Daily brief: general’s review exposes Obama administration rift
Question everything In the wake of the release of top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s bleak assessment of the war in Afghanistan, reporters point to a growing divide in the Obama administration, which has seemingly grown more skeptical of the counterinsurgency strategy it set in motion six months ago, and the ...
In the wake of the release of top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s bleak assessment of the war in Afghanistan, reporters point to a growing divide in the Obama administration, which has seemingly grown more skeptical of the counterinsurgency strategy it set in motion six months ago, and the military, whose generals have chorused that more resources are needed to keep the war from failing (Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times).
As a sign of the White House’s deliberation, the Pentagon has reportedly told Gen. McChrystal to delay his anticipated request for more troops (Wall Street Journal). And Gen. McChrystal has also instructed his commanders in Afghanistan to pull out of the more sparsely populated rural areas in the country and re-focus their efforts on population centers (Washington Post). The top military commander called out elements of Iran’s and Pakistan’s spy services as giving support to insurgent groups carrying out attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan (Los Angeles Times and Reuters).
Across the pond, the British Army is making plans to request between 1,000 and 2,000 additional U.K. troops for the Afghan theater in an effort to bolster operations in the volatile southern province of Helmand (Financial Times). Downing Street insists that no formal requests have been made, however, and decisions on deployment are likely to be delayed until the fraud-riddled August 20 presidential election is resolved in some way (Times of London). British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is reportedly focusing on actually cutting back the number of U.K. troops in Afghanistan (AP).
For their part, some officials from the Afghan National Police question whether more Western troops will help or hurt the war effort, saying that more troops will increase the perception that they are “occupiers” and “invaders” (AP). The ANP are often accused of taking bribes and engaging in corruption, and part of Gen. McChrystal’s strategy is to train and increase the size of the police force from its current 92,000 to around 160,000.
A sample will do
After weeks of debate, the two agencies overseeing Afghanistan’s presidential election have finally agreed on a way to address the thousands of claims of fraud and corruption: statistical sampling (BBC and Los Angeles Times). Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission and the U.N.-backed body to investigate electoral fraud in the country, the Electoral Complaints Commission, hope to reach an understanding about the methodology of this approach within the next two days; if enough ballots are disqualified to drop incumbent President Hamid Karzai’s vote total from its current 54.6 percent to less than 50 percent, he could face a runoff against his primary challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.
The Taliban have chimed in to claim they “successfully sabotaged” the election and have “demonstrated that we are credible and that the government isn’t,” saying that it makes no difference which candidate emerges as the eventual winner of the presidential contest (AFP). A spokesman for the militant group told the AFP that it will not negotiate with elements of the Afghan government until the “invaders who defile Afghan land” leave, and Karzai has repeatedly said that he will only negotiate with moderates in the Taliban movement.
George Packer has a fascinating profile of the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, in this week’s New Yorker (New Yorker).
A short trip home
A 24-year-old Afghan man living in Colorado who was arrested over the weekend on charges of lying to federal agents has been ordered held in custody without bail (Reuters, New York Times). Prosecutors say Najibullah Zazi confessed to receiving explosives training from al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and was involved in an alleged plot to detonate homemade bombs in the U.S., and this case has prompted counterterrorism officials to warn mass transit systems around the country to step up patrols (Denver Post, AP).
Federal authorities, gathering evidence to bring terrorism-related charges against Zazi, his father, and an imam in Queens, have tied as many as a dozen people to the case through electronic intercepts, surveillance, seized evidence and interviews (Los Angeles Times). Several officials have said it is likely he will be charged with providing material support to a known terrorist organization. The AP features a useful timeline of events in the arrests of Zazi and his associates (AP).
In fierce tempest
Pakistani security forces have arrested a badly wounded Pakistani Taliban commander with the nom de guerre Abu Faraj, who is allegedly behind a violent campaign of suicide attacks in the once-tourist destination the Swat Valley in Pakistan’s northwest (AFP, The News). Abu Faraj is reportedly a key lieutenant for the leader of the Swat Valley Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah (CNN, BBC).
At least 34 suspected militants have been killed by Pakistani security forces in the troubled tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan, after gunship helicopters pounded militant hideouts in the latter while a a security check post in the former came under fire from some 600 militants (Dawn). The Waziristans have been the targets of nearly all of the U.S. Predator drone strikes in the region, and one option for the Obama administration is to step up the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles to target militant leaders (AP).
Squashing the competition
An 18-year-old girl from South Waziristan is Pakistan’s top-ranked squash player, and has gone pro despite not having a sponsor or many resources (CNN). Maria Toor Pakay used to beat up boys when she was younger, and her father “didn’t want her talent to go to waste,” so he moved the family to Peshawar and encourages his daughter’s squash abilities.
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