November 20, 2009

From the Front: 11/20/2009

News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front. (New complete posts come in below)

A World Away: November roundup from Baghdad PAO - From Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, public affairs officer for the Wisconsin National Guard in Baghdad: With a little less than two months left in the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team's mission in Iraq, this is an update on some of our units from their locations around the country over the past month. When detainees at Camp Cropper want to get under the skin of guard force soldiers from the 829th Engineer Company, they employ a tactic that would be more at home along the St. Croix River than inside a theater internment facility in Iraq: they needle the Wisconsin Guard troops about Brett Favre's success as a Minnesota Viking. It seems the Green Bay Packers logos that sprouted up all over Camp Cropper since May tipped off detainees that Packer fans were in the house. It's a small world. The 3,200 men and women of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team have accomplished a lot during their time in Iraq so far: (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Border Crossings - After observing approximately 15-20 bad guys cross the Afghan-Pakistan border in the same spot for two nights in a row, I decided to take a squad of Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers, my Embedded Tactical Trainer (ETT) NCO, and myself to set up an overnight ambush along their avenue of approach. Now for all of you Monday morning quarterbacks who are already saying to yourself why didn’t you set up an ambush after the first night or use mortars, artillery, or even call in air assets to eliminate this threat. Well, those are courses of action that were discussed but other priorities limited our manpower for maneuver capabilities, air coverage wasn’t available at the time, and we could only get a few mortar rounds off before the enemy would scurry back across the border into Pakistan and then our hands were tied with the rules of engagement. As soon as darkness arrived, my squad of 12 ANA soldiers and I moved out towards the pre-determined ambush site. (READ MORE)

Philip Smucker: (VIDEO) Afghanistan's gray line - Along Afghanistan's porous border with Pakistan, the U.S. Army is focused on reaching out to Afghan villagers and building local institutions. Immense mountains and abject poverty stand out as obstacles to success, but it is the human terrain that presents the greatest challenge. In this mini-documentary, Lt. Jake Kerr, West Point Class '07, leads his motley "Combat Platoon" out of a remote outpost in the Dangam District of eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province. Kerr, 25, of Lake Placid, N.Y., struggles to improve his skills as a peacemaker and diplomat even as the Taliban and his own "warrior" alter-ego draw him deeper into combat. As more platoon-sized U.S. Army bases in eastern Afghanistan are abandoned over security fears, President Obama and the military's top brass must scrutinize the hard work of "Combat Platoon" and others like it. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: newly inaugurated, Karzai sets 5-year target for Afghan forces to take control - Nearly three months after the fraud-plagued election, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was inaugurated into his second five year term, saying that he wants Afghan security forces to be under full Afghan control within five years and called for a loya jirga, or traditional council of elders, to address the insurgent threat and the country's pervasive corruption. In a speech that hit many of the same notes he struck during the presidential campaign, Karzai called for his erstwhile presidential rival Abdullah Abdullah to join a national unity government and also reached out to Taliban fighters for reconciliation. Excerpts of Karzai's inauguration speech, which was attended by some 800 Afghan and foreign dignitaries, are available from the BBC. The Taliban, for their part, dismissed the inauguration as "not a historic day" and called Kabul a "government based on nothing," though initial foreign reaction was more positive. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Future of Intel in Afghanistan: Enabling the ANSF - I’ve been doing some research and discussion with colleagues for another project of mine - trying to wrap our heads around all of the moving pieces involved in going “all-out” in Afghanistan. We’ve discussed strategic options several times on the blog already, but as we wait for a decision from President Obama, I wanted to try to really drill down to the operational and tactical levels and examine what the future of intelligence operations should look like when/if we surge additional combat forces. Below are some rough thoughts and several questions we’ve been thinking about. I would love some feedback and thoughts from everyone, particularly those who have studied or spent time in Afghanistan. Working from GEN McChrystal's COMISAF Assessment and operational design (read it here), it's critical that we make significant investments to ensure we properly resource our COIN efforts in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Oh no no no - Canadian soldiers will recall that once upon a time we had an unarmored jeep-type runabout called an Iltis. The Germans used it for base MP duties. The Canadians, because we had nothing better at the time, used it as a primary tactical reconnaissance platform for a time, even if it wasn't big enough to fit a machine gun on. A friend of mine likes to tell of the day he was working with a Bundeswehr colleague, who was telling him how the MPs had the same jeep back on his base back home... when the German found out Iltises would be the first vehicles the rampaging Soviet hordes would have to deal with, he adopted a look of petrified horror, and started muttering, "Oh, no.... no, no, no.... no, no, no..." After reading Joe Klein this week I know how the German felt. The military has been shockingly slow when it comes to matching U.S. training companies with Afghan battalions. No such joint units currently exist... (READ MORE)

