Kabul

Recessional

It's some 400 miles from Harvard Square to Capitol Hill, but when Rory Stewart made the trip last month, he chose an unlikely mode of transport: He took a plane. Stewart is an inveterate, epic walker. He spent part of this past summer strolling the 150 miles from Crieff to Penrith in his native Scotland. More impressively, in 2002, not long after he quit his job with the British Foreign Office, he walked across Afghanistan, a 600-mile jaunt that served as the basis for his best-selling book The Places In Between.

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Kerry in Kabul

I do not think that many of us know a lot about Afghanistan. And what most of us know is from one book. It is by a young British officer-scholastic, Rory Stewart, who seized people's attention with what some might call a travelogue. If The Places in Between is a travelogue, so is Democracy in America. Still, if Rory is of a type, he compares with Wilfred Thesiger, three generations earlier, also a Brit with aristocratic bearing and blood and the luck to be there in command when a significant military event was about to happen. Both had pens, very sharp pens.

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NYT: The task was left to Mr. Kerry and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who have experienced their own frustration at the polls, and used those scars in dealing with Mr. Karzai. In one personal moment during a weekend of long dinners and walks in the garden of the sprawling, heavily fortified presidential palace in Kabul, Senator Kerry recounted his experience in the 2004 presidential election, including the lingering questions about ballots cast in Ohio that helped decide the vote against him. “I told him, ‘sometimes there are tough things,’ “ Mr.

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General Stanley McChrystal's request to send more troops to Afghanistan has induced sticker shock for many Americans--including, apparently, President Obama. The integrated counterinsurgency, or COIN, strategy that McChrystal wants to pursue has many components: protecting Afghan civilians, rapidly expanding the Afghan army and police, reforming government, providing economic development assistance, weaning Taliban fighters and leaders away from Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, reconciling them into the new government, and targeting those who refuse.

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Afghanistan Disarray

The Times of London has a pretty disturbing/infuriating story about payments the Italian Secret Service allegedly made to Taliban commanders and local warlords to buy peace and quiet in areas of Afghanistan where Italian troops were stationed. It's not the payments per se that were the problem; if members of the Taliban can be bribed over to NATO's side, I say bribe them.

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Stalemate

The situation in Afghanistan increasingly looks like Iraq did not too long ago. Not the actual political or military circumstances, of course, but the analysis and commentary. Phrases like "We’re entering a decisive period" and "It’s now or never" are being tossed around ominously as the debate over troop increases rages. One can hardly read an op-ed without being told that the situation is dire and that this is a critical time, perhaps even our Last Chance to Get It Right.

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Course Correction

Camp Julien is surrounded by reminders of Afghanistan’s past. The coalition military base--which sits in the hills south of Kabul, just high enough to rise above the thick cloud of smog that perpetually blankets the city--is flanked by two European-style palaces built in the 1920s by the modernizing King Amanullah. Home to Soviet troops and mujahedin during the past decades of war, the now-crumbling palaces are littered with bullet holes and decorated with graffiti in multiple languages.

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Kabul Notes

Return to Afghanistan with a group of journalists, escorted by the French defense minister, Hervé Morin. A limited view: We only see valleys in Surobi and Kapisa. But an invaluable glimpse, nevertheless, because it counters what is heard almost everywhere. First chapter, Tora, a small fort sitting on stones, some distance from Kabul. Welcome by Colonel Benoît Durieux, leader of the regiment and an intellectual, author of the excellent Rereading Clausewitz's On War.

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Frankly, I don't care that Chicago lost its bid for the Olympics.  Really, I don't. But maybe the president's trip to Copenhagen was useful since his top battle commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, traveling from England to Denmark, had the opportunity to meet Barack Obama on Air Force One.  Their talking with each other is, after all, a rarity.  In fact, Obama and McChrystal had spoken but once since the general took on AfPak as his turf in early June 2009. With whom, then, is Obama conversing? And how independent of mind on military matters are they?

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COIN v CT at the WH

This Post story makes it seem as though supporters of a Biden-backed light-footprint approach in Afghanistan are moving the debate their way. But it's possible those are just the people spinning to the media right now. By contrast, one  plugged-in source told me yesterday that counterterrorism is losing traction in the internal administration debate, though clearly not in the media. The truth is, I don't know where this is headed; I doubt anyone really does.

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