The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Obama announces Afghanistan drawdown

Wonk Watch: Brian Fishman and Andrew Lebovich, "Countering Domestic Radicalization: Lessons for Intelligence Collection and Community Outreach" (NAF). Major announcement President Barack Obama told Americans Wednesday evening that, "the tide of war is receding" as he announced plans for the drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan, saying that 10,000 "surge" troops will depart the country ...

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Wonk Watch: Brian Fishman and Andrew Lebovich, "Countering Domestic Radicalization: Lessons for Intelligence Collection and Community Outreach" (NAF).

Major announcement

President Barack Obama told Americans Wednesday evening that, "the tide of war is receding" as he announced plans for the drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan, saying that 10,000 "surge" troops will depart the country this year, followed by 20,000 by next September (Full text – AP, NYT, Post, Guardian, WSJ, Times, CBS, LAT, Tel, BBC, ABC). Obama insisted that the United States was meeting its goals in Afghanistan and that half of al-Qaeda’s known leaders had been killed in the past year and a half, and promised a responsible but "steady pace" of withdrawal through 2014, when security in Afghanistan is scheduled to be handed over to the Afghan government (NYT, CBS). The withdrawal schedule exceeded more cautious plans put forward by top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus and some Congressional leaders, while others in Congress argued that the pace of withdrawal was not quick enough (Post, NYT, Guardian, National Journal, CNN, NYT, Reuters, WSJ, AP). Bonus read: Peter Bergen, "Behind the scene of the Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal Plan" (CNN).

The President acknowledged the costs of war in the speech, saying that it was time to turn to "nation-building" in the United States, and expressing his support for talks with the Taliban (Post, Reuters, Tel). Obama also recognized the role that Pakistan had played in helping track down, capture and kill members of al-Qaeda, but said that the United States will not accept safe havens for terrorists, and that, "we will insist that [Pakistan] keep its commitments," to confront terrorists within its borders (AFP, NYT). The Taliban in a statement called for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops to stop "pointless bloodshed" (Reuters, AFP).

Afghan officials said that their country would be ready to take over security as Afghan president Hamid Karzai said that Afghanistan will stand up and defend itself, even as Afghans and American military planners expressed concern about the durability of gains made against the Taliban and the possible precipitous decline of Afghanistan’s economy once foreign troops leave (AP, Post, CNN, CBS, NYT, NYT). NATO’s chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen and U.K. prime minister David Cameron welcomed Obama’s speech, while French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced a gradual withdrawal of his country’s troops in Afghanistan (AP, Tel, Guardian, AP, Reuters BBC). The U.S. drawdown will likely factor into Gen. Petraeus’ confirmation hearings today to lead the CIA, an appointment that if approved will accelerate a leadership transition in Afghanistan to the command of Marine Gen. John Allen (Reuters, WSJ, AP, Post, Reuters). 

In other Afghanistan news, a special election tribunal appointed by Karzai on Wednesday voided close to 25 percent of results from last year’s parliamentary elections (Reuters, AP). Afghan intelligence officials have accused NATO and the Afghan government of ignoring insurgent infiltration in Nuristan province and other areas that border Pakistan (BBC). And Canada’s government has declassified documents it says exonerates military officials accused of knowing that prisoners trasferred to the Afghan government were being tortured (AP).

Flashpoint

The foreign secretaries from India and Pakistan are meeting today to discuss bilateral peace and security issues, including terrorism and the disputed region of Kashmir, an issue that Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said was linked to the future of Pakistan (BBC, AP, Reuters, AFP/ET, AFP, DT).

We can work it out

In a phone call Wednesday President Obama and Pakistani leader Asif Ali Zardari pledged to improve ties, as Pakistan has reportedly issued visas to 67 CIA officials in return for the CIA’s agreement to disclose information on its intelligence postings in the country (AFP, DT, Dawn, AP, DT, ET). Meanwhile, the Post reports on Pakistan’s efforts to forge closer ties to China as its relationship with the United States has deteriorated (Post).

Court proceedings were delayed today in the trial of seven men accused of involvement in the death of Sarfaraz Shah in Karachi, a killing that was recorded and rebroadcast and has caused major outrage in Pakistan (AFP, AFP/ET, ET). Bonus read: Bilal Baloch, "A death on screen" (FP).

Pakistan’s military continues to interrogate five officers accused of involvement with the banned radical group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which the Tribune reports still has free reign in Pakistan to distribute its materials and promote its message (Dawn, BBC, ET). Reuters reports on the increasing feeling among Pakistan’s anti-Taliban militias that the state has abandoned them, as Dawn reveals that Pakistan is considering mining parts of its border with Afghanistan to prevent infiltration from militants (Reuters, Dawn).

Two stories round out the news: Near Quetta, two Shi’a pilgrims on their way to Iran were killed when militants attacked their bus (AFP, ET). And the U.N. has estimated that up to 5 million Pakistanis could be impacted by floods this year (Reuters).

Checkmate

The latest rage for troops serving in Afghanistan is a chess set that pits pieces depicting international forces against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants (Tel). The American version of the set features President Obama as the king, while the opposing king is a figure of Osama bin Laden.

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