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Afghanistan War Weekly | June 27, 2010

Afghanistan War Weekly
By Frank Brodhead | June 27, 2010 | Click for prior issues

The war was dominated this past week by dramas in both Washington and Kabul. While the official story is that the firing of General McChrystal and the hiring of General Petraeus is only a change of leaders, not a change in war strategy, this is mostly a smokescreen. As several articles linked below indicate, General McChrystal’s problems went beyond the Rolling Stone interview and centered largely on the fact that he/the US was losing the war. On the battlefield, the failure of the Marjah operation, the postponement of the Kandahar offensive, and the rising number of US (and NATO) casualties have now become political problems for Obama and the war managers. Will General Petraeus be General Fix-It? Not very likely, because – as indicated in several articles linked below – his alleged successes in Iraq are based on misunderstanding what actually happened there.

Far less publicity has been given to what seem to me to be dramatic developments in Afghanistan. Since the “Peace Jirga” at the beginning of June, Karzai has taken several significant steps – all opposed by the US/NATO – to broker a negotiated end to the war via Pakistan. As described below, this view is supported by the specifics that came out of the Jirga, the firing of his Minister of the Interior and Director of Intelligence, the several discussions with the Hekmatyar opposition group, the steps to free Taliban and others prisoners (including Bagram), the steps to remove Taliban and other names from the UN list of terrorist persons and organizations, and – most recently – discussions with the Pakistan-based Haqqani network.

The next important milestone for the war is a July 20 meeting in Kabul, which will be attended by representatives of 40 nations and several dozen organizations/entities. This is a follow up to the meeting that was held in London in January, and the conference’s agenda is to assess progress on the training of Afghanistan military forces, the reduction of corruption, etc. Since January, of course, we have had the corrupt presidential election, the failure of the Marjah campaign, no progress whatsoever in developing a self-sufficient military and police, staggering levels of corruption, and now the sacking of General McChrystal. How the international donors and friends of Afghanistan will handle all this remains to be seen.

Finally, thanks to those who sent article/links/suggestions. Recent “issues” of the Afghanistan War Weekly are stored on the UFPJ website, and on the War is a Crime website here.

---- Frank Brodhead, Concerned Families of Westchester (NY)

The Drama in Washington
The Rolling Stone Story
The Runaway General

By Michael Hastings, Rolling Stone

---- Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn't go much better.

(Video) McChrystal's Balls - Honorable Discharge

John Stewart, The Daily Show June 23, 2010

---- The media questions Rolling Stone's access to General Stanley McChrystal, and Gretchen Carlson knows what it's like to have Obama's tough job. – 5 minutes

See also: Tom Andrews, “Three Things You Missed in Rolling Stone's McChrystal Profile,” CommonDreams [June 23, 2010]; and Kim Sengupta, “How lessons in the dark arts of special ops led McChrystal to the edge, The Independent [UK] [June 25, 2010]

It’s Not Just the General, It’s the War
The 36 Hours That Shook Washington

By Frank Rich, New York Times [June 25, 2010]

---- The moment he pulled the trigger, there was near-universal agreement that President Obama had done the inevitable thing, the right thing and, best of all, the bold thing. But before we get carried away with relief and elation, let’s not forget what we saw in the tense 36 hours that fell between late Monday night, when word spread of Rolling Stone’s blockbuster article, and high noon Wednesday, when Obama MacArthured his general. That frenzied interlude revealed much about the state of Washington, the Afghanistan war and the Obama presidency — little of it cheering and none of it resolved by the ingenious replacement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus, the only militarily and politically bullet-proof alternative.

(Video) Rachel Maddow: It’s Not the General, It’s the War – 9 minutes

President Obama lost patience with Runaway General's failed strategy

By Jonathan Owen and Brian Brady, The Independent [UK]

---- Sacked US General Stanley McChrystal issued a devastatingly critical assessment of the war against a "resilient and growing insurgency" just days before being forced out.Using confidential military documents, copies of which have been seen by the IoS, the "runaway general" briefed defence ministers from Nato and the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) earlier this month, and warned them not to expect any progress in the next six months. In addition to being the result of some too-candid comments in a magazine article, the President's decision to dispense with his commander was seen by the general's supporters as a politically motivated culmination of their disagreements.

He’s OK in Washington, But What Will Petraeus Do in Afghanistan?

