Daily brief: Obama not cutting troops in Afghanistan
No trivial differences U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly told a nearly 90-minute bipartisan meeting of about 30 lawmakers yesterday that he would not substantially reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or change the mission to just hunting terrorists, and seemed to be looking for a middle ground between doubling down or pulling out ...
No trivial differences
U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly told a nearly 90-minute bipartisan meeting of about 30 lawmakers yesterday that he would not substantially reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or change the mission to just hunting terrorists, and seemed to be looking for a middle ground between doubling down or pulling out (New York Times, BBC, Washington Post, Times of London). The partisan divide purportedly remained in place after the meeting, with Democrats expressing reservations about sending more troops and Republicans more supportive, though there were exceptions (AP).
Obama is meeting with his national security team again today, on the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, and on Friday to continue the discussion about the path forward (Times of London, Voice of America, AFP). Obama’s decision is expected by the end of the month (Wall Street Journal).
Obama also spoke at the National Counterterrorism Center yesterday, saying that the U.S. is making “real progress” in the battle against al Qaeda and other extremists but vowing “relentless pressure” on the organization (Bloomberg, Reuters). The full text of his remarks is available from the White House (White House). And the informal White House book club appears to be a microcosm of the current debate over the war in Afghanistan (Wall Street Journal).
A style for challengers
An ongoing challenge in the debate about whether to send more troops to Afghanistan is the legitimacy of the Afghan government, whose August 20 presidential election is widely perceived as riven by fraud, the scale of which is perhaps larger than previously thought as newly public voter turnout data shows that in some provinces the official vote count exceeded the estimated voters by more than 100,000 (Washington Post). The U.N.-backed watchdog tasked with investigating the thousands of claims of fraud has clarified its recount rules after complaints that the previous regulations favored incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai (Reuters).
Another dimension of the troops debate is the strength of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which, while still posing a threat according to some analysts, is vastly diminished from its pre-September 11 position (AP). Some argue that the terrorist group’s fade calls into question the necessity of sending more forces to Afghanistan, but some Western officials warn that “deserting Afghanistan could mean a return to power for the Taliban” and the country could again become a safe haven for al Qaeda militants (AP).
And the Afghan Taliban reportedly said this morning in a statement on on their website that “We had and have no plan of harming countries of the world, including those in Europe… our goal is the independence of the country and the building of an Islamic state” (AP). Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a militant commander in Afghanistan, also released a video yesterday saying the Afghan war was launched under “false pretext” (Al Jazeera).
After U.S. criticism that it wasn’t doing enough in Afghanistan, NATO will begin training Afghan police in the coming weeks (New York Times). The move represents a big shift for NATO, which has previously avoided training missions out of concern that they would undermine its military role; the organization said it would also increase training the Afghan National Army.
Breaking through the gate
The battle at Kamdesh in eastern Afghanistan last Saturday that resulted in the deaths of eight American and three Afghan soldiers reportedly also left around 100 insurgents dead, according to NATO (AP, New York Times). CNN’s Barbara Starr and Adam Levine report that the insurgents actually managed to breach the perimeter of one of the remote outposts that was attacked, one which was slated to be closed “within days” (CNN). The governor of Nuristan province said yesterday that a dozen of the Afghan policemen who went missing after the attack, possibly kidnapped or hiding, have been found and sent to safety (Pajhwok).
A profile of a mission in Kandahar, a southern province in Afghanistan often called the spiritual homeland of the Taliban, provides insights into the importance of local informants and adequate supplies and equipment (McClatchy).
That’s what I want
Pakistani leaders are engaged in a vigorous debate over a $7.5 billion aid bill from the United States, which critics say would lead to greater U.S. interference in Pakistani affairs if the bill is passed in Pakistan’s parliament (Dawn, Al Jazeera, AP, Reuters). Among other conditions, the bill calls for Pakistan to cooperate in dismantling nuclear supplier networks by offering “relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks,” referring to Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, who ran a nuclear black market.
Pakistan’s army announced earlier today that it has killed the top aide to the commander of the Taliban in the Swat Valley, a scenic one-time tourist destination that was the site of a military offensive (AFP, Dawn). Nisar Ahmed, also known as Ghazi Baba, had a reward of some $120,000 for his death, and Maulana Fazlullah remains at large (Times of India). And a Pakistani military spokesman said the army expects the Taliban to put up “tough resistance” against an impending offensive in the restive tribal region of South Waziristan (AP).
Meeting with the higher-ups
The 24-year-old Afghan immigrant who was arrested recently for a suspected bomb plot in the United States allegedly had ties to senior al Qaeda leaders in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater, where he reportedly received explosives training (AP). U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday called the Najibullah Zazi case “one of the most serious terrorist threats to our country since September 11, 2001” (Reuters).
The National Museum of Afghanistan is celebrating the return of about two thousand artifacts, some dating back to the 11th century, that had been smuggled to the U.K. over the years (New York Times, AP). The museum’s director estimates that 70 percent of the artifacts were stolen between 1992 and 1995, during a brutal civil war in Afghanistan, and the new collection includes ancient knives and axes.
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