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from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra – An anniversary observed

Troops at Bagram Air Base listen to U.S. President Barack Obama speak during his visit to Kabul, May 2, 2012. Earlier, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement at the Presidential Palace. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

One year ago, President Barack Obama was secretly holed up in the White House Situation Room monitoring what turned out to be the successful U.S. military operation to kill Osama bin Laden.

A year later, he spent the day on another secret mission: flying aboard Air Force One to Afghanistan, the country from which bin Laden hatched his Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

With journalists in tow (they had agreed not to report anything about the trip until after Air Force One landed and Obama was safely in Kabul), Obama signed a "U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement" and was set to deliver an address to Americans about the U.S. role after most NATO combat forces withdraw from the war-torn country by 2014.

from Expert Zone:

Osama bin Laden’s ideology thriving a year after his death

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

One year after the elimination of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in the daring Abbottabad operation of May 2, 2011, it is evident that while the terror group has been considerably weakened, it has been consolidating over the last few months and the ideology that bin Laden espoused is thriving in the Af-Pak region.

from David Rohde:

An American intervention gone partly right

SARAJEVO – Seventeen years and $17 billion later, Bosnia is at peace today, but it is stillborn.

After an international intervention nearly two decades long, Bosnia offers lessons for American officials as they wrestle with continuing violence in Syria, volatile post-Arab Spring transitions and leaving behind a relatively stable Afghanistan. Stopping the killing here proved easier than expected. But halting corruption, sparking economic growth and curbing poisonous local political dynamics has proved vastly more difficult.

from Expert Zone:

The U.S. must move cautiously on Taliban reconciliation

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

The Obama Administration is seeking to negotiate with the Taliban as it continues a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Following recent setbacks for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan -- including nationwide protests sparked by the accidental burning of Korans and a U.S. staff sergeant’s shooting rampage that killed 17 Afghan civilians -- the Taliban suspended negotiations with the U.S. Some observers had touted the Taliban’s earlier willingness to open a political office in Qatar as a major breakthrough for a political process.

from Expert Zone:

U.S.-Afghan agreement: Issues to be addressed

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

The draft strategic partnership agreement between the U.S. and Kabul to address their relationship after the completion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdrawal in 2014 has been arrived at after negotiations. The draft addresses the issues for ten years beyond 2014. A scrutiny of Afghan forces and the challenges they face highlights issues that merit inclusion in the agreement.

from The Great Debate:

Are we deluding ourselves about Afghanistan?

Over the past month, a veritable who’s who of American opinion makers have been on the major television networks and in the most prestigious print media strongly reinforcing the notion that America’s mission in Afghanistan is “on track.” To be sure, they admit, there are “challenges” and “rough patches,” but the overall trajectory of the war is going according to the timelines laid out in the 2010 Lisbon Agreement. With so much star power locked virtually arm in arm, there are few who would publicly contend with such a group; most accept their stance without challenge.

But regardless of the titles, positions and resumes they cumulatively possess, if the evidence on the ground does not support their theory, it must be challenged. I contend the evidence overwhelmingly argues that our Afghan strategy has failed, continues to fail, and, absent a major course correction, will end in failure.

from The Human Impact:

“No choice” for Afghan girls brought up as boys

In Afghanistan’s largely conservative, male-dominated society, a son is often viewed as a family’s most valuable resource.

So important for the family’s reputation that the parents sometimes decide to raise one of their daughters as a boy.

from The Great Debate:

Who’s to blame when an injured soldier kills civilians?

"It would probably be best for the military if they could execute Bales right now and send his pieces to Afghanistan." That’s what National Veterans Foundation founder Floyd Meshad told me this week while we were talking about Staff Sergeant Robert Bales and the insanity or diminished-capacity defense Bales's attorney apparently intends to use. Bales was formally charged today with slaughtering 17 Afghan civilians earlier this month in Kandahar.

With the politics, with the foreign relations involved, with the exceptionally high bar for proving lack of mental responsibility in military courts, it's likely Bales is going to end up taking sole responsibility for his actions in the upcoming trial. Which is too bad. Does this case involve war crimes of the highest and most horrific order? Absolutely. But was it all Bales's fault? Probably not so much. Not given the chain of command that put him in a position to suffer such extreme levels of post-traumatic stress.

from Expert Zone:

U.S.-Pakistan reset: Still need to deal with terrorist sanctuaries

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

A Pakistan parliamentary committee has released its recommendations for "resetting" the parameters of U.S.-Pakistan relations. U.S.-Pakistan ties have been severely strained since the November 26, 2011, NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan.

from The Great Debate:

Obama’s first foreign policy blunder

This is an excerpt from The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs, published recently by Penguin Press.

The defining mistake of Obama’s first-term foreign policy was his decision to escalate American military operations in Afghanistan. There were 35,000 American troops in Afghanistan when Obama was inaugurated. By the summer of 2011 there were roughly 100,000. The main national security rationale for their presence was to prevent the Taliban from regaining sufficient strength to invite Al Qaeda back to the Afghan training camps and sanctuaries they had operated from before 9/11. But since early 2002, seven years before Obama became president, Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden himself -- until he was tracked down and killed by U.S. commandos in May 2011 -- had been based in Pakistan, under the protection of a Pakistani army that continues to receive billions of dollars in American military aid.

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