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from Ian Bremmer:

Post-surge Afghanistan and post-surge Obama

By Ian Bremmer
The views expressed are his own.

When President Barack Obama announced in late 2009 that he would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, few were as pleased as Defense Secretary Robert Gates. A holdover from the George W. Bush administration, Gates had championed the 2007 surge of troops into Iraq, a move that helped turn both the tide in that country and public opinion in the U.S. on its future. Gates and the generals hoped for similar success against the Taliban.

But how do you measure success in a place like Afghanistan? Soldiers, no matter how many, can’t build democratic, financial and industrial institutions overnight. At best, they can help make Afghans safer and life much harder for those who would launch attacks beyond the country’s borders. By that measure, the record of both surges is mixed, if generally positive. But post-surge, one thing is certain: Obama allowed Gates to prosecute the war on his terms, but new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will be asked to implement a plan that has less to do with Kandahar than with Capitol Hill.

Withdrawal is the right move, maybe the only move, for Team Obama. The president has gotten the politics of the moment exactly right, yet again. In the first half of his term, he retained Bush’s team at the Pentagon and reshuffled his top generals, namely David Petraeus, through various leadership positions in Iraq and Afghanistan. A surge that seemed to be working was allowed to play out, and Bush was likely to take the blame if the strategy failed. But President Obama knows that Bush’s burdens are now his—the economy, jobs and the wars.

Now the president has put Petraeus, who understands how to use intelligence as a military commander, in charge of the CIA. In this role he’ll likely use agency operatives to conduct the kinds of covert operations that will keep Afghanistan (and Iraq) free of influence from large terrorist networks. Panetta, having learned the CIA’s capabilities during his tenure as its chief, takes charge at a Pentagon braced for budget cuts. The war is being moved off of the Defense Department’s books, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. can afford to simply pack up and head home. Afghanistan will become a quieter conflict, allowing for “nation-building here at home,” as the president said in his statement announcing the end of the surge, and a forward-looking platform for his re-election campaign next fall. Bush is the president who promised to avoid nation-building, but it’s Obama who is keeping that promise.

from Afghan Journal:

Drone strikes are police work, not an act of war?

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Launching an air strike in another nation would normally be considered an act of aggression. But advocates of America's rapidly expanding unmanned drone programme don't see it that way.

They are arguing, as Tom Ricks writes on his blog The Best Defense over at Foreign Policy, that the campaign to kill militants with missile strikes from these unmanned aircraft, is more like police action in a tough neighbourhood than a military conflict.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in pictures 26 June 2011

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Last week a series of unconnected bomb attacks across Asia left dozens dead and many more injured.  Thirty-five people were killed in a suicide bombing next to a hospital in Afghanistan's Logar province south of Kabul, at least four police officers were wounded in blast in eastern Pakistan, and suspected Taliban militants stormed a police station in a town in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least five policemen. Four explosions rocked Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw.  In Thailand a triple bombing by suspected insurgents kills at least two people and wounded nine others in Thailand's deep south.

A victim of a suicide bomb attack yells as medics apply burn cream to his torso after he was brought to the Lady Reading hospital for treatment in Peshawar June 20, 2011. A suicide bomber blew himself up in a market area on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing at least two people and wounded three, police and hospital officials said. This image has been rotated 180 degrees.  REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

from India Insight:

Mistrust, Afghan insecurity loom over Indo-Pak talks

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By Annie Banerji

As India and Pakistan begin diplomatic talks between the two countries' foreign secretaries, Pew Research Centre published a survey this week that shows Pakistanis are strongly critical of India and the United States as well.

Even though there has been a slew of attacks by the Taliban on Pakistani targets since Osama bin Laden's killing in May, the Pew Research publication illustrates that three in four Pakistanis find India a greater threat than extremist groups.

from Expert Zone:

Obama’s hasty Afghanistan withdrawal risks squandering gains

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(The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not represent those of Reuters)

U.S. military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan had reportedly requested a slower pace of withdrawal to afford them the opportunity to consolidate recent gains against Taliban insurgents.  President Obama has denied his military commanders flexibility to determine the pace and scope of withdrawal based on conditions on the ground, and instead appears to have based his decision largely around the U.S. domestic political calendar.

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra – Fighting words

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When President Barack Obama announced the 30,000 U.S. troop surge for Afghanistan in December 2009, he said: "It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan."

Obama, president for less than a year, said those words at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was still trying to prove that he had what it took to be commander-in-chief.

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra – Long day

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The longest day of the year probably seemed even longer for some.

Jon Huntsman started the day in New Jersey to formally throw his hat into the ring against the picturesque backdrop of the Statue of Liberty. Here's the thing about backdrops and TV... Huntsman made it into every shot, but not Lady Liberty. And then he was off to New Hampshire for a rally.

At the Capitol, it was scheduled as a two-hour meeting, but the issues seem never-ending as Vice President Joe Biden and lawmakers negotiate on the deficit and debt limit. Some speculation swirling that perhaps a short-term increase in the debt limit may be an option if agreement is out of reach.

from FaithWorld:

Tajikistan moves to ban adolescents from mosques

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(A Tajik boy in a mosque during Friday prayers in Dushanbe October 12, 2001/Shamil Zhumatov)

 

Tajikistan has taken the first step toward banning children and adolescents from worshipping in mosques and churches, drawing criticism from Muslim leaders who oppose the Central Asian state's crackdown on religious freedom. The lower house of parliament in the impoverished ex-Soviet republic this week passed a "parental responsibility" bill that would make it illegal to allow children to be part of a religious institution not officially sanctioned by the state.

from FaithWorld:

Ayman al-Zawahri: Suburban doctor who became chief of al Qaeda

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(Ayman al-Zawahri speaks from an unknown location, in this still image taken from video uploaded on a social media website June 8, 2011/Reuters TV)

 

The Egyptian who has taken the helm of al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden did not emerge from the crowded slums of Egypt's sprawling capital a militant or develop his ideas in any religious college or seminary. Instead, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri was raised in Cairo's leafy Maadi suburb where comfortable villas are a favourite among expatriates from the Western nations he rails against. He studied at Cairo University and qualified as a doctor.

from FaithWorld:

Family, Taliban scare off actresses in Afghan film industry

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(Afghan film actress Nafisa Nafis puts on make-up at the sets of a television series directed by Saba Sahar in Kabul June 7, 2011/Ahmad Masood)

A young bride silently sobs on the floor watching her mentally disturbed husband gorge on chicken, rub his greasy hands through his hair and scream at her for more, just another chapter in the couple's violent life together. Film director Saba Sahar anxiously watches the scene by the cameraman, squatting in blue jeans and wearing a bright pink headscarf. "Cut!" she calls.

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