Houston Central: Welcome Home! - I know Im super behind... Can you blame us? We had just enough time to get over the most ridiculous case of jet-lag then Jon came home!!!!! I have more pictures to post...but I wanted to share a few. Look at his face...PURE JOY...absolutely the best look on his face I've ever seen:) There are so many events Im behind in posting...from when Noah and I were still in Texas, my birthday with the Kate, Halloween, fun times with family...and fun Daddy/Noah time. Just give me some time. We are in no hurry to be on this thing..we are enjoying family time, can you blame us though? We have so much catching up to do! I promise to do a more regular post once life slows, but I know it will never fully "slow"down..especially with these two boys together again! (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): My "Band of Brothers" - My Band of Brothers. The two guys in the middle, Matt and Dale, run public affairs for the Brigade (the next higher unit, 2000 soldiers) and the guy on the right, Andy, works for a 700-soldier unit that is part of the brigade. Matt and Andy are very good writers. Dale is admin mostly--but really good with paperwork and politics. Matt and Dale got me the camera that got me back into photography. They were also very encouraging, meeting with me every week in the summer when I was doubting I could do half of what I was assigned and dealing with all the difficulties in the motor pool. Matt and Dale, more than anyone else here, got me through July and August. Andy is a good writer who is assigned as a truck driver. He has only a little college, but is an avid reader. He is a good guy. We will be keeping in touch when we are back in America. I am hoping he can get work as a writer. (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My Point of View: Looking In The Mirrors... - Sigh. Yes. I know. I haven't posted a blog in a long time...aside from the story that I did recently. So yeah...if I had blogged during my little hiatus it wouldn't have been very positive. Anyway. I'm blogging now. I'm more content now...we're leaving Baghdad very soon. Things are starting to wind down for us as far as public affairs is concerned. I, on the other hand, still have to layout the newspaper and distribute it until our replacements arrive. Things have changed since my last blog. The weather has been the most drastic change. No longer are the days where we swelter in the 115+ degree heat. Since about a couple weeks ago, the temps have been nice. Partly cloudy skies and temps in the 70s-80s during the day and between 50-60 degrees at night. The rains have turned everything to a sticky, mucky mess. A precursor to the December weather at Fort Dix. (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: New View of Samarra - In the lexicon of Iraq, few words carry as much meaning as Samarra. This city on the Tigris river north of Baghdad was the source of the sectarian slaughter of 2006 and 2007 and the scene of some the most violent fire fights of the same era. Even as late as 2008, it was city to be by-passed when traveling north or south on Highway 1. The city is peaceful enough now, but still struggling with an identity crisis. It is a Sunni city but home of a holy Shia shrine that draws millions of pilgrims a year. It was once the leading city of Sala ad Dihn province, but during Saddam's regime, the seat of government was moved to Tikrit. The Sunni tribes fought with the coalition to rid the city of Al Qaeda, but the Shia security services from Baghdad dominate the old quarter near the Golden Mosque. And it was the second bombing of the Golden Mosque in 2006 that was the catalyst of the sectarian upheavals and rampant murders of 2006 and 2007. (READ MORE) Is Central Asia post-colonial or not? - Is Central Asia post-colonial or not? Can post-colonial theory be applied to post-Soviet region? Laura Adams raises this question and generally comes up with a positive answer here (PDF pp 2-7). The current CESS President Edward Lazzerini responds with an interesting approach. I learned from his response was that the Sankt Peterburg library contains a catalogue of all Turkic-language works published during the Soviet time. He is essentially saying that post-colonial lens obscures the nature of real events. Although he does not provide exactly how researchers should proceed with their works without post-colonial prism, I feel that he raised some important points by his examples. I will try to sum them up. The Central Asian region and its people underwent several stages of socio-political transformation under the Soviets: (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: Fort Lewis remembers two soldiers from a hard-hit platoon - Spc. Gary Lee Gooch and Spc. Aaron Seth Aamot grew up in opposite ends of America. Gooch was raised in Florida, while Aamot was raised in the town of Custer in the northwest corner of Washington. Their lives were intertwined when they were both assigned to the same platoon of the Fort Lewis-based 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which headed off to war in Afghanistan in July. On Nov. 5, Gooch and Aamot, both 22 years old, died together as their Stryker vehicle was struck by a huge roadside bomb in the Arghandab Valley of southern Afghanistan. On Thursday, the young men were remembered at a memorial service at Fort Lewis that was attended by dozens of family, friends and fellow soldiers. Gooch had a keen sense of humor, and urged his friends not to take life too seriously. Aamot was a devout Christian, who was fascinated by the history of the U.S. civil war. (READ MORE)

