Daily brief: Crocker grilled during confirmation hearing

Mr. Crocker goes to Washington Amb. Ryan C. Crocker, one of the United States’ most experienced diplomats, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday at his confirmation hearing to be ambassador to Afghanistan, calling the country, "in many respects harder" than Iraq, where Crocker previously served, but not "hopeless" (Post, NYT, ABC, CBS, Bloomberg). ...

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Mr. Crocker goes to Washington

Amb. Ryan C. Crocker, one of the United States' most experienced diplomats, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday at his confirmation hearing to be ambassador to Afghanistan, calling the country, "in many respects harder" than Iraq, where Crocker previously served, but not "hopeless" (Post, NYT, ABC, CBS, Bloomberg). Crocker also defended the continued U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, earning him tough questions from senators from both parties, some of whom have grown increasingly vocal in support of American troop withdrawals, scheduled to begin next month (Miami Herald, ABC, AFP). In his opening statement, committee chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) called for a political solution to the conflict and a reduced U.S. presence in Afghanistan (NYT, Reuters, Post).

Crocker testified as a debate has intensified between the White House and the U.S. military over the proper pace of the withdrawal, and NATO defense ministers get set to discuss the country's situation today in Brussels (Guardian, AP, Reuters). President Barack Obama's nominee to replace Robert Gates as secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, while Gates said yesterday that rather than holding permanent bases in Afghanistan, the U.S. should establish "joint bases" with Afghan forces (AP, AFP, Post, Tolo). President Obama spoke to Afghan president Hamid Karzai by telephone yesterday to discuss U.S. withdrawal plans, and he reportedly apologized to Karzai for recent civilian casualties caused by U.S. forces in Afghanistan (AFP). Bonus read: Erica Gaston, "Karzai's civilian casualties ultimatum" (FP).

Mr. Crocker goes to Washington

Amb. Ryan C. Crocker, one of the United States’ most experienced diplomats, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday at his confirmation hearing to be ambassador to Afghanistan, calling the country, "in many respects harder" than Iraq, where Crocker previously served, but not "hopeless" (Post, NYT, ABC, CBS, Bloomberg). Crocker also defended the continued U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, earning him tough questions from senators from both parties, some of whom have grown increasingly vocal in support of American troop withdrawals, scheduled to begin next month (Miami Herald, ABC, AFP). In his opening statement, committee chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) called for a political solution to the conflict and a reduced U.S. presence in Afghanistan (NYT, Reuters, Post).

Crocker testified as a debate has intensified between the White House and the U.S. military over the proper pace of the withdrawal, and NATO defense ministers get set to discuss the country’s situation today in Brussels (Guardian, AP, Reuters). President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Robert Gates as secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, while Gates said yesterday that rather than holding permanent bases in Afghanistan, the U.S. should establish "joint bases" with Afghan forces (AP, AFP, Post, Tolo). President Obama spoke to Afghan president Hamid Karzai by telephone yesterday to discuss U.S. withdrawal plans, and he reportedly apologized to Karzai for recent civilian casualties caused by U.S. forces in Afghanistan (AFP). Bonus read: Erica Gaston, "Karzai’s civilian casualties ultimatum" (FP).

In other Afghanistan news, gunmen killed nine men as they were preparing for a wedding in Nangarhar province, including the groom, a cousin of the local district chief administrator (AP, BBC, Reuters, Times, AFP, Pajhwok). The Taliban yesterday morning claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and beheading of Jawad Zahak, the former head of the provincial council in Bamian province (BBC). And the AP has a must-read on challenges facing local governance in Afghanistan (AP).

Taking to the airwaves

Al-Qaeda’s media arm yesterday released a video from longstanding al-Qaeda no. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri eulogizing Osama bin Laden for the first time since the latter’s death at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan (Der Spiegel, NYT, CNN, AP, Tel, Reuters). Zawahiri vowed new attacks against the United States and expressed his support for Muslim protesters in the Middle East and the eventual installation of Islamic law in those countries, though he was silent on who would succeed bin Laden as al-Qaeda’s leader (Post, AFP, BBC, Miami Herald). 

The AP reports that analysts are "95 percent done" combing through the trove of documents seized from bin Laden’s compound, a search that has revealed no imminent threats, but has allowed the U.S. to focus its attention on certain targets and key mid-level players in the organization who were in touch with bin Laden (AP). And the former head of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Gen. Ehsan ul-Haq, said in an interview yesterday that he doubted that bin Laden stayed in Abbottabad for five years before his death, as has been reported, and denied that individual ISI agents could have helped the slain terror leader (Reuters, Miami Herald).

All together now

Afghanistan’s president Karzai will reportedly ask that Pakistan support Afghan peace talks and arrest militants who seek to overthrow his government when he visits Islamabad tomorrow (WSJ, AP). The visit comes after 100-150 militants stormed a Pakistani army outpost in South Waziristan near the Afghan border, killing at least eight soldiers (BBC, Reuters, AFP, Tel, AJE). Two other Pakistani soldiers died in an ambush in Kurram agency, while bomb blasts tore through a car in Peshawar, killing at least four, while another bomb killed two when it struck a vehicle that was transporting food to paramilitary fighters in Upper Dir, the scene of intense fighting with Afghanistan-based militants this weekend (DT, AP, Dawn, ET, Pajhwok).

A commander for Maulvi Nazir, a Taliban leader based in South Waziristan, told Reuters yesterday that Nazir’s fighters would increase attacks in Afghanistan in response to stepped-up U.S. drone strikes in territory controlled by the militant leader (Reuters). And Pakistan has reportedly already sent home 90 of 135 U.S. trainers who were working with Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, the group often tasked to fight militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas (AP, DT).

Three stories round out today’s news: In Karachi, six people have been murdered in targeted killings (ET). Police are investigating the point-blank shooting Wednesday of an unarmed man by paramilitary Rangers in Karachi, which was caught on tape and later broadcast (Dawn, ET, AFP/ET, AP). And an explosion this morning destroyed a NATO fuel tanker in Khyber agency (Dawn).

The war on squatting

The Daily Times reports that "encroachers" have begun re-occupying public areas in Lahore despite a month-long operation to rid the city of unauthorized squatters (DT). The local government has said its anti-encroachment operations will continue "in full swing."

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