Thursday: McChrystal Delays Kandahar Operation; BP Shares Plunge
At least 40 people were killed and more than 70 were wounded Wednesday night when a suicide bomber struck a wedding party in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, considered the birthplace of the Taliban and the focus of an upcoming U.S. military operation.
The family had close with ties to police, officials told the Associated Press, but the Taliban denied carrying out the attack.
Meantime, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, said Thursday that parts of the operation to secure Kandahar would be delayed because it was taking longer than expected to win local Afghan support.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that no operation will begin without the support of tribal elders.
“It’s more important we get it right than we get it fast,” McChrystal told reporters. “I think it will take a number of months to play out.”
While the operation in Kandahar is being weighed, residents in Marjah, once a Taliban sanctuary, see signs that the insurgents have regained momentum in recent weeks, following a military offensive by U.S. Marines and Afghan forces last spring aimed at dislodging them. The Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes:
“The longer-than-expected effort to secure Marjah is prompting alarm among top American commanders that they will not be able to change the course of the war in the time President Obama has given them. … [Gen. McChrystal told officers here in late May that there is a growing perception that Marjah has become ‘a bleeding ulcer.’”
Also on Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron flew to Kabul, saying this would be the “vital year” for the campaign against the Taliban. Cameron’s visit came after three days of meetings in London with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the Army.
At least 17 U.S. service members have been killed in the past four days in Afghanistan, and 29 NATO troops have been killed this month, including 10 on Monday alone, seven of them Americans.
Gulf Oil Disaster, Day 52
BP shares fell 12 percent at the start of trading in London before recovering, on fears that President Barack Obama will impose huge penalties on the company and that BP might cut its dividend, reports the BBC. The British oil giant’s share price has almost halved since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20.
BBC business editor Robert Peston writes:
“BP indicate that they’re increasingly minded to go for a voluntary moratorium on dividend payments, to bring some kind of fragile truce to hostilities with the U.S. government. But President Obama should be aware that such a suspension of dividends would in effect deprive U.S. savers of some $4 billion of income per annum. Or to put it another way, in a world of global capitalism, Obama can’t punish BP and expect all or even most of the pain to be felt in Britain.”
BP’s troubles — and the Gulf disaster — have now attracted the attention of the British government. A spokesman for Cameron on Thursday told reporters that he would be discussing the issue with President Obama in a weekend telephone call, reports the New York Times via Reuters.
“I completely understand the U.S. government’s frustration,” Cameron said while in Afghanistan. “BP needs to do everything it can to deal with the situation and the UK government stands ready to help.”
Meanwhile, BP on Wednesday captured more of the oil that has been gushing from the bottom of the Gulf since April and began bringing in more equipment to handle it.
Iran to Review Relations with Nuclear Watchdog
Iran said Thursday it will review relations with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, a day after the U.N. Security Council approved a fourth round of sanctions against the country over its disputed nuclear program.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s atomic energy organization, was quoted as saying
that the plans for the reduction of relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency “should be examined in detail” and that Iran would announce its stance “after review and analysis.”
Foreclosures Down, but Repossessions Up
U.S. foreclosure filings fell 3 percent in May from a month earlier, but bank repossessions set a new monthly record, according to market researcher RealtyTrac.
Foreclosure filings were made on 322,920 properties in May, up less than 1 percent from a year earlier. Bank repossessions hit a monthly high for the second month in a row, totaling 93,777 — up 1 percent from April and 44 percent from last year.
“The numbers in May continued and confirmed the trends we noticed in April: Overall foreclosure activity leveling off while lenders work through the backlog of distressed properties that have built up over the past 20 months,” said RealtyTrac chief executive James Saccacio.