Can Petraeus Find a Way Out of Afghanistan?
Why McChrystal Did Obama a Big Favor

By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service

---- Despite President Barack Obama's denial that his decision to fire Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan and replace him with Gen. David Petraeus signified any differences with McChrystal over war strategy, the decision obviously reflects a desire by Obama to find a way out of a deepening policy crisis in Afghanistan. Although the ostensible reason was indiscreet comments by McChrystal and his aides reported in Rolling Stone, the switch from McChrystal to Petraeus was clearly the result of White House unhappiness with McChrystal's handling of the war. It had become evident in recent weeks that McChrystal's strategy is not working as he had promised, and Congress and the U.S. political elite had already become very uneasy about whether the war was on the wrong track. In calling on Petraeus, the Obama administration appears to be taking a page from the George W. Bush administration's late 2006 decision to rescue a war in Iraq which was generally perceived in Washington as having become an embarrassing failure.

Lessons of Petraeus’ Iraq for Petraeus’ Afghanistan

Juan Posted on June 24, 2010 by

---- President Obama’s appointment of Gen. David Petraeus to succeed Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of US forces in Afghanistan signaled a continued commitment by the White House to a large-scale counter-insurgency campaign involving taking large swathes of territory, clearing it of insurgents, holding it in the medium term, and building up local government and social services. It is frequently asserted that Gen. Petraeus “succeeded” in Iraq via a troop escalation or “surge” of 30,000 extra US troops that he dedicated to counter-insurgency purposes in al-Anbar and Baghdad Provinces.But it would be a huge mistake to see Iraq either as a success story or as stable.

Petraeus cannot win if he sticks with current tactics

Patrick Cockburn, The Independent [UK]

---- A political and military dead end faces US and British forces. General Petraeus's greatest skills are as a politician who can adapt himself to local circumstances. His reputation for innovative military tactics is largely a smokescreen to hide political manoeuvres. In Afghanistan, the Taliban draw their support exclusively from a portion of the Pashtun community to which only 42 per cent of Afghans belong. An astonishing feature of US strategy in Afghanistan is that US and British troops have been sent to fight in the Taliban heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar while failing to protect those areas where the Taliban are weak. The best policy for General Petraeus would be to protect Afghans who want to be protected – who will mostly, but not exclusively, be non-Pashtun. This is about 70 per cent of the country. It is a measure of the dysfunctional strategy of the US, Britain and the Afghan government that this has not yet been done.

The War in Kabul
Afghan leader nominates key cabinet positions

Agence France Press [Jun 26, 2010]

---- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has nominated seven people to fill posts in his cabinet including a replacement for the powerful position of interior minister, the parliament said Saturday. The nominees will address parliament next week before lawmakers vote on whether to approve them. There remain five more important ministerial vacancies for the president to nominate as well as the cabinet-level post of head of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's spy agency. The posts have been vacant for months, after parliament refused twice to ratify earlier nominees for cabinet posts, much to Karzai's embarrassment. Parliament's initial rejection of 17 names was seen as a huge blow to the president, who has been under enormous pressure to prove his commitment to clean and competent government in return for ongoing Western support to rebuild the country and fight Taliban insurgents.

See also: “Karzai Issued Fresh Warning on Cabinet,” Pajhwok [June 22, 2010],%202010/news_Pages/m...

Afghan parliamentary vote will test security conditions

Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers, [June 21, 2010]

---- When voters in the Afghan capital elect a new parliament later this year [September 18], they'll face a bewildering choice of more than 700 candidates that threatens to turn the election into a lottery. The election campaign, which kicks off this week, will be a major test of Afghanistan's political progress and security. …The parliamentary election will complete a sequence of events that the government of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai hopes will build confidence and provide a path to stability following the presidential poll last year, an international conference on Afghanistan in London in January, the "peace jirga" (traditional gathering of tribes) this month in Kabul, and a second international conference next month in Kabul. …Members of parliament have been widely accused of corruption and failing to act as a check on Karzai. In the last year of its tenure, however, the parliament found its voice, rejected some of his choices for ministerial office and condemned his plans to stack the election commission.

“Confidence Building” Steps re: the Taliban

During the “Peace Jirga” four weeks ago, there was a clear disagreement between the US and Karzai over how to negotiate with the Taliban. The US sees “negotiating with the Taliban” as part of a war-winning strategy, and seeks to encourage defections of the Taliban rank-and-file with promised of money and jobs. Karzai’s strategy is to go way beyond this, and to “integrate” the Taliban and other armed opposition groups via negotiations with their leaders. Karzai’s Jirga said “yes” to the US wishes, but then enumerated steps that Karzai should take toward “re-integration.” Since the Jirga, Karzai has focused on the “re-integration” steps while basically ignoring the US mandates. The US frustration is reflected in the Carlotta Gall article below. NB these initiatives follow Karzai’s several contacts with the Hekmatyar armed opposition, and – as indicated in the following section – are taking place while discussions are underway with the Haqqani network.

