The Daily Telegraph reports that the status of forces agreement that the United States and Afghanistan are negotiating may allow a U.S. military presence in the country until 2024 . That’s a full 10 years beyond the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
The negotiations are being conducted under a veil of security, and we have no way of knowing, at this point at least, if the two sides are really talking about U.S. troops in the country for that long. ( The very fact that a decade after U.S. troops entered the country there is no formal agreement spelling out the terms of their deployment is in itself remarkable)
KATRA, India, Aug 17 (Reuters) – India’s struggle to build a
railway to troubled Kashmir has become a symbol of the
infrastructure gap with neighbouring China, whose speed in
building road and rail links is giving it a strategic edge on
the mountainous frontier.
Nearly quarter of a century after work began on the project
aimed at integrating the revolt-torn territory and bolstering
the supply route for troops deployed there, barely a quarter of
the 345-km (215-mile) Kashmir track has been laid.
SURATGARH, India (Reuters) – It has been nearly eight years since India and Pakistan agreed a ceasefire over Kashmir – long enough for residents to start building brick houses and plant paddy fields up to the edge of one of the world’s most heavily militarized borders.
But for soldiers guarding the disputed frontier, it is a fragile peace that can be broken at any time.
SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – In a cheerful hall humming with voices, rows of young men and women handle calls from irate cellphone subscribers in eastern India in perfect Hindi.
It could be an outsourcing center in Bangalore or Hyderabad. But this is insurgency-scarred Kashmir, where association with India has always been regarded with suspicion.
Pakistan’s defence minister has threatened to move forces away from the Afghan border, where they are deployed to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban, if the United States cuts off aid to the cash-strapped country. Ahmed Mukhtar’s logic is that Pakistan is essentially fighting America’s war on the Afghan border, and if it is going to put the squeeze on its frontline partner, then it will respond by not doing America’s bidding.
But apart from the issue of whether Pakistan can really stand up to the United States is the question of whether Islamabad can afford to pull back from the Afghan border for its own sake. This is no longer the porous border where movement of insurgents is confined to members of the Afghan Taliban travelling across to launch attacks on foreign forces in their country. Over the past few weeks, the traffic has moved in the reverse direction, with militants crossing over from Afghanistan to attack Pakistani security posts, Pakistani officials say. These are not armed men sneaking across in twos and threes , but large groups of up to 600 men armed with rocket launchers and grenades flagrantly crossing the mountainous border to attack security forces and civilians in Pakistan. (It also stands Pakistan’s strategy of seeking strategic depth versus India on its head; now the rear itself has become a threat.)
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.
Pakistan Defence Minister Mukhtar Ahmad’s comments this week that the government had ended U.S. drone flights out of Shamsi air base deep in southwest Baluchistan province has injected new controversy in their troubled relationship. U.S. officials appeared to scoff at Mukhtar’s remarks, saying they had no plans to vacate the base from where they have in the past launched unmanned Predator aircraft targeting militant havens in the northwest region.
Washington’s dismissal of the Pakistan government’s stand is quite extraordinary. Can a country, even if it is the world’s strongest power, continue to use an air base despite the refusal of the host country ? The United States is effectively encamped in Pakistan using its air strip to run a not-so-secret assassination campaign against militant leaders including Pakistanis while Islamabad fumes.
Taliban suicide bombers staged a dramatic attack on Kabul’s landmark Intercontinental hotel late on Tuesday. Here is a piece by two Reuters journalists reminiscing about the imposing hotel on the hill.
By Robert Evans and Tom Heneghan
U.S. President Barack Obama is in the midst of a wrenching decision on whether to quickly bring home the 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan or stay the course in the hope that the situation will stabilise in the country.
The problem is it is still not clear what the huge operation estimated to cost $100 billion a year is intended to do. Here is what Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said last week when asked what would constitute success : “I think we’ll have a much better fix in terms of clarity towards the end of this year in terms of longer-term … potential outcomes — and when those might occur — than we do right now.” The military were in the middle of the fighting season and once that ends when winter arrives, they would be in a better position to make a call. But how many fighting seasons has the military gone through already in Afghanistan ? Their logic is that the 30,000 additional troops that Obama sent in December 2009 have started to turn things around in the southern bastions of the Taliban, and more time is needed to extend the gains in the east where the insurgency is just as stubborn.
KABUL/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday there could be political talks with the Afghan Taliban by the end of this year if NATO made more military advances and put pressure on the insurgents.
In the clearest signal yet of efforts to seek reconciliation with the Taliban, Gates told a security conference in Singapore that the gains on the Afghan battlefield were laying the ground for talks with the insurgents.