a “general time horizon” for further reductions of U.S. combat troops in Iraq, the White House said Friday, the first time the Bush administration has agreed to set any kind of timeline for troop withdrawals.

The agreement appears to be a political favor to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, but the White House said it wasn’t a reversal of President Bush’s long opposition to any fixed schedule for troop reductions, including the veto of bills that included timetables for withdrawal.

But Democrats — including presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama — hailed it as belated recognition of the need to hasten the end of the Iraq war.

U.S. position complicates global effort to curb illicit arms

Diplomats from the world’s governments met throughout this week on agreements to cut the global illicit trade in small arms, but their work was curtailed in part by the near-boycott of the meetings by the United States.

The tone of the meetings underscored the political complexities of gaining full support for international small-arms agreements from the United States. The American view has balanced recognition of the dangers of illegal proliferation with the government’s own arms-distribution practices and with the American gun lobby’s resistance to the United Nations’ proposals.

Since 2001, United Nations members have endorsed a broad but loosely defined initiative, called the program of action, for a collective effort against illegal arms circulation. The agreement in part encourages governments to tighten controls on manufacturing, marking, tracing, brokering, exporting and stockpiling small arms and to cooperate to restrict illicit flows, particularly to regions perennially in armed conflict. It addresses hundreds of millions of weapons, ranging from pistols to shoulder-fired rockets, that the United Nations says are in circulation worldwide.

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