Kabul

Hawk Down

With the 2008 presidential campaign in full swing two summers ago, Joe Biden, then making his own bid for the White House, ridiculed Barack Obama on a momentous issue: Afghanistan. The occasion was an August 2007 speech by Obama outlining his plans to fight Al Qaeda, which included sending an influx of American troops and aid to the country. Later that day, Biden issued a snarky press release gloating about his own extensive record of pushing similar policies, and which cast Obama as a naïve newcomer.

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In which McNulty, exiled to an agricultural-training mission in rural Afghanistan, winds up bringing down the Afghan president. LAT: U.S. spy agencies have already stepped up their scrutiny of corruption in Kabul. The recent Senate report described a wiretapping system activated last year that is aimed at tracing ties between government officials and drug kingpins in the country. Yes, my setup was a joke--but this surveillance is not. It's not hard to imagine it leading us to some inconvenient places.

Could McChrystal Quit?

That Post article today isn't the only sign of impatience within the military brass over Afghanistan troop levels.

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For the past several months Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been lashing out at NATO forces, complaining bitterly that civilian casualities were the result of Western indifference to Afghan lives and arguing (probably correctly, though unhelpfully) that such "collateral damage" was abetting the terrorists. But in his Kabul press conference yesterday, Karzai sang a different tune when asked about one of the biggest air strike foul-ups of the war: Striking a magnanimous tone, Karzai said he would welcome Abdullah or any of his other challengers into a new government.

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I know I've already made my point, but I remain fascinated by Soviet savagery in Afghanistan, and America's wholly different moral and strategic approach there. Today, there's an (understandable) outcry whenever a U.S. airstrike targeting Taliban fighters also kills a handful of civilians--as when an early August raid left four civilians dead near Kandahar, stirring local outrage and wide media coverage.

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A presidential election marred by allegations of fraud, rising casualties of American soldiers, even a few disturbing discoveries about the civilians hired to guard our embassy there--we figured it was about time to talk to terrorism expert Peter Bergen, who was in Afghanistan last month, to get his take on the situation there and what it will take to improve it. TNR: What is your sense of the election’s validity? Bergen: Of course there was fraud--the question is one of scale. I was there for the 2004 election and there were claims of fraud at that time.

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The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan is often cited as evidence that major powers simply can't tame that miserable country. But Gregory Feifer's The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan actually offers some cause for hope about America's prospects there. We are now conducting a military operation  completely different from the Red Army's stupidly brutal approach. Athough U.S.

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When Zalmay Khalilzad was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 2002 war, it was a given that President Hamid Karzai would never make a decision without first consulting him. And Khalilzad also ruled over the American agencies in the country, including the military. More than ambassador, Afghan-born Khalilzad was America’s pro-consul in Kabul. U.S. Army Lieutenant General Karl W.Eikenberry, the ambassador nominated by Barack Obama earlier this year, enjoys no such pre-eminence.

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The WaPo's Rajiv Chandrasekaran has a long article on the sacking of David McKiernan, formerly the top U.S. commander in Kabul. The main reason for McKiernan's removal, according to Chandrasekaran: The decision was not discussed at length within the White House but was endorsed by Obama.

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The Al Qaeda videotape shows a small white dog tied up inside a glass cage. A milky gas slowly filters in. An Arab man with an Egyptian accent says: "Start counting the time." Nervous, the dog starts barking and then moaning.

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