Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Arts | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2013 > USA > War > Afghanistan (I)





President Obama and President Karzai Hold a Press Conference

President Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan
hold a joint press conference after meeting at the White House. January 11, 2013.

Published on Jan 11, 2013

YouTube > White House














Don’t Talk With the Taliban


June 27, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — THE United States is still planning to hold peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, despite the fact that the group attacked the presidential palace and a C.I.A. office in Kabul, Afghanistan earlier this week. As was the case in the 1990s, negotiating with the Taliban now would be a grievous mistake.

Unlike most states or political groups, the Taliban aren’t amenable to a pragmatic deal. They are a movement with an extreme ideology and will not compromise easily on their deeply held beliefs. Before committing the blunder of negotiating with them again, American diplomats should read up on the history of Washington’s engagement with the Taliban during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

The planned talks have been arranged through the good offices of Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. At the urging of Pakistan’s military, the United States agreed to the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar. Taliban officials immediately portrayed the American concession as a victory. They flew the Taliban flag, played the Taliban anthem and called their new workplace the office of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” — the name of the state they ran in the 1990s before being dislodged from power after 9/11. This was intentional. It reflected the Taliban’s view of the talks as the beginning of the restoration of their emirate.

There is no reason to believe — and no evidence — that the Taliban are now ready for political accommodation. Pakistan’s rationale for the talks differs little from the last two times it tried to save the Taliban from America’s wrath, after the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and immediately after 9/11. Pakistan’s goal has always been to arrange American talks with the Taliban without being responsible for the outcome.

Declassified State Department documents and secret cables made public by WikiLeaks show that in the 1990s, as now, Pakistan claimed it had contact with the Taliban but no control over them.

As the Taliban advanced in eastern Afghanistan in 1996, they took over several terrorist training camps run by various Pakistan-supported mujahedeen factions and Arab groups affiliated with Al Qaeda. The Taliban’s deputy foreign affairs adviser at the time, Abdul Jalil, told American officials that the “Arab” occupants of the camps had fled, and that Osama bin Laden’s precise location was unknown. Taliban interlocutors assured the United States that the “Taliban did not support terrorism in any form and would not provide refuge to Osama bin Laden.”

That was, of course, an outright lie. The C.I.A. concluded that the Taliban had closed down training camps run by their Afghan rivals but not the ones run by Bin Laden and Pakistani terrorist groups.

In October 1996, Mr. Jalil delivered a friendly diplomatic message from the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to American representatives, letting them know that “the Taliban think highly of the U.S., appreciated U.S. help during the jihad against the Soviets, and want good relations with the U.S.” This, too, turned out to be nothing but dissimulation. At one point, Pakistani officials even suggested that America “buy” Bin Laden from the Taliban.

Ironically, while American diplomats were interacting with Taliban officials, Western journalists traveling in Afghanistan often found evidence of large-scale terrorist training. An American Embassy cable in November 1996 spoke of an unnamed British journalist’s seeing “assorted foreigners, including Chechens, Bosnians, Sudanese” as well as various Arabs training for global jihad in Afghan provinces adjacent to Pakistan.

Mullah Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Taliban representative, told American officials in 1997 that Bin Laden’s expulsion was not a solution and urged them to recognize the legitimacy of Taliban rule “if the U.S. did not want every Afghan to become a Bin Laden.” By then, the Taliban had changed their story on Bin Laden. They admitted that he was their “guest” but insisted that they had “instructed him not to commit, support or plan any terrorist acts from Afghan soil.”

On Aug. 20, 1998, American missiles struck Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the terrorist attacks on the embassies in Africa. Two days later, Mullah. Omar called the State Department and demanded President Bill Clinton’s resignation, asserting that the missile attack would spread Bin Laden’s anti-American message by uniting the fundamentalist Islamic world and would cause further terrorist attacks.

Fifteen years later, the Taliban and their Pakistani mentors have hardly changed their arguments or their tendency to fudge facts. Americans may believe that talks offer an opportunity to end an expensive war that is no longer popular among Americans, but they shouldn’t forget the Taliban’s history of deception.

For the Taliban, direct dialogue with the United States is a source of international legitimacy and an opportunity to regroup. They are most likely playing for time while waiting for American troops to withdraw in 2014.

Everything about the talks in Qatar hints at déjà vu. America must enter these talks with a healthy does of skepticism, or not participate at all.


Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States

from 2008 to 2011, is the author of the forthcoming book

“Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States,

and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.”

    Don’t Talk With the Taliban, NYT, 27.6.2013,






Taliban Assault on Afghan Compound

Leaves Dozens Dead


April 3, 2013
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — In one of the deadliest insurgent attacks in the decade-long war in Afghanistan, nine Taliban fighters dressed as Afghan soldiers stormed a government compound in the western part of the country on Wednesday morning, killing at least 44 people and wounding more than 100 in a hostage standoff.

The complex assault began around 8:45 a.m., when two suicide attackers detonated explosives packed into an army pickup truck at the entrance gate of the provincial government compound in Farah, according to police officials. After the explosion, which ripped through the mayor’s office and neighboring buildings, insurgents rushed the packed provincial courthouse, taking civilians and a handful of employees hostage.

Afghan security forces surrounded the building, firing at the Taliban fighters tucked away on the second floor. At some point during the nearly seven-hour gunfight, the insurgents took the hostages downstairs to the basement and shot them, the police said.

By 4 p.m., the fight was over, leaving behind a scene of carnage and destruction. The death toll: 34 civilians, 10 Afghan security forces and the 9 insurgents, the Farah police said. More than 100 people, mostly civilians, were wounded.

“Terrorists once again have shed the blood of innocent people visiting government departments for their work,” President Hamid Karzai said in a statement. “Terrorists should know that they must answer for this before the nation and that they will face the God’s punishment in the afterlife.”

The attack highlighted the deteriorating security situation in Farah, a restive province that borders Iran to the west. The last major assault in the province occurred in May, when four insurgents dressed as police officers staged an attack on the governor’s compound, killing at least 11 people and wounding a dozen others. But violent attacks in general have been on the rise recently in the province.

Officials from Farah said the province had become a hotbed for the insurgency and drug traffickers, as the government focused its resources on more violent areas of the country. Humaira Ayobi, a member of the Parliament who represents Farah, said that a recent effort by the police to stem the drug trade may have contributed to the violence on Wednesday. Last month, five police officers were killed in the province while conducting a poppy eradication campaign.

As warm weather spreads throughout Afghanistan, a period referred to as the fighting season, Taliban violence is expected to increase. And as Afghan forces take the lead role in securing the nation, they are preparing for a particularly fierce year of fighting ahead of the planned 2014 withdrawal of international forces.

“Farah is bleeding and crying today,” Ms. Ayobi said. “The province will mourn for weeks.”

On the street where the attack took place on Wednesday, witnesses described a nightmarish scene, with bodies splayed all over. Ambulances carted charred bodies from the buildings, including the offices of the mayor, the prosecutor and the governor.

“When I reached the street I saw that all shops and houses around the courthouse were destroyed,” said Jalil Khan, 47, a civil servant at the customs office. “I saw men, women and some children lying on the ground, bleeding or burned. Some of them didn’t know where they were or what had happened to them.”

Shujauddin, 22, a teacher in the city of Farah, said he was in the courthouse to address a land dispute when the first explosion struck the government compound. When Shujauddin, who uses one name, tried to escape, he was shot in the arm twice and caught a third bullet in the leg. He woke up hours later in the hospital, he said.

The attack in Farah Province coincided with the highly anticipated return of Afghanistan’s powerful intelligence chief, Asadullah Khalid, who was seriously wounded in a December suicide attack. Mr. Khalid, who was treated in the United States and required multiple surgeries, returned to Kabul on Wednesday morning.

Mr. Khalid’s return, heralded by banners reading “Welcome” strung from traffic posts across Kabul, is seen by many as a symbolic victory for the Afghan government. At the time of the attack in December, when an insurgent detonated a hidden bomb at a National Directorate of Security guesthouse, Mr. Khalid’s very survival, no less his return, was in question.

But for months, the government promised he would again take the helm of the intelligence agency. On Wednesday, the agency issued a statement celebrating his return and promising to “continue its services day and night to bring security, peace and stability to the country.”

A former governor of Kandahar and Ghazni Provinces, Mr. Khalid is seen as a close confidant and supporter of Mr. Karzai. After the president’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai was killed in 2011, Mr. Khalid took over the brother’s security portfolio in the south. Many here see Mr. Khalid as instrumental in whatever political transition takes place in the 2014 elections after Mr. Karzai is set to step down.

In his various governmental assignments under Mr. Karzai, Mr. Khalid has proved his anti-Taliban credentials. During his short tenure as chief of the National Directorate of Security, he has presided over a fierce crackdown on the insurgency. He is also seen as a relentless detractor of Pakistan.

His efforts have won him both praise and criticism from Western officials.

He received visits from President Obama and Leon E. Panetta, who was the defense secretary at the time, while hospitalized in the United States, but Mr. Khalid has been dogged by accusations of corruption and that he was associated with a torture prison while governor of Kandahar.

Those concerns have followed him to the National Directorate of Security, which has been accused by the United Nations of abuse in its prison facilities. Mr. Khalid and the intelligence agency have denied the allegations of torture and corruption.


Reporting was contributed by Sangar Rahimi, Jawad Sukhanyar,

Sharifullah Sahak and Habib Zahori.

    Taliban Assault on Afghan Compound Leaves Dozens Dead, NYT, 3.4.2013,






U.S. and Afghans Reach Deal

on Bagram Prison Transfer


March 23, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — After months of delays and recriminations by American and Afghan officials, the Pentagon announced Saturday that a deal had been reached to transfer control of Bagram Prison to the Afghan government.

The agreement would bring to a close a particularly acrimonious chapter of America’s relationship with the government of President Hamid Karzai, who at the last minute backed out of a plan to sign a transfer deal during a visit to Kabul by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this month. On Saturday, a Pentagon spokesman said that the transfer would take place on Monday.

American officials gave few details on Saturday about the specific terms of the deal, but one senior defense official said that the Afghans had offered “private assurances” that detainees whom the United States considers to be most dangerous would not be released. The official said that the United States would be able to advise Afghan officials on a process to determine whether prisoners should be released, but that “final decisions will be Afghan.”

