The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: defense secretary says Taliban have “momentum” in Afghanistan

The scuffles of great fights U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said yesterday in a thinly veiled criticism of top commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal that all military and civilian advisers to U.S. President Barack Obama should provide advice "candidly but privately" (AFP, BBC, Reuters). Last week, Gen. McChrystal gave a public speech in ...

The scuffles of great fights

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said yesterday in a thinly veiled criticism of top commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal that all military and civilian advisers to U.S. President Barack Obama should provide advice "candidly but privately" (AFP, BBC, Reuters). Last week, Gen. McChrystal gave a public speech in London describing his views of the war, saying that to draw down troops in Afghanistan would be "short sighted" (Washington Post, Los Angeles Times). Gates also said in the CNN interview that because of past inabilities of the U.S. and allies to put more troops in Afghanistan, "The Taliban do have the momentum right now," but vowed that the U.S. would remain in Afghanistan (AFP, McClatchy, CNN).

Despite the Obama administration’s signals that it is reconsidering its counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is putting together two new units focused on the war, one called the Afghan Hands program and designed to immerse dozens of officers from each military service in Afghanistan for 3 to 5 years, and the other an intelligence center based out of CENTCOM (Wall Street Journal). And a series of recent successes against top al Qaeda leaders via surgical strikes is fueling the argument inside the administration about whether sending more troops is necessary (New York Times).

Obama will visit the National Counterterrorism Center for the first time today, to highlight recent successes of the intelligence community — like the recent arrest of a suspected would-be bomber who received explosives training from al Qaeda in Pakistan (Washington Post). The White House reportedly focused on the Najibullah Zazi case for three weeks after it was added to the President’s daily intelligence briefing in late August.

The former head of the British army issued a scathing reprimand to the government for refusing to grant a request for 2,000 more troops for the Afghan theater, saying U.K. forces in Afghanistan are being forced to fight "with at least part of one arm tied behind [their] backs" (Guardian, BBC, Sun). Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, who left his post in August, said he was "disappointed" with Downing Street’s support for the army (Telegraph). The U.K. currently has 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, second only to the United States.

The never-ending election

Afghanistan’s U.N.-backed election watchdog will treat all presidential candidates as equally likely to be guilty of vote fraud in the country’s corruption-addled August 20 presidential election, which may ensure victory for incumbent President Hamid Karzai (Reuters). Accordingly, a powerful backer of second place candidate Abdullah Abdullah,  the governor for the northern Balkh province Atta Mohammad Noor, lobbied yesterday for the formation of a "national partnership (government)" and said, "All political allies of Dr. Abdullah should be given vast participation" (Reuters). The vote recount is underway and expected to be completed in a few days (Telegraph).

And if the election doesn’t go to a second round — which is seeming more and more likely — Karzai’s running mate, the controversial warlord Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, will be in a key position of power in Afghanistan (New York Times). Carlotta Gall, the dean of Western reporters in the region, got the rare interview with Marshal Fahim in Kabul last week. The third installment of Greg Jaffe’s brilliant series on the battle of Wanat in July 2008 is also well worth a close read, and coalition forces have killed 40 militants in the last 24 hours, following last weekend’s insurgent attack on a remote outpost in Nuristan, close to Wanat, that killed eight U.S. soldiers (Washington Post, AP, Pajhwok).

Something’s coming

Among increased chatter that a Pakistani military offensive against the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan is imminent, Pakistan’s interior minister said this morning that the government is expecting an increase in attacks by the Taliban (New York Times, Geo TV). Also this morning, Pakistani jets began pounding two main towns in South Waziristan, killing a handful of insurgents in what is perhaps the beginning of the larger operation (Dawn, Independent).

Pakistanis are not excited about the United States’ steps to expand its presence in the country in order to monitor the increased aid to Pakistan, as well as supplement its security presence (New York Times). Pakistani military and intelligence agencies are reportedly particularly concerned that an American contracting company is being used to develop a parallel network of security and intelligence personnel in Pakistan.

The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for yesterday’s lethal attack on a United Nations office in Islamabad, with spokesman Azam Tariq saying that the World Food Program is "promoting the U.S. agenda" (AFP, Dawn, The News). Tariq appeared alongside the new chief of the TTP, Hakimullah Mehsud, in his first media debut, an interview with several tribal journalists over the weekend (The News, New York Times, AP). However, Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik cast doubts on the authenticity of the interview, saying that the leader appeared to be Hakimullah’s brother, who looks remarkably like him, and some Pakistani intelligence and military officials believe Hakimullah was killed in factional infighting following the death of the last TTP chief, Baitullah Mehsud.

Overexposed?

In yet another videotape, al Qaeda’s deputy leader Ayman al Zawahiri eulogized a Libyan militant with the nom de guerre Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, called for Obama to "apologize and pay financial and moral compensation" to those who have been detained in secret prisons, and called U.S. officials "murderers, criminals, vampires" (AP, CNN, AFP). The tape was released on Sunday, but it’s unknown when it was filmed.

But can they fight the Taliban?

Afghanistan is sending a five-person team to Denmark to compete in the upcoming Taekwondo World Championships, an eight-day biennial contest (Pajhwok). The five Afghans, who already have several medals under their belts from other competitions, are scheduled to leave October 8 for the tournament, which starts in Copenhagen on October 12.

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