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, January 1, 2012

News of the Day for Sunday, January 1, 2012

AFP reviews the toll of war for foreign troops in Afghanistan in 2011, noting the deaths of 565, 417 of them American and 45 British. This is fewer than the 711 who died in 2010, but is the second highest since the war began. Without trying to give a number, AFP also notes that "it is Afghan civilians who have paid the highest price." While the U.S. claims that overall violence in Afghanistan declined last year, the UN says otherwise.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden says Afghan Taliban are "not necessarily an enemy," opening the way for the U.S. to join peace talks. President Hamid Karzai welcomes these remarks, and accepts a plan to open a Taliban diplomatic office in Qatar.

NATO formally hands over security responsibility to Afghan forces in Nad Ali, Nawa and Marjah.

France's Defense Minister, visiting troops in Afghanistan, supports talks with the Taliban.

However, the fractious nature of Afghan politics seems to be shown by remarks of International Relations Chief of the High Peace Council, Ismaiel Qasemyar, who says that if Taliban attacks within Afghanistan continue while Qatar is providing living expenses for the families of the Taliban delegation, Qatar and the international community will be guilty of supporting attacks on Afghanistan. (Yep, he apparently said that.)

And whatever hopeful news there is brings with it many challenges, As Jennifer Glasse reports for Al Jazeera. (Video)

Plot is foiled to assassinate the Chief of the Afghan Commission for Security Transition Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in Helmand Province, where he was visiting.

A 15-year-old Afghan girl was brutally tortured, beaten and locked in a toilet by her in-laws for five months after she refused to become a prostitute, it has emerged. This occurred in Baghlan province. Lest this be taken as one more indictment of Afghan cultural norms, she was rescued by police and they are making a serious effort to capture the perpetrators.

Iraq Update

Fortune teller injured by bombing in Kirkuk. (Unclear why he didn't anticipate this. -- C

Six Sahwa fighters killed in attack on a checkpoint near Baquba.

The movement for Sunni Arab autonomy continues to grow, here a report from the street.

Saturday, December 31, is now designated "Iraq Day,", commemorating the official deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal.

Tariq Hashimi is interviewed by Asharaq al-Awsat. He has unkind words for PM al-Maliki:

This man has detonated a crisis with clear political and sectarian dimensions. This man destroyed everything that we pledged to build over the past eight years. It has now become clear to all observers that the man is not a man of political accords. He does not believe in the independence or integrity of the judiciary. He does not want to accept any dissident voice. This is a very major problem. He has placed himself in a critical corner. But this discourse involves clear threats and extortion of the leaders in the Iraqi List. If Al-Maliki completes destroying the leaders of the "Iraqi", he will focus on the Kurdistan Province and precipitate a real confrontation in the future.