The biggest issue holding up the prison transfer was an American demand for veto power over whom the Afghans would release from Bagram, which the American military calls the Detention Facility in Parwan.

Concerned about insurgents returning to the battlefield after being freed, American military commanders also wanted promises that the Karzai government would not release certain prisoners deemed “enduring security threats,” even if they could not be prosecuted in court for offenses they are accused of.

In addition, American officials wanted regular access to Afghan-run cellblocks to ensure that detainees were not being abused.

Bagram, the only remaining American prison for the long-term detention of those suspected of being insurgents in Afghanistan, holds nearly 4,000 prisoners. Transfer of the prison’s oversight is considered a crucial step in the gradual winding down of America’s war in Afghanistan.

George Little, the Pentagon spokesman, said that the agreement was reached in Kabul and that Mr. Hagel and Mr. Karzai spoke on Saturday after an “intensified round of discussions this week between U.S. and Afghan officials.”

Mr. Little said that “the transfer will be carried out in a way that ensures the safety of the Afghan people and coalition forces by keeping dangerous individuals detained in a secure and humane manner in accordance with Afghan law.”

Bagram Prison has long been a controversial symbol of American power in Afghanistan. It was notorious during the early years of the Afghan war as a site of detainee abuses, and Afghan officials have repeatedly cited the need to take control of the prison as a matter of national pride.

More than a year ago, American and Afghan officials negotiated a deal to give control of the prison to Mr. Karzai’s government within six months, and several thousand prisoners at Bagram were transferred into Afghan control at the prison. But last fall, both countries disagreed about how to handle hundreds of new prisoners who had been captured on the battlefield, and the transfer negotiations languished.

Then, just weeks ago, a ceremony to officially transfer control of the prison during Mr. Hagel’s visit to Kabul was canceled at the last minute when Mr. Karzai objected to several provisions in the proposed agreement.


Thom Shanker contributed reporting.

    U.S. and Afghans Reach Deal on Bagram Prison Transfer, NYT, 23.3.2013,






Afghanistan Bars Elite U.S. Troops

From a Key Province


February 24, 2013
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan government barred elite American forces from operating in a strategic province adjoining Kabul on Sunday, citing complaints that Afghans working for American Special Operations forces had tortured and killed villagers in the area.

The ban was scheduled to take effect in two weeks in the province, Maidan Wardak, which is seen as a crucial area in defending the capital against the Taliban. If enforced, it would effectively exclude the American military’s main source of offensive firepower from the area, which lies southwest of Kabul and is used by the Taliban as a staging ground for attacks on the city.

By announcing the ban, the government signaled its willingness to take a far harder line against abuses linked to foreign troops than it has in the past. The action also reflected a deep distrust of international forces that is now widespread in Afghanistan, and the view held by many Afghans, President Hamid Karzai among them, that the coalition shares responsibility with the Taliban for the violence that continues to afflict the country.

Coalition officials said they were talking to their Afghan counterparts to clarify the ban and the allegations that prompted it. They declined to comment further.

Afghan officials said the measure was taken as a last resort. They said they had tried for weeks to get the coalition to cooperate with an investigation into claims that civilians had been killed, abducted or tortured by Afghans working for American Special Operations forces in Maidan Wardak. But the coalition was not responsive, they said.

A Western official said late on Sunday that a commission of Afghan and coalition officials would be announced in the next few days to investigate the claims.

The Afghan officials said that without information from the coalition, they could provide few specifics about who was accused or which units they worked with.

A statement from the presidential palace suggested that abuses might have been committed by American troops, and not just by Afghans working alongside them. But in interviews after the announcement, Afghan officials indicated that the Afghans were the main suspects, and that the Americans were seen as enabling the abuses rather than perpetrating them.

Throughout the war, the United States military and the C.I.A. have organized and trained clandestine militias. A number still operate, and remain beyond the knowledge or control of the Afghan government. Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said it was time for foreign forces to hand over control of the “parallel structures,” as he called them, to the government.

Much of the work done by American Special Operations forces in Afghanistan or anywhere else is highly classified, and information about it is closely guarded. A senior American military officer, for instance, said he did not know whether such forces were based in Maidan Wardak or were based elsewhere and were flown in for missions.

Afghan officials are, for the most part, told even less, and many in the Karzai administration no longer wish to allow Americans to continue “running roughshod all around our country,” said a person who is close to Mr. Karzai.

As additional evidence of that sentiment, the person close to Mr. Karzai, who asked not to be identified because he was discussing internal deliberations, cited an order issued earlier this month by Mr. Karzai sharply curtailing the circumstances in which Afghan forces could call in coalition airstrikes.

That order, however, simply brought Afghan forces into line with the rules that coalition troops have followed since last year. Neither Afghan nor foreign military commanders believe its impact will be far-reaching.

It will probably be harder to assess the effects of the ban decreed on Sunday, and the competing views on the matter illustrate just how far apart Afghan and coalition officials are when it comes to charting a course for the war.

With the withdrawal of American forces picking up pace, most of the coalition’s conventional forces in eastern Afghanistan, including in Maidan Wardak, have shifted into advisory roles. Among coalition troops, offensive operations are increasingly becoming the sole purview of the Special Operations forces.

United States officials, in fact, are planning to rely heavily on the elite troops to continue hunting members of Al Qaeda and other international militants in Afghanistan after the NATO mission here ends in 2014.

Afghans have expressed far less enthusiasm about foreign forces, either conventional or Special Operations troops, continuing to operate in Afghanistan for years to come. “The international forces, they are also factors in insecurity and instability — it’s not only the insurgency,” said Mr. Faizi, the presidential spokesman.

As for concerns that the new ban could reduce pressure on the Taliban, Mr. Faizi said that the Afghan Army and the police would “certainly be able to handle this work.”

He said the security situation in Maidan Wardak had not improved in years, even after the Special Operations forces stepped up their activity there, mostly focused on killing or capturing Taliban field commanders and other high-ranking insurgents. Those operations have failed to reduce the violence, Mr. Faizi said, and now “local people are blaming the U.S. Special Forces for every incident that is taking place there.”

“It is better to make the Special Forces withdraw from the province, and let the local people understand that they are facing only Afghan forces,” he continued. “That will bring clarity to the situation.”

The provincial government in Maidan Wardak expressed support for the ban. “There have been lots of complaints from the local people about misconduct, mistreatment, beating, taking away, torturing and killing of civilians by Special Forces and their Afghan associates,” said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial government.

He cited a raid on a village on Feb. 13, when American troops and Afghans working with them detained a veterinary student. “His dead body was found three days later in the area under a bridge,” Mr. Khogyani said, prompting protests against foreigners.

Mr. Faizi said that villagers in Maidan Wardak had reported a number of similar episodes in recent months, including the disappearance of nine men in a single raid. “People from the province, elders from villages, have come to Kabul so many times, and they have brought photographs and videos of their family members who have been tortured,” he said.

Afghan officials have provided the coalition with pictures and videos of the men thought responsible for the abuses, he said. They appeared to be Afghan, but could be Afghan-American.

Mr. Faizi said that when the government first approached the coalition about the allegations, coalition officers seemed ready to cooperate, but their position soon shifted. Coalition officers said the men in question had disappeared or had never worked with American forces. The officers questioned whether there had been any killings or torture, and if so, whether anyone tied to the Americans was responsible.

Mr. Faizi said the Afghan government simply wanted to investigate, and was open to the possibility that the perpetrators had no connection to the coalition. But that would raise another question: “Let’s imagine that the U.S. Special Forces are not involved,” Mr. Faizi said. “Then how come they have not once heard about this? How come they do not know who is doing this?”

Violence continued in the country on Sunday, with three Taliban car bombers striking in separate attacks, including two in Logar Province just east of Maidan Wardak. Two security guards and a police officer were killed as well as the three bombers. Five other people were wounded.

A fourth bombing was foiled on Sunday when Afghan intelligence agents in Kabul shot a man in a sport utility vehicle packed with explosives, said Gen. Mohammed Ayoub Salangi, Kabul’s police chief.


Habib Zahori and Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting from Kabul,

and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

    Afghanistan Bars Elite U.S. Troops From a Key Province, NYT, 24.2.2013,






Decision on Afghan Troop Levels

Calculates Political and Military Interests


February 12, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama’s decision to remove 34,000 American troops in Afghanistan by this time next year represents a careful balancing of political interests and military requirements.

The decision, which administration officials disclosed on Tuesday and which Mr. Obama highlighted in his State of the Union address, enables the White House to say that slightly more than half of the 66,000-strong American force will be out of Afghanistan by the end of February 2014.

But Mr. Obama will also give the military commanders in Afghanistan flexibility in determining the pace of the reductions and will enable them to retain a substantial force until after the next fighting season, which ends in October. That, according to administration officials, satisfies one of the major concerns of Gen. John R. Allen, who recently left his post as the top commander in Afghanistan.

At the same time, officials said, it rebuffs arguments by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to pull out troops more quickly.

Administration officials said last year that they would determine the size and composition of the American presence after 2014 before determining the withdrawal schedule for the next two years. But on Tuesday, officials said that Mr. Obama had not yet made a decision on the post-2014 force, which is likely to number no more than 9,000 or so troops and then get progressively smaller.

“Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change,” Mr. Obama said. “We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces, so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of Al Qaeda and their affiliates.”

There still appears to be a debate within the administration about the plans for after 2014. Officials said there was also a reluctance to go public with a final number of troops and a description of their missions while still in the early stage of negotiating a security agreement with the Afghans over retaining a military presence after 2014.

From the start, the Afghan issue has been a double-edged sword for the White House. Mr. Obama campaigned for his first term on the premise that the conflict was a “war of necessity” to deprive Al Qaeda of a potential sanctuary in Afghanistan, and in 2009 he ordered a surge of more than 30,000 troops.

As the war dragged on, and the 2012 presidential election approached, Mr. Obama began to take troops out of Afghanistan on a more expedited schedule than his commander at the time, Gen. David H. Petraeus, had recommended. Mr. Obama’s talk of a war of necessity was supplanted by his refrain that the “tide of war is receding.”

But since his re-election, Mr. Obama has confronted the question of how to stay true to his pledge to wind down the war without undermining the still-fragile military gains. Presidents in their second terms often tend to think about their foreign policy legacy, and the conflict in Afghanistan, unlike in Iraq, has come to be known as Mr. Obama’s war.