26 Taliban inmates released after Afghan jirga deal

India News [June 22, 2010]

----Afghan and U.S. officials have said that 26 Taliban inmates have been released from Afghan jails as part of an amnesty deal offered by Hamid Karzai's government. According to the Afghan Deputy Attorney General, 12 prisoners were released from US detention in Bagram, while two suicide bombers were released from Afghan custody. The decision to review the cases came after a jirga of Afghan tribal leaders earlier this month approved a plan by Afghan President Karzai to seek a peace deal with moderate elements of the Taliban. After the deal, Karzai had ordered a review of the cases of every Taliban suspect in the country's prisons. He had said that where evidence against suspects was doubtful, they must be released.

Karzai Pressed to Move on Luring Low-Level Taliban to Lay Down Arms

By Carlotta Gall, New York Times [June 26, 2010]

---- Three weeks after a grand assembly recommended making peace with the Taliban and other armed groups, NATO and Afghan officials are pressing President Hamid Karzai to move more quickly to set up a council to oversee the process and to set in motion a plan to win over low-level Taliban fighters. Since the closing of the grand peace assembly, or jirga, a committee to review the cases of detainees being held without charge or evidence — another of its recommendations — has already started working and released a number of prisoners. But a decree to initiate the rest of the program, which is focused on the reintegration of Taliban foot soldiers, has not been signed, the presidential adviser in charge of the effort, said this week.

Taliban Leaders From Terror Blacklist

By Rod Nordland, New York Times [June 13, 2010]

---- The United Nations is speeding up efforts that could lead to the removal of Taliban leaders from an international terrorist blacklist, the top United Nations official here said Saturday. …Since 1999, Security Council Resolution 1267 has blacklisted 142 Taliban figures as well as 360 others with ties to Al Qaeda, ordering their bank accounts seized and prohibiting them from crossing international borders. The presence of Taliban leaders on the list has been a sticking point in efforts to start peace negotiations with them, but attempts to remove any have foundered because of opposition from Security Council members. In January, five Taliban insurgents were de-listed before the London Conference on Afghanistan, leaving 137 still blacklisted. Since January, President Hamid Karzai has been arguing to remove all Taliban names from the blacklist. After the peace jirga made a similar call when it concluded June 4, the jirga chairman, Burhanuddin Rabbani, said bluntly, “Each party to the conflict will be taken on board in the process, and there will be no more blacklists.”

Overture to Taliban Jolts Afghan Minorities

By Dexter Filkins, New York Times [June 27, 2010]

---- The drive by President Hamid Karzai to strike a deal with Taliban leaders and their Pakistani backers is causing deep unease in Afghanistan’s minority communities, who fought the Taliban the longest and suffered the most during their rule. The leaders of the country’s Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities, which make up close to half of Afghanistan’s population, are vowing to resist — and if necessary, fight — any deal that involves bringing members of the Taliban insurgency into a power-sharing arrangement with the government. Alienated by discussions between President Karzai and the Pakistani military and intelligence officials, minority leaders are taking their first steps toward organizing against what they fear is Mr. Karzai’s long-held desire to restore the dominance of ethnic Pashtuns, who ruled the country for generations. The dispute is breaking along lines nearly identical to those that formed during the final years of the Afghan civil war, which began after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1989 and ended only with the American invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Haqqani Network
Pakistan Is Said to Pursue a Foothold in Afghanistan

By Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Carlotta Gall, New York Times [June 25, 2010]

---- Pakistan is exploiting the troubled United States military effort in Afghanistan to drive home a political settlement with Afghanistan that would give Pakistan important influence there but is likely to undermine United States interests, Pakistani and American officials said. The dismissal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal will almost certainly embolden the Pakistanis in their plan as they detect increasing American uncertainty, Pakistani officials said…. Pakistan is presenting itself as the new viable partner for Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai, who has soured on the Americans. Pakistani officials say they can deliver the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani, an ally of Al Qaeda who runs a major part of the insurgency in Afghanistan, into a power-sharing arrangement. In addition, Afghan officials say, the Pakistanis are pushing various other proxies, with General Kayani personally offering to broker a deal with the Taliban leadership.

