Legend has it that a senior U.S. official was asked a couple of years ago which worried him more: Iraq or Afghanistan. "Pakistan," came the immediate answer. As commander of U.S. central command, Gen. David Petraeus certainly paid plenty of attention to the shifting security situation in Pakistan, and the threat from disparate Islamist groups there.
He would mesmerize audiences with his encyclopedic knowledge of obscure groups in even more obscure corners of Pakistan, with multicolored Powerpoints. Now that he has "demoted" himself to take direct charge in Afghanistan, he will see at firsthand the cross-border terror dynamic.
Even as al Qaeda has been weakened ‚Äď according to U.S. officials - other groups in Pakistan have expanded their horizons: Lashkar e Taiba, the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani Network to name but a few.
Previously confined to the mountainous tribal territories, the Pakistani Taliban has expanded its presence in Punjab, the country‚Äôs bread-basket and most important province. The Afghan Taliban has a long-established presence in Quetta, the volatile capital of Baluchistan. Then there are a myriad of groups comprising foreign fighters, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, made some revealing comments about this terror landscape last week. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Adm. Mullen described Pakistan as ‚Äúa country now very much under siege from terrorists, internally.‚ÄĚ
¬†The tally kept by icasualties.org includes all U.S. and allied troops killed in Afghanistan, whether by hostile fire, traffic accident or other noncombat circumstance. It does not include soldiers who may have died from their wounds after returning home, nor the deaths of¬†troops in neighboring countries,¬†such as¬†Pakistan.
The independent¬†website says 102 coalition troops were killed in Afghanistan in June, by far the highest total since the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda began.
It's partly seasonal. There are always more encounters in the summer months than in the winter. But it's more because there are more NATO troops (especially U.S. forces) in Afghanistan now than at any time since 2001, and because they are on the offensive in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. It may in part be because of rules of engagement that stress avoiding civilian casualties. (That is the view of some soldiers on the ground.)
The new ISAF commander Gen. David Petraeus told NATO allies on Thursday that he was aware of concerns among field commanders that processes were "too bureaucratic." While the rules would not be changed, he said he would look at their application because he had "a moral imperative to bring all force to bear when our troops are in a tough position." ¬†This implies quicker access to air strikes, for example.
"There is no intent to change rules of engagement. It is to look very hard at how the rules in the tactical directives are implemented and to ensure that there is an even implementation across all units, instead of perhaps some unevenness that has crept in," Petraeus said. FULL POST
Gen. David Petraeus has told the Senate Armed Service Committee that Pakistan‚Äôs role in helping reconciliation in Afghanistan is ‚Äúessential.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúSuch an agreement I think is going to depend on a number of factors that will play out over the course of the summer including creating a sense among the Taliban that they are going to get hammered in the field and perhaps should look at some options,‚ÄĚ he said.
Petraeus said he had spoken with Afghan President Hamid Karzai about reports that he had recently met leaders of the Haqqani Network, an al Qaeda ally and one of the most effective insurgent groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
‚ÄúHe assured me that he has not met with a Haqqani group leader ‚Ä¶ in recent days, or I think at any time.‚ÄĚ
Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) told the Senate Armed Services Committee: ‚ÄúWe need to give our strategy the necessary time to succeed.¬† We cannot afford to have a stay the course approach to starting our withdrawal in July 2011 when the facts on the ground are suggesting that we need more time.¬† This is all the more essential now with General Petraeus assuming command pending his confirmation. He has proved that he can win wars and we need to give him every opportunity and remove every obstacle to win in Afghanistan.‚ÄĚ
Gen. David Petraeus goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee today. There is little doubt he will be confirmed as the new commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, but senators on both sides of the aisle will want to hear reassurances on the course of the war.
The committee's chairman, Sen.¬†Carl Levin, D-Michigan, wants an explanation as to why the much anticipated Kandahar operation will have a preponderance of¬† International Security Assistance Forces and not Afghan troops,¬†a plan he described Monday as "totally unacceptable." FULL POST
Islamist fighters battling Somalia‚Äôs fragile government have released new video of recent street battles against Ugandan peacekeepers in Mogadishu. It‚Äôs the latest propaganda video made by Al-Shabaab ‚Äď an affiliate of al Qaeda ‚Äď as it seeks to extend its appeal on the internet to young ethnic Somalis in Europe and North America.
Not that the Ugandans are described as ‚Äúpeacekeepers‚ÄĚ in the perfectly accented English narration for the 10-minute video.
