A Terrorist Attack in Lahore

In a brazen attack this morning in Lahore, Pakistan's cultural capital and second largest city, at least a dozen and as many as 20 unidentified militants stormed the Manawan Police training center. From the Dawn of Pakistan:

Terrorists used machine guns and grenades to launch a savage attack on a police training academy in Manawan, leaving at least 11 policemen dead and over 90 wounded, Dawn News reported. Two militants have also been killed, Rangers personnel said.

`The number of killed is at least 11,' a police official outside the police training ground in Manawan said.

However, given the heavy amount of cross-fire as police attempted to flush out the remaining terrorist, the death count may end up being much higher.

`The number of casualties may be more' a police officer said.

The incident took place between 7 and 8 am on Monday morning, as trainees were participating in a morning parade. Eyewitness accounts estimate some 10 militants carried out the attack, and at least 11 explosions have been heard so far. According to reports, some of the attackers entered the academy wearing police uniforms.

About a dozen gunmen have taken over 400 police trainees hostage.

A curfew has been imposed in the perimeter, as rangers and police moved in for an operation at the besieged Lahore police academy.

The police and special forces remain locked in pitched with the attackers who are hidden inside various buildings at the site, as emergency services are scrambling to evacuate the wounded to nearby hospitals.

According to the UK Guardian, about 850 cadets attended the training centre but they were unsure how many were inside at the time of the attack. Pakistani news sources report that the authorities are attempting to retake the training center. The latest reports suggested that security forces have begun to storm the compound amid a heavy exchange of gunfire.

Daniyal Hassan, a reporter for the Pakistani TV channel Dawn News, told Al Jazeera that the security forces were using armoured vehicles to try and evacuate people trapped inside.

The BBC's Jill McGivering is reporting that after hours of shooting a few hostages were seen coming out of the academy.

According to the BBC World Service report, helicopters were sweeping low over the compound, apparently trying to move the battle into a final, critical stage.

Earlier this month, there was a similar-style commando attack by gunmen on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, which killed six of police guards with the gunmen escaping.

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The Thinking of Bruce Reidel

Bruce Reidel was the chair of the Afghanistan Strategic Policy Review. The President in his remarks today lauded his efforts and praised him for influencing his thinking. So what does Bruce Reidel think?

Perhaps the most succinct encapsulation comes from an op-ed published in the New York Times on January 26th, 2009. The op-ed is entitled How Not to Lose Afghanistan and it forms part of the Times' Room for Debate series where the editorial board of the nation's paper of record queries noted analysts for their thoughts. In this case, the Times asked "Barack Obama has said that his priority in the war on terrorism is Afghanistan, and is poised to increase troop levels there, perhaps by as many as 30,000. How should the United States deal with growing strength of the Taliban? Is increasing troop levels enough?" Mr. Reidel in his portion responded:

President Barack Obama is rightly sending thousands more American troops to Afghanistan to reverse the downward spiral in the country where the 9/11 plot was hatched. Seven years of a half-hearted effort by the Bush administration has left the country in a perilous state. Much of the country is now threatened by the resurgent Taliban. The Taliban's leader, Mullah Omar, is confidently predicting the NATO forces will leave defeated within a few years, like the Soviets in 1989, and is even offering them "safe passage" out of the country.

The most immediate needs are near Kabul and in the south around Kandahar. The Taliban has staged increasingly bold attacks into the capital in the last year, almost killing President Hamid Karzai, and the surrounding provinces have seen mounting Taliban operations. If trends continue the capital could be increasingly cut off from the rest of the country.

The south is in even worse shape. For the last two years, British, Canadian and Dutch troops have been fighting desperately to stabilize Kandahar, Helmand and Urzugan provinces against a determined Taliban based across the border in Pakistan. This is the Taliban's traditional heartland where Omar first created the Taliban in the mid-1990s.

We should seek more troops from our NATO allies but also from Muslim allies like Morocco and Indonesia that have a common interest in defeating Al Qaeda. It can be done; already the United Arab Emirates has a few hundred troops in Afghanistan.

More troops must be accompanied by rapid economic development, especially road construction. Since 2001, 2,000 miles of road have been built or repaired but the Kabul government projects a need to build 11,000 miles more to bring security and modest prosperity to the country. Again it can be done; India has just finished a model $1 billion road project in the southwest opening a highway to link landlocked Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean via Iran.

