The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Obama boosts troops, but with exit plan

Obama’s war: go big to go home At West Point military academy last night, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he will speed the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan by summer 2010, while promising to start bringing U.S. troops home in July 2011, though he did not specify the pace or end date ...

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Obama’s war: go big to go home

At West Point military academy last night, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he will speed the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan by summer 2010, while promising to start bringing U.S. troops home in July 2011, though he did not specify the pace or end date of the transition process between international and Afghan forces (New York Times, Pajhwok, AFP, BBC, Telegraph, Al Jazeera, Times of London, FT, CNN, Wall Street Journal). In a speech that was somber in tone and began with a reminder of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Obama delivered a message to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, saying, “The days of providing a blank check are over,” though he did not specify what would happen if Karzai fails to address the rampant corruption in his government (New York Times).

Obama told the Afghan people, “We have no interest in occupying your country,” while reaching out to NATO allies to say, “What’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility — what’s at stake is the security of our allies and the common security of the world” (Washington Post). Obama also invoked three wartime presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and hammered home the point that Pakistan is “inextricably linked” with Afghanistan, making “an effective partnership” with Pakistan one of the three pillars of his new strategy, the other two being “a military effort to create the conditions for a transition” and “a civilian surge that reinforces positive action.” The full text of the must-read speech is available here (Foreign Policy).

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is reportedly the main architect behind this increase in troops, and according to Mike Allen, he is the one who brought Obama the final figure of 30,000 soldiers in mid-October (Wall Street Journal, Politico).

The reactions

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded to the call to action, saying that non-U.S. participants will send “at least 5,000” new troops to the Afghan mission in 2010, though so far only the U.K., Poland, Slovakia, Turkey, Georgia, South Korea, and Montenegro have expressed a willingness to send extra soldiers (AP, BBC). Some allies like France and Germany may be waiting until the international conference to discuss Afghanistan in London on January 28, 2010 to decide whether to send more troops to a war that is increasingly unpopular domestically (Bloomberg, New York Times).

Some Afghan officials in Kabul criticized Obama’s timetable as unrealistic, with a Karzai policy adviser commenting, “We couldn’t solve the Afghanistan problem in eight years, but now the U.S. wants to solve it in eighteen months?” (Wall Street Journal). But erstwhile presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah supports the increase in troops, and Karzai’s foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said Obama “sharply stated his commitment” to Afghanistan (New York Times). Many Afghans are skeptical that the 35,000 expected additional troops can provide safety, however, though Karzai himself was “resolute” and “upbeat” this morning (Washington Post, AP, AFP, Reuters).

The Taliban, for their part, predictably vowed to step up resistance to the increase in troops, asserting that “Obama will witness lots of coffins heading to America from Afghanistan” (AFP, BBC, Reuters).

The reaction in Pakistan was “lukewarm” as the country’s foreign ministry released a statement saying Pakistan looks forward to understanding the implications of the strategy and ensuring that “there would be no adverse fallout” in Pakistan (Reuters, The News, AP). Some Pakistani analysts are concerned that the increase in troops in Afghanistan will simply push Taliban fighters across the border into Pakistani territory (Los Angeles Times).

Top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who had reportedly advocated an increase of up to 40,000 troops, told reporters that he is “absolutely supportive” of the president’s timeline and said the three-month-long strategy review provided him with a “clear military mission and the resources to accomplish our task” (AP, ISAF, Times of London, Telegraph). U.S. troops and families had mixed reactions, and Gen. David Petraeus, CENTCOM commander, said he is “very satisfied” with the results (AP, Bloomberg).

Congressional Democrats are complaining about Obama’s escalation of the war, while Republicans are unhappy with the stated timeline (AP, McClatchy, ABC). The AP has compiled a useful set of quotes from U.S. and international government officials reacting to last night’s speech (AP).

The follow up

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen are testifying at 9:00am EST today before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC); and tomorrow at 9:00am EST before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and their testimonies are available here (SFRC). Today at 1:30pm the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hear from Clinton, Gates, and Mullen (HFA) and tomorrow at 1:00pm the House Armed Services Committee will hear testimony related to the new Afghanistan strategy, as well (HASC). This list is not necessarily comprehensive.

Several more senior administration officials are expected to make the trek to Capitol Hill in the coming weeks, and Gates and Clinton will make the rounds on the Sunday talk shows this week while Vice President Joe Biden and Gen. Petraeus are circulating on the morning shows today (Politico).

A blast at the Navy

Earlier this morning a teenage suicide bomber on foot blew himself up while trying to enter the headquarters of Pakistan’s Navy in Islamabad, killing one official and wounding up to 11 more including a 6-year-old boy (Dawn, Reuters, CNN, BBC, New York Times). Pakistan’s military installations are often targets of Taliban militants, though this attack has not yet been claimed.

Obama’s strategy speech last night “left much unsaid about Pakistan” because U.S. operations there are classified, including a CIA-operated program of drone strikes in the militant-riddled tribal regions (New York Times). Obama has reportedly authorized a wider war in Pakistan, possibly to include expanding drone strikes into Baluchistan.

The art of war

Pakistan has recently seen a surge of contemporary artists using militancy, religious extremism, and violence as inspiration for their work (AFP). Fifteen Pakistani artists are currently showing 55 works at “Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan,” an exhibition at the Asia Society in New York City (Asia Society). 

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