The troop withdrawal question came to the fore last month after Mr. Obama met with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan in Washington, where Mr. Obama said he would accelerate the transfer of responsibility for security to the Afghans this year.

As he had done before, Mr. Obama set the parameters of the deliberations over the troop level by issuing planning guidance to the Pentagon. Operating on the basis of those presidential instructions, which the White House has not made public, General Allen prepared three options. Administration officials said that the White House had essentially endorsed the general’s preferred option — what Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a statement was General Allen’s “phased approach.”

According to the new withdrawal schedule, the number of troops is to go down to 60,500 by the end of May. By the end of November, the number will be down to 52,000. By the end of February 2014, the troop level is to be around 32,000.

The February 2014 number is less than some military officers had hoped would be on hand when the Afghan presidential election is held that April. But that seems to be more than offset by the decision to allow the military to keep the bulk of its force through the 2013 fighting season.

“The intensity of combat in the warmer months is twice what it is in colder months,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution. “For the next eight months, it is as good an outcome as proponents of the current strategy could have had.”

Frederick W. Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said that withdrawing half of the American troops over a year would reduce the chances of success because insurgents would still have havens in the eastern part of Afghanistan, and it is not clear whether Afghan forces will be able to maintain control of the southern part of the country with an extremely limited coalition presence.

“But if the command really does have the flexibility to control the pace of the withdrawal and to bring about a short-term increase of specialized units, then a chance of campaign success remains,” Mr. Kagan said.


Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

    Decision on Afghan Troop Levels Calculates Political and Military Interests, NYT, 12.2.2013,






U.S. Military Stops Sending Detainees

to Some Afghan Prisons on Rights Fears


January 16, 2013
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — The American military has suspended the transfer of detainees to some Afghan prisons out of concern over continuing human rights abuses and torture, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said Wednesday in response to questions about the subject.

In addition, the American-led coalition said that it had asked the Afghan government to investigate allegations of torture by Afghan Local Police units that have been trained and advised by American Special Operations forces.

The moves were a setback on detention issues that have created tension between the countries, and on years of international efforts to promote humane treatment of prisoners. And under American law, the torture allegations could also set off significant financial aid cutoffs to parts of the Afghan security forces, which play a crucial role in plans for an American withdrawal that are based on handing over responsibility for security to the Afghans as early as this spring.

Afghan control over all detention in the country has been a primary demand of President Hamid Karzai and was a central issue of the summit talks between Mr. Karzai and President Obama in Washington just a week ago.

Though a Pentagon official said Wednesday that the new suspension would not halt detainee transfers at the main Bagram Prison, which has been the primary source of tension, it presents an added complication for American troops in the field, who now in some places will not be able to turn over detainees to local Afghan authorities.

“Afghan military forces and police that operate effectively and with respect for human rights are central to the success of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan,” said Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman on Afghan policy.

Transfer of prisoners to Afghan control throughout the country was restored last year, after it had been cut off in response to a United Nations investigation published in October 2011 that found widespread use of torture at prisons run by Afghan police and intelligence agencies.

Now a second United Nations report on the subject is to be released, possibly as early as next week, and according to American officials the move by the security assistance force was prompted by revelations expected in that report. United Nations officials involved, however, had no comment.

Afghan officials denied there was any torture or abuse of prisoners while in Afghan custody. “I dismiss all the allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners in Afghan prisons,” said Amir Mohammad Jamshidi, general director of the prisons department in the Ministry of Interior. “I have not heard anything about Americans’ decision to halt or cut their support or transfer of detainees to the Afghan side,” he said.

But a spokesman for the security assistance force, Jamie Graybeal, said prisoner transfers had been suspended “as a result of information I.S.A.F. has determined to be credible.” He added: “In the remaining 23 months of the I.S.A.F. mission, we will continue to support the Afghan government in its efforts to improve problems identified.”

There have also been a series of concerns raised about the Afghan Local Police units, which are recruited and trained by American Special Operations troops in villages in heavily contested areas. Some of those units have changed sides, and been involved in serious abuses, including rapes and murders.

“We have formally requested that the Ministry of Interior investigate allegations of torture by the A.L.P.,” Mr. Graybeal said. “I.S.A.F. takes all reports of human rights violations seriously, and we are committed to the humane treatment of detainees.”

Both actions by the International Security Assistance Force were apparently in anticipation of legal provisions — informally known as the Leahy law, after its champion, United States Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat — which prohibit Defense and State Department financing to foreign government agencies that practice torture or other human rights abuses and take no action to punish those responsible. At stake are billions of dollars in direct American aid that will essentially pay the salaries of every member of Afghanistan’s security forces for years to come — but which would legally not be payable under the Leahy provision if torture and other abuse continues.

“It is known that the Afghan security forces have committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings of civilians and the mistreatment of prisoners,” said Tim Rieser, foreign policy aide to Senator Leahy. “They have not been accountable in ways Senator Leahy believes they should be.”

Pentagon officials acknowledged that certain Afghan commanders had been identified as potential violators of human rights, and that steps had been taken to prevent Defense Department money from supporting those commanders and their units, in keeping with the Leahy law.

A spokesman for the NATO Special Operations Component Command in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Tom Bryant, said there had been no financing cutbacks under the Leahy law to the Afghan Local Police program. He said it was continuing to grow, and had been extended from a five-year program, as initially planned, to one to be continued to 2025 by the Afghan authorities. He declined to comment on the security assistance force request that the Afghan authorities investigate accusations of Afghan Local Police torture.

“There has been some misbehavior by A.L.P., there are members who have violated Afghan law and who do things they shouldn’t do,” Colonel Bryant said. “Show me a police program anywhere in the world that is perfect.”

The Afghan general in charge of the program nationwide, Gen. Alisha Ahmadzai, acknowledged concerns about the forces, but said officials had acted to prosecute abusers and insisted that most of the 20,000 local police members did a good job. “We know that there are some problems and complaints from our local police forces about the A.L.P., and therefore we have arrested 65 or 66 local police officers, who were accused of murder, rape, theft, torture or dereliction of duty,” he said.

Colonel Bryant said in most places Afghan Local Police units had been important in fighting insurgents and had suffered three times as many attacks by the insurgents as other Afghan security forces, which he said was a measure of their importance in the war.

Recruited in their local communities and vouchsafed by elders in a process overseen mostly by Army Special Operations troops, the local police units receive less pay and training than normal police units.

“One of the beauties of the A.L.P. program is that it is Afghan-sustainable,” Colonel Bryant said, adding that by June, 15,000 of the local policemen would have been completely transferred from oversight by Special Operations troops to purely Afghan authority and support.

Critics of the program, however, have raised concerns that the local units are essentially militias with insufficient accountability to the Afghan authorities — echoing an initial concern of Mr. Karzai’s when the program was started.


Azam Ahmed and Habib Zahori contributed reporting.

    U.S. Military Stops Sending Detainees to Some Afghan Prisons on Rights Fears, NYT, 16.1.2013,






The Afghan War’s Last Chapter?


January 11, 2013
The New York Times

President Obama said on Friday that the United States is moving toward a “responsible end” to the war in Afghanistan that has lasted for 12 years. At a news conference, he and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan filled in some details on how they would get there, but there are still many questions that must be addressed.

The first order of business should be accelerating the withdrawal of the 66,000 American troops remaining in Afghanistan so that it can be completed by the end of the year. Mr. Obama said, as he previously has, that the troops will be withdrawn at a “steady pace,” but he again gave no details. In fact, he suggested it may be months before there is a decision.

On other fronts, Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai reported some progress. They agreed to accelerate the handover of combat operations from NATO to Afghan forces by this spring rather than summer — a small but encouraging advance. Even after that transition, Americans will still fight alongside the Afghan troops when needed, but the Americans will focus on training, advising and assisting their Afghan counterparts, Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Karzai supported this change, saying that it would allow American troops to stop patrolling Afghan villages. He also applauded an agreement to turn over control of prisons that house terrorism suspects from the United States to Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai said that these steps, which the Afghans consider important to regaining full sovereignty over their country, would enable him to support a demand by the Obama administration that all American troops remaining in the country after 2014 be granted immunity from prosecution under Afghan law.

As for the size of the force after 2014, the White House has indicated that it is considering a range of 3,000 to 9,000 troops, which would be far lower than the Pentagon’s high-end proposal of 20,000 troops. Mr. Obama sounded as though he intends to keep enough there to carry out what he described as “a very limited mission” of training Afghan forces and hunting down remnants of Al Qaeda. Mr. Karzai reportedly has been counting on a force of 15,000, but that seems unlikely and strikes us as far too high.

The two leaders reaffirmed support for negotiations with the Taliban, which have shown tentative promise in recent months, and they endorsed the establishment of a Taliban office in Qatar, which could facilitate peace talks. Mr. Karzai also promised to step down as president next year as the Constitution requires and to work toward a free and fair election, but whether he will keep those vows is an open question.

The American plan for an end to the war depends heavily on Afghan forces that can secure the country. Mr. Obama oversold how much they have improved and played down serious weaknesses. But he has rightly narrowed America’s goal in Afghanistan. And now he needs to withdraw the 66,000 troops as soon as possible.

    The Afghan War’s Last Chapter?, NYT, 11.1.2013,






In Old Taliban Strongholds,

Qualms About What Lies Ahead


January 8, 2013
The New York Times


LOY BAGH, Afghanistan — The battle against the Taliban in Helmand Province was so fierce two years ago that farmers here say there were some fields where virtually every ear of corn had a bullet in it.

Now it is peaceful enough that safety concerns were an afterthought during this year’s harvest. In districts of Helmand like Marja and Nad Ali that used to be Taliban strongholds, life has been transformed by the American troop surge that brought in tens of thousands of Marines three years ago. Over several recent days, a reporter was able to drive securely to places that in the past had been perilous without a military escort, and many of the roads were better paved, too.

So why, then, was it so difficult to find an optimist in Helmand Province?

In conversations with dozens of tribal elders, farmers, teachers and provincial officials, three factors loomed large: dissatisfaction with the Afghan government, the imminent departure of Western troops and recognition that the Taliban are likely to return. Few expressed much faith in the ability of the Afghan government and security forces to maintain the security gains won by the huge American and British military effort here.

