What if Obama’s Afghanistan Strategy Works?

To get an idea of how well President Barack Obama’s strategy for Pakistan-Afghanistan hit a political sweet spot, consider that people with as divergent an agenda as myself and Max Boot are both satisfied with it. What’s more, I’ve read and heard that after initial fears about the Biden-supported counterterrorism component winning out, the COIN crowd is pretty happy about the plan. But that was in the same day I read that the Obama strategy was simply a stepped-up COIN approach to a walked-back counterrorist objective. I think the reason everyone is breathing easier now is that first of all, […]

KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Standing on the HESCO barriers that ring Forward Operating Base Morales-Frazier in Kapisa Province, just north of Kabul, one can see three enormous, beautiful valleys. To the north lies the Nijrab, whose “fingers” are home to a mainly Tajik population, with some Pashtun areas. To the east sits Afghanya Valley, which hosts Pashtuns in its lower half and Pashai in its upper half. And to the south is Tagab Valley, an almost entirely Pashtun area that has become famous for its entrenched insurgency. FOB Morales-Frazier, the soldiers it hosts, and the area it stands watch over […]

Under the Influence: Going it Alone in Afghanistan

After seven years in Afghanistan, it’s back to basics. On Friday, President Barack Obama unveiled the results of his comprehensive and long-awaited policy review of the U.S. war strategy in South and Central Asia. Reining in what has become a discombobulated mission, he asked outright, “What is our purpose in Afghanistan?” He then went on to answer his own question: Our purpose is the pursuit of al-Qaida and its leadership, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. There is little surprise in that decision. Likewise, the new way forward offered few unexpected headlines. The strategy will focus on an approach to […]

Drone War Powers

With regards to whether the expanded target list in Pakistan is authorized by the AUMF, a correspondent pointed out by e-mail that the AUMF has already been stretched pretty far and wide in geographic terms, and that finding a link between the folks we’d like to target and the folks we’re allowed to target — which is all we need to induct the former into the latter category — isn’t terribly difficult. A meeting over tea in the ole Waziristan compound, for instance, or a shout out on Radio Swat, would probably do the trick. Meanwhile, in answer to the […]

Did Congress Authorize War in Pakistan?

Noah Shachtman wants to know if we’re at war in Pakistan (as opposed to with Pakistan). He lays out the case here and here, with particular emphasis on the expanded target list in the Pakistani FATA, which amounts to U.S.assistance in a domestic Pakistani counterinsurgency campaign. Now, I’m not sure if what we’re doing is war, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t covered by the Congressional authorization for the Afghanistan War: . . . [T]he President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriateforce against those nations, organizations, or persons he determinesplanned, authorized, committed, or aided the terroristattacks that occurred […]

WASHINGTON — The new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that the Obama administration unveiled today reflects a policy consensus that has been more than a year in the making. It is only recently, however, that the U.S. government has begun to take the lead in developing and implementing this new strategy. In the waning days of the Bush administration, U.S. allies — most notably the British government — as well as foreign policy wonks at think tanks in Washington and elsewhere began formulating an alternative policy for an Afghanistan war effort that had begun going downhill in the latter half […]

Afghanistan Plan: Threading the Political Needle

The Obama administration’s strategic review of the Afghanistan War is reportedly ready for roll out this afternoon. The NY Times has an advanced look, as does Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic. The plan, like all strategic reviews, seeks to first and foremost strike a balance between military necessities and political realities. As such, it threads the needle between two internal administration constituencies, and four external audiences. Within the administration, it incorporates the diplomatic full-court press of the “good governance is the key to hearts and minds” counterinsurgency advocates (see Seth Rosen’s WPR Briefing) with the more modest security objectives of […]

In his seminal essay the “Twenty-Seven Articles,” T.E. Lawrence wrote that “a bad start is difficult to atone for” in an insurgency or counterinsurgency effort. As the Obama administration prepares a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, it is learning that lesson all too well. For more than seven years, Afghanistan has been the neglected war, impaired by insufficient resources, troops, planning and oversight. Facing a resurgent Taliban, the administration now has no choice but to chart a new path. Some of the president’s strongest supporters are urging him to scale down U.S. ambitions in the country. They contend […]