The Torch: New Canadian commander at Kandahar/More US troops to be under his command? - Interesting development, see speculation about the US unit at the end: “The incoming commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan is preparing to change the focus of counter-insurgency efforts as he deals with the possibility NATO will once again enlarge the area under Canadian control. Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard said Thursday he plans to increase troop levels in the province's dangerous capital, [emphasis added, more here] marking a shift from existing strategy concerned largely with rural areas southwest of the city.” As far as I know no "further additions of U.S. troops" are planned for Kandahar province in the near future; though President Obama may decide to send a fair number, it will be some time before they arrive. I could well be wrong, but it seems unlikely to me that the US Army's combat unit at the province, the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, would be put under Brig.-General Ménard. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: Light vs. Heavy: Brigade Combat Teams - While the Obama White House debates the exact troop numbers for the new counterinsurgency strategy, it's safe to say that there will be an increase of around 20,000 to 40,000 additional "combat troops" (definition to follow). While the troop numbers must primarily take into consideration the desired effect in Afghanistan, planners must also take into account one additional factor: how many brigade combat teams we have available. (Based on over 100,000 troops in Iraq and over 60,000 in Afghanistan) The Washington Independent (H/T Spencer Ackerman) has the rollup of current US Army force strength (including a really good chart). Before I begin, let me define some terminology. There's been a huge debate at Tom Ricks' "The Best Defense" blog regarding what "combat troops" are in this era of asymetric war and non-contiguous battlefields. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: More Afghan Combat Soldiers, But at What Cost? - As part of my conversation with Maj. Gen. Richard Formica, who heads up the ISAF training programs, I had the opportunity to also talk to U.K. Brigadier Simon Levey, the Commanding General for the Combined Training Advisory Group in Kabul, and learned a little more about the logistics issues plaguing the Afghan armed forces, and efforts aimed at promoting literacy among the ANA. Echoing Gen Formica, Levey says that standing up Afghan logistics battalions is still years away, and the CSTC and ISAF are throwing all of their weight behind getting as many Afghasn combat soldiers out in the field as possible. “We’re going to delay those a year or two so we can apply that force structure to infantry-centered force,” he said, “we’re going to take every Kandak in the South and the East and we’re going to add a fourth company to each of those forty-four Kandaks…to give them more infantry soldiers faster.” (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Suicide bomber strikes in western Afghanistan - Taliban suicide bombers struck for the second day straight in southern and western Afghanistan. A suicide bomber driving a motorcycle detonated his explosives in a market in Farah City, killing 17 people and wounding 29. Provincial officials in Farah said a senior police official, who was killed in the explosion, was the target of the suicide attack. Two of the senior police official's bodyguards were also killed in the attack. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf denied responsibility in a phone call to Reuters. But the governor of Farah province said the Taliban backed down from taking responsibility for suicide attacks when large numbers of civilians are killed. "Whenever there are civilian casualties, the Taliban deny responsibility," Governor Rohul Amin told Reuters. "This attack was definitely carried out by the Taliban." (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US strikes Taliban camp in North Waziristan, kills 8 - Unmanned US strike aircraft killed eight Taliban and al Qaeda operatives in the second attack in North Waziristan in two days. Today the US aircraft hit a Taliban training camp in the village of Palooseen near Mir Ali. "At least eight people were killed in the drone attack," a Pakistani intelligence official told AFP. "A compound used by militants was targeted." Three "foreigners," a term used to describe al Qaeda operatives, were among those killed. No senior leaders have been reported killed. The town of Mir Ali is a known stronghold of al Qaeda leader Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an Iraqi national who is also known as Abu Akash. He has close links to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. The Haqqani Network and Hafiz Gul Bahadar also have influence in the Mir Ali region. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: So much for the Pakistani military offensive in Waziristan - As we discussed in Pakistan Crumbles, the Pakistan Taliban have melted away into the mountains of the Hindu Kush in the face of the Pakistani military offensive against them. More detail: … there are those in the diplomatic circles of Islamabad who say the Pakistani military leadership would soon realize that the troops in South Waziristan are actually chasing shadows because the TTP militants have simply melted into the vastness of the inhospitable surrounding territory. It appears that the militants in Waziristan, headed by the Pakistani Taliban – the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan – are bent on a long-term insurgency against the security apparatus. Although tough resistance was expected from up to 10,000 well-trained Taliban guerrilla fighters from the mainly ethnic Pashtun Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan, the military operation has been relatively proved easy so far, to the surprise of many. (READ MORE)

