The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Obama reportedly considering 4 Afghanistan options

The latest speculation U.S. President Barack Obama is reportedly considering four major options for sending more troops to Afghanistan and is expected to discuss them at his eighth meeting with his war council today at 2:30pm, though his decision, after two months of deliberations, is still weeks away (CNN, Reuters, Politico, AP). ABC News has ...

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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) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The latest speculation

U.S. President Barack Obama is reportedly considering four major options for sending more troops to Afghanistan and is expected to discuss them at his eighth meeting with his war council today at 2:30pm, though his decision, after two months of deliberations, is still weeks away (CNN, Reuters, Politico, AP). ABC News has a useful summary of who has attended the series of meetings (ABC). The American public is evenly split over whether Obama is taking too long to decide whether to send more troops, according to new CNN polling released this morning; there is a gender gap, however, as most men say Obama is taking too long and most women willing to give him more time (CNN).

Three of Obama’s top advisers — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen — are reportedly coalescing around a proposal to send 30,000 or more U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan (New York Times). Officials purportedly said Obama may announce his decision in the week before Thanksgiving, but an announcement in the first week of December “seemed more likely.” A ‘hybrid’ plan of 30 to 35,000 more troops that combines reinforcements for fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan with trainers for Afghan security forces is apparently gaining traction at the Pentagon (Wall Street Journal).

The view from Europe

The war also remains a hot topic across the pond, as Obama is expected to ask NATO allies to contribute 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan to “help break the deadlock,” though his request is set to be ignored, reports Michael Evans (Times of London). The British public is becoming increasingly skeptical of involvement in the conflict, as a new poll shows that four of five of those surveyed don’t believe U.K. involvement is helping keep the streets of Britain safe (Independent).

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced yesterday that British and NATO forces are planning to hand over responsibility for two districts in the troubled southern Afghan province of Helmand in 2010, and Western commanders are reportedly considering a strategy that would have U.S. and British forces pull out of northern Helmand, including the town of Musa Qala (AP, Times of London). The only remaining Western forces in the province would be assigned to protect the hydroelectric dam at Kajaki. And British troops are helping to train an additional 10,000 Afghan soldiers for the province (Times of London).

The rise and fall

A key part of Western strategies in Afghanistan is convincing Taliban fighters to lay down their arms, and correspondingly, international forces are reportedly planning to spend substantial amounts of money to this end (Telegraph). Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to reach out to militants next week in his inaugural address, scheduled for November 19 (AFP). And the chief U.S. inspector for reconstruction aid to Afghanistan said yesterday that the aid process — which has given some $40 billion to Afghanistan since 2002 — so far has been “sloppy” (Reuters).

Joshua Partlow has today’s must read, in which he describes the ascendancy of the Taliban and the relative decline of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, citing some 400 al Qaeda fighters on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, compared with “tens of thousands” of Taliban insurgents (Washington Post). Officials and analysts differ over whether the inversion of the traditional power dynamic between the extremist groups has led to better or worse relations between them, however.

The operation that led to the seizure of 250 tons of ammonium nitrate from a warehouse in Kandahar last weekend also recovered about 2,000 devices like triggers and timers, and the bomb-making material is used in the overwhelming majority of roadside bombs in Afghanistan (AP, New York Times). The seizure comes on the heels of a number of initiatives to keep the fertilizer out of Taliban hands; before this month, Afghan and NATO officials could only take ammonium nitrate if it was clearly associated with insurgent activity, and now they can take it regardless, though they are required to compensate the farmers.

U.S. military divers have found the body of one of the two U.S. soldiers who apparently drowned last week attempting to recover supplies that were mistakenly airdropped into a river in Badghis province (AP, Bloomberg, New York Times, AFP). Local Taliban militants attacked the joint Afghan-American rescue mission for the soldiers, causing the U.S. to call in an air strike, which killed at least eight Afghans, and NATO is investigating whether those deaths were caused by a “friendly fire” strike.

Ongoing operations

The civilian death toll from yesterday’s car bombing in a crowded market in Charsadda, a town in northwestern Pakistan a short distance from Peshawar, has risen to 34 and prompted a three-day general strike to protest the lack of proper security in the area (New York Times, BBC, Bloomberg, McClatchy). Three blasts in the past four days near Peshawar have killed at least 40 people, and a six-member team has been formed to investigate the attack at Charsadda (Washington Post, Geo TV). The attack has not been claimed, which is unsurprising given the number of civilian casualties.

The attack at Charsadda came as the Pakistani military’s anti-Taliban offensive in South Waziristan continues and the Army claims it now has control of 80 percent of the Mehsud areas in the tribal region and has killed nine militants in the last day (The News, BBC, Dawn). Taliban militants attacked an outpost in Mohmand agency earlier today and killed two paramilitary soldiers, prompting helicopter gunships to shell Taliban hideouts, killing at least ten (AP). And a land mine in Mohmand killed eight Pakistani soldiers just moments ago (AFP). Information from the region is virtually impossibly to verify because journalists and aid workers are not allowed to enter the battle zone alone.

Lagging Lollywood

Pakistan’s once-vibrant Lahore-based film industry is struggling, a victim of DVR, cable television, the Islamization of Pakistani society, and finally, DVD piracy (Los Angeles Times). In 1985, more than 1,000 movie theaters were open across the country, while today there are 120 still in business.

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Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images

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