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17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan

February 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Fulfilling a campaign plan and meeting widespread expectation, President Obama has decided to send about 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, Politico reports.

Obama cited a direct threat to the United States from Al Qaeda as part of the rationale for his decision.

“The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action,” Obama said, announcing the deployment in a written statement. “The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border.”

Obama said he approved a request from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to deploy a Marine Expeditionary Brigade later this spring, and an Army Stryker Brigade and the support forces later this summer. He said the upcoming drawdown in Iraq allows him to move more troops into Afghanistan.

Obama has announced a 60-day review of his Afghanistan policy but had to order up these forces sooner because units need to train for their new mission, and commanders want them in place ahead of the traditional fighting season as the weather improves.

This development should come as a surprise to no-one. The security situation in Afghanistan has been going downhill for some time, with the New York Times reporting a40% jump in civilian casualties in 2008. This news follows fast on (but is almost certainly not in reaction to) an opinion piece written today by Major General Jim Molan of Australia, who was chief of operations of the multinational force in Iraq in 2004-05, in which he calls for a major increase in the size of the NATO force in Afghanistan.

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Pakistan Deals with the Taliban, Obama Remains Silent

February 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Three days ago the Pakistani government made headlines when it announced a deal that it would accept a system of Islamic law in the Swat valley and effectively concede the area to Taliban militants. While the Obama administration has remained silent on the issue, officials have admitted that it is a major setback for U.S. goals and an admission that the Pakistani government is incapable of defending the western part of the country from the encroaching Taliban.

While this accord seems to fly in the face of the Obama administration’s goals in the region, two days have passed and a Washington Post article reports that the accord seems to have stalled, perhaps due to pressure from the West.

The government’s position on the deal remained unclear, creating further anxiety. President Zardari, reportedly under pressure from the West, went a second day without signing the pact of making public the details of the law system.

Some local leaders in Swat accuse the national government of sabotaging their chance for peace with the Taliban in the valley. However, despite claims that the inhabitants want peace at any cost, there remains uncertainty as to whether the Taliban will abide by the accord.

In the Swat Valley, a second day of confusion and uncertainty about the pact passed Wednesday, with rising hopes and a jubilant peace march among the local population, followed by the brutal killing of a Pakistani TV journalist, Musa Khan Khel. He was apparently seized and shot by fighters while covering the peace march, despite a Taliban offer of a 10-day cease-fire while elements of the accord are implemented.

While Obama’s recent announcement that he will be sending an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan indicates the seriousness with which he is tackling the war, the situation in Pakistan is outside of the U.S. military’s domain. The U.S. has to rely on air strikes from drones and the Pakistani military but the recent accord made with the Taliban in the Swat valley seems to be a blatant attempt on behalf of the Pakistani government at appeasement, risking legitimizing the militants and complicating the U.S. mission in the region.

Delegations from Pakistan and Afghanistan will arrive next week in Washington for high-level talks, but between now and then, the remainder of the 10-day implementation period for the accord will elapse, making the next 7 days critical in shaping how the Obama administration will react.

–Ella Lipin, Trinity ’10

Ahmed Rashid: US can succeed where USSR failed

January 29, 2009 1 comment

In a lengthy essay in The National, an Abu Dhabi-based English-language daily, Afghan author Ahmed Rashid writes that the U.S., despite failures during the Bush administration, can still find victory in Afghanistan.

Rashid has an interesting point of view: As he narrates at the start of the essay, he was in Kandahar in 1979 when the Soviets began shelling. But he says the Soviet apparatus was far too backward and positively antique to effectively meet the challenges it faced in Afghanistan.

Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw US troops from Iraq while stepping up the American commitment in Afghanistan. He has yet to fully flesh out the policy he will pursue, but seems to understand that what is required is a “comprehensive surge” that goes beyond new troops and new tactics to increase and coordinate development and reconstruction, provide security to the Afghan people and embark on a diplomatic initiative to bring Afghanistan’s multiple meddling neighbours together to stabilise the country and end the sanctuary the Taliban still enjoy in Pakistan. Obama has appointed a special envoy to the region, the seasoned senior diplomat Richard Holbrooke, and has begun to get tough with the Karzai government over corruption and the drugs trade.

The Bush administration lacked an overarching strategy for Afghanistan and its neighbours, and Obama does not want to repeat that mistake. He has already announced orders to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and he will soon make a historic speech in a Muslim capital, where he is likely to repudiate Bush’s “global war on terror” and announce a policy of talking to militant groups, including the Taliban, while continuing the pursuit of global jihadists. Bush left regional diplomacy largely in the hands of the Pentagon, while Obama will restore the role of the State Department. Several senior administration officials have acknowledged that they cannot “shoot their way to victory” in Afghanistan.

—David Graham, Trinity ’09 and editor

Karzai: In the crosshairs?

January 29, 2009 Leave a comment

The New York Times reports that as part of his effort to refocus American military actions in the Muslim toward Afghanistan, President Barack Obama is reconsidering the strong backing afforded Afghan President Hamid Karzai during the Bush years.

During his whirlwind world tour this summer, undertaken to prove that he had foreign policy bona fides, Obama captured headlines for criticizing Karzai, saying he needed to do more as the U.S.’s ally. Some of that rhetoric was toned down after his meeting with the leader in Afghanistan, but the hard line is back.

Pushing Obama in this direction are Veep Joe Biden, a longtime Karzai critic, and Richard Holbrooke, the veteran Clinton-era diplomat and Obama’s other special envoy, this time for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is being sold—you guessed it—as a departure.

The officials portrayed the approach as a departure from that of President Bush, who held video conferences with Mr. Karzai every two weeks and sought to emphasize the American role in rebuilding Afghanistan and its civil institutions.

They said that the Obama administration would work with provincial leaders as an alternative to the central government, and that it would leave economic development and nation-building increasingly to European allies, so that American forces could focus on the fight against insurgents.

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