Daily brief: Obama to discuss exit strategy in Afghanistan speech tomorrow
Almost there In what is being hailed as “the boldest strategic move of his presidency,” U.S. President Barack Obama is set to announce an increase of between 30,000 and 35,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan tomorrow at 8:00pm EST at West Point military academy, along with a preliminary time frame for winding down U.S. involvement in ...
In what is being hailed as “the boldest strategic move of his presidency,” U.S. President Barack Obama is set to announce an increase of between 30,000 and 35,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan tomorrow at 8:00pm EST at West Point military academy, along with a preliminary time frame for winding down U.S. involvement in the country (AP, New York Times). Obama is likely to talk about a plan for handing over authority to Kabul, including some broad benchmarks for the Afghan government, though the White House appears poised to reject top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request to double the size of the Afghan security forces over the next few years (Wall Street Journal).
Shortly after Obama’s much-anticipated speech, coming after some three months of deliberations, as many as 9,000 Marines will begin final preparations to deploy to the insurgency-riddled southern Afghan province of Helmand, reportedly the first place Obama will look for results (Washington Post). Wardak and Logar provinces, south of Kabul, could be a model for how an increase in troops could provide more security, after the insertion of a few thousand more soldiers earlier this year led the U.S. commander in the two provinces to say, “Logar by any metric that a security professional would use is more secure than before” (AP).
Obama’s speech is likely to meet with criticism from many corners, as yesterday Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona said on Fox News Sunday, “Talk of an exit strategy is exactly the wrong way to go,” while Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, a Democrat, emphasized, “The key here is an Afghan surge, not an American surge” (Fox, CBS, AP, New York Times). In an attempt to boost flagging domestic support for the war effort, Obama administration officials are starting to be more positive in their public assessments of the situation in Afghanistan (Los Angeles Times).
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who reportedly supports the increase in troops, has been struggling with the implications of the legacy of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s, though there are major differences between the two conflicts (Wall Street Journal). Yaroslav Trofimov has a fascinating read on the situation.
Britain is planning to host a conference in early 2010, followed up by a meeting in Kabul several months later, designed to “outline the framework for an increased lead role for the Afghans in the shaping of their destiny” (Pajhwok, Reuters). British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is reportedly expected to announce today that the U.K. will send 500 more soldiers to Afghanistan, after learning that their equipment is ready, and will hold a final video conference today with Obama to confer about the U.S. president’s speech tomorrow (Guardian, BBC).
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee just released a report detailing the U.S.’s crucial failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and some of his top deputies at the 2001 battle of Tora Bora, concluding unequivocally that bin Laden was indeed at the complex of mountainous caves in mid-December 2001 and suggesting that more U.S. troops during the fighting might have led to the terrorist leader’s demise (New York Times, CNN, AP, BBC, Times of London, Telegraph). The full analysis, a must-read for those seeking a deeper understanding of the battle, is available here (SFRC-pdf).
A rogue Afghan policemen opened fire this morning at a checkpoint in Nimroz in southwestern Afghanistan, killing six police officers, following the deaths of some 26 militants at the border on Saturday (AP, BBC, AP). The Afghan police, meanwhile, reportedly appear years away from being able to function independently, and a contingent of around 1,500 trainers from NATO countries is working with Afghans to improve the skills of Afghanistan’s soldiers (McClatchy, AP).
A black jail
The United States is reportedly holding inmates at a facility on Bagram air base in Afghanistan for weeks without access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, in spite of Obama’s goal to improve detention conditions (New York Times). Two Afghan teenagers told the Washington Post they were abused, physically and sexually, while detained at the “black jail,” as it is known to Afghans (Washington Post).
Some one dozen minor criminals and low-level Taliban militants broke out of a jail in Farah province in western Afghanistan over the weekend via a tunnel they dug out of the prison, which was built to house 80 but currently holds around 300 inmates (AP). Overcrowded prisons in Afghanistan are a significant problem in the country as it tries to improve its justice system.
Several senior German officials have resigned in the aftermath of a German-ordered NATO airstrike in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province in early September that resulted in the deaths of some 30 civilians and nearly 70 Taliban fighters, according to an Afghan commission that investigated the incident (Wall Street Journal, CNN, AP, Guardian, BBC, Times of London, Spiegel, Pajhwok). Then-defense minister Franz Josef Jung, the chief of Germany’s armed forces Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan, and deputy Defense Minister Peter Wichert all stepped down late last week, throwing into question Germany’s mission in Afghanistan, increasingly unpopular among its people and among other European countries (AP).
The once-peaceful north of Afghanistan has over the past two years seen a steady resurgence of Taliban activity after the Afghan government and U.S. military trainers failed to remain “vigilant to signs of Taliban encroachment,” reports Carlotta Gall (New York Times). The militants have grown increasingly sophisticated in their attacks, using multiple coordinated suicide bombings and assassinations.
The politics of Pakistan
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown appeared frustrated with Pakistan over the weekend during a handful of harsh public statements in which he said that “After eight years, we should have been able to do more…to get to the bottom of where al Qaeda is operating from” and told the BBC that Pakistan must do more to “break” the terrorist group (Times of London, Telegraph, BBC, New York Times). A spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Office issued a biting statement in response saying that no one should doubt Pakistan’s sincerity and pointing out that more than 700 al Qaeda operatives have been captured or killed in Pakistan over the past eight years (Bloomberg, Dawn).
Karen DeYoung reports that U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones delivered a letter from Obama to Pakistan’s embattled President Asif Ali Zardari earlier this month that warned with unusual bluntness that Pakistan’s use of terrorist groups as policy tools “cannot continue,” even as he offered “an expanded strategic partnership” to Pakistan, including improved intelligence sharing and a more secure and upgraded military equipment pipeline (Washington Post).
It was a bad weekend for Zardari, who both ceded control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and lost the amnesty protecting himself and some allies from corruption charges as it expired on Saturday (CNN, AP, New York Times, Wall Street Journal). Zardari, who says that as president he is still immune to cases brought against him, handed over the top civilian position in Pakistan’s nuclear control structure to signal that he is willing to shed some of his powers in an attempt to hang on to at least a figurehead position. Pakistan’s main opposition party has demanded that Zardari turn over the “sweeping powers” he inherited from his predecessor (AP).
The battle rages
Militant violence in Pakistan continues with a roadside bomb in Peshawar as the Pakistani Taliban are reportedly regrouping outside South Waziristan, the tribal agency that has been the site of a Pakistani military offensive for the past six weeks (Los Angeles Times, AFP). Operations in Khyber agency, on the Afghan border, also continue with some 60 extremists reportedly killed there and ten more in Kurram over the weekend (Dawn, AFP, AP).
An anti-Taliban tribal elder was found murdered in Mohmand agency in northwest Pakistan late last week, followed shortly by the killing of another key anti-Taliban leader in nearby Bajaur (BBC, Dawn). The pair of assassinations illustrates the danger to those who oppose the militants in public. And Pakistan late last week announced the award of some $120,000 to a tipster whose information led to the arrest of Abdullah Shah Mehsud, number 17 on Pakistan’s most-wanted list and a lieutenant of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud (AFP).
Fun and games
Traditional Afghan games and sports are underway in the capital of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah, in celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha (Pajhwok). Thousands of spectators have gathered to watch wrestling matches and throwing competitions.
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