Washington Extra – An anniversary observed

May 2, 2012

Troops at Bagram Air Base listen to U.S. President Barack Obama speak during his visit to Kabul, May 2, 2012. Earlier, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement at the Presidential Palace. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

One year ago, President Barack Obama was secretly holed up in the White House Situation Room monitoring what turned out to be the successful U.S. military operation to kill Osama bin Laden.

A year later, he spent the day on another secret mission: flying aboard Air Force One to Afghanistan, the country from which bin Laden hatched his Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

With journalists in tow (they had agreed not to report anything about the trip until after Air Force One landed and Obama was safely in Kabul), Obama signed a “U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement” and was set to deliver an address to Americans about the U.S. role after most NATO combat forces withdraw from the war-torn country by 2014.

The drama of the president of the United States arriving in the dead of night on an unannounced mission offered an early taste of what Mitt Romney is up against in his quest to unseat Obama on Nov. 6.

The Republican presidential candidate visited a New York fire station to mark the anniversary of bin Laden’s death. But the message of the campaign event, including Romney’s contention that the White House had politicized bin Laden’s capture, quickly was overshadowed by news flashes and video of Obama’s surprise trip.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Obama in Afghanistan on anniversary of bin Laden’s death – President Obama arrived in Afghanistan to sign an agreement charting future relations with the country, making the secret trip on the first anniversary of the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Obama plans to deliver a televised address to Americans later. The U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement will set conditions for a U.S. presence there after a 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of most NATO combat forces. As he fights for his re-election, Obama is seeking to portray his foreign policy record as a success. For more of this story by Caren Bohan, read here.

Pentagon report paints mixed picture of war in Afghanistan – The military presented a mixed picture of the war in Afghanistan , saying President Obama’s surge of 33,000 extra troops had weakened the Taliban but that a resilient insurgency, persistent corruption, and selective cooperation from Pakistan posed a major threat to U.S. efforts. In a twice-annual report to Congress, the Defense Department said overall insurgent attacks declined in 2011 for the first time in five years, even though violence increased in areas surrounding the Taliban’s southern stronghold of Kandahar, a region where U.S. efforts have been focused since 2009. For more of this story by Missy Ryan, read here.

Romney says Obama politicizing bin Laden death anniversary – Republican Mitt Romney accused President Obama of politicizing the killing of Osama bin Laden as the first anniversary of the daring raid dominated U.S. presidential politics. Obama has touted the death of the al Qaeda leader as a crowning achievement of his national security policy and his campaign has tried to raise doubts about whether Romney would have made the same gutsy decision to send an elite special forces team into Pakistan to kill bin Laden. For more of this story by Sam Youngman, read here.

Obama “playing defense” but has advantage on electoral map – The battle for the White House is still in its early, often silly stages – a time when issues such as the economy and national security can be overshadowed by spats over which candidate would be better for dogs. But in the end, the election between Democratic President Barack Obama and presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney will hinge on 10 politically divided states, nine of which Obama won in 2008. For more of this analysis by John Whitesides, read here.

Obama and Romney struggle to find winning slogans – President Obama and Mitt Romney are trying out catchphrases that could become campaign slogans – from ”Greater Together” to ”Believe in America.” So far, these have failed to resonate with voters the way ”Yes We Can” did in 2008.  For this video, click here.

U.S.’s Clinton heads to China and into dissident drama – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left on Monday on a high-stakes trip to Beijing, where a blind dissident is reportedly holed up in the U.S. embassy in a drama threatening to overshadow top-level meetings between the two governments. For more of this story by Arshad Mohammed and Chris Buckley, read here.

Five arrested in US plot to blow up bridge – Authorities arrested five self-described anarchists in the Cleveland area for allegedly plotting to blow up a four-lane highway bridge over a national park, but had no ties to foreign terrorism, the Justice Department said. The group, ranging in ages from 20 to 37, were arrested overnight by the FBI after planting the explosives on the bridge and they were all charged with conspiracy and attempting to use explosive materials. For more of this story by Jeremy Pelofsky, read here.

CFTC eases swaps rules for foreign regulators – The Commodity Futures Trading Commission issued guidance that would free foreign regulators from signing costly indemnification agreements in exchange for access to U.S. swaps data. The indemnification agreements, which were called for in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial oversight law, would make foreign regulators liable for any costs arising from lawsuits over the data that was shared. For more of this story by Alexandra Alper, read here.

From elsewhere…

Occupy takes May Day protests to U.S. streets – Occupy Wall Street protesters massed outside banks, meditated in public and staged anti-corporate song and dance routines in a May Day effort to revive a movement that triggered nationwide protests against economic injustice last year. Although labor unions rejected Occupy pleas for a general strike and demonstrators backed off a pledge to occupy San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge, activists hailed the day’s events as a step forward in the movement that had grown inactive and cash poor since capturing world attention last fall. For more of this story, read here.

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