Daily brief: Clinton in Kabul for Karzai’s inauguration
The waiting game U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly told CNN today that he is “very close” to making a decision about whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and plans to make an announcement “in the next several weeks,” after more than two months of deliberations (Reuters, Reuters). Obama is reportedly angry about the ...
The waiting game
U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly told CNN today that he is “very close” to making a decision about whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and plans to make an announcement “in the next several weeks,” after more than two months of deliberations (Reuters, Reuters). Obama is reportedly angry about the stream of leaks that has come out about his Afghanistan decision, telling CBS, “For people to be releasing info in the course of deliberations is not appropriate” and said yes when asked if that is a “firing offense” (CBS, Politico). Meanwhile, Afghans are on hold, waiting for Obama to announce a decision and for President Hamid Karzai to be inaugurated tomorrow and appoint his cabinet of ministers (AP, Reuters).
Whether Karzai will appoint reformers or stack his cabinet with political friends remains an open question that worries Afghan and international observers alike (AFP, Independent). Doubts are growing as to whether the embattled Afghan president, who returned to power after a fraud-ridden contest on August 20, will be able to finish his five year term, given the challenges he faces: regaining voter trust, assuring the international community of his commitment to fighting corruption, and recovering control of areas currently ruled by Taliban militants (McClatchy). U.S. officials have reportedly given Karzai a list of 40 people it considers “clean enough” to participate in his new cabinet.
Presumably not included on the “clean enough” list is the president’s half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, who has become a “symbol of cronyism and a lightning rod for criticism of all that is wrong with Karzai’s administration” (AP). Alexandra Zavis has a must-read on the plague of corruption in Afghanistan (Los Angeles Times).
The Afghan capital Kabul is in “lockdown” ahead of Karzai’s inauguration on Thursday, which has been declared a public holiday in Afghanistan, and analysts expect Taliban attacks on tomorrow’s ceremony, which is not open to the public but instead will be held inside the presidential palace and reportedly attended by dignitaries from 42 countries, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (AFP, AP, McClatchy). Clinton has just landed in Kabul for the inauguration and to meet with top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal, on her first visit to the country as the U.S.’s top diplomat (AFP, AP, AFP). Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner are also among the 300 foreign dignitaries slated to attend the inauguration (Reuters, Pajhwok).
Two new polls on Afghanistan were released earlier today, the first from Washington Post/ABC finding that while Americans are nearly evenly split on whether Obama should order a smaller or larger number of U.S. troops to Afghanistan, almost half believe Obama’s policies are not making much difference in making the U.S. safer from terrorism (Washington Post). The second poll from CBS found that 69 percent of Americans think the war in Afghanistan is going badly, and only 38 percent of those surveyed approve of Obama’s performance in handling Afghanistan, down from 58 percent in April (CBS). The full results of the polls can be found here (Washington Post, CBS).
Another new report released today comes from the British aid agency Oxfam, finding that seven of ten Afghans surveyed believe poverty and unemployment are to blame for the country’s ongoing conflict (BBC, AFP). The full report, which assesses that after the past three decades of war the “social fabric of the country is fractured,” is available from Oxfam (Oxfam).
The trials of coordination
The European Union’s training missing in Afghanistan for the country’s police force is reportedly understaffed, poorly coordinated with other organizations, lacking in proper security and transportation, and has not yet developed a uniform training program, after two and a half years since it began (New York Times). NATO is expected to start its own police training mission, financed by the U.S., in the coming weeks. And Chuck Liddy profiles “a day in the life” of a Chinook transport helicopter in Afghanistan, a country whose roads are riddled with roadside bombs and at risk for Taliban ambushes, necessitating more travel by air (McClatchy).
After the Pakistani Army took journalists on a second guided tour of South Waziristan yesterday, veteran correspondents Pam Constable and Sabrina Tavernise have essential reads on the site of the one-month-old Pakistani military offensive in the militant-infested tribal agency on the border with Afghanistan (Washington Post, New York Times). Zahid Hussain reports that commanders believe most of the region’s some 10,000 militants have melted into the imposing mountains or fled to neighboring agencies, foreshadowing a long struggle (Wall Street Journal, Times of London). There has been no reporting about civilian casualties caused by the operations, though more than 300,000 Pakistanis have fled the conflict zone.
The Pakistani Army took the cadre of reporters to a school in Ladha, a town in South Waziristan that Taliban militants used as a base, and showed a school that officials claimed was used as a training camp for suicide bombers (AP, Al Jazeera). In Sararogha, a nearby village that is also a militant stronghold, Chris Brummitt reports seeing a school with a room used by the Taliban as a pseudo-courthouse complete with documents detailing a property dispute. The U.S. is reportedly putting pressure on Pakistan to expand its anti-militant offensive into North Waziristan and the Baluchi city of Quetta, believed to be home to the leadership of the Afghan Taliban (Telegraph).
Also in Quetta earlier today, Pakistani police arrested an alleged al Qaeda suspect who was attempting to leave the country to perform Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (Dawn, Pajhwok). Airport authorities reportedly knew from looking at the man’s passport that he was involved with the terrorist group in some way.
An olive production factory in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar recently re-opened three years after being damaged by fighting in the country and is expected to produce 10 tons of pickles and 40 tons of olive oil next season (Pajhwok). About a pound of olive oil from this factory reportedly sells for some $5.
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