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More Troops Heading to Afghanistan, Gates Eyes Long-term Budget Cuts

U.S. Marine in Afghanistan
A U.S. Marine walks down the main market in Musa Qala in Helmand province. File photo by Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that an additional 1,400 Marines will head to Afghanistan this spring in an effort to solidify security before the expected troop level reductions in July. The announcement comes ahead of expected Taliban offensives in the spring, which intensify as snow melts in the country’s mountainous regions.

Military leaders face pressure to show tangible gains from the current strategy in Afghanistan in the face of increased political pressure over withdrawing troops. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said the short-term surge is designed to “apply more pressure on the enemy at a time when he is already under the gun.”

Meanwhile, Gates is also looking to reduce the Defense Department’s budget, including canceling a $13 billion plan to purchase new combat vehicles for the Marines and a planned new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, in an effort to preempt cuts being imposed by Congress.

The Defense Department is the federal government’s highest spender, with a budget of over $500 billion before war costs. Gates wants to save about $100 billion in the coming years in a climate of government-wide cost cutting measures.

Commission Says ‘Systemic’ Failures Preceded BP Oil Spill

The presidential commission investigating the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico said that the companies involved showed “bad management” enacting time and cost cutting measures that contributed to the disaster.

The Deepwater Horizon explosion in April killed 11 people and triggered a massive oil spill that dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf. According to the panel, “[W]hether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blow-out clearly saved those companies significant time (and money).”

BP has acknowledged responsibility but said several companies and a host of factors also contributed to the accident.

Chinese, U.S. Officials Meet for Talks on North Korea

The U.S. Special Envoy to North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, met with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun and other officials in Beijing for a series of discussions to address heightened tensions in the wake of North Korea’s Nov. 23 shelling of a South Korean island. North Korea reportedly offered to hold peace talks, “letting bygones be bygones,” a move South Korea was quick to point out is in line with a pattern of raising the stakes through provocations and then extending calls for peace and asking for concessions.

The United States has sought assistance from China, a staunch ally of North Korea, in the wake of the artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island and the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. China has refrained from criticizing its neighbor but called for resumption of the six-party nuclear talks with North and South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States.

Chinese President Hu Jintao will meet with President Obama in Washington on Jan. 19.

U.S. Says Chinese Stealth Plane Still Years Away

Images of a new Chinese stealth fighter jet, known as the J-20, have raised speculation about China’s air capability, but the Pentagon is downplaying speculation that the jet is close to operational or poses a threat. The leaked photos show a plane believed to be in testing on a runway in Chengdu. In late 2009, a Chinese military official said the stealth jet would not be ready until at least 2017.

China has been increasing its military capability in recent years, including submarine and aircraft fleets. Defense Secretary Gates is schedule to visit China this weekend.

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