The Great Debate UK

from Afghan Journal:

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.

Given that U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly said the central mission of the United States in Afghanistan was to "disrupt, defeat and dismantle " al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan,  is this now a turning point in the war against the group ? Surely it doesn't make too must sense to deploy 150,000 troops in Afghanistan, now that the al Qaeda has been whittled down to less than a 100 there, argue several experts.

Fareed Zakaria wrote in the Washington Post this week that with "al Qaeda central" down to 400 fighters worldwide, the group has been unable to execute the kind of high profile attacks that were at the core of its strategy, targeting symbols of U.S.military and politicalpower.  Instead, smaller local groups, self-identified as affiliates of al-Qaeda have launched attacks against much easier sites -- the nightclub in Bali; cafes in Casablanca and Istanbul; hotels in Amman, Jordan; train stations in Madrid and London. The biggest casualties in these attacks have been ordinary people, not U.S. diplomats or soldiers, and which has further turned away the local population from Islamist radicals.  Instead of inspiring unstoppable waves of jihadis as some had feared, militant Islam's appeal has plunged across the Muslim world including in Pakistan where political parties associated with Islamic jihad have performed poorly, he says.

from The Great Debate:

Torching U.S. power

The following is guest post by Andrew Hammond, a director at ReputationInc, an international strategic communications firm, was formerly a special adviser to the Home Secretary in the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair and a geopolitics consultant at Oxford Analytica. The opinions expressed are his own.

The ninth anniversary of September 11 is being overshadowed by the news of Pastor Terry Jones and his now-suspended plan to burn copies of the Koran at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Even if the bonfire does not take place, the news of it is tragic for a number of reasons.

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

from Global News Journal:

Security: Never safer, or close to the civil liberties abyss?

cctvAs an air crash survivor I know how long jitters about safety can last. Eighteen years ago I crashed in an old Dakota in a remote corner of Africa, where such tragedies are sadly still not that rare.

The worst moment was when I was trapped for 20 seconds in the burning fuselage before being rescued by a fellow journalist. My physical injuries cleared up within months and I resumed flying, but mentally it was difficult. It took me about four years to recover my composure on planes.

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.

from The Great Debate:

War and Peace, by Barack Obama

Bernd Debusmann-- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. --

It is a timeline rich in irony. On Dec. 10, Barack Obama will star at a glittering ceremony in Oslo to receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. That's just nine days after he ordered 30,000 additional American troops into a war many of his fellow citizens think the U.S. can neither win nor afford.

from The Great Debate:

America’s perennial Vietnam syndrome

cfcd208495d565ef66e7dff9f98764da.jpg --  Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. --

Prophetic words they were not. "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all...The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Attack in Iran: What are the links to Pakistan?

A week after suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents attacked the headquarters of the Pakistan Army, a suicide bomber killed six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders and 25 other people in Shi'ite Iran in one of the deadliest attacks in years on the country's most powerful military institution.

Were these two events connected only by the loose network of Sunni insurgent groups based in and around Pakistan? Or are there other common threads that link the two?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Attack in Rawalpindi: are Pakistan’s militant groups uniting?

An attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in the city of Rawalpindi has highlighted the country's vulnerability to a backlash from Islamist militants in the Pakistani Taliban as it prepares an offensive against their stronghold in South Waziristan. It follows a suicide bombing in Peshawar which prompted Interior Minister Rehman Malik to say that "all roads are leading to South Waziristan."

But what is perhaps more troubling about the attack is not so much the backlash from the Pakistani Taliban (the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP)  holed up in the Waziristan tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but rather suggestions of growing co-operation between al Qaeda-linked groups there and those based in Punjab, the heartland of Pakistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Targeted killings inside Pakistan — are they working?

The death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. Predator strike last week - now considered a certainty by U.S. and Pakistani security officials - and subsequent reports of fighting among potential successors would seem to justify the strategy of taking out top insurgent leaders

The Taliban are looking in disarray and fighting among themselves to find a successor to Mehsud, the powerful leader of the Tehrik-e- Taliban  Pakistan, the umbrella group of militant groups in the northwest, if Pakistani intelligence reports are any indication. Top Taliban commanders have since sought to deny any rift, but they certainly look more on the defensive than at any time in recent months.

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