Titled ‚ÄúThe African Crusaders,‚ÄĚ the opening line sets the tone: ‚ÄúAs dawn breaks in Mogadishu every morning, a new chapter also begins in the battle against the coalition of crusaders and their apostate allies.‚ÄĚ They are, the narrator continues, ‚Äúfighting America‚Äôs war in a foreign land.‚ÄĚ
Sources in Mogadishu say the scenes were filmed at the beginning of June as Al-Shabaab fighters threatened to close in on the presidential palace, one of the few buildings still controlled by the government. The sources say Al-Shabaab was driven back ‚Äď and one of its commanders was reported to have been seriously wounded ‚Äď but the narration inevitably paints the conflict as a triumph for the insurgents against the African Union force.
It‚Äôs never easy to keep up with the multiple threads of news from Afghanistan: military, political and diplomatic. And now it‚Äôs even more difficult, as different opinions emerge on the military campaign and whether/when/how a dialogue with the Taliban should begin.
On ABC‚Äôs ‚ÄúThis Week‚ÄĚ on Sunday, CIA Director Leon Panetta said the U.S. had seen ‚Äúno evidence that [the Taliban] are truly interested in reconciliation, where they would surrender their arms, where they would denounce al Qaeda, where they would really try to become part of that society.‚ÄĚ Those are the essential demands of the U.S. for allowing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Now that the dust is settling over General Petraeus‚Äô unexpected accession to the top military role in Afghanistan, attention is turning to what he may be able to achieve ‚Äď and when.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates tempered expectations Thursday. ‚ÄúWe're not asking for victory by December or by July of 2011,‚ÄĚ he told a news conference at the Pentagon. ‚ÄúWe're not asking that Afghanistan be stabilized 13 months from now. What we are asking is that by December we have enough evidence to demonstrate, if you will, the proof of concept, that the approach that we're taking is showing progress.‚ÄĚ
CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen writes of the challenges facing General Petraeus in his new role:
‚ÄúPetraeus must convince all sorts of constituencies, from the Afghan people, to the Pakistani military and political establishment, to the White House, to the American public, that some plausible progress is being made; that the Americans are not going to "cut and run" before a semi-stable Afghan government and military are in place. And he must do that all on a timetable in which some kind of American drawdown begins in July 2011.‚ÄĚ
As Yemen faces multiple political and economic crises, President Barack Obama has announced an increase in U.S. humanitarian aid this year ‚Äď more than doubling the sum to $42.5 million.
The announcement comes as the truce between the government and Houthi rebels in northern Yemen shows signs of fraying and as a secessionist revolt in the south of Yemen becomes more violent. In addition, al Qaeda has established a significant presence in more remote parts of the country, and the unrest in Somalia is a short distance across the Gulf of Aden.
‚ÄúWe are deeply troubled by reports of fresh outbreaks of fighting in Sa‚Äôada, and urge full compliance with the ceasefire agreement announced in February, and an end to the violence,‚ÄĚ Obama said of the Houthi revolt. FULL POST
Mullen: "I was nearly sick" - Trying to draw a line in the sand after the McChrystal debacle, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Pentagon news conference that the strategy in Afghanistan would not miss a beat with the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus as commander of the International Security Assistance Force.
Sitting alongside Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen acknowledged that it was a ‚Äúdifficult‚ÄĚ time in the war against the Taliban, but he insisted progress was being made.
Perhaps the most revealing moment of the news conference came when both were asked for their reaction when they read the Rolling Stone article.
Mullen responded: ‚ÄúHonestly, when I first read it, I was nearly sick.¬† It made me - I - literally, physically, I couldn't believe it.¬† So I was stunned.‚ÄĚ
Clashing strategies - The counterinsurgency strategy that‚Äôs become known as COIN is designed to win the "hearts and minds" of the population with rules of engagement that protect civilian populations and minimize casualties.
Gen. David Petraeus is the concept‚Äôs founding father, but as CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott explains, COIN is not always easy to implement.¬† FULL POST
The morning after the day before - and General David Petraeus is packing his bags to relocate to Kabul, and take over the job his subordinate, General Stanley McChrystal was doing until Wednesday.
First there is the formality of Congressional approval, likely next week. But the General is likely to be questioned closely on the terms and speed of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Last week, he appeared to be lukewarm both about the deadline set by President Obama (of July 2011) - describing it as "the date when a process begins based on conditions, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits."
