Afghanistan is grabbing its share of headlines this week. Multiple intense meetings are taking place at the White House. Various of the key players have come down publicly on one side or the other about what to do next. Violence continues in “Af-Pak,” as it became known early in the Obama administration. Defining who the primary adversaries are in the region has not been settled. Friction is being between the military and civilian elements within the governments of both the U.S. and Pakistan. And everybody is weighing in with opinions. Today’s post is my attempt to clarify the basic elements of the current situation.
A suicide car bomb killing at least 12 people was intended for the Indian embassy in Kabul, according to the New York Times (10/8/09). The previous day the same paper published an analysis by Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt that explains that the Afghan war debate now leans towards a plan to focus on a campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan. It is not known whether this view is accepted by the entire Obama war cabinet.
The central debate question seems to hinge on the nature of the current relationship between the Taliban and Al Queda. The administration pointed out to the Times in an anonymous interview that there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan. Recent successes with surgical strikes against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan may make that country less central to U.S. strategy. Another anonymous official characterizes the strategy as one of viewing the Taliban, militants local to Afghanistan and jihadist Al Qaeda as very different. President Obama has reiterated that his goal is to protect the United States and to prevent the jihadis from getting safe haven. Mark Knoller reported on Twitter that “a WH official says Obama received a ‘comprehensive intelligence and counterterrorism assessment’ on political & diplomatic situation in Pakistan.” The unpredictability of the future of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has to eventually be settled by the President.
President Obama requested an early look at General McChrystal’s troop request from Defense Secretary Gates, according to McClatchy on Wednesday. The President wanted to read it before the top military officials reviewed it so that it would not be leaked to reporters as was McChrystal’s Afghanistan assessment. This may suggest friction between the military and the commander in chief. And there has certainly been friction between General McChrystal and his superiors because of his public stances, and because of the leak — source unknown.
Pakistan’s army has similarly objected publicly to the conditions in the $1.5 billion U.S. (Kerry-Lugar) aid package still to be signed by the President, McClatchy reported. The objection, according to McClatchy, caught the administration by surprise and comes at a time just prior to a planned offensive towards militants in the border region of Waziristan. And it pits the military “against the fragile civilian government of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which has championed the U.S. assistance deal,” as well as against the opposition in parliament. The bill has a number of requirements including, “monitoring and certification of Pakistan’s action against terrorism. . . requires the country to work to prevent nuclear proliferation and to show that its military isn’t interfering in Pakistani politics.” Pakistan’s Foreign minister, on a trip to Washington, played down concerns over the bill, while acknowledging that the language could have been more sensitive to Pakistan’s sovereignty. Marc Ambinder posted this on Twitter:
“ RT @: Is the Pakistani military statement of doubt about the Kerry-Lugar bill in a game changer?” It was linked to a related BBC News story explaining more about the nature of the Pakistani military’s objections.
Finally, many of us remember Charlie Wilson’s War. Huffingington Post reports that Wilson now thinks that we ought to consider a new strategy regarding the war in Afghanistan. “I’d probably shut it down, rather than lose a lot of soldiers and treasure,” noting the President’s “very tough situation.” See the Scranton Times-Tribune for the fascinating interview.
Afghanistan is a very difficult region of conflict, with no simple answers for the U.S. Pakistan, and even India, are all parts of one puzzle. Pakistan’s weak government will probably not fall over its own internal dissension, and the Waziristan campaign will probably begin. The President is not going to withdraw troops from Afghanistan or aid from Pakistan. His plans for a strategy will emerge in the next few weeks. It will almost certainly be a very complicated plan, as it should in these enigmatic circumstances.
“Gross: Massive Fraud in Afghanistan Election,” is by Nasrine Gross at Juan Cole’s Informed Comment (10/7/09).
“Robert Kaplan on the Regional Dimensions of Afghanistan,” is from Steve Clemons’ The Washington Note (10/7/09).
“Guest Post by Michael Cohen: The Trouble with Counter-Insurgency,” is from Steve Clemons’ The Washington Note (4/1/09).
“Battle of Books rages in Afghan debate,” is from The Wall Street Journal at Memeorandum (10/7/09). Regards Lessons in Disaster and A Better War.
” ‘Code Pink’ rethinks its call for Afghanistan pullout,” is from the Christian Science Monitor at Memeorandum (10/7/09).
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