The additional troops also need to train and build a stronger Afghan military. In the 1980s, Afghanistan had an army three times larger and an air force 10 times larger than what seven years of erratic Bush effort has produced. An open-ended large foreign military presence in Afghanistan is a mistake in a country with a history of defeating foreign invaders. Our goal should be a rapid reversal of the Taliban's fortunes followed by turning responsibility over to a trained and equipped Afghan security force.

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In Af-Pak Debate, The Counter-Insurgency Side Prevails

Marc Ambinder provides a first look at the results of the Afghanistan Strategic Review. On the plus side at least the US doesn't seem to picking winners and losers in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. And it is also clear that Administration views the problem as a co-joined one. Solving Afghanistan, in their view, means solving Pakistan.

Obama plans to emphasize results-driven cooperation with both countries. He will endorse a Senate bill, authored by Sens. John Kerry and Richard Lugar, that would condition a significant increase in aid to Pakistan on measurable improvements in Pakistan's internal efforts to combat terrorism.

In seeking to reassure Americans that help to Pakistan is contingent on internal reforms, he plans to stress that Americans will work with those in both countries who demonstratively seek peace and reconciliation.

This will be interpreted as a warning to both President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Pointedly, the new Afpak policy does not express a preference for specific leaders, another difference from the previous administration, which had been accused of coddling and courting Karzai and former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf at the expense of rooting out corruption and terrorism. Afghanistan holds elections later this year, and the U.S. hasn't found a candidate it likes.

It's also clear that there was a vigorous internal debate within the Administration over strategy and approach.

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Blunt But Bankrupt

Suddenly American diplomats are blunt. Pray that they be bold because despite their new found and welcomed bluntness, the policies remain effectively the same old bankrupt policies of the past. Today's outbreak of blunt diplomacy concerns two of the most vexing international problems facing the United States, Mexico and Pakistan.

In Mexico City, Secretary of State Clinton finally admitted what most Latin Americans already know.

"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," Mrs. Clinton said, using unusually blunt language. "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians."

Not to minimize the significance of these remarks, but why then does the policy solution largely remain the same? The Obama Administration is proposing more of the same failed policies that American administrations have pursued since 1970s though importantly it will seek stricter controls on the sale of assault rifles. Otherwise, the strategy remains interdiction and eradication.

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Afghan Puppets Galore

Hamid Karzai recently angrily remarked that "Afghanistan will never be a puppet state." It seems that the President of Afghanistan is in for a hard shock. The UK Guardian is reporting that the Obama Administration intends to install a rival Prime Minister to counterbalance the growing corruption and perceived ineptitude of the Karzai government in Afghanistan in an attempt to bypass it and to more effectively channel resources.

The creation of a new chief executive or prime ministerial role is aimed at bypassing Karzai. In a further dilution of his power, it is proposed that money be diverted from the Kabul government to the provinces. Many US and European officials have become disillusioned with the extent of the corruption and incompetence in the Karzai government, but most now believe there are no credible alternatives, and predict the Afghan president will win re-election in August.

A revised role for Karzai has emerged from the White House review of Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by Barack Obama when he became president. It is to be unveiled at a special conference on Afghanistan at The Hague on March 31.

As well as watering down Karzai's personal authority by installing a senior official at the president's side capable of playing a more efficient executive role, the US and Europeans are seeking to channel resources to the provinces rather than to central government in Kabul.

A diplomat with knowledge of the review said: "Karzai is not delivering. If we are going to support his government, it has to be run properly to ensure the levels of corruption decrease, not increase. The levels of corruption are frightening."

Several factors do not bode well for the Karzai government's rather precarious and tenuous hold on the reins of power even though he is expected to win re-election come August. The Karzai government is increasingly unpopular in Kabul and throughout the country, despite its attempts to build support with various giveaway programs and foreign financed development projects. The problem for the Karzai government is that it is widely seen as corrupt both in and outside Afghanistan. It bears reminding that last year then Senator Joe Biden, now Vice President Biden, stormed out of a dinner with President Karzai after the Afghan President dismissed the charges of corruption as propaganda. It is curious but Vice President Biden is reported among those in the Administration arguing for a "minimalist" approach in Afghanistan.

In terms of corruption, it is the Afghan National Police, which is composed largely of former mujahedin, that pose a major problem. Over the past six and a half years, police academies have been established in all of Afghanistan's main provinces. International trainers from the United States, Britain, and Germany have been working with the Afghan police to improve their performance but they remain poorly trained and poorly paid. In a country with a $4 billion opium poppy trade, that's a recipe for disaster.

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