Archive

Reuters blog archive

from David Rohde:

The way out of the Afghan abyss

To a growing number of Americans, Afghanistan is a festering pit where the United States has no vital interests. To a growing number of Afghans, the United States is a self-absorbed and feckless power that is playing games in their country.

Both caricatures are wrong. Yes, American troops should gradually withdraw from Afghanistan. And yes, the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai remains corrupt and largely ineffective. But what is needed is a decisive agreement between the Afghan and American governments on the way forward, not sniping at each other in public and pandering to domestic political audiences.

First, let’s discard some myths:

Afghanistan is strategically unimportant to the United States: For even the most cynical Americans, a stable Afghanistan is important because of the roughly 100 nuclear warheads sitting in neighboring Pakistan. If hardline Taliban regain control of southern Afghanistan, it will be a safe haven for Pakistani Taliban and foreign militants. Attacks against Pakistan will definitely be plotted, and attacks on the United States could be planned from there as well.

All Afghans want Americans forces to leave immediately: The shameful video of Marines urinating on Taliban corpses, burning of Korans and massacre of 16 civilians will clearly increase the number of Afghans who want American soldiers out. In a November 2010 poll, 55 percent of Afghans said U.S. forces should withdraw immediately, but only 9 percent supported the Taliban. In some ways, there are two Afghanistans. The Taliban enjoy support in the rural south and east, but many Afghans - particularly the 23 percent who are city-dwellers and comparatively prosperous - fear that a post-American Afghanistan will quickly descend into civil war. They want the U.S. to help craft a political settlement before leaving. The violence today in Afghanistan is gruesome, but more Afghans died during the civil war of the 1990s.

from Expert Zone:

Afghanistan: Negotiating while withdrawing is poor strategy

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

In the wake of a U.S. Army staff sergeant’s murdering 16 Afghan civilians (mostly women and children), U.S. officials are contemplating the pace and scope of the U.S. troop drawdown from the country. At the same time, they are seeking a negotiated settlement with the Taliban leadership. U.S. and NATO Commander in Afghanistan General John Allen said yesterday that he did not foresee an accelerated drawdown of U.S. troops because of the shooting incident, but it is almost inevitable that this terrible tragedy will lead Americans to question the viability of the U.S. mission there.

from Stories I’d like to see:

Afghan justice, Putin’s palace, and the Edwards trial

1. International, Afghan and American law surrounding the accused soldier-murderer:

With the Afghan Parliament demanding yesterday that the American soldier accused of killing 16 civilians there be put on trial locally rather than be tried by American military courts, I’m betting that the office of State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh and others in Washington are working overtime to frame a response. How will they decide whether our army turns him over? What could their arguments be against that? What are prevailing international law and military law precedents, and how much will they matter? What are the likely ramifications for the presidential election? What position will the Republican candidates take? All parts of an important, urgent story likely to play out this week.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Culture wars: The burning of the Koran

U.S. President Barack Obama has apologised for the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a military base in Afghanistan and the top general in the country has ordered all coalition troops to undergo training in the proper handling of religious materials by March 3.

Quite apart from the question of how can you "inadvertently" burn books, the bigger issue is can soldiers be so blindly ignorant of the consequences of their action ? Is it because these were soldiers in the rear, insulated  in a huge base that  sometimes feels like a little America with its gymns, snack joints and the easy conviviality between men and women, a setting far removed from the hard-scrabble country outside ?

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra – Peace by piece

Not since Vietnam has the United States sat down with an enemy it was fighting on the battlefield and negotiated an exit from war. That long-standing policy might end this year if a carefully choreographed diplomatic dance takes U.S. and Afghan officials to a negotiating table with the Taliban.

As Reuters Washington correspondent Missy Ryan explains, President Obama's peace gambit has the potential to be a significant development for U.S. foreign policy. But it turns out it is a policy borne out of necessity: two years ago, the Pentagon thought the Taliban could be defeated militarily, and today, it's all too clear they aren't going away.

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra – Combat ready?

The Obama administration is known to be methodical when it comes to its messaging. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's declaration that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan might end next year seems to have caught people here and overseas by surprise.

Today, everyone from Panetta to White House spokesman Jay Carney to NATO allies tried to tamp down notions that a major policy shift was underway. But many were still scratching their head about whether there is now a new U.S. timetable for winding down a war that is over a decade old.

from Expert Zone:

Gains seen for Taliban as post-ISAF era looms in Afghanistan

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

A fear embedded deep in the Pakistani security establishment’s psyche has always been that of a successful conventional military thrust by India from across its eastern borders. This is aggravated by their assessment that Pakistan lacks the geographical depth to absorb the onslaught; its logistics dumps being especially vulnerable on account of the inability to place them at an adequate depth. The answer, often articulated, is of a pliant regime in its western neighbour Afghanistan providing the strategic geographical depth that Pakistan needs.

from Photographers' Blog:

Afghanistan’s symphony

By Omar Sobhani

Usually when I go to shoot for a story, we are faced with a bomb blast, a suicide attack, or some other type of violence here in Afghanistan. That's why I was pleasantly surprised when I visited Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music. Even though I have lived in Kabul for many years, I had no clue this academy even existed -- it is the only of its kind in the whole country.

Foreigners and Afghans teach young Afghans how to play all sorts of instruments, as well as to sing. What struck me most is the opportunity given to women. There are not many opportunities for women in Afghanistan to play or sing music -- during the Taliban era (from 1996-2001) music was outright banned and women were basically taken away from public life.

from David Rohde:

Talk to the Taliban

WASHINGTON -- As American officials scramble to contain the fallout from an appalling video showing Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters, news that the Obama administration is carrying out secret negotiations with the Taliban has barely registered on the American political landscape. The lack of interest in the talks - and public outrage at the video - reflects how little Americans apparently care about the conflict, despite its staggering human and fiscal cost.

Since 2001, the war in Afghanistan has killed at least 8,000 Afghan civilians, 5,500 Afghan police and soldiers, 1,800 American soldiers and 900 soldiers from other nations.

from Photographers' Blog:

The essence of war

By Umit Bektas

As the medical staff rushed to prepare the seriously wounded soldier for immediate surgery, I stood in one corner of the emergency room wondering how publishable the pictures I would take of this bloody and violent scene would be and what would be the benefit of it, if they were indeed published.

No photo of the soldier who lay there covered in blood and unconscious would ever be sufficient to express his agonizing pain. There was no way I could ever sum up the earlier life of this solider, the life which would never be the same again. I could never explain why this happened to him. I could never relay in a single frame what really happened to him and what purpose his injuries would serve. For some time I watched the medical staff working frantically around the soldier, making superhuman efforts to keep him alive. Their efforts would probably save a life. What would mine accomplish? What would I have achieved if in the middle of this bloody scene I succeeded in taking a photo appropriate to be printed in newspapers and people thousands of miles away would bring into their homes to look at. What photo or photos would ever help the soldier to regain his limbs which would likely be severed very soon. I happened to catch a glimpse of the soldier’s boots lying on the floor. As the soldier was wheeled into surgery after emergency first aid, and the commotion in the room died down, I approached the bloodied boots and snapped them.

  •