Although some people said they believed that areas near the provincial capital would remain secure, beyond that there was little confidence, and many voiced worries that much of the province would drift back under Taliban control after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014.

Even now, with at least 6,500 Marines still in Helmand after a peak of 21,000 troops last year in Helmand and neighboring Nimroz Provinces, local people say the Taliban have begun “creeping back.” Residents report that threats from nearby militant commanders have increased, and that the Taliban are sending in radical mullahs to preach jihad in the mosques and woo the young and unemployed to their cause.

As fearful as residents may be of a resurgent Taliban, they are also angry at the government for what they see as widespread corruption and hypocrisy. Some of that anger focuses on bribery connected with government services, and some on policies relating to the opium trade, which still thrives here. Helmand is the supplier of more than 40 percent of the world’s opium, according to United Nations statistics, and the poppy crop is still the most profitable one by far. Even farmers who are willing to grow other crops are angry at officials who have eradicated poppy but failed to provide enough help with alternatives. Farmers say some of those same officials profit from the drug trade they profess to be fighting.

“Before the surge, the government in Helmand did not control even a single district,” said Hajji Atiqullah, a leader of the powerful Barakzai tribe in the Nawa district of central Helmand. “They had a presence in the district centers, a very small area, but the Marines cleared many districts, and they expanded the presence of the central government.”

Afghan forces now control his district, he said, but will not be able to hold it unless “the foreigners manage to get rid of corruption in the Afghan government, in the districts and the province levels.”

Local elders fear that many farmers, especially those impoverished by the government’s strict poppy eradication policies, will return to opium cultivation and look to the Taliban or other criminals for protection because the government has not offered them a satisfactory substitute livelihood.

“Before the Marines launched this big offensive, Marja was the center of the opium trade,” said Ahmad Shah, the chairman of the Marja development shura, a group of elders that works with the government to try to bring change here. “Millions and millions of Pakistani rupees were being traded every day in the bazaar. People were so rich that in some years a farmer could afford to buy a car.

“We were part of the eradication efforts by the government, and if they had provided the farmer with compensation, we could have justified our act. But the government failed to provide compensation, and unless it does so, the people will turn against us or join the insurgency and be against development, as they were during the Taliban.”

Part of the government’s rationale for poppy eradication was to starve militants of the opium profits that have been important to their finances. As opium cultivation was pushed away from the centers of the American troop surge, the Taliban made new allies by providing protection for farmers who moved their poppy cultivation to outlying deserts. Over the past few years, militants and opium farmers have increasingly found common cause.

A largely British-financed alternative crop program made significant headway at first in persuading farmers to switch crops, but few farmers could do as well as they had with opium.

Juma Khan, a farmer in Nad Ali, substituted wheat and corn for opium poppies but now cannot make enough to feed his family. That means not only a gnawing in his children’s stomachs but a delay in seeking medical services and marriages for his sons, as well as a feeling of being abandoned by the government.

“When we used to cultivate poppy, I made enough money to have sheep, and we could eat meat whenever we wanted,” said Mr. Khan, 53, standing in the middle of his cornfields in the hamlet of Loy Bagh on an autumn afternoon, stripping kernels from the dried cobs with his six children working beside him. “Now we eat a little meat only once every two weeks.”

He hopes that the government will subsidize cotton, a favorite crop here and one worth more than wheat. But the government would have to create a market by buying the cotton, which so far it has declined to do.

“We feel kind of lost,” he said, gazing bleakly at his fields of dried cornstalks.

Several district officials and tribal elders noted that legal agriculture had received a huge boost from roads paved as part of the American troop surge. The new roads and security have greatly reduced the ability of militants to plant roadside bombs and allowed farmers to take their crops to bigger markets.

Hajji Atiqullah, the tribal leader in Nawa, says the road between his city and the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, has been life-changing.

“This road will last for many years, and I think people will remember it as one of the biggest contributions of the American Marines,” he said.

Other economic benefits, however, are dwindling as the Western troops leave.

The surge brought jobs for many rural residents. There were small irrigation and construction projects, which are finished now. In Marja alone, about 1,400 people were hired to work for the informal security forces set up by the Marines at the height of the surge, according to elders in Marja. But when the Interior Ministry began to integrate these forces into the Afghan Local Police, they offered places to only 400, said Mr. Shah, the chairman of the development shura.

As the rest find themselves jobless, village elders say, they will turn to whoever will protect them, even if that is the Taliban or criminals.

On a recent day, the commander of the Afghan Local Police unit in Marja, Hajji Asif Khan, was closing down 21 of his outposts because the men had not been accepted into the police contingent approved by the Interior Ministry. Those 21 posts had 100 men, each of whom helped support his family on the monthly $120 salary, Mr. Khan said.

“Now the enemy knows these people, and every one of them is a target,” he said.

One commander, Koko Jan, who had just lost his post in the small hamlet known as Block 5, said he had 70 men a few months ago but now had none. Angry and confused, he railed against the government.

“I will not go to the Taliban, but I will do anything else to feed my family, and I told them I might go to the desert where there is no government and cultivate poppy,” he said.

Western military leaders say lasting security here is up to the Afghan government now, but they sound reserved about its ability to do the job.

“The prerequisite, the foundation of security has been laid by us and by the Afghan National Security Forces,” said Maj. Gen. David H. Berger, commanding general for ground forces in Helmand. “The necessary follow-on step is the governance. The challenge now is for the government to step in and fill that void.”

He added, “It comes down to choices for people in Helmand between what the Taliban have to offer and what the government has to offer.”

The Taliban may be diminished in number and farther from population centers, but they cannot be written off, many Helmand residents said. In the far northern districts of Helmand, only the district centers, if those, are under government control. The rest of the province is mostly under government control, except the vast western desert, which remains dominated by the Taliban.

According to the United States military, the number of violent attacks dropped by 50 percent or more from 2011 to 2012 in the central districts of Marja and Garmsir and the northern district of Sangin. But in most of the north, violence was as prevalent in 2012 as it was in 2011, and sometimes more so.

The Helmand residents know that well, and few believe that the Afghan government can prevail here once the troops and money are gone.

In Nad Ali on a recent morning, members of the district shura, asked what they thought would happen after 2014, smiled knowingly.

“Let’s be honest,” said Mohammed Omar Barakzai, a senior shura member. “The Afghan government is like a generator. The foreigners have provided enough fuel so that it will run until 2014. If they don’t refill the fuel tank, it will stop working.”


Habib Zahori contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

    In Old Taliban Strongholds, Qualms About What Lies Ahead, NYT, 8.1.2013,






Q. and A. With Former U.S. Commander

in Afghanistan


January 8, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration weighs how many troops to keep in Afghanistan after 2014, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal cautioned that the United States still needs to keep forces there to help stabilize the country and urged a continued effort to advise the Afghan military that appears to be more extensive than the White House has in mind.

“If we allow Afghanistan to become completely unstable, Pakistan’s stability is really difficult,” the former American commander in Afghanistan said in a recent interview. “So I think there’s a geostrategic argument for it.”

General McChrystal offered his analysis of Afghanistan in the interview, which coincided with the release of his book “My Share of the Task: A Memoir,” published by Portfolio/Penguin.

The general, who is retired from the Army, was fired by President Obama from his post in 2010 after an article in Rolling Stone quoted him and his staff as making dismissive comments about the White House.

His comments come as Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, is scheduled to begin a series of high-level meetings this week in Washington.

Regarding Afghanistan, some analysts have urged that the United States rely mainly on small numbers of commandos to carry out raids against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

But General McChrystal asserted that such “counterterrorism” operations work best when they are coupled with “counterinsurgency” efforts to build up the ability of the host nation to govern and bolster the capability of its forces.

He also noted that to carry out commando raids, the American military needs bases, an intelligence network and arrangements for medical evacuation. “But if you don’t have the support of the Afghan people, if you are just in there doing what you want to do on their terrain, there’s no reason for them to be supportive of this,” he said. “We’d be fighting our own war on their territory, and they’re just not that interested in that.”

On troop numbers, General McChrystal declined to say how many troops the United States might need to keep in Afghanistan after 2014. (The White House is considering retaining a force of 3,000 to 9,000 troops, which would be complemented by a much smaller number of troops from other NATO nations).

General McChrystal agreed that the American force, currently 66,000 troops, should be substantially reduced. But he cautioned advised against retaining too small a force.

“We had 7,500 in Afghanistan in the summer of 2002 when I was first stationed there,” he said. “And 7,500 wouldn’t do much.”

An important question for the NATO mission after 2014 is what level of the Afghan military hierarchy would allied nations advise. Under the largest of the troop options under consideration by the White House, it is generally expected that NATO would advise seven regional Afghan Army corps and several regional Afghan police headquarters.

It is unlikely that NATO officers will advise Afghan battalions on the battlefield under this option as that would require many more advisers than the alliance is likely to muster.

But General McChrystal suggested that a more extensive advisery effort was needed to make the Afghan military more effective. “My personal tendency would be to get advisers a little bit lower than corps; I’d want them down to battalion level,” he said.

General McChrystal said he voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 but declined to say whom he had voted for in 2012. He would not discuss the Rolling Stone article in detail but insisted that he had intended no disrespect for the president or his aides.

After the article was published, General McChrystal said that he arrived at his fateful meeting with Mr. Obama on June 23, 2010, with his resignation in hand. The decision whether to accept it was up to the president.

“I walked in with it in my pocket and I said, ‘Whatever’s best for the mission,'” General McChrystal recalled. “And we had a good conversation and then he said he was going to accept it.”

The interview was conducted at General McChrystal’s consulting firm in Alexandria, Va., which has the trappings of a military headquarters, including a horseshoe-shape table for the general and his staff facing an array of wall clocks that showed the time in political and economic power centers: Washington, London, Dubai and Beijing.

Following are excerpts from interview. Some questions have been edited.

QUESTION: You wrote in your book that there was a “deficit of trust” between the White House and the Defense Department on Afghanistan at the start of the Obama administration. Did this exist during the Bush administration?

GENERAL McCHRYSTAL: I think with the beginning of any political administration, you have to build trust, and it takes time. The challenge that we faced with the arrival of the Obama administration is, they didn’t really have time to build trust before they had to make big, difficult decisions.

I go back and think of President Kennedy, who had a military service background, but he comes into the presidency and he’s faced with a decision on the Bay of Pigs, with the C.I.A. and the military giving him data, and it turns out very badly. It really set back their ability to build trust over time.

