Re-dismantling the terrorist infrastructure again

White House debate led to plan to widen Afghan effort

President Obama’s plan to widen United States involvement in Afghanistan came after an internal debate in which Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. warned against getting into a political and military quagmire, while military advisers argued that the Afghanistan war effort could be imperiled without even more troops.

All of the president’s advisers agreed that the primary goal in the region should be narrow — taking aim at Al Qaeda, as opposed to the vast attempt at nation-building the Bush administration had sought in Iraq. The question was how to get there. [continued…]

Obama outlines Afghan strategy

President Obama introduced his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan yesterday with a threat assessment familiar from the Bush administration. “The terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks,” he said, are continuing to devise plots designed to “kill as many of our people as they possibly can.”

Elements of the Obama plan to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” al-Qaeda in Pakistan and vanquish its Taliban allies in Afghanistan also struck notes from the past. More U.S. troops, civilian officials and money will be needed, he said. Allies will be asked for additional help, and local forces will be trained to eventually take over the fight. Benchmarks will be set to measure progress. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — By basing a war strategy on the objective of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda, Obama is resting on solid political ground.

The question that everyone resolutely refuses to address is this: where’s the evidence that al Qaeda’s capacity to operate is bound together with its ability to maintain some sort of infrastructure in north western Pakistan? Why should we not assume that if another 9/11 type attack is being planned that it may well emanate from a location far removed from al Qaeda’s historical base? In terms of the threat of attacks on the US, what’s happening in some discreet enclave in Karachi or Manila or Melbourne or Toronto or London or even New York may matter much more than the tribal territories.

At the same time, what happens to Pakistan and Afghanistan will certainly be affected by the extent to which the West provides jihadists, insurgents and tribal fighters the foundation for coming together to combat a common enemy.

Pakistan and Afghan Taliban close ranks

After agreeing to bury their differences and unite forces, Taliban leaders based in Pakistan have closed ranks with their Afghan comrades to ready a new offensive in Afghanistan as the United States prepares to send 17,000 more troops there this year.

In interviews, several Taliban fighters based in the border region said preparations for the anticipated influx of American troops were already being made. A number of new, younger commanders have been preparing to step up a campaign of roadside bombings and suicide attacks to greet the Americans, the fighters said.

The refortified alliance was forged after the reclusive Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, sent emissaries to persuade Pakistani Taliban leaders to join forces and turn their attention to Afghanistan, Pakistani officials and Taliban members said. [continued…]

Afghan strikes by Taliban get Pakistan help, U.S. aides say

The Taliban’s widening campaign in southern Afghanistan is made possible in part by direct support from operatives in Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, despite Pakistani government promises to sever ties to militant groups fighting in Afghanistan, according to American government officials.

The support consists of money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders who are gearing up to confront the international force in Afghanistan that will soon include some 17,000 American reinforcements.

Support for the Taliban, as well as other militant groups, is coordinated by operatives inside the shadowy S Wing of Pakistan’s spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the officials said. There is even evidence that ISI operatives meet regularly with Taliban commanders to discuss whether to intensify or scale back violence before the Afghan elections. [continued…]

White House won’t rule out troops for Pakistan war

President Obama has just laid out his new war strategy. And he’s made it clear that the fight is both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So I asked Dennis McDonough, with the National Security Council: Does that mean U.S. ground forces in Pakistan? Or more drone attacks? “I’m not going to comment on the notions you laid out there,” he answered, during a White House conference call with bloggers.

But during a separate press conference, Bruce Reidel, who recently completed a strategy review of the region for the White House, offered some hints. “Thus far, our policy sees Afghanistan and Pakistan as two countries, but one theater of operations for our diplomacy, and one challenge for our overall policy,” he said. “We have very concrete proposals for increasing economic assistance to Pakistan, proposals that have already been put forward by the Congress. We’re also looking at what we can do on the military side.” [continued…]

Bomber strikes in Pakistani mosque, killing dozens during prayers

A suicide bomber attacked a crowded mosque in northwest Pakistan on Friday, setting off explosives as a cleric intoned the holy prayers, bringing the roof crashing down and killing scores of people in what was the bloodiest attack this year.

The attack was unleashed in an area where there has been intense activity by Pakistani security forces aimed at protecting the critical Khyber Pass supply route for American forces in Afghanistan. Occurring only hours before President Obama unveiled a new strategy against militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it raised questions about Pakistan’s ability to counter the threat from Al Qaeda and the Taliban. [continued…]

The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One by David Kilcullen

An American patrol ambushed by the Taliban in Uruzgan province on May 19, 2006 found its foes growing in number as the firefight continued. Local farmers working in nearby fields rushed home to get their weapons and join in. In Afghanistan, young men like doing that sort of thing.

The episode exemplifies David Kilcullen’s thesis: that many Muslims who take up arms against the West in Iraq, Afghanistan and indeed Europe are not committed ideologues. Instead, they are young men alienated variously by foreign intrusion, corrupt government, local factionalism and grievances, bitterness about globalisation; or simply enthused by a belief in the dignity of combat.

At the heart of this significant book is the author’s declaration that terrorism cannot be addressed by military means alone; that for American or British soldiers merely to kill insurgents is meaningless. He urges policies based upon securing and succouring populations, not on enemy body counts. [continued…]

A conversation with David Kilcullen

Pakistan is 173 million people, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the U.S. Army, and al-Qaeda headquarters sitting right there in the two-thirds of the country that the government doesn’t control. The Pakistani military and police and intelligence service don’t follow the civilian government; they are essentially a rogue state within a state. We’re now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state, also because of the global financial crisis, which just exacerbates all these problems. . . . The collapse of Pakistan, al-Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover — that would dwarf everything we’ve seen in the war on terror today. [continued…]

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