The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Sunday, February 21, 2010

News of the Day for Saturday, February 21, 2010

Iraqi men are seen through a torn campaign poster for candidate Mahmoud al-Mashhadani of the Unity of Iraq party, in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010. Ripping a campaign poster is punishable by a jail term of up to one year under a law that has been imposed for the first time for the nation's already highly charged parliamentary election next month. Experts believe the government ban was imposed to prevent opposition parties from tearing down Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki's campaign signs. AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Reported Security Incidents

A quiet day so far in terms of violence; but politically turbulent.


Security forces find a weapons and explosives cache in al-Kharkh.


Acting on a tip from locals, police find rockets.

Sardasht, Iran, near the Iraqi border

Iran says its forces ambushed and killed 4 Kurdish separatists.

Other News of the Day

Saleh al-Mutlaq announces that the National Dialogue Front will boycott the upcoming elections, calls for a wider boycott. However, the broader Iraqiya coalition has not gone along with the boycott. Excerpt from the report by Steven Lee Myers in the NYT:

In announcing its boycott, al-Mutlaq's party, the National Dialogue Front, cited not only al-Mutlaq's disqualification, but also a volatile security situation, the arrest or harassment of candidates and the influence of Iran on the country's Shiite parties, a recurring suspicion among Sunnis. One of the party's candidates in Diyala province, Najim al-Harbi, was arrested at his home on Feb. 7, part of what Maliki's opponents have called a wave of intimidation against challengers.

The party's statement yesterday also cited recent statements by the top U.S. military commander, Gen. Raymond Odierno, and the U.S. ambassador, Christopher R. Hill, that the leaders of the commission disqualifying candidates had close ties to Iran. "The National Dialogue Front cannot continue in a political process run by a foreign agenda," the statement said.

Juan Cole discusses these developments. Because the elections this time are organized on a provincial basis, he presumes the predominantly Sunni provinces will send their representatives to Parliament, even with some parties boycotting. The goal of knocking the National Dialogue Front out, however, was to assure that Iraqiya would not have the most seats and hence the opportunity to try to form a government. He also cites Liz Sly of the LAT as saying that the two Shiite blocs have an agreement to come together to form a government after the election.

Afghanistan Update

Resistance continues in Marjah. Insurgents are putting up a "determined resistance" in various parts of Marjah, though the overall offensive is "on track," NATO said Sunday. NATO also reports two deaths of ISAF forces on Saturday, unrelated to the Marjah campaign, but provides no further information.

Following the collapse of the Dutch government over the nation's involvement in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister announces that all Dutch troops will leave Afghanistan in August. BBC reports that "The governor of Uruzgan province said peace and reconstruction efforts would suffer a setback if the Dutch left. Asadullah Hamdam told the BBC they were playing a vital role building roads, training the Afghan police and providing security for civilians. "If they withdraw and leave these projects incomplete, then they will leave a big vacuum," he added."

Mohammed Al Shafey says that the capture of Mullah Baradar is a more complicated story than it has been made out to be. Excerpt:

Speaking from Kabul, in a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the source said that, even though Mullah Baradar belongs to the wing of Taliban Leader Mullah Omar and comes from the Pashtun (Bobalzi) Tribe in Urzajan, the same tribe of President Hamid Karzai, a disagreement happened between them in recent weeks because he encouraged negotiations and won over a number of field commanders in Helmand.

The source asserted that a "Pakistani deception" led to the arrest of Mullah Baradar in Karachi after Islamabad found out that the US authorities seek to exclude Pakistan from the Afghan reconciliation process. The source added that they [the Pakistanis] wanted to prove to the Americans and Afghans their decisive role in the Taliban issue. The source noted that any commander who rebelled against the Pakistani intelligence in the past was arrested and handed over to the United States.

In an interview with Christine Amanpour, Ahmed Rashid appears to back up this analysis. After noting that there have been ongoing contacts between the Taliban and the UN, he says of Baradar's arrest:

Q: So why now then? Why his arrest right now, if he's one of the main interlocutors?
A: I think there are many levels of problems here. The first thing is that I think the Pakistanis obviously have been under huge pressure to arrest active members of the Afghan Taliban who've been living in Pakistan for years and years.

Now, the Pakistan's ISI, the Inter-Services Intelligence, could have arrested these people at any time. The question is, why did they choose to arrest them at this time? And I think one of the reasons is that the ISI wants to send a very firm message to the Taliban and to the Americans, also, that if there's going to be any talks or dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban, Pakistan will have to be the main broker or mediator.

Q: So this is a shot across the bow then?
A: In a way, it's a help across the bow, because you've arrested Taliban leaders, but certainly it's sending a very strong message by the ISI and the military in Pakistan to all of NATO and the Americans that, you know, don't go into talks without telling us because we are the key players here.

Meanwhile, the CIA wants the Pakistanis to turn Baradar over to U.S. custody. Pakistan appears uninterested in the proposal.

McClatchy reports on the investigation of the ambush of FOB Keating in which 8 U.S. soldiers were killed. Although lower ranking officers have been disciplined, it appears that the ultimate responsibility lies with a decision by Gen. McChrystal. It's a bit complicated, here's an excerpt but read it:

Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, kept a remote U.S. base in the country manned last year at the local governor's request, despite warnings from his field commanders that it should be closed because it was vulnerable and had no tactical or strategic value. [Note: It is those field commanders who were reprimanded for a decision which McChrystal made, and which they opposed. -- C]

McChrystal's decision to maintain the outpost at Barg-e Matal prompted the top American commanders in eastern Afghanistan to delay plans to close a second remote U.S. outpost, Combat Outpost Keating, where insurgents killed eight Fort Carson soldiers in an assault Oct. 3, a McClatchy investigation has found. Another 22 Fort Carson soldiers were wounded in the Colorado base's bloodiest day since the Vietnam War.

Quote of the Day

It is thanks to Mandela that South Africa passed an important turning point and managed to avoid a possible civil war, assassinations and violence, and succeed in establishing a stable regime based upon tolerance and coexistence between different races, colors, and creeds.

On the other hand there is Iraq, which did not find a leader like Mandela, and so is drowning in a sea of sectarianism, racism, and violence, which take place under various names and banners. Although seven years have passed since the invasion, Iraq has been unable to break the cycle of violence, and the majority of its politicians have been unable to overcome the inclination towards revenge, retaliation, and violence [in Iraq]. As a result of this the Iraqis have not tasted stability, and anybody hearing their comments recognizes their lack of confidence in their situation and in the majority of their politicians.

Osman Mirghani