With the start of the Obama administration, we had a financial crisis, we had a new administration, and yet we had this compressed decision-making timeline on Afghanistan before people had been able to mature relationships and trust to go at this as effectively as I think they would have liked to.

Q. Do you think the trust has improved?

A. I think it’s a problem that needs to be worked at.

Q. During the Afghanistan review you conducted in 2009, the options ranged from sending 80,000 troops on the high end and 40,000 as your recommended course of action. President Obama decided to send 30,000 American troops and to seek 10,000 troops from allied nations. Did those allied contributions materialize, and did this meet your requirement?

A. In December, when the president made the decision, I thought that I had generally gotten what I had asked for. I was concerned about the allied 10,000, and at the end of the day I’m not sure how many of those came. … I know there was an intent to get the full 10,000.

Q. How did you design and carry out your strategy in Afghanistan?

A. I went over there with the expectation that we didn’t need additional forces. … We did an operational assessment, and we identified 80 key districts out of 364 in the country. … It was a little like David Plouffe might do for an election strategy: those places that make a big difference.

We assessed that if we could control — achieve a decent level of security — in those 80 key districts over a reasonable period of time, that would be enough to make the Taliban strategy irrelevant. They wouldn’t be able to influence enough of the population enough of the time to win. We thought we’d be able to “change Afghan perceptions,” which of course was the key thing.

So we did the analysis, and we ran computer runs over and over. And we came down to that we were going to need the equivalent of 40,000 more forces to give us enough bridge capability until we could grow Afghan forces. …

Q. How did you interpret the mission in Afghanistan at that point?

A. At that point, I thought the primary focus was to keep Afghanistan from being a potential safe haven for Al Qaeda, but it also said that we were to create, essentially, a stable Afghanistan. Implied in that was, the state of Afghanistan had to survive as a sovereign state. To do that, you had to solve the biggest problem, which was this uncertainty caused by this insurgency. There was no way to cure the patient partially. You had to cure the patient “mostly” to do that. And I thought everybody understood that.

Q. How did you determine the sequencing of the strategy geographically and in terms of fighting seasons?

A. The war in Afghanistan is all about people’s minds. It is not a military campaign like World War II. So you’re trying first to convince the Afghan people that this is going to succeed, and as you go over time they’ll be able to solve the problem.

When I took over, the forces that had been approved for General McKiernan [Gen. David D. McKiernan, the former American commander in Afghanistan] were already focused and had begun to arrive into Helmand. Helmand was the area with the highest levels of violence. … I made the decision that we needed to continue with that strategy for several reasons.

First, we needed to take advantage of the forces. If — if I tried to change them elsewhere, it would take me time to figure out where. It would take time to build, and it would be months to change. I didn’t think we had months. We had the election coming up in August, and those forces had been brought to help secure certain areas for the election. … If we could secure the Helmand River Valley, it was going to be a clear indication that, if the Taliban couldn’t be effective in their heartland, they weren’t going to be effective elsewhere. …

Now, there was a certain argument that says, “Why don’t you go to Kandahar first?” Well, the first thing: Kandahar wasn’t under siege. Kandahar wasn’t about to fall. … So we made a decision to use the next set of forces to secure Kandahar — not to capture it, because it wasn’t enemy-controlled, but to secure it.

We felt that that would tremendously increase confidence, particularly in the Pashtun south, which we needed.

Q. How did eastern Afghanistan fit into your strategy?

A. The east was important — obviously, Kunar, Nuristan and all were important. And if you consider the host area and the Haqqani network [a militant group based in Pakistan and Afghanistan] it’s their key — they affect Kabul. RC-East [Regional Command East], the U.S. division there, the 82nd and then the 101st, they needed additional forces but they were in pretty good shape. I thought that, if anybody could continue to make progress without additionalforces initially, they could.

Q. Did you intend to shift effort there later?

A. Yes, as we achieved what we wanted in Helmand and Kandahar, I felt we could continue to increase forces in the east and, if necessary, in the north, although I was hoping to arrest the problem in the north partially by arresting it elsewhere.

Q. What did you accomplish by the end of your Afghanistan tour?

A. When I arrived in 2009 … there was this sense of gloom. The allies that I talked to were literally saying, “Let’s get ready to turn the lights out.”

I think we turned the mind-set, not completely, but we changed the mind-set of the ISAF forces [the International Security Assistance Force, the American-led NATO command in Afghanistan] towards protecting the population — not 100 percent but a huge shift toward effective counterinsurgency.

We changed the mind-set of the Afghans in several ways. We continued to affect President Karzai’s view of it. He didn’t become a robust, war-fighting president, but he went a lot farther than he ever had before.

We started to build the Afghan National Police and the army in a very serious way.

Q. How did this affect Pakistan’s behavior?

A. It was in their interest for us to succeed, and I think they knew that, but they didn’t think we were going to succeed. So their actions were often in contradiction to what they wanted to happen, because they felt we were going to lose and were trying to hedge their bets by doing other things. They were supporting the Haqqanis, they were allowing the Afghan Taliban to have refuge inside Pakistan and things like that — pretty clearly.

I was trying to convince the Pakistanis that we were going to pull this off, so it was in their interest to help us. And I think we convinced them we were moving in the right direction — General Kayani [Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief] told me face to face, “I think you’ve got the right strategy now.”

Q. What did you accomplish on the ground?

A. Two things. One, we don’t write a lot about it in the book, but we increased the pressure through our special operations. We quadrupled them, and we started the pressure that had worked so well in Iraq. But it only worked in Iraq, really, when we were complemented by an effective counterinsurgency effort. So what I was trying to do here was, increase that in a precision way and help tamp down the enemy network while we got the counterinsurgency part going as well.

I think in areas like Helmand and — it was just starting, when I left, in Kandahar — we did make progress. If you go down to the Helmand River Valley now, it’s very different. … We thought we had to prove to people that counterinsurgency worked in Afghanistan. I think we proved part of that.

Q. Which part?

A. That the military part of counterinsurgency works in Afghanistan. … I don’t think it’s proven yet that the government of Afghanistan could rise to meet what they have to do. Because if they can’t do it, another pillar of counterinsurgency is missing, and you have to have it.

Q. There is a sense that Afghanistan is a lost cause.

A. In fall 2001, there had been 22, 23 years of constant turmoil inside the country. They’d lost 1.2 million Afghans during the Soviet war. They had this big diaspora of people leaving. The memory of what happened during the civil war, '92 to '96, the first part of it — that’s deeply etched on people, particularly inside Kabul. We kind of gloss over it, we go, “Yeah, that civil war ended, move on.” It was as long as our civil war, and 40,000 people were killed in Kabul by [former mujahedeen commander Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar’s shelling. People had deep animosities, hatreds and what not that came from that era. And the Taliban era was, of course, problematic at best. … If a country can be psychologically damaged, Afghanistan was psychologically damaged. … My biggest criticism of all of us is that we didn’t make a great effort to understand that. … We didn’t really say, “This is a badly abused nation, and helping this get on its feet is going to be a long-term, difficult, expensive project.”

Q. What is our stake today?

A. I think it’s both emotional and geostrategic. I’ll start with the emotional part. The emotional part is, we did come in. We fought Al Qaeda, and threw apart their government. And we did incur a certain responsibility there. We raised expectations as well. We raised expectations for the 15 million Afghan females, that they might have a different future. We raised expectations of Afghan children that they’d be able to go to school, and all of these things. They may have been unrealistic expectations, but we raised them. …

I think that, over time, there’s been a certain cynicism that has risen, by people in the U.S., that “It’s so hard, and the Afghans won’t help themselves, and the Pakistanis can’t be trusted — we should just stay away from that.”

And there’s been a cynicism on the part of people in the region, saying: “You use us when it’s helpful. You use us when Henry Kissinger needs to sneak into China in 1971, or you use us when you need the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban so you can get at Al Qaeda, or you use us when you need to fight the Soviet Union during the cold war — but you don’t help when you don’t need us.” That’s sort of the emotional part of it. …

I don’t think there are many places in the world that “don’t matter” anymore. … If we allow Afghanistan to become completely unstable, Pakistan’s stability is really difficult. … So I think there’s a geostrategic argument for it.

Q. Is it possible to succeed in Afghanistan today?

A. I believe it can succeed for several reasons: one, the Taliban are not really very strong. They’re not a popular National Liberation Front, they don’t bring a compelling narrative of a better future. In fact, they are antithetical to what a certain percentage of the Afghan population wants. The more educated part, the females, don’t want a Taliban regime. … Having said that, Afghanistan has got to take a multiethnic society with some huge fissures in it, meld that back into a country. And it’s been a nation before. The idea that it hasn’t is incorrect, in my view. … They’ve got this level of corruption which undermines and corrodes the legitimacy of everyone. Anyone in a position of power is either corrupt or assumed to be corrupt, and the assumption of corruption is as bad as the reality of it.

Q. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, is going to be here next week. Can the United States work with him?

A. I might put myself inside the Afghan government and say, “Can they work with the United States?” And they might write equally interesting memos about the challenges of working with us. …

My opinion is, we have to stop any idea that says, “Well, we don’t like Karzai — let’s get another." Stop. They elected him — you can argue about the election, but I believe they did elect him. There’s a lot of corruption, but I think he would have been the winner anyway. So that’s the first thing and we’ve got to respect that. …

I think President Karzai’s successor is unclear. I don’t see any heir apparent, and that’s a little disturbing to me.

Q. Can one maintain a counterterrorism capability in Afghanistan without a complementary counterinsurgency effort?

A. If you take the raid into Abbotabad, that was years of gathering intelligence, some on the ground, some in the air, some signals intelligence. It was launched from bases — not just a single base, it needed a network. It had medevac available. It had this infrastructure that supported it that isn’t seen by people who just look at a couple helicopters landing in a compound.

CT [counterterrorism] typically requires that. … Otherwise, it’s really, really hard. It’s like trying to do Desert One that was going to go into Tehran. …

If you don’t have the support of the Afghan people. … There’s no reason for them to be supportive of this. … I think any country where we’re just launching from or operating within becomes a target for the terrorists, too. And then they have a legitimate reason to go, “What’s in it for us?”