To clarify the terms of the debate, the Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin, said Wednesday that he had spoken with Petraeus, who had agreed that "a conditions-based withdrawal referred to how it will happen, rather than if it will begin." It may seem a fine debating point, but it isn't. FULL POST
President Obama‚Äôs announcement that General Stanley McChrystal had resigned as Commander of ISAF and would be replaced by General David Petraeus brought a swift response from both U.S. allies and Capitol Hill.
The Afghan government was swift to applaud the appointment as providing continuity.
'General McChrystal and General Petreaus are from one group, they were part of implementing the recent strategy so we believe the mission will continue without fault' said General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, Spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry
‚ÄėOf all the choices that could have been made, we are happy to hear it is Petreaus who will continue the mission,‚ÄĚ he said.
That sentiment was echoed by the NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said in a statement that the approach General McChrystal helped put in place is the right one. ¬†‚ÄúThe strategy continues to have NATO's support, and our forces will continue to carry it out,‚ÄĚ Rasmussen said.
President Obama‚Äôs allies in Congress were also quick to praise General Petraeus‚Äô appointment. Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said pointedly that Petraeus would provide ‚Äútested diplomatic skill that is at the very center of a military strategy which hinges on progress in governance to sustain military gains.‚ÄĚ
Kerry also made significant reference to the Marjah operation, where an allied offensive in February drove the Taliban out ‚Äď only for the insurgents to slip back into the area, planting IEDs and intimidating the local population. ¬†¬†‚ÄúWe‚Äôve already seen in Marjah that impressive military gains cannot be maintained without effective local governance and Afghan ownership,‚ÄĚ Kerry said.
One Republican took that skepticism a big step further. Senator Kit Bond (R-Missouri), who serves on the Intelligence Committee said of Petraeus: ‚ÄúEven he can't win in Afghanistan if the president continues to insist on an arbitrary withdrawal date - a fact our enemies our counting on and our allies fear."
There's no shortage of advice for President Obama as he prepares to meet General Stanley McChrystal at the White House, an encounter unlikely to be laced with pleasantries. Many commentators fear that accepting the General's resignation (if indeed he has offered to quit) would only set back a strategy already struggling to stay on schedule.
"His dismissal of Gen. McChrystal would hand a victory to those in his administration who have resisted the counterinsurgency operations," concludes the Washington Post.
But Eliot Cohen, author of "Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime" writes in the Wall Street Journal that McChrystal has committed an unpardonable error. Cohen says the fundamental imperative is to maintain order and discipline. "And if doing so means relieving a hero of command, so be it."
A look at some of the top stories on national security, terrorism and intelligence this afternoon:
Militants removed from watch list - The United Nations will remove Taliban militants not tied to al Qaeda from a terror blacklist in a "step-by-step" fashion, the Afghan president's office said on Tuesday. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1267 freezes the assets of individuals with links to the Taliban, as well as al Qaeda, but at the recent peace jirga called by President Hamid Karzai there were calls for the blacklist to be revised. Several of those on the list are former Taliban officials who now serve in parliament.
Karzai met a 15-member committee of the UN Security Council Tuesday and requested they "remove names of those Taliban who are not linked to Al-Qaeda", the president's office said. In another move toward reconciliation, Dr. Mohammad Zasim Hashimzai, Afghanistan's deputy minister of justice and legal affairs, said more than 25 prisoners have been freed in a move to get militants to lay down their arms.
A look at some of the top stories on national security, terrorism and intelligence today:
Top General apologizes – The U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has been summoned to Washington to explain remarks he made to Rolling Stone magazine. A profile of the General included outspoken criticism of the US ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, as well as a derisive tone towards some in the White House opposed to his counter-insurgency strategy. McChrystal issued a statement Tuesday from Kabul saying: "I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened." But now senior Administration official tells CNN: "McChrystal has been directed to attend tomorrow's monthly meeting [in Washington] on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person rather than appear over SVTC (secure video teleconference) to explain to the Pentagon and the Commander in Chief his quotes in the piece about his colleagues."
The United States is adding new sanctions to target Iran's nuclear and missile programs, identifying 22 entities and a number of individuals allegedly involved with those programs.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is defending its practice of providing medical training and basic medical supplies to the Taliban in Afghanistan ‚Äď saying it is in line with the ICRC‚Äôs mandate not to discriminate between different sides in a conflict.