The Middle Path in Afghanistan

A smart, sensible essay from Ilan Goldenberg at Democracy Arsenal arguing for a Middle Path in Afghanistan, well worth a read. I think my biggest objection is that he’s proposing a Buddhist solution for an Islamic country. Other than that, it’s hard to argue with it. There are really no attractive options in Afghanistan. The maximalist approach assumes unlimited resources and political will, and the minimalist approach probably underestimates what a determined America can accomplish. As Goldenberg points out, the risk of a middle path is that it will be just enough to accomplish nothing. But it also might give […]

NEW DELHI — Two weeks ago, a ballistic missile blasted off from a warship sailing in the Bay of Bengal. Its target was Wheeler Island, a small enclave of land off the coast of India and home to one of India’s most important missile testing facilities. Within seconds of the launch, the Indian military’s radars and computer banks began tracking the supersonic rocket. Several computations later, an alarm triggered another “hot” missile on the island that, once launched, began pursuing the aggressor warhead. Some 70 kilometers above the earth’s surface, the two collided. The rocket’s debris fell through the sky, […]

WPR on France 24

World Politics Review managing editor Judah Grunstein appeared on France 24’s short-form discussion program, Face Off, to discuss Pakistan and Afghanistan. The English-language segment can be found here. The French-language segment can be found here.

KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The Army contractor reached into a green lacquered box and pulled out a clump of wires. He was holding part of the IED that had disabled his Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicle, or MRAP, just a few months before. “Here’s the thing I don’t get,” he said. “These guys use really nice German wires, but then they plug them into crappy, old, rundown Chinese batteries.” The explosion hadn’t done much, apart from frightening everyone inside. All it had left behind was a big hole in the dirt and a flat tire on the MRAP. But it […]

The Garrison Mentality in Afghanistan

Joshua Foust follows up on my “Afghanistan as Gated Community” remarks with a detailed post worth reading. Essentially, this time my literary deconstruction — typos and all — got closer to the mark. I’d like to take this opportunity to note that I’m aware of the limitations of what I can actually “know” about Afghanistan from reading open-source news and analysis from a distance. So there’s a real value of having someone in Foust’s position, there on the ground, who’s willing to weigh in on how close my impressions come to describing his experiences. Keeping in mind, too, that Foust’s […]

Checking China’s Naval Ambitions from the Air

In his WPR column on Wednesday, David Axe discussed the budding American-Chinese naval rivalry in the South China Sea-Indian Ocean. He called particular attention to the role India plays in American plans to check China’s naval ambitions in the region. Interesting to note, then, that four days after the USNS Impeccable incident off of Hainan Island, the State Dept. informed Congress it would license the sale of eight Boeing P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft to . . . drumroll, please . . . India. The $2.1 billion contract, which I flagged two months ago, is the largest U.S. weapons transfer […]

Poland to Increase Afghanistan Troops?

The Polish daily Gazeta (via Nicolas Gros-Verheyde) is reporting that Poland is planning to send 400 more troops to Afghanistan. That might seem like good news for an Obama administration that has been lowering its expectations for European troop increases. (And yes, any good news on European troop increases will number in the hundreds, not the thousands.) But the reason why the Poles are likely to send the reinforcements is cause for some concern: The 1,600 Polish troops in Ghazni province are in for an exceptionallystormy spring and summer. U.S. forces will be pushing the Taliban out ofthe Kabul region […]

A movement led by black-coated lawyers achieved a defining victory for the rule of civil law in Pakistan on Monday with the restoration of illegally deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. This highly popular movement provides an opportunity to strengthen the Pakistani state, improve the judicial system’s responsiveness, and resist creeping Talibanization. Shortly after sunrise on Monday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ended a prolonged judicial crisis by announcing that Chaudhry, sacked by former president Pervez Musharraf, would once again become the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. In November 2007, Musharraf removed Chaudhry, who had […]

On March 8, five Chinese trawlers surrounded and harassed the USNS Impeccable, a civilian-crewed naval survey ship sailing in international waters on the South China Sea, resulting in a week-long diplomatic tiff. The Chinese government accused the ship of spying on its naval forces. Washington eventually admitted that was true, but insisted it had every right to do so. (See James Kraska’s WPR Briefing.) In the wake of the incident, both sides moved in reinforcements. The U.S. Navy sent a destroyer to escort Impeccable on future missions; Beijing deployed a patrol vessel to the area. Some pundits declared the confrontation […]

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