Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2010: the year of living incrementally?

another barack obamaOne of the labels being attached to President Barack Obama is that he is a committed incrementalist - an insult or a compliment depending on which side of the political fence you sit, or indeed whether you believe it to be true.

A couple of articles on U.S.-led strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan fill out what that could mean going into the new year.

Rory Stewart writes in The New York Review of Books that a measured, long-term strategy for Afghanistan could be more effective than either extremes of a drive for victory at all costs and precipitate withdrawal. Here's an excerpt:

"Obama's central - and revolutionary - claim is that our responsibility, our means, and our interests are finite in Afghanistan. As he says, "we can't simply afford to ignore the price of these wars." Instead of pursuing an Afghan policy for existential reasons—doing "whatever it takes" and "whatever it costs"—we should accept that there is a limit on what we can do. And we don't have a moral obligation to do what we cannot do.

Flying into Kabul

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Many friends are surprised that both times I’ve come to work in Afghanistan, I’ve flown into Kabul on ordinary commercial airlines.

Perhaps because the country is so often in the headlines for war, bombings and death, people usually seem to expect visitors to arrive on bare-bones army transport planes or the United Nations-managed flights that originally took diplomats and journalists into the country after the fall of the Taliban.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Failed airline attack raises fresh questions about battle against al Qaeda

departuresIn the absence of a coherent narrative about the failed Christmas Day attack on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, the debate about how best to tackle al Qaeda and its Islamist allies has once again been thrown wide open.

Does it support those who want more military pressure to deprive al Qaeda of its sanctuary on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, or suggest a more diffuse threat from sympathisers across Europe, the Middle East and Africa? Should the United States open new fronts in emerging al Qaeda bases such as Yemen and Somalia, or focus instead on the fact that the attempted airline attack did not succeed, suggesting al Qaeda's ability to conduct mass-casualty assaults on U.S. territory has already been severely degraded in the years since 9/11?

Afghan cleric says give blood for Ashura, don’t spill it

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AshuraThe most fervent believers among Shi’ite Muslims in Afghanistan traditionally take to the streets for the holiday of Ashura to flagellate themselves with knives and chains, but a top cleric wants them to donate their blood instead.

Ashura, one of the Shi’ite calendar’s biggest events, commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who was killed in battle in A.D. 680.

Sharing information with the enemy in Iraq, Afghanistan

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U.S. military commanders on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan are not the only ones watching live video feeds of the battle zone from unmanned Predator surveillance planes. The militants too have been looking at the same images thanks to an off-the-shelf software that allowed them to hack into the data feed from the drones.

“Skygrabber”, originally designed to allow customers to download songs and movies off the Internet, costs barely $26 . It allowed insurgents to tap into the overhead video feeds from the million-dollar surveillance planes, the Wall Street Journal reported recently.

Germans agonise over Kunduz air strike

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German soul searching about the September air strike in Afghanistan that killed civilians contrasts starkly with the greater acceptance of what is sometimes called “collateral damage” in other countries, such as the United States.

Politicians here in Berlin have been backing away from their original robust defence of the strike in the last few weeks as more information has come to light about the circumstances of the German order to call in a U.S. F-15 fighter jet to hit two hijacked fuel trucks near Kunduz on Sept. 4.

Getting the logistics right for the Afghan surge

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With 30,000 more troops on their way to Afghanistan, the United States military has to figure out a way to support them. And this, military experts say, may turn to be the harder part given the logistical difficulties of operating in a landlocked country on the other side of the world.

It costs $400 to get a single gallon of gasoline to Helmand province, if you added the cost of shipping it to the Pakistani port of Karachi, then trucking it up Khyber pass or Chaman toward Kandahar, and finally air-lifting it to feed outlying posts, writes Herschel Smith in the blog Captain’s Journal.

Afghanistan harder than Iraq?

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Afghanistan is going to be a tougher nut to crack than Iraq, some 62 percent of U.S. voters said in a recent Rasmussen poll.

Military generals and experts have said much the same thing.

General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East and Central Asia, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that “achieving progress in Afghanistan will be hard and progress there likely will be slower in developing than was the progress in Iraq.” But he added, “As with Iraq, in Afghanistan hard is not hopeless.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan and Pakistan: on the battle for Kandahar

arghandabIn the vast swirl of debate about Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is worth taking the time to read this piece in the Small Wars Journal by Michael Yon about the looming battle for Kandahar and the central importance of the Arghandab River Valley (pdf document).

Just as "a tiger doesn’t need to completely understand the jungle to survive, navigate, and then dominate", Yon argues, you don't have to master the full geographical and historical complexity of the Afghan war to grasp the importance of the Arghandab River Valley in securing Kandahar -- a battle he suggests will be crucial in 2010.

from Blogs Dashboard:

X-factor strikes surreal note in Taliban heartland

Gordon BrownAdrian Croft reports on a trip to southern Afghanistan with the British prime minister.

 In a dusty lounge at Kandahar airbase, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Afghan President Hamid Karzai were in the middle of a sombre news conference on how to turn around the situation in Afghanistan, where British forces face mounting casualties in their fight against Taliban insurgents. Brown and Karzai offered heartfelt sympathies to the families of the 100 British soldiers killed this year but then a TV reporter chipped in with the burning issue of the day. "Who did the prime minister think would win the X-Factor final," the hit talent show on British TV.

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