U.S. considers “zero option” for Afghanistan

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
July 9, 2013

Obama reportedly considers pulling all Afghanistan troops, Egypt plans quick elections, and inquiry reveals bin Laden’s life on the run. Today is Tuesday, July 9, two years since the birth of the world’s newest nation, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) addresses a joint news conference with U.S. President Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 11, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Worst-case scenario on the table. The U.S. is considering withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan next year instead of leaving a small force, according to a report from the New York Times. Relations between Washington and Kabul hit a low after the United States’ attempt to begin peace talks with the Taliban. Both Afghan and U.S. officials told the Times that a June 27 video conference between Obama and Karzai aimed at repairing strained ties between the two did not end well:

Since the video conference, a full military pullout from Afghanistan like the one from Iraq had been transformed from a “worst-case scenario” to an option “under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul”, the Times reported. U.S. officials, asked about the report, pointed reporters to a comment by Ben Rhodes, the deputy White House national security adviser, who said in January that the “zero option” of leaving no troops behind is “an option that we would consider”. The comment still stands, officials said. Asked about the Times report, one senior Obama administration official said: “All options remain on the table but a decision is far from made.”

Afghan Defense Military spokesman General Zahir Azimi said no decisions have been made on the withdrawal yet, and that similar options have been discussed in the past. A top Afghan palace official told Reuters that both countries “fully understand the need for foreign troops, especially U.S. ones, to stay beyond 2014 and that it is vital for security here and in the wider region… We don’t think the U.S. will compromise on that.” Read the full New York Times article here.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi shout slogans in front of army soldiers at Republican Guard headquarters in Nasr City, in the suburb of Cairo, July 8, 2013. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egypt elections bumped up after bloodshed. Egypt’s interim government called for elections to be held sooner than expected after the most violent day of protests following Mursi’s ouster left 55 dead:

The worst day of violence in more than a year has left Egypt more divided than ever in its modern history, and added to pressure on the military-led authorities to explain how they will restore democracy after the army toppled Mursi last week. Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood rejected the proposed plan for constitutional changes and elections to be held in about six months, holding fast to its demand for the reinstatement of Egypt’s first freely elected leader… In an important signal for the transitional authorities, the ultra-orthodox Islamist Nour Party said it would accept ex-finance minister Samir Radwan as prime minister, potentially paving the way for an interim cabinet.

The Nour Party had delayed the formation of a government over the last few days by vetoing options presented by the interim leadership.

Hidden in plain sight. Osama bin Laden was once stopped for speeding and developed a penchant for wearing a cowboy hat, according to an official report leaked to Al Jazeera on Monday. The inquiry reveals how bin Laden evaded Pakistan’s intelligence and security services for nearly a decade, highlighting an incompetent search and surprising brushes with Pakistani officials:

Written by a judge-led commission that the Pakistani government set up shortly after U.S. special forces killed bin Laden in 2011, the 336-page report is based on interviews with 201 sources including members of his family and various officials. In one testimony showing how close bin Laden came to being captured, “Maryam”, the wife of one of his most trusted aides, recounted how his car was stopped by Pakistani police in the Swat region. “Once when they were all … on a visit to the bazaar they were stopped for speeding by a policeman,” the report says. “But her (Maryam’s) husband quickly settled the matter with the policeman and they drove on.”

The report notes that bin Laden’s family had minimum security but kept a low profile and lived frugally, blending easily with the surrounding community.

Nota Bene: Reuters investigates how a runaway train devastated a small town in Quebec.

Standouts:

Vacuum on the Nile - Reuters columnist John Lloyd warns that to avoid disaster, Egypt’s political vacuum must be filled. (Reuters)

Death by smog - Pollution in northern China decreases local life span. (The New York Times)

Spy scandal spreads - Brazil opens an investigation into alleged U.S. spying. (The Associated Press)

Parliamentary lenses - Australia orders thousands of magnifying glasses to help voters read a senate ballot. (BBC)

“Beautiful people camera” - A Chinese phone app lets subjects alter their appearances to look more Caucasian. (Quartz)

From the File:

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