The latest installment in a disturbing trend of U.S. citizens found to have connections to radicals in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Five young men who vanished from the Washington area last month are believed to be held in Pakistan while authorities investigate possible links to extremists there. The Pakistani Embassy in Washington says the investigation focuses on whether the U.S. citizens have links to extremist groups in Pakistan. The five men have been arrested but no formal charges have been filed.... U.S.
Laura Rozen reports on a troubling report from retired general Barry McCaffrey and commissioned by Centcom commander David Petraeus: "The international civilian agency surge will essentially not happen ---although State Department officers, US AID, CIA, DEA, and the FBI will make vital contributions. Afghanistan over the next 2-3 years will be simply too dangerous for most civil agencies." For more on the challenge of mounting an effective civilian effort in a war zone, see this recent TNR piece by Steve Metz.
In House testimony now underway, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and our ambassador to Kabul, whose relationship was strained by the leak of Eikenberry's recent cables to Washington questioning a potential troop increase, are singing from the same songbook. Early in the hearing, Eikenberry claimed that his cable was described in a selective way that made him seem opposed to any military escalation--but said that isn't his view. Also noteworthy: McChrystal said he doesn't anticipate asking for more troops in the future, but didn't rule it out, either.
ABC on Now Zad, a town in Helmand: One area of town is so heavily mined, Marines refer to it as "no leg alley." Since 2005 several Marines have lost limbs there because of small bombs planted apparently not to kill, but to maim. The principle tactic of Taliban forces in the area is to injure at least one Marine using an IED placed in a wall, doorway or path, and then to draw in more Marines who try to extricate the injured. To the frustration of the Marines, it's a tactic that has some success. In October, one Marine was killed and eight others were injured after their MRAP hit an IED.
Today, the U.S. Marines kicked off a new push against bad guys in Afghanistan's fertile and poppy-rich southern province. Per the AP: Gen. David Petraeus says the Marine Corps offensive launched Friday in southern Afghanistan is part of preparations for the arrival of 30,000 new U.S. reinforcements. Petraeus told The Associated Press that the military has been working for months to extend what he called "the envelope of security" around key towns in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.... U.S.
Hillary Clinton's extemporaneous words have at times caused problems for the Obama administration. But you have to tip your cap to her quick and clever comeback here: Several lawmakers mentioned the months of deliberation, which resulted in what Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called a policy with "a little something for everybody." "There's an old adage that a camel is a horse designed by committee," Flake said at the House hearing. "In many ways, I think this looks to be a policy designed by committee." "Camels are very sturdy animals," Clinton replied.
Allen and Vandehei note that Obama wound up going with the troop figure that his Defense Secretary privately suggested to him in mid-October. Which gives me an opportunistic excuse to link to my recent cover profile of the man, with whom I traveled abroad around that time.
In an editorial calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan, National Review's John J. Miller raises a tricky question: [W]hy will the fall of part or all of Afghanistan to the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies endanger Pakistan? For over a decade the Taliban harbored al-Qaeda and controlled Afghanistan. The Pakistani government not only did not fail; it was far more stable than it is today. There are no signs that Pakistan’s strong army, infrastructure, and nuclear weapons will fall to its own Taliban.
Steve Coll, as usual, gets to the crux of it: [A]n honest accounting of the decision to name the 2011 date should acknowledge that the specific date will certainly encourage some in the Pakistan Army to persist in their belief that the U.S. is headed to the exits in Afghanistan and that they, therefore, should persist in their hedging strategies toward the Taliban, to protect their interests in the aftermath of a U.S. withdrawal. Clarity about this problem is important because if it is not recognized, it can’t be solved.
Barack Obama's aides can pat themselves on the back today; they have succeeded in spinning the president's new troop surge as a simultaneous plan for leaving Afghanistan. And I can see honest logic there: By delivering a hard punch to the Taliban, you hope to create conditions that allow even flawed Afghan security forces to get on their feet, which may then allow for a quicker U.S. exit.