Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

‘Obama’s Wars’ and clandestine operations



Bob Woodward’s new book “Obama’s Wars” is making waves for laying bare the policy divisions and the personality clashes within the administration over the U.S. President’s Afghan policy. The author, according to the excerpts published by the New York Times and the Washington Post ahead of the book’s release next week, exposes the colliding egos of senior political and military figures in even more stark detail than Rolling Stone‘s profile of General Stanley McChrystal that cost the U.S. commander his job.

But what may turn out to be even more explosive in the theatre where America’s longest war is being waged is the revelation that the CIA is running a 3,000-strong Afghan army to carry out clandestine operations in not just Afghanistan, but more importantly over the border in Pakistan. The idea that an Afghan army is fighting al Qaeda and Taliban militants inside Pakistan is not something that Islamabad can tolerate easily. Or at least the public disclosure of it.

Firing missiles from unmanned U.S. drone aircraft patrolling over Pakistan’s northwest region at a rate that has far outstripped the Bush administration’s record is bad enough ; to now have a brigade-size paramilitary unit operating inside the country marks a significant expansion of the covert war that the Obama administration has waged there.

The Washington Post says Woodward characterizes this previously undisclosed Counter Terrorism Pursuit Teams as “elite, well-trained units that conduct highly sensitive covert operations into Pakistan as part of a stepped-up campaign against al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens there.” The New York Times advancer of the book says the “covert army” captures and kills Taliban fighters and seeks support in tribal areas.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Rumours of “regime change” choke Pakistani airwaves


Few in Pakistan believe that the army is going to make a grab for power at this time, but it hasn't stopped speculation over the fate of the civilian government, widely seen to have to failed to mount an effective response to the nation's worst floods since its creation. 

The powerful military which is fighting a full-blown insurgency by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda has raised its standing in the eyes of Pakistanis by spearheading relief efforts. It is unlikely to exploit the vulnerability of the weak civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari to itself get bogged down in Pakistan’s enormous problems by staging a coup. 

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures, September 19, 2010

This week has seen a dramatic increase in violence and tension throughout much of the Asia region, and  the pictures on the wire reflect this mood. It seems that actions by not only nations, armed groups but individuals have all had a dramatic impact on the mood of the region. The weight of the news feels almost claustrophobic as I try to keep on top of what is happening.


U.S. Army soldiers from Delta Company, a part of Task Force 1-66 carry a wounded 7-year-old Afghan boy, a victim of a road side explosion, at their base near the village of Gul Kalacheh, Arghandab River valley, Kandahar province, September 18, 2010.  REUTERS/Oleg Popov

Are some Afghan “ex-warlords” hypocrites or democrats?


Many in the West think they can bash or label the Taliban movement as “extremists”, “fundamentalist”, “Islamists” and “terrorists”.

They may disagree if an Afghan argues that whatever you say, at least the Taliban were not hypocrites, changing their public ideologies like some of the former warlords who sided with Washington in overthrowing the Taliban government nine years ago.

How many al Qaeda can you live with ?

- (A box of  'Super Osama bin Laden" candles bought at a bazaar in Kandahar)

(A box of 'Super Osama bin Laden" candles bought at a bazaar in Kandahar)

A furious debate has raged for several months now whether it makes sense for the United States to throw tens of thousands of  soldiers at a handful of al Qaeda that remain in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, nine years after launching the global war on terrorism.

CIA director Leon Panetta  told ABC News in June thatal-Qaeda’s presencein Afghanistan was now “relatively small … I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100.” And in nextdoor Pakistan, arguably the more  dangerous long-term threat, there were about 300  al Qaeda leaders and fighters, officials separately estimated.

Size, and lipstick, matter in Afghan election


(photo gallery)


By Sayed Salahuddin   

It seems size does matter when it comes to Afghanistan’s parliamentary election.

And if that is true, then Malalai Ishaqzai stands a very good
chance of winning a seat in Saturday’s election.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures September 12, 2010

As the anniversary of the 9/11 attack coincided with Eid celebrations, Florida based Pastor Terry Jones announced that he would burn the Koran as a protest  to plans to site a Muslim cultural centre near Ground Zero , stoking tensions in Asia.  Add into the mix millions in Pakistan suffering from lack of water, food and shelter after floods, a parliament election in   Afghanistan and a U. S. -led  military campaign against the Taliban around Kandahar -  photographers in the region had lots of raw material to work with.

Raheb's picture of relief and joy caught in the harsh light of a direct flash seems to explode in a release of tension as news spreads that Pastor Jones had cancelled his plans to burn the Koran. It has to be said that ironically earlier in the day in Pakistan US flags were burned in protest against the planned protest.

While Pakistan deals with floods, U.S. turns up the heat in northwest



While Pakistan’s devastating floods may have set back the army’s campaign against militants, the US drone war in the northwest is unabated. Indeed America may have just stepped up the deadly attacks, if the first 12 days of this month are any indication. At least nine attacks have already been carried out in what may well turn out to the most active month since the U.S. military began drone strikes against members of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan in 2004. On Sunday there was a fresh air strike in North Waziristan in which five suspected militants were killed, intelligence officials said.

The most active month recorded so far was January 2010, with the US launching 11 strikes in Pakistan in the aftermath of the suicide attack on a US combat outpost in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer, according to the Long War Journal which tracks the drone campaign.

Ahmad Shah Masood’s brother wants probe into “Lion” killing


By Sayed Salahuddin

With attention focusing on Saturday’s anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, a brother of Afghanistan’s revered anti-Taliban resistance fighter Ahmad Shah Masood has called for an investigation into his assassination.The slaying of “the Lion of the Panjshir” on Sept. 9, 2001, was the signal for the hijacked airliner attacks on the United States two days later that stunned the world, brought about the fall of the Taliban and drew the United States into an Afghan quagmire it is still struggling to get out of nine years later.

There is scepticism among his fans that al Qaeda was the only culprit, with some even saying Washington also had a hand in it to facilitate Afghanistan’s occupation. “Some people are saying al Qaeda, Taliban, Pakistan, this country, that country (played a role in slaying Masood),” said his brother, Ahmad Wali Masood.