News in Brief: US Afghan Strategy Shifts to Indirect Negotiations with Taliban and More . . .

As NATO predicts a long stay for coalition troops in Afghanistan, senior White House officials are embracing the idea of negotiating with members of the Taliban through a third party. The Guardian UK reported that the Obama administration had previously been lukewarm to the idea, which has long been advocated by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and the Pakistani and British governments. Washington is still officially resistant, but is encouraging Karzai behind the scenes to take the lead in such negotiations.

“There is a change of mindset in DC,” a senior official in Washington said. “There is no military solution. That means you have to find something else.”

At a high-level international conference, held in the Afghan capital of Kabul Tuesday morning, NATO predicted that America and its allies will have to keep troops in the country even after Afghan troops have completely taken control of security. The head of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said when the transition happens, “international forces won’t leave, they will simply move into a more supportive role.” This announcement comes as NATO officials begin to see the scale of the challenge they face in handing over security in the country to Afghan troops, reported the Guardian UK. In the space of a couple of days, an Afghan soldier killed to US civilians and another Afghan soldier in the north of the country, while days earlier an Afghan soldier killed three British soldiers. At the same conference as the NATO announcement, Karzai said he intended to have full security control of the country under Afghan power by 2014.


On Tuesday the Senate will vote on a federal extension of unemployment benefits, breaking a partisan stalemate which has held the legislation up for an unprecedented two months. The New York Times and the Washington Independent reported on the bill, known as the jobs bill or the extenders package, which is expected to introduce a $34 billion extension of jobless benefits. The benefits will be retroactive to June 2nd, when they lapsed due to lack of legislation extending them, and continuing through the end of November. The day before the vote, President Obama appeared with three-out-of work Americans at a press conference at the White House to hammer Republicans for blocking job extensions due to fears of the deficit, despite their spending of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthy.


While the White House confirms the continuing seepage of oil and methane into the Gulf of Mexico from the sealed oil well, Marathon oil becomes the first oil company to resume deepwater oil production in the Gulf since the disastrous BP oil spill. Marathon’s new well is about 160 miles southwest of New Orleans and 3,000 feet deep. At its peak, the well is expected to produce about 50,000 net barrels of oil per day, reported Democracy Now!.

ProPublica has reported on the ambiguities and conflicts of interest in the oil spill cleanup along the Gulf coast. In small Gulf County, Florida, an investigation has found that on the Gulf County Board of Commissioners, three out of five members cannot vote on issues relating to BP. This is because two also work for BP contractors, and one has a son who is helping in the cleanup. In Louisiana, off-duty police officers are allowed to work for BP while wearing their uniforms and a ProPublica photographer had his information turned over to BP when he was stopped by police near a BP refinery in Texas.


The US National Guard is expected to arrive on the Mexican border on the 1st of August, in what critics fear is the continued militarization of the border area. The Obama administration has pledged to send up to 1,200 troops to the area for a year as part of its plan to increase border security. Almost half of these troops will be stationed in Arizona, according to reports from Democracy Now!.

American-made grenades are now all the rage in Mexico, reported the Washington Post, which has seen more than seventy-two grenade attacks in the last year. Hundreds of thousands of US-made grenades were sent to Central America in the 1980s and 1990s by the government, and are now being used by Mexican drug cartels.


The US and South Korea announced Tuesday that they plan to take a “first step” in attempting to deter North Korea from acts of aggression in the region, reported the New York Times, by carrying out a series of large-scale military exercises next week in the water off Japan and Korea as a show of force. The exercise will include 20 ships and submarines, 100 aircraft and 8,000 men and women from the US and Korean armed services. The war games come after the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, which killed 46 sailors and was determined to be an act of aggression by North Korea.

As tensions in the region escalate, North Korea has executed its former cabinet official in charge of talks with South Korea, the Guardian UK reported, in the latest death sentence meted out for a North Korean official over policy failures. The execution of Kwon Ho Ung, the chief delegate from 2004 to 2007 for ministerial talks with South Korea, by firing squad was reported in a South Korean newspaper.