World briefs – September 15

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan on Wednesday acknowledged the Taliban gained a propaganda victory in a 20-hour assault focused on the U.S. Embassy, which left 27 police, civilians and insurgents dead. But he insisted the attack was not a sign of vulnerability in the Afghan capital.

U.S. insists Kabul attack not a sign of security holes

KABUL, Afghanistan — The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan on Wednesday acknowledged the Taliban gained a propaganda victory in a 20-hour assault focused on the U.S. Embassy, which left 27 police, civilians and insurgents dead. But he insisted the attack was not a sign of vulnerability in the Afghan capital.

Still, the sophistication and vehemence of the attack, in which insurgents fired rockets into the U.S. Embassy compound from a nearby unfinished high-rise where they may have stored heavy weapons ahead of time, raised fresh doubts about the Afghans’ ability to secure their nation as U.S. and other foreign troops begin to withdraw. Afghan forces have nominally been in control of security in the capital since 2008 — but it took heavy involvement by U.S. and NATO forces to route out the latest attackers.

And spectacular attacks in the well-protected capital have become more common. This week’s strike was the third deadly attack in Kabul since late June.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault. Kabul’s deputy police chief said it was likely the Pakistan-based Haqqani network carried it on behalf of the extremist group. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker also blamed the Haqqanis, who have emerged as one of the biggest threats to Afghanistan’s stability, working from safe areas across the border in Pakistan’s tribal region.


Palestinian bid for statehood keeps diplomats busy

JERUSALEM — U.S. and international envoys kicked off a new round of shuttle diplomacy on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to contain the diplomatic fallout from the Palestinian statehood push, even as the Palestinians pledged to go ahead with mass rallies to draw world attention to their bid.

U.S. diplomats Dennis Ross and David Hale were due in the region later Wednesday, and will meet with Israeli leaders before travelling to the West Bank the next day to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Washington is trying to persuade the Palestinians to drop their plan to ask the United Nations to recognize an independent Palestinian state, but so far without success.

The Palestinians are turning to the UN after peace talks with Israel broke down, hoping a UN bid would best boost their statehood campaign.

They say they will bring a resolution before the UN during the annual General Assembly session that begins in New York on Sept. 20, in the hope that a UN recognition would enable them to gain leverage with Israel in future negotiations.

Israeli-Palestinian talks stalled nearly three years ago, reviving only briefly last September before foundering again over a Palestinian demand for a full Israeli settlement construction freeze.


Republican victory in House race bad for Obama

NEW YORK — It sounded improbable that a New York City congressional district where Democrats have a 3-1 registration edge and have held office for nearly a century could even come close to electing a Republican to the U.S. House.

But voter frustration over the sour economy and President Barack Obama’s policies made the improbable a reality, as a Republican political novice, Bob Turner, scored an upset victory in a special election Tuesday over David Weprin, a Democratic assemblyman from a prominent local political family.

The surprising results in the Brooklyn and Queens-area district portend a perilous national environment for Obama as he prepares to seek re-election next year.

Turner said as much when he stepped before cameras to claim victory Tuesday night.

“This message will resound for a full year. It will resound into 2012,” said Turner, a retired broadcasting executive.

“I only hope our voices are heard, and we can start putting things right again.”

Weprin called Turner to concede Wednesday morning.

With Turner’s win, Republicans now hold 242 seats in the House to 192 for Democrats.

There is one vacancy.

Also Tuesday, Republican Mark Amodei won a landslide victory in a U.S. House special election in Nevada, an important presidential swing state.

The national mood has darkened since May, when Democrats scored their own unexpected win in another New York special election.

Then, Democrat Kathy Hochul won an upset victory in a heavily Republican district by stressing her commitment to protecting Medicare, the government health plan for seniors.