Loving A Soldier Blog: Move That Bus - Between four kids, deployments and seven moves, I have not taken the best care of myself, translation, I have packed on some pounds. So one of the deployment silver linings is it is the perfect time to lose some weight. I do not have to cook dinner every night and I can eat dinner when I am hungry not at 2100 when my husband drags himself home. I used the day he left for my cutoff date, and I started the next day. I have already lost almost thirty pounds. I am feeling so much better, and I know that I am avoiding the temptation to eat or drink to make myself feel better during the deployment. I also know that at the end of the year I will be healthier and happier. I can't wait for the big reveal, you know that moment on that Home Makeover show when they say "move that bus," and everyone screams and cries because the house is so fantastic. I can't wait to see my husband's face! Fortunately every time I put on pants that are a size smaller I get the "move that bus" feeling just for myself! (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Iraq Sentences Sunni Leader to Death - A leader of a Sunni Awakening Council was sentenced to death for kidnapping and murder on Thursday, setting off charges that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government was trying to weaken the Sunni movement, which is credited with much of the reduction of sectarian violence here since 2006. (READ MORE)

Iraq’s Election Law Morass - Iraqis have quickly learned to play hardball politics. That was evident on Wednesday when one of Iraq’s two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, who is a Sunni, vetoed an important election law at the last minute. He demanded a change that would allocate more parliamentary seats for Iraqi Sunnis living abroad. (READ MORE)

Bike officers added to Iraqi Police Force - Iraqi Police (IP) officers recently attended the Bicycle Police Course at the Police Academy here, part of an ongoing effort to establish better policing practices in the city. Many of the police officers had never seen or heard of a bicycle cop before, but soon they themselves will be the first group to begin operating as Bicycle Police in Kirkuk City. (READ MORE)

American forces assist Iraqi businesswomen - Women here have struggled for centuries to carve out a life of their own. Even with the advent of democracy, that struggle continues, and only attention and assistance can improve the situation. With that in mind, U.S. Soldiers recently visited a rug factory managed and staffed entirely by women in Gharraf, a town north of Nasiriah in Dhi Qar province. The factory employs more than 100 women, all experts in the art of weaving fine rugs. (READ MORE)

First females graduate Police College - Fifty female Iraqi Police (IP) officers became the first women to graduate from the Baghdad Police College here, Nov. 9. The new female officers and more than 1,000 male students culminated their training with a ceremony marking their successful completion of the rigorous nine-month training program. (READ MORE)

U.S. Officials Study Effect of Iraq Election Law Veto - American forces are waiting to see what effect the veto of Iraqi election legislation may have on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, the commander of Multinational Force Iraq said in Baghdad yesterday. “I think we’re set up and we’re flexible enough between now and the first of May,” Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said. “So … we won’t have to make any decisions until the late spring.” (READ MORE)