Q. For counterterrorism efforts to be effective, you need to do more than counterterrorism?

A. The most important CT thing you can do is strengthen the countries it’s operating in. Terrorism is two things: it’s a symptom of frustration, but it also operates in areas that are less governed and can’t deal with it. So you have to try to create places where you have enough stability in the government where they can provide for the people and you’re not causing terrorists to grow, or not encouraging terrorists. …

What we need is a stable Afghanistan. … I personally think there’s going to be a military component that I urge be mostly enabling for the institution building, and them doing most of the fighting. I think it’s trainers, logistics support, institutions, leadership, things like that. I don’t think it’s a huge footprint on the ground. I would be very reticent to put a lot there because of the resistance to it, there’s a negative side. And helping the governance get better.

Q. The White House is considering keeping 3,000 to 9,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014. What can one accomplish with 3,000 or 6,000 or 9,000 troops?

A. I honestly haven’t done the math on it. We had 7,500 in Afghanistan in the summer of 2002 when I was first stationed there. And 7,500 wouldn’t do much, because by the time you had a pretty small headquarters at Bagram, you were running the airfield, you had some people starting to train A.N.S.F. (Afghan National Security Forces). … Pretty soon you don’t have much reach.

Q. What is needed politically?

A. It goes back to, “What do you think the mission is? What are you trying to do?” If you make the decision that Afghanistan is a strategic, important priority for the U.S. and we’re going to have a reasonable level of effort…that doesn’t end the civilian requirement. That doesn’t end the requirement for governance help or U.S.A.I.D.-kind of assistance. It actually opens the way for it.

Q. Do the Afghans want that?

A. I thought that they did. I thought there was a great thirst for stable, credible government at the local level. Now, sometimes it’s the eye of the beholder. … But I think the average Afghan desperately wants that.

Q. Was Afghanistan worth it?

A. I think it should have been done differently from the beginning. … People ask me what we should have done, and I say, “On Sept. 12, 2001, we should have sent 10,000 people to language school.”


Nick Hubbard contributed research.

    Q. and A. With Former U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, NYT, 8.1.2013,






U.S. Is Open

to Withdraw Afghan Force After 2014


January 8, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — On the eve of a visit by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, the Obama administration said Tuesday that it was open to a so-called zero option that would involve leaving no American troops in Afghanistan after 2014, when the NATO combat mission there comes to an end.

While President Obama has made no secret of his desire to withdraw American troops as rapidly as possible, the plans for a postwar American presence in Afghanistan have generally envisioned a residual force of thousands of troops to carry out counterterrorism operations and to help train and equip Afghan soldiers.

In a conference call with reporters, the deputy national security adviser, Benjamin J. Rhodes, said that leaving no troops “would be an option that we would consider,” adding that “the president does not view these negotiations as having a goal of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan.”

Military analysts have said it is difficult to conceive of how the United States might achieve even its limited post-2014 goals in Afghanistan without any kind of troop presence. That suggests the White House is staking out a negotiating position with both the Pentagon and with Mr. Karzai, as he and Mr. Obama begin to work out an agreement covering the post-2014 American role in Afghanistan.

Discussing the administration’s planning, Mr. Rhodes said the “core goal” of the United States was to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda” and to “ensure that they can never return to Afghanistan.”

To that end, American military officers in Kabul and at the Pentagon have been developing plans for a commando force that could carry out raids against terrorist groups. Such a force would also need logistical support and arrangements for rapid medical evacuation, as well as helicopters that could whisk them to the battlefield and warplanes that could carry out airstrikes if they needed additional firepower.

Another objective, Mr. Rhodes said, would be to “ensure that Afghan national security forces are trained and equipped.”

According to a recent Pentagon report, only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is capable of operating without support from the United States and other NATO nations.

To help the Afghan military become more self-sufficient, the United States and its NATO allies have been discussing plans to advise Afghan troops after 2014. Gen. John R. Allen, the American commander in Kabul, initially outlined a series of options that ranged from 6,000 to 20,000 troops to carry out such missions.

After the White House pressed for lower troop options, the Pentagon offered three plans that would leave 3,000, 6,000 and 9,000. Given the demanding nature of the mission in Afghanistan, the Pentagon officials have indicated the upper end of that limit is more realistic.

Douglas E. Lute, the senior White House aide on Afghanistan, suggested that the requirement for troops could be low if the United States made progress against Al Qaeda over the next two years and the Afghan military improved.

“The ranges are completely derivative from different assumptions about the variables,” Mr. Lute said. “And that process with John Allen continues even as recently as today.”

Anthony H. Cordesman, a prominent military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a recent report that the administration had disclosed so little about its plans for a military or civilian transition in Afghanistan that the debate over troop numbers was not meaningful.

“This lack of public and transparent plans and reporting makes it impossible to determine whether there is a real transition plan or a disguised exit strategy,” he wrote.

Mr. Karzai will meet Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House on Friday. On Thursday, he will confer at the Pentagon with Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta. He is also scheduled to speak at Georgetown University on Afghanistan’s future.

    U.S. Is Open to Withdraw Afghan Force After 2014, NYT, 8.1.2013,






Choices on Afghanistan


January 6, 2013
The New York Times


President Obama will soon make critical choices on Afghanistan, including how fast to withdraw 66,000 American troops and whether to keep a small residual force there once the NATO combat mission concludes at the end of 2014. His talks with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, this week will be an important marker in that process.

A lot has happened since the two men met in Kabul last May and signed a strategic partnership agreement. Some developments, like signs of an incipient peace process between the Taliban and the Afghan government, are promising. But many are not. The Afghan Army and police forces have taken responsibility for securing larger and larger swaths of the country, but the Pentagon has admitted that only 1 of 23 NATO-trained brigades can operate without American assistance. The recent alarming rise in fatal attacks by Afghan forces on their American military mentors has crushed whatever was left of America’s appetite for the costly conflict.

Ideally, the 66,000 American troops would already be leaving, and all of them would be out as soon as safely possible; by our estimate, that would be the end of this year. The war that started after Sept. 11, 2001, would be over and securing the country would be up to Afghanistan’s 350,000-member security force, including the army and police, which the United States has spent $39 billion to train and equip over a decade.

But there is a conflict between the ideal and the political reality. Mr. Obama has yet to decide how fast he will withdraw the remaining troops, and the longer he delays, the more he enables military commanders who inevitably want to keep the maximum number of troops in Afghanistan for the maximum amount of time.

Another matter of concern is that Mr. Obama is seriously considering keeping a residual military force for an indefinite period after 2014. He needs to think carefully about what its mission would be and make his case to the public. Gen. John Allen, the commander in Afghanistan, had provided the White House with options for an enduring presence that went as high as 20,000 troops. That was an alarmingly big number, but fortunately now seems to be a nonstarter. American officials on Saturday said the administration is considering a much smaller force of 3,000 to 9,000.

If Mr. Obama cannot find a way to go to zero troops, he should approve only the minimum number needed, of mostly Special Operations commandos, to hunt down insurgents and serve as a deterrent against the Taliban retaking Kabul and Al Qaeda re-establishing a safe haven in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama will want to discuss all these issues with Mr. Karzai. The United States cannot go forward if Afghanistan opposes a residual force or puts undue restrictions on those troops.

Mr. Karzai, a deeply flawed leader who is expected to leave office next year, has his own agenda, which includes requests for updated American aircraft, surveillance equipment and longer-range artillery to modernize his army. Those requests cannot be taken seriously when Afghan security forces are increasingly murdering Americans and the Afghan government remains so profoundly corrupt.

    Choices on Afghanistan, NYT, 6.1.2013,






General Details Pentagon Tensions

With Obama on Afghanistan


January 5, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In a memoir, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former American commander in Afghanistan, writes that tensions between the White House and the Pentagon were evident in the Obama administration from its opening months in office.

The beginning of President Obama’s first term “saw the emergence of an unfortunate deficit of trust between the White House and the Department of Defense, largely arising from the decision-making process on Afghanistan,” General McChrystal writes. “The effects were costly.”

The book by General McChrystal, who was fired from his post in 2010 after an article in Rolling Stone quoted him and his staff making dismissive comments about the White House, is likely to disappoint readers who are looking for a vivid blow-by-blow account of infighting within the administration.

The book, titled “My Share of the Task: A Memoir,” does not provide an account of the White House meeting at which Mr. Obama accepted the general’s resignation. General McChrystal’s tone toward Mr. Obama is respectful, and he notes that his wife, Annie, joined the crowd at Mr. Obama’s inauguration. The book is to be released on Monday.

An advance copy of the book provides revealing glimpses of the friction over military planning and comes as Mr. Obama is weighing, and perhaps preparing to overrule, the troop requests that have been presented by the current American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen.

The account is all the more noteworthy since General McChrystal, who retired from the Army, remains a respected voice within the military and teaches a course on leadership at Yale.

According to the book, the tensions began before General McChrystal took command in Kabul, Afghanistan, and were set off by a request from his predecessor, Gen. David D. McKiernan, for 30,000 additional troops at the end of the Bush administration.

Instead of approving the entire request, in February 2009, Mr. Obama decided that 17,000 would be sent, adding that decisions on additional deployments would be based on further analysis.

From the White House perspective, General McChrystal writes, “this partial decision was logical.” After less than a month, the president had increased American forces in Afghanistan by 50 percent. Though Mr. Obama had cast the conflict in Afghanistan as a “war of necessity,” as a candidate he was nonetheless wary about a prolonged American military involvement there.

But the Pentagon pressed for an additional 4,000 troops, fearing that there was little time to reverse the Taliban’s gains before the August elections in Afghanistan.

“The military felt a sense of urgency, seeing little remaining time if any forces approved were to reach Afghanistan in time to improve security in advance of the elections,” he wrote.

The White House later approved the 4,000 troops, but the dispute pointed to a deeper clash of cultures over the use of force that continued after General McChrystal took command.

“Military leaders, many of whom were students of counterinsurgency, recognized the dangers of an incremental escalation, and the historical lesson that ‘trailing’ an insurgency typically condemned counterinsurgents to failure,” he writes.

In May 2009, soon before he assumed command in Kabul, General McChrystal had a “short, but cordial” meeting with Mr. Obama at which the president “offered no specific guidance,” he notes.

The next month, General McChrystal was surprised when James L. Jones, Mr. Obama’s first national security adviser, told him that the Obama administration would not consider sending more forces until the effect of arriving units could be fully evaluated.

