Daily brief: Clinton confirms “strategic partnership” with Karzai
Diplomatic finery Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai for a day of meetings and a dinner in his honor, calling the American relationship with Afghanistan a "strategic partnernship," praising Karzai’s efforts to fight corruption, and vowing not to abandon Afghanistan even after American troops leave (Reuters, Times, Independent, WSJ). ...
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai for a day of meetings and a dinner in his honor, calling the American relationship with Afghanistan a "strategic partnernship," praising Karzai’s efforts to fight corruption, and vowing not to abandon Afghanistan even after American troops leave (Reuters, Times, Independent, WSJ). Karzai and the 15 cabinet ministers who traveled with him engaged in a series of meetings and smaller working groups with their American counterparts throughout the day; Karzai reportedly presented his plan for reconciliation with Taliban members, in addition to pushing for American support for a "peace jirga," a meeting with 1,500 tribal leaders to be held later this month focusing on Taliban reconciliation (AJE, NYT). Karzai will spend much of today in meetings with President Barack Obama, and the two will hold a joint press conference (BBC, AP).
Karzai is also reportedly pressing for major long-term security commitments to Afghanistan as well as "major non-NATO ally" status, currently accorded to countries like Australia, Israel, Japan, and Pakistan (LAT). The designation would give Afghanistan access to U.S. weapons technology in addition to other benefits, but puts the White House in the sensitive position of wanting to reassure Karzai while maintaining leverage over him. Greg Jaffe and Karen DeYoung also write today that the United States faces a challenge in trying to balance the need for reliable local governments with Karzai’s fears of losing authority to local and provincial leaders (Wash Post).
Afghan army woes continue
A forthcoming International Crisis Group (ICG) report concludes that the Afghan National Army (ANA) is riddled with corruption and ethnic factionalism that is slowing its growth and hampering its effectiveness (McClatchy). The report warns that the tension and endemic issues "could risk the army’s disintegration after the withdrawal of international forces."
In Kandahar, the Taliban claimed credit for the shooting death of the no. 2 prisons official in the province (AP).
The ties that strain
FBI investigators are reportedly en route to Pakistan to investigate potential ties between failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) (Times). Despite assertions from U.S. officials about TTP support for Shahzad, Pakistani investigators say they have found "no Taliban link" to the attacks (Guardian). The attack and U.S. claims of Pakistani responsibility for subduing militant groups has again brought out some Pakistanis’ mistrust of the U.S.’s intentions, and Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Richard Holbrooke yesterday said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments suggesting repercussions in Pakistan in the event of a terrorist attack on the United States were "misinterpreted" (Wash Post, Dawn).
The State Department is considering adding the TTP to its list of banned terrorist groups, a lengthy process that could make it illegal to provide the group material support, freeze its assets in the U.S., and ban its members from traveling here (AP, Reuters, AFP, McClatchy). The announcement came on the same day that five Democratic senators wrote a letter calling for the group’s ban. And after receiving a classified briefing on Shahzad’s attack, the top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein (R-CA) and Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), urged that the TTP be banned, and rules controlling no-fly lists tightened (NYT). Sen. Bond added, however, that he thought the White House’s evidence for the link between the TTP and Shahzad was based on "suspicious and tenuous connections" (Wash Post, Reuters)
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s government is trying to garner support among tribal leaders to expel Taliban commanders and fighters from the Mehsud tribe, currently believed to be hiding in South Waziristan (Daily Times).
A bomb exploded in a fuel truck at the Chaman crossing point in Pakistan, destroying thousands of gallons of fuel intended for NATO forces in Afghanistan and killing two civilians (Dawn). And a Pakistani court threw out a motion to block the extradition of top Taliban leaders to Afghanistan, including Quetta Shura Taliban no. 2 Mullah Baradar, after Khalid Khawaja was killed by a militant group that had kidnapped him as well as two others (Reuters, AFP).
The Drone War
Drone strikes continued to pound North Waziristan for the fourth time since the failed Times Square bombing May 1, hitting a militant camp on the Afghan border and killing at least 11 fighters (Dawn, The News, Daily Times). The strikes occurred in an area under the control of local Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur.
In North Waziristan’s main city of Miram Shah, the TTP dumped the bodies of two men it accused of being U.S. "spies" (Dawn). And unknown attackers threw a grenade at a construction site on the outskirts of Peshawar, killing two young girls who were playing inside (AFP, BBC).
Today also brings part two of Paul Cruickshank’s and Nic Robertson’s CNN special on ‘homegrown terrorism’ (CNN). For more on links between homegrown terrorists and the tribal areas of Pakistan, see Cruickshank’s paper on the "militant pipeline" from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to the West (NAF)
Afghanistan’s creepiest game
When not on the watch for Taliban, U.S. Army soldiers rotating through a remote Kandahar outpost hunt instead for the things that go bump in the night (AP). Soldiers go out on patrols for snakes, scorpions and giant camel spiders, sometimes helped by mortar crews firing illumination rounds and cheered on by their colleagues.
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