'Too early' for Afghan handover deadline: - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday it was too soon to set a timeline to transfer security duties from NATO-led troops to Afghan forces, as proposed by Britain. "I think I would rather have those on the ground in Afghanistan make the judgment call about when a province or a district was ready to be turned over, rather than specific dates," Gates told a news conference. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, Nov. 20: - At approximately 9 a.m. today, an IED detonated in downtown Farah in western Afghanistan. Initial reports indicate seven Afghans were killed and more than 35 were injured. No ISAF service members were in the area at the time. "This was a malicious attack that killed and injured innocent Afghans. We offer our sincerest condolences to the families of those killed and sympathies for those injured this morning," said Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, IJC spokesperson. (READ MORE)

Statement by the Secretary General on the inauguration of President Karzai - On behalf of NATO, I congratulate President Karzai on taking office for his second term as leader of Afghanistan. This is an historic event: the second time in modern Afghan history that a government has taken office peacefully. It is a testimony to the courage of the Afghan people, and their determination to exercise their hard-won democratic right to choose their own leaders. (READ MORE)

Germany remains commited to NATO mission in Afghanistan - German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has held talks with his American counterpart Robert Gates in Washington with Afghanistan topping the agenda. The 45-minute meeting at the Pentagon was dominated by the current military situation in Afghanistan. "The USA and its allies are doomed to succeed," said zu Guttenberg. (READ MORE)

Obama Won't Make Afghan Decision Before Thanksgiving, Aides Say - President Obama will not announce a decision on his war strategy in Afghanistan before Thanksgiving, his aides told Fox News on Thursday. The latest development on the fate of up to 40,000 U.S. troops came at the tail end of the president's eight-day Asia trip. (READ MORE)

Brown Gets Ahead of the U.S. on Afghanistan Policy - U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has beaten the Obama administration to the punch with some very public stands on Afghan war policy, many of which proved to be previews of similar stances later taken by the White House. U.S. and U.K. officials say Mr. Brown is acting on his own, not as part of a coordinated effort to soften the path for decisions later made by U.S. President Barack Obama -- and in fact U.S. officials have sometimes been irritated that Mr. Brown got out front on these issues. (READ MORE)

Motorcycle Blast Kills 16 in Afghanistan - Afghan police say a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle has blown himself up in southwestern Afghanistan, killing at least 16 people and wounding dozens more. The bomb exploded Friday in a busy area of Farah city, the capital of Farah province. The provincial governor told reporters the blast occurred not far from his compound. (READ MORE)

Pakistan worries over new U.S. Afghan strategy - As the United States ponders its Afghan strategy, Pakistan is waiting nervously, worried that a U.S. troops surge would widen the war but also keen to see a robust U.S. commitment that would convince the Taliban to talk. U.S. President Barack Obama pledged on Wednesday to end the Afghan war before he leaves office. (READ MORE)

Karzai Sworn In for Second Term as President - Tainted by a flawed election and allegations of festering corruption in his government, President Hamid Karzai was inaugurated Thursday for a second term, promising to remedy the country’s problems and to have the Afghan Army assume full control of security within five years. Speaking in Dari and Pashto, Mr. Karzai reached out to the country’s two largest ethnic groups as well as to his defeated political rivals in a speech at a midday ceremony at the presidential palace. (READ MORE)

Karzai Sets Key Goals in Inaugural Address - President Hamid Karzai set two ambitious goals in his inauguration speech Thursday: to have Afghan soldiers and police take full responsibility for security within the next five years and to root out the pervasive corruption that hobbled his first administration. In many ways, Karzai's words dovetailed precisely with the aims of the Obama administration. (READ MORE)

Karzai Has Plenty of Promises for the West - President Hamid Karzai used his inauguration address Thursday to try to reassure the West that he will cleanse his government of corruption and buttress Afghan security forces so they can take charge of the nation's security within five years. Mr. Karzai's speech was a virtual laundry list of promises that the increasingly disenchanted international backers of the Afghan president had hoped to hear. (READ MORE)

A Softer Approach to Karzai - When a team of senior US officials led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton entered the presidential palace in Kabul on Wednesday for a dinner meeting, they had little indication of what Afghan President Hamid Karzai planned to discuss, or whether questions about corruption and governance would pitch their host into a foul mood. But instead of revisiting old disputes, Karzai brought in several cabinet ministers to talk about development and security. (READ MORE)

