Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Afghanistan: neither Vietnam nor Iraq, but closer home perhaps



[Women at a cemetery in Kabul, picture by Reuters' Ahmad Masood]

As U.S. President Barack Obama makes up his mind on comitting more troops to Afghanistan, the search for analogies continues. Clearly, Afghanistan cannot be compared with Vietnam or Iraq  beyond a point. The history, geography, the culture and the politics are just too different.

The best analogy to Afghanistan may well the very area in dispute – the rugged Pashtun lands straddling the border with Pakistan and where  the Pakistani army is in the middle of an offensive, argues William Tobey in a piece for Foreign Policy.

Tobey, a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfar Center and who served on the National Security Council staff under three U.S. presidents, takes a walk down history to the 1936 uprising against British rule in Waziristan.

The rebels were driven by radical Islam, Pashtun nationalism and armed opportunism, much the same factors firing up the modern Taliban campaign.  

from Tales from the Trail:

Obama: Not worrying about perceptions on Afghanistan

OBAMA/INTERVIEWAs President Barack Obama nears a decision on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, some experts say he should consider the signal his decision will send about his broader commitment to the war, which has grown increasingly unpopular at home.

The White House has been frustrated that its internal deliberations on the Afghanistan strategy have leaked into public view, something that Obama acknowledged on Monday in an interview with Reuters.

Growing beards to tame the Afghan insurgency



If you were on the U.S-led coalition base in Bagram in Afghanistan soon after the 2001 invasion, you couldn’t help noticing soldiers with long, Taliban-style beards and dressed in light brown shalwar kamaeez down to the sandals.

They kept to themselves. They weren’t the friendly sort and before long you figured out these were the Special Forces who had fought along side the Northern Alliance in small teams to overthrow the Taliban and were then hunting its remnants and members of al Qaeda. The men grew beards to blend in during difficult and isolated missions in the Afghan countryside.

Protecting the “bullet magnet” and improving life in southern Afghanistan


Katrina Manson is a Reuters reporter based in East Africa. She recently accompanied the British government’s development agency, DFID, on a visit to Helmand  province in south Afghanistan.

                                               By Katrina Manson  

from Tales from the Trail:

Holbrooke: my relationship with Karzai is good, really

Absolutely they are on good terms...

Richard Holbrooke, special U.S. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, once again declared his respect for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. AFGHANISTAN/

In fact, he feels so strongly about reports that the two don't get along he wrote a letter to The Washington Post.

from UK News:

Drawing the line against the Taliban

afghan1Fight them there or fight them here?

Former Foreign Office minister Kim Howells poses the question in the Guardian in a piece made grimly relevant by Wednesday's shooting dead of  five British soldiers by an Afghan policeman.

Howells says troops should be brought back from Afghanistan and that the billions of pounds saved should be used to beef up homeland security in Britain -- drawing the front line against al Qaeda around the UK rather than thousands of miles away in Helmand province.

Afghan leader Karzai vows inclusive government


Re-elected Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed on Tuesday (Nov 03) to form an inclusive government after stern warnings from Western supporters he would have to work harder to root out corruption.Afghan election officials on Monday cancelled a needless presidential run-off vote after Karzai’s only rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew citing serious concerns about the election. The outcome leaves Washington and other Western supporters to work with a partner whose legitimacy has been questioned, while Karzai himself faces the prospect of having to work with a newly strengthened opposition.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Targeted killings in Pakistan and elsewhere : official U.S. policy now ?

One of the things U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ran into last week during her trip to Pakistan was anger over attacks by unmanned "drone" aircraft inside Pakistan and along the border with Afghanistan.

 One questioner during an interaction with members of the public said the missile strikes by Predator aircraft amounted to "executions without trial" for those killed.  Another asked Clinton to define terrorism and whether she considered the drone attacks to be an act of terrorim like the car bomb that ripped through Peshawar that same week killing more than 100 people.

from Tales from the Trail:

Victory for Karzai, minefield for Obama?

Former President George W. Bush used to talk about the "soft bigotry of low expectations." He was talking about education in the United States.

But these days, that phrase could easily refer to the U.S. government's attitudes towards Afghanistan. Just look at the following phrases from American officials this year.

Karzai rival Abdullah quits Afghan run-off


Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah quit an election run-off on Sunday (Nov 01) after accusing the government of not meeting his demands for a fair vote, leaving a cloud over the legitimacy of the next government.

A weakened Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai would also be a blow for U.S. President Barack Obama as he decides whether to send up to 40,000 more U.S troops to fight a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.