That contradicted the guidance that General McChrystal had received from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that he should submit an assessment in August of the additional forces that might be required, he writes.

At an Oct. 8, 2009, video conference with Mr. Obama’s National Security Council, differences again emerged when General McChrystal outlined his goals: “Defeat the Taliban. Secure the population.”

That prompted a challenge by a Washington-based official, whom General McChrystal does not name, that the goal of defeating the Taliban seemed too ambitious and that the command in Kabul should settle instead for an effort to “degrade” the Taliban.

At the next video conference, General McChrystal presented a slide showing that his objectives had been derived from Mr. Obama’s own speeches and a White House strategy review. “But it was clear to me that the mission itself was now on the table for review and adjustment,” he wrote.

After General McChrystal determined that at least 40,000 additional forces were needed to reverse the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama provided 30,000 and said he would ask allied nations to contribute the rest.

General McChrystal acknowledges that he had concerns that Mr. Obama’s decision to announce a date for beginning the withdrawal of the additional “surge” forces might embolden the Taliban. But the general writes that he did not challenge the decision.

“If I felt like the decision to set a withdrawal date would have been fatal to the success of our mission, I’d have said so,” he writes.

General McChrystal has little to say about the episode that led to the article in Rolling Stone. He writes that the comments attributed to his team were “unacceptable” but adds that he was surprised by the tone of the article, which he had expected would show the camaraderie among the American, British, French and Afghan officers.

As the controversy over the article grew, General McChrystal did not seek advice before offering his resignation. The book does not say if he was disappointed when Mr. Obama accepted it at a brief White House meeting.

Returning to his quarters at Fort McNair after that White House meeting, he broke the news to his wife: “I told her that our life in the Army was over.”

    General Details Pentagon Tensions With Obama on Afghanistan, NYT, 5.1.2013,






Insider Attacks in Afghanistan

Shape the Late Stages of a War


January 3, 2013
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — It was only after the young Afghan soldier’s hatred of Americans had grown murderous that he reached out to the Taliban.

The soldier, named simply Mahmood, 22, said that in May he told the insurgents of his plan to shoot Americans the next time they visited the outpost where he was based in northeastern Afghanistan. He asked the Taliban to take him in if he escaped.

The Taliban veterans he contacted were skeptical. Despite their public insistence that they employ vast ranks of infiltrators within the Afghan Army and the police, they acknowledged that many of the insider attacks they take credit for start as offers by angry young men like Mahmood. They had seen many fail, or lose their nerve before even starting, and they figured that Mahmood, too, would prove more talk than action or would die in the attempt.

“Even the Taliban didn’t think I would be able to do this,” Mr. Mahmood said in an interview.

He proved them wrong days later, on the morning of May 11, when he opened fire on American trainers who had gone to the outpost in the mountains of Kunar Province. One American was killed and two others were wounded. Mahmood escaped in the ensuing confusion, and he remains free in Kunar after the Taliban welcomed him into their ranks.

It was, he said, his “proudest day.”

Such insider attacks, by Afghan security forces on their Western allies, became “the signature violence of 2012,” in the words of one former American official. The surge in attacks has provided the clearest sign yet that Afghan resentment of foreigners is becoming unmanageable, and American officials have expressed worries about its disruptive effects on the training mission that is the core of the American withdrawal plan for 2014.

“It’s a game changer on all levels,” said First Sgt. Joseph Hissong, an American who helped fight off an insider attack by Afghan soldiers that left two men in his unit dead.

Cultural clashes have contributed to some of the insider attacks, with Afghan soldiers and police officers becoming enraged by what they see as rude and abusive behavior by Americans close to them. In some cases, the abusive or corrupt behavior of Afghan officers prompts the killer to go after Americans, who are seen as backing the local commanders. On rare occasions, like the killing of an American contractor by an Afghan policewoman late last month, there seems to be no logical explanation.

But behind it all, many senior coalition and Afghan officials are now concluding that after nearly 12 years of war, the view of foreigners held by many Afghans has come to mirror that of the Taliban. Hope has turned into hatred, and some will find a reason to act on those feelings.

“A great percentage of the insider attacks have the enemy narrative — the narrative that the infidels have to be driven out — somewhere inside of them, but they aren’t directed by the enemy,” said a senior coalition officer, who asked not to be identified because of Afghan and American sensitivities about the attacks.

The result is that, although the Taliban have successfully infiltrated the security forces before, they do not always have to. Soldiers and police officers will instead go to them, as was the case with Mr. Mahmood, who offered a glimpse of the thinking behind the violence in one of the few interviews conducted with Afghans who have committed insider attacks.

“I have intimate friends in the army who have the same opinion as I do,” Mr. Mahmood said. “We used to sit and share our hearts’ tales.”

But he said he did not tell any of his compatriots of his plan to shoot Americans, fearing that it could leak out and derail his attack. The interviews with Mr. Mahmood and his Taliban contacts were conducted in recent weeks by telephone and through written responses to questions. There are also two videos that show Mr. Mahmood with the Taliban: an insurgent-produced propaganda video available on jihadi Web sites, and an interview conducted by a local journalist in Kunar.

Though Mr. Mahmood at times contradicted himself, falling into stock Taliban commentary about how it had always been his ambition to kill foreigners, much of what he said mirrored the timelines and versions of events provided by Taliban fighters who know him, as well as Afghan officials familiar with his case.

Mr. Mahmood grew up in Tajikan, a small village in the southern province of Helmand. The area around his village remains dominated by the Taliban despite advances against the insurgents made in recent years by American and British troops. Even Afghans from other parts of Helmand are hesitant to travel to Tajikan for fear of the Taliban.

Col. Khudaidad, an Afghan officer who runs the Afghan National Army’s recruitment center in Helmand, said Mr. Mahmood enlisted about four years ago. His story, up to that point, would be familiar to many Americans: He was a poor boy from a family of eight who worked sweeping up in a tailor shop and was looking for a better life. The army offered steady pay, reading and writing lessons, and a chance to see something beyond the mud hovels in which he was born and raised.

“He barely had a beard,” recalled Colonel Khudaidad, who also uses only one name, in an interview. “He looked so innocent that you wouldn’t believe what he did if you only saw him then.”

Mr. Mahmood says he was anything but an innocent. He grew up being told that Americans, Britons and Jews “are the enemies of our country and our religion,” he said.

But until May, he worked and fought alongside foreigners without incident. The change came in the Ghaziabad District of Kunar, where he ended up after the start of 2012, he said.

The area is thick with Taliban, along with Islamists from Pakistan. Many residents sympathized with the insurgents and often complained to Afghan soldiers about the abuses committed by Americans and the failure of Afghan soldiers to control much of anything beyond the perimeter of their own outpost, Mr. Mahmood said. The Taliban, they glorified.

Listening to villagers, Mr. Mahmood became convinced that the foreigners had killed too many Afghans and insulted the Prophet Muhammad too many times. He wanted to be driving them out, not helping them stay. The villagers’ stories “strengthened my desire to kill Americans with my own fingers,” he said.

He contacted the Taliban through a local sympathizer. He did not want help — he only asked the insurgents “not to shoot me” if he managed to escape after attacking the Americans, which he told them would happen in a few days.

He was on guard duty when American soldiers arrived at the outpost on May 11. He waited for a few of them to shed their body armor and put down their weapons, and then he opened fire. (New regulations require American trainers to keep their armor on and weapons at hand when visiting Afghan bases.)

The Afghan and American soldiers initially thought the attack was coming from the outside. They “didn’t even think that someone within the Afghan Army might have opened fire on Americans,” he said. “I took advantage of this confusion and fled.”

He claimed to have hit six Americans. “I don’t know how many were killed, though I hope all were,” he said. The coalition said one soldier was killed and two were wounded.

The Taliban welcomed him as a hero. He was given the title “ghazi,” an honorific for someone who helps drive off non-Muslim invaders. “They let me keep the same rifle I used to kill Americans.”

In August, the Taliban featured Mr. Mahmood in a propaganda video, calling him “Ghazi of Ghaziabad.” The video shows Mr. Mahmood, smiling broadly, being draped with garlands and showered with praise from local elders, Taliban fighters and cheering crowds of men and boys.

The following month, the American-led military coalition announced that it had killed Mr. Mahmood in an airstrike. The coalition now says it was mistaken and that Mr. Mahmood is still with the Taliban in Kunar.

Villagers and officials in Helmand backed up that account, saying Mr. Mahmood had been in touch with relatives since the report of his death. Mr. Mahmood said he spoke only to his mother, and that “she was happy.”


Sangar Rahimi and Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Kabul,

and an employee of The New York Times from Asadabad.

    Insider Attacks in Afghanistan Shape the Late Stages of a War, NYT, 3.1.2012,






Afghan War Commander

Gives Options for After ’14


January 2, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Gen. John R. Allen, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, has submitted military options to the Pentagon that would keep 6,000 to 20,000 American troops in Afghanistan after 2014, defense officials said on Wednesday.

General Allen offered Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta three plans with different troop levels: 6,000, 10,000 and 20,000, each with a risk factor probably attached to it, a senior military official said. An option of 6,000 troops would probably pose a higher risk of failure for the American effort in Afghanistan, 10,000 would be medium risk and 20,000 would be lower risk, the official said.

But the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the options, said that a more important factor in the success of any post-2014 American mission was how well — or whether — an Afghan government known for corruption could deliver basic services to the population.

General Allen’s options offer ascending levels of American involvement in guarding against the expansion of terrorist groups in Afghanistan and advising an Afghan military that has limited air power, logistics, leadership and ability to evacuate and treat its wounded.

With 6,000 troops, defense officials said, the American mission would largely be a counterterrorism fight of Special Operations commandos who would hunt down insurgents. There would be limited logistical support and training for Afghan security forces. With 10,000 troops, the United States would expand training of Afghan security forces. With 20,000 troops, the Obama administration would add some conventional Army forces to patrol in limited areas.

Defense officials said it was unclear whether President Obama had studied the options, although they said he was expected to discuss them at the White House next week when President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan visits. About 66,000 American troops are now in Afghanistan.

Under an agreement between NATO and the Afghan government, the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan is to end on Dec. 31, 2014, when the Afghan Army and the police are to have full responsibility for their country’s security. But in recent months the Obama administration has been debating the size and mission of a residual American force that would remain after 2014 to increase Afghan stability.

