The South Asia Channel
Daily brief: Obama orders fast troop deployment to Afghanistan
Note: New America Foundation president and Ghost Wars author Steve Coll will be taking questions about Afghanistan in a New America/Politico online chat today at 12:00pm EST (chat). Today’s the day After more than three months of deliberations, U.S. President Barack Obama has reportedly issued the orders to send some 34,000 additional U.S. troops to ...
Note: New America Foundation president and Ghost Wars author Steve Coll will be taking questions about Afghanistan in a New America/Politico online chat today at 12:00pm EST (chat).
Today’s the day
After more than three months of deliberations, U.S. President Barack Obama has reportedly issued the orders to send some 34,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan and is preparing to address the nation tonight at 8:00pm EST from West Point (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, BBC, AFP, Pajhwok). Eight U.S. allies have agreed to send some 5,000 additional troops as well, including 500 just announced yesterday from the U.K. to bring the British total in Afghanistan, including special forces, to sround 10,000 (Telegraph, Guardian, Times of London, Reuters).
Obama has spent the last day and a half informing top military officials and world leaders about his decision, including heads of government in France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China, India, Denmark, and Poland (AP, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times). Obama also reportedly spent an hour this morning in a videoconference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai discussing the expected troop increase, and also placed a call to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (AP). A briefing for dozens of lawmakers is scheduled for this afternoon.
A man, a plan, Afghanistan
The U.S.’s strategy in Afghanistan will reportedly focus on training the Afghan security forces so that the U.S. can eventually pull out of the country, and Obama is expected to specify political and military benchmarks for the Afghan government (Washington Post). The deployment of new troops “will be accelerated,” according to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, with at least one group of Marines deploying within a few weeks of the announcement tonight, in an effort to reverse the Taliban’s momentum (New York Times, AP). A political fight is brewing over how to pay for the expected troop increase, with Democrats coalescing around the idea of a war surtax while Republicans generally favor borrowing or reallocating other funds (Wall Street Journal).
Top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who had reportedly advocated a troop increase of around 40,000, told politicians that a U.S. drawdown could begin as soon as 2013, and the White House said it expected U.S. forces out of the country by 2017 or 2018 (Al Jazeera, AP). After the increase in troops, there will be around 100,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, in addition to some 45,000 NATO troops (CNN).
Keith Richburg has an interesting take on past experiences with nation-building, including in Somalia, Cambodia, East Timor, the Balkans, and Iraq (Washington Post).
In defense of the plan
This week and next, a slew of U.S. leaders will testify before Congress about Obama’s plan, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, special representative Amb. Richard Holbrooke, U.S. ambassador to Kabul Gen. Karl Eikenberry, and Gen. McChrystal (Washington Post). Obama faces a tough sell tonight for a war that has become increasingly unpopular domestically, though Afghan and Pakistani officials are reportedly anxious about Obama’s potential talk of an exit strategy, fearing eventual Taliban retribution (McClatchy, AP).
Amb. Holbrooke is reportedly in favor of the appointment of a special “high representative” for Kabul in “an attempt to bypass” the much-criticized government of Hamid Karzai, causing a split between the U.S. and some NATO allies who oppose the idea (Guardian). Gen. Eikenberry is a possible contender for the job.
The politics of war
Obama’s speech tonight is also expected to “freshen” the U.S.’s approach to Pakistan, which according to Josh Rogin will be more “counterterrorism-heavy” (AP, Foreign Policy). Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari, who has recently been struggling to maintain control, appears to have fended off foes in the political and military arenas for now, though calls for him to step down or cede more powers are growing (Washington Post, Reuters).
Earlier today, a teenager blew himself up in the home of a provincial lawmaker, Shamsher Ali, during Eid al-Adha celebrations in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, killing the anti-Taliban member of the Awami National Party (AP, Reuters, AFP, The News, Dawn). And a gunman opened fire over the weekend on the home of a liberal newspaper columnist for Dawn who is often critical of Pakistan’s military and spy agencies, and though no one was hurt, Kamran Shafi said he received a phone call from a woman describing the shooting as a “trailer” for a soon-to-be-shown movie (AP, New York Times). Shafi recounts the shooting here (Dawn).
As the Pakistani military offensive in the insurgency-ridden tribal agency of South Waziristan continues, the Army announced that it has killed some 600 Taliban militants since operations began on October 17, though independent verification of figures is impossible because journalists and aid workers are barred from visiting the region independently (Bloomberg).
The operations have provoked retaliatory attacks from militants that have killed some 300 Pakistanis over the past six weeks, and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani recently said that the U.S.’s alleged tactic of using CIA-operated drone strikes to target militants in the tribal regions are spoiling Pakistan’s efforts to split factions of extremists from one another (Bloomberg).
They have layers
Onion farmers in Afghanistan’s central Parwan province are unhappy with the low prices of their produce, down from some $35 a sack last year to around $9 today (Pajhwok). Traders from other cities are apparently not turning up to purchase the plethora of onions this year.
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