NATO Command Expects 'Rising Violence' As US Escalates

The NATO commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Regional Command South in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif of the Netherlands, noted today that the number of attacks in Afghanistan is likely to rise as the influx of additional US troops expected over the next six months begins to arrive. The Regional Command South covers a restive section of Afghanistan, including Kandahar and the opium poppy growing Helmand Province that has been the scene of heavy insurgent Taliban activity. From Defense Link:

An increased U.S. presence in the region will spur NATO-led pressure on insurgents and improve efforts to counter narcotics and makeshift bombings, Netherlands Army Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, commander of the ISAF's Regional Command South in Afghanistan, said.

But the overall addition of 17,000 U.S. troops to the American contingent in Afghanistan will be met with increased violence at the outset of the plus-up, including a possible uptick in insurgents' growing use of homemade bombings, the commander said.

"That will lead in the first couple of months after the influx of U.S. forces to what I think is going to be a significant spike in incidents," de Kruif told reporters at the Pentagon.

NATO has some 32,000 troops in Afghanistan and of those approximately 22,000 are under the command of Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif. At the moment, there are 38,000 US troops in Afghanistan with the escalation expected to bring that number to 55,000.

There's more...

The Obama Doctrine Begins to Take Shape

On Nowruz, The President Signals a 'New Day' in US-Iranian Relations
The video is embargoed for the press until tomorrow morning but the President has recorded a videotape message for the people of Iran on the start of the Norwuz Festival. Nowruz is a 12-day pre-Islamic Zoroastrian holiday that begins on Friday. Nowruz translates literally as "New Day" and marks the beginning of Spring and the start of the new year in Zoroastrian calendar.

In his message, the President asserts that "the United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations" and goes on to note that with rights come "real responsibilities." It is a message full of respect aimed at both the Iranian people and the leadership of the Islamic Republic. The President addresses Iran by its full name, unlike the Bush White House who often disparaged Tehran by calling it the "Iranian regime," which of course fit the Bush paradigm of regime change. None of that is in the Obama video message. It's one of equals working towards a partnership.

The transcript of the President's message to the people and the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran is below the fold.

There's more...

A Widening War - Next Stop Baluchistan

The New York Times is reporting that the Obama Administration is considering expanding the US-led covert war in Pakistan far to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan, the largest territorially and historically the most restive of Pakistan's provinces. The Baluchistan region is one of the most rugged and remote lands in the world.

Baluchistan and neighboring Pashtunistan have long complicated Afghanistan's relations with Pakistan. Controversies involving these areas date back to the establishment of the Durand Line in 1893 dividing Pashtun and Baluch tribes living in Afghanistan from those living in what later became Pakistan. Baluchistan also stretches into Iran and the region has had an active insurgency for over 60 years led by three groups, the Baluchistan Liberation Army, the Baluchistan Liberation Front, and the People's Liberation Army. The region while remote boasts 40% of Pakistan's natural gas reserves.

There's more...

The Afghan Endgame Involves Political Reconciliation

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave an interview yesterday to Tavis Smiley of PBS (watch it at PBS) that was refreshingly candid and frank. While the interview was wide-ranging covering topics from Iraq to re-enlistment quotas to intelligence gathering to Iran, the Secretary's comments on Afghanistan deserve greater attention. Here's the relevant part of the transcript:

Tavis: You mentioned Afghanistan earlier, Mr. Secretary. Let's travel there quickly. I don't mean to make you political in this sense. We all know and acknowledge you were not part of the Obama campaign. President Obama, once elected, asked you to stay on and you agreed to serve and I'm honored to have you on the program.

That said, there were expectations that many Americans had about how he was going to handle Iraq, how he was going to handle Afghanistan. Many Americans who voted for him didn't think that meant sending 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. How should the American public contextualize that decision?

Gates: I think that what the president has decided is really quite consistent with what he said during the campaign. I think that he made clear during the campaign he intended to send more troops to Afghanistan. I think that he made clear he was going to draw down our troops in Iraq. He had a 16-month period that he talked about in Iraq. He also said he would listen to the ground commanders and it was based on that dialogue that he agreed to 19 months instead of 16.

So I think that he has kept the commitments that he made during the campaign, but he has shown some flexibility in terms of the realities on the ground, I think, in both places.

Tavis: What does it mean that everybody in authority in Washington - in the White House, in Congress, in the Defense Department - everybody agrees that we are simply not winning in Afghanistan. What does that mean?

Gates: Well first of all, I think the situation is more complex than that in the sense that there are areas of the country, particularly in the north and in the west, that are relatively peaceful and where there has not been a significant spike in violence.

The eastern area is not in bad shape. The biggest problem that we face is in the southern part of Afghanistan, which is sort of the Taliban homeland. So we have a different situation in different parts of the country, and it's in - I would say it's in the south where we would all agree we're not winning, and that's one of the reasons why we're going to increase our troop presence there as well as the civilian presence.