The help is sorely needed, according to the most recent Pentagon report on the state of the 11-year-old war. In an assessment released last month that covers April through September 2012, the Pentagon found that only one of the Afghan Army’s 23 brigades was able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States or its NATO partners.

Defense officials said that General Allen’s recommendations did not include options for the pace of withdrawals of the remaining 66,000 troops, although American officials say he wants to keep a large majority — perhaps as many as 60,000 — through the fighting season next fall.

Military officials anticipate that the White House will push for a more rapid withdrawal.

General Allen’s recommendations come as he and Mr. Panetta are soon due to leave their jobs. General Allen is to be replaced in February by Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., and Mr. Panetta is expected to step down after Mr. Obama nominates a successor.

General Allen, who is under investigation for a series of e-mails he exchanged with a socialite in Tampa, Fla., Jill Kelley, is to become the NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, but his nomination is delayed until the investigation concludes.

Pentagon officials said Wednesday that he had long planned to leave Afghanistan in February and that the inquiry had not accelerated his departure.

    Afghan War Commander Gives Options for After ’14, NYT, 2.1.2013,






U.S. Drone Strike

Kills a Top Pakistani Militant


January 3, 2013
The New York Times


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An American drone strike killed a top Pakistani militant commander in a northwestern tribal region, security officials said on Thursday. The death of Maulvi Nazir was seen as a serious blow to Taliban fighters who attack United States and allied forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

The drone strike took place Wednesday night and targeted Mr. Nazir’s vehicle in the Angoor Adda area in South Waziristan. Five other people were also killed, including one of his key aides, officials said.

“He has been killed. It is confirmed,” said a senior Pakistani intelligence officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The vehicle he was traveling in was hit.

Mr. Nazir was traveling from Birmal to Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, when his vehicle was struck by the drone.

In a separate drone strike in North Waziristan on Thursday morning, at least four people were killed when a vehicle was targeted. The identities of those killed were not immediately known.

Mr. Nazir, believed to be in his 30s, was based in the western part of the South Waziristan tribal region. He led the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe and his loyalists regularly joined attacks on American forces across the porous border with Afghanistan. Unlike other Taliban factions, Mr. Nazir’s fighters did not attack Pakistani military or government targets, instead focusing on the war inside Afghanistan. He was believed to have signed a peace pact with the Pakistani military.

Mr. Nazir was allied with Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a leading warlord in North Waziristan. The nonconfrontational posture of the two commanders toward the Pakistani military often led to them being labeled here as “good Taliban.”

Asad Munir, a former Pakistan Army brigadier and the intelligence chief in Peshawar, said the killing of Mr. Nazir could lead to a spurt in violence.

“A dangerous scenario for Pakistani military would be joining of hands of Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir supporters with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.”

Mr. Munir said the area controlled by Mr. Nazir’s forces had been “relatively peaceful” but his death increased the chances of attacks on military targets. Mr. Nazir had survived two earlier drone strikes. In November, he survived a suicide attack, which was blamed on Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistani, or T.T.P., the Pakistani Taliban who conduct attacks inside Pakistan. Following the suicide attack, he expelled rival Mehsud tribesmen from territory controlled by his fighters.

Mr. Nazir also opposed the presence of Uzbek fighters inside Pakistan and, with the help of the Pakistani military, pushed Uzbeks out of his region several years ago.

Some analysts said that militants like Mr. Nazir could be troublesome for the Pakistani military once the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan begins in 2014.

“Maulvi Nazir would probably have posed a problem for the Pakistan Army if and when a political settlement is reached in Afghanistan in 2014. But in the interim, the killing of Nazir and his deputies likely hurts the Pakistan Army’s efforts against the T.T.P. in South Waziristan,” said Arif Rafiq, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute, based in Washington.

"Nazir would probably have wanted to hold on to his local jihadist fiefdom, making him a long-term threat for the Pakistani state,” said Mr. Rafiq.

The suspicion that the Pakistani military gave a nod to Mr. Nazir’s killing could result in attacks on Pakistani troops in some areas in South Waziristan, analysts said.

Pakistani officials publicly denounce American drone strikes but have privately acknowledged the effectiveness of the campaign.


Ismail Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.

    U.S. Drone Strike Kills a Top Pakistani Militant, NYT, 3.1.2013,






With U.S. Set to Leave Afghanistan,

Echoes of 1989


January 1, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The young president who ascended to office as a change agent decides to end the costly and unpopular war in Afghanistan. He seeks an exit with honor by pledging long-term financial support to allies in Kabul, while urging reconciliation with the insurgency. But some senior advisers lobby for a deliberately slow withdrawal, and propose leaving thousands of troops behind to train and support Afghan security forces.

This is a nearly exact description of the endgame conundrum facing President Obama as he prepares for a critical visit by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, planned for early January.

But the account is actually drawn from declassified Soviet archives describing Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s closed-door struggles with his Politburo and army chiefs to end the Kremlin’s intervention in Afghanistan — one that began with a commando raid, coup and modest goals during Christmas week of 1979 but became, after a decade, what Mr. Gorbachev derided as “a bleeding wound.”

What mostly is remembered about the withdrawal is the Soviet Union’s humiliation, and the ensuing factional bloodletting across Afghanistan that threw the country into a vicious civil war. It ended with Taliban control and the establishment of a safe haven for Al Qaeda before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

But scholars who have studied the Soviet archives point out another lesson for the Obama administration as it manages the pullout of American and allied combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

“The main thing the Soviets did right was that they continued large-scale military assistance to the regime they left behind after the final withdrawal in ’89,” said Mark N. Katz, a professor at George Mason University and author of “Leaving Without Losing: The War on Terror After Iraq and Afghanistan” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).

“As long as the Afghan regime received the money and the weapons, they did pretty well — and held on to power for three years,” Mr. Katz said. The combat effectiveness of Kabul’s security forces increased after the Soviet withdrawal, when the fight for survival become wholly their own.

But then the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, and the new Russian leader, Boris N. Yeltsin, heeded urgings of the United States and other Western powers to halt aid to the Communist leadership in Afghanistan, not just arms and money, but also food and fuel. The Kremlin-backed government in Kabul fell three months later.

To be sure, there are significant contrasts between the two interventions in Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion and occupation were condemned as illegal aggression, while the American one was embraced by the international community, including Russia, as a “just war,” one with limited goals of routing the Taliban and eliminating Al Qaeda. That war of necessity has since evolved into a war of choice, one the Obama administration is working to end as quickly as is feasible.

Despite the differences going in, both the Soviet Union and the United States soon learned that Afghanistan is a land where foreigners aspiring to create nations in their image must combat not just the Taliban but tribalism, orthodoxy, corruption and a medieval view of women. As well, Pakistan has had interests at odds with those of the neighboring government in Afghanistan, whether Kabul was an ally of Moscow or of Washington.

“The Soviet Union did not understand religious and ethnic factors sufficiently, and overestimated the capacity of Afghan society to move very fast toward a modern era, in this case socialism,” said Svetlana Savranskaya, director of Russian programs at the National Security Archive, an independent research center at George Washington University.

“Here I see similarities with the approach of the United States, especially with all the discussion about trying to leave behind an Afghanistan that is democratic and respects the rights of women, ideas that simply are not accepted across the broad society there,” said Ms. Savranskaya, who has written extensively on the Soviet archives.

If the Soviet experience offers any guidance to the current American withdrawal, she said, it would be to accelerate the departure of foreign combat forces — but to leave in their place a “sustained, multiyear international involvement in military training, education and civilian infrastructure projects, and maybe not focusing on building democracy as much as improving the lives of the common people.”

And she noted that the United States should already be seeking partnership with Afghan leaders beyond Mr. Karzai, who is viewed across large parts of the population as tainted by his association with the Americans.

Pentagon officials have signaled that they are hoping for an enduring military presence of 10,000 or more troops, but may have to accept fewer, to cement the progress of the years of fighting. Those troops would focus on training and supporting Afghan forces along with a counterterrorism contingent to hunt Qaeda and insurgent leaders.

In a parallel, one of Mr. Gorbachev’s closest early confidants, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, the foreign minister, advocated a slow withdrawal pace — and pressed for 10,000 to 15,000 Soviet troops to remain to support the Communist government. The Soviets left only 300 advisers.

But after losing more than 15,000 Soviet troops and billions of rubles, the Kremlin knew it had to somehow justify the invasion and occupation upon withdrawal.

Mr. Gorbachev had “to face up to a difficult problem of domestic politics which has puzzled other nations finding themselves in similar circumstances,” Rodric Braithwaite, a former British ambassador to Moscow, wrote in “Afgantsy” (Oxford University Press, 2011), his book on the Soviet intervention based on Communist Party documents.

“How could the Russians withdraw their army safely, with honor, without looking as if they were simply cutting and running, and without appearing to betray their Afghan allies or their own soldiers who had died?” Mr. Braithwaite wrote of the internal Kremlin debate, in terms resonant of the Americans’ conundrum today.

Around the time of the Soviet withdrawal, an article by Pravda, the Communist Party mouthpiece, clutched for a positive view as the Soviet Army pulled out. Read today, it bears a resemblance to the news releases churned out by the Pentagon detailing statistics on reconstruction assistance.

“Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan repaired, rebuilt and constructed hundreds of schools, technical colleges, over 30 hospitals and a similar number of nursery schools, some 400 apartment buildings and 35 mosques,” the article said. “They sank dozens of wells and dug nearly 150 kilometers of irrigation ditches and canals. They were also engaged in guarding military and civilian installations in trouble.”

The Kremlin had learned that its armies could not capture political success, but Soviet commanders made the same claims upon withdrawal that are heard from NATO officers today: not a single battlefield engagement was lost to guerrillas, and no outpost ever fell to insurgents.

That understanding seemed to animate Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta as he toured Afghanistan recently in a traditional holiday visit with the troops.

At each stop, Mr. Panetta acknowledged that significant challenges remain to an orderly withdrawal and a stable postwar Afghanistan, and not just the resilient insurgency.

He cited unreliable Afghan governance, continuing corruption and the existence of insurgent safe havens in Pakistan. None of those are likely to be fixed with American firepower.

    With U.S. Set to Leave Afghanistan, Echoes of 1989, NYT, 1.1.2013





home Up