(Video) Karzai 'meets' leader of Haqqani network

From: AlJazeeraEnglish | June 27, 2010 | 105 views

---- Al Jazeera has learned of a face-to-face meeting between Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and a man who once tried to kill him. That man is the leader of the Haqqani network, described by the United States as one of the three main insurgent groups, alongside the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Sirajuddin Haqqani, who's group is based across the border, is said to have been accompanied by Pakistan's army chief and the head of its intelligence services.

(Video) Karzai's 'secret talks' spark suspicions

From AlJazeeraEnglish [June 27, 2010] – 4 minutes

---- Haroun Mir, co-founder and deputy director of the Afghanistan Centre for Research and Policy studies, tells Al Jazeera those secret talks are creating suspicion among Afghans of what the president's intentions are towards its neighbouring country.

For some background on the Haqqani Network:
The most deadly US foe in Afghanistan

By Anand Gopal, Correspondent / June 1, 2009

---- The Haqqani network is considered the most sophisticated of Afghanistan's insurgent groups. The group is alleged to be behind many high-profile assaults, including a raid on a luxury hotel in Kabul in January 2008 and a massive car bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul that left 41 people dead in July 2008. The group is active in Afghanistan's southeastern provinces – Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Logar, and Ghazni. In parts of Paktika, Khost, and Paktia, they have established parallel governments and control the countryside of many districts.

Q+A-Who are the Haqqani Network?

Reuters Jun 17, 2010

---- The United States has presented evidence to Pakistan about the growing threat and reach of a militant faction, the Haqqani network, which Washington suspects has ties to Pakistani intelligence. The information presented to Pakistan's Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani detailed the role of the Haqqani network in a string of increasingly brazen bombings, including one last month targeting the main NATO air base at Bagram in Afghanistan. Here are some questions and answers about the group.

The War on the Ground

Leon Panetta: There May Be Less Than 50 Al Qaeda Fighters In Afghanistan

AP/Huffington Post [June 27, 2010]

---- CIA Director Leon Panetta said on Sunday there may be less than 50 al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan, with "no question" that most of the terrorist network is operating from the western tribal region of Pakistan. Panetta said, "I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaeda is actually relatively small. At most, we're looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It's in that vicinity."

Afghan forces' apathy starts to wear on U.S. platoon in Kandahar

By Ernesto Londoño, Washington Post [June 20, 2010]

---- As the U.S. military sets out to secure cities including Kandahar, it is relying far more heavily on Afghan forces than at any time in the past nine years, when the American mission focused mainly on defeating the Taliban in the countryside, rather than securing the population. But the Afghan forces are proving poorly equipped and sometimes unmotivated, breeding the same frustration U.S. troops felt in Iraq when they began building up security forces beset by corruption, sectarianism, political meddling and militia infiltration.

The “Pacification” of Marja
Counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan a big test for Gen. Petraeus

By Laura King Los Angeles Times

---- In the town of Marjah, the challenge faced by Gen. David Petraeus, chosen as the new commander of Western forces in Afghanistan, comes down to the simplest of sustenance: daily bread. Four months after an offensive led by U.S. Marines in the southern farming community that had been a longtime Taliban stronghold, a virulent campaign of intimidation by insurgents has lately centered on a particularly humble target, Marjah's bakeries. Marjah was scripted as an unambiguous success story, and in some ways, locals said, life is better than it was during the years the Afghan government was virtually invisible in people's lives. But Marjah residents nonetheless cite a familiar refrain of disillusionment with corrupt Afghan police officers, a sense of helpless terror when Taliban fighters leave threatening "night letters" ordering them to desist from simple activities such as baking bread, or the occasional killings of people known to have friendly ties with the still-struggling local Afghan administration.

(Video) Anatomy of a Taliban Ambush

---- Taliban Ambush Teams Attack Marine Patrol as It Returns to Base Outside Marja. Every time the Marines moved, the Taliban took aim, firing from multiple directions. One small team shot at the Marines while another moved around, assuming the next attack position.

A diary from the Afghanistan frontline

By Matthew Green, Financial Times [June 22, 2010]

---- Marjah was expecting a guest, and the insurgents had a welcome in store. American officials were milling about in an air-conditioned tent in the main US marine base in the town waiting for Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who was due to arrive by helicopter any minute. Then the shooting started. The shooting never seemed likely to cause any real danger, but it proved a point – even the relatively simple act of organising a volley of bullets at the right moment sends a message to locals – and the world – that the insurgents are still in town.


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