Daily brief: top U.S. military officer visits Pakistan as 43 militants killed

More of everything Up to 56,000 additional contractors could supplement the 30,000 new troops U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered sent to Afghanistan, in a move that could bring the total number of U.S. contractors in the country to between 130,000 and 160,000 according to a study by the Congressional Research Service (Wash Post, TPM). ...

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - DECEMBER 14: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen speaks during a press conference December 14, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Adm. Mullen, America's highest ranking military officer, expressed concern about the 'growing level of collusion' between Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and al-Qaida and other militants in Pakistan. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

More of everything

Up to 56,000 additional contractors could supplement the 30,000 new troops U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered sent to Afghanistan, in a move that could bring the total number of U.S. contractors in the country to between 130,000 and 160,000 according to a study by the Congressional Research Service (Wash Post, TPM). The full CRS report is available here (CRS).

More of everything

Up to 56,000 additional contractors could supplement the 30,000 new troops U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered sent to Afghanistan, in a move that could bring the total number of U.S. contractors in the country to between 130,000 and 160,000 according to a study by the Congressional Research Service (Wash Post, TPM). The full CRS report is available here (CRS).

The U.S. has also reportedly expanded the number of targets and raids carried out by special operations teams, focusing more on killing, capturing, or when possible flipping Taliban militants, not just al Qaeda (LAT). The shift could cause waves among some policymakers and administration officials, whose stated goal is eradicating al Qaeda, but senior military leaders believe rolling back the Taliban has become an “overriding short-term priority,” while top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal — who used to command special operations teams in Afghanistan and Iraq — reportedly wanted to align the teams’ operations with the larger strategy of weakening the Taliban insurgency and protecting the population.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Afghanistan plan has gained some support since his December 1 speech describing the troop increase: 52 percent of Americans believe the war is “worth fighting,” up from 44 percent before the speech, and 52 percent approve of how Obama is handling the situation in Afghanistan, up from 45 percent in mid-November (Wash Post). The full poll results are available here (Wash Post).

War supplies

Though some 8,500 U.S. Marines are expected to deploy to Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province by mid-2010, currently only a few hundred U.S. troops are policing the province’s southern border, which means they could have trouble disrupting Taliban supply lines from Pakistan (AP). As for U.S. supplies, this year the U.S. has greatly increased its use of of a supply route for nonmilitary cargo across Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, and will increase the shipments in 2010 corresponding to the additional U.S. troops deploying in Afghanistan (Reuters).

The U.S.-led coalition’s day-to-day commander Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez recently outlined in the most specific terms yet how the additional 30,000 troops will be deployed in Afghanistan over the coming months: from January to March, a regiment combat team of between 5,000 and 6,000 Marines will be sent to Helmand, followed by a 4,000-strong brigade combat team from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division; in the second wave from March to May, an Army brigade combat team from the 101st Airborne Division will deploy to the districts around Kandahar City (WSJ). The focus of the new troops, and those personnel supporting them, will be connecting the safer areas of Afghanistan via roadways and improving the Afghan National Police.

Four Afghan policemen were killed in a roadside bomb in the western province of Herat, while two Afghan soldiers were killed in separate attacks in Laghman and Kandahar; Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry says that militants have carried out 3,170 bombings or suicide attacks so far this year (BBC, AP). Additionally, two British soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing in Sangin yesterday, bringing the total number of British fatalities for the year — the deadliest since the 1982 Falklands War — to 102 (AFP, AP, Guardian, BBC).

The battle of perception

Pakistan’s troubled President Asif Ali Zardari and other Pakistani officials have thus far resisted calls from the U.S. to expand its anti-Taliban operations beyond the tribal areas, citing the need to focus on militants who are attacking Pakistan first, and a letter from Zardari to Obama reportedly calls on the United States to intervene more forcefully with India and expedite military assistance to Pakistani forces (Wash Post, WSJ). However, some reports suggest that certain top elements of Pakistan’s military are indeed in favor of sending troops into North Waziristan, a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other Afghan insurgents (McClatchy).

The touchy subject of expanding military operations has affected U.S.-Pakistan diplomatic relations, as a senior U.S. diplomat says Pakistan has been holding up visas for members of the military, diplomats, and others (AP). A U.S. official in the embassy in Islamabad reportedly said yesterday that the Taliban in Pakistan are winning the propaganda war, as militants have been able to carry out bloody attacks even though the Pakistani military has taken control of nearly all of the Taliban’s strongholds in South Waziristan (NYT). 

Top U.S. military officer Adm. Mike Mullen arrived late last night in Islamabad for talks with top Pakistani leaders, including the Pakistani Army’s Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, about Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy, as the Pakistani military reported 43 militants killed in Orakzai and Kurram (AFP, The Nation). CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus was in Pakistan for similar meetings earlier this week.

Jane Perlez and Salman Masood have today’s must-read, describing the host of challenges facing Zardari, from corruption charges to the impending Supreme Court decision regarding the legality of an amnesty decree, which is likely to be declared unconstitutional in the coming days (NYT). Pakistan’s Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision about the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance soon (Dawn, The News).

A female faceoff

Several teams qualified for the 25th annual Women’s Hockey Championship semi-finals yesterday in Pakistan, with Faisalabad beating the NWFP’s team in one match (Daily Times). The semi-finals are tomorrow.

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Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

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