The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Obama’s Afghanistan war council to meet this morning

Softening up U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to sign legislation today designed to give Pakistan $7.5 billion in aid over the next five years, after Congress issues an “explanatory statement” to allay Pakistani military concerns that some of the conditions on the aid infringe on the country’s sovereignty (Geo TV, Washington Post, BBC, Dawn, ...

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President Barack Obama attends a briefing on Afghanistan in the Situation Room of the White House, Oct. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Softening up

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to sign legislation today designed to give Pakistan $7.5 billion in aid over the next five years, after Congress issues an “explanatory statement” to allay Pakistani military concerns that some of the conditions on the aid infringe on the country’s sovereignty (Geo TV, Washington Post, BBC, Dawn, AFP, Bloomberg). Timothy Hoyt assesses that the Pakistan Army will continue to protest some of the conditions, which require the U.S. to certify periodically that Pakistan is not supporting militant groups and is working toward dismantling illegal nuclear proliferation networks, but at the end of the day will accept the aid (Foreign Policy).

The Pakistani military’s airstrikes in the militant-ridden tribal agency of South Waziristan yesterday have reportedly killed at least nine insurgents, as part of a stepped-up campaign of bombing before an anticipated ground offensive with the some 28,000 troops amassed around the border of the region (Reuters, Al Jazeera, AP). As of August 1, around 90,000 Pakistanis had fled South Waziristan ahead of the Army offensive, taking refuge in safer areas like Dera Ismail Khan and Tank, and there was a new exodus after last weekend’s brazen assault on Pakistan’s military headquarters in Rawalpindi (AFP).

The troops of armed men

Obama’s decision on the hotly debated number of troops to be sent to Afghanistan will reportedly be made “in the coming weeks,” and his top commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal has purportedly recommended three different options in his resource request: 10,000 troops as the lowest figure, 40,000 in the middle, and a ceiling of some 80,000 (AP, AP). Gen. McChrystal is concerned over the rampant corruption in the country, even as he advocates the middle option.

The White House’s decision-making process has been unusually, if at times involuntarily, transparent in recent weeks (New York Times). And in spite of Vice President Joe Biden’s spotty track record on foreign policy issues, his view that the U.S. should not escalate its presence in Afghanistan and should instead focus on targeting al Qaeda in Pakistan with special forces and drone strikes is gaining traction in the debate over the future of the war (New York Times). Obama’s Afghanistan war council of national security advisers is meeting for the fifth time today at 9:45am, with another huddle scheduled for next week (AP, AP, Politico).

The U.K., for its part, is sending several hundred more soldiers to the Afghan theater with a few caveats, bringing the country’s total contribution to 9,500 (Reuters, AP, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Telegraph). The troops will be sent given that they receive necessary equipment, if other NATO allies boost their troop numbers as well, and if more Afghan security forces are trained (BBC). According to new polling, 36 percent of British voters now believe that troops should be withdrawn immediately, up from 29 percent in mid-September (Times of London).

It’s not just about the troops

USAID in Afghanistan has adopted a new strategy in the country to support the farmers who make up the basis of Afghanistan’s agricultural economy, primarily in the troubled south and east of the country (Financial Times). USAID’s Afghan budget has doubled in the last year to $2.1 billion, and the new head of the aid organization in Kabul is reportedly planning to boost aid to the farmers from 5 percent of his budget to 20-25 percent.

Greg Jaffe and Joshua Partlow describe the struggling militant reconciliation program in Afghanistan, citing Afghan anxiety that the U.S.’s commitment to the country is wavering and the Afghan government’s own “tentative, incoherent and underfunded” attempts to buy off or persuade insurgents to lay down their arms (Washington Post). Some U.S. policymakers have reportedly suggested targeting the “Machiavellian” insurgent commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for reconciliation efforts, but the U.S.-led military command “has no authority to negotiate with the insurgents” independent of the Afghan government.

The British general tasked with coaxing fighters away from the insurgency said that extremists should be offered “amnesty” and removed from coalition wanted lists if they lay down their weapons (Times of London). Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb estimated that only 10 percent of Afghan insurgents are hardliners with whom negotiation will be impossible, but that the rest are “upset brothers” or “guns for hire.”

Residents of Kabul and some of incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s tribal supporters in the Pashtun south of Afghanistan alike are skeptical of the efficacy, safety, and fairness of a potential second round of presidential elections, after August’s fraud-riddled contest remains unresolved (AFP, New York Times). If Karzai manages to avoid a runoff against his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah when results are announced later this week, he faces pressure from the West to end his alliances with warlords who supported him in the election in presumed exchange for plum government positions if he won (AP).

Obama’s war

Last night, PBS’s Frontline ran an hour-long special about “Obama’s war” in Afghanistan and Pakistan that is a must-watch primer on the intricacies of the region, its politics, and security complexities (PBS). Transcripts, analysis, maps, and other resources are available from PBS.

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Pete Souza/The White House

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