US Aims to Hold Afghanistan's Karzai to His Pledges of Reform - The United States is developing a set of benchmarks to ensure that Afghan President Hamid Karzai keeps a promise delivered at his inauguration to fight corruption and inefficiency, US officials said. Taking the oath of office Thursday, Karzai, whose reputation has been battered by corruption allegations against close associates, pledged to fire any official connected to drug trafficking and "end the culture of impunity and violation of the law." (READ MORE)

White House Aides: No Afghan Decision Before Thanksgiving - President Obama will not announce his decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan before the Thanksgiving holiday, senior aides said Thursday. The news came as the president greeted 1,500 troops at Osan Air Base in South Korea, just before boarding Air Force One and heading back to Washington after an eight-day trip to Asia. (READ MORE)

US Defense Secretary Urges Against Afghan Withdrawal Timeline - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is urging caution on those who are calling for a timetable for an allied withdrawal from Afghanistan. Among those who have spoken about a "timetable" or an "endgame" in recent days are British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US President Barack Obama. (READ MORE)

Improvements in Afghan Governance Will Take Time, Gates Says - Improving the quality and professionalism of Afghanistan’s central government will not be accomplished quickly, and will involve continued discussion between US and Afghan officials, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. “My view on all this is that improvements in governance in Afghanistan will be evolutionary,” said Gates... (READ MORE)

Mullen: Talks Favor Broad Afghanistan Solution - President Barack Obama’s security team recognizes troops alone aren’t the answer as it begins wrapping up strategy deliberations about the way ahead in Afghanistan, the top military officer said today. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the talks are nearing their conclusion, predicting that Obama will announce his decision “in the near future.” (READ MORE)

Italy Remains a 'Determined' Ally - Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata, the newly appointed Italian ambassador to the United States, objected to the term "war" to describe the conflict in Afghanistan, but he said Italy had dropped restrictions that had kept its troops away from the fighting. In an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times Thursday, Mr. Terzi said that Afghanistan is a key component of Italian foreign policy. (READ MORE)

Afghan Bomber on Motorcycle Kills 13 - A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle killed 13 people, including a police officer, and wounded 30 others Friday in a busy city square in western Afghanistan. Several children were among those wounded in the morning explosion, said a doctor at the hospital in Farah city, Shir Agh Asas. Afghan police shouted ''Stop! Stop!'' at the motorcyclist before he detonated the explosives, provincial police chief Gen. Mohammad Faqir Askar said. (READ MORE)

Taliban Chief Hides Among Pakistan Populace - Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed leader of the Afghan Taliban, has fled a Pakistani city on the border with Afghanistan and found refuge from potential US attacks in the teeming Pakistani port city of Karachi with the assistance of Pakistan's intelligence service, three current and former US intelligence officials said. (READ MORE)

Pakistani Politics Take on a Nationalist Tone - These days, politics here look more and more like a movie Pakistanis have seen before. Anti-Americanism is peaking. Enemies of the state lurk around every corner, if the nationalist media is to be believed. President Asif Ali Zardari could hardly be more unpopular. Political insiders make a sport of handicapping how long it will be before he falls. It is a familiar plot line. (READ MORE)

Obama the Undecider - In the beginning, the Obama administration directed a spotlight toward its careful, thoughtful decision-making process on Afghanistan. National security meetings were announced, photographed and highlighted in background briefings to the media. President Obama would apply the methods of the academy to the art of war - the University of Chicago meets West Point - thus assuring a skittish public that deliberation had preceded decision. (READ MORE)

Afghans Want Obama to Hold Karzai's Feet to the Fire - On Afghanistan's independence day in August, my friends in Kandahar were puzzled. Why was the government bothering to celebrate the holiday? With 100,000 or so foreign troops occupying our country, how could we consider ourselves independent? When my American friends and professors ask me if I think the United States should send additional troops to Afghanistan, I tell them yes, but... (READ MORE)

To Succeed in Afghanistan, We Must Fail - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's inauguration today will be a somber affair. Gray storm clouds are slowly replacing the blue skies, and the sour tang of charcoal smoke hangs in the air. The mood among the internationals here is similarly gloomy. So many conversations end with the scratching of heads, with the tacit admission that no idea that has come forward has been big enough to reverse the Afghan government's steady loss of control. (READ MORE)

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