Tavis: The White House has floated Mr. Obama - President Obama himself, Vice President Biden. They have floated this notion of perhaps working with the Taliban, trying to get those who are disaffected, those who have a different point of view after all this time, working with those members - certain members of the Taliban to help us fight Al Qaeda. Your thoughts on that?

Gates: I think almost all insurgencies, in the end game, involve political reconciliation. The issue is it needs to be on the terms of the government of Afghanistan. This is a matter mainly between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.

There are elements of the Taliban that are absolutely irreconcilable and frankly will have to be killed. But there may be other elements that are willing to - and maybe a majority who are in it who do it because it's a job, because they get paid. There may be some who do it for other reasons, but I think there is the potential for reconciliation.

I think the key is it must be organized between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, and I believe it needs to be on the terms set by the government of Afghanistan.

Tavis: What would be the incentive for those who chose to fight with us against Al Qaeda, what would the incentive be?

Gates: Well, to bring peace to the villages and towns and countryside of their homeland, of Afghanistan. There's some evidence that a fair number of the Taliban are not committed Islamists or extremists, and so they may be able to be wooed away.

Secretary Gates, I think, accurately clarified the 'not winning in Afghanistan' remarks. Vice President Biden caused a stir earlier this week in Brussels when he replied to a question imprecisely, "We are not now winning the war, but the war is far from lost." Secretary Gates was more precise. The problem is clearly most acute in the southern provinces and to a significant degree in the eastern provinces. These areas, of course, are the ones that ring Pakistan and that form Pashtunistan. Still, to win in Afghanistan does mean pacifying the Pashtun homeland and just as important, if not more, solving Pakistan. The Vice President, however, might have added the war is also far from won.

There's more...

The 'Reconcilable' Taliban

Here is a proposition that is bound to cut deep into the national psyche: Should the United States seek to negotiate with some of the same people who gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden prior to the Sept. 11 attacks?

The President, in part at the urging of our European allies, is exploring an entente with some of the 'reconcilable' Taliban. It is important to note that the Taliban is not one unified group but an umbrella group of numerous Islamic groups that are loosely allied. Is it possible to peel some these groups away? Yes, because we already have. More accurately, the British have. In late 2007, the Afghan government with British help approached a group of moderate Taliban and encourage them to lay down their arms and back the Karzai government. From Global Security:

For years, Afghan officials including President Hamid Karzai have extended an olive branch to moderate Taliban to lay down their arms and back the government.

But their overtures have been largely rejected -- until now.

On January 7, the Afghan government announced that a former Taliban commander who switched sides before a battle last month to secure Musa Qala, a Taliban-held southern town, had been named the government's top official there.

By making a deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam, the new district chief of Musa Qala, the government appears to have taken a key step toward changing the face of Afghan politics. And Kabul is hoping the move will encourage more defections by moderate Taliban.

From his headquarters in Musa Qala today, Mullah Abdul Salaam told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that his appointment is already fostering reconciliation between the government and moderate Taliban.

"There were many problems before. There was no trust before. There was no one you could trust," he said. "People didn't know whom to contact. Now they are talking with me. They give me assurance and I give them assurances. There were many problems before. There was no trust before."

Mullah Abdul Salaam was once the Taliban's governor in the southern Afghan province of Oruzgan -- the birthplace of the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, as well as Karzai.

Militia Fighters

Now, the powerful local commander brings some 300 militia fighters to the side of the Afghan government in a strategic part of Helmand Province. More importantly, his allegiance to Kabul helps extend the central government's authority into an area seen as a bastion of popular support for the Taliban.

Christopher Langton, who studies Afghanistan at London's International Institute For Strategic Studies, says it is a particularly important area for President Karzai to stabilize.

"If it is stabilized, all sorts of follow-on could occur in other parts of the country when people see a successful outcome [in Helmand Province]," Langton says.

Langton says the stabilization of Musa Qala and the fertile farmland of the nearby Sangin Valley would allow repairs and upgrades to the nearby Kajaki hydroelectric dam. That, in turn, would allow the government to provide more irrigation, water, and electricity to as many as 2 million people in southern Afghanistan.

That would signal to Afghans elsewhere that their living conditions can be improved if they cooperate with the Afghan government. Langton says it also would allow the international community to be seen as an agent of positive change in Afghanistan rather than as an invader and occupier.

Taliban fighters captured Musa Qala in February 2007 after the collapse of a British-backed peace deal with militants in the area. Just before last month's NATO-led offensive to recapture the town, delegates from Kabul met with Mullah Abdul Salaam and won promises for the allegiance of his Alizai tribe. Since then, other tribal leaders in Helmand Province have supported Salaam's appointment as Musa Qala district chief.

So to begin with what the President is proposing has already met with some success by the Afghans themselves. According to the New York Times, Mullah Salaam "remains ostensibly loyal to NATO forces, and some British officials mention him as an example of how a campaign to woo Taliban district commanders might work."

There's more...

Diaries

Advertise Blogads