In the latest situation report issued Tuesday the Red Cross disclosed that in April its workers ‚Äúreached over 100 Afghan security personnel, over 70 members of the armed opposition, taxi drivers involved in the transport of wounded people, first-aiders and its own staff.‚ÄĚ
That prompted plenty of quizzical and some critical comments in the international media and among bloggers ‚Äď and some grumbling among Afghan officials. But an ICRC spokesman in Geneva said the practice is consistent with its obligation of neutrality and its mandate to provide assistance to all sides in conflict. FULL POST
Editor's note: This is the final post of a three-part blog series on terrorist finances. In Part 1 we examined al Qaeda‚Äôs challenging financial situation. In Part 2 we examined at the Taliban‚Äôs money trail and in the final Part 3 of the series we look at international cooperation (or sometimes the lack-thereof) in tracking terrorist financing. Bookmark our Security Brief section to track the latest on national security issues.
‚ÄúI'll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that's all. Just... follow the money.‚ÄĚ So said Deep Throat, in the movie ‚ÄúAll The President‚Äôs Men.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs a lesson the U.S. government has taken to heart in pursuit of international terrorists. But it‚Äôs not always easy to ‚Äúfollow the money‚ÄĚ when critical information is off-limits on another continent.
Somewhere in Europe there are huge computer servers that process about 11 million financial ‚Äúmessages‚ÄĚ involving trillions of dollars every day. They belong to an organization called SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications), which acts as a secure link for the global financial community to exchange information about the movement of money. But this arcane business has become the subject of an unseemly squabble between Europe and the United States over tracking the financing of terrorism.
Editor's note: This is the second of a three-part blog series on terrorist finances. In Part 1 we examined al Qaeda‚Äôs challenging financial situation. In Part 2 we'll examine at the Taliban‚Äôs money trail and in Part 3 we'll look at international coooperation (or sometimes the lack-thereof) in tracking terrorist financing. Bookmark our Security Brief section and check back Friday for Part 3.
With its columns and colonnades, the U.S. Treasury is one of the grandest buildings in Washington. But a handful of its staff are currently working in less salubrious surroundings. They‚Äôve been dispatched to Kabul in an effort to stifle the Afghan Taliban‚Äôs cash-flow. Their mission: to detect money laundering schemes, investigate offshore accounts and cell-phone transfer, and try to rein in Afghanistan‚Äôs huge ‚Äúinformal‚ÄĚ banking sector.
It is an uphill task. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the Taliban‚Äôs revenues from illicit drugs alone last year at $150 million. U.N. sources say that insurgents (a wider definition than the Taliban) made between $450 and $600 million out of the opiate business between 2005 and 2008. But it may be much more. The U.N. estimates the ‚Äúnarco-profits‚ÄĚ made in Afghanistan at $2.8 billion. A huge sum is unaccounted for.
Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part blog series on terrorist finances. In Part 1 we'll look at al Qaeda‚Äôs challenging financial situation. In Part 2 we'll examine at the Taliban‚Äôs money trail and in Part 3 we'll look at international co-operation (or sometimes the lack-thereof) in tracking terrorist financing. Bookmark our Security Brief section and check back Thursday for Part 2.
The U.S. Treasury Department may not have drones, but don‚Äôt underestimate the power of the pen in the battle with al Qaeda. Persistent pressure on the group‚Äôs sources of money over the past few years has left it ‚Äúin significant financial distress,‚ÄĚ says US Assistant Treasury Secretary David Cohen. ‚ÄúAnd we are urgently working to make it worse.‚ÄĚ
The Taliban, funded by the multi-billion dollar heroin trade, are a different proposition, admits Cohen. He says they are not experiencing ‚Äúmuch financial stress‚ÄĚ and have the funding they need to buy allegiance and hold territory ‚Äď and challenge American objectives in Afghanistan (more on the Taliban in Part 2 of this series.)
Cohen‚Äôs job includes choking off the money supply to an array of terror groups. To that end, he spends plenty of time trying to persuade other governments ‚Äď especially in the Gulf ‚Äď to tighten their financial controls. Cohen is pleased with the contribution that Saudi Arabia ‚Äď once the largest source of funds for al Qaeda ‚Äď has made. For example, the Saudi central bank now has to approve transactions between accounts of more than $15,000. But senior Treasury officials say other Gulf states ‚Äď such as Kuwait and Qatar ‚Äď could do more to help.
‚ÄúWe haven‚Äôt seen the same level of co-operation there,‚ÄĚ the official says.